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 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 I can't tell about the MediaWiki on - 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. 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.