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Fun with Twitter December 7, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Online Tools.
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obama twitter   For the last two months I have been playing with Twitter. For those of you who do not know what Twitter is, it is a kind of instant messaging program that limits you to 140 characters. The idea behind it is that you send out brief messages to your friends throughout the day just letting them know what you are up to are any interesting ideas that pop along into your head. There are also ways to the size of long URLs so they fit within the 140 character limitation.

I met several new colleagues at a conference in Macomb near Detroit just last month and I have added several of them to my Twitter list. These are the people that I follow are also two dozen or so people who follow me so that when I type a message these 24 people can see what I’m up to. It is also possible to have these messages sent to your cell phone as text messages. I don’t bother with that.

My colleagues don’t seem to be writing very much these days so I thought I would look around for some famous names and see if they are using Twitter . Of course there is a Twitter for GW Bush and for Bill Clinton but these are intended to be used for comic relief, a Joke Tweet of the Day of sorts. Instead I am choosing to follow several of the candidates in the upcoming presidential election.

If the degree to which candidates are in sync with what geeks are doing is any indication of how many votes they will get, the Democrats have won the next election hands down. This is an unscientific survey, to say the very least. I now follow Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee, and Dennis Kucinich for brief Tweets from their campaign staff. I tried to follow Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani but neither of them had accounts set up.

Interestingly, Barack Obama’s campaign immediately replied and began to follow my tweets. This means that in all possibility somebody in his campaign is following all of the Twitter chatter to determine if there is any buzz about Obama. Presently Obama has 5,736 followers, Clinton has 145 (but hasn’t updated in months), Kucinich has only 37, and Huckabee has only 22 followers on Twitter. I will revisit this in a couple of months and see if Twitter numbers change.

Tweet me at mcveym.

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The Bad Guys November 13, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment, Information, Online Tools.
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IT Director    In discussions with colleagues at yesterday’s conference, there appears to be a “bad guy” emerging in educational technology. This person is the IT Director for the district, the one who follows state or district requirements and block access to sites. Particularly frustrating to many teachers is the fact that many Web 2.0 applications are being blocked. The blocked site causing the most frustration is Youtube.

Teachers find they must work to get their IT Directors to understand what they need in the classroom and to get them onboard with their vision. Somehow I doubt that. Teachers would be better off re-examining the sites they think they need and figure out why they have been blocked. It doesn’t take much conversation with them for them to understand the rationale for blocking, but still they complain.

One poor IT Director raised her hand in a session and admitted she was “one of the bad guys.” She and her colleagues in arms are the wrong people to pummel, however. Teachers should be contacting the Web 2.0 application provider and offering suggestions or lobbying for changes.

Teachers should also could consider moving to something that serves their needs but is safe and unblocked. There are so many options and tools out there. http://Go2Web20.net offers scores of them. I wonder how many are blocked.

Too Many Parts April 6, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Online Tools.
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coupling   A few posts ago, I noted the five steps we had to take to get podcasts from the College of Education available. When engineers create a new machine, they attempt to reduce the number of moving parts. If one wears out or breaks then the whole machine is unusable. In my first shot at figuring out podcasts, I had five moving parts: 1) the creation of the WAV file, 2) the conversion to an MP3 file, 3) the storage of the mp3, 4) the linkage of the file to a blog, and 5) the creation of the RSS feed.

There were five cars linked together on the train track and I was sure I could simplify the process. My first step was to make arrangements with our Network Manager to backup the MP3 files separately so their large file size did not slow down the back up process. The next step was to upload the MP3 directly to our web server. That cut out the need for ourmedia.com and archive.org. Next, we set up a web page with a simple file ending with an .xml extension. This page contained the codes required to send out an RSS feed. This step cut out the need for feedburner.com.

So now the process is simplified and I have even included the College Word Mark on each of the podcasts. We are almost ready to go live. The URL for the web page, a blog of sorts, is www.ed.arizona.edu/podcasts. Our Public Relations person has also arranged to have a logo created. Many colleges use their own logo and place a pair of headphones on them or a set of speakers in the background.

If you want to subscribe to the Apple iTunes version of the podcast, subscribe to the following URL: www.ed.arizona.edu/podcasts/podcasts.xml or search for UA Education Lectures. The final step is to make the service known among our colleagues. Every time a speaker is announced, I write to the organizer and offer to podcast the event. This afternoon I received word that Elliott Soloway will be visiting the college in May and speaking at a couple of events. I have already raised the issue of podcasting the talks. We have a remote control microphone and a digital voice recorder that we are not afraid to use.

Loose Change April 4, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Students.
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change   After seven years of using Course Management Systems at The University of Arizona, I have tried four of them. We began with Blackboard, which at the time offered free course creation and hosting until they began to get popular. Then we moved to WebCT, the first full feature CMS that tied into our student database system. The learning curve was steep but manageable. I then modified a course for a CMS called UCompass out of Florida and piloted that for a summer. They were very eager to please and to get out business. I liked their user interface but, alas, the university chose not to go with them.

One afternoon, the director of the Learning Technology Center called all the college CMS coordinators, me included, into a luncheon meeting. It turned out WebCT was too successful for this university. It was taking, according to the director, more than 24 hours to back up the WebCT courses so we would have to go with a different Course Management System entirely. Several of us sat in stunned silence thinking of the huge re-training exercise we would have to engage in to make the change.

We eventually saw the light, sucked it up, dealt with it, soldiered on, and generally put up with the change. I do not mind change. I once planned an entire summer to teach a Grade Ten English Literature course and was told, on the second day of school, numbers of students had shifted and I was to teach Grade Twelve English instead. That was not change; that was abuse. Since it did not kill me it must have made me stronger. It grayed my hair too, but that is another story. In the College, we managed. Several professors new to Course Management Systems put their courses on line for the first time and they picked up the structure of the new system, Desire2Learn, quite quickly.

Today I was part of a meeting with the D2L coordinators for the university. We had the opportunity to share our feelings and experiences about D2L with them in an attempt to make it better. In addition to the great features of the courses, including one feature, the checklist, which I am apparently the only one using, there were some other concerns we all wanted to express. I won’t list them all here but I did mention the 300 pound (136 Kilogram) gorilla in the room was the fact that they changed the CMS on us once before. Will they do it again? It takes a long time to get a faculty up to speed and there is a lot of frustration with change, especially if we do not have any input or warning that they might thrust it upon us.

I left the meeting convinced that the Learning Technologies Center would give adequate warning of any precipitous changes, but on the other hand, change might be what keeps us vibrant and creative.

Fast Wiki March 31, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Online Tools.
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kaloogian   A funny thing happened on the way to the elections yesterday.  A candidate for office in California's 50th District, an assembly member named Kaloogian posted a photograph purporting to be a calm and peaceful downtown Baghdad street. Bloggers and others were a little suspicious of the photographs and did some investigation.  It turns out the photographs were not of Baghdad, but rather shots taken in a Turkish city.  Bloggers on the left were delighted and gleeful about this obvious attempt to bamboozle  visitors to the candidate’s web site, but what really intrigues me about the whole incident was what happened later on at wikipedia.org.

Wikipedia is an insanely fast-paced and growing online encyclopedia constructed by you and me.  It is possible to visit the site and update, add, or change information that already exists online.  This ability on the part of editors to alter immediately entries in wikipedia is both its strength and its inherent weakness.  It is its strength in that editors can quickly incorrect information that is incorrect and update information that is out of date.  For example, a couple of days ago, the White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, resigned and his job was taken over by a fellow named Josh Bolton.  If you look at the entry in the wikipedia for White House Chief of Staff you will find Josh Bolton's name there and references to the departing Mr. Card.  That update to the entry was made within minutes of the announcement by the White House.

This takes us to the candidate for California's 50th District seat.  When it became apparent that the candidate may have been trying put one over on the eyes of the voters, he quickly changed his web site. However, those following the incident quickly added a new term to wikipedia.  That term, Kaloogian, is a noun referring to a term that describes a false or out of context photo used in order to advance an agenda.  The fact this appeared in wikipedia within 24 hours of the story breaking is obviously a deliberate attempt to seed the English lexicon with a new term for political ends.

The people who run the wikipedia are quite familiar with this tactic.  They are also familiar with the fact that English is a growing language.  This particular entry has been cited for potential deletion, but before it can be removed the action is open to online discussion by wikipedia contributors.

Perhaps a new phrase for that online encyclopedia might be the transitive verb wikipediaed, which means to insert short-lived and topical references into wikipedia in order to advance a political agenda or make fun of another party.  What political operatives, sometimes fail to recall is that almost every trick used to advance your cause and just as easily be used by the other guys.

I hope you will remember where you read this when the candidate of your choice receives an unflattering treatment in wikipedia.  

All the News March 12, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Online Tools.
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map   I discovered an interesting news site at http://www.jeroenwijering.com/whatsup/ called What’s Up. Pop up news icons appear over a stylized dynamic map of the world every ten seconds. Each pop-up contains a link to the news item. I have noticed that many of the links are incorrect or no longer available, so I wonder what their feed is.

A year ago I shared 10 x 10 (http://www.tenbyten.org/10×10.html) which was another way of sharing images and key words from news stories on a ten by ten grid of images. If you ever needed to get a quick glance of what was happening worldwide in the news, both of these tools could provide it.

Although it was possible to click on the news items for more details, users are still limited and controlled by only seeing a limited number of items at a time. I am still wondering if the two projects are more for entertainment purposes than anything else. Intelligent agents that scour the sources of news might be a preferable way of getting news quickly.

My wife visits YahooNews while I look in on GoogleNews and track several blogs. When we meet up at the end of the day, we have conversations about generally the same items. Meanwhile, viewing What’s Up is a mesmerizing experience, the spell only broken when the items begin to repeat. 

Battles March 11, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Online Tools.
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civil war   Yesterday, I accompanied a fifth grade class to see a civil war re-enactment. Arizona, long before it was officially a state, hosted only one battle here. The Confederates lost the battle but the Union lost more troops. It was a Pyrrhic victory at best or, as one of the teacher’s aides called it, “a draw.?

I sat on a bus beside a small boy who told me his life story in under two minutes. He told me, among other things, of his separation from siblings in a group home, the loss of a sister, and a favorite song his mother taught him. In a few well-chosen words and a few of my own observations, he had freely given me a review of his life.

As we got off the bus for a quick trudge across a piece of desert to see the re-enactment, I realized how quickly a story could touch one’s heart. I also realized that when I chose to specialize in Special Education almost thirty years ago, I chose it because I thought I would do the most good as a teacher in that field. I chose it because of young boys like the one I met.

Thirty years later, I wonder how that boy could reveal so much so willingly while I am working to squeeze information from the faculty members in my college about their use of online tools in the classroom. Despite the ease of the online survey, I will likely have to speak in person with some of my colleagues to get the review data I need.

Perhaps they are making a point about either technology, the administration of the college, about surveys, or about me. In any case, my goal is one hundred percent reportage. I had given the Dean a tool for performing a detailed analysis of a single semester but he thought it best to broaden the survey to cover more of the actual taught curriculum. After two days of online reporting, twenty-two faculty members have reported on almost fifty courses representing over 700 students. Some of the respondents surprised me with their diligent completion of the survey, but they may have been making a bigger point, their non-use of online tools in the classroom.  

As in the Civil War, there are battles we decide we need to fight, and this review as a battle for baseline data is one I am willing to fight. I do not expect faculty members to be as forthcoming about their teaching as my little friend was about his life story, but I must say that I certainly will write letters of thanks for each of the faculty members who responded so far to the survey.

Impact Scale March 2, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Online Tools.
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torino   Yesterday, as I was thumbing through the latest Sky and Telescope magazine, I came across something called the Torino Scale. This chart is supposed to assess the potential for a near earth object to hit the earth and cause devastation and catastrophe. The chart and formula for determining the impact got me thinking about assessing the impact of new technologies on the field of education.

I will have to write a paper about this but let me just float the concept first. One axis of the chart definitely has to include the applicability of the technology to subjects in education. If a tool were applicable in a cross-curricular manner, then it should receive higher impact points. If it were of moderate applicability, perhaps by nature of it being too subject or grade specific, then it would receive fewer points. If it is interesting and holds a great deal of potential but just for a narrow part of the educational experience then it would receive the fewest points.

The problem is determining how to define the other axis of the chart. Here are a few of the ideas that I have as key:

  1. Pedagogical rationalization: how much does the tool affect out ability to teach better and for students to learn better?
  2. Technical ease: how skillful does the teacher have to be to use the tool?
  3. Usability and user-friendliness: is the tool generally accessible and understandable?
  4. Infrastructure support: is the tool well supported on the back end and not too demanding of infrastructure such as technicians?
  5. Affordability: does the tool pay for itself in educational terms?
  6. Potential ubiquity: does the tool have the potential of being everywhere?

Now the trick is to figure out how to use these fields to generate some sort of number that would place the tool on the impact chart. Next, we would have to test it with some known impacts and some big ones with us today. This Impact Scale is limited right now, in that pedagogical potential might be lying just below the surface and not accessible to the unimaginative. For example, the iPod has potential for improving education through podcasts, but that insightful innovation was not relevant at first glance.

Let’s look at the iPod, since I don’t have one, it will score high in pedagogical rationalization, high in technical ease, moderate in usability (since it requires a computer interface), high in infrastructure support, moderate in affordability (cost is slowing me down from getting one), and moderate in potential ubiquity (see affordability).

Next, we would have to figure out if the Impact Scale number could serve as a predictor of impact. Time will tell.

Misspellings March 1, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information.
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yahho   It used to be that typing in a web page address that did not exist would earn you a “page not found? error. Now, if the site sounds even vaguely like something someone might want to visit, a company or a speculator has likely already purchased the domain. I used to own a site called jetaa.org that now links to a GoDaddy site telling you the domain was available, oh, and by the way, here are some sponsors’ links.

A year ago, I was checking out an alumni chapter from one of my previous enterprises and found a German erotic tattoo parlor had taken it over. The domain’s ownership had lapsed and in the insanely brief period it was free, this group of naughty body engravers had taken it. They were hoping to capitalize on the poor typing skills of netizens around the world.

During yesterday’s class presentations on search engines, one student was going to investigate Yahoo.com and extol its virtues, but a funny thing happened along the way. She accidentally typed in yahho.com and found herself in a strange alternate universe, of sorts.

The photo on the opening page was a reassuring and calming image of a palm tree next to another one of a beach. The Dynamic HTML links were few and simple:  Business, Cars, Education, Entertainment, Finances, Health, Homes, Insurance, Internet, Legal, and Shopping. Each of these opened to sponsored sites. The owners had written each page with calming blue letters. The problem was that almost every link we visited called up sites that required the visitor to sign in or create accounts before moving on.

This led to discussions about how some sites deliberately prey on people who misspell their ways into their sites. Some of these were pornographic sites based on misspellings of the name “Disney.? I cannot see any ethical grey area there. Mistyping your way onto one porn site while searching for another porn site is probably fair game, but trying to trick children to such a site is not. Sometimes a thing is just wrong.

Jeeves Fired February 28, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Online Tools.
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jeeves  Yesterday I read a piece in my backlog of e-mail that the AskJeeves.com search site had fired Jeeves the butler. It seems the original idea of providing a tool for users to ask questions in natural language, such as “What is the capital of Morocco?? did not work out as well as they had hoped.

Now the folks at ask.com have re-tooled their web site to highlight their perception that they are a better search engine than Google.com. Coincidentally, one of my students did a search engine presentation today and her choice of engine was Teoma.com. However, that site has been absorbed (I am not sure if purchased is the correct word) by ask.com.

We all determined to see what the fuss was all about and, to our surprise, we quite liked the site as a class. Ask.com had neatly laid out search organization in a box on the right-hand side of the site; it had organized it logically and intuitively including links to bloglines.com and the tools that many of us deemed essential to searching on the web.

I may just have to retired Google for a while.

ASIDE: Education Week will publish my reflections on curriculum from a previous two-part post titled “Seeds in Winter.?