Sunday, October 30, 2005

Web 2.0 Clearly Explained

A few days ago I was stumbling around in my head, trying to get a handle Web 2.0. Then a friend sent me to the O'Reilly website to read Tim O'Reilly's article What is Web 2.0. Even if you are already familiar with the term, this easy to read article clearly lays out the paradigm shift inherent in moving from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. Enjoy!

Friday, October 28, 2005

One More Person Who Thought Different

Quite a few years back, Apple Computer ran its "Think Different" campaign. I was fortunate enough to get posters of the campaign and they are still hanging in the classroom I taught in back them-- the current user refuses to give them back because they are such great posters.

The posters featured large, black and white photos of people who had thought differently from their contemporaries, such as Cesar Chavez, Picasso, Jim Henson, Einstein, and Amelia Earhart. In the corner of the poster was the Apple logo and the words "Think Different." Many times those posters served as segues to conversations about these people who changed the world through their unconventional thoughts and actions.

I am pleased to say that after all this time, Apple has returned to this format to include one more very important person. Even if you hate all things Mac, take the time to check it out on their home page. [Update: Apple moved it from their home page to here.]

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Flickr of Wikis

I'm supposed to be contacting parents who haven't yet signed up for conferences.
I'm supposed to be looking over the pile of collected assignments.
I'm supposed to be repairing my dodgy gradebook.
But I'm not.

I was all ready to go to bed, too tired to dig into any of those projects. But first, I checked my Bloglines and read about that Alex Halavais' students are creating their own communications theory textbook. They are using a wiki as their collaborative space for this venture.

That got me thinking about the power of a learning community that is actively constructing knowledge. Which in turn lead me to my science lesson today. We are using the FOSS Landforms science kit. My students were crowded around stream tables for the second day. Yesterday they "discovered" erosion. Today, we added food coloring to the water source so they could more clearly see the water's movement through the earth materials. They observed lakes, rivers, waterfalls, flood plains, beaches and deltas being formed. They were entranced.

The concepts being taught here are more important than the terminology being introduced, but I'd love for them to acquire both. That lead me to visit Flickr. I found great photos of meander and plateau. It would be powerful for my class to make a wiki of landforms. But how to credit the sources? I explored the Creative Commons explanations page of the Flickr site, but I don't understand it. Is it possible to just search the Creative Commons photos? I didn't figure out a way to do that, but none of the photos I found had any of the Creative Commons marks besides them.

Next I went to Google Images and was immersed in visuals. How rich for my students to search for images of plateau. Scrolling through the search results is guaranteed to expand almost anyone's scheme of plateau. Just doing this will be helpful. How much more powerful if my students could use the most evocative of those images on a wiki page that explains that landform. But can I do it? If our wiki is just internal or only accessed by a password, can we use the images if we credit the photographer or the web page if the photographer isn't identified?

After that I looked at wiki's. I know Clarence Fisher is using PBWiki with his students. Free PBWiki's have a size limit of 1 MB. If we add photos, even photos scaled for the web, we will quickly exceed that limit. I have my own web space through BlueHost. I checked my control panel and found that I can easily install either TWiki or PhpWiki using Fantastico on my site. Poking around for reviews on the web, it looks like TWiki is going to be the easiest to use and the more aesthetically pleasing of the two. I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience with both-- should I go with PBWiki or try to run TWiki or Phpwiki on my own? I'd greatly value hearing from teachers with experience in this area.

And so, that's how it gets to be two hours later than when I started going to bed. I'm still awake. None of my work is done, and I really don't want to wake up early to do it. All I want to do is further explore these ideas.

Monday, October 24, 2005


We have new toys. A colleague noticed that his building was dumping their eMate computers. WE contacted the district Tech Department and they said we could have them. They arrived last Monday. As luck would have it, 1/2 of my communications class was at a reading coach inservice for most of the period on Tuesday, so the rest of us dug in.

Overall, I am very impressed with this tool. They are rugged. They charge quickly and run for hours on a charge. They come with a wonderful tutorial and with a practice program to get the users quickly up to speed. They have a built in word processor, drawing program and spreadsheet. The children are very excited to use them. I hope I can leverage that into some good writing.

Another wonderful aspect is that one of my students is already making himself the eMate Expert. This will be an opportunity for him to shine, as other students come to rely on him for assistance. I was wishing for just such an opportunity for him.

Of course, I receive this windfall and I immediately want more, including...
  • one eMate per student instead of just ten eMates total
  • an IR printer
  • an IR dongle-- we can download using a serial cable, but my students would absolutely love beaming their writing through the air to another computer.
That brings me to what I foresee as problems.
  1. The eMates can beam files to other eMates. I can see this being a very distracting activity as kids send messages back and forth. I need to figure out how to use this natural urge into a positive learning experience rather than something I try to control. (Any ideas, anyone?)
  2. I need to figure out how to assign the eMates to pairs of kids. I want to be able to be teaching mini-lessons to small groups while other groups are working on the eMates. The eMates are so easy to use, that this should work. However, I need to figure out which groups I have them in. Their spelling groups? Their as of yet uncreated reading groups? Behavior groups? I'll keep thinking about it.
  3. I need to figure out how to keep the eMates charged with only three over-used electrical outlets in the entire classroom. And of course, while they are charging, I'd prefer they not get walked on or otherwise broken.
  4. And speaking of broken, I just found out about a known defect in these nifty devices. The hinge spring bends and pokes a hole in the display cable, leading to all sorts of problems such as dead lines on the screen or the stylus no longer working. A number of kind people on the NewtonTalk discussion list sent me directions on how to head this problem off. It looks really complicated and time consuming. I feel intimidated now!
If these work, they could help us get to blogging. The old, broken down lab that is almost always available during my communications class, doesn't have enough computers. Having children work on their blog pieces from the classroom on eMates might ease the crunch. Or it might become too confusing. We'll have to see.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Flocking to Flock

I've been having trouble getting my brain around Web 2.0. Today, two things happened to clarify it for me. First, this morning I was listening to an podcast. Their guests were Stephen Downes and Will Richardson. As they discussed Web 2.0 I started to get the vision. It made me think about Steve Job's idea a few years ago of your Mac being "your digital hub". He was envisioning our Macs connected to the our cameras, our MP3 players, and such. To support that, came the iLife apps such as iPhoto, iMovie and iTunes.

Instead of being a hub for hardware, Web 2.0 is your digital hub for online life, such as your blogs, your feeds, your bookmarks and tags, your to-do lists, your photos. It will be the hub for not just your personal read/write web, but also your social one.

So then after listening to the podcast, what should I find in my e-mail box but notice that Flock is distributing a beta of it's Web 2.0 browser? They make no stability claims at this point, but take a moment to peruse this list of 13 things you can do with Flock. Amazing! I'm creating this post directly from it without even going to Blogger. It inspired me to finally get a account. With Flock's help, I can see myself seamlessly integrating many aspects of my digital life.

Flock probably isn't stable enough yet to be a student browser, but it will be. I can hardly wait to see where Web 2.0 takes us.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

An iTunes Wish

Apple made a number of interesting announcements this week and now I'm longing for a new iMac. However, Apple didn't announce the iTunes feature I really wanted to see; I want iTunes to filter incoming podcasts into playlists and upload them that way to my iPod.

The problem I'm having is that some of the podcasts I regularly listen to are actually snippets of things from the Australian Broadcasting Corp, or the BBC or NPR. These segments are typically only 3-8 minutes long. When I'm listening to these shows on my iPod, I don't want to keep stopping every few minutes to select a new show, so I've been organizing them into playlists, such as News and Tech and Education. However, that makes for lots of management on my part and requires me to actually remember what I've listened to and what I haven't.

It seems like this feature shouldn't be too difficult to add. My NetNewsWire Lite is able to manage my podcast subscriptions, and those subscriptions can be organized into folders. I'll have to play with the preferences to see if that program is smart enough to upload them in folders to iTunes. If it isn't, I'm hoping Apple will add that feature soon. Do any of you know of a program that already does this? Any developers out there looking for a new project?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Domain Trickery

Finally sat down to get my Moodle working. It was at this point I realized that the hosting service I was signing up with didn't include a domain. I never dreamed I needed to purchase a domain on top of the hosting fees.

I guess my ignorance is based on prior experience. My .Mac account includes a domain. My educational ISP includes a domain. In my experience, the domain has always been provided. I didn't expect it to be the domain of my choosing; I assumed it would be like my .Mac one. That domain is clearly part of .Mac based on its address. Unfortunately, neither of these sites appear to have what I need for hosting Moodle, and my ISP, Comcast, doesn't provide space.

And so, before I even have my site up and running I have learned to check that the hosting fee includes a domain. I have also learned to check that the host has Fantastico so that Moodle and other good things can be installed with a single click. Finally, I have learned to check to see what type of control panel is provided to help me manage the site. Some hosts have no central control panel. Others have well-organized one.

I'll let you know where I end up.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

iPod Bliss

I'm one of those lucky folks who was able to get a free iPod by purchasing an Apple laptop. I already had a wonderful old Archos Jukebox, so I didn't expect an iPod to be a big deal in my life.
I was wrong.

It isn't difficult to drag MP3 files onto and off of the Jukebox, but that process is much more cumbersome than just plugging in my iPod and letting iTunes sync up all the new podcasts and remove all the ones I've heard. My morning jog is now a delight as I decide if I'll listen to the latest Open Source show with Christopher Lydon, or maybe there is a new Educational Technologists Coast to Coast podcast waiting to challenge me, or maybe Bud Hunt has recorded another gem that will help me move closer to the constructivist curriculum that I long to have in my classroom.

The list of podcasts that I'm exploring goes on and on, and I'm loving every minute of it. Even cleaning the kitchen is less of a chore when I can pull the shows I want to listen to rather than being at the mercy of what the radio stations decide to broadcast at that time. This is especially true now that my local public radio station seems to play the same shows over and over throughout the day.

Listening while I jog and while working around the house would have been enough of an addiction, but then at Target I discovered that Timex produces a $20 radio that comes with an auxiliary cable that plugs into an mp3 player's headphone jack, allowing the MP3 files to be played through the radio's speakers. I realize that iPod accessories abound in stores, but many of the accessories cost more than the iPod. In contrast, this radio is so reasonably priced that I bought one for work. Now I can listen to my iPod there even though the district's web filters prevent me from downloading any podcasts onto my computer. The radio doesn't have the sound quality of the more expensive systems, but it's working just fine for listening to podcasts.

The only real problem with all of this comes from listening to Radio Willow Web. Hearing the high quality podcasts those elementary children put out makes me itch to be podcasting with my students. However, I should probably get them blogging first. And I should get my Moodle up and running, and...

Proof that Spam is Demonic?

I just started getting a pile of pseudo-comments/bot-generated advertisement messages to this blog. I've deleted them, but had to chuckle when I noticed that the very day those comments appeared, my counter of new visitors hit 666. Just a coincidence?

Thankfully, Blogger has added protection in the form of word verification. Hopefully that will greatly reduce this problem. Word verification is very easy to activate. In the settings pane of the Blogger Dashboard, go to the Comments section. Scroll down to the option that reads
Show word verification for comments?
Toggle the feature on, and there you have it. I thought I'd need to go to a fancier blogging tool to get this feature. It seems Blogger added it just in time for me, and no doubt countless others being plagued by bots.