Thursday, April 26, 2007

RSS Feed Readers

I've done a few workshops about using RSS feed readers or aggregators, and decided that I should add the web-based handout to the MERLOT community.

I make all of my presentation materials available online, at least until such time that they become so old as to be worthless (link rot).

Here is a direct link to the Zoho Writer page for Reading RSS Feeds - Blog Aggregators.

Finally, I'd like to make available a fine little video from Common Craft on understanding feed readers called "RSS in Plain English." I'll embed it here with their permission. I've seen this embedded in at least three of the blogs I read regularly, but today when I saw it on Nancy's blog I decided that I had better pay more attention.

There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don't. This video is for the people who could save time using RSS, but don't know where to start.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

IP Tip of the Week 04

The fourth Tip of the Week related to Intellectual Property (I.P.) deals with the question of how to obtain copyright protection for your original works.

Here's the document uploaded to Scribd.

Or listen to the post with the player below.

Okay, apparently that is not an option. Scribd appears to have created some sort of garbled mp3 for this file. Not sure why. Maybe I'll try it again, maybe not.

In this case I'll embed the document below, although it will be easier to read by using the link above and going directly to the Scribd site.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Legislating Textbooks

College Textbook Affordability Act of 2007. Apparently Congress thinks that they need to step in to somehow ease the rising cost of college textbooks.

  • Cost of Gasoline? No.
  • Cost of Health Care? No.
  • Costs of a Big Brother Federal Government? No.
  • Costs of college textbooks? Yes!!
Senator Richard J. Durbin (D, IL) has introduced legislation that is considered likely to be incorporated into the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Apparently this bill is scheduled for committee action on May 2, 2007. "It is the intent of this Act to have all involved parties work together to identify ways to decrease the cost of college textbooks and supplemental materials for students while protecting the academic freedom of faculty members to provide high quality course materials for students." GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!

The following are the main parts of the bill:
  • College Textbook Pricing Information- When a publisher provides a faculty member of an institution of higher education with information regarding a college textbook or supplemental material available in the subject area in which the faculty member teaches, the publisher shall include, with any such information and in writing, the following:
    • The price ... to the bookstore ... ,
    • Any history of revisions for the college textbook or supplemental material.
    • Whether the college textbook or supplemental material is available in any other format, including paperback and unbound, and the price ...
  • Unbundling of Supplemental Materials- A publisher that sells a college textbook and any supplemental material accompanying such college textbook as a single bundled item shall also sell the college textbook and each supplemental material as separate and unbundled items.
  • Internet Course Schedules- Each institution of higher education that receives Federal assistance and that publishes the institution's course schedule for the subsequent academic period on the Internet shall--
    • include, in the course schedule, the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and the retail price for each college textbook or supplemental material required or recommended ...
    • update the information required ... as necessary.
There's one more provision related to making textbook info available to other publishers, apparently in an effort to make them more competitive with one another. I guess.

The first set of requirements related to publisher-to-faculty communications is absolutely worthless. Faculty already know that textbooks are expensive, so what is gained with this?

Unbundling of required materials? Jeez, we already have a hard time getting the students to buy the bundled materials so they usually end up with less than what they need to complete all course requirements. This unbundling will be unnecessarily confusing, and will create a communication nightmare between students and bookstores and faculty.

Keeping the ISBN info up-to-date on the web will be a logistical nightmare for many colleges. We tried to do it for our online courses each semester and it was a constant headache. The slightest typo causes huge problems. The sheer enormity of information causes personnel issues for managing the information. This is an unfunded mandate that will cost campuses a pretty penny.

Finally, for the record, I think textbook prices are obscene. I've thought that for 10-15 years. I would love to see reasonable prices for college textbooks, but this is NOT the way to do it. The proposed measures will not be very effective, they will be expensive to implement (thus increasing costs of bookstores and therefore textbooks), and WHY THE HECK DO WE NEED BIG BROTHER DECIDING THIS FOR US? DON'T YOU HAVE BIGGER PROBLEMS TO DEAL WITH?

Photo under CC attribution by LollyKnit

Help Desk - Funny Sign

Some of the search terms that lead people to this blog are "funny signs" or "goofy signs" or something like that and they often find my blog category of "Sign Language." This is the last sign that I'm going to post on this blog since it is rather off-topic.

A while back I started posting goofy signs on a new blog just for that purpose. It is called Sign Language. That is where you will see my collection of goofy signs in the future.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

This is Amazing

" We hold these truths to be self-evident ..." Ummhh, no, we don't.

(Flickr photo courtesy of kingofhiking under Creative Commons license.)

While attending the AACC annual conference, I was talking with a colleague from another two-year school here in Minnesota. He told me a story about his college's chapter of the Minnesota State College Student Association (MSCSA).

It seems that the current ('06-07) officers of Student Government on campus decided that the ONLY people who would be ALLOWED to vote in the elections for '07-08 officers were the current student senators and officers. Suprisingly enough (not), the current Vice President was elected as President for next year.

While perusing their Student Government web page, I came across these two statements:

  • "Our mission is to have all students be represented in the affairs of the college."
  • "Anyone is welcome to attend and we encourage all students to get involved."
And finally there is this statement: "Help make a difference and get your voice heard as an XXX Student Government Senator." Apparently the ONLY way to have a voice is to be a senator. No other students are even allowed to VOTE!!

This is an amazing example of really poor leadership by campus student representatives. What amazes me more is that the MSCSA state leadership told them (according to my very good source) that it was perfectly okay for the current Student Government to NOT ALLOW the student body to vote in the Student Government elections for next year.

Wouldn't it be great if all elections were run this way? Would it really be so bad? Isn't this the best possible example of democracy in action? :(

BTW - I'm temporarily not naming this school just in case there turns out to be any factual errors in this report. However, my source is excellent and I'm not trying to protect their identities for any particular reason. This should be public record and it should be talked about!!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Don't Turnitin

The high school students who filed suit against have created (or had someone create) a nice Website that lays out their perspective on the mandatory use of Turnitin for their literary works. The site is called dontturnitin.

I applaud their efforts in pushing the envelope to have a court decide this issue. As I have previously stated, I hope they win their suit and also hope that the end result is the start of a sea change in how educators approach the issues of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. During my study, research, and discussions about this issue over the past couple of years, I continue to return to one burning question that I cannot attribute to any one source - and it goes a little something like this:

“On what planet does it make sense to violate the intellectual property rights of the students to teach them not to violate the intellectual property rights of others?”

Apparently the students were told that an open forum was not the appropriate place to discuss this issue, thus they created their own forum on the Internet. Again I applaud their efforts, I only wish that they had used a system that would allow a more open dialogue through a comments feature or discussion board. is a pretty good resource for information about the fundamental issues related to the use of Turnitin, a good source of links to other information about this issue, and THE source for information about the lawsuit filed by the McLean High School students.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vacation Time

I've spent the past few days taking some real vacation time. Real vacation means that I was without a computer and Internet connection for almost four whole days. Felt kinda strange, but I didn't exactly freak out or anything like that.

To be honest, I did have my smartphone with me and I did check email occasionally just to make sure there wasn't an emergency or something else that needed my attention. It's not fun or easy to read and write email on that little device so I didn't do it (much), but it is a fairly easy way to delete spam emails before I got back to my normal connected life.

The picture is of me heading out from the Venice, FL jetty into the Gulf of Mexico. We went out about 12 miles to one of our favorite "gag holes" which is fishin'-talk for a place where we've caught big groupers before. The red tides in this area over the past few years have taken their toll on the fishery, and as luck wouldn't have it - we got skunked. Still, a bad day of fishin' beats a good day of something ... however that saying goes.

Today the AACC convention starts with a keynote by Bob Woodward tonight and another keynote by Bill Cosby on Tuesday morning. Should be fun.

Monday, April 09, 2007

IP Tip of the Week - 03

The third Tip of the Week related to Intellectual Property (I.P.) deals with the concept of public domain as it applies to copyright law.

Here's the document uploaded to Scribd.

Or, just listen to it with the embedded audio player below.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Copyright Clarification

This won't be a full-blown I.P. Tip of the Week, but just a clarification and a correction to something I posted earlier about the student lawsuit against In that post I mentioned that "I find it interesting that 'each of the students obtained a copyright registration for papers they submitted to Turnitin.' That absolutely should not be required since copyright is automatic on an originally created work."

The following excerpt is lifted from The University of North Carolina Greensboro, University Counsel website about Copyright and Distance Learning.

"There seems to be a common misconception that in order to obtain a copyright one must hire an expensive lawyer who will create complicated and mystical paperwork to be filed in some federal office at huge expense. Further, it is assumed, some special combination of symbology and verbiage must appear on every publication, or copyright will be forever lost. However, nothing could be farther from reality. The truth is that copyright is automatically conferred at the moment that the work becomes "fixed" in a "tangible medium."In addition, for works created on or after 1 March 1989 the familiar copyright symbol, "©", need not appear at all. However, registration is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit for infringement, and registration must have been made prior to the date that the particular infringement in question occurred in order to collect damages (as opposed to injunctive relief) from the infringer. Registration is made by filing an application with the Register of Copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, paying a small filing fee and depositing copies with the Copyright Office. More information is available at the Copyright Office's website which may be accessed at" (my emphases added)

Therefore, it was wise for the students to officially register their copyrights since they are seeking monetary damages. Without that, they would only have been able to sue for injunctive relief, probably along the lines of a cease and desist order to remove their works from the Turnitin database.

This does seem like a bit of a dilemma for copyright holders where there is some potential economic value in their creation. Copyright protection is granted automatically when your original work becomes fixed in a tangible medium. However, each copyright holder needs to make a judgment regarding whether potential future infringement might have economic consequences. If infringement needs to be punished with a monetary award, then you'd better do an official filing before the infringement occurs.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Trying imeem

I'm working with one of our faculty members who uses music to teach history. He has had a popular class for several years on the Music of the Vietnam War. He is now working on a second class that uses a similar musical approach applied to a different part of our history.

His desire is to have all the music for the class available online for students to listen to outside of class, although there are no plans for this to be an online class. My concerns are to make sure we do this legally and that we do it well. We will most likely put the music inside our password protected learning management system (Desire2Learn) which will help somewhat, but there are still some copyright issues to consider. This will probably be the basis of a future I.P. Tip of the Week, but I'm not quite there yet.

While looking at various options, I came across one that seems to have great possibilities. imeem enables you to "create audio, video, and photo playlists from your own content and/or favorite stuff on the imeem network." I think there might be an important point in the phrase "from your own content," in other words from stuff that you have an ownership claim to. You can create your own playlists, organize the songs in any order you prefer, and share them or not. Songs cannot be downloaded by others (in theory), they can only be streamed from the imeem server.

As you can see above, it is very easy to post a playlist in any kind of webpage; including blogs, FaceBook, etc. etc, which would also include a webpage inside D2L. We'll probably get that annoying warning message about mixing secure and insecure content, but I'll check that out later. I made this playlist in about five minutes by grabbing some songs that are used in the Vietnam class from other imeem users who are sharing their content. I've got more research to do on this, but so far I like what I see.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

IP Tip of the Week - 02

The second Tip of the Week related to Intellectual Property (I.P.) deals with the concept of “Fair Use” as it applies to copyright law.

Here's the document uploaded to Scribd.

Or, just listen to it with the embedded audio player below.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Padres Toondoo

In honor of Opening Day, I decided to try some actual photos in a Toondoo. Overall, I don't think it works very well, but what the heck ... I was just playing around.

Padres Opening Day

Toondoo let's you create a comic strip using various preloaded characters, props, backgrounds, and other things. It could be a great tool for a creative student project.
Below I'll post my rather lame attempt at a real two-panel comic strip. This is the kind of thing my five-year-old would say to me. (NOTE: It looks like the Flash player is going to work now, after two days of not working for me. I'll try again below, but I'll leave the non-flash player above just to show the difference.)

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