Monday, September 20, 2004

If you aren't using Firefox yet ...

Then you should be. Not only is Firefox the safest way to surf the Internet, not only is EVERYBODY doing it (one million downloads in 4 days), and not only is it NOT Internet Explorer (a good enough reason there), but the Firefox designers have added two really cool features to the browser: 1) rss feeds and 2) wikalong. The rss feeds feature is the ability at the push of a button to subscribe to the rss feed of a website as a Firefox bookmark. I'm still loyal to Bloglines and think that's a better choice for heavy internet readers, but if you only want to subscribe to a few sites, than this Firefox feature can be really useful. Plus, it pushes us closer to some kind of new interactivity and new experience with the Internet.

I just heard about the wikalong feature today and am still trying to wrap my brain around what it could mean. To quote the Firefox people:
" Wikalong is a FirefoxExtension that embeds a wiki in the SideBar of your browser, indexed off the url of your current page. It is probably most simply described as a wiki-margin for the internet."

Too cool, way too cool. I'm really interested in your ideas: how could this technology be used in education or IDT?

Here's a screenshot of what wikalong would look like:

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

OK, let's collaborate!

In my last post, I refer to a new collaboration tool called Web Collaborator. In my post I ask if anyone wants to try it out with me. Theresa from the United Kingdom suggest I get something started, and she might participate.

So I did.

I created a project at Web Collaborator, creating a list of differences between blogs and other forms of CSCL tools. This is something I am interested in because blogs do a lot of the same thigns as discussion boards and other tools, and one of my students point-blank told me he didn't think they were different. I do ... but I can't always explain why very well. So maybe you can help me. If this project interests you, sign up at Web Collaborator, and then send me your email (the same one you use to sign up). I will add you to the project, and we can share our ideas on this topic!

You can send your emails to if you want to join this collaboration.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A blog? A wiki? A discussion board? What is it?

There's a new collaboration tool that I heard about from Will Richardson that looks pretty interesting— Web Collaborator. Best part is it appears to be free. Here's what it claims to do:
"Web Collaborator coordinates collaborations automatically, keeping backups of every revision ever made to the project, letting you see who made the changes, and allowing you to focus on the work instead of managing the work."

There are three different aspects of this tool
1) A discussion aspect of some sort where collaborators talk to each other
2) the project itself. This part has wiki-like capabilities where the members of the group can each add, edit, or delete things from the project and the changes show up instantly. You can print out a pdf form of the project at any time.
3) Also a la Wiki, Web Collaborator allows you to go back to previous versions of the document.

Anyway, looks interesting, and I'm itching to try it out. Anyone have a collaborative project they need to work on? :-)

More on compatibility, Jabber and Tiger

First, my apologies to Charles and everyone in his 692r class for being quite off-topic in this blog, but this is the place where I think and store things I want to think more on later.

This falls in the "compatibility" department. Recently Rich posted a neat tip about Jabber as a way of chatting with ALL your contacts, regardless of whether their instant messenging souls belong to AOL, Yahoo Messenger, IM, or [insert client here]. I have also posted recently that I feel one of the biggest barriers to computer-supported collaboration is the lack of compatibility across computer platforms and applications. Jabber is definitely a step in the right direction, and what a convenient tool! Thanks Rich for the tip!

This post is to inform any Mac users that the new version of IChat in Tiger will be utilizing Jabber. To read more about this, check out the post on Slashdot. In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, "Sweeeeeet!"

Monday, September 13, 2004

Please say it's so!

There's a new transitive technology out there that claims "our software allows any software application binary to run on any processor/operating system." This means Windows programs would run on Macs, Mac programs would run on PCs, and we'd finally be all one, happy computing family. For more on this, check out the article in Wired magazine.

On Slashdot, someone asked the all-important question, is this legitimate computer alchemy or vapormare?

I have my doubts until I see it work myself. Call me faithless. But I blogged once that someday the biggest breakthrough in computer-supported collaboration will be greater compatibility. I believe the biggest barrier to greater online collaboration is we aren't compatible across platforms, or across programs.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Social learning software report

If social and collaborative learning is your thang, then you might want to check out this article on ISociety by William Davies. Here's the plug on the website:
"Social capital analysts have debated the implications of the Internet for some years now. But this debate has recently been joined from the opposite side, as software experts and developers are showing an increased desire to understand and improve social networks, both offline and online.This report introduces some of the core ideas of this new unified debate, and outlines possible directions for the future."
Looks good! I'll be scanning over this when I get some time ...

Monday, September 06, 2004

ITI: A list of reports on the Institute

Dave Wiley on his AutoUnfocus blog lists a bunch of people who attended the Instructional Technology institute this week and blogged the sessions they attended. If you wanted to hear more about the conference, there you go.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Breaking the Internet speed record

Slashdot reports (it was from an article in, however) that there is a new internet speed record:
"The old record was nearly cut in half: the two parties, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), 'transferred 859 gigabytes of data in less than 17 minutes.' InternetNews goes on to say, 'This record speed of 6.63Gbps is equivalent to transferring a full-length DVD movie in four seconds.'"
What options does this hold for education? What if we could transfer simulations, video, multimedia, and ANYTHING as fast as we transfer text? Would this change the way we design instruction? In what ways?

The difficulty in our field is making our ideas keep up with the technology. Old models of instruction won't suffice. How would we teach if the technology barriers came tumblin' down? Because eventually they will.

I made OLDaily!

Well today I was excited to learn that Stephen Downes in his OLDaily newsletter/blog referenced my analysis of his keynote at the IT Institute, which I published on my edu-blogger blog yesterday. How exciting! I read OLDaily, well, daily, and many other bloggers in our field do. Just like that, my article on his keynote address was spread throughout the blogosphere, getting my ideas out to many people in our field.

How scary! My first feeling was excitement. My second feeling was fear: did I spell everything right? Did I do Stephen's keynote justice? What if I completely misunderstood what he was trying to communicate? What if I wrote something dumb that now everybody might read?

I'm mentioning this because 1) I think it's the first time anyone outside of BYU has read my blog, so I'm excited; and 2) this is a good example about the beauty of blogging. This is a quick way for your voice to be heard. What you write today could be read by who knows who tomorrow. It's also, like I said, scary and will force me to be a little more thoughtful about everything I say. The potential to have an audience, even if I don't, will force me to be a much more careful blogger from now on.


OK, I'm finally going to respond to a few posts I've read from my peers at BYU about behaviorist learning theories. There's been some great posts and ideas on this topic!

Rich said:
"The point I want to make, however, is that if Behaviorism is to be evaluated or discussed, it should be done using appropriate examples. Citing bad examples of Behaviorism as the reason not to use it ignores those contexts where it may have some useful contributions to the field of education."
I wanted to comment and say (but I can't find out how to comment on your blog, Rich!) that I agree that we often criticize behaviorism by pointing at awful examples that everyone would agree is poor instruction. I think behaviorism can be an effective instructional strategy in some contexts. So the question should not be "behaviorism or constructivism?" but "WHEN do I use behaviorism, HOW do I use behaviorism, and WHAT EXPECTATIONS should I have when I do use this strategy?" We need to stop bickering in our field about whose theory is the best and instead start looking for more applications of each theory. But I do think it is necessary to remember what expectations we can have from each theory. Expecting high level synthesis and analysis (which many teachers do expect) after using only behavioristic methods (which is how many teachers teach) is unrealistic.

So to reframe the debate, does anyone have any ideas about when behaviorism is most appropriate?

I also thought Geoff posted an interesting analysis:
"It seems even our very existence is contingent upon a rewards system, where we have cognitively made the decision to pursue certain careers, choices, life, et cetera."

"Do I believe this is the most effective system? No. But do I think we can escape it? No."
Hmmm, CAN we escape behaviorism? Maybe not completely because it does seem to be human nature to do whatever gets us a reward. But I think we can be optimistic and find ways to use alternative methods and theories to guide our instruction--when an alternative method is more appropriate. I think people can learn to be less behavioristic--isn't that what progression in character is all about? Learning to do, think, and be motivated for more important reasons than to get a reward?

Friday, September 03, 2004

ITI: Let e-learning go out of control

I really enjoyed Brian Lamb's talk on digital learning: "Go fast, go cheap, and let it go out of control". For those who might want to know the pedigree, this is the guy who sold David Wiley on blogs and wikis, so he's a pretty trend-setting and innovative guy. Instead of a PowerPoint (so 20th century!), he gave his presentation using a bunch of tabbed wikis in his Safari browser. Each wiki was a different section of his presentation. He gave us the URL at the beginning, and encouraged us to start adding to his presentation wikis. How wild! Talk about audience participation. People could add material at the same time as he was presenting it!

Anyway, log these urls well, I think they'll be useful: - His presentation wiki - a list of edubloggers from the IT institute. A great source of IT bloggers!

Brian started his presentation by saying "The digital and academic worlds are butting heads together. Can these work together?"

His argument is that digital media requires that we teach differently than before. We need to move quicker, think looser, and, most especially, let learners go crazy with the technology and not over-moderate how they learn. In this way, he had many similar ideas as Stephen Downes. One example of digital technology butting heads with academia is what Brian called "Mass Amateurism." This is the ability that fast, cheap, and simple technologies can give to the masses to approach a level of professionalism. Brian claimed that this often scares the "intellectuals" and tenured professors because "What is academia about? About being the professional. The notion of allowing the common man to do it makes them uneasy." He gave the example of digital cameras. He's not a professional photographer, but with the incredible cameras anyone can buy, he is "80% there."
Another example is Apple's GarageBand, where anyone can be a professional music mixer. Brian later observed, "The more esteemed a scholar is, the less likely they seem to be to embrace new technologies. The ones who accept new technologies are struggling new faculty looking to get an edge. Those with tenure aren’t interested." He might be over-generalizing, but it is true that technology could change the traditional model of education to some degree.

Brian's actual job is to run the learning objects movement in a British Columbian university. He made the claim that technologies like Furl and Flickr (both of which are AWESOME tools BTW) are really creating types of learning objects because you tag a piece of content (a website) or a graphic with some kinds of metadata (like what categories they belong to, what rating you give these objects, and what keywords you attach to them).

He then attacked the lack of openness and freedom to adapt and "remix" objects (a.k.a. Larry Lessig's keynote). He said that if we could have the freedom to take material and change and adapt it without worrying about copyright infringement, then we don't have to make the difficult decisions about how much context to add to a learning object, or what the granularity of the object should be--because teachers will make these decisions themselves. They will remix the objects and take the amount of the object that they need and adapt it to their own context.

Anyway, he had many other very good points, but ala modern society, he was very all over the place and scattered in his thoughts so they are hard to recreate here. But that's exactly what his point was: we need to let go and let modern e-learners go "out of control" with technology, even if the way they interact and learn is different than what we're used to.

ITI: Stephen Downes keynote

Stephen Downes gave the closing keynote and did a really good job, I thought. He's a heavy blogger, in fact his OLDaily blog is a daily wealth of knowledge about hot topics in our field that he finds on the internet. If you want to get more updates on the Instructional Technology Institute than I am providing, check out his blog for the last couple of days. He does a much better reporting and analysis job on this kind of stuff than I do.

Anyway, he tied in the three major themes of this conference: reusability, social software, and open learning. I thought he was a perfect closing keynote because he had taken pictures and notes from all the presentations he had seen and used them in his own presentation.

He's a visionary man. he said that “In general new technology is introduced in two stages … First, it duplicates existing products and services. Second, it obliterates them.”

Examples of this phenomenon are:
  • Blog vs. newspapers
  • Internet vs. Television
  • Skype vs. Telephone
  • Wikipedia vs. encyclopedia
Honestly, who reads an encyclopedia anymore when we have the internet? Will anyone read newspapers anymore once you've been thoroughly immersed in blogs? I used to be news reporter--nobody's more of a loyal newspaper reader than I am. But I can now get all the news I want through my aggregator (including the Daily Herald), so I'm canceling my DesNews subscription. I can even get Dilbert comics and Dave Barry's column through my aggregator, what more do I need?

Back to Stephen. He presented some dichotomies between models. The old model is broadcast, commercial, bundled, proprietary. The new model is open, network, free. He then asks:
"What has worked in the past?
FTP, email, usenet, the web, blogs, RSS …
What did these have in common?
They were …
  • - simple
  • - decentralized
  • - open – We could all play
  • - free, etc.
He then said that we are at the point now were in e-learning we have duplicated the existing model of education. The next step is to leave the model and go on to something new. He believes one thing we need to change is to stop trying to organize and structure e-learning. He quotes David Wiley that "Instead of trying to organize learning communities, we should focus on how learning communities can organize themselves."

My opinion? I'm not sure, but I think I'm halfway. We need general boundaries, but without dictating exactly how e-learners have to talk, walk, and listen. If we get too ordered, then we're like the pharisees and stifle their ability to grow. We should provide some general structure, and then let the communities dictate how they will relate and grow and we should be there as instructional designers to support them.

To finish, I'll paraphrase Stephen again:
"We have to gain our voice, to speak for ourselves, to reclaim our language, our media, our culture. Could we learn to read and write if only a small number of people had access to language? No, we need openness for everyone. Go fast, go cheap, let it go out of control."

He quotes a writer who describes it as 'Educhaos'. He feels we should "let go" and let learners take the digital medium to its deteministic end.

To paraphrase him again:

  • "Social software- we need a way to support conversations with content, and not just content.
  • Learning – we need to leverage the principles of self-organizing networks.
  • We need to transform learning … from something we do for people to something they do for themselves."
Which ties into our behavioristic/constructivist discussion this week, eh?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Blogging the IT Institute!

Hello! I am currently at the Instructional Technology Institute in Logan, Utah. This is a much better conference than I anticipated with some really great presenters. The food's been great too--they feed you 5 great meals with your $75 student registration. What a deal!

Anyway, I'm going to blog the presentations I like the most. I'll do this for two reasons:
  1. To help me learn the material better by writing about it
  2. To maybe allow anyone not here at the conference to catch some of the highlights

So if any of these posts interest you, read them and ask me questions when I get back. If you don't care, don't bother! Either way, I'll still be learning more from this conference because I'll be articulating and reflecting my thoughts.

ITI: Martindale and Categories of educational websites

I heard a great presentation yesterday by Trey Martindale (who is a blogger himself, by the way--check out his blog if you want a good one on instructional design). Especially I think Charles and Rich may be interested in this, so talk to me about it when I get back if you have questions. Anyway, he and two compadres checked out three major compilations of the best educational websites on the web, and then they started analyzing a sample of these sites to find out what kinds of educational websites are being recognized as good ones. They created a list of 11 categories of educational websites. Here they are:
  1. Instructional
  2. Learning Activities
  3. Content Collection
  4. List of Links
  5. Reference/Archive/News/Database (RAND)
  6. Teacher and Parent Resources
  7. Shared Experiences
  8. Personal Expression and Interpersonal Interaction (PEII)
  9. Informal Education
  10. Research and Service Organizations and Projects (RSOP)
  11. Commercial
Descriptions and examples of these categories, as well as their soon-to-be-published paper in Computers in our Schools is available at Trey's weblog or Trey's website.

I thought this was a phenomenal research idea and project. I suggested to Trey that the next step might be to offer keys to evaluating each category of websites, because just describing to a teacher that "hey, this is a RAND website" is kind or worthless. It will be very important to tell them, "if you need to use a RAND for your classroom projects, here is how you could evaluate RANDs and know when you've found a credible and useful one." So could we create some evaluation steps for each category?

After I suggested this, one lady said this had already been done, because there are many places that tell you how to evaluate educational websites. Yeah, we do this too in IPT 286. But the evaluation standards would be different for each type of website. A content website should not be commercial--that's a red flag. A commercial site SHOULD be commercial. A learning activity website should not have fluff but should have meaningful content. A weblog should have fluff because the blogger and the reader are learning through interaction and co-construction of ideas until the fluff becomes more thoughtful and refined.

Does this make sense?

The next step for Trey is that he wants to create a search engine that would then find only RANDs or PEIIs or whatever, and the website in its metadata would define what category that website falls into. However, he's also wanting to switch gears on the project entirely and instead define attributes of educational websites instead of categorizing the entire website. This is a much better idea because, for example, has many different attributes and could fit into many different categories.

Anyway, I'm definitely using some of Trey's ideas in teaching digital resources in IPT 286, but I'm not sure how yet. I'd like to ask each student to find a good website for each category, but that might be too heavy of a workload. So maybe instead have them find their 5-10 websites and then require them to analyze the sites and put them in their appropriate category. This could just be a helpful tool to aid their reflection.

ITI: Simulated learning companions

Here's a long post about a session I saw yesterday. Sorry everyone! Skip it if you are not interested in simulations and/or computer-assisted interactions.

Session: Impact of the affect and gender of a learning companion on learning outcomes
Yanghee Kim, USU

Yanghee had some interesting ideas about simulated learning companions, which are basically computer-generated “peers” that e-learning students can relate to during a computer-mediated learning activity. She was reporting on her dissertation research about how the affect (how happy/grumpy) and gender of a learning companion could impact the learning. Her prerequisite assumption was that the more a learning companion showed emotion, the more believable the simulated peer would be and the more effective it would be in helping to mentor the students.

Her logic went something like this:
People learn better through interaction – they prefer interaction with peers – peer interaction is absent in strict Computer-Assisted Learning (we won’t talk about blended environments here) – would a simulated peer be able to fulfill this role?

She also did a second experiment investigating responsiveness of the learning companions. After completing each part of the CAI activity, there were emoticons, and they were supposed to pick one. If they said they were happy or doing well, the LC said “great! Glad you’re understanding it.” If the student was struggling, the LC expressed understanding and sympathy and gave reinforcement.

Her specific hypotheses were something along these lines:
A happy, positive learning companion creates more positive student attitudes
A responsive learning companion will positively impact self-efficacy and student affect.

The results? Of course her hypotheses were supported. She also found that male LCs were more effective at mentoring than female ones. I think this must be because the class was mostly female, and not because a male LC is better.

(As aside about positivistic research. Yanghee had to report her finding that, in her study, a male LC is a better mentor, even though she isn’t convinced. So we’re not convinced, but we report it as a “finding” anyway!)

Here are my thoughts that stemmed from her presentation:
  • Could we create simulated learning companions that can take a variety of roles (mentor, coach, teacher, student, etc., whatever is needed for the learning situation)?
  • Could students pick an LC that would most uniquely match their own attributes? I think Bandura said something about how we learn best from those with similar attributes to our own.
  • Could we allow students to pick a new LC any day or for any part of the activity? For example, in Mario Bros. games, you can pick Mario, Luigie, Donkey Kong, etc to be your opponent. Could we have those options in an LC? Let the students pick a hunk to be their learning companion if they want.
  • An exciting implication, I think, is to allow students to learn by teaching (she alluded to this but didn’t elaborate it). Maybe we could allow the live student to learn by teaching the simulated LC?

ITI: Wiley, Lambert, and OLS

I'm listening to Dave Wiley and Lambert discuss their Open Learning System project. If you were in the program last year (but I guess most of you in 692r weren't), you heard Dave speak in a seminar about MIT's open courseware project. USU is now doing the same thing. The basic ideas is that learning and knowledge should be available freely to everyone. So MIT and USU are actually putting EVERY single course, and EVERY recorded lecture and EVERY instructor material online so someone could basically teach themself Linear Algebra using MIT's linear algebra class and accessing the linear algebra professor's materials.

The problem is, as Dave says it, "No matter how smart you are, someday you will have a question. And having the material online is not enough. You need to talk to somebody."

They are working on a possible solution for this with OLS. This is basically a collaborative component tied into every open course. For example, if you are reading the Linear Algebra material, you see a link on the menu bar for OLS. You go there, and there are discussion boards and features to support a growing community where students help each other learn the material.

It has some interesting features, including the ability to click a button and give "kudos" to someone's post. If someone gets more and more kudos from lots of people, they gain credibility in the community, and people will start listening to that person more (kind of like ebay's feedback feature). This way, if you have a question, you can choose to read the posts written by the smartest people in the community.

They also learned the hard way that too many advanced features can kill a growing community. So the default features of the software are simple. As the community grows and wants more features, the software is extensible and can grow and add more features.

Great idea!