My Mom, the Blogger

This weekend, Mama came to visit and we set her up a blog. This is quite a step. Until this weekend, Mama’s internet usage was pretty much restricted to checking email every couple of days–the online purchase of a plane ticket required a step-by-step walkthrough over the phone (sorry, Mama.) She’s been a brave immigrant, but I wouldn’t have called her technologically adventurous…until now.

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Cognitive White-Space

I started this post several weeks ago. I didn’t have time to finish it then and I don’t really have time to finish it now, only the situation has become such that nothing else is really coherent at the moment, so if I’m going to do anything productive this afternoon, it’s going to have to be this first.

I spent a couple hours this morning “catching up” in my feed reader. Yes, I said hours. My classmates presented a dizzying array of intelligent Facebook applications, educational uses for Flikr, thoughts on the merits of video across domains from cooking to calculus, and critical commentary on the purported negative effects of social media on undergraduate intellectual life. They were thorough, sentient and clever, and I was … overwhelmed.

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Relevance, Permanence, Social Discourse and Filtering …or… “If I Were a Middle School Teacher…”

Between the curriculum project for Teach a Man to Fish in my development class, sharing and social networking discussions (so often including references to “the younger generation” which I have been a little shocked—though not wholly disappointed—to discover I am no longer a part of) in the New Media course, and launching a blog this weekend for my Mom to record her experience teaching religion to 20 high-schoolers at 6:30am every school day (Mormons call that “seminary”) I’ve been thinking a lot about teenagers. Specifically, how to teach teenagers.
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More Analytics Musings…

This has really got me thinking. Take, for example the opening page of BYU’s Math 110 independent study course, entitled Special Instructions. Time-on-page for these users seemed fairly cleanly [though not evenly] split between those who simply skipped or made a quickly-abandoned attempt at scanning the page [spending 30 seconds or less] and those who put forth the rather ponderous 4 minute [an eternity online] effort to read the entire page. If 75% of our users really are “scanners” [then again, we only think we know this] then perhaps they [and, for that matter, we] would get more out of our site if we designed the content to be scanned.

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Does Data Belong in the Driver’s Seat?

I’m struggling with this one. Our web analytics class is looking at a couple months’ worth of data from BYU’s most popular independent study course, Math 110 [not sure what the definition of “popular” is in this case, by the way] and making some recommendations, both about their tracking suite and about the course itself. Clint explained, and I understand, that analytics is not meant for examining a handful of people—it’s for looking at trends, types, aggregates. But, for me, that aggregation leads to serious questions.

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Nothing Like a Good Bottle of Wine…

It’s not my own, but the best analogy I’ve encountered for talking about social objects is a classic: social objects work like a good bottle of wine.

Yes, there are some inherent qualities to wine that bring people together–and care, skill, innovation and creativity can be applied to truly artisanal results.

But, really, the thing that makes gathering around a good bottle of wine so satisfying, so enjoyable [even if you’re not drinking] is the conversation; the personalities and interactions of the people sharing it. Boring people gathered around a great bottle of wine are still boring people, perhaps more interesting liquored up, but still essentially boring. And interesting people gathered around a mediocre bottle of wine will likely still provide stimulating, pleasant interaction. There’s something to be said for the idea that better wine tends to attract more refined socializers, but in the end, the bottle of wine is really just the excuse–providing the space and time for people to engage with each other.

Based on this analogy, I don’t think content is a social object.

In the realm of learning, questions are what bring people together, what they interact around, what stimulates conversation, debate… value creation. There’s no reason to gather around content. Content itself is inert. It’s the questions about that content–the implications yet un-pursued, the theories still in debate, the possibilities at the edge of convention–that are dynamic, producing that “gravitational pull” Jyri talks about as a defining characteristic of social objects.

Given this, assessments and assignments [or projects, or problems–real or imagined, personal or global] could be social objects, though not in their current typically isolated, artificial application. These things are all based on and centered around questions. And, if we developed them with multiple handles, flexible channels for contribution and conversation, and a low opportunity costs for engagement, they could be significant social objects indeed.

Cool stuff from OpenEducation 2008

Just some highlights:

  • Siyavula Project from the Shuttleworth Foundation: A comprehensive curriculum that meets all the requirements of the South African government developed by an online community of teachers contributing OERs to an easy-to-use opensource authoring platform.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to build a collection of content and pedagogical modules that could be filtered according to the curriculum standards and requirements of any given country in the world!? How hard would it be to get efforts like Open High School and High Tech High to contribute to the same library? How critical is that, really?

  • Open Med School from the University of Michigan: Don’t freak out, it’s not actually online med school. A cross-discipline team from the IT programs and Med School at UMich has set up a unique [potentially very scalable] interface and management system for using volunteers/employees they affectionately call “dScribes” [distributed scribes] to clear content objects [from diagrams to simulations] in medical courses for publication as open educational resources.

Starts my mind going crazy with visions of creating an ‘OER marketplace’ where graphic design, film, information systems, interaction design and illustration students come together to create content objects for use in courses across disciplines, campuses, countries…my students in Paraguay making a video about composting that can be used by a professor of crop science in Nebraska, whose students then contribute comparative charts of turf grass varieties studied as part of an open courseware lecture series by students starting a sod farm in Ukraine.

  • Case Studies as OERs: The ISKME team conducted thorough case studies of 6 different open education projects, tagged them, stored them on YouTube and the OER Commons, and even created a Case Study Toolkit to encourage others to incorporate this simple method of self-evaluation.

The best part of this for me was the idea that, when well-tagged and made public, the case study itself becomes an OER–something that others can learn from, use, re-use and adapt. Talk about maximizing the potential return on investment! Also underscores one of the challenges that came up over and over at the conference–how deeply Open Education efforts are currently rooted in and dependent on altruism. More on this later…

Cool stuff, eh?

Social Networks and Reputation

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you probably already know the story. Last week, I received an email invitation from one of my favorite Paraguayos to yet another social networking site I’d never heard of. Against what turns out to have been my better judgment, I joined, casually skipping the now ubiquitous “invite your friends” bit, deciding after about 30 seconds of poking around that there really wasn’t much to get excited about and I’d rather just email said favorite Paraguayo, and logged off. End of story, right?

Wrong! Within hours I was wading through a flood of emails–the rectal surgeon from the UK I’d done a logo for, my visiting teaching companion from 3 years ago, the landlord I fought tooth and nail over a deposit with–they were all joining this network. Turns out the sneaky buggers had “invited” all my “friends” for me…multiple times.

Over an over, from my sister-in-law to my print broker to a faculty member I’d been working with on a newsletter with, confused, frustrated acquaintances said the same thing; “I just figured since it was from you…” Even more concluded relieved responses to my attempted reparations with the similar sentiments; “I was skeptical, but I was about to join, just because it was from you.” One friend went even further; “I figured it must be really important because you’re not usually so persistent unless it really matters to you.”

As the responses have continued to trickle in, the magnitute of what these sneaky marketers have tapped in to has begun to crystalize. Granted, as far as I know, no actual money was exchanged in this fiasco, but they effectively “sold” their product using my reputation. It’s lead me to a couple of conclusions:

  • Most of us probably have more influence than we think.
  • Testimonials, even indirect ones, are truly powerful marketing tools [for whatever it is you might be “selling”]
  • Endorsing/promoting/contributing to any kind of mediated effort [social networks, distance programs, open education resources, etc.] requires a person to engage/risk their reputation more than I realized–and there is an element of stewardship [on my part] there I had not considered.

So, while I have stopped deluding myself that the debacle is over [I’ll probably be hearing about repercussions for months], at least I can say I’ve learned from the mistake.

You might be an early adopter if…

As if we needed more evidence that the education field has not, shall we say, fully capitalized on the potential of web analytics to improve instructional design and learning, I offer the following observations, in no particular order, from my recent search permutations on the subject:

  • #1 most common result: companies offering education and training on the subject of web analytics.
  • Second; pundits, bloggers and reporters bemoaning the dearth of educated web analyzers.
  • Next, a paper exploring what looks like an independently-designed user behavior tracking program for use in distance education evaluation. [If it turns out to be interesting, more later…]
  • Also, a big-news announcement that the world’s largest education company has chosen Omniture to help them optimize….their international marketing efforts.
  • Finally, Joseph’s post. Really insightful brainstorm on the subject and #3 in the google results for “web analytics in education”

This is not to say that there’s nothing out there…just interesting to see where the focus is right now–and just how much room there is for innovation in this area.

Fragmenting Communication

At some point in the past 4 days, Kate suggested pedicures. I didn’t remember the date or time. Nor did I remember responding. I checked my inboxes: gmail, facebook and text messages…nope. I checked my RSS feed-reader, chat archives, skype log, twitter updates…nope. I searched my facebook wall, my blog dashboards, my inbox [again.] Nothing.

Then I started to feel a little crazy. Were we actually speaking face to face? I would have sworn I’d seen it written. What color was it? What typeface? Have I started “typing” verbal conversations in my head?

I never did find it. Ended up, after a disproportionately long mental debate about what medium to use, sending her an email…and really wondering about the quantity/quality balance of my own “connectedness.”