Happy New Year (and Zemanta)

Rodney the RamImage via Wikipedia

Academics go by a different timeline than the rest of the world.  Our year does not start on January 1, but rather on the first day of the Fall semester.  There is a different feel to Virginia Commonwealth University today with smiling students jossling between buildings and classrooms.  I threw the switch on my online class, and already a quarter of the students have peeked in!

I am also typing this just to try out Zemanta, after seeing a couple of tweets from Darren Draper. It is advertised as a blogging tool that “saves you time, brings more traffic and makes your posts beautiful.”  Not sure much can be done to beautify my posts…but I see the rationale.  If – while you were drafting – an “intelligent agent”understood what you are blogging about and suggested pictures, links, articles and tags – it would – as the advertisement suggests – make your posts more “vibrant.”  In other words, while you craft your post, Zemanta analyzes the text and recommends additional content you can use to spice it up.  Since I belong to the category of “I could use all the help I can get,” this seems like a useful tool.

And in my first drive it seems pretty easy to use.  I downloaded the Firefox Add-On and it loaded into the sidebar of my Edublog dashboard.  As I type and save, it updates suggested Creative Commons pictures (which is where I pulled the image of our mascot above), and also gives me suggested links, such as the VCU, Zemanta, Creative Commons, and Edublog links above.  It did not suggest a link for Darren, so it is not foolproof.

But even with that, it really does speed up the blogging process in embedding links, so I will continue to test drive it for awhile.  I need to work on the picture side.  It seems to only let me put one suggested picture in.  If I selected a second picture, it replaces the first.  Might be operator error.  But I can upload a second picture manually, as I just did with the logo to the left.

Be interested in how others have used it, and any tips on better use.

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Three Stellar Presentations and One Dud

eLrn08 Logo
Hello again from the Instructional Technology Council’s eLearning 2008 Conference. It was a full day today and I have already blogged about Myk Garn’s keynote this morning…which set the pace for an instructive day.

The first presentation I attended was “fun” but fell flat for reasons I will discuss below. The other three were insightful and stimulating. A brief recap of each.


Researching and Teaching Digital Natives with Web 2.0

Manoucher Khosrowshahi, Tyler Junior College

He tried to take a day long workshop and cram it into one hour. It was entertaining but geared for a non-techy audience, which this was not. He spent the hour detailing the differences between Boomers, Nexters, and Millennials (nice job), and then discussed how faculty needed to adapt to deal with educating millennials. His key point (with which I agree):

If students do not learn the way we teach, maybe we need to teach the way they learn.

Where he lost me (and turned this in to a dud) was at the end, when one of the participants asked if he would share his slides. His comment, “This is my intellectual property, so no, I will not share, but if you want to pay me to come to your campus, I will be happy to do so.”

Okay – a guy’s gotta make a buck…..but don’t feed me Web 2.0 platitudes for an hour and then practice Web 1.0 philosophy on a personal basis. This really turned me off and demonstrated for me that – in the end, he does not get Web 2.0!

<end of rant>


Online Instructor Competencies – It’s About Time

Edward Bowen, Executive Dean, Distance Learning, Dallas TeleCollege

Slides available at Ed’s Blog. (Someone who DOES get it!)

Ed started out with one of the nicest moves I have seen at a conference. He first asked everyone in the audience who would be giving a presentation to give a 15 second promo (nice touch). He then asked for a quick round-up of “take-aways” others had learned so far. One was an inexpensive text to speech conversion tool. I discussed a tool my colleague Bud Deihl is investigating: Jott – and Bowne ran with it – talking about how cool it is to be able to call an 800 number and have Jott RSS feed the text of your call to all students in your class!

Ed then shifted to his presentation. He started by noting that one cannot talk about competencies until one decides how learning occurs online. For instance, he solicited input from the audience as to their articulation of a philosophy as it relates to our online discussions:

Learning outcomes
– Social connections
– Motivation

He suggested that we need to develop instructor competencies in five areas:

1. Subject Relevance (Outcomes / Expectations)

2. Media (Text / Audio / Video)

3. Assessment (Formative / Summative / Peer / Remediation)

4. Control of time/place/pace (Flexibility / Continuing)

5. Type of Relation with instructor/other learners (Social / Personal / Professional)

Ed discussed the components of the online environment and suggested we need to be assessing courses not only at the end, but pre-course and during. We should be assessing students entering the course, teachers capabilities to teach online prior to the course, and course design prior to the course. During the course, the process in the LMS should be reviewed. And post-course, one should look at student evaluations and learning outcomes.

In focusing on teaching, he suggested we look at seven categories of competencies:




Instructional Design



Social Processes and Presence

All of these should be aligned with the learning outcomes and aligned with faculty development.

Nice job, Ed Bowen!



Personalized Learning Environments – Tools that Support Learning-Centered Instruction

Rhonda Ficek, Minnesota State University

A very nice presentation on the use of different web-based tools to drive the development of PLE’s for students. PLE’s are personally managed learning spaces that are social, distributed, and layered with both formal and informal learning. Key features included:

– Communication tools

Flexible structures

Integrated formal and informal learning

She discussed tools in four areas of instruction:


4 quadrants

Writing: Google Docs / Wikis / Google Notebook

Presentation Tools : Google Presentation

Organize Resources: Zotero / Flickr / delicious

Collaboration: Skype / Wimba

Think Tank http://thinktank.4teachers.org/

E Portfolios: Minnesota eFolio



Free Web-Based Tools

Google Notebook www.google.com/notebook

Zoho www.zoho.com

Google Docs: http://docs.google.com

Zotero – bibliography help (Firefox only)

Nice job, Rhonda!



Mashing Up the Face of Academia –

John Krutsch, Senior Director of Distance Ed, Utah Valley University

John reviewed teaching and personal learning through mash ups. He demonstrated:

Viral videos (President George Bush singing rap)

– The Mashed Up song of the day from local radio
Nothing new – Simon and Garfunkel in 1969 combined Silent Night and Evening News

Teachers have historically been doing this:

Rewrite stories

Thematic Events

Movie Madness http:/www.uvsc.edu/disted/madness

Romeo and Juliet’s Blackboard / WEBCt “affair”

John discussed some of the technologies available, including Twitter feeds, Google Map feeds, Open API (application programming interface), FlickrVision, TwitterVision, SLoodle (mashup of Second Life and Moodle), etc.

John’s main point: Culture of Mashups allows students to participate in creation of course content.

Mashups can occur at lesson-level, course-level, or degree-level. Mashups at the course level help break the monopoly of single textbooks as content source.

John reinforced Barry Dahl’s point from yesterday that teachers need to engage their students, and suggested teachers of the future will resemble Club DJ’s, shifting their content if it is not engaging students.

He summarized by suggesting that mashups allow students to take more ownership of their own education, reusing, remixing, and resubmiting material as part of their personal learning journey. This all supposes that alternate forms of assessment will be needed.

John’s blog – http://technagogy.blogsot.com

Still trying to get my head around tying mashups to learning outcomes…but an interesting presentation, John!


As usual, my head is spinning. I present tomorrow on Instructional Uses of Social Bookmarking, and I am looking forward to another great day!

An Instructional Technologist’s Eye…

Ken Rockwell, talking about photography, said, “Maybe because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools.”

An artist’s eye, patience, and skill…


There have been some interesting blog posts this past week on tools. I was reading Geeky Mom last night and she noted:

Most of the faculty that reach out to me are really just asking for tech support. They want to know how to perform certain tasks in Blackboard. They want to know how to edit a web site. They don’t tend to ask the bigger questions: what is appropriate technology for me to use to achieve my goals, how should I use x to help my students learn.

She articulated an irritant I have felt in the past. The majority of faculty that do seek my help come to me to find out how to use some tool or fix some problem. They rarely ask if the particular tool they are interested in makes a difference in student learning. Yet Alan Levine raised an interesting point when he commented on the above blog posting:

IMHO, the variances in cultures and organizations are going to make for a normal spectrum of roles for Instructional Technologists, but a lot ultimately rests on our shoulders for taking the long hard path to craft the changes from within the boxes of limiting job descriptions- to locally build up our own reputations inside our organization.

I like what Alan suggests. It is in line with that artist’s eye, patience, and skill idea.

Jane Hart continued her work this week on identifying the top tools those who work in e-learning use for learning. She has invited learning professionals (e.g. consultant, developer, practitioner, analyst, academic, teacher, etc) who are active in the field of e-learning to contribute their Top 10 Tools for Learning. As she receives contributions, she will compile, and then refine, the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2008 list. For the past two years, I have contributed my list, and it is always interesting to see the commonalities and differences with others in this field.

Jane blogged about her first look at the results, with 63 of us contributing so far. Her resulting Top 85 to date shows some interesting trends. Jane noted:

“So what is different from the list 6 months ago? Here are a few notable changes

  • Firefox has been knocked off its No 1 position – just! {Note: del.icio.us moved from second to first}
  • Only 7 of the Top 10 are the same as last year – 3 different tools make it onto the list (in 8th, 9th and 10 positions)
  • A number of tools have significantly improved their position from last year
  • Many tools from last year have not yet made it onto the list
  • There are 20 new entrants on the list (in the shaded rows)

One thing has, however, struck me about the Top 10 Tools lists this year, and that is that although practically all contributors mention the value of free, Web 2.0 tools for their own personal learning, it is educators (in schools, colleges and universities) who seem to be leading the way by making far more use of a wide range of free, Web 2.0 tools for creating learning experiences for their students – corporate training professionals seem to be focusing on the use of commercial, Web 1.0 (albeit rapid) tools for creating learning content.

This is clearly a significant point which requires fuller consideration and discussion...”

Old World Illustration of Telescope

As one reviews this list of tools, one sees many of the tools about which faculty approach us. During January and February, we are doing brown-bag lunches in our Center for Teaching Excellence to introduce faculty to three of the tools that made the top ten: Google Reader (RSS), Google Docs, and SlideShare. Faculty are becoming aware of these new web tools and are interested in the tools. Our role is to take that long view that Alan Levine noted – use our artist’s eye, patience, and skill to help faculty see the learning implications of these tools – the compelling reasons for using them in the first place.

There are good pedagogical reasons for using these web tools. Tom Peters said it best in a 2004 blog post:

“We’re all in sales! That’s one of my recurrent themes. Or, to make it more personal: IF YOU CARE, YOU’RE IN SALES.”

We instructional technologists know how to use these tools, and we have the artist’s eye, patience, and skill to use them effectively to promote learning. Our job is to sell the reasons WHY as we are being approached by faculty as a glorified tech support! Pulling off this sell would be glory indeed!

Social Tools and Learning

There were several related and yet independent posts last week on some of the blogs I follow that were worthy of reflection. The first was by danah boyd (she likes lower case letters…) who responded to the THE ECONOMIST’s call for discussion on whether social networking would impact education or not. Her comment was:

“I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why social network sites (or networking ones) should be used in the classroom. Those tools are primarily about socializing, with media and information sharing there to prop up the socialization process (much status is gained from knowing about the cool new thing). I haven’t even heard of a good reason why social network site features should be used in the classroom. What is the value of knowing who is friends with who or creating a profile when you already know all of your classmates?”

Wow – that actually elicited a
response from me, as you can see if you check out the comments…and a response from her that she was focusing on K-12 rather than higher education. But it certainly got me (and many others) thinking about the tools versus the learning environment, and how online tools enhance or detract from learning.

The second post that caught my eye last week was from Michele Martin, who discussed the Social Media Spiral of online tools:

Social Media Helix

Her spiral to me really suggests that adoption of creative tools lags way behind passive observation of online activities. I wonder if that is true of our digital students? It appears to me that many youngsters today adopt online tools that allow them to express their creativity…and those same tools are either blocked or discounted by education as a whole. My question to all of us – how do we move ourselves into their world (…or should we?)?