Saturday, June 23, 2007

EduBloggerCon07

Tagging the Path for Communication

It's been a new experience. I've spent an afternoon at a twittering distance of the attendees at EduBloggerCon07, an unconference in Atlanta today. They are wrapping up the event as I write this post.

I have been "in touch" using a set of tools based on RSS and tags which I have learnt to use in the last year.
Wikispaces attendees list

Blog Posts
Flickr
Twitter

Actually the Conference Twitter spot was not that active as I had expected. It was Steve Dembo (see the happy twitterer face in the pic -pretty telling) who live blogged the event. Also Vicky, Chris and Jeff. At least from my Twitter contacts.


And from their tweets, I got the posts people in my RSS are making about the event with notes that help you to trace some of the landmarks of the conference.
............
Note to self: FOE-Things we need to definitely learn: Teach your students to be communicatively concise. Big plus today to know how to handle 140 characters.
.............

Vicky Davis has summed up some conclusions on the event in this post (please read, my numbers refer to her notes).
Some thoughts -
1. Database, yes. Now, those curricular needs would just be according to the system of one country? Could that be more generic and then let the network be more specific?

2.The tagging standards seem to point a country-specific database. It can be a good example for others to follow or improve.

Tagging- This is where I get stuck. I completely agree standards can help to access fast. My suggestion is to study first how beginners tend to tag. One of the advantages of tagging is its unique simplicity. Whatever tag we choose should not be too elaborate. At least if we aim at making beginners speed up in all this.

Here is an example of what I mean by generic tags, broad tags, which could create specific categories simply by adding them. It is a tagging plan for a literature resources wiki.

I have decided to use a non capitalization policy for tags there. However, I find that some people prefer capitalization when
tagging their own names in del.icio.us, so when it comes to names, I still wonder what is best.

As regards the use of hyphens, I will use hyphens for words that carry one on print too (e.g. Post-colonialism). To avoid ambiguity, I think I'll use perhaps an underscore to join closely related labels if necessary. The idea is that the labels are clickable and point to related pages quickly, so I'd rather use single word labels. If I join tags with hyphens, I will be singling the page out far too much to join it to others.

In a nutshell, I think tags should be mashable. Not that I know exactly how to do that with a tool. But I'm sure someone in our network will know!

What can be unique to spot content is not the tag, but the combination of tags. Would that be better accomplished by joining with dots, underscores or the + sign del.icio.us uses?

3. Volunteer group to tag resources in del.icio.us. Choosing tags which have a seamless integration to those already in use by educators will be instrumental in obtaining a rich database. Tagging is a comfortable, easy action. It need not be "taught" or arbitrarily chosen for you. That sounds more like taxonomy than folksonomy to me.

I have collected a database of educators in del.icio.us by adding them to my network.
http://del.icio.us/network/fceblog

It has been my dream -a wild one indeed- to be able to navigate that network fast. I would like to ask a tool to retrieve information such as:
-Who is saving more items tagged ...?
-Who has been recently saving items on a specific topic?
Clicking on each of them is tough.

4. Simplicity and video tutorials. Who could doubt the power of these two put together?
I would add something else:Strands. I think that's where the efforts of volunteers should be best directed to.

Why?
The beginner blogging teachers I have generated here, after a presentation on blogs, have both - at different exploration stages- felt the need of a "blogging course". One of them wanted it at the early stage before getting RSS-ed. The other one has tried to do it to find order in her online journeys. Result: Disappointment. They were looking for tailor made things and what you need is tools to tailor make it yourself.

That is why I think the essence of whatever we create for them has to be more like the ingredients in the kitchen than the menu at the restaurant. The menu can have puzzling terms. A PLE is to be made individually and the needs of the elements to include or how many tools to use in it will vary far too much to plan.

But I digress from Vicky's original point. Just thinking out loud.

...........................................
Resources
(just sharing my little serendipitous research)
My PBwiki page on Del.icio.us
This includes video tutorials and slideshare ppt.

Practical aspects of tagging
Tagging Help for Teachers

A Bit of Reflection
A Cognitive Analysis of Tagging
A Social Analysis of Tagging
Thirteen Tips for Effective Tagging
Tags: Database Schemas
Folksonomies- Tidying up Tags?
Tag Literacy

Tag Searching Tools
Del.icio.us Tag Search
(If only we could limit this to as many users as we need).
Tag Search in Social Bookmarking Services
Flickr Related Tag Browser
Tag Browser
This is a tool to download. Need to explore yet.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Open Education

Open Education
Reflections on the Future of Education.
(My own -that is).


Learning at University and on the Internet at the same time is hard for me to
integrate. It is an advantage to have chosen a University specialised in systems. I have a course of studies coordinator who is open to new technologies. She asked me to post this profile page on her new wiki experiment. It took me less than half an hour (*excuse me Stephen) to briefly put forward my ideas. A year of learning, online artifacts creation and future hopes on one page. And I owe that clarity to blogging; not a university.

Some ideas written in that wiki might be left aside as I continue my learning journey. I think these will probably not:


My Serendipitous Learning
My attitude in front of a screen has changed. I figure our students will face a future of information and communications change for which we cannot fully prepare them. Yet, we can give them tools and a glimpse of the digital literacies they will need for lifelong learning.
What I look for at University
I expect this Materials Design II course to help me go further in the search of theoretical substance to investigate what these ICT tools enable us to do in our classrooms. I hope this year I learn to integrate knowledge gained through formal and informal learning experiences; for I have found that both paths can be powerful enough to generate meaning, reflection and learning.

In search of integration patterns

I cannot speak of the future of education without the word "open" playing a key part.

Via the FOE attendr map, I landed again on Daniel Craig's blog. His post Why Peer-Reviewed Publishing?
invites to reflection on ranking academic journals.

Daniel says:
I have been thinking about this quite a bit over the last couple years, considering that I have a career ahead of me (hopefully) involving tenure review. However, I neither believe that traditional "high-quality" journals should have the power that they do over evaluation of academic prowess nor do I believe that they are the best place way to disseminate information. So, which direction do I go?

My comments
(on his post)
Openness of publication and access can make results rather messy -not to say overwhelming. Spotting good quality is becoming a complex task.

For the time-being, an article saved 140 times in del.icio.us does not speak about its potential academic value. It just states that 140 people have read it.

Perhaps sites like diigo, with shared annotated bookmarks and the possibility to trace the note writer to its webpage, could open room to find diamonds in the rough outside the recognised journals in any given field. Yahoo pipes also looks promising as you mentioned in another post.

Still, as much as technology may simplify the finding process, much remains to be done about learning what makes a contribution valuable. To become more autonomous readers and not just wait until authorities decide what should be read.

Academy culture tends to change slowly. Authority and stability are at the heart of its e
xistence. Should universities become more flexible, open, change altogether? Hard to predict their future.

Afterthoughts (or notes to self)
Where does that leave us teachers?
We will have to teach the separation of form,
content and context if we want students to manage the changing nature of knowledge and information sources. We will have to model reflection in front of our students. Show them how we find patterns in what we consider quality value. Account for the reading selection we bring to class.

How to assess this process?
The key is, perhaps, again in openness. Who will have the power to change or review the syllabus? How open are we to expose our designs to criticism from colleagues? How much value can be given to students' self-assessment of their work?

I do not have definite answers. I'm afraid I never will. One thing is certain. Reflecting on my practice used to be rather lonely. The activities going on in my class were mostly private -except for the odd observation. I fear that all knowledge I did not share before has been lost in my mind. Those ideas did not grow.

Publishing my thoughts has led me to know like-minded people who take me further. Now, I am on the winding road of spotting the good, the bad and the ugly of the Internet. And then how it all integrates with academic contexts.

Sigh.

I hope I am on the right track.

....................
* I read Things you Really Need to Learn on Half an Hour last night. A gem indeed. My favourite post on the future of education. No comments. Just re-read and nodded.

Picture credits:
SimplySchmoopie
joannamkay (her edublog pic)
ChrisCampbell(last 2 pics)

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Friday, June 01, 2007

English 2.0

English 2.0

Reviewing the issue of Internet access and connectivity. Prerequisites to envision the future of education.

Written on the eve of the FOE Conference. Some reflections after reading a mail from George Siemens:

"
A quick look at our conference attendr map -while gratifyingly diverse - reveals that Africa, South America, Asia, and Middle East are not well represented. To bring in the importance of these regions this discussion of Africa in a business context is worth a listen -http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/127.
I would suggest many of the principles expressed during the talk transfer well to considerations of
how to bet assist in these areas as educators."

Before checking on the link to the forum and losing my own thoughts, I'll jot down some ideas.

Some comments on the FOE attendr map
My first reaction after seeing the map I had joined a couple of days before was:
"Looks as if I were the blog lone ranger in Argentina". Let me hurry to inform you I am not the only one with a blog down here.

Clicking on the
few pins of people in South America and Africa I notice they are not recognising anybody on the attendees list. They do not have connections. Probably they do not blog either.

Then I had a look at Africa and I found Hala in Sudan, another ELT blogger who had long joined my visitors Guest Map in my fceblog. Great to see the familiar face of Hala (wait, I'm trying to find her correct link. It is wrong in the attendr site. I copied and pasted the address. Good. Found her. Blogger profile? Not available. Ouch! Well, I mean this Hala).

Image source Wikipedia

First observations
The few people joining the FOE conference from the line of the equator down either:
a) teach English
b) speak English

First -and no doubt rushed- conclusions
If you want to take part in the debates that join a diverse (not widely diverse, but anyway) audience from around the world and say something where things are being thought out and shaped; therefore, even if you are not
the expert, you want to be there and speak your mind, express yourself fully and enjoy the privilege of being a world citizen who contributes to shaping the future, teaching the machine a link ...and so on... you must speak English.

Sadly.

Mind you. I am a teacher of English in love with the language. Yet...

A language -foreign or not- is the tool to think and create new possible worlds. A language is the vehicle that makes it possible. There is no coincidence that the greatest philosophers have written in German. The German language enables thought like no other. Every word in German, every cog of a phrase is totally linked and connected to the rest by declinations. Want to think that way? Learn German.

English is a Web 2.0 language
English is the language where most new words are concepts are coined. A new application like Twitter appears and soon you will find its users engaged in creative ways of using "twitter" as a root that allows for unlimited suffix creation. (I have been favouriting some examples in my Twitter account). Even if you are not a native speaker, you can
informally play with the English language.

English is open source
You can get the code, own it and modify it as you please. People may not share what you have created or regard it as standard. But meaning will carry through anyway. The connection can still be made.

I sometimes read a few blogs in French, Portuguese and Italian. I read a lot in the Spanish blogosphere too. You can easily find lots of links to English sites with people providing "free translations" to the content of those links. (Notice I say people, not bloggers. Why? Because those translations rarely carry the translator's view on them. Just the "free version" provided in a blog engine).

A note from the translator
As a translation student, I always wonder what blog powered people mean by a "free version" translation. Personally I think it means the author of the original text has no idea he has been translated -accurately or not- into another language. Worst of all, you may not learn that they translated your full post -which makes visiting the original a totally unnecessary thing. (?!) Free also means they conveniently interpret it the way they can -or want to.

Is Web 2.0 English enabled only?
Observe the links. Blogs in other languages -other than English- include lots of links to blogs written in English. How about the other way round?

Would the Wikipedia be the global success and collaboration model it is today if it had been written only in English?

Have you ever thought that some of the most interesting or fruitful conversations about the future of Education could be taking place in blogs written in a language you do not access?

When we discuss education in English only, we are looking at the tree, but missing the very forest we wish to transform into a better world.

Here is the wider picture (as of 19 March 2007)



Retrieved from www.internetworldstats.com on 1 June 2007.

...........
Back to the main point
"How to best assist in these areas as educators."

Ask them how they prefer to connect
Most of ELT teachers and Webheads still connect via Yahoo! Groups.

In my opinion,
a mail group is a Web 1.0 way of connecting. Yet, I discovered last January these groups are so lively, sharing ideas, emotion and feedback. I am mostly a lurker in those groups. The main reason: Mails do not always include a hyperlinked signature to the writers' post. When they do include links, they tend to be broken or not repeated whenever something outside the context of a given mail needs to be referred. I need to see the idea in the blog context to get to my own conclusions. To do that, you might have to read a few long mail threads to get a point/an idea illustrated in a blog post. You need scanning reading skills to quickly go through endless apologies for the previous mistakes and thank yous. And time. Precious time.

I prefer open contexts of communication such as blogs. I do not feel like writing extensive birthday cards or long warm mails when 140 characters can say so much and achieve the point of feeling closer, instantly connected to the bloggers you read.

Who would deny a blog is a much more powerful carrier of the future of education than a Yahoo! group? However, I found ELT teachers do not always make a real connection through their edublogs. They do not always answer blog comments.

My position to this has been not to ignore them simply because they do not use my preferred mode of connection.

Don't just "bring the importance of these regions", go to them!
By accessing their mails, I have been able to make a few meaningful connections with like-minded ELT professionals. You need the email; you need to get the message through in their private realm.

The talk in those ELT mail groups is mostly about tools. The ELT blogs I have found generally have a number of posts just to link to widgets. Not the education power or how productive you become with the widget in the blog. Just the widgets. I posted my reactions to the widget hype in the B4B workshop here. Oddly enough, I received positive comments from the organisers.

The point is this English speaking community of experienced as well as fledgeling edubloggers could definitely benefit from the FOE conference if only they had enrolled! Compare this map from the Blogging for Beginners workshop in January 2007 to the FOE attendr map.

Some light has been thrown on more risk-taking views of technology in the WiaC2007. As Mary Hillis accurately and succintly pointed out in her summary post,

"Whereas the Blogging for Begginners EVO session focused mainly on developing teachers' skills to set up and manage a blog, this session focused on how to create and implement collaborative cross-cultural projects."

It is a pity that such a large community of teachers of English does not blog about more ideas than tools.
They could become informal translators of the conversations going on in the English-speaking blogosphere. Translators not just to copy&paste, but translation in its meaning of "transfer", going through language barriers. Then taking part in the conversations in their mother tongue and blog back into English what they have learnt. Cross-pollination posting. That would be some global conversation!

Image source: Wikipedia

What to do?
Instructional design is not just about analysing where we want to go with the course. First you must assess the real needs, see where people are. Then you must build ways of carrying them from the current status to the desired status. Analogous steps can construct the future of education.

Get into their mail boxes and
speak their language. Talk about the things they are using, even if they seem way back the educational dream. Then we can discuss the future of their education.

.......
I was about to tag Hala... better let her know via email and make a connection.

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