Archive for November, 2008

Creating, Collaborating, Connecting

Creating, Collaborating, Connecting – these 3 words were the themes arising from the keynote presentation by Wesley Fryer at the MassCue conference on (11/19/08).  In fact, these words could also be applied to the entire conference and even Web 2.0 technologies in general.  In his talk about media literacy he used videos and other visuals to get his point across, and it came across clearly.  One memorable quote that really stuck with me concerned the speed of processing images.  He reported that “processing images is more than 1000 faster than processing text.”  Incredible!  So, why don’t we educators use images more often to get our point across?  Maybe I should be using an image in this blog instead of just text?  He also provided us with a number of useful resources as well as his own website where he describes his learning as well as numerous useful links.  He ended his fast-moving and engaging presentation with a projected quote from Alan Kay: The best way to predict the future is to invent it.  Most people try to predict the future by preventing it.”  Wesley urged educators to get involved in helping students create and connect and to assist them in acquiring the 21st century literacy skills that they will undoubtedly need.  He also reminded us to continue to focus on our own learning and to join some groups for help with learning innovative tools.  He listed the K12 Online Conference 08 as one professional development source and Classroom 2.0 as another.  Check out his website entitled “Speed of Creativity” – a valuable resource!

Historical Facts of the Day

At the MassCue conference a few weeks ago I learned from one of the attendees about a web site that focuses on an historical fact of the day about Massachusetts.  The site is called Mass Moments and it is sponsored by the Mass Humanities (formerly called the Mass Foundation for the Humanities).  The site provides the fact of the day in text and also in voice format, so a teacher could play it for her/his students or read it aloud.  There is also a tool bar with the names of the day to get the facts of the other days of the week.  And there are also links for searching all facts for all the days and ways to subscribe to the fact. The text of the fact can also be sent individually to an email address or to a text-message address.  This is a very handy source of information about Massachusetts that has lots of pedagogical applications as well a means to enhance your own learning.  Check it out!

Michael Wesch Receives Awards for Research

In an earlier post (9/24/08) I wrote about Michael Wesch, cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University, and the cutting-edge research he is doing with his students on YouTube.  This week I noticed that he received well-deserved acclaim for that work.   For one, he received an award as one of the top four U.S. Professors of the Year for 2008 from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education which is sponsored by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The award recognizes excellent teaching and dedication to students at the undergraduate level.

In another realm Michael Wesch’s YouTube about research on YouTube was cited in an article by Emily Gould in the New York Times (Sunday, 11/23/08) .  In that piece entitled “Moments That Mattered,” twelve people wrote about the year’s most memorable media. In one selection by David Byrne he commented on what he gained from watching and listening to Wesch’s hour-long video about YouTube.

Both of these citations attest to the growing prominence of digital media in our lives – and, yes, even in academia. Congratulations to Michael and to all his students who worked with him!

Some Cool Google Tools

Last week (11/18-20/2008) I attended the annual conference of MassCue in Sturbridge, MA.  Each session I attended was an incredible learning experience for me.  I connected with educators and presenters; I learned about new tools, websites, and groups; and I realized that I am not the techno-dinosaur that I thought I was.  I am certainly not a tekkie, and I will probably never know what an instructor in technology knows, but I am certainly increasing my knowledge at a rapid rate.  Even though I was out of my element at this conference (there were very few higher ed faculty present), everyone was pleasant, welcoming, and eager to share what she/he knew.

Where to start?  I’ll begin with Carol Larow‘s session on Google Earth. Carol believes that Google Earth is a “treasure chest of information from any age group.”  Her enthusiasm about the site abounds.  She illustrated how teachers are using the site in teaching science, social studies, and literature.  Although I have Google Earth sitting on my desktop, I have only used it to locate my residence or a possible vacation site.  Clearly, there’s lots more that can be done which can really make learning come alive and in 3D too!

Carol’s session about Google Tools focused on iGoogle, Google News, and Google Docs.  I have certainly heard these terms and seen them when I log onto Google to search for something, but I haven’t used the Docs or the iGoogle.  iGoogle seemed a lot like the netvibes site that I have working (slowly) to populate.  But now I think I will switch to iGoogle.  Carol demonstrated how to set up a start page with gadgets and tabs, and it seemed so easy that I promised myself that I will set up a site (although I have not done it yet).

Google Docs seems like a great way to do collaborative writing which looks a lot easier that working with a wiki because the word processing feature functions like MS Word.  I’m sure that I could tinker with these Google tools for months to come and still not know all of the unique features that they hold.  But I will do what I can to at least be able to use them in a rudimentary way so that I can pass on what I know to my students and then add more knowledge as I progress (or they progress which is probably what will happen).

Thanks Carol for your engaging and informative presentations and all of your helpful tips and tricks!

Second Life Opening Up Education

Yesterday (11/12/08) I attended a session on Second Life (SL) sponsored by the Harvard Alumni Association in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society entitled, “Second Life: Open Education and Virtual Worlds.”  One session presenter Professor Charles Nesson gave an overview of some of the advantages of SL as a pedagogical tool.  One comment he made in favor of SL was that it offers a “versimiliitude of presence” and has the potential for richness in communication that an on-line chat room cannot offer.  I have used on-line chats in my own teaching specifically for exam review sessions during which students ask questions directed to me (and also to others on line), and I have found them advantageous to both me and the students.  After doing some exploring on my own in SL (see post of 9/29/08), I can envision how a virtual presence can enhance the chat feature because SL uses a written text chat along with a visual of the avatars who are doing the chatting.  And the visual can be very engaging.

Along with the many advantages of using SL for courses Prof. Nesson also mentioned some caveats.  First, SL is still a bit crude and klutzy, and it has a steep learning curve.  I could not agree more.  As i wrote in my 9/29/08 post, I felt experienced quite disoriented in the virtual world, and the many clicks, arrows, and buttons required to move and behave my avatar take a lot of time to learn.  After devoting too many hours to SL, I decided to put it away before it ate up all my remaining sabbatical time in my “first life.”  But, I concur with Prof. Nesson when he stated that SL has great potential to be an effective educational environment of the future.”

The bigger issue Prof. Nesson spoke about concerned open access and open education.  He referred to the Open University Campaign and the student organization called Free Culture. The first paragraph of the “manifesto” of states that:

“The mission of the Free Culture movement is to build a bottom-up, participatory structure to society and culture, rather than a top-down, closed, proprietary structure. Through the democratizing power of digital technology and the Internet, we can place the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning into the hands of the common person — and with a truly active, connected, informed citizenry, injustice and oppression will slowly but surely vanish from the earth.”

This organization deals with issues surrounding intellectual property rights, and urges us to move away from “digital feudalism.” It’s a fascinating site; check it out.  There is also a link to get a free copy of Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig.

Back to the SL session.  The second presenter was Prof. Nesson’s daughter, Rebecca, who is is a doctoral student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard. She is also a doyenne at Berkman Island in Second Life.  She talked about putting the open education concept into action by opening up courses to the public.  A course offered at the Law School is also offered in the Extension School through SL, and this extension school course is also open to the public. Although persons participating in these open courses do not get grades (as those in the Extension School and Law School do), they do participate in discussions with other course members who enroll in the traditional way.  Rebecca maintains that the participation is valuable and that all students, regardless of how they enroll, benefit.  This point of open participation which benefits all seems to resonate with the notion of “peering” from Wikinomics and Michael Wesch’s comment (in one of his Youtubes) that none of us is smart as all of us.

As I write about this SL session, I realize the ways in which the notions of connectivity, collaboration, creativity are themes which permeate all aspects of Web 2.0 technology run through Second Life as well.

Tips for educators using wikis in educational settings

I just found a fabluous list of tips for using wikis in education successfully.  Many of them are common sense and all address principles of sound pedagogical practice.  And although they seem like guidelines that I should have followed when I used wikis for a collaborative assignment (because I am usually careful to give detailed instructions for any assignment), clearly I did not.  And that is probably why the assignment yielded mixed results.  This list of tips was created by Barbara Shroeder who writes a blog entitled, “Web 2.0 for everyone.”  Some of the tips focus on setting a common goal, reviewing wki conventions and wiki etiquette, creating a culture of trust, encouraging students to edit one another’s work, giving cleaer instructions and including practice.  These tips and more are included in a Powerpoint presentation entitled, “Within the wiki: Instructional strategies for educators.” I will definitely rely on these tips as guidelines as I plan for future collaborative assignments using wikis.

Web Two Point O(bama)


I have been so thrilled about the results of the election that I have not been able to settle down to write about (or even read about) my personal new learnings about Web 2.0.  As a teacher educator, I am hopeful that PresidentObama leadership will translate into improvements in all segments of the teaching/learning process and benefit both educators and students alike. I am confident that President Obama’s intelligence, imagination and creativity along with the wise choices he will make in his cabinet and other key posts will usher in a new era for education.  Hopefully, we can halt movement on the road that we are on that focuses more on standarized assessment than on learning for understanding.  The current agenda that centers on  learning for passing tests will never help to restore our country’s productivity nor enhance our common good.  I am looking forward to the days ahead and in participating in educational processes that prepare students with 21st century skills (including Web 2.0 tools) so that they can participate in global communities in thoughtful, intelligent, and caring ways.  Let us begin to imagine such an education.

Yes We Can and Web Two Oh: Election Day Musings

I have been struggling with myself today to write about my web 2.0 learnings; the topic just seemed so remote from the excitement of the election.  How could I write about technology at a time like this?  It seemed so disconnected from the hype of this historical moment. Then I realized that Web 2.0 is not at all separate from the election but a very integral part of it.  When I stopped to think, I realized that blogs, wikis, social networking, Twitter and YouTubes (among others) have been very much involved in the campaign and continues to be right up to this historic day.  After all, all the candidates are on Facebook and the abundance of political bloggers is staggering.  Actually, I first began to notice that blogging existed during the last presidential election.  So, in reality there is no disjuncture here, but a live and thriving connection.

Here are two items directly related web-based applications and the election.  First, one can track nationwide voters’ experience with their polling environments through the Twitter Vote Report. A press release from provides some background on this effort and explains how Pbwiki Inc. is hosting the site that enables the volunteer network to manage and coordinate their findings.  Pbwiki, as I have reported in an earlier post, is one of the major wiki providers for education.

Another linkage relates to Sen. Obama’s educational agenda. Eschool News reported in the October issue (Vol. 11, No. 10) that candidate Sen. Obama (soon to be President-Elect Obama, I hope) advocates the integration of technology in schools as a way to help students acquire 21st century skills. Dennis Pierce, the author of the article, included several excerpts from Obama’s speech in Ohio on September 9, 2008.  One excerpt highlights Sen. Obama’s understanding of the importance of 21st century skills for the present and the future. “And that’s what we’re going to do when I’m president.  We will help schools integrate technology into their curriculum, so we can make sure public school students are fluent in the digital language of the 21st-century economy.  We’ll teach our students not only math and science, but teamwork and critical thinking and communication skills, because that’s how we’ll make sure they’re prepared for today’s workplace.”  It was interesting to me to see the emphasis not only on technology but on teamwork.  This segment connects readily with the notion of “peering” described by the authors of Wikinomics.

As is apparent, then, the connections are many.  So, after finishing my calls to voters in swing states reminding them to vote, planning my election night menu, and, of course, voting myself, I feel not separate from my learnings or my leanings, but quite connected to it all.

More ‘tubes’ for learning

I have mentioned to colleagues and written in prior posts that YouTube has been instrumental in my learning about web 2.0.  Video how-tos about web-based tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, etc. are often engaging and easy to understand (especially those produced by Common Craft), and many video tutorials exist that offer a step-by-step approach to signing up for using some of the hosted applications.  And apparently there are many people using available videos to learn all kinds of new things.  But is YouTube is not alone in offering these videos for learning. I read about the variety of video-based lecture sites in the Boston Sunday Globe on November 2, 2008 in an article by Jeffrey MacIntyre entitled “U Tube: Want a free education? A brief guide to the burgeoning world of online video lectures.” Some of these new video sites which he describes and rates according to a number of factors include,,, and Technology Entertainment Design (TED).  Even iTunes has a site called iTunes U. I did visit each of these briefly to see what they are all about, and the content does seem somewhat more “academic” as MacIntyre suggests.  But then again, some of YouTube videos are too.  Overall, though, there seems to be more notable people speaking and fewer unknown types on these sites that serve, as MacIntyre claims, as a “thinking person’s YouTube.” But what caught my attention was not the quality or content on the sites, but the fact that they exist.  And the fact that people are listening to and gaining knowledge from them illustrates to me anyway that these e-learning venues are more prolific than I thought just a few short months ago.

November 2008