Archive for September, 2008

Journeying without direction into Second Life

A few days ago I decided to venture into Second Life (SL).  I was tempted by ISTE‘s attention to SL in its publications.  Although I got motivated too late to join the SL Community Convention on September 5-7, I felt that it was better to be late than not at all.  So, as directed, I went to the SL site and chose a name and avatar.  Although I need to adjust my avatar (whenever I figure out how to do that), at least I’m in (so to speak).  I tried to navigate around the site, but got completely disoriented and exited.  It’s certainly not uncommon for us “traditional educators” (as John Jamison calls us) to feel disoriented in this 3D virtual world.  In fact, disorientation has been discussed for some years by those who wrote about Web 2.0 technologies like wikis for example.  Brian Lamb (2004) has written about feeling disoriented in relation to reading wiki sites because of unfamiliar organizing structures.  But he believes that “recovery” can happen.  So, I am hopeful that with some assistance from fellow SLers and more exploration on my own, I can get a foothold and make some sense of it all.  For now, though, I have retreated to familiar text to learn about SL.  I went to a SL for educators wiki and read the proceedings from the 2007 Second Life Education Workshop in Chicago.  There I found some interesting facts.  First, I learned some new terminology – always helpful in negotiating a new culture.  Then I found that many presenters reference a book by James Gee (2004) called What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy.  I think I will have to get my hands on this book.  Vicki Suter and Ellen Frazier from Pepperdine did a presentation called “Sl as Possibility Space.”  From them, I pondered their definition of learning: “a social practice involving doing and being rather than an individual process of knowing.”  John Jamison (a.k.a. Virtual Bacon) commented in his “Tips for Dinosaur Wrangling” that Second Life cannot be understood from the outside. People need to get in it in order to understand it.  In other words, it needs to be experienced.  That makes sense.  I wil be diving in soon.  I also learned from Sarah Robbins (a.k.a. Intellagirl Tully) in her talk on “Enagement in SL Learning” her definition of engagement: a student’s willingness to spend time and energy on leraning.”  She believes that Sl can be a source of motivation for many students in a variety of courses especially online courses where students tend to drop out at higher rates than they do for face-to-face classroom courses.  So…there’s lots more to learn about and do in Second Life, but for now, I’m taking a break.

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Focus on learning how to learn

Today as I was reading some of Jeff Utecht’s blog called The Thinking Stick, I came upon a concept that is central to what I am doing in my investigation of my own learning about Web 2.0.  While commenting about a conference he attended (or spoke at), he hoped that participants would leave the conference with at least 2 important ways of thinking.  One, that “learning happens through connections,” and secondly, that it is important for educators to focus on how they learn how to learn (not just how their students learn how to learn).  Since this blog is focusing on how I am learning about web-based tools, I find that I think about my own learning a great deal.  One thing I realize is that I need a gatekeeper of sorts – a guide, a coach, a support person (or persons) who stay in the background until I need them.  Sometimes a one sentence statement by a coach can eliminate hours of moving in circles.  One person that has become by guide or gatekeeper is Mary Glackin who works in IT at my institution.  She continues to give me valuable support when I ask for it.  And, that has helped to alleviate some of the frustration of feeling like I am going-it-alone despite the zillions of online contributors who communicate about these web 2.0 tools in blogs, wikis, and videos.  I feel assured knowing that Mary is just a phone call or email away.  Does that mean I am an old-style learner who needs a real person to connect with in a live environment?  Or, am I just not experience enough with these tools to know how to access them in ways that can be real?  Maybe both.  I guess I will find out more as I continue.

Blogs as coffeehouse

Yesterday I felt the need to break away from the computer screen.  I found myself getting bogged down with blogs – reading them, bookmarking them, linking from one to another.  I couldn’t keep up, so I got off.  The sun was shining, the air temperature was pleasant, and some sparrows were taking sand baths in the garden.  It all looked tempting, so I headed out to sit in the sun and read something different – like a book.  I had been hearing about Wikinomics for some time.  I knew about wikis and given the current turmoil in the economy, I thought to myself “why not find out how the two are related.”  Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything by Tapscott and Williams (2008) is a  fascinating look at Web 2.0 technology and how various segments of society are using these tools.  Although the book focuses on business, many other disciplines are involved which really is at the heart of what the authors maintain: collaboration among and across disciplines is the new way to progress.  The authors have a website also called Wikinomics complete with many of the web-based tools discussed where among other things you can order the book, blog, participate in the wiki, and more.  Although I have only read a few chapters, I have found a few ideas compelling.  One – that blogs are “the world’s biggest coffeehouse.” Given my love for espresso and my new interest in blogs, this notion was particularly appealing.  Another concept involves a new verb – peering.  Peering involves collaboration among peers to produce new things.  The authors describe it as a horizontal formation rather than a hierarchical one.  Although peer production has been very successful in information industries, the authors speculate that it can be applied to other enterprises as well.  One other point that I noted was this statement “There are always more smart people outside your enterprise boundaries than there are inside (p.45).  So, those are my preliminary thoughts about it all at this moment.  As I conclude, i just realize that this post (and maybe other posts too) can function as a reservoir my reflections on reading.  Another use for blogs!  I guess I’ll keep at it.

A history of YouTube on YouTube

I have been reading Michael Wesch’s netvibes website.  It has tons of stuff.  Although I’m a bit overwhelmed trying to navigate netvibes and learn how to make my own page, I can appreciate all the information that is present on this site. Wesch is a professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University, and he teaches a course in Digital Ethnography. Among other endeavors, he and his students are conducting research about YouTube.  The site contains course information as well as descriptions about the studies he is conducting and many video clips from YouTube. One particular useful one (although they are all informative) is the talk Wesch gave at the Library of Congress in April 2008 about YouTube and its history called “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube.” It is fascinating. If you are novice or veteran YouTuber and have always wanted to know the how, what, where, and when, this is the video for you!  It is over 50 minutes long but to totally engaging: Wesch is a terrific speaker and he has an abundance of video clips to exemplify the points he is making.  I was mesmerized and learned a great deal.  I can see how YouTube can be a terrific learning tool – at least it is for this learner.  So follow the link and enjoy – you won’t be disappointed.

Wikis, webcams and other Web 2.0 tools for teaching about the 2008 Election

On September 17, 2008 I attended an excellent event at Lesley University entitled “See How They Run: Teaching the 2008 election to growing voters.”  One of the goals of the presenters was to engender in young people a sense of civic responsibility by engaging them in the political process rather then having them just be bystanders. The first speaker children’s book author, Susan E. Johnson, read excerpts and provided details about her book See How they run: Campaign dreams, election schemes, and the race to the White House (2008).  The text is engaging by being both informative and humorous, and the illustrations are sure to capture young students.  The author takes complex concepts like the electoral college and presents them in simple yet truthful ways.  The honesty in the text is refreshing, and it is presented from the beginning to the end.  For example, the first line of the introduction states, “We put our Founding Fathers on pedestals and think they were perfect.  But they weren’t.”

The second presenter was Associate Professor Jo-Anne Hart who discussed and showed excerpts from her curriculum enttitled “Growing Voters 2008: Classroom Teaching Materials Grades 1-12.” She highlighted a number of open-ended lessons that can help to increase students’ knowledge and keep students engaged the political process.  She noted that far too many high school students do not have a basic knowledge of politics.  She referred to research that people who are non-voters at a young age tend to remain non-voters.  Political apathy once established persists.  The Growing Voters curricular  materials are free on the website as are all the web-based applications that will help to motivate students. Prof. Hart previously vetted a number of websites that are easy to learn and use.  Some of these include creating a wiki, online surveys, online photo slide shows, blogs, video editing and storage.

The entire event sponsored by the Alumni Association was also an excellent venue for connecting with other educators and exchanging ideas.  I found the event a welcome change from just learning on the web.  There are some things that cannot substitute for face-to-face encounters.  Hurray for them.

Advice from Bloggers Cafe

I have been trying to begin this blog for a few weeks now.  Each day I expect to begin, but I don’t.  Often times I get so caught up going from one blog to another (or just following links) and learning tons through reading them, that I just don’t get to writing mine.  I admire the experienced bloggers as well as the novices for taking the leap.  So, now it is my turn.  Reading the July 2008 edition of the Bloggers Cafe by Doug Johnson in Learning and Leading with Technology (an ISTE publication) gave me a push in the right direction.  He said “Every educator should blog.”  While I’m not sure that every educator should, I know that this educator has been on the fence for too long.  So, I am taking his advice at the end of the article “Blog, fellow educators” and beginning today.


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