Karen's 23 Things

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Beyond 23 Things

I think I'm going to keep writing in this blog this semester because I find I am integrating some of the 23 Things into my classes. If any 23Thing-ers are still reading, maybe they'll find this interesting and useful and then chime in with what they're doing.

First, while I use Blackboard, for two years, I have been trying to poke as many holes in its sides as possible. It's a great tool for gathering course activities and materials, but there is a real danger in putting all one's eggs in one CMS basket. I'm just slightly paranoid (don't all of us who teach with technology get a little paranoid?) so I have my course activities (this is English 101) spread all over the place but gathered in Blackboard. Then if something happens to Blackboard, most of my course is still reachable and usable. The only exception is the gradebook; it's only in Blackboard.

So, for example, instead of Announcements this semester, I have set my opening page in Bb to a blog (did you know you can have your Bb class open to anything you want, not just the announcements?), and while there is now a blogging tool in Bb, I have gone back to Blogger (http://kts-eng101.blogspot.com) So later in the semester, I'll explain RSS to students; that way, if they want to, they can subscribe to the blog and be notified when there are updates to it without having to log into Bb itself. (Note that this will screw up the course stats in Bb, but I've never found them very reliable anyway.) I've added a sitemeter to my blog, so I can see when (or if) students access it from outside Bb.

Secondly, I use an external discussion group (see, I really am paranoid). I was going to change to Bb's discussion group this semester, but then they had big problems with it at the beginning of Summer I, so I've kept Snitz Forums, a discussion group option offered at GCC. They are linked to a button in Bb, although students have to log in. But they're available directly, even if Bb isn't, and it supports RSS also. (So apparently does Bb's discussion group; you can subscribe to threads.)

I'll use Odeo or Evoca or Audacity for audio files (Wimba seems to be having problems already). While these third-party tools aren't always reliable either, I like having the options.

Finally, I create all my assignments on web pages and link to them in Bb. I don't have the learning unit management options, but it makes the assignments easier to share with colleagues too. One thing I dislike about Bb (and always have) is the closed-off nature of our classes in it. I think innovation and improvement most clearly thrive in the light of day.

But that's just me.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Audio extravaganza

Necessity is the mother of invention! Intrigued by Alisa's introduction of BlueGrind, I've been thinking about doing a comparison. I used the whole intro to Thing #17 because I had to re-record it anyway.

Here's my audio intro about wikis:

Here's the BlueGrind version:

If you're curious, here is the text of the first two paragraphs:

Now that you’ve learned a bit about wikis, now’s the time to jump in and play around with them. Don’t worry. You’ve got boots! And friends! If you’ve never used a wiki before, it’s a little scary. We’re so used to thinking about our writing as personal – a part of us -- that many people are afraid to change anything someone else has written.

Sometimes we’re also too busy to undertake what could be a huge task if done by just one person. Even if we have helpers, we may find ourselves spending as much time coordinating work as we do completing it. Or I may have the germ of an idea (what Wikipedia calls a “stub”) that I’m willing to share, but I don’t have the energy or time to flesh it out. My mom used to tell me to finish in style, but that’s not necessarily true in wiki-world. I can start something and count on others to finish it up. Or I when I stumble across something half-baked, I can finish it up. It builds positively on division of labor.
First, the BlueGrindGuy can't handle contractions. (He also can't handle the word "del.icio.us"). One of my reasonings behind using audio was to get more personality into what I was providing as text. I don't think the BlueGrindGuy does it.

Having said all that, I can see using BlueGrind as a proofreading tool for students. In fact they might find it kind of fun. Something more to add to my initial exploration of audio as a writing tool which I began with the sine curve late last fall. [Note: quite a few of the links don't work in my two sine curve pages. I set up a blog for the sine curve a while ago, but I haven't posted anything there yet. Aha -- a project for this fall!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My love/hate relationship with audio

Over the past year or two, because I've been learning lots of new things, I've been paying close attention to how my learning happens. Not other people's learning . . . my learning.

I know I'm a print person. I've always been a print person. A perfect day: some clouds, perhaps some rain, a comfy chair, nothing pressing, and a good [trashy] book. Heaven.

When computers came along, I realized I was a text person; it wasn't so much print as it was words and sentences and paragraphs. (I love paragraphs.) I made the transition from paper to pixels pretty easily, although I still have boxes and boxes of print-outs to winnow through and toss. When I'm learning something new, my first impulse is to read the docs or find a book or search the web.

In my writing classes, I produce a lot of text, mostly on web pages: announcements, instructions, assignments, and discussion group entries. I write lots. But I wasn't sure students were reading what I was writing. My web pages were pretty text-dense, so I began to play around with format. I haven't gone over to the dark side yet with bullet-mania, but I'm breaking longer documents into shorter sections, using headings, some indentations, italics and bold. I'm paying closer attention to those pages where I think information and ideas are especially accessible -- looking at them as well as reading them.

I discovered audio not as a listener but as a speaker. I began to pay closer attention to my voice as a writer, and that just led me to recording small snippets of information, mostly as a way of providing additional encouragement to my listeners and conveying enthusiasm for my subject. (Actually, I found I was using too many parentheses, too much elipisis, and way too many exclamation points in my writing, all attempts to make my writing more lively and engaging.) With audio, I explored a wider range of expression and a different register. I still write before I record, but when I know that text will eventually end up as audio, I write differently.

This past week, I learned about "textcasting," tools that that allow a writer to convert text to audio without actually doing any recording. I've seen these links on several blogs I read, but because I'm really a print person, I've never paid them much attention. Today, I created an account at BlueGrind.com to experiment. I suppose it's easy, but something is really "lost in translation." However, it's gotten me thinking about how audio is more than just converting words on the page to something I can hear, and I'm going to add this to my writing toolbox this semester.

I'm sorry. I know textcasting helps those who are visually impaired, but folks-on-the-run are also a big market; I can't imagine listening to anything like this by choice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How time flies

Yesterday, I read a novel. It was "beach-reading," mindless fiction, just the thing for a hot summer day, even if there was no surf, no shore. As I read along, three very funny things happened.

The hero, who had moved in to an apartment below the heroine, came upstairs to use her telephone because he was waiting for his to be installed. What, I thought? That's lame. How come this high-powered lawyer doesn't have a cell phone?

Later in the story (set in Boston), the hero insists on taking the heroine to the airport. A chivalrous offer indeed. Her flight leaves at 4 pm; he says he'll pick her up at 3 pm. Yikes! To get to Logan? They arrive in plenty of time, and he waits with her at the gate.

In a major complication, the hero needs to dig into the heroine's past, so like any good legal investigator, he flies to Chicago to read back copies of the local newspapers in the library there. Hmmm. Doesn't he know that all those articles are available on the web?

But this story was written way back in 1984, long before cell phones, the Big Dig, airport security, and electronic databases. I don't expect Elizabeth Bennet or Isabel Archer to whip out their cell phones or fire up their computers, but a seemingly modern novel with such glaring anomalies really caught my attention and made me go back to look at the publication history. The novel first appeared in paperback in 1992 and was then reprinted in 2000. "Seemingly modern" indeed. I guess it wasn't good enough to revise, but too good to let go out of print.

Not that our students read for pleasure, but most of them weren't born when this book was first published. They would have been 3 or 4 when it first appeared in paperback, and 10 or 11 when it was reprinted. I don't think they've ever had a landline nor been able to wait for someone at the gate, but even I read old newspapers on fiche or film in high school, way before this book was first published.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Social networking in the political trenches

As you may know, we have a different kind of "primary" operating this year. It has quarterly deadlines, and instead of votes, they tally dollars. Tonight is the end of the second quarter, so if you are politically active at all, I imagine you have received telephone calls and email messages asking for contributions. I certainly have.

So I was poking around in several candidates' websites (no partisan politics here), and I was really surprised to see how many of the candidates make use of social networking tools: blogging, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and a variety of mash-ups. The point is to get citizens involved in the campaigns, to help them find like-minded neighbors for discussion and party-building. The upside: there are a lot of things I will do online (although I have gone door-to-door and done my stint in phone banks), especially here in Arizona when the temperature gets above 100 degrees. The downside: well, people will speak up, and those ideas might not be exactly what the candidates and campaigns had in mind. This is especially true when citizens have all the new press tools -- digital recorders and cameras -- and can post their recordings, pictures and videos to social sites, with or without editing or commentary. So I know it's risky for candidates, but the ups must outweigh the downs because all of the campaigns are heavily into social networking tools. Just look at the website of your favorite candidate! (Remember that most of these sites have RSS feeds, so you can set up a folder in Bloglines and subscribe for updates; you can keep political messages out of your email but still have access to them whenever and wherever you'd like.)

In addition to the official campaign messages, there are many, many political commentators in the Blogosphere. You can use Technorati to find the most popular, or you can find one or two blogs that you like and examine their Blogrolls or their del.icio.us links to see what they read and who follows them. If you feel strongly about a particular issue (a clear source of motivation), you can search for others who care about that issue also. I mean, sometimes it's really important to keep up with the opposition, no matter how difficult those posts may be to read.

I think social networking tools provide a whole new spin on some key political terms like "grassroots" efforts and a free press. So here's where blogs (and many other Web 2.0 tools) provide more than opportunities for play. The press is free to s/he who has one, and we all do now.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A lesson from Jack about motivation

The new dog is helping the old girl learn new tricks about motivation and its connection to learning. (The new dog is Jack who is growing by leaps and bounds; the old girl is yours truly.)

In case you hadn't noticed, it's hot outside. We have now learned that Jack doesn't much like the heat (smart dog, that Jack!) I'm juggling, trying to keep the air conditioning bill under control and the number of "accidents" on the carpets to a minimum. We have a dog door, but the old dog hasn't been doing a very good job mentoring, and Jack has been reluctant to try it on his own. But he really gets very (ah) jacked out of shape (tee hee) when he can't find Roxy in all the usual places.

This morning, I really couldn't bear leaving the sliding door open so Jack could head out to the yard on his own, so I let him out and then closed the door. Lo and behold! Jack finished his toilette and then dashed back into the cool clime of the bedroom -- whoosh, right through the dog door without a pause. Good dog, Jack!

Somewhat later, he saw Roxy out in the grass, and the next thing I know, he's streaking out through the dog door to join her. Wow! That's a new one! The dog door swings both ways. Good dog, Jack! He seems just so damned pleased with himself, now that he's figured this out. Not as much as we are, you can be sure.

While we've been talking up play, we've also noticed that participation in 23 Things has waned a bit this week. Maybe it's because of the heat, or maybe everyone's hitting the road on vacation, or hauling out the flags and the bunting for next week's celebrations, but it may be also that we need a little jolt, a kick of motivation that doesn't depend just on play.

So Jack's learned a new skill that gives him greater independence, and he's really pleased with himself. (Of course, I've been effusive in my praise too, but I don't think he's going in and out of the dog door for me.) I just hope other 23-Things players are learning too, and getting personal satisfaction out of it, but it would be nice to be able to add some yummy cookies to those wagons! Share!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Playing around

Here are some ideas I have for images I could use in my fall course web pages. This is fun and easy, and I think these images would really grab students' attention. Should I use the same images throughout the semester or change them from assignment to assignment?

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes I'm thinking I could use this image for my course this fall. Do you think it would attract students' attention?

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes How to prevent problems before they happen, so you don't have to suffer from the hang-dog look.

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes Here are some ideas for that final once-over before you submit your essay!

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes Scoring guides are your good fortune

ImageChef.com - Custom comment codes This is not the solution to managing your time