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 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? - Custom comment codes I'm thinking I could use this image for my course this fall. Do you think it would attract students' attention? - Custom comment codes How to prevent problems before they happen, so you don't have to suffer from the hang-dog look. - Custom comment codes Here are some ideas for that final once-over before you submit your essay! - Custom comment codes Scoring guides are your good fortune - Custom comment codes This is not the solution to managing your time

Saturday, June 9, 2007

An old dog can learn new tricks!

All she needs is a new dog (preferably a puppy) to teach her.

We've had a breakthrough. Just as I was trying to create a shareable slideshow illustrating the idea of detente, we moved right along to cavorting, tug-of-war, and other games. Jack is the teacher, and Browser is newly energized, alert and playful. She's also learned tolerance and patience, although every now and again she snaps at the puppy as if to say, "That's just too far!" Each day they learn a new way to play.

I think we're really going to like having Jack crate-trained because it gives both of them protection from the other. Jack now knows that he can find his favorite toys in his crate, that there's often water there, and that it's a comfy place to nap.

It's nice to know that young'uns can teach us old folks a thing or two. I'll have to remember that this fall as I greet a new group of students (mostly 18 or so, a few even younger.)

I took this picture with my MotoQ (PDA/cell phone), emailed it to myself, cropped it in Picture Manager, uploaded it to the Cartooner in Fd's Flickr Toys to add the balloons (thanks, Christine, for this neat tool), saved it to my PC, and then uploaded it to this blog to share with you. Wow! I can see great ways to use this! I'm looking at my pictures in a whole new way.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Why use pictures?

jelly camera
Originally uploaded by youngdoo

Not a huge number of blog posts using photos this week, and I'm not quite sure why. Is it because the huge number of photos in Flickr is overwhelming? Or because it's difficult to find a specific picture? Or because the technique (uploading, adding to posts) is too confusing? Take this opportunity to share a comment. (Or have you all been as busy as Sue Oliver, the Rat-Lady who's been very busy midwifing.) We're interested.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Training Bras 2.0

I read several blogs about education, and one of the best is Webblogg-ed by Will Richardson. This morning he commented about an article I read in today's NY Times about doll sites or "virtual playgrounds" for kids. I was stunned by the original article, and I bet there will be a lot of comments about it in the blogosphere today.

This past spring, in my English 102 class (where the research topic was electronic surveillance), I learned about cell phones for kids. They are brightly colored with only a couple of buttons (Mom, Dad, 911) designed for the very young set but marketed as safety devices to parents. Who wouldn't want her first-grader to be able to contact Mom as she walks home from school? Cynical old me -- I look at these as training cell phones, so that as kids get older, parents can just upgrade the devices and services, adding IM between specified buddies in a couple of years, and easing off restrictions at age-appropriate levels. Catch 'em while they're young. It irritates me that these companies use fear to market them to parents.

So these doll sites caught my eye -- virtual playgrounds for children -- that introduce them to social networking and web 2.0 tools in a "safe" environment. Well, maybe. Sometimes these sites are tied into purchases (Webkinz that allow kids to access a web site for the plush toy they have already purchased -- does anyone have one of these?), and sometimes they are ostensibly free, containing no advertising and requiring no subscriptions. What a long-range investment these companies are making!

These sites may be safe from sexual predators (fear as a marketing strategy again), but I see them as consumer training sites, teaching very young children to want branded items, to expect read/write web capabilities, and to be comfortable customizing their online experiences. Imagine what they'll expect from technology in elementary and secondary schools, not to mention college. Look at all the learning 2.0 skills they are picking up along the way. In just a decade, these folks will be in our classrooms. Will we be ready for them?

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail

Hammer for what...?
Originally uploaded by ponanwi
. . . and when you have a blog, everything looks like a writing topic. Maybe this is just because I teach writing. Do artists see the world as color or shapes, biologists as a collection of living organisms, chemists as chains of reactions, mathematicians as numbers or geometric shapes or trigonometric functions? Or is it just me?

I've been trying for years to get students to see the world as a rich source of things to describe, reflect upon, analyze, or just mention. Sigh. They just don't get it. It isn't because I read a ridiculous number of daily newspapers and weekly magazines, listen to NPR, watch the evening news, and follow a number of web sites. The most interesting topics come from just watching what happens around me.

For example, I went to Starbucks this morning, and as I was getting a refill on my Venti Black Sweetened Iced Tea, the man in front of me bought the last chocolate donut. I'm sure it's part of Star Training (a term I learned about when our son, Andrew, worked for a short time as a barista), but there was a chorus of "no more chocolate donuts" among the workers . . . first the guy who served up the LAST chocolate donut, then echoed by the girl at the cash register, then repeated in unison by the two folks working the drive-up window, and then capped off by the last barista. It was cheerful and funny, especially because the customer turned away from the counter, leaving the LAST chocolate donut (now his) on the counter, only coming back for it when I commented that now everyone in the store knew he was the guy who had bought the LAST chocolate donut. I suppose it seemed more musical to me because everyone had previously been singing along with "Mr. Sandman" which had been playing over the sound system a few minutes earlier -- perhaps from a CD that was for sale?

Now I suspect that these are both conscious Star strategies, and I suppose if I asked the right people, I could confirm that. Do other businesses pay this much attention to store climate and culture? Does it make a [big] difference in sales? Is a happier, more cheerful sales force a more productive one?

Gosh, it's great to have a blog where I can explore these ideas!

Monday, June 4, 2007

The tangled web

Is this how you feel right now? Confused and overwhelmed? Tangled up in Web 2.0? Take a deep breath and relax!

One of the biggest challenges I face as a learner and a teacher is handling the pace of information. It's what Christine and I are referring to as the "Goldilocks dilemma." We're struggling with that right now. What is too much information? What is too little? What's too fast or too slow?

Some of us are chomping-at-the-bit learners. We find some new capability or concept or tool and we want more, more, more. Others need the info fed out a bite at a time; if we get too much at once, we choke, get confused, and drift away.

I felt a little overwhelmed by the potential of Flickr. Not only is there Flickr itself, but there's all this stuff I don't know about gadgets (my cell phone, my MotoQ, etc.) and a whole slew of stuff I don't know about digital photos (cropping, colors, size, etc.) It's pretty overwhelming, especially because I really am a print person. So I'm going to take it a step at a time. I'll probably write quite a few posts this week, playing around with pictures and the mash ups Christine introduced. I have some interesting ideas I want to explore, but I think I'm going to have to take this in pieces.

Similarly, I have this same quandary as a teacher. How much information is too much? How much is not enough? Should I present all the information at once, or dribble it out as I think students need it? Some students are really irritated if they learn something at the end of an assignment that would have solved a problem they identified early on. 'Tis a puzzlement. If I present the information all at once, some students race through it to "finish it up" without thinking as they go. Some students don't undertake a project until the last minute, so while all the information presented at once might serve their needs, it also overwhelms other students who want things a piece at a time. It reminds me a bit of the hot-dog eating contest this weekend; the winner ate 59 hot-dogs in 12 minutes. That's one every 12 seconds. They don't actually eat them; competitive eaters have learned to stuff the hot-dogs down their throats by controlling their natural gag reflex. Boy, is that a scary metaphor for learning!

Many of us now recognize that we're going to have to figure out how to keep up with all these blog posts. We'll introduce some strategies for doing that next week. However, the folks who are frustrated by the leisurely pace of 23 Things should read Alisa's blog I'll dub her Queen of the fast pack. You can peek ahead to her mash up that she told me about in her comment to my post about "Do you go to the store with a list?" Then you can read co-Queen Marla's experience forging ahead.

The point is that we have to find our own pace, and that our pace might differ depending upon what we're learning. I'm a lot faster learner when I'm dealing with text than I am with photos or audio or video. I think teachers need to find a way to accommodate both the turtles and the hares.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Jack in the Box

We dropped some money last week on a number of toys for Jack. Squeezy things that make noise when he chews them or tosses them about. But which one do you think he likes best? Yup. A box. Isn't that always the case? Sometimes he gets in the box, but mostly he's chewing it up. I'll try to take more pictures of Jack in the box.

This is my first post from Flickr, and I think Christine's instructions are great! I've tagged all my photos with KTS07 (that's 07 as in 2007) so I can be able to find them easily. I was able to post from Flickr to this blog, so now I'm going to try to upload photos from my cell phone and from my MotoQ. So much to learn about these devices!

Now I'm off to see if anyone else has a dog who likes to play in a box. I know that a box, preferably a refrigerator box, was the absolutely best toy for our kids, so it doesn't surprise me that the puppy likes them too.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

In case I had no doubt, I'm OLD

The AZ Republic had a story this morning (from USA Today) that listed 25 years of life-changing inventions. What a list -- everything from cellphones (#1 -- were you in any doubt?) to bagged lettuce (#10) to Karaoke (#25). Some surprises to me were Doppler Radar (#12) and electronic tolls (#14). Is there anything you think should be on the list and isn't, or something that is on the list that you think shouldn't?

I didn't want to subscribe to their Talkback, but we can have our own little comment section about this. I have to remember this fall that most of my students were born towards the early part of this period, so they've never known a world without high tech footwear. I mean, are Keds a novelty item now? Those were the only "sneakers" I knew.

It's fun to see a list like this that isn't totally devoted to technology.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The power of play

We are learning about the power of play to build friendships. Well, we aren't learning that. Jack and Browser are. I don't have any pictures yet of them cavorting in the yard together, but we had a big breakthrough this evening, actual play (rather than just tolerance) with tails wagging and some silly toy-swiping. (Don't you admire our restraint in not calling this puppy Spot?)

So we know that play is a great way of learning, but I think we're also learning that playing together is a great way of forming those supportive friendships that allow us to make mistakes -- which is one of the things that happens when we really learn. I think it is sad that playfulness, a key part of experimentation, is missing from a lot of learning, and I've been thinking about how I can get some of it back into my writing classes. What I really want is for students to have fun, play around, and then ZAPPO . . . suddenly realize that they've learned something useful and important. Something more for me to chew on . . .

By the way, I have three or four other ideas cooking based on other posts I have read. I'm going to start them and save them without posting so I can go back and work on them over the next few days. It took me a while to understand the difference between those two buttons below the compose window. I have to remember to read the screen :-)