Yesterday, Dina Rosen and I presented at a conference on Pedagogy across Disciplines: Imagining and Delivering the Possibilities. We looked at the use of blogs, wikis, and google docs for promoting interaction among students and among instructors.

Participants had quite a few questions. One asked how what we were doing was any different from Dewey approaches to educcation. We responded that the approaches aren't different, but that these online tools support experiential learning in ways that may be more difficult without them. For instance,

  • These tools allow students ways to interact without having to meet physically, a key factor for commuter and working students.
  • They create real audiences, thus giving an authentic purpose that motivates students.
  • They can engage students more, thus ending up with them spending more time on task, the main factor in learning.
  • And so on.

As one participant noted, however, it's not about the tools: It's about learning. Thus, as we use these tools, or others, we need to ask ourselves:

  • What's my purpose? That is, what do I want myself and my students to accomplish and why?
  • What's my strategy for accomplishing that purpose?
  • What's my strategy for integrating factors of learning, motivating, and interacting with ideas?

Although none of this is new for those already engaged with such learning tools, it is new for the majority who aren't. And they are interested in learning about these tools, and they ask good questions about using them. It's just a matter of time for integrating them in learning-oriented ways in their own instruction.

On a sidenote, I like putting my presentations online. I generally leave them up for a while so participants can return and click on the links, plus email me if they have additional questions. If you have a Mac, Sandvox is a great way to put up websites (and presentations) quickly. All you need to do is fill in the content. The program takes care of the design. I used it for my "Why I don't have comments" page, along with "E-Learning", "Second Language Writing", "Kean University Writing Project", and others. You can see others who have used it for their main websites at Sandvoxed. For those who want to simplify their website life, this is one way to do it.

Will Richardson spoke today at the 21st Century Learning: Education 2.0 conference sponsored by the Center for Innovative Education at Kean University. His main point was:

The Big Premise:

This is a very challenging moment for educators. Our children are headed for a much more networked existence, one that allows for learning to occur 24, 7, 365, one that renders physical space much less important for learning, one that will challenge the relevance of classrooms as currently envisioned, and one that challenges our roles as teachers and adult learners.

As he noted, the world is changing, and the read/write web is facilitating those changes in politics, government, journalism/media, business, and education. He emphasized the need for curriculum to include and to integrate technology into the learning experiences of our children.

Much of what he said is available at a wiki he created for the presentation, along with links to many examples and resources.

Don't you hate it when you end up in the wrong room? I wanted to go to the "New York Showcase," which would look at social networking, blogs, wikis, and podcasting to support reading and writing, but I ended up in an authors' strand session featuring Holly Black and Linda Sue Park, writers of children's books. But sometimes a mistake proves to be serendipitous.

These two authors talked about their books, and they also talked about universal themes in stories. In fact, Park says there are two universal themes:

  • hero goes on a journey
  • stranger comes to town

In addition, stories follow a certain sequence of actions:

  • At the beginning of every story, a change of state occurs: Something goes wrong.
  • The resulting need or struggle propels the story
  • The conclusion arises when there is another change of state, sometimes one of reaching one's goal, sometimes not.

Identifying these common themes and actions can help students identify them across stories and can help them in writing their own stories.

Next, for a practical classroom example of using these generic themes and actions, Holly led us in a re-making of Cinderella. That is, she asked the questions, and we provided the answers. It went something (I didn't follow all of it) like this:

Once upon a time, there were two struggling young authors who lived in New York City who had a young son named Harold.

One of the parents died and the other remarried to an evil stepfather with his own evil children.

The young lad dreamed of becoming a comic book writer.

Eventually a teacher (the fairy godmother) came to the lad's rescue, bringing his drawings to the attention of an editor (i.e., the prince).

However, the evil stepbrother took credit for his drawings.

So, the editor created a contest so that the one who could draw like the drawings he had seen was the true comic book writer and would receive a publishing contract.

Finally, the good son demonstrated his talent, got the contract, and lived happily ever after.

Again, Holly asked the questions, providing the necessary structure to lead us through our own creating of details and coming to a better understanding of the Cinderella genre.

One other interesting genre described was sijo Korean poetry. In one way it's like haiku: It has three lines, each with a limited range of syllables. (Due to the long length across the page, the three lines can be split into six lines, with the same number of syllables for each two lines.) But it's also different. First the number of syllables ranges from 14-16, much longer than a haiku line. The second is that it is more formulaic. The first line is an introduction; the second gives more details, and the third line provides an unexpected twist. Here's an example:


For this meal, people like what they like, the same every morning.
Toast and coffee. Bagel and juice. Cornflakes and milk in a white bowl.

Or--warm, soft, and delicious--a few extra minutes in bed.

Writing poetry with a twist at the end should be interesting to children, and it may be useful for older students in getting them to use their imagination to think out of the box by coming up with a twist at the end.

Marc Prensky reports on the NSBA Study on Online Behaviors. The report, "Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social and Educational Networking", gives some welcome statistics on how students are using the Internet, showing that much of the concern on the dangers on online social networking is exaggerated. For me, another problem is the exaggerated hype on why schools and teachers aren't using web tools.

Prensky writes:

In general, schools (teachers and administrators) are deathly afraid of what I call “The Emerging Online Life of the Digital Native” because it is something they don’t understand.

On what evidence does Prensky base these claims: (1) that schools are "deathly afraid" and (2) they are afraid because they don't understand it. I can imagine some schools and teachers being nervous, but deathly afraid? And perhaps some don't understand it, but all of the schools who don't accept it don't understand it?

I can think of other reasons for not rushing to accept social networking apps. The main one is time. I have my students using blogs, wikis, and RSS now. And I've been wanting to start incorporating podcasts and videos. But to learn how to use them (some of my students do use them, which is great!) effectively in my classes, I just don't have the time: I have two papers to write on the front burner, two on the back burner, a new text for our composition courses that I have to study and figure out what changes are needed to incorporate it, committees to serve on, and a wife, son, and daughter who I want to spend time with. (I suppose I could stop blogging to find the time.) I imagine other teachers are just as busy, too, and they may simply be finding it difficult to find the time to to restructure and revise their teaching and keep up with their other tasks and responsibilities. Of course, some teachers, as Prensky notes, are likely stuck on "lecturing."

Prensky states:

A lot of concerns about the “have nots” would go away if the schools kept their computer labs open till midnight and on weekends, and teachers assigned projects to groups where at least one member (or the school) had the technology. Kids are great at sharing and teaching each other.

Now, I like this idea, but I wonder what would be involved and how much it would cost to do this. Most people already grumble about the taxes they pay now for schools. As a member of a school's board, I know that we couldn't cover the cost with our present budget.

Prensky has other good ideas, too. The exaggeration, however, is problematic: That is, those who don't listen to the Web 2.0 evangelists are in "darkness," as Prensky puts it, and those who heed the call will be in the "light" and go to education heaven.

Related posts:
The Myths of the Digital Generation
Myths of the Digital Generation, Part II

Common Craft has recently published two excellent, down-to-earth videos that introduce readers to RSS in Plain English and Wikis in Plain English.

Collectanea, a blog on copyright issues, has just launched and is sponsored by the Center for Intellectual Property (CIP) at the University of Maryland University College. According to the CIP:

The Center for Intellectual Property and Copyright in the Digital Environment provides resources and information for the higher education community in the areas of intellectual property, copyright, and the emerging digital environment.

This should be of interest to those who use blogs and wikis in their classes as the notions of copyrght and intellectual property grow murkier in digital environments.

To find out which is the right wiki for you, go to WikiMatrix.

TechCrunch writes:

Like it or not, wikis are a dime a dozen these days. So when (and if) it comes time to choose one, WikiMatrix is a good place to start. It’s a site that allows you to compare any and all wikis on the market in a side-by-side grid.

Ken Yamosh at the Read/Write Web has written a brief review of four smart social networks: Facebook, imbee, Vox, and Multiply. The main points are as follows:

multiply Facebook is a social networking space used much by college students that allows them to determine who can see their profile and the amount of contact information according to a determined classification.

multiply Multiply gives one fine-tuned control over who can view their space.

vox Vox seems to be good for integrating a variety of web services like flickr, youtube, and others.

imbeeBecause children are more and more entering the digital world, imbee is one parents should be interested in.

imbee is the "first secure social networking and blogging destination for kids." Users can't just connect with each other by browsing profiles. They need to know the e-mail addresses and/or imbee user names of other imbee members.

Kids cannot join the site without a credit card being on file (and not necessarily charged), meaning that someone - probably a parent - is going to have to be involved from the start. Parents can also control the way their kids interact on the site. New messages, connections, and other profile changes get put into a queue for parents to approve - depending on the approval rules put in place.

All of these services are providing more control over your privacy and how much you reveal of yourself to the outside world.

I like all of these tools, especially imbee. But I wonder how much use they are to professionals. Usually, I can easily contact those I collaborate with by email, and for subject-specific interests, there are email listservs, along with wikis and blogs. They seem to work well for "social" endeavors but I'm not sure how well they work for "professional" purposes.

Previously, in "The Web: The Future of Learning", I noted how a variety of online language sites were springing up, such as, and many language podcasts like JapanesePod101, TOEFL Podcast, and ESL Pod were available free via iTunes. Well, another major site has come into being: From Xinhuanet (via China View):

Linese.comThe largest website focusing on teaching Chinese and promoting Chinese culture ( opened on Saturday.

The portal website, the Chinese Language Website, serves as a window for people around the world to learn Chinese and experience Chinese culture. At the same time, it is considered a base for Chinese to study foreign languages and better understand Chinese and foreign cultures.

Using different languages, the website provides professional products for teaching or learning Chinese for users with different backgrounds at various levels. Users all over the world can easily study Chinese and communicate with each other through the website and interactive communities.

The virtual interactive community on the net supported by the website is titled "Experiencing China", from which registered users can appreciate Chinese culture, communicate with each other and learn Chinese easily and enjoyably through its specially designed games.

The website updates up to the minute news regarding China's social development, shows picturesque Chinese landscapes and reveals rich local customs. In addition, users can deeply experience Chinese culture through blogs and wikis.

It's certainly a massive and professional portal with links to audio, lessons, blogs, forum, community, and more. The contact information lists the address as Beijing Language And Culture University, so it appears to be government sponsored, which reminds me of the Voice of America. It will be interesting to see how other governments step up their presence on the World Wide Web and influence the shape of web conversations and learning.

For choosing a news reader, previously I've recommended Ryan Stewart's "Rich RSS Readers: best of breed picks" provides an excellent introduction to his choices for the best readers. On Wednesday, Mark Glaser gave his "Top 5 for RSS Week", one of which is an exhaustive and annotated list of RSS readers, "RSS Compendium - RSS Readers".

Why is RSS so important? From TechCrunch, Marshall Kirkpatrick's article "Newsgator posts roadmap for the future of RSS" provides this answer:

RSS is the foundation of almost everything Web 2.0 - isn’t it? It’s what makes blog readership scalable, podcasts subscribable, wiki changes watchable and so much more.

RSS works by bringing to us new content from web sites (whether from blogs, wikis, online newspapers, or others) immediately as they're updated so that we don't need to return to those sites (thus saving us time) to check for new content. The content can either be chosen or searched for. For instance, for the former, I have a subscription to the Education section of the New York Times, and for the latter, I have a Google Search Engine feed that looks for items related to ESL. The Search feed brings me news from sites I am unaware of, thus diversifying my sources of information on particular topics. Thus, RSS, or news, feeds enable us, and our students, to enter and participate in conversations with others near and far away (in a way that's manageable), which in turn exposes us to diverse ideas and perspectives, which in turn are requisites of good writing, critical thinking, and learning, which in turn are primary constituents of education. RSS is the future of education in ways that we have just begun to imagine. For more on RSS, read Mark Glaser's "Your Guide to RSS", which also has links to other good resources.

On Wednesday at the NJTESOL-NJBE Spring Conference, I presented an overview in blog format of different web 2.0 tools for enhancing classroom instruction (i.e., blogs, wikis, RSS, Flickr, social bookmarking, and podcasting). I plan to keep it up on the Internet as a website (not blog) resource. You can find it here, grandiosely entitled "The Web 2.0 Classroom".

From the Deloitte website:

According to a report launched today by Deloitte, the business advisory firm, by 2010 more people around the world will use a growing number of technology products and services more often, in more locations, and for more purposes than ever before.

Although the report says the teacher of 2010 won't be replaced by technology, it also states,

The best teachers may have become global 'brands by 2010, thanks to advances in connectivity. This elite group may be lecturing to a collective class of thousands, using a combination video, conferencing, streamed audio and podcasts as well as the traditional lecture theater.

The elite are already online:

"Stanford University is making hundreds of Stanford podcasts available free to anyone through Apple Computer's popular iTunes Music Store. The podcasts include lectures by the university's professors." (Chronicle of Higher Education, cited at "Present")

Harvard professors, too, are podcasting via iTunes (Lulu Zhou, "Harvard Offers Course via iPod", The Harvard Crimson)

And forget the thousands. It's millions. Ken Carroll, at his site, "plans to deliver language learning to millions through podcasts, cutting out teachers and classrooms (Glyn Moody, "Now you're speaking my language", Guardian). Like Stanford and Harvard, ChinesePod—along with JapanesePod101, TOEFL Podcast, ESL Pod, and many others—are available free via iTunes.

One potentially good thing about online resources for learning languages is that they are scalable: There's no need to progress according to an entire class, semester by semester, year by year. Instead, one can progress at one's own pace, as fast or as slow as one has time to expend on learning. And it's not clear that teachers and classrooms will be bypassed, but rather, their form and activity will change. Teachers might become more like coaches: supporting, advising, and fine-tuning students' language learning.

Another advantage is that huge pools of resources can mean a huge variety of topics that appeal to all students' interests, facilitating their persisting in language learning.

Perhaps the best advantage is the social interaction. From the article on ChinesePod:

There is also a formal Chinesepod blog, and a wiki, where users are invited to contribute entries related to Chinese and China. Every part of the site encourages users to join the conversation. "We obsess to feedback: what are the users saying, what do they want, what are their problems," Carroll says.

All this feedback is pored over by the 30-strong production team, who use it as the basis for future daily podcasts. After the scripts are written, and the premium exercises generated, Carroll and his co-presenter, Jenny Zhu, record all the podcasts for the week, each in a single take. "We even leave in mistakes because it's more natural, it sounds warmer," he says.

The next stage of Chinesepod aims to put the user more firmly in control thanks to another Web 2.0 idea: content tags. "Say you were going to visit China in six months on business," Carroll says. "You could come in, test, find your level, and say: I'd like business-oriented lessons for an elementary [user]." Creating a customised curriculum will be possible thanks to the modular form of Chinesepod, which consists of self-contained podcasts, each dealing with one topic and lasting about 12 minutes.

This sort of interaction can fully involve learners and provide quick feedback promotes interest, commitment, and thus learning. Moreover, this is a good example of a process technique of education. In "Coping with complexity: educating for capability" (British Medical Journal), Sarah Fraser and Trisha Greenhalgh, two professors of health care, apply complexity theory concepts to educating for capability (a concept similar to autonomy) as opposed to educating for competence. They define the two terms as:

Capability is more than competence

Competence—what individuals know or are able to do in terms of knowledge, skills, attitude

Capability—extent to which individuals can adapt to change, generate new knowledge, and continue to improve their performance

Summary points for their article are:

  • Traditional education and training largely focuses on enhancing competence (knowledge, skills, and attitudes)
  • In today's complex world, we must educate not merely for competence, but for capability (the ability to adapt to change, generate new knowledge, and continuously improve performance)
  • Capability is enhanced through feedback on performance, the challenge of unfamiliar contexts, and the use of non-linear methods such as story telling and small group, problem based learning
  • Education for capability must focus on process (supporting learners to construct their own learning goals, receive feedback, reflect, and consolidate) and avoid goals with rigid and prescriptive content

Note especially the authors' last point that supports ChinesePod's approach on having blogs, wikis, and tags with which learners construct their own learning and receive feedback in a process that focuses on and promotes the emergence of learning.

This is only the beginning, and I can't imagine the end.

HigherEdBlogCon is looking at the use of technology in Admissions, Alumni Relations, and Communications & Marketing this week. Presentations and links included:

Monday, April 17, 2006: New Media in Admissions

The Teeming Web
Case Study: Blogging and Podcasting for Student Recruitment
Freshmen Reveal Their Secrets: The Mansfield University Podcast
Student Voices Online: Podcasts as a Department Marketing Tool

Tuesday, April 18, 2006: New Media in Alumni Relations

Alumni E-Networks: Using Technology to Engage Alumni and Constituents
Online Networks: A New Tool for Alumni Relations - How Third-Party Social and Business Networking Sites Can Benefit Alumni Communities
Social Networking: What Is It and Where Does It Fit in the Alumni World?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006: New Media in Communications; Resources for Further Learning

Podcasting Agriculture News
Using Wikis to Facilitate Communication, Collaboration, and Knowledge Sharing Among Admissions and Administrative Personnel
How Can I Learn More About New Media?

Special: Links to More Applications of New Media in Higher Education

Communications and Alumni
Advanced Organizational Communication
“What’s hAPPening!”

Library and Information Resources
The FLICC/FEDLINK Environmental Scan wiki

Teaching and Learning
College v2
Jason Heath’s Bass Page
Skate of the Web

Last week at HigherEdBlogCon held quite a few good presentations on libraries and the potential for using blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, IM, etc.

Susan Herzog taught Blogging 101, providing a good overview of the use of blogs in libraries, including a bibliography page on blogging and much more.

John Blyberg wrote "Patrons in the driver’s seat: Giving advanced tool-sets to library patrons." One tool among many he mentions is a virtual card catalog that allows users to share their personal card catalog with the public, something like, but with "vintage-looking catalog card[s]." Other tools include wi-fi, RSS, and even AADL-GT, a gaming tournament.

There are 13 other presentations for this week: too much to report on, but well worth the time to read. Here's a breakdown of the sessions by title:

Blogging in Libraries
Blogging 101
Subject Librarian 2.0? - ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ It’s Just a Cover Song Using New Instruments
Blog Applications At a Small Academic Library

Podcasting in Libraries
Podcasting 101: the Basics for Librarians
Learning to Speak: Creating a Library Podcast With a Unique Voice

Leveraging Web 2.0 Technologies
Blogs, Wikis, and IM: Communication Tools for Subject Specialists
An Online Research Toolkit - Exploring Web 2.0 for Library Research
Using RSS to Increase User Awareness of E-resources in Academic Libraries

Issues in Libraries
Open Access for Teachers
Upon the Shoulders of Giants — Building Library 2.0 Together, From the Platform Up
Web 2.0 and the Small College Library: How to take over the World

Making Information Work Harder
Building a “Wall of Books” From a Library Online Catalog
Go Where the Patrons Are: Outreach In the Age of Library 2.0
Google Maps and You: Five Steps To Including a Google Map On Your Website
Patrons in the Drivers Seat: Giving Advanced Tool-sets to Library Patrons


In a few weeks, our English Department will have a poster session on "Best Practices" in teaching. Mine will be on using blogs and wikis. Of course, I present the usual rationale for using blogs and wikis, but for me the highlight of presenting this poster was reviewing my students' blogs and seeing again how they were able to tie their writing into their own interests. One of my students, for example, has an active interest in things Japanese, applying the name "yukiseguchi" to her blog. She wrote about how to wear a kimono ("Flutter your sashes") and geishas and inserting great images, too.

Despite appreciating my students' posts, one thing still troubles me: Few of these students continue to blog after the course ends. Nancy McKeand (Random Thoughts) asks, Why aren't we all blogging?. There's no easy answer, but it's unlikely that we're all made from the same mold. Some like sports, others music, and others, still, video games. One of my students moved from blogger over to myspace, where she is still active.

Perhaps we shouldn't worry about whether students like blogging or continue to blog. When in high school, I enjoyed basketball, but I didn't like the speed drills. However, they were great for developing my stamina. And perhaps that's how we should consider blogging. That is, Is there some benefit from blogging? Besides, we could also ask how many of our students continue to write essays after graduating. Should we, then, stop requiring essay writing? Hmm. I'm assuming that writing essays has some benefit. Does it?

New web tools are just popping up all the time, with many of them free or offering free versions.

News Alloy is an online news reader (still beta) that may, according to Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, become a "cult favorite."

Learner Blogs offers free blogs for K-12 students.

Stikipad is a new browser run wiki service (via Educational Weblogs).

Nuvvo, an LMS, receives a fairly favorable review from Jason Plunkett.

The Blog Herald previews a forthcoming PBS blog called MediaShift, and it sounds quite interesting.

PBS has announced the launch on Jan 18 of a a new blog called MediaShift, which will explore how new forms of digital media are dramatically changing American society and culture.

In a particularly good signing, and the main reason we are even mentioning this blog at all, the new blog will be written by Mark Glaser, probably best know more recently in the blogosphere for his excellent writing for the USC Annenberg School for Communication’s Online Journalism Review.

MediaShift will offer a continuing look at how digital media such as blogs, RSS, podcasts, citizen journalism, wikis, news aggregators and video repositories are altering the way we live, play and work. The site is said to provide a window into this world for the average user while offering enough details to satisfy the more technically savvy, and will offer ongoing opportunities for active public participation and feedback.

George Siemens writes well on the need to move from designing instruction to designing learning ecologies:

What does this "learning ecology" look like? First, it holds "content" in a manner similar to courses, but the content is not confined and pre-selected by the designer. Instead, the ecology fosters connections to original and knowledge sources, allowing for "currency" (up to date). The ecology fosters rich interaction between disparate fields of information, allowing growth and adaptation of ideas and concepts (i.e. "the verge"). Each participant in the ecology pursues his/her own objectives, but within the organized domain of the knowledge of a particular field (after all, some form of learner competence should emerge as a result of existing in the ecology). Nodes (content and people) and connections are the basic elements of a network. An ecology should permit these networks to develop and flourish without hindrance.

This is pretty much what I have been writing about. He focuses on electronic tools, such as RSS feeds, blogs, wikis, and so on, to foster collaboration and interaction, key processes in any living ecology. The pursuing one's own objectives within a particular domain (depending on how wide domain is meant) fits in well with the notion of enabling topdown constraints along the lines of Alicia Juarrero's position on action and intention (see my review of her book posted here on August 22, 2005).