Monday, February 25, 2008

From Lion Country to Tar Heel Country: Moving to UNC

I've accepted a position at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and join the School of Government as an Instructional Analyst on March 15th, 2008.

I look forward to increased opportunities to work closely with faculty to improve teaching and learning, and to discovering more about the School's unique mission.

...did I mention the NC should be a bit warmer than PA, though I will truly miss Central PA's "mountains", beautiful rural countryside and snow!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Text-Focused Wiki = Contextualized Discussion = Better Online Learning

I came across an interesting article in First Monday this morning via Distance Educator presenting research on the increased engagement and focus elicited by a wiki solution for online discussion over a more typical threaded discussion forum.

Student Engagement In Distance Learning Environments: A Comparison Of Threaded Discussion Forums And Text-focused Wikis
The purpose of this study was to improve the quality of students' online discussion of assigned readings in an online course. To improve the focus, depth, and connectedness of online discussion, the first author designed a text-focused Wiki that simultaneously displayed the assigned reading and students' comments side by side in adjacent columns. In the text-focused Wiki, students were able to read the assigned text in the left column and type their comments or questions in the right column adjacent to the sentence or passage that sparked their interest. In post-participation surveys, data were gathered about students' experiences in the text-focused Wiki and prior experiences in threaded discussion forums. Students reported more focus, depth, flow, idea generation, and enjoyment in the text-focused Wiki.

Basically, the wiki solution/interface set the course readings and discussion space in a side-by-side format allowing comments and discussion to be far more contextualized and specificas they referred to reaings adjacent to the comments. Of course in a typical threaded discussion, I'd have my students do the readings, and then discuss them after the fact...usually from memory. Comments are always more vague, and it takes some work getting learners (myself included) to cite specific examples or ideas from the readings.

While I wasn't at all impressed with the layout and interface of their particular solution, I like the concept, and have heard of similar solutions which do not employ wikis, but do allow for embedded discussions within online documents. Many of these are simpler annotation tools, while others provide for a bit more in the way online discussion and dialogue. I've blogged a couple times recently about Viddler's feature which allows me and my students to engage in dialogue within the video file. I just like it when tool support the powerful principle of contexualized feedback--Where discussion and dialogue can occur very near to the actual experience or digital artifacts (video, text, images etc.) being studied. I've seen in my own teaching and learning experiences how dialogue and feedback is richer and more helpful when provided within context.

If you encountered other examples of learner-friendly annotation, contextualized feedback and discussion solutions, please share them here.
-Joel G.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Participation: The Core of Web 2.0 and Today's Digital Literacy

Participation is at the core of Web 2.0 and today's digital literacy. You just can't sit back and observe, watch or even be a voracious consumer alone to be digitally literate. I'm really encouraged with how my (adult) students are gaining digital literacies in the online EDTECH course I teach. The course is designed to explore how video can be used to support teaching and learning. Needless to say, this course is far different (and more relevant) today than it was when I began teaching the class online 4 years ago. Indeed, the just-released 2008 Horizon Report cited online "grassroots video" as being one of this years most relevant technologies to teaching, learning, and creative expression. From the report:
Video sharing sites continue to grow at some of the most prodigious rates on the Internet; it is very common now to find news clips, tutorials, and informative videos listed alongside the music videos and the raft of personal content that dominated these sites when they first appeared. What used to be difficult and expensive, and often required special servers and content distribution networks, now has become something anyone can do easily for almost nothing...almost any device that can access the Internet can play (and probably capture) it. From user-created clips and machinima to creative mashups to excerpts from news or television shows, video has become a popular medium for personal communication...once the exclusive province of highly trained professionals, video content production has gone grassroots.
I've restructured my class to now be fully online (we used to send tapes by snail mail). I was concerned that some of my adult students wouldn't be up to the task. It is taking some stretching, but we're all doing it and as a class we're all slowly learning the value of becoming producers/contributors/creators/sharers of video in a Web 2.0 world.

My favored tool these days for the class is This is a feature-rich video hosting environment that encourages a participation in many ways. We rely heavily on the timeline-based feedback features which are ideally suited to our course which allow viewers to initiate threaded discussions right within the video using text or webcams. Of course, the site supports direct-to-server recording, tagging, groups, channels, friend networks, RSS feeds galore, and even revenue sharing. These features encourage participation on many different levels. See one of our student videos, and click on the dots in the timeline to see or add comments (Hey, they're all novices, so easy does it. Plus, can you say that you've posted any original video online yet?!)

At this year's ELI conference keynote sessions, both Henry Jenkins and Michael Wesch nicely address different aspects of the importance of participation and how in that process, meaningful connections are made (learnring occurs). Daniel Stanford wrote a thoughtful post that calls for new computer literacy standards. He suggests that techno savvy users today are not necessarily computer literate. I agree with his basic thesis (have noted my own kids being heavy computer users, Imers, Facebookers, but not knowing how to "Save As' in Word! The computer is simply become a means of accessing their social networks and the internet (an internet appliance). Daniel Standford feels, however, that teachers and students ought to be literate in some basic Photoshop and html skills. I feel quite strongly that he's off base in this regard. The particular tools are far less important to me anymore. In my own class, my students use whatever editing tool gets the job done for them. In the past I might have prescribed a single tool, but no longer--It's the CONTENT, not the TOOLS! New, and very capable tools come online at a dizzying pace these days.

My own journey...
In the last year, I've challenged myself to do more than read about Web 2.0, and become more of a participator, and more digitally literate myself. I've taken some big steps, and feel I am doing enough for now (I do think one can go overboard!). Rather than simply be a reader, viewer, browser, consumer, I am now a contributor, poster, creator, linker, producer, promoter.

I have created and shared videos of my own making online, I teach online using Web 2.0 tools and importantly include opportunities and reward my students for similar participation. I maintain my own blog and web space, I share my own photos online, I participate in online discussions and comment on blogs, I use an RSS reader, and subscribe to small collection of blogs. I use a social bookmarking space, and have started sharing more links, and am very slowly building my network. I manage my two social networking spaces (Facebook, Linkedin). (I write this more for my own record than as some form of self-aggrandizing activity...who knows what value this effort will have had a couple years from now)

The most rewarding in all of this for me has been participating in this Blog, my Google reader page, and the fact that I get to learn new things alongside my online students (largely school teachers). Lots more to learn...Excelsior! (Latin: onward and upward).
-Joel G.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Social Network Fatigue or Growing Pains?

I came across an article from The Register that suggests (with the numbers) that interest in social networking is waning.

On Facebook [you] join, accumulate dozens of semi-friends, spy on a few exes for a bit, play some Scrabulous, get bored, then get on with your life, occasionally dropping in to respond to a message or see some photos that have been posted. Similarly, once the novelty of MySpace wears off, most people only stop by to check out bands or watch videos.

I blogged about this a couple months ago in a post that quoted my 15 yr old daughter "Facebook used to be cool, and now it's all, like, junkie". We both felt our interest in Facebook was waning for various reasons.

I'm not at all convinced the people don't want to connect anymore, nor that this isn't a potentially important aspect of ways we learn in a connected world, but social networking tools may be maturing--possibly a good sign for education.

I don't understand it all yet, but this short article from Google on the Social Graphing API suggests to me a better way to approach social networking. Connecting people around similar interests, artifacts, projects or profiles, regardless of the particlar software/tools they use or who is in whose contact list. This is something I'll be following and wanting to learn more about.
-Joel G.

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