Web 2.0

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April got away from me. It was the first month since starting this blog that I failed to post anything at all.

Maybe I am suffering some form of social media fatigue. I'm still reading and scouring the web as much as ever but I'm picking and pecking through my Google Reader feeds rather than reading feverishly, and my Twitter presence has dwindled down to virtually nothing. Ironically, I'm still picking up new followers but I'm not sure what I'm offering them. I reckon Dean Groom hit the nail on the head the other day when he wrote:

The dark-side is that social media (for educators) didn’t turn out to be the kind of ‘succeed’ culture expected, but a feed culture, where people either churn out the same old gruel or stare into their smart phone expecting for the unexpected to be fed to them.

I don't need someone pointing me to someone else's stuff and telling me that this is a must-read or an essential. If I have good enough search skills, I can mine the web for my own nuggets of inspiration and my peculiar flights of fancy.

But I do wish that I could recharge my enthusiasm for writing here. After all, this is my space - and thankfully, Edublogs has evolved into a comfortable low cost option for people like myself who don't want to do their own domain / own hosting scenario. More budget ranging than free ranging, however.

Tumblr interests me but what captures my attention isn't niche enough or focussed to make it worthwhile. Most Tumblrs I see are basic digital scrapbooking - which means the unique ones stand out even more. But it seems that the neglect of RSS, the great open concept of pushing information around, is really having an impact. Google Reader winds up soon and I still have to work out  a decent replacement, but one of the best features it used to have was the ability to create an RSS feed of my favourite posts, which I redirected into a widget on the sidebar of this blog. That disappeared, and so did the ability for anyone to see over my virtual shoulder, noting what I thought was worthy of extending out into the network. Corporate siloes are dominating the digital landscape and people seem to be perfectly willing to accept the limitations and standardisations of those places.

Nostalgia hardly seems appropriate for the great Web 2.0 premise of anyone and everyone being an author, a critic or social agitator. But somewhere I'm trying to work out where the joy of playing in this arena has gone for me.

Fire up the XBox - maybe I can still squeeze in a game tonight.

I love reading, watching and listening to Douglas Rushkoff. I think he is one of the great minds of the last twenty years and he has amazing insight into popular culture and the way western society operates in general. I would describe him as a form of anthropologist as he studies human behaviour and in his latest book contrasts that against the impact that technology has had on the modern world. I bought his book "Program Or Br Programmed" a few months ago but it has only been the holiday break that has given me the time to get through its 150 pages. Check out the YouTube clip below for a synopsis of the book:

The main thrust of the book is around the fact that as digital technology becomes increasingly embedded into our way of life, it is crucial that we have an understanding of how that technology is programmed, and how its "bias" is designed to push human interaction in a certain pre-determined direction. He doesn't necessarily state that actually having programming skills are essential, but having an advanced understanding of what goes on behind the scenes is essential (in other words, digital literacy is a must). Reading his book is very thought provoking and had me viewing a lot of things through a very critical lense - especially at the recent CEGSA2012 conference. An example of a technology with a certain bias would be an iPad where how it all operates is very deeply hidden from the user - this device is very hard to hack or manipulate in a subversive way because the designers have it in their best interests to have users that use their devices in a certain way. Interestingly, who has complained the loudest about the iOS system being closed, the App Store having restrictive guidelines and the device lacking external storage or accessible batteries? The most highly skilled geeks and computing buffs - the programmers. Schools can feel it in the way that Apple pitches the iPad as a "personal" device - so they have to work hard around the programming bias to utilise it as a "shared" learning device.

Facebook is another technology with inbuilt bias. It allows sharing - but only within the confines of its digital walls and same-same profile decor. It wants its captive audience to be in the one place so that the people who really pay the bills, the advertisers, can have full rein. But as Rushkoff points out, the internet itself as a structure has a bias towards sharing and openness, so he believes that in time, technologies that try to constrain or control this will have to adapt or become irrelevant. In fact, he makes a real effort to avoid naming specific technologies because he believes that the advice offered in the book will have an infinitely greater lifespan than many of the at-the-moment dominant technologies ruling the web.

Rushkoff spends quite a bit of time pointing out the limits of the digital world, which at time seems unlimited to people like me. Choices are always presented in neat packages predetermined by an algorithm or program. An example that springs to mind is blog themes - you might have a choice of a hundred themes but unless you know how to hack or program some aspects of those themes, you are limited to those themes. It explains why unique and really beautiful websites are nearly always created by people with a programming and design background. Mere users like myself are limited to what we are shown by others with the programming skills.

So, a really thought provoking book. Grab yourself a copy - at 150 smallish pages, it is not a big read - but it will force you to grapple with some things about the web and digital technology that you may have considered too much before in the past. And those of us who think we are savvy in the digital realm need to have our preconceptions challenged every now and then.

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Responding to Lisa Neilsen's recent post: Unfollowing everyone but my very favorites on Twitter

I observed in the comments that her Top 25 were all American or Canadian, so in the spirit of you don't know what you don't know, here are 25 Non-North American Tweeters that I enjoy. They are in no particular order and as I pointed out to Lisa, I have a long way to go before my list is well balanced and inclusive of educator perspectives all around the world. I only read Tweets in English and from mainly Westernised countries, as I have said before in the past, everyone's a potential hypocrite and I am no different.

Darcy Moore

@Darcy1968

Learner, educator, deputy principal, English teacher, university lecturer, photographer, blogger, music-lover, likes openness and honesty. Interested in Japan.
Kiama, NSW · http://darcymoore.net

Rachel Boyd

@rachelboyd

A leader & a learner. DP, Classroom Teacher, 2012 Core eFellow & eLearning Leader in Auckland, NZ (formerly Nelson)
Southern Auckland, New Zealand · http://www.rachelboyd.com

Doug Belshaw

@dajbelshaw

Educator, Researcher, Advocate of Openness. Former teacher and senior leader, currently at @jiscinfonet and soon to join @mozilla! #digilit #openbadges
Northumberland, England · http://dougbelshaw.com

Josie Fraser

@josiefraser

I'm a social and educational technologist. Digital literacy, identity & citizenship, GreenICT, general mischief 🙂
Leicester, London, Bristol, UK · http://fraser.typepad.com

Jabiz Raisdana

@intrepidteacher

Teacher, learner, dad, bleeding heart, music and film addict. I want to share as much as I can with as many people as I can as often as I can.
Singapore · http://www.jabizraisdana.com/

Ashley Tan

@ashley

Husband, father, teacher educator, Head of CeL (http://bit.ly/cel-nie), but will never grow up.

Singapore · http://ashleytan.wordpress.com

Kwan Tuck Soon

@tucksoon

Primary School Chinese language teacher, ICT Subject Head, ICT Mentor and E-Learning Coordinator, #edsg co-creator, Photography hobbyist from Singapore.
Singapore · http://tucksoon.wordpress.com

Neil Winton

@nwinton

I'm a teacher who lives and works in Scotland with an insatiable curiousity for what's coming next. Pedagoo Admin. I spell favourite with a 'u.
Perth, Scotland · http://about.me/nwinton

Dean Groom

@Vormamim

Writer, Game & Educational developer working in digital-culture, learning in a changing (playable) world with kids.
Sydney · http://www.deangroom.com

Jess McCulloch

@jessmcculloch

Creator of mutli platform narrative adventures for Chinese language students. Owned by: several cats, 3 rabbits, 2 dogs, and 1 small human. Owns: 1 husband.
Melbourne · http://www.jessmcculloch.net

Kerry J

@kerryjcom

E-learning, Moodle, expat Yank Australian, WoWhead, childless by choice, jazz lover, Atheist, laughs a bit too loudly, looking for answers.
Adelaide, South Australia · http://www.kerryj.com

Carla Arena

@carlaarena

An explorer of social media for sustainable professional development and language teaching/teaching

Brasilia, Brazil · http://collablogatorium.blogspot.com

Judy O'Connell

@heyjudeonline

Educator, learner, blogger, librarian, technology girl, author and consultant. Transforming education and libraries. Innovation for life.
Sydney, Australia · http://heyjude.wordpress.com

 pam_thompson

@pam_thompson

Deputy Principal & Year 6/7 teacher excited about the opportunities to integrate ICT into learning. Interested in collaborating with others.
Adelaide, South Australia · http://thompson67.edublogs.org

Ben Jones

@benpaddlejones

Head Teacher Teaching & Learning @merrylandshs, proudly sui generis, expect the unexpected, follow me if you dare....
Sydney · http://benpaddlejones.edublogs.org/

Ollie Bray

@olliebray

National Adviser for Emerging Technologies in Learning at LTScotland

iPhone: 51.480728,-0.445541 · http://olliebray.typepad.com/olliebraycom/

Warrick

@warrick_w

teacher, writer, reader, cyclist and ed-tech enthusiast.

Melbourne, Australia · http://warrickwynne.com

Barbara Dieu

@bdieu

life-long learner, curious and gregarious.
Brazil · http://barbaradieu.com

Claudia Ceraso

@fceblog

Mostly a learner. I do some teaching, too. I read poems. I take photos. I write in Spanish here: http://addendus.blogspot.com Tag: EFL education
Buenos Aires, Argentina · http://eltnotes.blogspot.com

Karyn Romeis

@karynromeis

Wife, mother, student, Christian, keen cook, amateur photographer...oh, and learning professional

Northamptonshire · http://karynkitchen.blogspot.com

jokay Wollongong

@jokay

Virtual Worlds Facilitator, Designer, Geek, Edutech, Owner of jokaydiaGRID (opensim) and the Islands of jokaydia (SL). Co-founder of MassivelyMinecraft!
Wollongong, Australia · http://jokaydia.com

Jane Nicholls

@janenicholls

CORE ED, EDtalks, curriculum, Media, Teacher, ICT Facilitator, eFellow, runner, photography

Dunedin New Zealand · http://about.me/jane.nicholls

tombarrett

@tombarrett

Inspiring and engaging learners with (and without) great educational technology. Currently working as a Senior Consultant with Notosh.
Nottingham, England · http://edte.ch/blog

Keamac

@Keamac

I'm a primary school teacher, keenly interested in infusing ICT & thinking skills into my classroom programme
Auckland, New Zealand · http://keateach.blogspot.com

Ewan McIntosh

@ewanmcintosh

We build & invest in tech/web startups (http://www.notosh.com) then export the way they work to schools & universities all over the world (edu.blogs.com)
Edinburgh, Scotland · http://edu.blogs.com

So, you can see that my Top 25 still only covers a limited number of countries. This doesn't mean that there are great Tweeters from North America that I follow. There are - but the world is a bigger place than the top half of America. And I didn't even need to include myself in the list 🙂

Actually, if I weren't me, I probably wouldn't bother following myself on Twitter.

I ran a PD session today as part of our weekly staff session focussing on awareness raising around online tools for professional self-learning. I focussed on the potential of Twitter, Diigo, delicious, Google Reader and touched on Edmodo. It feels weird to be introducing these tools that so many in the edtech field see as standard fare that has been around for quite a while and I know that many on my staff have known about these tools but still many regular classroom teachers are unaware of the potential growth and access to great ideas and resources that social bookmarking and feed aggregation can produce.

Anyway, I tried to strike a balance between the show-and-tell that is required with some choice and free time for my colleagues to explore. I used Dan Meyer as an example (again) as his output and sharing is second to none, and he really comes across in his videos and blog posts as someone that everyone can like and relate to even if he is operating at this hyper-extreme productivity level of video production, blog posting and curriculum development that no one else I know in my day to day life could keep pace with. I showed a couple of my dy/av videos and pointed out how and where he shares his thoughts, ideas, resources and insights across the web before offering them a challenge based on his own fingertip analogy from way back in 2010. If you subscribe to Dan, you may remember this one:

Let me urge you to consider that question under the following fictional constraint: every time you tell a teacher to download a new application or set up an account with a new web application, the teacher loses a fingertip.

Bracket, for a moment, the grossness of the scenario. I'll let you decide how the teacher loses the fingertip. The point is that y'all don't understand that you're a bunch of freaks. Someone links up some new online Photoshop knock-off and on muscle memory alone you're entering in your e-mail address and a password and clonking away at your new toy.

Real people aren't like that. And you give them too much grief, sometimes, for their unwillingness to sign up for ten different web apps to service ten different nuances in their learning which you have judged to be equally essential.

So: fingertips. Be careful here. I would give the fingertip off my right ring finger for Google Reader. I would sacrifice a second fingertip for Delicious.

So, with the metaphor firmly in place, I figured that bribery and encouragement works better than guilt trips about how teachers need to get with the program and be connected for their students' sake. I threw the following slide up on the screen:

The reward is a chocolate like the KitKat pictured - as KitKats can be broken into fingers (get it!) - and I remarked that I could potentially be up for an expensive purchase of choccy bars as staff signed onto the tools and tweeted or friended me as evidence they were on their way to embracing connected self-learning! A colleague then said that I maybe should have wagered with someone else that I could raise thirty or so new followers on Twitter in a day, and I could have funded the reward!

So, Dan, I'm sorry if I keep mentioning you and your work from a year or so back as a starting point for others but you are an ideal role model because you weren't a tech head like the majority of us whose day job involved tech integration into student learning. But if I tell the whole story that you show on your website that shows where you've gone since those days as a beginning mathematics teacher, they may well be overwhelmed and intimidated into not giving this a go. But if someone like me is making a useful contribution, then it can't be that hard.

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Tonight's learner PD was using Google Maps to create a story. Here's the link to the story I created as the example and stimulus for my small group of keen learners.


View My Journey As An Educator in a larger map

I was thinking that this could be a great tool for so many things - great for SOSE, mapping locations from stories, creating narratives, histories, mathematical journeys etc. This has been blogged thoroughly by the talented Silvia Tolisano, and this project could also kick start some great story telling and learning. I could imagine some powerful stories from my school's multicultural student population tracing their family's journey to Adelaide - although many have histories that may not be pleasant to re-visit so sensitivity is always required. An upper primary colleague now wants me to work with her class using Google Maps. I like the look of the Map Maker as well, especially as it comes with plenty of self help documentation. And if I knew how to create the required XML file, then something like Map My Life would be possible.

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I was very lucky to attend today's seminar with Dr Joyce Valenza here in Adelaide, and my head is still swimming from the sheer breadth she covered in the day. The whole day in terms of her presentation, her links and pathways can all be found here on her wikispace created for this down under visit. So I won't try and recreate the day actually that would be impossible because what the site can't convey to you is the sheer passion that Joyce has. It certainly won't demonstrate the furious pace at which our collective brains were filled - I was asked to run the backchannel which was quiet and understated, but participants were too busy listening, watching and checking out links and tools on their laptops to be throwing back too many queries and challenges. By only using the wikispace, you would not also appreciate the urgency in her message - encouraging and enthused - but urgent nonetheless. With an audience of mainly teacher-librarians, I got the feeling that the urgency is as much for the future of this role in schools as it was for the future of our students but of course, the two are connected.

So, thank you, Joyce, for a brilliant day. What your brilliant online resource does is enable those of us at today's seminar to go back through your day in smaller bite size chunks at a pace that allows for deeper reflection, fuller exploration and lengthy consideration of how to change and improve the learning for our respective student communities. It'll be something I'll chew for quite a while and is a very timely focus as I start in on my new role.

Via ReadWriteWeb, news of a service called Qwiki that "combines speech-to-text and assembled multi-media to create little slideshows based on Wikipedia entries".

Although like Animoto, all of the heavy lifting is done for you, this tool has some potential in the classroom. There's all sorts of talk around the need for primary school students to have "digital literacy" skills and be able to extract meaning from more than just text, and I could see Qwiki as a way of introducing a topic, analysis of a concept, making reading Wikipedia more engaging, assisting kids with reading difficulties and looking at how the actual Qwiki could be improved to effectively communicate about its topic.

For example, I did a quick search for Australia Day.

When it finishes, it shows a number of related Qwiki shows that can help add context to the original, like the Day Of Mourning or even why Geoffrey Blainey's point of view was quoted. While this tool should not substitute effective research, I think that students would find it a useful starting point for topical research within a number of curriculum areas.

Qwiki also has a process for improvement and users can add suggestions for better images, relevant YouTube footage or even the correct pronunciation of key words. (Even Oprah Winfrey managed the correct pronunciation for Melbourne the other night - Mel-bn, not Mel-born.) Student discussion around these points can be a useful part of analysing the role of imagery and audio in conveying information. I'll be trying it out at some stage and I'll post some reflections here when I do.

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Well, my talk at the CEASA Spotlight Seminar the other night seemed to go OK, although I'm not sure that I really addressed the question of how social media can be utilised by professional associations. A quick look at the CEASA website shows that even in this comparatively small state, there are over 50 associations under their umbrella. I belong to one - CEGSA - but I'm a relative newcomer to being a member, only joining a little over five years ago. So, I don't have this ingrained history of having a particular professional stake in the continued prosperity of an association. However, if my short stint on the CEGSA Committee is anything to go by, all associations have similar issues in terms of maintaining membership, maintaining a viable financial base and offering support to its members in their particular field of interest.

I use social media as an individual. Associations are about a community. I wasn't really sure where to look to find an association that was leveraging social media for its members until I remembered that Jo McLeay is now working for VITTA. Their approach is to offer an extremely resource rich website and add the social media in on the platforms where they are found out on the wild web. There's a blog and a Twitter account. The Twitter account is interesting in that it's not necessarily a collection of VITTA members on the following list but a carefully curated collection chosen for their potential value to the membership. A quick look at that collection shows a significant number of individuals, all obviously putting out tweets of significant interest for their own network, of which VITTA has now become a node. But as for how many VITTA members are availing themselves of this social media feed, well,  I couldn't tell.

Professional educator organisations cater for interest groups within the education community. They provide Professional Development sessions, run conferences, maintain websites and newletters with the aim of equipping their members with the latest resources and offering information and opportunities to improve their members' professional practice. This has worked well for quite a long time and many organisations have embraced the use of technology to improve outcomes for their membership base. But in the same way that the internet is a disruptive force starting to rumble through educational institutions, the web and in particular, social media services threaten the status quo. Online events like the K12 Online Conference show that membership to an organisation is no longer a requirement to hold or participate in Professional Learning of the highest quality. The ever popular TED Talks provides keynote quality out of the budget range of any South Australian organisation.

Professional associations are a way of pooling talent and resources for the common good of a larger group. But they have to provide value for their annual subscriptions or potential members are less enthused about joining. At the Seminar, two SLASA members showed an online referencing tool that their organisation had developed, pointing out that this had the potential to be a positive drawcard for their organisation and that licensed access to this tool could be an income generator for SLASA. But in my mind, there is a danger in this. My experiences and interactions with many educators online indicate that the days of hording an idea behind a locked web portal and charging for access are over. People will just search for another free tool online. That doesn't mean that talented members should not develop these useful tools. Just don't expect them to be a money spinner.

As I wrote before, professional associations are a way of pooling talent and resources for the common good of a larger group. Prior to the internet, this was a way of connecting locally as time and distance prevented the easy exchange of ideas between states and other countries. An annual conference of sister associations across the nation provided important cross-pollinating opportunities as key members travelled to an interstate venue and brought back new ideas and initiatives for the local group. Social media throws the need for most of that out the window. If I'm a Maths teacher, why would I restrict myself to only the ideas within my state association when increasingly, many of the best and most innovative ideas are being published and discussed across digital networks in various corners of the world? Now, it could be that many associations serve a niche demographic where educators of similar ilk world wide are not blogging, tweeting, YouTubing or pooling ideas and practices on a wiki. But there is a definite trend occurring. You could see the edtech community as being an innovator, with early adopters in other educational fields starting to multiply until all areas of the education spectrum have networked individuals sharing and benefitting via the web.

So, if professional associations are to stay vibrant, healthy and relevant, they must work out how to leverage the tools social media offer and look at the trends towards openness and sharing in order to redefine themselves for the years ahead. I'm not at all sure what that could look like but like the education system itself, professional associations must continue to evolve to attract membership and then meet that membership's needs in an era where professional learning is ubiquitous as information itself.

I've been asked to speak for about 20 minutes on Social Media For Educators for a Spotlight Seminar for CEASA, the ruling body for all of the education professional associations here in South Australia. The presentation promises to be more of a drive-by spray of information and ideas than an in-depth examination, but it has meant that I've ventured back out onto Twitter to mingle with my Twitter network. I mostly feel like I am a taker in this social media forum, as finding fresh links that no one else has found already is not my forte. But I have found a few neat little tools that hopefully will show the assembled bunch on Wednesday evening that Twitter isn't just about letting the world know what I had for breakfast. This one is interesting:

And if you want to feel the centre of your own self-created universe, hop over to IS Parade and drop your twitter handle in for a visualization that is very different.

Or put more simply, two Excel graphs that show where people who are reading this blog are from and where bloggers I've got in my Google Reader are from, in rough terms.
Generated from my Clustr Map stats as of November 2010.

Generated from my Clustr Map stats as of November 2010.

Spread of locations of bloggers whom I'm currently subscribed to in my Google Reader.

Spread of locations of bloggers whom I'm currently subscribed to in my Google Reader.

Both should be taken with a substantial grain of salt. The first only measures visitors to my actual blog page - there isn't any way I know of knowing who my subscribers via RSS. The second is everyone in my Reader as it stands right now. It hasn't been cleaned out in ages and there are quite a few people that haven't posted in a long, long while.

What does this tell me? Well, I show my monolingual tendencies by sticking to English only blogs. It's not that I don't want to broaden my scope but am unsure of where to look to get away from over populating my Reader with a few dominant countries. Still, I wonder what other people's graphs might look like. Is this a reasonable way to gain a global picture of education and learning? Would my Twitter graph look different?