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Ripple Effect

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 9.00.09 AM Last fall I taught a class on Digital Communication and Collaboration. We talked about, among other things, the power of creating a PLN (personal learning network). We read a book on this topic, shared a few articles, and had some interesting discussions. What we never really did was create or participate in a PLN in a meaningful or transformative way. This included me, who had always been a solitary and introspective kind of guy. I followed a few blogs and tweets, but I was not an active participant in any kind of PLN. This makes teaching the benefits of a PLN a really hard sell, to say the least. At the end of the semester, I was determined to change that.

I started this blog in 2009, and until this January had never had more than 20 views in one day. I would post sporadically and rarely shared anything I wrote. The blog, for all intents and purposes, was a sandbox for me to kick around ideas and journal some of my experiences as an instructor, faculty member, and techie. My total number of views (if those analytic statistics can be trusted) from 2009 to 2013 was roughly 1,800. My point is, I was not breaking any kind of internet records with my blogging skills. On a side note, let me just tell you that keeping a blog going is hard work. This is due to the fact that:

  • I'm one guy
  • It's not my job
  • TCU and my family keep me quite busy
  • I am not a fount of awesome ideas

Having shared this, you can see that the baseline was quite low and any movement of the needle would be easy to detect.

Coincidentally, around the beginning of the spring semester I shared some tech ideas with my college in a faculty meeting and decided to write them up in a series of blog posts. Based on my experience the previous semester in my class, I was already connected to several communities and groups on Google+ and Twitter. So, I thought why not share my posts in those communities and with a few folks via strategically placed tweets. What happened next really opened my eyes to the potential of connected learners and social media.

On the image above, you can see in green where I wrote something new on my blog. I blurred out the dates and stats because I guess I'm kind of self-conscious and it kind of feels like taking a screenshot of my bank account. Anyway, as soon as I was done with my blog post, I would send it out to a few different Google+ communities and on Twitter. The orange arrows represent the activity around that post from those communities. This consisted of sharing, retweeting, scooping, e-mailing, Facebooking, etc. my  content with others. Since I use Wordpress, I was able to see the source of my web traffic. The buzz would wane over a few days, then sure enough someone else would pick it up and share it again, causing my stats to spike again (though never as much as the first time).

An interesting observation from this is the 3rd green arrow. I posted this but decided not to share it with my usual peeps. It was more introspective and not really that interesting to most people. Someone who follows my blog, however, shared it on Google+ and Twitter a few days later, causing quite the spike in traffic for a couple of days.

This has been an interesting and serendipitous experience, to say the least. I am a self-described technology ninja, an emerging technology samurai, and not really a technology shogun (leader) at all. Jumping into the world of sharing, re-sharing, and joining the larger ed. tech. conversation has definitely let me see firsthand how powerful this can be in a person's personal and professional life.

And yes, I plan on sending this out for the masses to read, share, and re-share. If you want. No pressure.

Connected to what?

I've had this thought more than once during the past few weeks: What if I delete my Facebook account? I have no real reason to delete it, and I certainly have nothing against Zuckerberg or the company (though recent history has definitely exposed his true business sense). I haven't posted anything I'm trying to hide, and there is no one in my Friend list who I believe to be a liability. So, what is the source of these feelings?

Hollowness.

That is the feeling I am left with when I look at Facebook. To me, it is a very hollow. I know it is not that way for everyone, such as my sister who is very involved in playing various games with several of her friends. I know many people who chit-chat back and forth with their friends all day, as if they were in the same room. I think this is great, but it's not the experience I have had. I'm not sure it's the experience I want to have.

The obvious advantages to Facebook are the networking and being able to see what people are up to (assuming they choose to share their lives) without having to ask. Networking, especially in this day and age, is a benefit. It's nice to have a central place where you can send people messages, knowing it will go directly into the e-mail inbox. It's also frustrating when you never get a response from someone, knowing your message went directly into their e-mail inbox. To this end, I would say this has been my main use of Facebook.

Facebook also does a nice job of keeping people who would not ordinarily be in your consciousness in your consciousness. Stalking, lurking or whatever you want to call it probably is not a benefit, except for those moments when you think, "I wonder whatever happened to old So-and-so," then you proceed to find him or her on Facebook, only to discover he lives in Peoria, Illinois and sells sand to hourglass companies. "Oh," you think to yourself, and move on. But at least old So-and-so is in your thoughts in some way, which is a way to stay connected to your past, I guess.

For me, the hollowness comes from knowing there are many people in my Friends list who want to know about me but aren't really interested in knowing me anymore. They want to have a connection to me in case I ever come in handy but they aren't committed enough to actually connect. I have a handful of friends who actually do write back, chit-chat or want to get together from time to time, but I am starting to think those are the friends I would have stayed in touch with even if there were no Facebook.

Like I said, hollow.

The main question for me, however, is not the impact this 21st century digitally-driven social networking has on me. I'm a grown-up with a great job, wonderful family and sense of purpose in life. I can deal with a little hollowness. The bigger question is how does this type of connecting affect people who have never known anything else? How are my children going to define friendship? Will they grow up thinking that people are information you need to simply find out? That once you know the person's information, you "know" that person? Will they believe the lie that you are what you share? Will they feel compelled to tweet, update, instragram or whatever every single experience they've had, or even worse, manufacture experiences just because they think they'll make for a good tweet, instragram or update?

When I think about the true friends in my life, I think of inside jokes, mountain adventures, long stories to fill long bus rides to school events, secret pacts made by a campfire, calling each other over college breaks to find time to hang out. I think about talking over dinner, serving together with someone other than ourselves in mind, playing phone tag for weeks until one of us catches the other person at home, road trips. Friendships should be so heavy with shared experiences they leave a wake in our past that never really dissipates.

I'm sure my children will use Facebook (or something like it), but I am starting to believe I will have to be purposeful if I hope to keep it from becoming the central piece in their social lives. Lives are more than data, and connection is more than updates. One way to help with this is to keep my account open and use it responsibly. And Friend them when they're old enough.

The 15-minute Experiment

One tool I have used with students for several years is a wiki. I have personally used wikis for group work, class websites and digital portfolios. However, I have had a hard time coming up with a good activities for my students that really demonstrate the affordances of a wiki (group editing, version history, comments and discussion, etc.) beyond the ability to just create a web page. In fact, my experiences were always similar to Melissa Cole, who had a lot of great ideas for using a wiki in her class but struggled to get buy-in from her class. I have had the same problem in the past, where I would set up a semester-long collaborative project for students to build a collective knowledge base. These projects always started out strong before interest fizzled after a few weeks. One interesting piece from Cole's article was the brief taxonomy of wiki usage, taken from Tonkin (2005):

  1. Single-user. This allows individual students to write and edit their own thoughts and is useful for revision and monitoring changes in understanding over time.
  2. Lab book. This enables students to peer review notes kept online by adding, for example, commentary or annotations to existing lecture notes or seminar discussions.
  3. Collaborative writing. This can be used by a team for joint research such as a group project, essay or presentation.
  4. Creating a topical knowledge repository for a module cohort. Through collaborative entries students create course content that supplements and extends delivered material.

I don't think this list is exhaustive, but it got me to thinking. How could I show my students the power of collective knowledge without giving them a project that would drag on forever, while harnessing knowledge each student currently possessed?

Well, I came up with the following idea:

Imagine you were each asked to speak to a group of students new to UNT about tips for being successful in their first semester. In other words, what do you wish you had known as an incoming student? Chances are you could come up with several good tips. But what would happen if three or four of you collaborated on the same talk? You would probably be able to come up with an even better list of suggestions for incoming students. What you will do in the next 15 minutes is collectively tap into your knowledge and experience and provide incoming students with a knowledge base that might be helpful to their transition to UNT (assuming they take your advice).

The result was this wiki, which I created using WikiSpaces. The end result is not totally impressive, and you can see that some of the students took this opportunity to be kind of silly (which I can relate to ... I was always that kid in the class). But what was interesting was the reaction from many of the students when we debriefed about this activity. For most of them, they got it. They were able to see in a  short amount of time that many people can collectively put their heads together and create something useful (e.g., Wikipedia, though that experiment has taken many years to create).

On the technical side, there was quite a lot of work I had to do beforehand to make this experiment truly 15 minutes. Here is the rundown:

  1. Set up the wiki
  2. I took advantage of the free teacher upgrade, which allowed me to add users in bulk. This takes about a day to do, since wikispaces wants to verify your .edu or k12 e-mail address.
  3. Created a CSV file with a username and password for each of my students.
  4. Uploaded the file and created the student accounts.
  5. Distributed the usernames and passwords to my class (via Moodle)

I demonstrated this process to the class as well, in case they wanted to try it themselves. I think this is an activity I will include in the future, and I may even have my students edit or add to the existing entries in addition to creating their own. I may have to find a new topic before long if this one becomes saturated, but I think there are still several topics that haven't been addressed.

So, how do you use wikis in your teaching?

Using Posterous as a class photo archive

I have been playing 5-Picture Charades with my classes for many years. I first came up with the idea (though I'm sure I wasn't the first person to do so) back in the mid-'90's when I was teaching elementary school. I would have my students pick an excerpt from whatever book we happened to be reading, and they would have to act out that scene in 5 pictures. They would then share the images with the class to see if anyone could guess the scene. As you can imagine, the activity was a lot of fun and the students loved it.

In addition to this activity being fun, I also noticed that there was a lot of higher-order thinking going on. Students were having to synthesize passages, evaluate which scenes most accurately characterized their passage, narrow them down to 5 images, decide how to physically portray those 5 essential scenes and ultimately create them. One reason the students loved this activity was because it was challenging, but the kind of challenging that is so much fun you don't realize how much work it actually is.

When I started teaching technology integration courses, I used this activity to teach my students how to capture, edit and publish digital images. I found that they were much more motivated to engage in these  skill-development activities when they were using their own images that they just had a ball creating. I typically gave them fairy tales to act out, but occasionally I would just give them some boundaries (e.g., U.S. History, Literary characters, etc.) and let them pick their own topic. The former category is much easier, but the latter produces much more entertaining image sets. We then use the images to practice image editing, digital storytelling and uploading (which, thanks to Facebook, most of them are already pretty good at).

The only sticky part to this activity every semester was sharing the images with the rest of the class. I tried having them save all of the images to the instructor computer, but it took forever and people ended up sitting around waiting for others to finish. I also tried having the students e-mail the images to me, but that also took forever and sometimes the images were too big to attach (this was before Gmail had such massive attachment allowances). So, it was always tricky getting everyone's images into one place where we could view them.

Well, last semester I got tipped off to Posterous by Wes Fryer, and I decided to use it today for this activity. I created a class account and had the students follow these instructions as soon as they came in from taking their pictures:

  1. Transfer the images from your camera to the computer.
  2. Go to http://posterous.com
  3. Log in using the following credentials
    • E-mail:
    • Password:
  4. Click on the button that says "Post by web"
  5. Click in the Title field and name it based on your group and section (e.g., Section 001, Group 1)
  6. On the right side of the screen, choose "Upload images, audio, video and docs"
  7. Choose all of your photos at once. You do this by holding down the CTRL key as you click on each photo. Once all 5 images are selected, click Open.
  8. After the photos have uploaded, click Publish.
  9. Have each person in the group save all 5 images to their flash drive
  10. Delete the images from the camera.
  11. Put the camera and all its parts back in the box and return it to me.

I am telling you, I have done this activity many times, and it has never gone as smoothly as it did today. The students came in and got right to work uploading their images to our class Posterous site, and within minutes we were laughing and blurting out trying to guess each group's fairy tale. There was essentially no waiting around or wondering what happened to some of the images. It is almost as if the gallery method of displaying images in Posterous was created just for this activity, and an added bonus is that I now have access to each of these images without having to go around to each computer and copy them to my flash drive.

I definitely recommend Posterous as a place to have students upload images. Flickr groups or Picasa albums are also good, but this is by far the easiest method I have ever used for this purpose.

Oh, be careful little CV what you say

A colleague just passed this CV along to me, which is quite creatively displayed in Google Maps. I think this a good example of how one can mix new media (interactive map) with an existing purpose (CV) and create a completely unique message. I will definitely be showing this to my students, both as an example of an innovative use of media and as a nonexample for how to write for an intended audience. Let me qualify my impending rant with this statement: I am in academia, not in advertising or copy writing, so the standards and expectations for a CV may differ quite a bit between the two worlds. Furthermore, the owner of this CV is a professional writer and undoubtedly knows more about his audience than I do.

That said, I have three main observations about his CV, which I think would be great conversation starters for graduating seniors or grad students. First, how casual is too casual for a CV? I think I am just too accustomed to the stuffy academic CV. The overall tone of this CV is quite casual and resembles something you might read on Facebook or a blog. Should style change with the medium? Would a more formal tone undermine the affordances of the interactive map?

Second, he does a pretty good job of focusing on the high points of his career, but he also commits some major job interview no-nos: talking about goofing off in college, bashing (or at least making fun of) a former boss and mentioning dissatisfaction with an old job. I have sat on several committees where we interviewed teachers for an open position, and I was always able to tell what kind of colleague the person would be just based on what he or she said about former students, principals, schools and districts. If a former principal or colleagues were described as "horrible," chances are he or she would find something horrible about future colleagues and principals. I was always "coached" to be very positive about former work environments and be selective in what I said about colleagues and bosses. In Ed's defense, he doesn't say anything really scathing and he is much more positive than negative in his descriptions of former employers.

Finally, some of his humor is a little misdirected. Considering the recent earthquake in Chile, the comment about Chilean geography may come across as insensitive. I am not an overly sensitive person, and I was immediately struck with how untimely and inappropriate this was. As a person who knows a thing or two about digital media, I know it won't take very long to move that little pin to a different place on the map.

Overall, I think this is pretty cool and I hope it ultimately leads to a job. Best of luck, Ed!

My Band plays in a Garage in the Cloud

I recently read about a suite of web-based tools hosted by aviary.com, and I was quickly blown away. Most of the tools are for image editing, but they recently added an audio editor. Each of these tools is web based ,which means they require no downloads, installations or updates. Each time one of these tools comes out (e.g., Google Sites, Weebly, PBWiki, ScreenToaster), I can feel a new life being breathed into my teaching.

When I was teaching ed tech classes, I was always hesitant to show my students applications like Photoshop, Camtasia and Dreamweaver. These programs are powerful and may very well be useful to teachers, but they required a massive leap from what the preservice teachers already knew to what they needed to learn to be successful with them. At different times, I dabbled with the tools, but the focus quickly turned to the tool itself and I would be inundated with e-mails about how to do this or that. I know there are folks who consider the ability to use these tools a necessary literacy for teachers in the 21st Century, but I chose to keep our discussions and projects grounded in pedagogy and the classroom. This makes choosing tools for different projects quite difficult. On top of their complexity, there is the issue of cost and accessibility. If I in fact wanted my students to use these tools and strategies as teachers, it hardly made sense to rely on expensive software that they would a) not have access to once they left the university and b) had to come to the computer lab to use. Using Everett Rogers' criteria for "adoptable innovations" as my framework, it made sense to me to use tools whose trialability, observability, compatibility, relative advantage and complexity matched the needs of teachers.

It just so happens that in the last few years, as more schools are experimenting with student-created digital media, the tools to create these media have been moving to the Cloud. For example, I was eventually able to replace Dreamweaver with Google Page Creator (now Google Sites), and I noticed immediately that the "how do I make a picture show up on my website"  questions vanished. Our conversations shifted to questions about pedagogy and implementation with students in their classes. However, until recently there were no suitable web-based alternatives for editing images and audio, or for creating screencasts. I still had to rely on desktop programs for podcasts, and I got pretty good as using PPT as an omnibus program for all things related to digital images.

Well, I have recently discovered, thanks to TechCrunch, a suite of new tools that may potentially transform (yet again) the way I do things. Aviary has developed a web-based audio editor that allows users to record, mix and download audio files without ever leaving the browser. The interface is extremely easy to use, and you can add up to 10 tracks. Worried about copyright for the audio clips students put in their projects? Myna (the name of the audio editor) provides over 14,500 loops for users to mix into their recordings. Of course, if you are planning on becoming the next Jared Hess or Brian Ibbott, you will need to get permission before using the music loops, distributed by APM Music. Creating an account is free, and you can either save the audio file online or download it to your computer. Needless to say, I am very eager to test this out and see if it's feasible for my students to use. Here is a screenshot of Myna (captured with Aviary's screen capture tool ... of course).

If you're gonna talk tweet, you better be able to back it up

I'm sure by now most people have heard about Pres. Obama's "jackass" comment, in reference to Kanye West's hijacking of Taylor Swift's moment in the sun. Let me just say, I don't know anything about Kanye West, and if I have ever listened to his music, it was within the context of Muzak, and I didn't know it was him. The same is true of Taylor Swift, except I do know she sings Country music. I saw the video, and yes, what Mr. West did was a jackass thing to do. Second, I think it's necessary to point out that Pres. Obama is probably not the first president to use what some might classify as a swear word. Pres. Bush used the s-word when talking to Tony Blair in, what he thought, was an unmiked conversation. From what I've heard, LBJ had the capacity to make sailors blush, but that is entirely hearsay from one of my (very) Republican relatives from Texas. This raises the question about whether or not the president is allowed to have opinions such as, "So-an-so is  a jackass," and if so, is he free to voice them in private, off-the-record conversations. My personal opinion is yes and yes. However, I don't see that as the real issue here. What is more troubling here is the manner in which this "news" got out to the public. The comment was overheard by an employee of ABC (while Pres. Obama was being interviewed by CNBC, nonetheless), who immediately sent the following message out via Twitter:

Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a ‘jackass’ for his outburst at the VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential.

Apparently, this particular tweet spread like wild fire, and I'm sure, as is the fashion these days, apologies were demanded, talk shows will have a heyday for a week or so, and Twitter will laugh all the way to the bank. Just think, if  Rep. Joe Wilson had waited a couple of weeks to yell "You lie!" from the floor of Congress, he could have included "And you cuss, too!"

What people don't realize is how damaging events like this can be. This particular incident seems to be getting a lot of laughs, and apparently all the proverbial fences have been mended, but that shouldn't mask the fact that social media, such as Twitter, actually have the power to destroy someone's reputation. Whether it's ratemyprofessor.com, Twitter, a blog or some other means of communicating with a sizable audience, people not only read this stuff, but they believe it and pass it on! On top of that, it shows up in Google searches long after the content has been taken down. This can be, undeniably, damaging to a person's life.

It's no wonder schools are scared to death of this stuff. If one kid uses these media to bully another student on the school's dime, it's seen as justification to completely block all such sites. I guess my question is, why don't schools take the proactive approach and meet this stuff head on? I wonder how many social studies teachers took the time today to talk about this event; not just the details of the event, but the broader social issues represented by this event. Are we using this kind of thing as mortar to build the wall a little higher and stronger, or are we looking for the lessons in it to help students understand just a little more the world we (the adults) have created. Twitter, or whatever technology that replaces it, is not going away, and I just wonder how they will learn to use it respectfully, carefully and thoughtfully.

I won't read this unless you print it

I recently read Keith Barton's 2005 article, "Primary Sources in History: Breaking Through the Myths" for about the upteenth time. It's a great article that talks about the misconceptions many teachers have about using primary source documents with their students. The belief many teachers have, especially those with little experience with primary sources themselves, is that students will learn more from reading/analyzing primary sources directly than they will from secondary sources. These teachers assign primary sources as reading assignments as if they were chapters from a history textbook. This is almost always confusing to students, and they rarely make the connections between documents that expert historians do. This has less to do with the documents or the students and more to do with the way expert historians approach primary sources. In order to make sense of primary source documents, historians employ certain strategies that help them contextualize the source and see where it fits with other sources written about similar events at around the same period in time. OK, make a mental note: historians, reading primary source documents, strategies. Earlier today, Willy from edfoc.us referenced an article by Mark Bauerlein, in which he claims online reading is a literacy of a lesser kind. His premise is that people, especially students who have gorged themselves on media since they were able to sit upright, don't really read online text. They skim, click and scroll past vast expanses of text, mining out the words they want to see (my paraphrase). The whole argument Mr. Bauerline poses is reminiscent of Marhall McLuhan, who believed that different media would embed themselves with the message, affecting the way our brains would perceive the message. If this perspective were to be taken to the extreme, one could argue that it doesn't matter what a person reads online -- a classic poem, a love letter, a death threat, sports scores, War and Peace -- because the end result will be scanning, clicking and scrolling. A lesser kind of literacy. If people follow this line of logic -- and trust me, school adminstrators have been known to take it in hook, line and sinker -- then it's no wonder there is such a knee-jerk reaction to digital technologies.

In Mr. Bauerlein's defense, I have taught online classes for several years, and I know firsthand that many students don't read the course documents that could very well mean the difference between passing my class and failing it. These documents are online, and although I urge my students to print them off and read them carefully, I know they skim, click and scroll. Then they argue with me that I was unclear about the due date for a paper they failed to turn in on time. So, yes, online reading can be a problem, but would these students have studied the syllabus any closer had I handed them a printed copy? Probably not.

This brings me back to the problems associated with giving students historical documents. Regardless, of the potential to do more harm than good, there can be tremendous payoffs for student learning if teachers structure the activity appropriately and give their students strategies for decoding these documents. Strategies such as SOAPS, APPARTS and SCIM-C are all designed to give students a heuristic for analyzing primary sources. The same is true of reading instruction, where students are taught strategies for comprehending what they read. Teachers don't give first graders a pile of books, then complain that they don't know how to read, and this shouldn't happen with online text either.

What Willy addresses in his post is that new types of media -- digital text, in this case -- require different, and sometimes new, strategies for avoiding the pitfalls they introduce into the learning environment. Rather than demonize digital text, we should see it as a challenge that requires new ways of thinking about the problem. We don't approach other content areas without strategies for navigating through them, and online reading should be no different. Whether it's using new tools, employing new strategies or simply pointing out the pitfalls, online reading is here to stay and should be approached proactively.

Google Transcriber? Far from Beta

I have been using Google Voice for about a month now, and I'm really starting to like it. I have yet to use it for academic purposes, but it comes in handy for making long distance calls from work. I have also put a call widget on my family blog, and it's been fun listening to messages from family and friends from all over the country. I was also excited to learn that Google transcribes the messages into text, in case I want to get the gist of the message before listening to it. This would really come in handy in case I got any messages from angry students. :) One might assume that since Google has knocked just about every other project out of the park, then their transcriptions would be spot on. Well, think again. I have two examples below using messages from my mom and mother-in-law to my two sons (the transcriptions are below the audio widget):

Hi Tina, Kurt being Sam innate sense. This is granny Karen. We love you. Granddad night. Thought about you today. Labor day. We had a fun, Labor Day, so birthday celebration with the and that and for me. I would like to dominos tonight that we miss you all. We hope you had a fun day today. Also, Hi, Okay, I want to tell you bye bye. We'd love to seeing your pictures on the blog spot. Thank you. Bye bye. We love you.

Hey guys, It's G G. We're just hoping that you have sometime today to visit with us on skype. I'm fixing to go out grocery shopping. It's the 920 here 10:20 your time, so I should be. I'll be back here at noon, so if you have time before your afternoon match ups this afternoon. G. G in. Paul Paul would love to visit with you on the web cam. Bye bye.

I was thinking about using this tool to record some phone interviews for a research project I am starting, but obviously I will have to do some serious proofreading. Still, even if this tool gets 60-70% of the words right, I will have saved myself a bundle of time and effort. Using Google Voice, you can record calls and it will send you a transcription of the conversation. I am going to test it out this week and see how it goes.

Unrolling Prezi

I have dabbled with Prezi a few times, but tomorrow and the next day will be the first time I will use it as a presentation tool in my class. The interface takes some getting used to, but after awhile I found it very simple and now prefer it to the traditional menu format. Of course, the thing that really took some getting used to was how to think in a way that leveraged the affordances of the tool. Prezi enables you to make graphics using shapes, arrows and text. PowerPoint, though I don't use it that much for presentations, has really branded itself on how I approach lectures, talks, etc. After getting past the initial confusion with the tool itself, I had to rethink how to actually design a presentation with it. I kept wanting to default to linear, bullet-pointed lists of information. I don't think my first two attempts are that great, but they are a step in the right direction. I will keep learning this tool, not because I want to replace PPT, but because I want to bust my thinking wide open. This is another example of how technology has imposed constraints on my thinking, rather than supporting my brain's natural way of looking at the world. Prezi still has its limits, but at least it has prompted me to get away from laying down one slide after another and to organize information in a different way. If I can think about new ways of presenting content, I am more likely to see the content in a new and fresh way. Here is an example of something I made today.

From a student's perspective, I think this would be a lot more interesting than PPT, even though it is really much simpler. There is no theme, no background, no images (though they can be added, as well as video and PDFs); just the content. I am also prepared for some of them to complain because PPT has dictated the way they take notes. For people who like to just write down whatever is on the screen, this will be quite frustrating. This may be a case where providing graphic organizers will be helpful. If done well, which mine really isn't, the content becomes the visual. Most people think of their content, then try to create or find a visual to go with it. Using this tool, the content can be arranged and navigated through as a visual. Pretty cool stuff. So, jump in there and give Prezi a try. You may just become a fan. And if you have examples of cool ways to use it, please share.

Facebook profiling

This ties into what I was writing about the other day. A friend of mine mentioned this article about Facebook on, of all places, Facebook. I swear, I read this AFTER I posted about Twitter the other day. If you have the time, or if you spend any time at all on FB, you should read this. It's funny, true and a little embarrassing because we are all probably guilty of doing some of these things at one time or another. This article, and my recent post about Twitter, have really prompted me to think about how innovations cause us to constantly reframe the world. I have been telling my ed. tech. students for years that we (humans) create technology, then technology creates us. My classic example is highways. Highways were created to facilitate faster, smoother commutes from one place to another. Over time people have become dependent on highways, and as the population has grown they are getting more and more crowded. Now, instead of technology working for me, I have to arrange my life around the constraints of the technology (i.e., roads that can't handle the number of cars). Thankfully, I don't live in a city with traffic problems anymore, but that really isn't the point.

The point is, people create technology and technology, in turn, begins to shape us. Some people are dependent on their smart phones. Some people won't speak in public without presentation software. Some people feel compelled to share every minute detail of their lives. The list could go on forever.

Human personality traits have probably not changed all that much in the last 10,000 years. I knew sympathy-baiters and town-criers well before FB or Twitter existed. What's interesting is how a simple little tool -- the ability to write what's on your mind from any place at any time -- has pushed these personality traits to the forefront. Perhaps folks who fall into these categories had other outlets before FB came around. Maybe they were the chronic mass-emailers of the world. But I tend to think that technologies like this have amplified these traits in people that otherwise wouldn't have been labeled in this way.  I used to get relatively few forwarded mass emails before FB, but I receive dozens of FB invitations every day. Who has time for all these games, causes, lil' green patches, farms and mafia warfare? I barely have time to be writing this. And now that Griggs has given these personalities labels, I don't think I will ever see my FB friends in the same way.

This phenomenon is also true of the online teaching I've done. The online environment pushes some personality traits to the forefront that I otherwise wouldn't have noticed. On one hand, it's nice to see a different side of students. I actually get to know my online students pretty well, and a lot of them thrive in the online environment. But I'm also tempted to label students in different ways. And if I can label someone, it makes it easy to dismiss them. I constantly have to resist the urge to label students as ignorant because they misspell everything in the discussions or lazy because they do everything at the last minute. These particular traits aren't really that evident in the classroom environment. I find it ironic that an environment that is, inherently, more private removes some of the hiding places students use in the classroom. While I am able to conduct class in my pajamas from the kitchen, certain aspects of my personality that I can hide in public are suddenly exposed.

Just some thoughts. I'm sure this will come up again. Until then, I will go lurk around on Facebook.

I actually used Twitter today

As an avid TechCrunch reader, I have a history of creating accounts for tools they mention without really thinking about what the tool does or whether I will actually use it. One such tool was Twitter. I honestly cannot remember when I created my Twitter account, but my inaugural tweet was almost a month to the day before my twins were born. I honestly have no memory of writing either of the two tweets recorded in my account, and I don't know why I decided to post a random comment about watching my twins play on the floor in late March of 2008. I have a really good memory, and both of these events, while permanently archived in Twitter, have completely dissolved from my mind. As if this can't get any stranger, I have 22 followers. I'm practically Ashton Kutcher. It's just weird to me that 22 people either saw or searched for my name and clicked the "Follow" button. I'm sure they are very disappointed. I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty confident the lack of activity in Twitter can be attributed to two things: a) I don't have a cool phone that lets me tweet at anytime and any place, and b) I find it kind of obnoxious. (I try not to think that some people actually consider what I do on this blog essentially the same at tweeting.) When I see status updates on Facebook that are obviously from Twitter (e.g., @, #, bit.ly, misspelled words, etc.), I actually get annoyed and don't read what the person actually wrote. More than that, however, is the fact that I don't really have time to read up-to-the-second updates about what people are doing. Do I really care that someone I kind of knew in high school needs more coffee? Personally, I don't feel the need to tell the world that I am sitting at a traffic light or that I just ate too  much for lunch. And I am suddenly feeling the need to confess that the most chronic Twitter addicts in my Facebook network have either been de-friended or hidden. Wow, that feels better.

However, today things changed just ever so slightly. It all started when a web tool I like (Google Calendar) wouldn't load. I tried refreshing several times with no luck. I went to the Google Dashboard, but they don't even have today's date up yet. So, I had to look in the only place I knew would have realtime information on this. And I found out that some people are experiencing the same thing. There is no explanation or clue as to when it be available again, but at least Twitter let me find out that I'm not alone. It seems that this is not affecting everyone, by the way. So, rather than obsessing about this and trying to see if the problem was caused on my end, I could let it rest and get back to work.

Twitter can count this as a score in their favor. I still refuse to tweet, but if a widely-used web page won't work for me I will likely look on Twitter first. This is by no means comparable to the protests in Iran and the subsequent military crackdown, but I did get to experience firsthand the benefits of realtime data. I'm still trying to get my head around the implications this has for children growing up in the 21st Century and how these technologies will shape how they define "news." But it's an interesting thing to think about. And one more thing from curbyalexander @somerandomdude: We're all tired and ready to go home at the end of the day. But thanks for sharing.

And your homework for tonight is ... Facebook?

I've been thinking a lot about this post from Will Richardson. On one hand, I agree with Will. There is tremendous potential in using social media for learning. I have personally had this experience while trying to learn something new, such as CSS, PHP, digital video, guitar riffs, how to clean my lawnmower's carburettor, etc. In most cases, someone else held the key to a problem I was struggling with, and had I not been connected to a large pool of folks with similar interests and extensive knowledge, I would either be stuck in a rut or would have bailed on the whole thing altogether. The distinct characteristic from these learning experiences and those of K-12 (and undergrad, in most cases) students is that I was personally driven to learn something new. Students are personally driven to learn new things as well, but in many cases their personal interests don't align with the learning objectives established by their teachers. So, in the case of this 20-year old University of Missouri student, he probably is learning a lot by engaging in social media. He has probably learned a slew of new terms from the Urban Dictionary. He has learned how to be witty in 140 characters or less. He has learned how to keep tabs on his high school girlfriend. And I wouldn't be surprised if he has not only learned how to get free music from YouTube, but also discovered music he otherwise would have never heard of. The challenge for educators (and professors) is a) to convince this kid that most of these "skills" (minus the stalking) can cross over to his academics and make learning a much more personally rewarding experience, and b) to venture into this scary territory where they relinquish control over the learning environment without drenching it in a cheap, imitation school-scented cologne.

In response to Will's question, I'm not sure the blame for this kid's lack of vision lies with anyone in particular. Perhaps the blame lies with anyone who believes differently and doesn't do anything about it.