Archive for the 'web 2.0' Category

Here Comes Everyone and Me

In the past year I have heard or read the name Clay Shirky a number of times, so a few weeks ago while browsing in a bookstore, I purchased his new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (2008).  And once I started it, I could not stop.  I found each chapter captivating and informative. His historical overviews and analysis of why and how some social media and other internet tools and entities function (such as weblogs, photo-sharing, social networking sites, wikis, open source software, just to name a few) answered many questions that I had and gave me new insights into what works and how.  Although some who have a strong background in sociology might find his information about human tendencies, groups, and communication too basic, I did not.  For me, they served as a good source of review of some fundamental principles and created a valuable context for thinking about how social media tools intersect with some of those basic human attributes.

Among the topics I found interesting involved discussions of literacy and mass amateurization, broadcast and communication media, revolution and coevolution.  One of the ideas that captured my attention the most was the one dealing with power law distribution and its relation to who participates (and how often) in the social media world.  Amazingly very few.  Although the news would lead us to believe that a huge percentage of people is sharing, collaborating, and coordinating efforts here and there on the internet, only a small percentage do on a regular basis.  As Shirky remarks, most writers have few readers, most photos never receive comments, only a few people actively edit wiki entries, etc. (It is likely, therefore, that no one will respond to this post.)

Another construct I found useful to think about involves what he calls “homophily” and its relationship to social networking.  He claims that what makes networks successful is not the hundreds of connections that individual people in a network have but the thousands of connections that a few highly-connected people have.  He makes the point that the likelihood of my being a highly connected person is low (and he is right about that), but the chance of my knowing one is high (which it true because my friend Cathy is one of those highly-connected people).   When we are trying to make a link with people we don’t know, we are likely to know one of the highly-connected people that they know.  And, it is this relationship that makes social networks work.

Shirky’s discussion of the origin of Linux in 1991 as a leader in open source software initiated by Linus Torvalds highlights an important aspect about organizations and innovations. He maintains that most organizations try to reduce the effect of failures by reducing their likelihood (because failures are costly). But because no one really knows what will be successful and what will fail, organizations tend to select safe choices which in turn inhibits innovation.  Open source like Linux does not have to limit the likelihood of failures; it merely reduces the cost of failures because failures are free.

In reviewing all the successfu ventures that Shirky highlights in his book, he maintains that each has three essential features – promise, tool, and bargain.  They all offer its user a promise that convinces the user to participate.  Since we are all very busy, the promise of something beneficial has to be high or we won’t do it. Second, the tool selected must be appropriate to the task it is intended for (and I would add that it must be easy to use).  Lastly, the users must agree to a set of goals (of sorts) and often the users create these themselves.  He gives the example of wikis and the bargain that users of wikis agree to that they will take care of the site and monitor it so that it will not be sabotaged.

One of the aspects of social media that I connected with because of my teaching of social justice education is the ways in which social media can be used for collective action.  But as Shirky mentions any group can engage in collective action and not all of it is for the common good.  Justice means different things to different people, and there are good groups and bad groups. Thus, the freedom to group quite easily presents us with a social dilemma that we have yet to address.

As the book demonstrates through examples and cases, these social tools do not create the urge to share information or engage in action, they merely provide the means to do it without many of the obstacles of the past.   As such the invention of a tool doesn’t create change.  Change happens after the tool has been around for a long time and enough people are using it so that it seems normal to do so.  So does the fact that billions of people communicating with social tools each day mean that societies are changing?  Clearly communications are changing, but basic human needs and the drive for freedoms from all kinds of systems – political and otherwise – seem to be the same.  Perhaps these new tools can be used more for the good rather than for the bad to improve our societies: I certainly hope so.

So where is the “me” in “here comes everybody”?  Shirky remarks in a concluding chapter that those of us who remember a time when social media did not exist (which includes Shirky and me) are constantly trying to catch up.  And this is what I am trying to do by reading, thinking, participating; I doubt that it will ever end.  Each day there is more technology to learn and more philosophy, sociology, history, psychology, etc. to review and contemplate.  So, I will continue on this journey both individually and collaboratively with others – and have fun along the way!

Thanks Clay for this thought-provoking and timely text.

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Gcasting about race and education

In my last post I outlined what I would do in my education class to test out making a class podcast using Gcast. I can say now that it worked.  Although some students were a bit suspicious about who would hear it and whether it was a reputable website,  most students who had phones with them participated ( I left participation optional).  One goal that I had was that it would give students who don’t frequently participate in large class discussions the opportunity to have their voices heard. And, this goal was achieved. Although I could not distinguish every individual voice, I did hear students who have seldom spoken in class.  So, I’m happy about that.  After the class ended (I did not play back their recordings because I ran out of time), I did go to the site and edited out files that had some interference or that were cut off.  Then I assembled them into a playlist, made a podcast, and downloaded it into an MP3 file.  Success!

Gee whizzing about Gcast

Although I have not been blogging for real for many weeks,  I have been blogging in my mind.  But I don’t think that really counts.  Something I did yesterday, though, has prompted me to write so that I can share to a wider audience.  I did a test run of using Gcast as a internet podcasting tool, and it worked out so well, that I am going to try it in my class tomorrow.  For those of you who have not heard of Gcast, it is a web site that allows someone to use a cell phone to make an audiocast which is then uploaded and can be listened to as a podcast.  In other words it is a simple way to make a podcast without needing MP3 players or editing tools.  A person just dials in, speaks into the phone, and then dials the # key to post.  I think this can be a great tool for teachers to use cell phones, which are ubiquitous in schools, as a learning device instead of a distracting device.

I got this idea from a new book by Liz Kolb published by ISTE entitled, Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education. The Gast information is only one of the many ways that teachers can use cell phones for instructional purposes. The books gives step-by-step instructions for teachers on how to set up the web sites.  And she also includes instructions for students who will be participating in the in-class sessions and out-of-class projects. The instructions also have screen shots which are a great aid in navigating through unfamiliar sites. The book also includes abundant sample lessons plans that can easily be adapted to different subject areas.

So, how am I going to use it in my class on racism in education?  Here’s my plan.  I’m going to play a brief podcast from an NPR program about whether we still need Black History Month.  The speaker John Ridley gives a brief origin, some history, and a few opinions of others.  Then he gives his view on whether schools should continue to designate February as Black History Month. What I am going to do is stop the NPR podcast before Ridley gives his opinion.  Then I am going to ask the class to dial into Gcast and state an opinion on whether Black History Month should be continued and a one sentence reason why.  Although all students have opinions on these matters, not everyone contributes them in a large class.  I hope that the making of this podcast will enable everyone’s  voice to count.

Since it takes about 5 minutes for all the podcasts to load to the website, I will continue with a related discussion, then go to the website to play the group podcast.  Thereafter, I will finish the last 30 seconds of the NPR program and conclude the discussion.  I will also ask their opinions on whether Gcast and cell phones can be an effective as instructional tools.  So, we’ll see.  I’ll report back in a few days on how it all went.

In the meantime, check out this book.  You won’t be disappointed.

Antiracist, social justice education and web-two-point 09

It has been almost a month (not to mention a new year) since my last post, and I am feeling quite deprived.  Although I have never left my 2.0 journey, I have had to refocus my energy on teaching and learning (of others), and move away from the complete focus on self-learning that I have been absorbed by the past few months.  So, even though I have been reading blogs and wikis, and posts on social networking sites, watched videos, and listened to podcasts and slideshares, I refrained from commenting on them.  Instead, I have been creating and revising course syllabi so that I will be ready to teach again at the end of this month.

As I was preparing my education-related course focusing on antiracism in schools and society, however, I realized an important omission I made during my ethnoblogging venture.  As I scrolled through my lists of sites bookmarked in Diigo, I noticed that I had not saved any examples of k-12 lessons for teaching with an antiracist or social justice perspective that also  utilize web 2.0 tools or digital media.  I know that I saw some as I reviewed numerous web sites, but I did not think  to highlight them.  Perhaps I was in denial about re-entering the classroom. Or maybe I thought that I would easily be able to find them, but such was not the case.  While reviewing my own posts, I realize that I did highlight a few lesson plans related to the election in November (some of which had a social justice orientation – see post of 11/19/08), but very few of my posts relate to my work in antiracist education.

One of the assignments for my students in the coming semester is to have them identify a lesson plan that purports to be antiracist or multicultural and then to analyze it according to several criteria as outlined by antiracist, multicultural theorists.  I have done this for several years with very good results.  But this year I added a new dimension: I wanted them to find a lesson in which the teacher employed digital media or web 2.0 technology to accomplish his/her lesson objectives.  For such assignments, I usually provide students with some examples or links they might access.  But for this assignment, I did not have any sample lessons or links that combined social justice (or multicultural or antiracist teaching) with technology.  So, I decided to provide them with some web sites that have lesson plans for social justice teaching and some different sites that have lesson plans incorporating technology. By reviewing each of those sites, they will find lesson plans that incorporate both social justice education and web 2.0 technology, but they will need to do the synthesizing to complete the assignment.  The text of my assignment reads as follows:

Assignment: Search for and identify a multicultural/social justice/antiracist lesson for any grade level (K-12) and in any content area that uses Web 2.0 technology (ex. blogs, podcasts, wikis, Youtube or other videos, digital storytelling or other digital media etc.) as part of the lesson.  Bring a copy of the lesson (and the web link) to class.

The following sites may provide you some ideas. The first 3  sites refer to  multicultural, antiracist teaching which may or may not have lesson plans that utilize web 2.0 tools.  The remaining sites contain lesson plans with digital media that may or may not be multicultural or antiracist in focus.  Use your searching skills to find a lesson plan that combines multicultural teaching with digital media (or web 2.0 technology).

o       Use the Teaching Tolerance site at www.teachingtolerance.org.

o       Use the Multicultural Pavilion site at http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/.

o       Use the Rethinking Schools site at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/index.shtml

o       Use www.educatorsworld.com.

o       Use the PBS site at www.teachersdomain.org.

o       Use the Teachers Link and Learning Page at the Library of Congress site at www.loc.org.

o       Use the Teaching History site at http://teachinghistory.org/teaching-materials/lesson-plan-reviews.

o       Use the Newseum site at www.newseum.org.

o       Use a site for digital storytelling such as http://www.wtvi.com/teks/ds/#1.

o       A site for digital media in the classroom such as http://its.leesummit.k12.mo.us/digitalmedia.htm.

As I read through this assignment, I see that I was not as negligent as I thought for by asking them to do the synthesizing, they get to utilize their skills and creativity instead of my giving them all the resources.  So maybe it will turn out fine after all (note the apprehension of a teacher returning from sabbatical – can I  stilll teach effectively?).  Perhaps, though, I should not have them bring a copy of the lesson to class, but ask them to post it on the class wiki – now there’s a web-two-point 09 approach!
More, though less, on web-two-point 09 to come…

Beth Knittle on Twitter

Last month at the MassCue conference I attended a fabulous workshop focusing on Twitter as a form of professional networking by Beth Knittle (with Wes Fryer).  Many of the themes arising from my work this semester were also ones voiced by Beth and Wes.  For example, Beth reported that she had learned more in the past 4 years involving  instructional technology than her entire career as an educator.  I can certainly understand her comment.  There is so much to learn (and it changes weekly) and so many venues for that learning to occur, that the knowledge can seem exponential. I have to say that my own learning curve has also increased significantly these past few months, and I am still a “newbie” about it all. Another remark that resonated with me was made by Wes when he said that as educators we must personally use these web-based tools before we can effectively figure out how to use them in the classroom to enhance the goals we have for our students.

His statement made me recall the initial intent of my semester-long study about Web 2.0.  I naively thought that I could study the applications of Web 2.0 in the classroom before I really understood how individual tools (and there are many) work.  After a few weeks reading about what teachers were doing in their classrooms through blogs and wikis, I quickly realized that I needed to know far more about these tools, and I could only learn about them by exploring them on my own.  This maneuver is not only new to Web 2.0 tools, but to any educational content worth teaching.  The idea of “playing” with the tools reminded me of the notion of “messing about” which Eleanor Duckworth at Harvard Graduate School of Education not only wrote about but incorporated in her assignments for graduate students.  “Messing about” is necessary to understand many concepts in math and science (before they can be taught) and it is equally necessary (if not more so) in regards to educational technology. So, even though my graduate experiences were long ago, they echoed back to me quite emphatically this semester.

Back to Twitter…Beth framed her work with Twitter within the context of creating professional learning networks.  Twitter, a site for micro-blogging, allows educators to quickly find answers to their questions or pose solutions to issues that other educators are experiencing.  Twitter (along with Plurk) are widely used by educators for a variety of reasons and content specialities – Web 2.0 among them.  This social networking tool is very effective for quick communication for specific purposes, and within a short amount of time individual educators can acquire many “followers.”  Followers are an important means of connection – connection being a recurrent theme throughout the conference.

Beth and Wes left us with some useful advice and some blogs and wikis to access for futher our learning.  Thus, I have taken their advice to “play” by signing up for a Twitter account.  I welcome some followers at http://twitter.com/slaw33.  Thanks to Beth for getting me started.

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!


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