Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Post 333 - Over and Out

This was my first blog. I started it during a conference workshop in February 2006 and now 333 posts and 2.33 years later, I'm going to close it down. More accurately, I'm going to stop posting to this blog. It's not really closing down because all of the content will remain here indefinitely.

I'm moving into a new home at Barry Dahl dot com. My intent is to have a single source for much of the information that I need to have available related to speaking engagements and various web resources that I make available to anyone who's interested.

It will also be the blog where I post things most similar to Far From a Shining Star. Things related to educational technology, about Web 2.0 uses in education, about general uses of technology, and whatever the heck else is on my mind. Bye for now.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Seeqpod Added to My List of Music Sites

Thanks to Stephen for bringing my attention back to Seeqpod.com which I looked at briefly several weeks ago but them promptly forgot about.

Here is a playlist that I threw together rather quickly, but it somewhat mirrors a train of thought and discovery that I followed. I searched for a .38 Special song that I like, and from that I let the Discover button lead me to lots of other music that also fits my musical taste buds. .38 Special led me to Molly Hatchet, which led to Creedence and then Skynyrd and then James Gang and Rick Derringer and on and on. It was actually a lot of fun.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

As you can see, the playlists are embeddable in blogs and other webpages (such as your VLE). One thing I like about these services is that they are simply playing songs that otherwise exist out there on the net somewhere or another. In other words, you're not the one uploading and serving up the song - someone else is doing that for you.

Something else that is sort of fun about this is that there are a bunch of videos (mostly from YouTube) that you can find when you search. Most of these videos are home grown live concert footage made by fans. Variable quality to be sure, but there are definitely some nuggets in there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Video of Tag Galaxy

I'll be in Memphis this summer two different times, looking for some Blues and Bar-b-que. I saw a tweet this morning about Tag Galaxy and checked it out. Cool way of searching for tagged Flickr photos and creating a globe of photos from the galaxy of possible photos. You can drill down as far as you like, in any order that you like.

Here's a short (2.75 min.) video showing how Tag Galaxy works. I decided to look for Beale Street photos related to the Blues. Worked great.

BTW, I'm still a bit peeved that my own photos don't show up when doing any of these kind of Flickr photo searches. Maybe before I renew my pro membership they'll have to make that work properly for me - or no soup for you!

Here's a still shot of the Universe of Flickr photos tagged with Duluth.

And then a capture of the photo globe created of Duluth pictures.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Electronic Football Anyone?

John O'Brien showing an early version of a video game (without the video). Session at the 2008 Minnesota e-Learning Summit at Normandale CC. Session title: What's Next? Next Generation Faculty & Teachers. Yes, he's a superstar.

Michael Wesch Keynote

At the Minnesota e-Learning Summit.

I Love Anonymous Evals

I tend to live by the mantra "put your money where your mouth is." That's one reason that I tend to have the reputation of being willing to say things in meetings that other people are thinking but are unwilling to give their voice to. I actually think that speaking your mind is a good (and healthy) thing, but as you can imagine I have a certain bias since that's the way I am.

Each administrator at my college is evaluated by the masses every two years using an online, anonymous survey instrument. When I say masses, that actually means that the masses are invited to submit the evals, but most choose not to do so. This year it was my turn again. Only about 30 people chose to submit an eval about me. I'm not going to bore you with whether the evals were overall favorable or unfavorable, because that is not my point or even remotely related to my point.

I want to take this opportunity, dear reader, to share with you the negative comments that people were willing to write in the open-ended questions at the end of the survey. For example:

For the question - This administrator could improve upon the following:

  1. Communication with fellow staff
  2. Could improve on communication and planning skills.
  3. Look for opportunities to interact with staff and faculty.
  4. He needs to make use of more of the online faculty--a select few seem to be favored for various tasks, opportunities, committees, etc. He may need to get to know the various faculty a bit better. There seems to be a fair amount of comment from people who think Barry does not like them. I think he does not know them, and doesn't work at that as a priority.
  5. Tendency to find fault with others
  6. Can be (mis?)perceived as arrogant.
  7. Being more patient.
  8. Barry is a bit too impatient with routine tasks and routine pace of some procedures and tends to favor newer, more visible and faster-moving projects over them. This can, at times, make some people worry a little about the fate of the routine tasks.
  9. Willingness to listen.
  10. Attending department meetings so that faculty can communicate directly with administration about curriculum and technology issues before approaching the Dean.
  11. improve communication with their division, have division meetings, meet with departments within their division
  12. He needs to remember what the typical teaching schedule is like, perhaps teaching an online course once in a while to stay in touch with where our students are coming from. He is gone so much it's hard to feel like he really has an idea about our issues.
  13. Take time to listen to us more, he started something, and we were very wary of the intent. The intent seemed genuine, now please continue it. There is a potential for great growth, this is not a complaint, rather lets keep on doing this we fell valuable. One little thing when we e-mail please respond or tell us directly, passing things through the managers it isn't given to everybody and has caused some rough spots and confusion.
  14. Somewhat arrogant to others.
In the final category of Additional Comments:
  1. He is either the dean of online education and then in charge of the hiring and evaluation of online faculty, or he is not-the divided responsibilities between him and the deans is a problem.
  2. Get the impression that Barry often takes advice from others just for show and already has his mind made up as to what he is going to do.
  3. He can be distant at times, is sometimes gracious, and sometimes is almost rude in his abruptness. I am not sure that his people skills are his strongest area, and that really is hard on the staff and faculty he works with, as they are insecure about how he feels about them, and whether he knows and values their contributions and abilities.
Yes, there were positive comments, but I don't really care much about them either. In my experience it seems that people will share positive feedback with you to your face, but negative comments tend to only be served when your back is turned. It's easy to say the nice things, but it takes guts to say the more negative things and then face a possible rebuttal or at least hear what it sounds like to have those words come out of your own mouth.

This is why I find the anonymous evals to be of almost no value whatsoever.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Collaborative Toonbooking

Primarily for experimental purposes, about five of my fellow MooseWorks members joined me for a live online collaboration session. We used the Vyew web conferencing service so that I could share my screen with the others while we jointly built a Toonbook using Toondoo.

The premise for the cartoon was as follows: two aliens are trying to convince a third alien that he should start using Twitter. I just totally made that up so that we would have a topic to work on. I mainly wanted to see how well it would work for the five of us to try to co-write the dialog among the characters. Here is the result. (Link to the Toonbook in case the embed below doesn't work for you.)

Now none of us are claiming to be the funniest clown at the circus, so the dialog could be better I am quite sure. However, we just ran with several of the ideas that were brought forth via the telephone conference call and through the text chat window in Vyew (more from the chat window). It took less than an hour in total and we probably would have had it done in 30 minutes except that I forgot a few things about how to make a Toonbook. Once we got on track it flowed pretty smoothly.

Mooseworks is a Ning-driven social network specially created for people working in e-learning within Minnesota. There is currently well over 100 members and growing. Live events like this is a feature that we hope members will bring to the table.

This was a fun experiment. Thanks to Pam, Jackie, Mary, and Michael for participating.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Positive Feedback

I offer several workshops each year on college campuses around the country. One thing that I am hoping to get better at is following-up later to see what impact the workshop might have had on the teaching and learning for those who attended. I prefer to wait at least six months after the workshop to find out what has happened in an effort to give them sufficient time to have explored and possibly adapted some of the tools and techniques from the workshops.

Suffice it to say that there is at least occasionally a response that warms my heart. This is one response from a workshop I did in Michigan during October 2007. I think it's safe to say that she is my star student:

  • After the workshop, I started a personal blog to test the waters. I now have 3 blogs, one of them is professional.
  • I have inspired and guided two family members to begin blogs
  • I have several flickr accounts for my blogs
  • I am playing with converting our website to a wiki. It is launched, but a work in process.
  • I use bloglines to track 60 blogs.
  • I trained a teacher to use the podcasting software to incorporate audio into her online class.
  • I have trained my co-workers how to use flickr for sharing their digital photos and how to use picnik to edit them.
  • I have attended a second workshop of yours for reinforcement
  • There may be more examples, but that's it for now.
Most participants in the workshops don't start using as many tools right away, but several report getting started with a couple of the tools shortly after the workshop. Still many others report that they just don't have the time to start doing anything new. More about that later.

Monday, May 05, 2008

All Rise - Court in Session

I'm finding All Rise (click image to enlarge) to have some possibilities for both fun and serious business. As their About page says:

AllRise was built to:

  • Supply a smart mechanism for people to take out their agressions toward injustices.
  • Build a community of people that have something to say or to protest
  • Fill a void for people who want to debate in a smart and comfortable way, by suppling an innovative tool for debating
Right now it is very new (for example, only 33 votes for the verdict in The People versus Google) and it is only intended for fun. Nothing wrong with fun, but I could see this platform being used for a bit more serious debates if the creators would allow it. For example, if you could create a private group of users where you could debate a serious topic facing your school or other community or group.

I heard about this first on TechCrunch and then requested an account for their private beta. I was given a free pass within a day so I'm not so sure that the private beta is all that tough to get into. The service is based in Israel and you will see some butchered English on the site, but overall I find the site design to be appealing and the concept is a good one.

Okay, now having said all that - I realize that this is not a serious website. But still, I like it. Is that a crime? For a much more serious rendition of a similar concept, visit Debatepedia.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Trying out Songza

Emily Chang at eHub has once again pointed to a potentially useful tool. Songza is a little bit like iMeem, although doesn't yet seem to have as much functionality built into it. First thing I noticed is that Songza is built on the Skreemr music search engine. Apparently one way that they are solving their copyright issues is by providing mostly live versions of songs, and some of which are clearly not the "official" version such as from a live album. Still, I was able to find many songs that I liked and able to build a playlist of songs to be saved for my next visit, such as this version of Black Betty.

iMeem has a better interface, has more songs available, allows you to save more than one playlist, and allows you to embed a playlist as opposed to a single song as shown above from Songza. As of this writing, I very definitely still prefer iMeem, but I'll be keeping my eye on Songza.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going Nutty with Ning

How many social networks is too many? I'm pretty sure that I'm on my way to finding out the answer to this question. My first exposure to Ning.com was over a year ago when I signed up for the EdubloggerWorld network and shortly after that I signed up for the Stop Cyberbullying network. I'm not very active in either one of those networks, and until recently I really didn't pay that much attention to the Ning platform that was driving either of those networks.

About a month ago I decided to start my own Ning network just to see if it might work as kind of an aggregator for all my different blogs and such. I'm thinking that it probably won't do what I want it to, especially since the free version won't support some of the functionality that I'm looking for. Here is that first effort, which will likely abandoned since I don't think it will do what I want it to. It is public, although it is not really ready for public consumption: Desire2Blog Ning Network

Within a couple of days of creating my first Ning network, I received an invite from Ken G. to join Moose Works which is a newly created community of Minnesota e-learning professionals. This is currently a private network. Just so you know the difference, this is what you see when you try to view a private network. Moose Works Ning Network. (There is a chance that this network might be made public before you click that link.)

I subscribe to Jane Hart's blog titled "Jane's E-Learning Pick of the Day" where I learned about a Ning network that she created called 25 Tools. As a contributor to her Top Learning Tools lists I decided that I should join her network. This is currently the largest network that I am actively engaged in. 25 Tools Ning Network.

Visit 25Tools

This weekend I created a private network for administrators to interact in. This one is too new to know whether it will be an effective platform or not. I'm also thinking about replacing our online faculty lounge within Desire2Learn with a Ning network - at least for a while on an experimental basis. I'm also thinking that a Ning network might be a good platform for our online students to interact within, although maybe Facebook is a better choice for that crowd.

I'm still trying to figure out how much I like Ning and how effective it is for this type of social networking. I think it is safe to say that I'm somewhat intrigued with the possibilities since I am currently involved with 6 Ning networks with more on the way. Kinda nutty, I know.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Zoho Rocks

Wow, Zoho scores again. Today they are releasing another update to their spreadsheet product called Zoho Sheet. This is no ordinary update, IMO. They are adding functionality for both Macros and Pivot Tables with this upgrade. They continue to leave Google Docs and Spreadsheets in their dust with added functionality. Google gets more eyeballs, but Zoho is just better! This is a 5 minute video released by Zoho demonstrating some of these new features.

The amazing part is that they have figured out how to execute Visual Basic without using a Microsoft back-end, which should lead to some other pretty interesting possibilities for future functionality. It is great to be able to see those services develop right before your eyes.

A few other new features that make Sheet more Excel-like include:

  • a) You can double click on the column and row separators to set the optimal width and height. (I use this all the time in Excel)
  • b) Many new keyboard shortcuts are available.
  • c) There is now a Set as Text icon on the toolbar for when you want a number to not be a number (such as to display leading zeroes, etc.)
  • d) you can now add names to ranges or cells.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Agree - You Are What You Read

Jay made a post with an intriguing title: You are what you read. I agree completely. I have been reading more books over the past two years than in any other two year period in my life, maybe even when I was a student (I know, we're all still students). As other learning professionals talk about the books they are reading I find it too enticing not to get them and read them myself.

Jay mentions the Cluetrain Manifesto. I have referred to this book in many of my presentations because I still think that it should be required reading for anyone working in education. Even though it is now nine years old, the message still applies today as well as it did in 1999. Actually, it was probably a bit ahead of its time in '99, but definitely still very timely. I have re-read it twice in the past couple of years. Its a quick read and I'm trying to make their principles ingrained into my everyday thinking. In the true spirit of the net, you can read the entire book online for free. Still, they've sold millions of hard copies as well (there's a message there people!).

I just purchased three books. I have only read ten pages so far of Sir Ken Robinson's new book titled "Out of Our Minds, Learning to Be Creative." I have watched his fabulous Ted Talk about five times and find him to be very inspiring (in fact I'm listening to it right now as I write this). I've tried to encourage creativity in my elementary school technology club by having them make comic strips and music videos and design a new bedroom, etc., rather than learn how to keyboard better which is what they THOUGHT they wanted to do in the club.

The book-in-waiting (on deck) is Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without Organizations." Here's Will's review of it. He has also created a Here Comes Everybody blog, designed to both chronicle and extend the themes of the book.

In the hole (and when did that get changed from "in the hold?") is Jonathan Zittrain's new book, "The Future of the Internet, and how to stop it." Quoting from his website: "With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to a lockdown, ending its cycle of innovation — and facilitating unsettling new kinds of control."

Two books that I've read most recently are 1) The Big Switch and 2) The Starfish and the Spider. Both of these books were recommended to me by Myk Garn. Good call Myk.

"The Big Switch - The Wiring of the World from Edison to Google," by Nicholas Carr was a fascinating read. It is a pretty controversial book and you can find plenty of people who have reviewed the book that are taking shots at both the book contents as well as Carr himself. I really enjoyed the more historical part of the book dealing with Edison, Henry Burden, and Samuel Insull. The electrification of America is something that I really didn't know that much about. There's some good stories in there. I do buy into his basic premise about current day computing moving from locally installed software to software as a service/utility. In this interview, his first answer pretty much sums it up: Q) What is this big switch you see coming? A) "I think we’re at the early stages of a fundamental shift in the nature of computing, which is going from something that people and businesses had to supply locally, through their own machines and their own installed software, to much more of a utility model where a lot of the computer functions we depend on are supplied from big, central stations, big central utilities over the Internet."

"The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations," by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. To give you the gist of their idea, I'll quote from their wiki: "How can Toyota leverage starfish principles to crush their spider-like rivals, GM and Ford? How did tiny Napster cripple the global music industry? Why is free, community based Wikipedia crushing Encyclopedia Britannica overnight? Why is tiny Craigslist crippling the global newspaper industry? Why is Al Quaeda flourishing and even growing stronger? In today's world to answer this it is essential to understand the potential strength of a starfish organization." I'm not quite sure how much of this applied to higher education where there will most likely always be leaders with concentrated powers within the organizations, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

The basic premise of Jay's statement that you are what you read (not sure if he coined the phrase or not, well, most probably not) is that our thinking is heavily influenced by what we read. I buy that, and besides the books listed above, these are the other books that have had the most impact on my thinking over the past couple of years:

Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig
Wikinomics, by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams
A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink
The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson
The Future of Ideas, by Lawrence Lessig
The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida
Getting Things Done, by David Allen

There are several other books that I'm not going to list because they didn't have as much of an effect on my thinking as those above. However, there's not one of the books that I've read in the past couple of years that felt like a complete waste of time. That's the advantage of getting your book recommendations from your network comprised of the people that you know are doing great things. In closing, I've probably also learned as much from the blogs that I read regularly as I have from all of these great books.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Email Sucks

It's official, e-mail as a communication tool has now become more trouble than it is worth. I believe that it now has negative value, which is worse than the zero value that I thought it had until recently.

Much of the e-mail that I send out gets marked as SPAM, and many of those messages are never discovered and released from the SPAM catcher by the supposed recipient. This first started to become apparent to me about a year ago when some members of the ITC Board were not receiving the messages that I sent to the board e-mail group. Then, the fact that my e-mail messages were not being received almost led to the loss of two speaking engagements at other colleges. They thought I was ignoring their e-mail messages when in fact they just weren't receiving my replies.

It's amazing to me that e-mails coming from my official college address (@lsc.edu) continually get marked as SPAM by other .edu e-mail systems. The most recent (and saddest) example came earlier this week when I sent a message to the MnSCU CIO list asking for donations for a cash gift that we were giving to a colleague at the ITS conference earlier this week. It appears that many of the messages were never received, except for those who diligently checked their SPAM filters and released the message. Isn't there a certain irony there - that many of my messages sent to fellow CIOs in the same state system of colleges and universities are never actually delivered to the addressees? How valuable is that? How sad is that?

This particular message turned out to be the coup de grĂ¢ce for me. There are about 40 people on the CIO list who receive these messages (in theory, at least) and that of course includes me. So, when I am sending a message to this list, I am also sending a message to myself. Yep, you guessed it. The message sent from my @lsc.edu address was marked as SPAM when sent to the same @lsc.edu address. Apparently I have been blacklisted by myself.

Part of the problem has to do with the inadequacy of SPAM filters that are being used. However, another part of the problem is something that I don't have much control over. My e-mail address has definitely been used by spoofers, and apparently more than just once. E-mail spoofing is a growing problem which can easily cause a legitimate e-mail address (like mine) to get blacklisted by people who are victimized by the spoofer.

The bottom line for me is that I now have to spend an inordinate amount of time following up behind my e-mails to see if they have been received. If I don't hear back from someone I need to call them on the phone, or send an IM, or send another e-mail to their personal e-mail address if I know it. This constant game of "did you receive my email?" is a huge productivity drain and is really all you need to know about why I believe that e-mail now has negative value.

Monday, April 21, 2008

MnSCU ITS Conference

Here is part of the LSC crew of volunteers for the MnSCU ITS annual conference at Cragun's on Gull Lake outside of Brainerd, MN. Registration and setup today followed by 1.5 days of concurrent sessions, networking, and fun (oops, that's right, no fun allowed!)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Loving Guitar Hero

So my son had a birthday and got a gift of Guitar Hero for the Wii. He'd previously played it several times with his friends, but now we have our own CD and plastic guitar in the house. I wasn't too sure that I would be interested in it. I've never had much talent with real musical instruments and that appears to cross over to fake instruments as well. However, there is one very cool redeeming feature about Guitar Hero.

The best thing about Guitar Hero is that my kids are absolutely loving some of the music from my era, which hasn't really been the case until now. When I hear them singing and strumming to some of these songs, I just head on over to the den to join in or sit back and watch them in action:

  • Paint it Black (Stones, one of my all-time favorites)
  • La Grange (ZZ Top, the one song that they have liked from my CD collection)
  • Mississippi Queen (Mountain)
  • School's Out (AC)
  • Paranoid (BS)
  • Pride and Joy (SRV)
There are some newer songs on there as well, which they like but I don't seem to know much at all. Still, this is a good way of bringing the generations together.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Day One at Higher Learning Commission

Wow, what a day. What a crappy, lousy, frustrating day. Apparently I have become the most cynical person on the planet. I have an incredibly difficult time sitting through presentations where the presenters are either a) superfluous, b) clueless, c) close-minded, d) totally self-absorbed, e) a corporate salesperson, or f) not me (just guessing at this last one).

a) This first session would have been the best one of the day if the presenters would have simply talked about the video learning objects that they have created and how they are using them. But NO, they had to go too far. They went too far in claiming that their stuff was innovative (it was good, but nothing innovative in the world of technology). The other problem is that they were trying to tell the audience that their video learning objects are somehow interactive. OMG!! I will write a completely separate rant about that one (some of you know that this is a pet peeve of mine).

b) The second session was worse than the first. This whole presentation was about teaching students to make really lousy PowerPoint slide shows with all the goofy animations (spinning pictures) and typewriter sounds for text entering the screen), and saying that this is somehow what we should be doing with students in the digital age. Ice pick in my forehead on this one.

c) The third session was one of those where they tell you what they did and tell you that soon you will all being doing it - but they never once gave any evidence of a real problem that they were trying to solve. They are the best example of someone who will try to show you all sorts of data or student feedback without having any data in the first place to prove that there was a problem looking for a solution. More about this one later.

d) I attended a session this afternoon by a presenter that I have seen about 4-5 times previously. I always liked his style and his method, although I thought that his material was getting pretty stale over the years. In February I had the chance to see him deliver a keynote and was totally disappointed to see how this gentleman had completely turned into an egomaniac during the past few years. He is all about self-promotion, which I have a really hard time watching. After the debacle in February I decided to go see him again in hopes that the February gig was just a one off for him. The other reason that I went again was because he had a different title for this presentation and even the description sounded like I was going to see some new material from this former great speaker. WRONG!!! On both counts. It turns out that he really is a self-absorbed self promoter and his new session title and description was just sheep's clothing for the same old material and PPT slides. Total disappointment.

e) The corporate guy was talking about a website where students create their online profile so that colleges can hear about the student before they choose where to enroll, and then the colleges contact the students who fit the profiles that they are interested in recruiting. This session was called "Powertapping the Web 2.0 for Unique Students." Very funny. There was not one thing about the system that had anything to do with "THE" Web 2.0.
Maybe it got better after I left, but I'll never know - because I LEFT!

Not the best way for me to spend a Sunday - all day long! What will tomorrow bring? I shudder to think. (Sorry - apparently I'm in a mood today.)

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Chinese Ceramic Mural

Lake Superior College has recently been adorned with a new mural by famous Chinese artist Wenzhi Zhang from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. Wenzhi has also taught here at LSC a couple of semesters during the past few years and she will return again this summer with many Chinese students in tow for another great learning community here in Duluth.

This montage of pictures (created at bighugelabs) shows the completed mural in the center, with one shot of the mural during assembly, and several close-ups showing some of the details. (Click to enlarge.) The 15' wide by 25' high relief sculpture, named “Stele,” is located near the front entrance to the new two-story academic and student services building that opened in Fall 2007. There are 120 individual stoneware ceramic tiles that comprising the mural. They are attached to an underlying steel framework. The tiles feature several Duluth landmarks including the Aerial Lift Bridge, boats on Lake Superior, the Depot, and the old Central High School clock tower.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Trying to BeFunky

I took one photo montage from my Flickr account and made four sample cartoon renderings from it using BeFunky, which is a rather funky site for creating cartoon panels out of photos. You'll see a few of the options in the slideshow below. Finally I made another of just the center picture from the montage and put a border/frame around it at BeFunky. Just trying it out.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Using geoTwitterous

I saw a tweet, followed the link, and 60 seconds later I had this map of Twitter Tweets on my blog. Pretty cool use of Pipes. Thanks Britt.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Creative Commons SlideShare

For some time now I have been wanting to put together a self-directed presentation that explains the use of Creative Commons licensing for various educational resources. But why should I do that when Mark Woolley has already done such a great job and of course, he licensed this content using CC-Attribution, Non-commercial? Therefore, here it is embedded below for your learning pleasure.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Off the Grid

I plan to be totally disconnected for the next 9 or ten days. I suppose I'll have cell phone coverage for the first day or two and the last day or two, but no Internet access at all. A few thoughts and predictions:

1) I expect to have about 820 emails waiting for me in my college email account when I return. About 50% will be spam or spam-like (look what's on sale today!) and another 30% won't require any sort of reply. That leaves the other 20% which will be a real pain. Then there will be another 100-150 personal emails in different accounts.

2) I expect to have about 1,500 unread items in my Bloglines account.

3) I expect to have only a few blog comments waiting moderation, about 6-8 new Twitter followers to check out to see if I want to follow them as well, about 10 YouTube comments to check out to make sure that they are appropriate and don't need to be deleted (yes, I censor those comments - my kids look at those), only a couple of friend requests for Facebook or new contacts for LinkedIn, and about 10 new items sent to me by people in my del.icio.us network.

4) Maybe most important is that I will have a chance to see if 10 days away from the keyboard makes any difference on heading off the carpal tunnel that seems to be starting in my right arm. One can hope. At any rate - I'll be back the week of March 24.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Students Using Wireless

Here are more results from our beginning of semester Student Technology Survey that was completed by over 800 students here at LSC. I think it is surprising that only 28% report never using wireless networks. I would have predicted more like 50% use wireless networks either at home, schools, or other places. (Click to enlarge)

Even more surprising, I think, is that nearly two-thirds say they have a wireless network in their house. I guess that shows how cheap and easy it is to install a wireless network these days.

And finally, less than 1% say they pay to use wireless in public places. I'm with them. I'll gladly buy some coffee, or a beer, or a sandwich, or maybe all three - but I'm not going to pay to use your network to check my email (I mean Twitter page).

CC-By photo by dana~2

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Article on Second Life

The Second Life article ran Sunday in the Duluth News Tribune. They are notorious for disappearing links on their website, but hopefully this article will still be available for a while.

The following lines were taken from my interview with the reporter.

"Using it for educational purposes can have downfalls, said Barry Dahl, vice president of technology and the virtual campus at Lake Superior College."

"Powerful technology is needed to run the program, and while the college has accommodated this, not everyone has that at home. Behavior “in-world” as it’s called, can also be a problem, he said. Linden Labs, which runs Second Life, has taken steps to end illegal gambling. But a large amount of sexual activity and “griefing” takes place on Second Life, he said."

"Griefing is when someone causes harm to another avatar or disrupts others."

"If a student were to complain about something done to an avatar on Second Life, Dahl said, the college couldn’t treat it as a serious offense because it didn’t really happen."

I have no qualms with any of this except for the last sentence. That is not what I said. In fact, I've never said that we "couldn't treat is as a serious offense." In fact I'm concerned about whether our existing policies and procedures are applicable to some of the things that could happen in SL, and I'm not exactly sure how we would handle something that is a serious offense. I believe that the potential for a serious offense is actually quite high.

All in all, I wasn't painted as the extremely negative SL-guy - which is probably a fairly accurate portrayal. I do however, have many more questions than answers about using SL for serious academic pursuits.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Second Opinion on Second Life

I'm becoming known as the anti-SecondLife guy around these parts. It's a badge that I wear proudly even though I don't think it's entirely accurate. I'm not the anti-SL guy, but I am the somewhat-less-than-enamored-with-SL-guy.

Most people think that I would be the first one in line for the virtual world experience. Sure, I have spent some time in there, but so far it just hasn't floated my boat to a level where I'm ready to give up several other pursuits in favor of SL. My experience so far tells me that I really would have to immerse myself in SL in order to "get it" on the same level of those SL evangelists. As far as I can tell, that would mean giving up my time spent a) blogging, b) using my personal learning environment, c) keeping on top of Web 2.0 technologies for presentations and workshops, and probably d) some of my non-technology personal time.

You don't get much out of SL by spending an hour or two per week in there. I do read many items about the ways that SL is being used in education, or at least trying to be used. Right now it's a bit more fun to sit back and watch others go through the trial and error process that is inevitable with something like this. Yep, I laughed right along with many others as some of the early efforts of building an educational setting within world was to build a virtual classroom that looks basically like a traditional (i.e. old-fashioned) classroom - with students sitting in rows and the professor standing in front delivering a lecture. However, I am intrigued as I see (or at least read about) others who are now thinking outside the virtual box a bit and trying to come up with some novel uses of SL for educational purposes.

Today I attended a classroom session of a hyrbid Sociology class at LSC where SL is being used for part of the instruction. Marlise is teaching this class which is a good thing because she is absolutely one of the hardest working and most engaging instructors on campus. It was fun to see all of the student avatars and some of the places they are visiting, including this Sociology research library in SL (photo below).

At the same time it was strange to see all these students in the same classroom but interacting with each other using their avatars. Many of the issues that we have encountered this semester are related to this unusual use of SL. It was never intended to have many people all in the same location, using the same bandwidth (etc.) but interacting within world. It is obviously intended of bringing together people (or at least their avatars) from various distributed places. There is a reason that the class is being taught in this unusual way, and from what I witnessed today I would say that it is paying off. Most importantly I think, is that Marlise is able to pilot this approach with real students in a real educational setting. I think she is learning even more than her students about how this tool can be used effectively for educational purposes. It would probably be harder for her to assess what the students can do and can't do in world if they truly were distributed over various locations.

The local paper is doing a story about all this which will probably be published in the next couple of days. I'll wait to say more until after that comes out. Chances are good that I will be painted as the anti-SL guy, mainly because I am the only one (at least that I know of) who is asking some of the tough questions related to school policies and how we will deal with the problems that will surely pop up further down the road. I'm also questioning whether Second Life is the correct choice for a virtual world for educational purposes. More about that later.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Me and My MoGo

I have a new little gadget that I really like. I saw someone using a MoGo BT (mouse on the go, I'm guessing) and I just had to have one. Go to Amazon - click, click, click and one shows up at my door. Really simple to get started.

I have used various laptop mice over the past few years, but always had problems with a) knowing where they are (they hide a lot), b) batteries needing to be replaced at inopportune times, and c) just not being very cool. MoGo solves all three of those problems.

a) You always know where it is because when you aren't using it, it lives in your PC card slot which you probably have no use for whatsoever anyway. b) You don't need to replace any batteries because it charges while it is docked in the PC card slot. c) It is definitely cool.

Since my laptop has built-in Bluetooth (most newer ones have it) I have no need for the included USB receiver - which is good because that would just be one more thing to keep track of. As luck would have it, I probably bought too quickly. Now they have a new model (X54) that is the same as my MoGo but has the added functionality of also being a presentation remote. The basic model sells for about $50 and the presenter model sells for about $70. Shop around and I'm sure you'll find even better prices.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Turning Point Response Systems

For my keynote address at the e-Learning 2008 Conference last week I used the Turning Point Audience Response System from Turning Technologies for getting audience participation related to the myths and realities of online learning.

Most of the info about this presentation will be over at Desire2Blog since most of it is specific to online learning. However, the use of the response systems belongs in this forum and I will write a bit more about using these systems.

First: Turning Technologies has been wonderful to work with. Any of you who know me probably know that I am not a guy who gushes about vendors very often. In fact, I am usually the devil's advocate (or just the devil himself) who is constantly harping on how they can be better and what they need to do to be worthy of our scarce higher ed dollars. So, for me to say that the Turning Point people have been great to work with is somewhat notable in itself. But that is exactly what my experience has been so far. I've dealt with three different people to one extent or another and they all have been great and easy to work with. And very responsive.

Second: the technology itself is very easy to learn and you can quickly get up to speed. I attended one 45-minute live webinar which was very well done; and the next thing I knew I had all 21 of my audience response questions built, tested, and ready-to-go. The software itself is just a plug-in to PowerPoint, so for anyone who uses PowerPoint there is a very small learning curve.

Third: The reporting capabilities are pretty strong. I have generated a few different user reports from the data gathered at the conference, and am finding more and more ways of using the information. Below is an example of one of the pie charts that I edited. This was the audience response to the statement that I threw in near the end of the presentation. So many people seem to think that Second Life is going to be such a big deal - I wanted to see if this tech-savvy audience had all drank the Koolaid. Apparently not (although I admit that the question was somewhat heavily loaded with the whole "Second Coming" reference - still, it was fun for me and that's what matters).

Overall, the use of the response systems added a lot to the conference in general (we used them four times) as well as my particular presentation. I understand that Turning Technologies is working on another new system that will be web-based rather than PPT-based. I very much look forward to that development. There is at least one of those web-based services available that I am aware of, but I prefer the idea of an experienced provider of the technology and one that has proven to me that they are good to work with.

Memo to Turning Technologies management: DON'T LET BLACKBOARD BUY YOU OUT - or all bets are off!!

Monday, February 11, 2008

UStream Becoming MainStream

Ustream.tv appears to be finding a significant audience, at least among many of the technology-enabled educators that I know and follow. More and more things are being broadcast live from conference presentations, to classroom activities, to special events at the school.

To that end, I will be livecasting my upcoming keynote address via UStream.tv. The keynote is scheduled for Saturday, February 16 at 5:30 Eastern time from the e-Learning 2008 conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. The topic is "E-Learning Mythbusters - Is Conventional Wisdom Wrong?"

For this presentation the audience members will be using clicker technology to vote on whether they think something is a myth or reality. I'm not sure how well that will all come through over UStream, but I'm hoping for the best. Apparently, there is a way that you can also have remote viewers vote in polls as well, but I don't think I'll have time to get that figured out by tomorrow night. That does sound very cool though.

At any rate, UStream is being used more and more all the time by educators to broadcast live events such as lectures, conference presentations, classroom projects and students speeches, and in any other way that you might think of using your own little private TV channel.

The UStream window can be embedded in any web page, including inside your VLE such as D2L, Blackboard, Angel, etc. I'm thinking that this will continue to grow. It is free. It is extremely easy. It allows for both live and archived video. Sounds pretty good to me.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Last Vista Rant - Maybe

My Vista trials and tribulations continue. I'm borrowing a laptop for the next three weeks that has a nice clean copy of Windows XP so that I can prepare for the ITC conference in St. Pete. I am making several presentations there and absolutely don't feel that I can rely on making Vista do what I need it to do during these presentations.

Tom Hoffman has given me even more reason to consider ditching Vista altogether and retreating to XP for the foreseeable future. If Windows XP is going to be supported until 2014, maybe I'll take the opportunity to completely skip the hell that is Vista - except of course for the past two months of increased gray hair and blood pressure.

Some day maybe I'll be brave enough to make the move off of Windows altogether. However, I do use several programs that currently do not have alternatives in the Linux world, but not many.

In closing, I'm hoping to make this my last Vista rant. Even I have no interest in reading this blog if it becomes just another one of the "Vista Sucks Out Loud" diatribes that are scattered all over the net - even though those are the truest words I've ever spoken.

Microsoft Windows Vista SUCKS SUCKS SUCKS!!! There, now I'm done.

Monday, January 14, 2008

More Vista Angst

So I'm shooting some personal video over the weekend (here's the result). Just messing around but using the same techniques that I would if I were making a video for work or some other serious project.

I shoot the video using my Sony DV camcorder and then try to transfer the video to my Vista-"powered" (quotes intentional) laptop for editing purposes. Well guess what? Vista doesn't recognize this very popular (and not-too-old) camcorder. So I try to find an appropriate driver at the Sony website. There isn't one.

I spend the next two hours reading various websites about how I might possibly get the camera and computer to talk to each other - but the end result is a no-go. Just another example of something that worked flawlessly (well, almost) with my previous XP-driven laptop, yet there seems to be no chance of getting it to work on this new one. Apparently the only solution is for me to buy a new digital video camera. Keep this in mind when you get stuck with Vista - you will pay for all kinds of things because software and hardware will no longer work for you the way you expect them to.

In the end I used my four-year old home computer to transfer the video, edit it in Windows Movie Maker, and upload it to YouTube. My new laptop sat in the corner with a dunce cap while I got my tasks done without it.

Vista is pathetic.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My First Vista Rant

This is Bill Gates thinking about the hundreds of thousands of suckers who spend good money on lousy operating systems. I have a new notebook computer and I decided to go ahead with Vista since I wanted to get a good feel for what issues we would face when our whole campus goes to it (IF we do).

There are a few things that I like about it, and many other things that I am just starting to figure out. However, the painful things are easy to spot and quick to frustrate.

The first thing that really ticked me off was this. After using a flash drive to transfer some files, the OS could no longer locate the optical drive (CD/DVD burner) which had previously been drive letter E. Apparently the flash drive stole that letter and then didn't give it back, or something along those lines.

Turns out that this (or other things very similar to it) has been happening all along with Vista. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have probably been affected by it. The Microsoft website advised that I install the proper driver for the DVD drive. Buggar off!! The driver is installed and always has been!! I had to get my advice for a fix from a user's website. Since that time I have found several other sites where the fix is also explained - but never by Microsoft. The site that I used currently has 451 comments in the thread of people who have had similar problems, dating back to April, 2007. The solution is to do a regedit and delete some lines of code from Vista. There's a great idea, let's expect the common people to go in edit their registry - because nothing could possibly go wrong with that - right???

This problem has been around since Vista was introduced and Microsoft has done nothing about it! Can't wait to see what I find next. Ick!!!!! (Double ick, actually)

CC Flickr photo by Domain Barnyard

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Blog Recap for 2007

During the past year, I made 154 posts to this blog. Blog visitors mainly arrived here via Internet Explorer (59%) and Firefox (33%). The busiest month of the year was October with 1,567 unique visitors.

Many people find the blog via search engines. The Google search engine was used 96% of the time. The three most commonly used search phrases that people used to find my blog include:

  1. Stupid signs (or funny signs) = 1,007 times
  2. Club Penguin (or club peng) = 876
  3. Turnitin sucks (and similar) = 320
Three most visited single posts were:
  1. Club Penguin Primer
  2. Turnitin Sucks
  3. Famous Chinese Artist
My favorite five posts:
  1. Minnesota Smoking Ban
  2. This is Amazing
  3. 24 Hours (in Tra Vinh, Vietnam)
  4. Day Two in Tianjin
  5. More Insanity from NWA