It Is the Journey, Not the Destination … Nor the Goat

Over the last four weeks, Jon Becker and I have facilitated a journey for our online students into the heretofore unknown world (for them) of Web 2.0.  Our students are all K-12 teachers from three different states in our Education Technology and School Leadership course.  After two weeks of typical “schoolroom” topical exploration and discussion, we gave them their first project:

Research one of the Top 100 Tools from Jane Hart‘s list and present your findings in a short multimedia tutorial presentation to the rest of your classmates.

26 students – 26 tools

In two weeks.

With no further guidance.

Two weeks ago, you might as well said:  Take this goat and cross this rickety bridge.  (Love this image!)

As one might imagine, during the past two weeks, these students stressed out over just how to do their projects.  One noted that she was ready to toss her computer through her window!  I suspect that several of them would have preferred carrying a goat over doing a web presentation!  At the start of the journey, very few of these students had any experience in web applications.

This weekend, 26 presentations had been uploaded into our class wiki.

Our students reviewed each others presentations and commented in our class discussion forums about what they learned themselves and what they learned from each other.  Many of the comments discussed their stresses in trying to figure out how to present online and how amazed they were that they overcame them and completed their projects on time.

My team mate Jeff Nugent passed me a relevant article this past weekend from Barbara McCombs and Donna Vakili, entitled “A Learning-Centered Framework for E-Learning.”  It noted that content has become so abundant as to make it a poor foundation on which to base an education system.  Rather, context and meaning are the important commodities today.  My students may have started their journey assuming that the tool they were studying was the critical element, but they ended realizing that it was the journey that was important.  One student noted:

“After reading these posts, it seems that we all agreed that using our tool was not the hard part of this assignment.  Perhaps Britt and John knew that when making this assignment…”

I collected their reflections and dumped them into Wordle to see what emerged:

A few things jumped out at me.

USE – Most felt that they would use these tools (and several presented by their classmates) in their teaching.

JING – Jing became the default method for presenting their respective tools to each other.  It was not the only method, however.  We also had some Camtasia screencasts, some YouTube videos, an iMovie clip, and one engaging seaturtle with Blabberize.

STUDENTS and LEARNING – while each of these graduate students approached their specific tool in unique ways, they all focused in on the educational implications of web applications.  Many stated this was eye-opening for them.

And finally, TIME – they recognized the time investments one must make to gain proficiency with these tools.

I found one student’s comment particularly revealing:

“I had been dreading the actual tutorial because the technology scared me to death!  Once I played around with Jing, and saw how easy it was, it wasn’t so bad after all.  I learned that I definitely have some fears when it comes to technology!  It made me wonder why I have them.  My students definitely don’t.  My 11 year old doesn’t.  They just dive in and play with it until they know it.  I wondered when I lost that in myself…”

Another lesson that several reflected on was how this project reflected the social nature of web learning. In keeping with the theme from this year’s EduCon, Jon and I had reinforced  the notion that all learning can and should be networked learning, and that they should therefore support one another as they developed their presentations.  They found this support one of the most valuable aspects of the project.

The McCombs/Vakili article noted that research “underlying the learner-centered principles confirms that learning is nonlinear, recursive, continuous, complex, relational, and natural in humans” (p. 1586).  The lessons learned by these students backs this up – messy at the time but rewarding when accomplished.

Four weeks ago, I told these students that they would freak out doing their projects, but that they would persevere and all complete their projects…and be amazed and proud of themselves.  This weekend, they saw that I was right.

26 different destinations, but one journey – and it was fun to go along for the ride!

{Photo Credit: Jungle Boy}

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Tweet Clouds

Those who follow my blog know that I have used Many Eyes and TagCrowd to develop wordcloud visualizations of data in the past. John Krutsch has taken this concept in a natural direction and mashed up one’s Twitter feed with a tag cloud generator. Below is my Tweet Cloud:

Britt Tweet Cloud

Tweet clouds have been getting a lot of buzz in Twitter this past week. Alan Levine wrote a nice posting on how he initially had trouble with Tweet Cloud, twittered about it, and John immediately fixed it. As John noted in his comment to Alan’s post:

“For me this is one of the major benefits of using twitter as part of my PLE even if you do not directly ask for help often times help comes anyway. Twitter is just a big Karma Dealer, if you are open, sharing , and caring, it will come around and pay good dividends.”

Open, sharing and caring….a nice description of the evolving wired world (or at least the direction in which we should try and take it).

Our Kids Future(s)

Back on February 14th while I was heading down to eLearning 2008, Will Richardson made an interesting blog post entitled, “What Do We Know About Our Kid’s Future, Really?“. I commented and have followed the ensuing conversation, which now is up to 73 comments.

In our office, we have been using wordclouds to look at underlying themes, so I thought it would be interesting to capture Will’s original post and the 73 comments, and create a workcloud from them. I used TagCrowd, which makes it very easy. Here is the result:

As you can see, some terms stand out. It would be interesting to continue the conversation based on what “message” one takes from this cloud.

My Presentation at eLearning 2008

These are the slides that I presented at the ITC eLearning 2008 conference Monday.


While you can listen to a narration of the above slides, you might find interesting a neat web application that Barry Dahl used during my presentation to “capture” what was happening.  Check out his blog for a timeline that he captured as the presentation unfolded.  It automatically uploaded to his blog.  Cool!!!!

Visualizations & Fine Print

Jeff Nugent blogged a fascinating piece today on knowledge representations through tag clouds. It is a subject we had brainstormed before, but in this post, he shared his reactions to a presentation at ELI by George Siemens and Cyprien Lomas on their use of ManyEyes…a web application from IBM that looked exciting and that I immediately joined.

Jeff linked to some neat visualizations by Chris Lott of data from the Horizon Report in his blog. Jeff then elaborated with some very cool ideas of educational uses:

  • Tag clouds for individual and class sets of student papers / essays.
  • Tag clouds for speeches and lectures.
  • Tag clouds for analyzing the content of websites.
  • Tag clouds of classic pieces of literature.
  • Tag clouds generated from set of stories covering the same news event.

Just to name a few…

To follow his line of thinking, I decided to dump my last month’s blog posting into ManyEyes, and it produced the following:

Britt Blog wordcloud

Interesting! I can understand George Siemens doing this…as it really causes you to reflect on what you are blogging.

Now the rub…and the question for others.

Most of us click right through that legal agreement clause, but my friend Bud Deihl took the time to read it, and it has some pretty scary language in it. According to the IBM Terms of Legal Use statement, when I created the wordcloud above, I gave IBM “a perpetual, worldwide and irrevocable license under all intellectual property rights (including copyright) to use, copy, distribute, sublicense, display, perform and prepare derivative works of any information that You provide to IBM, including but not limited to arrangements, visualizations, and selections of information, and feedback and suggestions You provide to IBM.” Wow! Hope they do not go too crazy with my blog notes!

But seriously…there is some interesting language here that “fair use” may put to the test. The Terms of Use notes that you “also agree not to submit anyone else’s copyrightable material to alphaWorks Services unless You obtain written permission of the copyright holder to license the copyrightable material to IBM, consistent with the terms of this Agreement. You also agree not to submit any Software to IBM through the Service. You represent that the information you submit does not violate a privacy, publicity or moral right, or disclose personal, government, business or other information without permission. If You are a student or employee of a college or university, a member of the university’s intellectual property licensing department or other authorized person must approve the terms of this Agreement.”

What exactly does this mean? Does every faculty member now need to go get someone’s approval to use this application? If I develop a tag cloud from the collective papers of a class to look for themes, do I need releases from each student? Can one take a chapter from a textbook and develop a wordcloud as a conversation-starter in class?

I do not know. I do know from the blogs above that people are already using ManyEyes. As with many Web 2.0 applications, the early adopters are out pushing the envelopes, and the policy will lag behind. I would be interested in my colleagues’ thoughts on this.