March 06, 2005
TECHNOLOGIES: Podcasting & the "Radio Revolution"
Interesting article in BusinessWeek Online about podcasting and other digital forms of audio broadcasting as a threat to traditional commercial airwaves.
It took me a while to start paying attention to this technology... and podcasting is a term that confused me at first, since I immediately assumed it had something to do with real-time audio broadcasting. I suppose this reflects my own bias again time-shifting for any purposes other than work and class... While I record all of my virtual classroom sessions for students who want to review them or who are participating in classes asynchronously, I'm not much for recording or downloading anything for entertainment purposes only (I don't own an iPod, and I don't even need one hand to count the number of times in the last year that I've had any desire to record anything I might miss on TV).
For those who are still confused about the terminology, basically, "podcasting" is a way of distributing audio files through RSS feeds. "Podcasters" create audio files for download to digital players and prepare them for syndication. Using an aggregator, users subscribe to particular podcasts, and the feeds they subscribe to download to their iPods automatically when they connect to the Internet. (You can learn more about what edubloggers have been saying about podcasting on Stephen Downes's Edu_RSS search page for podcasting.)
(article link via slashdot)
January 18, 2005
TECHNOLOGY: More on Domain Hijacking
Regarding the Panix.com domain hijacking, seems like everything's over except for the handwringing and fingerpointing.
January 16, 2005
TECHNOLOGY: Hijacked Host
Panix, the oldest commercial Internet provider in New York and the host for this site, fell victim to domain hijacking over the last few days, sending some of my mail to godknowswhere and making this site inaccessible (though a couple of comment spammers were still able to slip through, of course). As reported by slashdot today (just to make sure the tech staff don't get any sleep tonight), neither their registrar nor verisign has been much help in sorting out the mess in a timely fashion. Depressing.
September 22, 2004
BLOGS: The War on Comment Spam
Glaser also points to Elise Bauer's very useful Concerning Spam entry.
For myself, I've had no comment spam problems at all since installing the MT-Blacklist plugin for MovableType a few months ago (knock on faux woodgrain finish)...
September 18, 2004
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Technophobia or Bitter Experience?
There have been lots of small-scale qualitative studies on the role of WBT in higher education, but the article Higher Education Staff Experiences of Using Web-based Learning Technologies (from Educational Technology & Society, 7:1), which focuses on a study of the experiences of staff implementing these technologies in four institutions in England, really hit home for me.
The study's findings that staff - though enthusiastic about WBT - experienced problems "embedding" the new technology within their organizations, managing their time, and obtaining institutional recognition for the extra work involved in using the technology, certainly reflect my own experiences working with technology integration in educational institutions and nonprofit organizations.
When staff, faculty or administrators give you that 1000-mile stare as you suggest a new technology solution that you know will make their work easier or more effective, it's easy to chalk up their hesitation to technophobia, fear of change, or even laziness. But, especially these days, it's just as likely that their response is a result of bitter experience with technologies that were poorly integrated into their workflow.
Most of us have had the experience of seeing a new technology go through the following cycle: touted as a panacea, adopted hastily, introduced haphazardly, supported with inadequate training, spottily integrated, left to languish, abandoned as ineffective.
Not only does this depressingly familiar cycle waste an institution's time, money and resources, but it also takes a significant toll on staff... it can interrupt work cycles, cause performance problems, and make staff feel as if they're just plain wasting their time. Staff who make the extra effort to really learn and integrate the technology are often not prepared for (and not recognized for) the time and effort this requires - and then they have to start all over again when the technology is eventually abandoned. And staff who never bother to use the new technology feel vindicated, since they really didn't need to learn how to use it after all.
Of course, this can become a self-perpetuating cycle... Those who have lived through this a few times tend to be wise to any claim by technology evangelists that a new technology is "easy to use". Even those who are generally early adopters of new technologies for personal use may hesitate at the suggestion that they incorporate them into their work life.
A thoughtful, planned approach that focuses on sustainability and seamless integration of new technology into existing work processes - as well as support, reward, and recognition of staff's efforts to learn and implement the new systems - can go a long way toward breaking this negative cycle. But, interestingly enough, I've found that it's much easier to "sell" administrators and managers on the technology itself than on the interventions needed to support, integrate, and sustain it.
(article link via elearnopedia)
September 17, 2004
TECHNOLOGIES: Synchronous Collaboration Tools
Interesting dynamic presentation (in Macromedia Breeze) by Robin Good on Synchronous Collaboration tools for the Academic World that provides some food for thought on different synchronous tools (particularly for Course Creation students who have only had exposure to Centra).
(link via elearnspace)
August 26, 2004
Thanks to James Farmer's goading, I've finally crossed out one item on my long list of basic blog maintenance and housekeeping tasks: changing the webfeed to display complete entries. So there, James ;)
Seriously, it's amazing how long it takes to get around to making even the simplest changes or updates. While something like changing one tag in a couple of templates shouldn't take three months, these little things do add up.
Sometimes the prospect of opening one more program to make one more change - even if it only takes a few minutes - can be pretty daunting. ... Not a bad thing to keep in mind when trying to convince people how simple it is to add new technologies to their already busy routines...
TECHNOLOGIES: Hazy Crazy Days of Summer
Summer semesters are always the hardest for adult learners (not to mention their facilitators). .. Any class stretching over two or more months during the summer seems to last an eternity for working adults, who are often dealing with out-of-school kids, covering for vacationing colleagues, trying to squeeze in some vacation time of their own, and/or engaging in some kind of nightmarish DIY home renovation project at the same time.
And that's just on the student side of the equation... On campus, facilities tend to be a mess. (It's bad enough dealing with room changes and locked computer labs if you're teaching evening or weekend classes during the rest of the year. Try finding someone to make copies or bring in your missing LCD projector when the building is only half-staffed to begin with.)
Online, the small portion of the tech-support team that isn't on vacation is generally busy "improving" the system you are trying to use as they prepare for the fall semester. And it's guaranteed that the minute you have a problem, all you'll get is a flurry of "out of the office" automated replies.
I used to think that it was easier to teach online classes during the summer semester than on-campus ones, but that was because I had never before had really serious problems to deal with in a summer online course. After just finishing a semester plagued with technical and logistical problems, I have to say that I think that the bad online experience is much, much worse than a bad on-campus experience.
At least if you're locked out of your on-campus building you have options: You can always find another space somewhere, even in the middle of Manhattan. And you have a whole group of participants to commiserate and grouse with. Heck, if you're feeling creative (or optimistic), you can even change a disaster into an "opportunity" ... or at least a learning experience.
But if you're "locked out" of your online course, you're locked out of communication. And you're locked out alone.
August 17, 2004
A shout out to the husband ... in addition to his regular theater-and-culture blog Superfluities, George has now started ArtsBlogging, an experiment in collaborative blogging where arts bloggers can connect on cross-discipline issues and share resources on technology and culture tailored to their needs.
As George writes:"Romantic tradition has it that artists are alienated not only from our culture but from each other, and despite the explosion of information technology in the past twenty years I can’t say that personally I feel any less alienated than I did in 1984. Blogs have the potential to provide the communication and communion missing from the fragmented cultural milieux in which we’re all participating. Now, at least, we can be alienated together."
July 03, 2004
RESOURCES: Blog Essays
Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs
This online, edited collection explores discursive, visual, social, and other communicative features of weblogs. Essays analyze and critique situated cases and examples drawn from weblogs and weblog communities. The collection takes a multidisciplinary approach, and contributions represent perspectives from Rhetoric, Communication, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Linguistics, and Education, among others.
June 24, 2004
What is RSS?
One of the technology terms you'll see a lot these days is RSS, which stands for "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication." Basically, RSS is a way for a publisher -- usually the publisher of a news site or weblog-- to open up the website for syndication.
Just as a syndicated newspaper column or news item can appear in multiple newspapers simultaneously through a wire service, a site that has an "RSS feed" can automatically and immediately publish new additions to the site on other Web sites that subscribe to the feed or to individuals.
The feed can be set up to publish the entire article or to publish just a headline - or a headline and opening paragraph - with a link that lets the readers go to the site iteslf to get the full text.
Web sites can display the feeds they subscribe to directly on the pages of their sites. Individuals can use free online "news aggregators" (like Bloglines) or desktop software to subscribe to the feeds from multiple sites. The aggregator checks the sites for updates and, when a site is updated, the aggregator highlights the addition or notifies the user.
While these are the most common forms of syndication, RSS feeds can also be read by other devices such as PDAs and cell phones.
Why Bother with RSS?
Well, for example, I have about 25 blogs and news sites I like to check out on a regular basis - particularly for online education-related news and links. As you can imagine, trying to check out that many sites a day would take A LOT of time.... and a lot of that time would be wasted, since sites don't necessarily have updates every day, and some of the news on these sites isn't of interest to me.
Using a news aggregator, I can basically create my own daily online newspaper containing all the updates from just these sites. I can use it to scan the headlines, read articles that interest me, or save articles I don't have time to read at that moment.
A web site can use the feed from multiple sites to add a set of articles to their site that they think might be useful to their readers (e.g., on this blog, it might be useful for me to provide headlines from some of the education blogs I think might be useful to you - instead of just linking to them as I currently do through my "Ed Blogs" link).
This is still fairly new technology, and early adopters are still experimenting with ways to use RSS in the online classroom, but you can check out the following sites for more information:
- Introducing RSS. A lesson plan for using RSS in the classroom.
- Distributed Learning Object Repository Network. "Your one-stop source for learning object syndication. We retrieve learning object metadata from across the web and store it here."
- Blogging and RSS — The "What's It?" and "How To" of Powerful New Web Tools for Educators
- RSS: The Next Killer App For Education
Terms related to RSS:
- XML (Extensible Markup Language). A way of creating Web documents so that they can be defined, transmitted, and interpreted by a number of different applications.
- RSS feed. (also called "RSS channel") An XML file summarizing Web-based content that is automatically generated when a site is updated and which is read by news aggregators. A site's feed is usually indicated by a link marked "syndicate" or "subscribe" or with the images: , , or . (The link "Syndicate this site (XML)" shows the feed for this site)
- Syndication. Simultaneous publication. To "syndicate" a site = to subscribe to a site's RSS feed.
- RDF (Resource Discovery Framework). A version of RSS.
- News Aggregators. (also called RSS readers or news readers) Applications that collect, scan, and organize RSS feeds for syndication.
- Atom. A new Web log syndication format designed to address perceived problems with RSS. Atom is newer than RSS, so some aggregators may not be able to read Atom feeds.
- Blogroll. A collection of Web log feeds that can be exchanged using OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language), allowing users to share the list of sites they subscribe to.
June 23, 2004
TECHNOLOGY & COURSE ANALYSIS
When Investing in New Technologies: During analysis, you will probably need to make some basic decisions about the types of technologies you can use in your courses -- setting minimum technology requirements and investing in technologies based on your organization's and your audience's technical capabilities.
Unfortunately, SMEs and training developers often don't know enough about the available technologies to contribute much to this discussion, leaving this important decision in the hands of technology experts, who may be more focused on ease of administration and system compatibility than on educational applications.
You'll probably have to live with the technology decisions you make during the early stages of course development for a long long while, so it's worth taking the time to learn some of the basics. Here's a start:
- The chapter Technologies of Online Learning from the book Theory and Practice of Online Learning (Athabasca University) gives a good overview of some key technologies and their applications, as well as links to examples of their use. (You can download the entire book here)
- Confused about Course/Learning Management Systems (CMSs or LMSs)? Check out the EduTools site, which allows you to review and compare the features of a range of systems.
June 10, 2004
One of the biggest differences between online courses and traditional face-to-face (F2F) training is that, in F2F training (and to some degree in real-time online interactions) learning content is generally "pushed" to the learner, whereas in the online environment, content is "pulled" from the interface by the learner....
The instructor/facilitator designs a workshop or seminar, and learners need only attend and complete whatever activities the instructor/facilitator has organized. Classes and training events are scheduled by the trainer, and learners only need to show up on the right day and time in the right place. In lecture-based classes in particular, the learner is fairly passive in learning interactions.
In online environments, the learner has to play a more active role. While some forms of content (such as this email message) are pushed directly to the learner, the majority of learning content and interactions must generally be "pulled" from the interface by the learners.
In these instances, the class is learner-centered and learner-controlled rather than instructor-centered ... in other words, interaction with the instructor/facilitator is just *one element* of the class, instead of the center of the class.
Particularly in an asynchronous class (where there are no scheduled real-time interactions), learners are responsible for logging in to the site, checking announcements, finding and completing readings, doing assignments, and asking questions of the facilitator if they are confused.
What does this mean for course designers?
Well, first, it means that your course interface had better be well designed so you can be sure your participants are even able to access critical materials.
It also means that user motivation and self-direction are key to a successful course offering... and it's a good idea to give learners as much direction as possible and to have ways of monitoring participation.
In facilitated classes like this one, the facilitator can take this role, using a variety of strategies to encourage participation. In self-instructional courses, however, you must program ways of automatically monitoring participation and successful completion of the class (for example by using log-in registration and tracking that can report whether participants have completed particular pages of the readings and activities or passed the tests).
In very linear courses, you might want to design a program where users must pass a test in order to access the next piece of content (we'll be talking more about linear and nonlinear course design in Session 5).
In the end, however, it's all about the learner's motivation to complete the course.
June 09, 2004
WHAT IS A BLOG?
A blog is a Web log -- any Website with dated entries, usually in text form. The blog's author usually keeps a sort of public journal, often accompanied by links he/she thinks might be of interest to readers or which illustrate some point of interest in the journal.
There's now a whole blog culture--communities of bloggers who link to one another's blogs. The format is better suited for a sort of newletter or diary than as a group discussion tool...but most blogs do include some sort of feedback mechanism, and Blogs do allow a free, interactive Web site for those who don't have one available in any other form.
So what are the potential uses of blogs in the online classroom...particularly if you already are using an LMS that includes many types of "publishing" features? Well, one way is certainly to have students maintain their own individual blogs for journal-type or portfolio-type assignments, since most LMS systems don't allow students to create and publish their own Web pages -- and to have students critique one another's blogs. Taken together, these can create a community space, where users comment on entries in one another's blogs.
Small groups could use this tool in a number of ways... A small group of students could collaborate in the blog to create a "newsletter" type of assignment. The blog serve as a sort of "feedback" space for short, informal comments on online resources -- for example, the instructor posts a resouce each day and has participants discuss whether they thought it was valuable. Groups of users in different locations could collaborate on a single blog, or each could maintain their own blog. The blog is available outside of a particular course offering, so it could be used to maintain contact or share resources after a course has ended.
These blogs don't really take the place of a threaded discussion or real-time chat area... As you look at this technology, think about what advantages or disadvantages blogs have as regards those types of resources and what other potential class uses blogs might have.
Here are some resources for those of you who want to check out some other blogs...
- "Edublogs" (http://webtools.cityu.edu.hk/news/newslett/edublogs.htm), on the educational applications of Weblogs
- Slashdot (http://slashdot.org/), billed as "News for Nerds," is one of the best known
- Schoolblogs (http://www.schoolblogs.com/) focuses on using blogs in schools (be sure to check out the links to students sites under "class weblogs")
- Globe of Blogs (http://www.globeofblogs.com/) provides links to blogs grouped by topic, author or area of interest
- The Weblog of the New York City Writing Project is another good example