Archive for the 'Web 2.0' Category

Building a Better Twitter Chat

Twitter chats allow people who want to learn more about a topic to get together and learn things from each other. Before you start diving into holding a chat… there are a few things you need to consider.

  1. Ask yourself is there enough to talk about? Consider the topic you wish to build the chat around. Is it broad and deep enough to generate a sustained discussion about? How many areas about this topic can you develop questions around?  I started my chat around the subject of Knitting (and fiber-related crafts). To the non-knitter it may seem that this is not a robust and broad topic, but just check out the activity in a social network site of over 1 million knitters called Ravelry, and you’ll understand that chatter about knitting can seem infinite.
  2. Never underestimate the power of previous connections on Twitter. Build a modest following first. If you’re just going to plan a chat and expect people to come, they won’t. Try to start posting relevant information on the topics you are interested in. Don’t over do it though, also make sure you sound human in  your post and not stiff and from a marketing department. Here’s a nice primer on how to plan out your use of Twitter.
  3. Expect that the first few sessions might have a limited following or number of participants. Unless you have a large and avid following already, the first few sessions may include only a handful of people who are actually chatting. This is okay. Provided that your topics generate enough interest, and you spend some time promoting the chat both in Twitter and other venues, you will be able to gradually achieve a larger base of participants.
  4. Training for participation is key. Try to define what the chat will looking like to your audience. I know the first time I heard of Twitter chats I was indeed mystified as to how they worked. I created a short post explaining the basics of the chat format to my audience to help explain how to participate.
  5. Great conversation facilitation is dependent on the quality of the prompts & questions crafted by the facilitator or other members of the chat’s community.  Coming up with questions that keep a conversation going can be a challenge. In the first two chat’s I’ve set up I loosely followed the format of the “#lrnchat” discussion. Introductions first then a set of 4-5 discussion related questions. Questions should be somewhat open ended and not have “Yes” or “No” responses only. A whole separate post or even series of blog posts could be devoted to “how to draft fabulously dynamic discussion questions.”
  6. Expect “lurkers” not “talkers” at first.  Not everyone feels comfortable diving into a conversation. They may have to observe and before the feel safe enough. They may also be struggling (as I did with the pasting the hashtag into every post).  It was not easy to do this in Twitter the first time I tried engaging in a chat a few months ago, that or I’d not figured out the tools yet.
  7. Don’t expect to “hog” the facilitator’s role.  Generate ideas for topics from the participants in the community that you’ve tapped. They after all, are the lifeblood of the conversation. Also, after hosting for several sessions, think about letting others who are interested host or facilitate the chat.

These are just some initial thoughts to consider before starting your own chat.  I’ll try to document the steps I took to getting my chat started in a future post.

You can build your chat stronger and better

Future Think for Educators

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8]

Great film that helps us envision education and learning in transition. Some things educators, policy makers, parents, teacher, curriculum developers should all be getting excited about…

  • Cloud Computing - In many cases you don’t need to have software installed on your computers.  Content development tools such as Google Docs and many others make it possible to create and share documents, materials, etc. on the web. Students can track changes, add notes or comments and truly author pieces together.
  • Mobile Devices – Mobile devices and smart phones are definitely here to stay. Yesterday I realized that I only use my laptop if I’m working on something complex or lengthy. All other materials for reading or immediate access are funneled through my mobile. Educators can search out or even design learning enhanced by or using Mobile Devices – Why not create or develop learning activities where students can enhance their learning by connecting to materials and resources while they’re learning, or on a field trip? In a previous post I shared a number of different possible learning applications for cellphones. Several are quite ingenious and fun. You can view a detailed mind map of the lecture notes from the presentation where I got those ideas.
  • Leveraging Social Networking and Media Sharing Tools – Students and educators can learn from social networks that have pods or communities built around the topics they are interested in.  I found this great community on Learning Physics Online. You could even find or start communities on Ning or other similar networking site. Students (and or their teachers) can create videos, film projects, and presentations to put up on ‘safe’ sharing sites such as TeacherTube or YouTube. Check out this group of student’s retelling of the Boxer Rebellion. Love how they cleverly used recognizable styles and characterizations from Hong Kong  & martial arts cinema. I shared this some time ago, but I never get tired of watching it.
  • Alternatives to Written Papers – While I still think this skill is absolutely necessary to have. I don’t think the essay is the only way to test someone’s knowledge and grasp of content anymore. Students can put together podcasts. Writing the content and putting together the interview questions for the podcast as well as engaging in the discussion and interviews can help reinforce the content they are learning. Sometimes writing a script for a film, story boarding, and coordinating the filming is way more labor intensive than writing a term paper. Plus you’re actually using far more skills that can transfer to real jobs and life (… outlining, drafting, planning, writing, coordination, directing, … ummmm project management. I actually heard somewhere that film school is the new MBA :))
  • Ethics & Security Education for Parents and Students – yes the web can be a scary place, but so is the street. If we train students  (and parents) to be aware of the dangers and learn guidelines for avoiding them then that’s half the battle. It would also be in our best interests if we teach the younger generation appropriate netiquette.

More resources:

Tech Tools for Working From Home

As promised I will briefly describe the tools we work with as a collaborative virtual team. I will also describe how we use these tools with some of our subject matter experts (SME’s) in the design process for our courses.

Aye, I have to say I work with very active and adventurous group. They’re really into trying all sorts of tools that help with virtual work and collaboration. I think it took us probably about 6 months before we found the combination that is working well for us right now:

  • Adobe Connect (Professional Version)
  • Skype
  • Google Docs

There are other tools that we use, but I think of the three above as our “Holy Trinity” of collaborative tools. They’re sort of like our Swiss army knife of virtual tech.  I’ll spend a little time here giving a summary or description of how we use each tool.

  • Adobe Connect (Professional Version) – helpful for sharing desktops and working out technical issues with each other. It allows us to be extremely productive during meetings because we can work with or on documentation and visuals as we talk. For example. I like using a visual like a  PowerPoint slide in a design meeting. I can always allow the other participants to manipulate the slide, including adding their own content or suggestions. The example below shows a visual outline I developed during a meeting with the help of a subject matter expert or SME. Adobe Connect allows you to visually share and grant control over items on your desk top. In this case, the SME could add or move any of the elements on the PowerPoint slide as long as I gave them control.
slide32

Example of a content map or visual used with a subject matter expert

Same image after learning objectives have been with content. Note, this was a course re-design project.

Same image after learning objectives have been aligned with content. Note, this was a course re-design project.

  • Skype – we use Skype for voice connection during meetings. The chat tool is also very user friendly as well.  Skype isn’t perfect. Sometimes the audio quality isn’t that great, especially when there are more than a handful of people using it for a conference call. For larger meetings we opt for using a conference call service where we can set up “bridge” calls.
  • Google Docs – Google offers a virtual office program that allows you to upload, create and share text or wordprocessing documents. You can also, develop simple PowerPoint-like slides and virtual spreadsheets using google docs. When we’re working on a document or want to share text content and sometimes images, we use Google docs to work on shared documents.  I really like the color coded commenting feature that’s available. It makes it possible to track changes, comments and contributions to any text file we’re working on together. Also, we’ve found that Google Docs is one of the most user friendly collaboration tools, and can be used when working on documents with SME’s who have even a limited experience with web technology. Also, I love the fact that they really don’t change the basic look and structure of the interface, so the user doesn’t get confused. In addition to the Skype Chat we teach SME’s to use the Google Talk as well. It’s an additional way to get a hold of us if they have a quick question or need to comment on work we have sent for review. For those who have never used web software like the Google tools, we send out a quick little guide (I whipped up) for using them.  It’s true that Google already develops fairly intuitively designed products, but some subject matter experts don’t feel facile enough with software or online tech to just dive in to experimenting and using the software, so we figured that we would give them a guide to help them learn the tools. I linked each page of the guide in the thumbnails below.

We’ve also used the simple survey tool available when you work with the Spreadsheets in Google docs to record data from usability tests.  Google makes it possible to create no-frills survey tools which are actually quite effective.

I did forget one more tool… we keep meeting and design minutes and notes in a Wiki Spaces website. The wiki is also used to document our business process and even complex sub processes. We’re currently using it right now to document our Learning Management System (LMS) conversion process.  Thank goodness for wikis! No one person is in charge of setting up the structure of the wiki, and for some reason, it works: we’re still able to find what we need.

Google Tools Guide:

My recommendations for getting started in Second Life

I found a Blackboard booth… ironic isn’t it?

If you combined Second Life with Blackboard, you’d get… anyone, anyone?

Our experiences with blackboard have been somewhat limited. Their communication and chat tools didn’t work very well. There system seems fine for people who only want to communicate via e-mail or forum, but that is so 1990’s. I found it interesting that they had a booth presence in Second Life.

Well, on the other hand, it’s good to know that Blackboard is at least aware of Second Life.

Blackboard booth in Second Life

So far in my exploration of Second Life I’ve come the following conclusions about introducing or applying Second Life for educational purposes:

1. Makes sure initial participation is voluntary - the learning curve on Second Life is so high that it will frustrate even those with moderate tech savvy abilities. Draw in the people who are really curious and motivated to use it first. Grow this group of people as SL experts and mentors.  Still, encourage all folks to try… just because something is ‘hard to do’ doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth while.

2. Teach students how to teleport to a location – give them initial instructions on how to get to the first meeting point.

3. Provide interesting orientation activities - take a field trip as a group in the “NMC Orientation” to learn the basics of moving, talking, using inventory, changing appearance, etc. As a leader you can provide a walk through tour of the orientation area (just to show students where everything is). But you should also encourage students to return and practice some of the things on their own. You can even set up a task list of things that participants need to complete by week 1, etc. Also have appointed meeting times in SL so participants can interact with each other and even share what they’ve learned or made.

4. Participate socially - attend live learning events in SL through the SLED calendar. The best part of Second Life is interacting with other SL inhabitants and even learning from them.

5. Encourage students to share their learning with each other – Second Life and the tool interface is so complex that one person can’t effectively and quickly learn all the features. If learners share what they’ve learned with each other they can ramp up quickly.

I would love to set up a social learning group in SL that focuses on how to communicate and build things. I’m thinking I can get a few people to do this. I’d even be willing to help orient some people on how to use the features and tools.

One thing, that sort of perturbs me is the land costs. From what I’ve read, land costs in SL have grown because of speculation. Crazy isn’t it? I guess virtual ain’t free.

Second Life Events for Educators

Bunny Kiwitz at the Sloodle 101 class

If you’re interested in learning more about Second Life or how to use if for educational purposes, I suggest you take a look at this calendar: http://sledevents.blogspot.com/
Many events are listed here and even have slurls (secondlife link locations) that allow you to teleport directly to the site in SL. Remember, you have to have the SL application installed, and you can get that from the Second Life official website.

I was able to attend most of the Sloodle 101 class (that occurs every Wednesday 2x a day). I highly recommend it. Hopefully, I’ll have time in the next few days to blog about my experience in the class.


Is Web 2.0 over complicating things?

Technology allows me to be an ‘on-the-fly’ sort of tourist. I don’t have things planned out before I get to a destination like my parents did. They had travel agents who got them packaged tours where everything from morning wake-up to afternoon snack and evening meals were all scheduled on a daily plan. I shudder to think of enjoying travel in this way. I might read extensively about a place and it’s neighborhoods before I go, but if I know that I can have Internet access when I’m there, I pretty much leave it up to the moment. When we were vacationing in San Francisco, I did my usual thing… went straight to Google maps and searched for places that I wanted to see or needed to visit: food, shopping, neighborhood historical spots, or the nearest Rite-aid to buy a replacement pair of pantyhose. When I was searching for eating places and boutiques, I noticed that a number of places had websites. A number of restaurants sounded good, but they just had too much ricketa-racketa (flash) on their websites. Come on! I just want a menu… or maybe even photos to look at. I want to know what you’re store, business or restaurant has to offer. A few sites required me to download a plug in. Others sites seemed like some design nightmare similar to some conceptual art experience designed by an irritating esoteric character from Nathan Barley. Worse, important information like ‘store hours’ or a phone number was often hidden under some cryptic heading other than the obvious ‘about us.’

Nathan Barley's Website -Bells and whistles and too much junk

I actually thought if their websites are this pretentious, then they must be pretty annoying. Ergo, I didn’t want to give them my business. The funny thing is some small mobile devices don’t play Flash very well. Often the information I needed could just be on a list. Yes, from a consumer’s point of view the web needs to be simple and easy to use. As Jakob Nielsen put it:

“Most people just want to get in, get it and get out….For them the web is not a goal in itself. It is a tool.”

Pushing bells and whistles or other advanced features may be too much if you’re forcing them on users. On the other hand, people should be restricted to just using the ‘tried and true’ methods. Mr. Nielsen argues that focus on Web 2.0 development and applications is causing many website builders to forsake good design. But I think there’s a growing market/audience of people who know how to take advantages and use the newer web technologies. To be fair to these pioneering web developers… they’re still trying to figure out what works and how to make it work well. Though many business successes have demonstrated the power of social networking through blogs, wikis and social networks/online community. A product or service can take off if a few connected users or mavens start talking about it on the web.

From a web educator’s point of view, the web has great potential to bring people closer together and these tools are more than just ricketa-racketa. Also, users can work collaboratively to develop content from written text, to music, podcasts. They can even build on concepts and enrich discussion with video sharing.

If you read this article… Nielsen sounds kind of like (excuse my words) an old fogy… who predicts that people’s use and behavior with and on the Internet will not continue as they grow older. He predicts that Internet use will go down as people age. For the sector of society who will become more involved in the ‘creative’ and ‘technology’ economies this will not be the case. And, of course their use of the technology will change because technology changes. Something just tells me that Mr. Nielsen or his perception and vision of things is sort of …. stuck. Maybe things will be this way for me when everyone is plugging directly into USB (or some kind of electronic) ports or even buying cyborg bio-add ons… I just won’t get it or understand. (Of course, you know I’m joking about the cyborg thing… well sort of).

I finally got a Second Life


Now how the hell do I get down… I’m stuck flying, suspended in the air. (okay… I figured it out… click the Fly/Stop Flying button).

My first avatar in Second Life

My avatar, Bunny Kiwitz, suspended in the air at the “Pier of Culture.”
All I need is an umbrella and a carpet bag.

NMC second life orientation plaza

My avatar, in the Second Life Orientation Plaza with her new ‘outfit.’

Thanks to the TCC conference I was able to get my first taste of Second Life. I’m not fully hooked yet, but intrigued and I see the range of possibilities in here. I can now see what they meant by “steep learning curve” when it comes to learning how to be proficient in S.L. I unknowingly hit the “fly” button and couldn’t figure out how to get down. Also there are so many features and controls to work with that I found it a bit hard to get my bearings. Fortunately, the NMC tutorial ‘plaza’ allowed me to walk through a ‘museum of exhibits’ that showed me how to become familiar with the controls and features in Second Life. I was also able to learn a few things about how to integrate into “Second Life Culture,” such as how to use gestures and how to properly chat with people in a group.

Bunny the avatar learns how to communicate in SL

During the conference I also attended a lecture/debate on the popularity and future of Second Life. One of the arguments in support of Second Life as a learning environment was that today’s students interact with and process information much differently than their predecessors. Second Life give them the opportunity to access it in a virtual space as well as interact with peers from all over the globe. These “Digital Natives” expect instant access to information and rely on social networking to get and build information. They have a ‘digital literacy’ because they’ve been raised with interactive technology that we “Digital Immigrants” need to be aware of.

Second Life allows participants to actively build both simulated and fantasy models and interact with these models. It stimulates creativity and promotes simulated learning of real-life scenarios. It provides students with the ability to engage in “situated learning” and as the one lecturer quoted, “work together to create a shared understanding that none have previously possessed.”

The half of this lecture that countered the support for SL, argued that the learning curve for Second Life is so steep that it’s just too frustrating for some learners. They also made the argument that subscriptions to the virtual world are dwindling and that people enter and experiment but they do not stay or continue to return. Second Life is merely another techie fad that will eventually become obscure and dated in the wake of progress.

Another point that this person brought up was that all the businesses that invested in real estate in Second Life are now pulling out. Personally, I think that the failure is due to the fact that they took a rather two dimensional approach to applying SL. They simply used it as only a virtual store. How boring! They could have developed an interactive storyline or even learning material around their products, and, oh yes, they could have given more free stuff. Free stuff always hooks people even if it’s free ‘virtual’ stuff.

I have this theory about these new virtual/simulated environments… that is when we (or most of us who are not digital protoges) become immersed in them our first instinct is not to create new and innovative things. We build what’s most familiar to us. In all fairness to the corporate businesses, they were in a hurry (as they always are) to get a piece of the Second Life action so they hastily constructed what they thought would work.

I believe that both sides of this debate brought up valid points. Though I’m becoming convinced that Second Life does provide participants with the opportunity to learn in a rich and interactive environment. Perhaps in the future it will become easier to learn and use.

I was going for the one piece tracksuit thing… maybe not my style but, oh well.


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