Archive for July, 2007
I’ve never used text messaging on a regular basis; my wife and I actually use it for emergency communications since I can get text during meetings, classes etc. I’ve not used instant messaging on a consistent basis; it’s served a purpose from time to time, but it’s always been nothing more than a tool. I’ve used discussion boards but not consistently, though RSS feeds do make them more useful and accessible. I’m trying to get better at participating in the blogosphere by commenting more on others’ blogs. I’ve not used groups (Usenet; anyone else remember FidoNet?) tremendously; I typically search them for answers to questions or trouble issues. I’ve used listservs but often feel overwhelmed by the traffic of busier lists (SLEDList anyone?). I have a MySpace profile but don’t use it; I have a Facebook profile which I’m using more frequently.
Given all of that, why do I feel “hooked on Twitter?” Why and how is it apparently so enthralling?
Darren Draper commented on his blog, Drape’s Takes:
Even I know that Twitter’s weird.
So I’ll ask the question again, this time with a better idea of my answer. What in the Web 2.0 is Twitter?
I’m convinced that Twitter is about community. Twitter is about people.
Twitter’s ability to connect me with a network of like-minded people is huge.
With Twitter, the news has added meaning for me. Like when I learned about the steam explosion that happened in New York a few weeks ago. It brought the news home to me knowing that one of my colleagues was so close to the actual event.
John Pederson commented on his blog, iJohnPederson:
I try out new tools on a weekly basis and 98% of them don’t make more than a week. Twitter has stuck.
Twitter is about the network. Twitter is just the tool.
That’s why I like Twitter. It’s my network, a little more refined. And real
So, I’m not the only one wondering what makes Twitter interesting. I understand that Twitter is about the network; it’s about people. But why is it so much more about people than other communication tools? What makes “it stick” more than other applications? What makes it more capable of facilitating, for me, interpersonal communication than IM, discussion boards, blogs, comments, listservs, user groups, social networks?
I think there’s three reasons.
First, all social networks are about people, but Twitter draws people into more in depth, personal communication – along the lines of “life blogging.” Just in the last week of using Twitter on a regular basis, I’ve learned:
- Fleep is remodeling her house: replacing light switches and grouting tile.
- WillRich went swimming with his kids in the Delaware and ran more in one day than I have in a month.
- Intellagirl gets unmotivated just like I do when there’s a ton of work to be done.
- CogDog has a new puppy.
- SPeters is helping family through a stressful time and sharing the stress.
- JUtecht’s on his way to China.
- SSandifer just started a new job and was recently assigned to do a presentation on Web2.0
- sorry_afk doesn’t mind traffic nearly as much as I seem to ;-)
- Typewriter went for a haircut.
- iJohnPederson didn’t clean his coffee pot before leaving school for the summer.
- Kenny Hubble’s headed for some white water rafting.
Oh… wait.. I learned all of that in the last 18 hours! Sure, I may have eventually read some of that on blogs, discussion boards, or listservs etc, but chances are, I doubt it. I seriously do not think I would have ever heard any of those details from this group of people in spaces – social networks and otherwise – where they typically focus on more serious discussions. Twitter’s all about people and the networks, but it’s more than that, it’s all about learning WHO people behind the titles and professions really are in more depth and in a more casual environment than other online environments.
Second, in Tweets with Angela Thomas, I suggested that Twitter is different because, to me, it’s ambi-synchronous. It possesses the immediacy and capabilities of synchronous messaging in which there’s greater immediacy of interpersonal communication, but it also creates a persistent, asynchronously available record of communication that allows you to catch up on what you missed while offline. It can do both. What other tools enable both types of communication?
Finally, and quite simply, Twitter converges SMS and web-based tools to facilitate one to many communication.
Is Twitter the first to be ambi-synchronous? Is it the first tool that encourages a lifeblogging of sorts? Is it the first web-based tool that facilitates interpersonal communication via mobile convergence? If not, is it the first to do all three?
I have NO idea what the origin of the name may be, but Xpanity.com offers an interesting new browser add-on. It’s currently in Beta and issuing delayed invites to those who submit their email address. Once I receive my invite, am able to install and experiment with it, I’ll add more details to this blog post.
What is it?
The Xpanity Suite currently contains two applications: LiveChat and SharedBoard. In short, I think it’s “birds-of-a-feather-sessions meet Web2.0.” According to the website . . .
Xpanity LiveChat, “allows you to see the other browsers currently on the same web page as you are viewing. It provides you with the opportunity to interact with them on all levels. You can do all this anonymously. There is no need to register or provide any of your private information.”
Xpanity SharedBoard, “for each web page on the Internet . . . provides a Shared board for permanent comments that can be viewed by all Xpanity users.”
How does it work?
More on this once I’m able to install and use the application. Generally, clicking on an Xpanity button on your toolbar activates the Xpanity browser extension which enables participation in LiveChat with other users or on the persistent SharedBoard
What’s cool about it?
With Xpanity installed, every website seems to have an interactive component. It’s no longer incumbent upon a website to offer a chat tool; users with Xpanity visiting the same website can chat with one another regardless of the sites capabilities or available tools.
Of course, it’s dependent upon a broad volume of users actually adopting the technology, but assuming that requirement is met, Xpanity dramatically increases my ability to network and communicate with others of similar interests. What used to be invisible – other users accessing the same website at the same time as I am – now becomes visible and interactive.
I’m wondering if this may not be an influential Web2.0 application; consider the characteristics of it. It provides a contextualized browsing and micro-blogging experience. Rather than posting a link to Twitter or sharing it via Facebook to engage a social network regarding a specific site, Xpanity constructs a social network around a specific page or site.
How can it be used in the classroom?
Just off the top of my head, without having yet been able to install or use the application, I can imagine several applications.
Shared browsing. If not familiar with it, shared browsing is a tool which enables a group of users to view the actual browser on a facilitator’s desktop – ostensibly as the topic of a discussion or part of a training session. Although not as cohesive a solution, Xpanity may offer a substitute for shared browsing tools seen in other collaboration tools that support group discussion. As long as a user has Xpanity installed and knows which site to visit at a given time, it serves the same function.
Contextualized discussions. Rather than visiting a website and documenting thoughts in a course discussion board, learners can post their thoughts on a particular website to the Xpanity SharedBoard for the URL. Those comments are persistent which means there’s a lasting record of discussions by which participation can be measured, and the learners and the class as a whole engage the larger web-browsing community regarding that site. That leverages the community and encourages participation by others – much like public blogs and wikis do.
I originally stumbled across Xpanity at Jane’s e-Learning Pick of the Day
When I first looked at Twitter, I didn’t really “get it.” I think that’s because it wasn’t integrated into my regular browsing experience. The more I’m required to visit a separate unique site, the less likely I’m going to keep up with it consistently. My news and tools, like many other users, come to me; I spend more time in Google Reader than any other site and work to minimize how much time I spend just “browsing around.” So, when I discovered several tools that integrated Twitter directly into Firefox, I had renewed interest in it. That interest has led to 61 updates in the last three days; some people should never be given a PA system, particularly one that spans the globe (grin).
Rather than re-hashing what others have written and explaining what Twitter is and how it may be used in the classroom, take a look at Educause Learning Initiative’s 7 Things You Need to Know About Twitter.
With the Firefox add-ons I’ll describe below, Twitter provides a social network fully integrated in the browser which makes it easier to engage. The micro-blogging element is enjoyable, and the, in essence, “persistent, always on, group IM session” provides a great opportunity for networking with colleagues. And, as Jeff Utecht noted through Twitter yesterday, his Twitter network is “by far the largest community [he] belong[s] to.”
The Firefox add-ons I’m using currently are . . . (if there are some I’m missing, please note them in a comment!)
TwitBin vs TwitterFox. Both tools make it possible to review network posts and to post updates to personal accounts. I discovered TwitBin a week or so ago, and Nick Noakes (twitter: nnoakes) highlighted TwitterFox in an update yesterday. TwitBin resides in the browser sidebar with an update entry form on top and automatically refreshing network updates extending the length of the screen. TwitterFox resides in the lower right status bar and pops up with updates; the form for entering an update works better than Twitbin. On first impression, I believe I prefer TwitBin; the larger interface and persistent sidebar are important to my personal browsing habits.
TwitterBar and TinyURL Creator. TwitterBar adds a small green plus sign to the URL address bar; a simple click posts the current URL to Twitter as a note that the page is currently being browsed. I often want to add a short note other than the URL; TwitterBar doesn’t allow that functionality AND it copies the full URL which takes up most of the allowed characters. Instead, I’ve taken to using TinyURL Creator to right-click and paste the TinyURL for the current page into TwitBin with the note I’d like to add.
Others have also written about Twitter-Bots which provide additional functionality for Twitter which I’ll be exploring in more detail as well. This Lifehacker blog entry describes Twitter Timer and Remember the Milk.
I typically do not address more general Second Life news in this space; however, this news seems more substantial and relevant than most news bits I read.
Wagering in Second Life: New Policy, from the Official Linden blog at secondlife.com. The long and short of the policy is that organized gambling – either typical casino games or sports betting – are no longer permitted in Second Life. More details are available after the jump.
A couple of thoughts or questions follow from the news.
First, does this change positively impact the credibility of Second Life within the education industry? Granted there are many more vices to be embraced in SL, but it seems like it will be beneficial for SL proponents to suggest to relevant administrators, “It’s becoming more regulated; SL prohibits gambling.” Does that impact the credibility of SL?
Second, does this negatively impact the credibility of Second Life within the user base? SL has thrived upon the laissez-faire management philosophy – leaving SL residents to self regulate and govern. To suggest the prohibition of gambling not a significant change is naive; it’s an about face. And, where does it stop? Which vice is next to be regulated or prohibited?
I don’t believe it tremendously impacts the education industry, but how Linden moves forward in the future regarding this type of regulation will be something of interest to watch.
Update: This same task can be accomplished by aggregating a number of RSS feeds using RSSMixer.com. RSS Feed: Chris Duke Reads/Writes the Web
As an educational technologist working with a large number of faculty and staff, a significant challenge has been to find a way to share with others in a relatively simple manner the worthwhile information I find while sifting through a ton of useless information, posts, news items, journal articles etc. I mentioned the range of reading and writing I do on the web in a previous post, “Sites of Interest (AKA I read & blog too much).”
I know other educational technologists have written about PageFlakes previously, including usability critiques, but I realized I can very easily publish all of my shared news feeds I tag in Google Reader, my bookmarks, my blog posts, and my twitter entries to a single PageCast. That publicly available PageCast shares, in one fell swoop, everything that I’m publishing and reading on the web.
Actually, as I’m thinking about PageFlakes, the PageCast can address an issue I’ve experienced in the Intro to Computers class I teach plus the need for classroom blog aggregators to make the blogging experience more useful in the classroom. See: Blogs vs Discussion Boards, and similar post/comment thread in the EduBlogger Ning Community.
I start with Firefox. It’s all about the extensions, add-ons, and plug-ins. IE will never see the light of day on my machine again.
The image above highlights alot of these tools; I’m going to list them in order of preference and personal importance.
delicious Bookmarks fully integrates my delicious bookmarks with Firefox. If not familiar with it, this add-on is different from the browser buttons that delicious provides. Essentially, the Firefox bookmark tool is replaced entirely by delicious; when I click “Bookmarks” in Firefox, a sidebar comes up with my delicious bookmarks – cached and updated direclty from my delicious account.
Zotero Research Manager. An indispensable tool for anyone doing research of any sort – from grade school to graduate student.
Better Gmail combines a number of smaller extensions to enhance Gmail including: new skins, showing disk usage as a progress bar, attachment icons, built-in TinyURL support, adding a Google Reader “Feeds” link to the sidebar (very important for me!), and a number of others. Now includes support for Google’s domain applications.
Twitbin. A tool I should have found much earlier; an extension that adds a sidebar window within the browser. The sidebar displays the most recent tweets from friends and allows you to post an update. With this tool, I finally see the functionality and usefulness of Twitter. I wish I could post tweets for a specific group though.
Twitterbar. The small green plus sign in the address bar shown in the image above is the twitterbar; it posts the current URL as a “currently browsing . . .” update to twitter account.
Favicon Picker enables the toolbar of small icons; it’s the normal links toolbar with the text removed. Plus, rather than the standard default icon, I can add a favicon to identify the shortuct. Using Favicon from Pics, a free online tool, I can create my own favicons for this toolbar.
Add to VodPod. Not an extension per se; it’s a shortcut on my links toolbar. See the previous VodPod post for details. The shortcut allows quick capture of online video to my various Pods.
Better GReader doesn’t have a ton of features, but it does have “Smart Subscribe” which automatically detects an RSS feed on a page and displays a link in the upper right corner of the browser content window which allows quick subscriptions to feeds; if I’m already subscribed to the feed on the page, a checkmark appears over the link.
Facebook Toolbar adds a toolbar to better integrate Facebook usage into the browser. It provides quick links to all areas of Facebook, a share link, and a search bar.
coComment tracks comments submitted to other websites; can be tracked as a separate blog and inserted into existing blog as a widget.
There’s a few others I have installed and enabled but have not, as of yet, used extensively: Firebug, Firefox Universal Uploader, GButts, Google Gears, and UnPlug.
There’s a number of extensions I’ve experimented with but disabled simply because I don’t use them frequently enough: AddThis, ChatZilla, Clipmarks (I use Zotero), Cooliris Previews, original deli.icio.us, Diigo Toolbar, DOM Inspector, FireFTP, Google Notebook, Googlepedia, Me.dium, Notefish, Sage, ScribeFire, StumbleUpon, Web Developer, and Wizz RSS News Reader.
As an instructional technologist, I have many concerns with how we, as educators, may use Second Life. My primary concern is that we’ll simply transfer or attempt to transfer the way we’ve always taught in meatspace and in web-based spaces to Second Life. As I described in a previous post, I’ve seen too many instances where web-based instruction has failed to do anything more than transfer instructor-lead activities to an LMS in a manner that further reduces learner engagement. Rather than taking advantage of the capabilities and affordances of the web-based environment, many online courses have simply become read-the-assignments-and-take-the-quizzes type learning “experiences.” I’ve expressed the same concern regarding the design of learning experiences in Second Life.
However, after having listened to Intellagirl and Kenny Hubble’s keynotes at the SL Best Practices in Education Conference at the end of May and engaging several others in conversations at the NMC Summer Conference in Indianapolis in early June, I’m beginning to wonder if Second Life may have characteristics that give it the capability to transform how we teach and learn.
A post on the SLED Listserv in May (I apologize for not having a more specific reference) does as good a job as I could of summarizing the initial thought . . .
Personally I am struggling with what makes SL different from other online learning environments. One thing that really hit me during this session was that the learner is in complete control of their learning environment. In an online learning environment the student is confined by the program, the layout of the course, the links that the professor provides. You have to be somewhat self-directed but for the most part the teacher still takes you through the learning process.
In a virtual world, the learner truly is in control of their entire environment. Each student can and does interact with that environment on a personal level. I see the environment through “my eyes”. I am truly in control of everything. From what I view, to how I view it. I decide where to go and when to go there. There is a freedom about virtual spaces that can not be replicated in Moodle or Blackboard.
Given that explanation, does Second Life create an environment that is inherently learner centered? Is it not an intrinisically constructivist environment? Does it present an environment in which it’s natural for learners to take control of and responsibility for their own learning? Is the task at hand as much as not getting in a learner’s way and placing arbitrary constraints on the learning environment than it is coaxing learners to assume control of the learning space?
That may be too hopeful and naive. I shouldn’t underestimate our ability to impose traditional teaching methods and activities on even the most inherently constructivist space like the user-generated world of Second Life. However, will the juxtaposition of instructor-lead activities with the user-centered Second Life world be so stark a contrast that learners begin to assert themselves? Will learners have different expectations for learning in Second Life than they have for learning on the web or learning in a classroom? Will learners be more likely to ask, “Hey, why can’t we do X to learn this instead of simply reading a text and taking a quiz?” Will learners be more apt to drive the transformation of their learning spaces when that learning space resides in an environment in which they otherwise have a great deal of control?
Yeah yeah yeah. I know. But I can hope can’t I?
Several days ago (7/19), Exduco: Best Graduate School Guide published an article titled, “Microsoft picks new UW center to develop distance learning technologies.” The article notes:
ConferenceXP, the videoconferencing system developed at Microsoft Research, . . . is less expensive and more flexible than commercial videoconferencing tools. The current version delivers high-quality video content almost instantly, using standard computer hardware and university campuses’ high-bandwidth Internet connections. In the test last year, standard computers relayed high-quality audio and video among four classrooms with virtually no delay.
The ConferenceXP software is a shared source project, allowing any researcher to tinker with the code and create new add-ons. Conference Presenter and ConferenceXP are both available free for download; the programs require the Windows operating system.
I believe there are several implications.
First, the ConferenceXP software is currently licensed for non-commercial use with the education community generally encouraged to participate in collaborative efforts to further develop the tool. It seems as though it may present, at least in the interim, an opportunity for inexpensive desktop videoconferencing. It’s certainly worth exploring for higher education institutions.
Second, this fans the flames suggesting Microsoft may begin competing with Blackboard/WebCT at some point in the next 1.5-2 years. I’ve not yet encountered any official news or press releases that suggest Microsoft has a comprehensive software solution that provides typical LMS functionality in a single package (discussion boards, content management, grade/records management, etc). However, looking at some of the products being released and refined (MS Live @ EDU and business intelligence, CRM, and application integration for education, plus MS Groove), the Microsoft Learning Gateway for K-12 and several other pages that turn up in searches (see a reference to MS hardware serving an LMS) – it seems that Microsoft may not be very far from having a complete package to compete with Blackboard’s Learning Management System. Microsoft appears to have the tools in place to compete with the community system (collaborative tools) and content system (sharepoint). If you combine those tools with the advantage Microsoft would have over Blackboard/WebCT regarding videoconferencing, wireless network integration, and mobile convergence, MS’s full entry into the LMS market with a comprehensive, package solution could be interesting.
It may not be all that revelatory a thought, but it’s a thought at least. Certainly, the open source market competes to some extent with Blackboard/WebCT, but I’m sure the market would welcome a competitor to Blackboard/WebCT.
I’ve commented on policy issues related to the implementation of Second Life by educational institutions (see implementation) and expressed concern regarding the extent to which institutions are jumping headlong into SL with a “teach now; plan, administer, manage and evaluate later” type approach.
Since expressing those concerns, I’ve had several conversations with colleagues at other institutions. When asking, “How are you approaching acceptable use, fiscal and other policy concerns?” The responses have ranged from, literally . . .
- We’ve already reviewed our existing policies and determined that Second Life is generally covered by our current acceptable use policy.
- We’re just not asking those questions yet. They’ll eventually come up, and we’ll deal with them now. But there’s no reason to raise the questions if others aren’t.
Also, the survey announced here previously – Engagement of Second Life by Educational Institutions – included this question, “How would you describe your institution’s efforts to define an Acceptable Use Policy for the use of Second Life within the institution by faculty and students? My institution . . .” Almost 60% of respondents indicated that they were either unaware of any action by their institution in regard to acceptable use policy as related to Second Life or their institution had not considered the implications Second Life has for current acceptable use policies.
Those interested in addressing this sort of question at the outset should consider reviewing the work Penn State has posted on the topic. The SLetiquette at Penn State document reviews the Linden Lab Community Standards, describes a code of conduct for behavior on Penn State properties in SL, and then addresses Academic Conduct, and buying and selling of products.
In the April 2007 issue of Technology & Learning, Jeff Utecht (who blogs at The Thinking Stick and U Tech Tips) suggests the problem with blogs is that many educators do not understand them. From Blogs Aren’t the Enemy, Jeff writes:
If we look at blogs as nothing more than electronic journals – replacing written journals – than I can understand why educators do not “get” how blogs work . . . Blogs are not about writing, they are about a conversation . . . if you do not bring the conversation back into the classroom, they are no different from assignments written on paper and handed in to the teacher for a grade.
Jeff continues the article by highlighting the importance of dialogue, the conversation threads that happen between blogs, the importance of bidirectional comments from learner to learner and learner to teacher, and
If you are blogging with your students . . . I encourage you not to think of blogs as writing assignments, but instead as conversations that invite feedback from a variety of quarters on any topic.
I understand and agree with every bit of it. My question is, however, “Within the context of a classroom, if I want to facilitate discussion among and with my students, if I’m interested in facilitating a thread of conversation, why shouldn’t I just use a discussion board?”