Archive for June, 2009

Meaningful Conversations on Twitter

Click toi view original posting

Click to view original posting

This is a very interesting assessment of the exchange that goes on in Social Media like Twitter. I can see the incremental increase in relevance. I’ve been really learning about the value of Twitter over the past few weeks.  The author, Rajesh Setty, notes that exchange on Twitter doesn’t really extend past the third level in this chart. This is engagement with others, not the engagement between oneself and the actual information you may find on Twitter. From this perspective, at least for me, Twitter actually does have a great deal of “Immediate and Future Relevance.”

I’m finding that Twitter not only connects me with more information relevant to my interests and my job, it also is helping me connect and learn about others through their blogs. I get an introduction to these folks via Twitter that I would never get from just a search for a different topic. Also, sometimes people’s skill with what I call the “Twit Wit” actually draws me to learn more about them and their blog. There is a certain “speedy Zen” about Twitter that I”m finding increasingly appealing. Even though Twitter is a bit limited when it comes to sharing and exchange, it’s a great doorway into the worlds of it’s many participants.

How do you find and implement a new Learning Management System (LMS)?

I’ve been trying to think of some of the projects I most enjoyed over the past few years. I know Christy posted this already in her blog, but I’d thought I’d share our journey to selecting a new Learning Management System with all of you.   This was quite a journey we took to find a new Learning Management system. I have to say it’s been one of the projects I’ve been most proud to work on during my entire career. I learned much more about working effectively with a virtual team on this project than during my seven years at a technology development company.  Of all the highlights of this journey I’m most proud of the work we did to provide a usability test and develop a comprehensive training package that prepared our users for the transition from our old LMS to Sakai.  Overall, we’re very happy with Sakai and our contract with rSmart to house and maintain our LMS (not our content).  As we noted in the presentation we reviewed and tested several LMSs and even several vendors before we found one that met our needs.  For me this was a lesson in the value of thorough planning rather than making snap and uneducated decisions about choosing any type of system or vendor.

A fun note, we used ToonDoo to create slides around a narrative about our story, and we told our story to the slides. Christy even opened our preso by playing the Star Trek theme. Fun times!

Karl Kapp continues to bust myths on gaming

Having worked with Karl to design a course, I know first hand what insight he has to offer on the subject of learning with technology.  Plus he’s got a valid and thoughtful argument for every negative assumption about gaming and it’s true value. Recently on his blog, Karl shared that he was on a local radio program to talk about the future of gaming and how it applies to learning and the workplace. I can’t go over all the myth’s Karl articulately and skillfully debunked. You’ll just have to listen to the entire program.

Educating through video games

Myth: Video games are too violent and bad to teach anything worthwhile

I love Karl’s point on this.  Although people describe video games as bad and horrible… “It’s the content of the technology not the technology.” There are video games that teach or demonstrate positive behavior and values as well as ones that use violence excessively.

Myth: Kids only learn instant gratification from playing video games

Video games help teach players to make quick decisions when you don’t have too much information.  Also, many video games have objectives that require weeks or even months to solve… so, uh, where’s the instant gratification in that?

Myth: Cheating is bad even in video games

Using cheat codes to get around obstacles in a game is a common practice among gamers. As Karl points out, Remember Captain Kirk and Kobyashi Maru? (Sorry non-Trek fans). He cheated to make the simulation work to his advantage. This can be seen as a creative way of dealing with the situation by some.

Having worked as a teacher and in education for several years, I was sort of brainwashed to think that you always have to follow the rules and that “all cheating is BAD.” If you look at cheating in a game from a different perspective, it’s no different than finding a short cut or a more efficient way of doing something. One must always remember the context in which the cheating is happening. Also, if you want to stop the ‘bad’ cheating… I’m of the point of view that you have to “Be the buddha to kill the buddha.”  I don’t want to get into this extensive metaphysical argument here, but I do know looking at ‘cheating’ or ‘alternative solutions’ differently is one way to insure that you’re not always keeping to the traditional way of doing things.  And one can always use one’s own moral conscience as a guide to ask if their methods are wrong or harmful to others in the real world. As Karl pointed out… the executives of Enron cheated, but did they really ask themselves if it was right?

Myth: All video games desensitize kids to violence

While some (not all) video games have negative things… they also learn positive things:

  • Kids learn cooperation (multiplayer games)
  • Kids learn math and physics (Little Big Planet, &  just figuring out scores etc.)
  • Kids can build empathy by relating to other players on multi-player games
  • Kids can learn trade offs between variables from how to accomplish game objectives.

Little Big Planet is my favorite example of a game where you can learn cooperation and spark your creativity. I’ve even thought of building stories in the game that reflect plots of major works of literature: Can you see Kafka or Doestoevsky done as a Little Big Planet game? Awesome.

Little Big Planet

Little Big Planet

Smart Marketing with Twitter

As I mentioned before, I was rather reluctant to join Twitter. After using it for a few days I realized that the seeds of resistance had been planted by the media’s portrayal of the web ap. It became such a buzz word that I started to get suspicious. Asking someone in polite conversation if they are on Twitter became as ubiquitous as saying , “Let’s do lunch.”  I should have known not to pay attention to the media because, like the boss who always uses sports metaphors to motivate all of his employees including the women in the room, they just don’t get it (the media as well as the sports metaphor using boss).

For my own education, I wanted to take some time to learn how to use Twitter to effectively market a product or service. I found dozens of videos on Youtube on using Twitter for marketing. Some of them were rather long winded and hard to sit through. Another I found was way too frenetic for my taste, but maybe I’m just old…er.

Not surprisingly O’Reilly had the best video for content (and it was easy to watch and listen to):

The actual presentation is about 30 minutes long, though there’s a lot of interesting and useful Q&A during the remaining half an hour of the presentation.

For marketing… you can’t just build a Twitter account and expect people to find it or listen to you automatically, you’ve got to grow your followers. I’ve found four ways to link in to folks who might be interested in your product. I’ll probably find even more the longer I use the tool.

  1. Complete searches for key words relating to your product. When you post use these key words in your posts.  Don’t forget to name your product or service. Save the searches so you can continually find people who might be interested in what you make or do.
  2. I think if you’re going to effectively market things like online courses you can’t just can just post links to ads for the course. As someone pointed out, people get bored with ads and they can sniff them out pretty fast. Its’ better to post interesting notes/posts/links to things as well as links to your stuff. You want people to continue to follow you for your conversation and insight as well as your product.
  3. Join a Twitter group such as  Twibe or other Twitter group. You can keep your tweets focused on communities and groups that might actually be interested in your product or service.
  4. You can use Twitter to do market reseach in your own field by searching for what your competitors are doing.

Using Podcasts to Teach Math

I was just trying to think of at least 10 ways to use podcasts to teach math. Can you think of any others. Please post your ideas to this post in the comments. Please note, timeliness is not an issue. I’ll be checking this post in the future.

10 ways to use podcasts (vodcasts) to teach Math?

  1. Post a monthly puzzler or a brain teaser as an audio recording. Students have to listen carefully to the words and vocabulary used to figure it out.
  2. Students share their own math stories and problems.
  3. Broadcast monthly updates to both parents and teachers on the types of math lessons and activities students will be focusing on.
  4. Create a podcast with your students on math related subjects. Your students act as researchers and reporters who broadcast the stories.
  5. Share any news or media stories related to math.
  6. Broadcast homework and major assignment reminders.
  7. For those who do not have video or multimedia capability. Create math puzzles, problems, and diagrams in PowerPoint then provide audio narration to go with it in the podcast.
  8. Find, listen to and share math podcasts that you find.
  9. Students create their own math riddles and share them.
  10. On a professional level, share your experiences teaching math with other teachers.

Additional notes:

I found two interesting sites with math related podcasts/vodcasts:

The Math Factor (brief math converation and puzzle):

Math Train TV (math vodcasts created by middle school students):

I love Probability with Ben & Jerry!

These students did a fairly good job demonstrating Probability. Click the image below to view the video:


Using Wikis to Teach Writing

Over the past year I’ve really learned how to leverage wikis as a learning tool and place to host meaningful learning activities online.  This post assumes that you have already created a wiki site in WetPaint. Some people don’t like WetPaint because it’s editing quirks, but it seems like one of the better web based wiki aps with WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) features. Here’s my attempt to share my knowledge.  Although these activities are geared around teaching writing they structure of the wiki pages can be applied to almost any subject.

If you are not sure how to set up your wiki refer to the instructions on the WetPaint FAQs page here:

The following steps will explain three page designs that can be used to teach writing:

  • Analyze a piece of writing
  • Demonstrate a writing skill
  • Writing in collaboration with others

Analyze a piece of writing:

  1. Students can analyze a piece of writing on the wiki page.  First, add a wiki page. If you are not sure how to add a page refer to these instructions on the WetPaint FAQs page: . Title your wiki page as you see fit.
  2. Add you own instructions to the top of the page.
  3. Below the instructions, insert a table with one column and one row. This is where you will insert the piece of writing you wish the students to analyze. If you are not sure how to insert a table, refer to these instructions on the WetPaint FAQs page: Once you have created the table insert the text of the writing you wish the students to analyze. Refer the image for an example.
  4. Create a second table that allows students to log their analysis of the writing. The can make individual points per row in the table. They must always label their comments with their name and identifier. Refer to this image for an example of a table. Save your wiki page.
Click the image to view a full sized version
Click the image to view a full sized version

Demonstrate a writing skill

Students can also practice a writing skill. Create a new wiki page and title it appropriately. Add your instructions to the top of the page.

Below the instructions, create a table with three columns and enough cells for your students to add a written sample plus one additional cell. See the image below for an example.

Students will write their sample writing piece in each available cell. They should identify their writing by including their name or initials at the end.

Click to view the full-sized image

Writing in collaboration with others

Writing in collaboration with others in a wiki can be fun as long as the rules are clear to all participants You should restrict the number of people who can collaborate on a piece to no more than six.  You can create several versions of the same page and assign groups of students to each version.

  1. Create a version of the page and make multiple copies as needed.
  2. Assign a color to each student in the group. This is the color that they will use to add their writing.
  3. Establish a set of rules for the students including information on how to do the following:
    • Edit others work
    • Providing suggestions
    • Taking turns editing the page


Fighting Management Preconceptions about Social Learning

I just found this wonderful preso on Social Learning. I kept on slapping thigh laughing as I read… “Oh yeah, that’s a good one!” For me the highlights were:

Yes, Play is OK – you need it to grow innovative, collaborative and fast-adapting employees.

“Control is an illusion” – Okay… this is where I slip into incredulous teenager mode: Duh! You can control what people are learning and sharing about as easily as you can keep water in a sieve.  The presenters note that “80% of learning happens outside” of formal learning systems in their control. This is “Informal Learning” in action. The faster leadership realizes that building a company culture where learning is valued, the quicker they will start fostering a truly effective organization. Also, it’s very important to build the expectation that employees are really responsible for learning (their job and how to enhance their work).

People already share bad information – no kidding. Everyone has experienced the grapevine effect in a workplace. Human beings honestly seek knowledge about the goings on, some need it to function and work effectively without fear. They will even speculate on management’s behavior when they have no information, which is why transparency is less dangerous than keeping your lipped buttoned.

I also really liked the fact that they provided some solutions for measuring ROI (Return on Investment).(CRUD: I actually wrote this section but it got lost in the blog ether when I was trying to save my post)  I think it’s possible to tie a company’s increased success to social learning initiatives through anecdotal stories.  Also, connecting increased levels of innovation could also be possible. Think James Burke’s Connections (the show from the early eighties). Much of the show argued that the worlds most famous and influential innovations such as the combustion engine would not have happened if people did not make connections with each other.  I think if you analyzed the history or development of a particular innovation at your company you can actually trace the connections that were needed to make the innovation happen. You may be able to identify whether or not these connections would have happened with the social networking  efforts in place.

Some excellent points were made, but I suspect that no amount of brilliant arguments will convince the hardcore curmudgeons that insist that Social Learning/Networking is bad and evil. My only question… Can I work for the folks who made this presentation?

What Does the Ideal Virtual Workforce Look Like?

I was talking to my manager the other day about writing some sort of article that highlights the skills and talent needed to manage a virtual team. Last year I was able to briefly describe the ideal virtual employee. I decided to come up with characteristics for both virtual managers and virtual employees.  This is what I came up with so far… I’m still working on it.

Ideal Virtual Workforce

Click on the image to view the full sized mind map

I based the qualities and behaviors of managers on several of the managers I’ve had in the past whom I felt to be highly effective. In a nutshell, I really liked/like working for these people and I’d pick up another job with them in a heartbeat if it was available.

Honestly, I feel that the first thing an effective manager of a virtual team does is hire ‘the right people.’  In a sense, half the chore of managing a team is done once they’ve hired the correct type of person. This isn’t easy, because good employees are often hard to come by, and I speak from my own experience on hiring panels in a corporate workplace. Often interviewees have been coached to “talk the talk,” and a hiring manager needs to be able to see through this. A good virtual manager will probe employees to see if they can truly demonstrate the qualities and behaviors of the “ideal virtual employee.”  Moreover, a virtual manager will request and thoroughly review a portfolio of the prospective hiree’s past work before the actual interview. They will aslo ask pointed questions about how the interviewee accomplished or made these portfolio items.

To be honest, when I enter an interview, I actually look for the behaviors I described above in the hiring manager.  I want to know that the person who’s leading me is capable of managing me and the whole team effectively. There’s nothing worse that being hired into an extremely dysfunctional team. I’ve often thought of scripting scenarios that take the best moments from interviews I’ve had with managers.  I’ve even thought of taking the best coaching moments I’ve experienced and sharing them.  So many of us have in the past worked for or currently work with poor managers, sometimes It’s good to know that there are good ones out there. While the economy is bad right now and many people might be willing to put up with working in a dysfunctional workplace, it’s still important to hire good managers (virtual or not) who encourage productive innovation. Innovation and the ability to change and adapt readily is what helps companies survive in succeed in trying times.

Addendum… thanks to Twitter, I’ve found a number of interesting articles on virtual workers:

Okay… so now I understand what Twitter is all about

Image originally from the Morguefile. Click to view the original

Image originally from the Morguefile. Click to view the original

I’ll admit the idea of telling people what you were doing at any given moment did not appeal to the side of me that adores my privacy. Also, being involved in conversations with others that absobed so much chatter didn’t spark the curiosity of that extremely methodical part of me.

Yet the side of me that has come to appreciate “Stream of Consciousness” really gets it.

But after first joining Twitter I can see what people like about it.

A few tricks I learned quickly to reduce the noise factor on twitter:

  • The more followers/followees you have the faster the pace of the conversation. It’s good to search for conversations using “key words.” You can also save the chat
  • You can easily save tweets you like by clicking the “Star” or favorites option.
  • Just accept that you’re not going to get every piece of information being shared. Twitter is pretty ephemeral and it embodies that life of ephemerality characteristic of some aspects of “Internet life.”
  • Make comments even ones that appear to have no point every now and then.
  • If you’re sharing something cool include the link (be forewarned… if the link is too long you may not be able to share it. Hopefully, web developers out there whose pages require long urls are noting this. Or the twitter people might be able to develop a feature that allows you to associate links to text so you don’t go over the 140 character limit).
  • Addressing someone directly requires including their Twitter ID (ie. @nlkilkenny) in your tweet or post.
  • If you must, you can search through the archive of a saved search. Depending on the volume of a conversation you may be searching for sometime till you get to the beginning.

I’ve actually learned a lot this weekend on Twitter. Sorry to go off on a tangent, but I get this way when I learn a good deal of new and fascinating stuff.  I saved a search for Arduino technologies because I’ve very interested in learning how to make clothing and knitwear use electronic features using the Arduino Lilypad.

Arduino Lilypad
Arduino Lilypad

Can you imagine having a purse that’s hooked up to your cellphone so that it blinks a certain way when different people call? I’d also like to make some kind of garment (even just wristbands) for my brother that plays different sounds. He’s a musician that tries to bring traditional and non-traditional sounds and instruments together: OO-Ray.  I was searching through’s site and found some very fascinating applications with Arduino tech including this Fabric Synthesizer. What a wonderful way to showcase ingeniuity and creativity.

Art and textiles meet electronics and music

Art and textiles meet electronics and music


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