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)

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

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:

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: rss.gif, rdf.gif, or xml.gif. (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.

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at 04:56 PM | Comments (3)

June 21, 2004


In the Forum for the discussion of the Analysis phase of course development, Peter asked:
What exactly is a user's metacognitive ability? "Thinking about thinking"? -- but what does this mean in the context of education and Instructional Design?

In learning, metacognition refers to our self-conscious awareness about how we learn - paying attention to what we learn and how we learn it while we're learning it.

As we learn different ideas and skills throughout our lives, we also learn something about how we learn (at least if we're paying any attention!) and how to approach different tasks. Sometimes we do this quite self-consciously -- for example, when thinking about how to approach a very complex task or when reading something we think might be "over our heads" -- but at other times, we may just be going through the motions.

>>Try this experiment:
Select a piece of reading material -- anything ... an article in the paper, a course reading, this blog entry(!), etc.-- and read through it once without any particular agenda or mental preparation.

Then read it again --but this time, first imagine that you are going to have to write a one-page summary of the piece or teach it to a class.

What was the difference?

Most likely, you consciously paid much closer attention to how you were reading the second time.

Girl-reading.jpg When simply skimming a piece of writing, you might not think about why you're reading it, you might ignore any terms or phrases you don't immediately understand, and you probably wouldn't analyze the structure of the writing or the argument it presents, think about how it relates to other things you've read on the same topic, or reflect on it afterwards. But when charged with writing about or teaching the content, your attention is conscious and focused on how you are going to interpret the content and arguments presented.

When faced with a learning task like the one in the experiment, you focus your attention, monitor and evaluate yourself while you accomplish the task. For example, you might apply the following metacognitive strategy:

  • Plan/Pre-plan - Analyze the task and decide to concentrate on it
  • Direct attention - Focus on the task or on certain aspects of the task (e.g., decide to focus on how to teach the content rather than on how to directly apply the information)
  • Strategize - Decide on a strategy for accomplishing the task (in this case, for example, decide how to pick out the key concepts that will be the focus of the written piece or teaching unit, highlighting important phrases and taking notes as you read)
  • Self-monitor - While accomplishing the task, gauge the success of the strategy chosen and change strategies if necessary (e.g., ask yourself "Am I focusing on the right things, or should I look at this a different way?")
  • Evaluate - Look at outcomes (e.g., "Did I get what I needed to out of this to teach or write about it, or should I look at it again?")

In other words, the task assigned to you in the experiment was a learning intervention that made you become aware of, monitor, and take control over your learning.

Children's metacognitive skills tend to grow as they progress through different levels of education and cognitive development and as they become more skilled at learning how to become independent learners.

Classroom.jpg If you've ever taught in elementary or high school, you probably already know that young students often do their schoolwork without stopping to evaluate their comprehension, to think about the quality of their work, to revise their work as they go along, or to think about how the work connects to other things they've learned. They do the assignments because they are assigned, and finishing the assigned task -- not learning -- is the ultimate goal. In other words, their learning strategies tend to be instructor-dependent, and the instructor must "push" learning to the students.

Adults and mature students generally have more highly developed metacognitive skills, and therefore more independence as learners -- particularly if they are highly motivated to apply themselves. Mature learners are more aware of when they need to check for errors, why they might be having problems in understanding, and how to go about finding another way to approach the task, improve their work, or better comprehend the material.

Of course, this isn't simply a matter of age...personality factors and experience with formal study both play a big part in the development of these skills.

What does all this mean in terms of online instructional design?

knowledge.gif As we've discussed in previous sessions, online courses generally require a greater degree of learner autonomy and independence than do face-to-face courses.... therefore, a learner's success is often in direct proportion to his or her ability to apply successful learning strategies in self-directed learning.

During the analysis phase, analyzing learners' metacognitive skills allows the designer to create an environment tailored to the learners' ability to be self-directed, as well as promoting learners' knowledge and awareness of their own thinking and learning -- in other words, helping them become aware of the learning strategies that they already use and introducing new strategies and exercises.

For example, this information can used to:

  • Determine the level of direction needed in the course (e.g., while self-directed learners might take advantage of a non-linear format, "novice" learners might need a well-defined, linear learning path through the content)
  • Determine whether the course should be blended online/classroom (if learners are not independent enough for 100% online work)
  • Determine whether to track learners and check their progress at various points through the course (e.g., instead of allowing users to monitor their own progress)
  • Determine the types and number of instructional strategies to be employed
  • Determine the types of assessments and evaluations to be employed
Posted by jotz at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004


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.

Posted by jotz at 02:45 PM | Comments (3)