Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Year End Reflections

One of the problems with the end of the year is that it forms a natural inflection point. The problem is that once I start reflecting, I can get lost and start reflecting on unexpected things.

I don't so much think of whole situations. It's more like I flash on instants that carry a temporal echo. They're not necessarily in any chronological sequence, and even if I thought they were, my perceptions have to be suspect.

... sitting in the sand outside our first house on Little Sebago Lake in Windham, Maine. I couldn't have been more than four because we moved from that house when I was ready to start school. The sun was summer warm and I remember the smell of pine and stale tobacco. Dad had given up smoking his pipe by then and the pipe rack was a favored toy. I remember the chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee always having something to say ...

... riding my bicycle around and around the house on Dutton Hill. Flying with my sibs in a pack, racing on the wet grass. Heavy, old, clumsy, rattle-traps of bicycles ...

... crystal cold day. laying on my back on the frozen crust of snow at the top of the hill. eyes dazzled by the brilliant blue of the sun glinting off the ice crystals. letting gravity pull my body down the hill, sliding. whoosh of jacket against the crust, sky flashing over head...

... amazing hubbub from the family gathered in the house. "kids table" set in the next room because there just weren't enough chairs for us all to sit together. cousins and others mixing in uneasy, unfamiliarity at first ... slowly remembering that we really like each other...

... smell of the pine forest. babble of the brook. trout in the stream but I leave them ...

... working the winches aboard the Minkette out of Portland. Haul-back with half a bag of whiting that I know will take two hours to sort ... easing up on the power and guiding the cable onto the spool so it doesn't bind ... lifting the bag over the side and spilling an avalanche of silver across the deck ...

... warm day on the Hazel A, tuna fishing off Monhegan. Gaze across the water, the engines a distance rumble under my feet and the tower sways two meters left and right ... I've been here all day in the sun and my face is burned, my lips are tight but I spot the wake before the seasoned adults ... cousin Herbert up in the pulpit with his harpoon ready ... but the fish subside before we get close enough ...

... broiling in the sun, weeding carrots on a 100 foot row. 9 in the morning. soil already hot enough to burn my hands so I scuffle them along in the dirt to keep them off the surface. I'm not sure .. is this a carrot? is that a weed? twenty minutes for the first 10 feet...

... winter tobogganing down the Big Hill. Screaming down the soft snow only to crash into the stone wall just before the road. No wind. Can't breathe. Shock and snow and blood...

... horse dung and ammonia, mucking the stalls ... hating the job but loving the beasts ... hot summer stench and cold winter warmth ... molasses rich grain, sweet alfafa hay, arms breaking from the buckets of fresh, cold water ...

... night at sea watching the running lights of the factory ships around us ...

... night in New York City ... thinking of the millions of people around me, marveling that so many people live in such a small area after growing up where 100 people was a crowd ... all the lights like jewels ...

... frozen winter sky, telescope finding faint nebulae ... the sky suddenly awash from horizon to horizon in shimmering borealis ...

... leaving to go to boot camp

... leaving to go to Governor's Island

... leaving to go to Kodiak

... leaving to get married

... leaving to get divorced

... leaving to take my wife to the hospital because today's the day my second child will be born.

... standing on the deck of a ferry in Casco Bay listening to Schooner Faire playing on the speakers as we come around Portland Head and knowing that it's probably the last time I'll be "coming home" that way ... leaving for Buffalo in the morning.

... scraping the frost from the inside of my bedroom window so I can look up to see Orion's belt above the trees and wondering what I'll be when I grow up ...

... clam flats in summer.

... squeaky snow in winter.

... the icy run off down the dirt driveway in spring, puddles iced over in the morning from our dam building activity of the afternoon before.

... shockingly deep blue autumn skies alive with the colors of sumac, oak, and maple.

... the smell of wood smoke, perking coffee, and frying bacon on the woodstove. Electricity costs more than wood ... and wood warms twice ... once when you chop it and once when you burn it ...

This is will be my first New Year as an orphan.

Somehow, it's ok.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Political testing

You are a

Social Liberal
(86% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(23% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Strong Democrat

Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

Thanks Leslie!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tempus Fugits All Over!

Jeez. I can't believe it's been a month since I posted .. My class over at Phaedrus Academy has just siphoned off all my excess bloggy goodness - not that I had a lot going in.

But I STILL have all the EVO2005 group in my aggregator and I'm still reading.

I used James Farmer's Edublogs.org for the students. It's worked well because they're all WordPress blogs and very smooth. The "theme menu" is nice .. they can pick a good looking theme and not worry about hacking the style sheets together. It loses a little bit from not being able to customize the template, I think, but the upside is that all they have to master is reading, writing, commenting, and aggregating while they're working on the basics of distance education.

Monday, August 22, 2005

And they're OFF!!

This morning marked the kickoff of my course on Teaching Online.

The students have been "muttering in the halls" for the last few days -- I sent out a warm up message to the list server mid-week last week in response to the 8th "how does this work" email. So some of them are ahead of the curve and some, unfortunately, still haven't registered.

Anybody in the webheads group who wants to get on board (you can audit for free, but if you want the college credit you have to pay) is welcome to.

The blog is at http://nclid.unco.edu/campus/phaedrus

The moodle is at http://nclid.unco.edu/campus

The course is Phaedrus Academy ... :D

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Phaedrus Academy

On Monday I start teaching a course to teach classroom teachers how to teach online. The course is, of course, offered online. It's called Phaedrus Academy in honor of a student of Socrates who had a lot to say about the introduction of a new technology -- writing -- into academe. Socrates was rather upset at this innovation, fearing that it would mark the end of Education as each man no longer would rely on the command of his memory and oratory. It was, of course, the first distance delivery technology and so seemed fitting for our course.

This will be the fourth iteration of the offering and the first one that I've been able to use Moodle for. This is a big thing for me because the major work of the class is to coach classroom teachers in the process of design and implementation of an online course. We use that idea as an anchoring construct to give students a structure -- a foundation -- to which they can build their knowledge of tools, skills, and practice. In the past, we've only been able to talk about what we might do. This time, with a fully functional templated structure, we can actually have them design and build it. Time limits will prevent actually running the course, but we're one step closer to an authentic experience.

With only a few days left, though, I'm struggling with where to write for the class. Should I have a separate blog for my course writings -- separate from my meta-writings about the course? Should I have one blog for all my course writings? Including the meta-analysis of the course as it occurs? Should I incorporate it into an existing blog? Perhaps with a set of categories?

I need to make up my mind pretty quickly ...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Postcard from 12005'

My kids (7 and 10) on the top of the world

This week we took a little overnight trip to the other side of the mountains. Our path took us through the Rocky Mountain National Park - along Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuously paved road in the US. Along the way we stopped and hiked up the 200' from the Alpine Visitor's Center to this marker.

I took almost 100 frames and I'll be loading more of them to my flickr account over the next 24 hours or so. I need to get them loaded before I forget what they are.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Postcard from Florida

Last weekend I was in Florida at a conference. We stayed at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. It's quite a place. Late July, however, is a darn poor time to be in Central Florida.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Call me naive ...

... but when did it become alright for teachers to lie to kids?

When politics and education intersect, we have some interesting issues arise.

I'm reading this (PDF, sorry) report on the abstinence-is-the-one-true-path sex education curricula. Now I appreciate we often gloss over details - we simplify for clarity. We have Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. But are these the same as deliberately promoting false/dangerous information in order to put forward a religious agenda? And why are MY tax dollars supporting this crap?

Yes, I'm overstating the case a bit. All these programs promote abstinence and if the students follow the advice, they'll be safe. But if they stray, they could die from a lack of knowledge and an abundance of mis-information.

These programs downplay the importance and effectiveness of safe-sex. "It's not all that safe" leads, inevitably, to "why bother if it's not going to work anyway." I saw a clip from 60 Minutes wherein the medical expert pointed out that all benefit from the abstinence programs evaporates on the first exposure to reality, since the students who've been fed this cark have no basis upon which to make any kind of reasonable decisions.

The logical line here seems to be "If we keep them stupid, we can keep them scared. If we can keep them scared, we can convince them that only marriage can keep them safe. And of course, once they're married, they'll breed like rabbits ..."

It's ok to kill them for not believing? When did *that* become a "Family Value"...?

Ok. So .. It's all a numbers game, right? ONLY about 1/3 of 1% of the people in the US carry HIV. That's only slightly more than people who are blind. What're the chances that you'd pick one of them? And as far as pregnancy goes, well, that's only gonna mess up the girls ... So, the Holy Fathers here seem to think that's ok. Everything else we can cure with a pill, or a shot, right?

Does this seem troubling to anybody else? As a father of two rather high-spirited pre-teens, I gotta say, this has me seeing red.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Nerdy Goodness!

I am nerdier than 98% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Frankly, I didn't think I was THIS nerdy.

Thanks to Remote Access for the quiz link.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Learner Centered

One of the things I'm wrestling with around the web these days is what is a "Learner Centered Environment." I wanted to bring that discussion over here with my EVO buddies and see what this looks like to you.

The problem I have is this notion that learners in a learner centered environment have to "come to class on time." Now this is a metaphor for all the stuff we make students do -- come to class, do homework assignments, study in a particular sequence, attend school at a particular place and time, etc. How is this learner centered?

There are several decentralized models lurking about -- I've been inspired by Scott Wilson's vision (corrected) for some time. But I think it's too complicated -- too specific.

So I made this diagram:

Learner Environment

But is this too simplistic?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Cultural Creative

I got this from Bee. What is it about these quizzes?

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View? (updated)
created with QuizFarm.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tempus Fugit

I am still trying to come up to speed from my hiatus in Maine.

It's difficult because I'm not sure where each day goes. I get up in the morning, go thru the day, and get to nighttime without being really aware of what has happened. I attend meetings and fiddle with code. I put other people's work online and graze mindlessly through blog after blog. I'm not writing here at all and only sporadically on my other blog.

There was a really cool conference last weekend just minutes from my house. I wanted to attend but stayed home and celebrated my daughter's 10th birthday. In a couple of weeks I may be going back on the road to help another school transition to online delivery. I still haven't heard back from my job interview from last month.

Is this Spring Fever? I just can't get engaged ...

My wife is convinced that I've dropped into depression far enough that I'm not aware of it.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Postcard from Maine

Union Cemetary

Early morning is a good time to visit a country cemetary. The woods are a flutter with birds and the chickadees are whistling off in the distance. A rich smell of forest fills the air -- musky and rich with pine and spruce. In the distance a dog objects to something.

All in all, a man might rest peacefully in such a place.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Postcard from Maine

Pitcher Pond

Odd shaped ponds like this are scattered everywhere in Maine. This shot was taken looking south from the Belfast Road (Route 52) as the sun was near setting.

Postcard from Maine

Penobscot Bay

After a stormy night, the sun is rising over Penobscot Bay this morning. All the scent was washed out of the air last night ... Or maybe my nose is just stuffed up.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Earle P. Lowell (1930-2005)


In May, 2004, my father and stepmother flew out to Colorado to see me get my Ph.D. I hadn't seen him in several years so it was wonderful to spend a few days with him. After the graduation we went up to the YMCA of the Rockies -- a huge, and beautiful resort-like place just outside of Estes Park, Colorado -- and I snapped this picture of Dad and Betty standing on the front steps of the main administration building just drinking in the scenery. Since many of you don't know him, you won't recognize his expression as "broad smile" -- that confuses a lot of people.

Last month, he and my stepmother were on a 2-week cruise in the Caribbean. They had a grand time. I talked to him about it on the phone two weeks ago. It was a nice call. A couple days later he was in the hospital with pneumonia and last night he passed away.

I debated making a post on it. The rather macabre image of wearing a black "I'm blogging this" t-shirt to the funeral ... but as you can see, I decided that I needed to post something to honor his passing.

He loved the sea. I think the old Lowell blood called to him -- back a few generations we were fishers and farmers along the central coast. For many summers he worked as crew for a cousin on a charter boat on the weekends, coming home sunburned and calmed. Eventually, circumstances permitted his getting his own boat and he loved spending time puttering up and down the coast in it.

He was one of those quiet guys you find in Coastal Maine. Independant, self-reliant. Ok ... stubborn. He was a quiet, gentle, self-effacing guy. When he did say something, it was usually something worthwhile. When I was a teen, I went to work with him in the factory in the summer. I learned a lot about work and about him and about the questions one needs to ask about becoming whatever it is one becomes.

People outside the family don't understand us very well. We don't talk much. I talked to my dad on the phone 3 or 4 times a year. I haven't talked to my brother in years. I have his email address here somewhere. But we all know we're family. We're all busy living our own lives because that's the way we do it. The lesson that Dad taught us all was "live your own life."

When he was here for my graduation last May, we knew it might well be the last time we'd see each other. We made our peace then. I know he was very proud and that he loved me very much. Ultimately, what else can a son do for his father?

Thanks, Dad.

I love you.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Tough Day

The EVO group in my aggregator .. ah .. what would I do without you guys??

My sympathies to Leslie. I hope the "site" is restored soon.

Nancy, thanks for making me think a lot. It distracts me something horrible - and nice that liked Scott Adams' post on Reasons to Blog. We're on a campaign over in my professional group to try to get them into the zone :D

Marco -- I loved the Errand Boy! And you've gotta be a masochist to keep reading CogDiss!

Blinger! "...hooked on phonics ..." that's sooo funny.

But where is Sarolta? I miss your clear voice! Has the coming of spring silenced you?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I'm Jack Sparrow. Who knew??

Thanks, Lesley!

Now I have to rent the movie...

I did this TWICE and came up the same way both times. I think I'm gonna go back and do the "which Horror Movie Monster are you? quiz.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Still Alive!

Ya. I'm still here.. still reading the EVO bloggers. Mostly I'm writing over in my Cognitive Dissonance blog. Lately we've been working on a discussion of media classification and the notion of Quantum Cognition.

I'm having fun, but I'm not sure how much in-road I'm making on the group.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Eide Neurolearning Blog and Learning Styles

Eide Neurolearning Blog and Learning Styles

Wow. I LIKE this post.

As an educational technologist I'm asked to justify all my silly notions all the time. This post does a great job of listing what blogs can and should do for people who are using them in learning environments.

In conclusion, it looks as if blogging will be very good for our brains. It holds enormous potential in education, and it could take societal communication and creative exchange onto a whole new level.

Ya. I think the EVO2005 folks would agree with this.

Btw, I'm using my "Blog This" applet to see how well it works .. First time for me. I'm excited.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Six Weeks So Soon?

For all my curmudgeonly complaints, I have to say this has been a blast.

Thanks to the coordinators and my fellow participants. I keep coming back to see if anybody's left comments .. and I still have a HUGE list of blogs to watch -- without even going out into the branches that most of us have made into other areas.

Nancy, Lesley, Sarolta, Marco ... and all the others who've worked so hard and contributed so much to the course. It's been an honor to play with you here in the the blogosphere ... I hope you stay in touch and keep writing in your blogs.


Thursday, February 24, 2005


Part of this post is my lack of breakfast talking.

I missed my breakfast because I hurried to get to the office by 7am local time to participate in the Learning Times event this morning. I came to the office because none of the setups in my home actually work because the machines I can expose to the outside world are all linux based. My windows machines are not sufficiently hardened to be exposed. In my haste, I forgot that the university for which I work has changed their policies on access and my machine is now "behind the wall" and Elluminate is blocked.

While the experience with EVO2005 has been generally positive -- I'll do a full critique later -- this LearningTimes/Elluminate thing has been a hugely frustrating experience. Even when I managed to get connected, it was on an unsupported platform and I could not take full advantage of the participation.

I would recommend that this platform be abandoned until the issues of firewall and platform compatability can resolved. There is no way I could recommend use of this platform under the circumstances.

And I'm PARTICULARLY pissed because I missed my breakfast in order to be closed out of the experience AGAIN!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

On Community

At the Northern Voice conference last weekend in Vancouver, Stephen Downes offered this theory of community.

A Theory of Community
a system defined by three major components:
  1. a means of organizing input and experience
  2. a mechanism for putting that experience into context,
  3. a means of creation, of becoming part of someone else's experience

The idea here is that community is defined by the relations between its members, not some inherent property or quality – defined semantically, not syntactically

I like this. It helps explain how a random group of bloggers is not a community, but a group like ours is. Granted Downes has this in a blogging context, but he really is talking about communities in general.

See The New PR Wiki for a whole raft of Northern Voice resources.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Something I Found

Well, something that somebody else found, and somebody ELSE built upon until I listened to it this morning and wanted to pass on to somebody.

I follow about 250 blogs now in my Sage aggregator. I get a lot of linkages. Jeanne Sessum's Allied blog is one of them. And she probably follows 500. She's always got cool stuff in there that makes me think.

Today I found this audio file that's as good a representation of the potential as any I've heard. It's significant because the original audio was just the voice. One of the people who heard the mp3 took it and put the piano behind it.

Ack. My addendum: My apologies to STWC for NOT linking to his blog entry instead of just the audio ... Man, I *meant* to do that ... I claim "brain cloud"

Stavrosthewonderchicken's Empty Bottle blog

I should probably do the "language warning" (he swears a little) and the "adult content" warning because he talks about youthful transgressions of the pharmaceutical variety.

... Pete's Slings and Arrows questions the value of blogging in education. Well, education is about making connections. Blogging allows us to extend those connections outside our selves, beyond our comfort zone, into the area where new connections happen ... It's all about the linkages ...

People of Earth, remember.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


i) What are e-portfolios?

The construct e-portfolios is a simple extension of the "artist portfolio" where an artist keeps representative samples and exemplars of his work. In the digital age, it only makes sense that this construct move online and become part of wider communities of practice. This is especially true for education and technology where more and more professional practice occurs in a digital format.

I particularly like the opportunity to reflect and explain in the online portfolio. In the classic portfolio, the artifacts spoke for themselves -- the artist's inclusion of this or that work goes unexplored and unexplained. As Helen Barnett points out, the electronic portfolio allows for that reflective exploration of an artifact. Why is it included? What does it represent to me? What significance does it have?

ii) How can they be of use to me and my classes?

It would be easy to consider the artifacts of a class as being the grist for a portfolio. But from an educational standpoint, the value of class related artifacts rests in their ability to trigger reflection ("Oh, my! I'd forgotten I'd done THAT!") and to add a level of meta-cognition to the eduational process. ("Final Exam: Pick the 3 most important artifacts you created in the course, and explain why each is significant individually, why they are significant as a group, and how they reflect the changed state of your understanding of the content. Place (at least) those three artifacts and your paper in your permanent portfolio.")

I think the REAL value -- and I've seen this happening as I've been assembling my own portfolio -- is that months, or years, later, the portfolio becomes a powerful tool for synthesis and evaluation. I wish I'd had mine longer. I'd really like to have some of the artifacts from my early computer days. Pictures of my first computer (the one I built), the software I created to measure program complexity, the presentation materials from my first conference, pictures of the ships I helped build -- all of those are lost now.

Helping students -- especially those in secondary or post-secondary education -- to form the portfolio habit would be immensely useful for many of them.

iii) What relationship is there between blogs and e-portfolios?

Blogs can serve as repositories for portfolios. My portfolio is stored in a TextPattern blog. One of the artifacts is my "professional" blog space -- Cognitive Dissonance -- and serves as a repository of all my formative writings relating to distance education. In a certain sense, a blog becomes a portfolio in the absence of other artifacts, the same way a diary becomes a marker for reflection and synthesis. The public nature of the blog or portfolio means that everybody has the opportunity to build a little place to show the world what you are and where you've come from.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Online Portfolio

A few weeks ago, I came across Dr Helen Barrett's ePortfolios for Learning I was really impressed that she'd done a LOT of work looking at various portfolio tools from the perspective of ease of use, portability, etc. I'd been toying with the idea that I needed to get my own materials together. Last May I graduated with my Ph.D. and the artifacts of my graduate school days were slipping out of my control as I migrated from computer to computer, harddrive to harddrive.

I already owned a domain and rented private server space, so I repurposed it to be

Durandus Logo

Feel free to visit (click the graphic) and explore my site.

One of the key elements in the portfolio is the twin construct of selection and significance. This idea is that one doesn't include EVERYTHING in a portfolio -- only select those things that are somehow significant. I didn't included every web page I ever created ... only those that were somehow significant to me. Likewise, I chose artifacts of my evolution as web designer -- even leaving some of the embarassing stuff up -- and educational designer. There's still a lot to do, but I feel like I've made a good start.

The underlying software is a blog engine running TextPattern but it branches out as needed into my WordPress blog and even into coded spaces.

Let me know what you think of it.

How to use a Button

This post is part of my tutorial on how to use a button.

At this point,
  1. I've created a small graphic to use as a button,
  2. I've created my audio file.
  3. I've uploaded both to a server.
Now I just need to use them in a link

Saturday, February 12, 2005

End of Week 4

I've been such a derelict this week.

On the one had, I was looking for an excuse to play with mp3 files. Finally made my first one and it's not bad.

One thing I find troubling is that almost everybody else used proprietary HTML <EMBED> tags so I can't listen to their MP3s. I wonder if they realize it...

Aparently they didn't.

Standards (and the ways in which Internet Explorer subverts them) can be an nasty problem. I've been a thorn in the side by insisting on trying everything in Linux on a Firefox browser, I know, but it's one of the best ways to find those things that will cause problems in cross-platform environments.

I've spent part of this Sunday afternoon listening to audio clips (I have to do a lil work but I *can* extract the links from the source code and plug them into my audio player). Every day Sarolta does something else cool. I loved listening to the story about the hotel. And thanks, Nancy, for making a link I could click on to load it. It was a relief.

The real value for audio in education will be as podcast, I think. Being able to subscribe to audio feeds and download them over night -- or even during the day while I'm engaged in my office. The challenge will be in creating audio that's not lecture. Rob Reynolds over on Xplana Radio (http://www.xplanaxine.com) is one of my favorite educational podcasters because he makes really short essays and posts them in audio and print. It's nice to be able to load my MP3 player and take them on my morning commute.

In Week 5 we should have fun. . . I'll share my own ePortfolio ...

Friday, February 11, 2005

Audio post

OK. A first try at posting an audio link.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

An old negative ...  Posted by Hello

Some years ago, my mother sent me an envelope of old negatives. These are the old Kodak Safety Film negatives in a large format. Tonight, I found the envelope and put the negatives in the scanner.

I remember the day my mother took this picture of me. It was a lovely sunny summer day and I was sitting on a green wool blanket on the beach outside our house. I'm playing with the pipes in my father's piperack and I can still smell the tobacco residue and the pines above me. I think there were chickadees... but I had no idea what the smells or sounds meant.

This negative is over 50 years old. It scanned pretty well, don't you think?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Mary Harrsch - a reflection

Personally, I was disappointed.

Once again, Learning Times tripped me up. I was able to hear Mary's lecture but when she went "driving around" my browser wouldn't follow. Even after I released the firewall and reprogrammed my router to accept the extra ports required, the only time I saw any of the graphical content was when it got put on the Whiteboard. It sounded sorta interesting.

The other problem I have is this notion of getting everbody in the same space at same time so we can all sit around and listen to one person talk. Granted the text chat was there, but the presentation mode ... sitting at the feet of the master ... seemed like we weren't really taking advantage of the opportity to get in and get our hands dirty.

The material sounded like it was pretty good, but couldn't that have been offered .. say .. in a blog, or as some other kind of publication rather than having Mary walk us thru it. The questions that people were asking seemed pretty decent .. and some of the follow on blogging I've read says that the majority of people liked it and got a lot out of it.

Myself, I can't help but think this glass was half empty. While that means it was also half-full, I would have liked to use that other half glass.

Ideas for using RSS in class:

- Put a technorati key-word watchlist together and post the link to it to the class for use in their aggregators.
- Cross link all the blogs in the class to a single aggregator stream.
- Build a del.icio.us tag list and feed it into an aggregator.
- Teacher publishes work, assignments, content on RSS to the members of his/her class.

Ah, well.


Picasa - Hello - Blogger

A Quick Test of Bloggerbot and Hello Posted by Hello

Monday, January 31, 2005

Learning Times == Frustration

Man, I hate this stuff sometimes.

First, lemme just say, I've attended these LearningTimes sessions with the Digital Divide Network before. They always worked just fine.

Not today. I started trying to log in a full hour before the session. The session is almost over now and I just can't make the darn thing work. And I am REALLY pissed off because I'm a big Will Richardson fan and wanted to be in this session.

I know it's being recorded. I know a transcript of the chat will be made. I know that none of that is as good as being there and participating. It makes me crazy.

Second. I'm an expert. I build computers. I administer networks. I program in 9 languages. I've been involved in the internet since before there WAS a world wide web.

Last. I FINALLY solved the problem. It was the router on my home network. I wouldn't pass the packets back thru the firewall and didn't give me any kind of message to tell me what the problem was.

Bottom line.
1. Two hours that I'll never get back
2. I'm aggravated beyond all tolerance
3. I have a re-inforced notion that these kinds of "we'll pretend it's a classroom" environments are just not worth the cost.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Week 2 Assignment and Reflection

This is my second week assignment. I'm supposed to write an article on the various kinds of information found in the student and teacher blogs from Bee's grid and design a blog-course for ESL.

Grinding thru the various blogs was, I suppose, a reasonable exercise. It was a good way to see the pedestrian applications of blog software in (what I assume) were ESL applications. There was a rather narrow range of application in both sets of blogs. I didn't see a GREAT deal of meta-cognition being applied to the blogging experiences across the 8 blogs I looked at. The majority of them were diary-like -- with a greater or lesser emphasis on the various coursework and assignments. I can't throw too many stones here -- the posts for my blog in this course follow basically the same format -- and this course is, after all, BSL (blogging as Second Langauge) training.

I felt a little cheated, tho, that nobody in the sample had done
a) A Newspaper style group blog.
b) Used the language/blog combination to write fiction
c) Engaged in a larger examination of what they thought about their thinking about blogging and learning English.

I was sympathetic with the one teacher who went on hiatis from blogging because she wanted to break out of the "blogging because my audience expects it" rut. I write a regular weekly column about Distance Education in my Cognitive Dissonance blog, and there are times when I wonder if it's all worth it myself.

The second part of the task is to design a course that has in it, a blog.

Now, in the first place, that's a backwards assignment. We should be designing the instruction and only THEN deal with whether a blog is an appropriate channel for adding to the class based on an instructional goal. But .. I'll suspend my disbelieve (and design sense) for the purposes of the argument. :D

Since I don't teach ESL, I'm going to take the liberty to write about the application of a blog in a Masters Level Special Education program. It's particularly pertinent because the faculty member who is teaching the class (and whom I am supporting in getting this thing rolling) wants to incorporate blogs into his class.

(i) the public you will be dealing with
- the class is 10 adult students, new in the field of special education.

(ii) their level, their communicative competence
- they are, generally, classroom teachers who wish to get an MA in Significant Disabilities
- they generally have limited technological expertise

(iii) your setting, degree of formality of instruction
- the teacher is a "hard-core classroom lecturer" who is having trouble adapting to the online melieu. He needs to find ways to let go and allow the students to learn without getting his digitized powerpoints in the way

(iv) access, amount of time you can spend on it
- target goal is to spend about an hour a day of teacher time, about 20 minutes a day of student time.

(v) curricular constraints, institutional support, technical resources
- topical constraints are largely limited only by the content requirements of a rather liberal syllabus. The course will have the services of an expert technician and blogger to aid the teacher and student in determining valid applications of the blogging tools.

(vi) your common needs and objective
- All of us share the common need to connect on a more personal and regular basis. When dealing with the often emotion-charged material -- especially in the field of Significant Disability -- it's important for the students to be able to communicate with each other and construct their own meaning out of the material, the relationships, and their "day jobs"

The teacher has decided that blogs will be a good way for students to produce some extended writings on selected subjects over the duration of the course. Some of the topics will be assigned, others will be more open.

This is coming up on the end of the second week of EVO-2005. I'm not as involved this week as last, in large part because of more immediate demands on my time and resources in the Real World. In addition, the exercises (and group acitivites) this week seemed a bit weaker than the week prior and I just couldn't work up enough "oomph" to participate in them. I *did* want to get up and meet in TappedIn last Wednesday, but I overslept -- the session was at 5am local time here.

The coming week, I'm hoping that I'll be able to be more engaged in the group work and that I'll find an assignment I like. :D

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Eat your own dogfood


Every once in a while I come across an example of what NOT to do that's soooo egregiously bad, I just HAVE to point it out. I don't like to do it, because next time it could be me -- the gods know *I* make enough of my own trouble and karma will get me for throwing these rocks, no doubt.

But this one is a classic teaching moment.

The Six Laws of the New Software.

His laws are

  • Single-idea

  • Collaborate

  • Disappear (this refers to interface design)

  • Simplify

  • Release

  • Comply

To read this I had to switch to a different machine that had acrobat on it because
  1. the default pdf reader on my linux machine wouldn't cope with the display

  2. this thing is 17 pages of pretty densely packed text.

  3. in a proprietary format

  4. using a menu structure to manage page turning

  5. written by (apparently) one guy

Now I appreciate that he's talking about software development. But the difference between programming computers (writing software) and programming people (writing manifestos) has a lot of parallels.

If you wanna talk the talk, then you gotta walk the walk.

End of today's lesson in what NOT to do.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Welcome to Grendel's Lair

Grendel's Lair

OK. After all the build up, I really wanted to see what 20six had to offer.

It's not that bad. But, I think I prefer blogger.

On the plus side.
a. The free account is Really Easy in a "any way you want so long as it's on the list" sort of way.
b. They have trackback built into it.
c. Graphics and other media seem to be really easy to deal with and you don't really need another website to host the graphical elements.

On the negative side.
a. They wanted my full street address (I put in a false one).
b. You can't edit the template. It's a "take it or leave it" menu choice. For me, this is unacceptable.

Other features that may or may not be significant.
a. Other authors capability. About the same as blogger.
b. Moderated posts. I can see where this would be handy for teachers to censor student output, but if you're in a group situation, I'm not sure about this. Perhaps, since the blog can be open to outsiders, this is a way to control blog-spam.

All in all.
Amusing, but not piquant. I'd give it about a 70 ... It has a good beat, but I couldn't dance to it.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Reflection 1

The end of week one in EVO2005

Well, we've managed to get people "into the room" and it's STARTING to come together. I need to spend some time today rebuilding my aggregator. My trusted laptop died Friday night -- taking with it about 3 weeks worth of un-backed up work and I've spent the last 36 hours rebuilding my platform. I'm about ready to get back into the fray here now.

Back to the EVO experience.

Bee, Aaron, and Graham are doing a great job managing the group. I've enjoyed talking to the people in our group -- altho the conversation has been a little fragmented in the wiki. There's an interesting dynamic with wiki's ... They are MISERABLE to navigate in. You have to know what's there in order to find it. The collaboration sandbox pages are a great idea, but they're not supported by RSS so we need to keep checking and checking ... I wonder if there's a solution to that. Hm.

The group -- if the Ann Davis chat is any indicator -- is REALLY interested in the K-12 applications of this technology. I know the list has been filled with email about older students. And the main questions are technical. Which blog engine? How do you control access? How do you control the students? What do you get them to write about?

The more interesting questions are
- how do we build communities around this technology?
- what are the instructional goals that can be supported?
- what are some possible instructional strategies that the technology can support?

Of course, we haven't really gotten into aggregators yet, which is one of the reasons people are floundering on the listserv and wiki, trying to talk to each other. With about 70 active participants and almost 200 people in the Yahoo Group, that's a lot of floundering.

Enough reflection. I need to get some action going here. :D

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Macs and Browsers

At my day job, we've just recommended that we design to "a Firefox standard browser." This is a change from the IE-standard.

What that means is that we guarantee that the content appears as we intend it should appear for anybody running a Firefox browser. Before we only guaranteed IE. Most of what we did worked for other people. We got tripped up a lot by AOL folks who used the network browser that came as part of the AOL interface.

The good news is that Firefox is a standards compliant browser. That means that the only browsers that won't display what we post the way we intend it to be displayed are those browsers that implement the standard in a radically different mode. IE is one of those browsers. There are several positioning standards that Microsoft does in its own way, for example.

The bad news is that too many people are still using IE. And OS9 Macs don't have a Firefox option. I'm about to go boot up an OS9 machine and see how far I can get with Netscape 7. This notion that the IE version available to Mac OS9 people can't do simple things like deal with the Blogger.com interface is very troubling. Folks shouldn't have to spend a big chunk of change to access content that should work.

Call me an optimist.

Monday, January 17, 2005

EVONLINE 2005: Initial Post

My first post for the course

My Role is Curmudgeon. I do not intend to find fault, pick nits, or otherwise be critical for the sake of being a PITA. But. I also have some pretty well defined biases about the use of web and internet resources for educational purposes, the role of the classroom in the delivery of education (and at the expense of learning), and how those two issues relate to the notions of distance education (a redundant phrase) and distance learning (an oxymoron).

The assignment is to do one or more of the following tasks in this post:

a) Comment on the picture and the quotation (found on this week's task page) in the light of what you have read and done this week

Well, given that this post is supposed to be one of the first things we do this week, this seems like it must be intended to be a way to establish existing levels of knowledge rather than any kind of assessment of the week's activity.

A cartoon of a juggling elephant with the caption I blog therefore I am

What does this picture mean to me?

On the one hand, the paraphrase of St Augustine's, "ego cogito, ergo sum," indicates that blogging, somehow, represents a validation of the individual in the world -- that is, a person cannot exist unless represented in the blogosphere. In a literal sense, one does not exist in the community of bloggers unless one writes a blog, but in another sense, there are many other spheres in which an individual exists including other forms of community, other forms of publication, other forms of validation that do not include blogging. This carries back to the notion of "virtual communities."

A "virtual community" is called virtual only from the perspective that the qualifier "virtual" means created using a computer. It does not mean "virtual" in the sense of "existing in essence but not in actual fact." Online communities are real communities made up of real people who are represented by abstractions in cyberspace but are no less real than the abstractions that represent them in meatspace.

I think I'd prefer the caption to read "I think, therefore I blog." It would seem less trivial, less marginalizing.

As for the Doctorow paraphase of "Writing is an exploration..." I find that much more acceptable. Blogging IS writing. But I think that we miss an important aspect of blogging if we focus ONLY on the writing. My perception of blogging is that it is a communications channel - not a broadcast channel. A large portion of the blogosphere is reading and reflection on what others in the blogosphere are saying. If all we do is write, we fail to participate in the social construction that represents the blogosphere at large.

Many people read blogs. They are the ghosts in the shell. Their shades drift from notion to notion, taking what meaning they can back into other planes of existance -- or not -- based on their own participation in THOSE planes. It is the writing of a blog, however, that instantiates an individual in the blogosphere. A critical characteristic of that instantiation involves whether or not the individual actually participates in the blogosphere through reflection, or merely pontificates IN the blogosphere without participation.

A "real blogger" participates in the conversation otherwise the "blog" is nothing more than a web page.

b) Write about the most important thing you've learned so far this week

Let's see. It's the first day of the week. THE most important thing?

I don't like this set up.

On the plus side, it's using mostly free, readily available resources. The Yahoo Groups provides for a replicable environment with a minimum of technical expertise, as does the group blog on blogger.com. I can't tell about the MediaWiki on opensource.idv.tw - I haven't looked at it enough to see what it really is.

On the downside, I'm required to create (or re-purpose) specialized blog space for my personal blog in order to be able to participate in the group blog. Blogger.com isn't a BAD space, but I much prefer the trackback and "read more" capabilities of WordPress over blogger. Using the Blogger as a group blog, means I MUST have a blogger space in order to participate. That limits my ability to use my own knowledge and resources in my participation in the course. I may find this to be less of a concern as the course goes along than it feels like right now.

The other part that I don't like is the use of synchronous audio. The "bandwidth" limits on spoken language -- particularly in an environment of EFL/ESL -- is so drastically limiting. I need a pretty good pipe just to participate technically, but then the channel can only accommodate 150-200 wpm. Add to that the requirement that -- at least for ONE of the platforms -- I cannot participate in my prefered Linux/Firefox mode ... my feeling right now is "bleh."

c) Write about what you still find confusing

- I'm confused as to why the organizers would choose media that exclude non-sighted, non-hearing, non-Windows people. (I am HOPING that my participation here will help raise the awareness of the organizers as well as the participants.)

- I'm confused as to why synchronous modes of communication would be considered given the global span of the community. Perhaps there will be multiple, parallel opportunities for participation allowing for sub-sets of the group to communicate with each other.