Internet

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.

Thanks again, to Stephen Downes, who points to a Guardian article on the future where this passage confirms what I was talking about in the last post:

The open web created by idealist geeks, hippies and academics, who believed in the free and generative flow of knowledge, is being overrun by a web that is safer, more controlled and commercial, created by problem-solving pragmatists.

These are the pragmatists who would be happy to see RSS die before the casual web user becomes aware enough to see its worth. (Another link from Stephen's Daily Newsletter.)

Following a tangential thought after reading this Stephen Downes' post in OLDaily.

I'm not much of a futurist but I certainly wonder about the impact of the corporatised  internet within the next decade on people like myself who have found a niche on the open web. The uncertainty surrounding delicious is certainly a indication that learners need to be nimble and adaptable in order to keep their free ranging options open. I can see a future where teachers who haven't started blogging and sharing resources won't need to bother because self hosting and options like Edublogs will be too difficult to access, audience too difficult to find and networks too hidden behind service barriers. Facebook and Twitter will set the blueprint for short drips of information, inane games and "Likes" that strip meaningful connection back to quick wordbites and image overload.

Net neutrality is a big deal. We may look back at the Web 2.0 phenomenon as an exciting period where anyone could publish to the web while still maintaining control and integrity. It may be that if I have say, Bigpond, as my internet provider, I can only get the Bigpond filtered and ratified web. More open independent ISPs may become niche expensive services as the mass population weaned onto a diet of of Apple and Android apps, or social media one stop shops find that cheap, corporation sponsored internet is all they know or care about. Where one can actually find an authoring or sharing site, one will need to sign over all intellectual property rights to the megawebcorporation overlord before one can even say "Hello World." All of this digital citizenry stuff could well be beyond the skill set of the average educator. Don't worry, Google will provide a set of online lesson plans for us to follow and then the kids can add another sponsored widget onto their online portal.

We can only hope that human ingenuity will prevail over the insatiable need for profit. Facebook has a powerful grip for now, but as soon as users decide that another service is newer, shinier and cooler, then that particular walled garden will need to re-invent itself (like MySpace) or face irrelevance as the users flock to the new service. But the trend towards capturing audience for the benefit of advertisers is now everyday with the public so used to social media games, getting free virtual dollars for favouriting consumer products and connecting to vague acquaintances. The KMarts and Targets of the world try to cater for everything a consumer would need in one place - there is a huge possibility that the online world will adopt the worst aspects of the offline, face to face world where giant corporations control far more than they should. I'd like an internet that is more like a countryside dotted with quaint, unique little hamlets and villages than an internet with a few major cities and miles of soulless freeway.

internetinc

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I was in a Year 1/2 classroom this morning working with a teacher new to our school. The kids had netbooks out and the teacher wrote up some website addresses on the whiteboard with interactive content about the Water Cycle that she wanted the students to visit and use. Being seven and eight year olds, there was a strong possibility that entering these sites successfully into the browser would be a tricky task. My quickfire solution was to open a Word document, paste in the two sites, press enter to make them links and then save that file in an easy to access folder on the network. I then informed the class where to go to find the file - hopefully creating an easier pathway.

However, I don't think that this is a very good solution and so now I'm appealing to the collective wisdom of this blog's readers. How would you create a way for young students to get easily onto teacher curated collections of websites? I'm thinking that even a delicious tag might be too confusing for this age group - but maybe a class blog that they become familiar with that puts these websites into a blogroll or page. But, you guys are smarter than me. What do you think?

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Dear Tim, Angelita, Megan, Matt, Sherine and Alexa,

During the last month you guys have all dropped me flattering emails, telling me how much you love Open Educator and how this is one of the greatest edtech blogs going around. It's nice when readers reach out to make contact and I've done the same myself when I wanted to say something that wasn't really right for the comments section of a blog.

Your sincerity is touching:

I had come across your site before and when I had this offer come about, I knew I wanted to get in touch with you.

I recently discovered your blog, and I must say that yours has caught my attention.

However, it doesn't take you guys long to cut to the real reason for your unexpected correspondence:

… hoping is that you can perhaps post a blog about (insert generic reference to Online Education) or if we could be featured in some way, any way.

... if you would be interested in a guest post opportunity on your blog. I just ask for a link back to my blog in the by-line.

Coincidentally, we recently published an article entitled (insert generic reference to Online Education) that I believe would draw considerable interest from your readers. If you are interested in sharing with them, then feel free to do so. Here's the link for your convenience.

I currently have a press release related to education and teacher reform that could possibly develop into a piece for your website.

Maybe you guys are all genuine and think that it would be a real boost to this humble blog for your content or service to be featured. However, even though I don't offer a lot here to the wider education community, what I do offer here is genuine and is of my own creation. I can never know for sure but I think my readers subscribe because they value this blog as a place to get my unique viewpoint, to read my raw and sometimes naive reflections and hopefully turn up a nugget of insight that informs or provokes further thought and reflection. I am indebted to my commenters who, with the exception of Mr. Nike-shoes and Ms. Realty-investments, are all educators who respond selflessly to add to the conversation.

So, to perfectly clear, in case you have a unique article, service or link that you think would be indispensable for my readers and think that we actual edubloggers can't ascertain when we are all being bombarded with the same stuff in our in-box, ....

... don't bother.

P.S. Perhaps you guys would be better off developing more of those fancy infographics that everyone seems to be in love with of late. They stand a better chance than trying to get me to plug your wares.

I'm a bit weak when it comes to putting forward an opinion or wading into a debate. I get easily intimidated by people who speak and write with high levels of self-assurance and it is easier to be the fence sitter. That's OK - there are plenty of lurkers all over the internet who benefit from other people's bravado and expertise in equal measures but in my case recently I dropped a hint and let others pitch into the issue. Confused? Let me explain.

The other week I posted about my views on the PLN acronym and received a comment and link from Lisa Neilsen over at the Innovative Educator. I had never crossed with her before and was pleasantly surprised to discover her work showing me that there are plenty of edubloggers out there with many times the subscribers I have that I'm not aware of. I could launch back into the PLN / Networked Learning semantics that I subjected Lisa to in her comments section but that's not my point here. After my awareness was raised I subscribed to her blog and a few days read her post Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too.

Regular readers here will know that I've written a reasonable number of angsty posts on this designed-for-education technology over the past few years, and that posts like this are impossible for me to ignore. I'm like a swinging voter in an election on this issue. Reading Lisa's post sent my brain back to my personally disappointing experiences at the National IWB Conference last year, and conjured up a mental image of having someone like her with her passion and persuasive skills square off with her tech tools against a skilled and equally passionate IWB advocate. In my head, Chris Betcher came to mind. A duo duelling double keynote would be a gutsy alternative to someone just blindly pontificating the wonders of the IWB - but I wasn't the one with any guts to put this idea out here on my blog. So I slyly expunged the idea from my brain out on Twitter with this tweet, thinking that no one would care or even notice it.

But once you release even something as small as that onto the web, it takes on its own life, able to be picked up and re-shaped into whatever the next reader wants. So Peter Kent, probably one of the foremost experts on IWB pedagogy in Australia, picked up my tweet and decided it was worth his while wading into Lisa's territory and engaging in a professional conversation which he has now described as: Just posted a outline of what is the best #IWB debate I have been involved with http://tiny.cc/3sjed

I have a lot of respect for Peter and his groundbreaking work at Richardson Primary. He has graciously travelled to Adelaide to speak to our staff when we started our IWB program and always been willing to engage in dialogue with me online as well. So, while I felt that Lisa's post were excellent and made a lot of sense, I am glad that Peter chose (in his own tweeted words) to put his head into the lion's mouth and add a series of well written comments in response to Lisa's posts. It makes for an interesting pathway through Lisa's posts - Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too, IWBs are Not the Stars. They’re the Overpaid Extras with A Great Agent, Getting Smart about the Real No’s No’s of Teaching with IWBs - A Photo Compilation and Got Money for a Really Expensive Set of Training Wheels? I’ve Got An IWB to Sell Ya. Peter's comments are in various spots but he posts in his own space on the The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution Ning - The IWB debate - where do you stand?

What I really like about Peter's responses (and I suspect that Lisa likes it too) is how he draws things back to defining high quality teaching and how unless you have that in a classroom then it doesn't matter what the tech debate does. Whether you like it or not, the way we have schools set up at present, what happens in the classroom is dictated by the teacher. Even if the students are all involved in self directed learning with a great deal of choice, that has been enabled by the teacher in charge of that classroom. The same goes for the use of technology within that classroom as well - if the teacher cannot easily bend the technology to achieve learning outcomes that he or she has identified as being crucial for his or her students, then they are hardly likely use it, are they?

So, in some ways, I got my intellectual showdown but in some ways, this interaction between two high level educators is a better deal online than it would be in the confines of a conference. I laid out some virtual breadcrumbs and it snowballed. I've learnt a heap from both Peter and Lisa.

Thank you, both of you. I think I owe you both a few well thought comments back on your pieces of cyber-turf - when I finally decide what my actual position is. But hey, the beauty of networked learning is that I don't ever need to come to a final conclusion on an issue as my views can continually morph as new factors and counter viewpoints are aired across social media platforms.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/goincase/4648508454/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/goincase/4648508454/

Read/Write Web posted today about the decline of the Startpage, the widget driven portal that in theory seems like an ideal way to get newcomers started in using social media and RSS feeds. I still have a Pageflakes page as my homepage here on Firefox on my laptop but I must admit it has become more of a habit to start there whenever I go online more than anything. Pageflakes is quite a nice interface although I hate the big ugly advertising widget that occupies prime unshiftable real estate in the window. According to the post from R/WW, Facebook is the main target now for widget developers and other Startpage platforms like Netvibes and Webwag are still around but the whole concept has not taken off in the big way that was first envisaged.

I've often thought that Startpages would be a useful tool in the classroom and I've created a page that pulls in feeds on a particular topic (like maybe volcanoes in Science, or other topics in social science or inquiry topics) to keep a watch on topical issues that can be tied in with the learning. Often, there are so few widgets developed with an education purpose in mind with trashy entertainment and North American sports dominating the choices. Often it's just as easy to tag stuff in delicious with a specific tag and share that with the kids - the overflow of information from RSS can be overwhelming for the average twelve year old!

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So newspapers are dying. The decline is even more noticeable in the US.

mint death of the news

Budget help from Mint.com

It is interesting to listen to many of my colleagues who still enjoy reading the daily paper over breakfast, or make a point of leisurely perusing the newspaper with a cup of coffee on their first day of their vacation. My parents-in-law have the newspaper delivered daily and I'll browse them on a Friday night but the daily newspaper is not an embedded part of my life like some of my peers. It's probably because I never grew up in a newspaper focussed household. We'd get the Sunday Mail but the only other periodicals around the Wegner farm house were the Stock Journal (dubbed the "Farmer's Bible" by my Dad, an almost blasphemous statement in his world) and The Lutheran. A very ironic combination. My mother used to brag that she had never read a book from start to finish in her life and my Dad's favourite book was titled "Farming Is Fun."

So, pre-internet, newspapers and their direct relative, the news broadcast (TV or radio, take your pick) were the way we got information about the important events happening in our country and world. The media corporations controlled what was newsworthy and ignored what was deemed unimportant. In a one paper town like Adelaide, that was publishing for a relatively captive audience.

Now we have the web. Initially, newspapers just reproduced themselves in an online form, still curating news that they felt their readers needed. But with RSS and social media, we can access news from any source and we now longer rely on one corporation to bring the news to us. But is that broadening our horizons or allowing us to insulate ourselves with our own self imposed limitations?

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If traditional media is dying and being overtaken by real time social media sources ...

... then why are most of the links posted by my Twitter network come from mainstream news websites?

If it is generally agreed that we need educators who are self directed learners and that social media allows anyone to publish and contribute...

... then why do so many need How To guides and workshops to do what is supposedly so easy?

If we want our kids to be creative and critical thinkers ...

... then why do politicians get such a big say in how our education systems should run?

If we want all students to use technology seamlessly with and as part of their learning ...

... then why do we make a big showcase of certain technologies (take your pick - iPad, IWB, clickers)?

If we believe that the learning is more important than the software, hardware or device ...

... then why do we let corporations decide what is innovative or worthwhile?

If basic skills around being literate and numerate are as important as critical thinking and creativity ...

... then why is there so much debate around one approach trumping the other? Don't learners need both?

If reflecting on one's practice is such a big key to improving teaching in the classroom ...

... then why is Twitter so celebrated as a place for instant PD?

If my goal is to contribute to the greater pool of learning via the internet ...

... then why am I publishing such a cynical and hypocritical post?