Tag Archives: social learning

three educational uses for Brightkite: some notes

If you have to look for uses for an app, is it really useful? Or are you just making it up? We have to make it up at first to see the possibilities.

Back when the web was just getting going, early users had a sense of what it could be used for, a sense of the potential, even while the actual use at the time struck others as trivial.

You can link to anything. Anything. Like text to an image.

So? What’s the point of that?

You can connect chunk of text to other chunks. Read along paths.

And so?

So go read Vannevar Bush.


Brightkite allows users to send a notification of where the user is geographically and post a note that can be read by friends, or by people nearby, or by anyone on a public feed. With a mobile camera phone, the user can send an image along with the note.

So, outside of locating people or being located, what’s the point of that? What’s the educational point of that?

Brightkite casts its primary affordance as placestreaming:

Placestreaming, as in the stream of content originating from a specific place. We think this really captures what Brightkite is all about. We enable location based conversations. And location based conversations, in aggregate, are placestreams.

While there’s something of the buzzword in placestreaming (along with Eventstreaming and Lifestreaming), its a useful concept to start with.

A list of three

– As on twitter, Brightkite users can follow each other, seeing where others are physically, as well as what each other is doing. That can build community between users. That’s can not will. The quality of the posting is going to be a variable. But there’s something of the game of tag or geocaching in checking in on Brightkite and monitoring who’s nearby.

– The Brightkite.com site runs a web app called The Wall. The Wall can be set up to see who’s in a vicinity, and lets non-Brightkite users post using their mobiles. See How the Mattress Factory Art Museum uses the Brightkite Wall. At the Mattress Factory, the Wall itself becomes a performance as people come and go – a little like Flickervision and Twittervision. But run The Wall in a classroom, or as a teacher, or as a member of a Brightkite-linked group. Members can see what others are doing, whenever they choose to check in. So, a professor can send students into the field, monitor The Wall, and gain periodical updates on what’s happening. All the students can see what others in the group are doing. If they are nearby, they can meet up. If they need help, they can ask anyone in the group. As they work, they can post results as notes or images.

– Landscape marking. I’m interested in how we can virtually annotate or tag the physical world, layering virtual observations. On the marketing / daily grind side, it can work like this:

So, I can be visiting a place like St. Petersburg, Florida, and I can check in. I might take a snap of the hotel where I’m staying, and I might add a note like “the coffee here is horrible, but there’s a Dunkin Donuts a few blocks west.”

Someone else in the area who is using the same application might now see this update and realize two things (depending on my privacy settings): 1.) I’m nearby. 2.) That the coffee at the hotel stinks. In both cases, this information is only available through the use of this software.

On the extensive side, Brightkite is an input for place tagging, but (as far as I can tell) the tags aren’t persistent to the geo-location of the place. If you’re not listening in when a place note is posted, you’ll miss it. What’s needed is a way of posting checkins, notes, and images to a more permanent, centralized space on a wiki or blog, or something delicious-like. (The iPhone app graffiti does this, but it’s a mess). This mashup might already exist. I’ll have look for it.

Other links along the way

Why I Use Brightkite, Amanita.net.
5 Uses For Brightkite, andrew hyde
The BrightKite That I Hope To See…, SheGeeks
Using Social Media to Get Out of Your House, SheGeeks

Next or soon: the misery of using Brightkite. Checking in takes effort.

rough notes on personal learning environments or how i spent my xmas vacation

PLEI spent most of my semester break messing with looking at some social networking apps and how to link them up. I was familiar with a few of them already and had been using them regularly: flickr, delicious, facebook (not so regularly), tumblr, twitter. I added brightkite, friendfeed, and ping.fm. Righ away, brightkite and friendfeed struck me as useful for what I wanted to do, and ping.fm less so. Brightkite fuses image and text and geotags them both. Friendfeed aggregates feeds to a common stream and allows connecting those feeds with others.

On the browser side, I tinkered with Flock for a day, but went back to Firefox and installed add-ons to coordinate some of my feeds; I wanted to put them in the same app if not the same frame. I’m currently working with Flickerfox, Sage-Too for rss feeds, TumblrPost, and Twitbin. I’m watching for a Brighkite add-on, but Sage-too makes it possible to put an rss Friendfeed stream in the sidebar.

I haven’t added browser-based notes, however. I’m still using the browser mainly for access to content and working with other apps like Evernote and DevonThink for collection and text production.

This catalog of web apps, social apps, and plug-ins looks geeky, I know, put there’s a point to it.

Spurred on in part by using an iPhone more and more, I started to get interested in how to pull the apps together in some kind of more or less coherent set. I got interested in creating an informal PLE.

Gloss from Wikipedia

Personal Learning Environments are systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to

* set their own learning goals

* manage their learning; managing both content and process

* communicate with others in the process of learning

and thereby achieve learning goals.

A PLE may be composed of one or more subsystems: As such it may be a desktop application, or composed of one or more web-based services.

Roughly, a PLE is a more or less hacked together system or space to work in – and that’s a pretty good idea of it, for me, for right now. My wife has a PLE for her work. It’s her studio. Al Gore has one. It’s called his office.

But PLEs extend beyond office and studio walls to include sites and sources, the devices used to access those sites and sources, and the devices used to manipulate the content of those sites and sources. Desktop computer, laptop, iPhone, mobile, digital camera … You get the idea. Hardware, software, people, content, places.

The memex was an early conception of a PLE. Englebart’s Study for the Development of Human Augmentation Techniques a 1968 overview of the idea. And his mother of all demos is an early demo of one: hardware, software, people, content, and places.

Martin Weller has a lot more to say on the matter than I do right now. Brian Lamb has posted on PLEs recently. And he’s picking up on comments made by Stephen Downes.  A Collection of PLE diagrams presents a range of visualizations about PLEs.

To my mind, proboscis.org is experimenting with informal PLEs. In their work, streets and parks and buildings become part of the PLE, which also includes other people, both present and past. Their work emphasizes the material in the environment, where learning takes place by creating and manipulating maps and boxes, and by physically and virtually annotating physical spaces. See Social Tapestries, for instance.

Creating or using a PLE of any complexity is going to demand some fluency in transliteracy.

I made some remarks on PLEs from a side angle in Wikis, Blogs, and eFolio: How wikis and weblogs trump eportfolios and No One Stop Shop. My sense of PLEs is the learner mashup rather than the prepackaged OfficeMax D2L. Having just reread these drafts and notes, it looks like the PLE is a common thread in my thinking, one that might open into a more extensive article.

More notes

I’m a late-comer to the PLE party, so a review is in order:

A PLE – VLE continuum

on the PLE

A Collection of PLE diagrams

E-learning 2.0, Stephen Downes

More later.

e-planning planning for spring

E-rhetoric textsIt might snow Sunday, and that means it’s time to start to select texts for spring classes.

Our campus bookstore wanted selections by mid-October, and while I’d like to accommodate the corporate giant, it will have to wait. Two courses I’m teaching in spring, E-Rhetoric and Weblogs and Wikis, benefit from using the most recent texts and addressing some of the most current ideas. And I’m still looking for the right texts, and will be right through the US Thanksgiving.

For E-Rhetoric, I’m considering a look at digital and new media poetics. Our Creative and Pro Writing BFA students don’t get much exposure to the work that’s going on in poetry and short prose in the electronic world. While an e-literature course might be best, E-Rhetoric can take a look at current electronic modes and productions. A new literature brings with it a new rhetoric: a new set of affordances, a new way of making and articulating meaning. The difficulty in this section of the course might be keeping a focus on the rhetorical dynamics of the object rather than the object as an expressive artifact. But digital products tend to be collaborative ventures, which moves us away from self-expression and towards semiotics.

In the same vein, I want to look at digital- print hybrids and social- digital mapping. There are projects possible. I’m thinking of having students annotate a journey or two through the campus or sections of downtown. Students from the visual arts department have done a little of the preliminary work for this, chalking some of the academic buildings, and annotating the doors.

While it would be nice to have everyone with an iPhone or a laptop post to geo-located walls using something like graffitio, we might be able to do this as a mapping hybrid along the line of the proboscis projects. The idea of leaving text annotations at the particular site is interesting. The next move is a rhetoric of geo-cacheing.

The rhetorical angle: Look at the places students choose to define as noteworthy, the contexts they place those places in, the language they use to give them importance. If rhetoric is calling attention to something, then inscribing it with a building name or sticking a 3X5 card on it is a starting point. Annotating makes the campus into a campuscape, a gallery, a narrative, an argument.

The rhetorical choices behind social scape annotation starts to stand out when we compare citizen annotation of the campuscape with the authorized labeling: building names (former faculty and presidents for academic buildings, tree species for student residences), the Deputy Arch, the names of scientists carved into stone on Sattgast, campus maps, advertising banners, even labels on some of the benches. There’s more going on than first seen.

Mobile Learning. A lot is just about to happen with mobile technologies and learning in the field. E-Rhetoric’s interest would involve how language is used and shaped to suit onthefly learning. Perhaps by annotating the urban landscape.

Persuasive Technologies. I get blank stares when I mention captology to students. How does your car persuade you to slow down? The E-Rhetoric students can benefit from a brief look at captology, less as a field of study and more as a way of thinking about technologies in the world.

For Weblogs and Wikis: Jill Walker Rettberg has a new text on blogging (Yes!) that addresses it as a social- and professional act. I’ve been making that up-hill argument for six years, and it’s good to have back up. Students tend to view blogging more as diversion than substance; faculty at large tend to see it more as daily diaries from amateurs. Faculty with a stake in print place it as a diversion from the Real Work of writing and publishing. No editors! Certainly second-rate writing.

I’m still waiting for / writing the similar text for wikis. But I reckon I’ll be able to slide laterally to apply Rettberg’s observations on weblogs to wikis. And I’d bet I can do the same with Wikipatterns: use it to apply to weblogs, especially collective weblogs.

What’s in my bookbag?

I wait until the snow flies to make the final choice, designing a syllabus around the texts I have in mind to see how it all might fit together.

Education doesn’t need to be driven by the self-serving deadlines of bookstores.

ou social:learn cluster

A set of links to announcements and materials for social:learn. Goes back to July, 2008.

there are no agnostics in classrooms


Maybe I’m just a little cranky this morning, but I’ve heard all this before. Wired Campus has a piece on Luke Fernandez, an assistant manager of program and technology development at Weber State University, Utah, and his encounter with Moodle.

Mr. Fernandez went to Moodlemoot, a conference of Moodle users, last month in San Francisco. He heard that the software embodies a philosophy, one that emphasizes learning as something accomplished socially, through interacting with peers, rather than through isolated inquiry.

Moodle states the pedagogical principles it’s built on and built to afford on it’s Philosophy page.

The design and development of Moodle is guided by a particular philosophy of learning, a way of thinking that you may see referred to in shorthand as a “social constructionist pedagogy”. (Some of you scientists may already be thinking “soft education mumbo jumbo” and reaching for your mouse, but please read on – this is useful for every subject area!)

That statement’s trying too hard to be cute to really get the job done – not to mention the cheap shot at “you scientists,” but it opens the discussion. Social construction is explained in more detail – but with the same attitude – on the Pedagogy page, which opens with

Let’s sit back and really reflect on the pedagogy that is at the core of what we, as online educators, are trying to do.

The page discusses how pedagogy and practice connect, and how the design of Moodle supports social practices such as collaborative writing.

Social construction is old hat to comp-rhet people. Social-Epistemic rhetoric has been in the classroom for 25 years or more – well before networked computers came into play, long before it became social constructivism in education. Typically, comp/rhet scholars set social-epistemic rhetoric in opposition to formalism, as typified by the Five Paragraph Theme. (See James Berlin, Rhetoric and Reality, or Sharon Crowley’s The Methodical Memory).

Using the same distinction, if Moodle uses affordances that encourage social-epistemic exchange, D2L and Blackboard are built for formalism.

One of the interesting aspects of formalism is that it denies its ideology. It purports to be ideologically pure, and situationally universal. There is One Right Way to Write a Paper. Writing is the transmission of knowledge that is discovered independent of writing. If efficiently done, the transmission is successful. And Correct Form is Efficient Form. The writer’s job is to collect, package, and deliver knowledge.

And one of the annoying aspects of social-epistemic rhetoric is that it tries very hard to explain the ideology it’s based on, sometimes to the point of apology. Social-epistemic rhetoric is based on the idea that knowledge and knowing is intimately wrapped up in language, and both language and knowledge exist in a social network. Without a social context, knowledge doesn’t mean anything. Knowledge and knowing don’t exist independently of language. Language does not capture knowledge but creates it, and does so by means of social exchanges. Even when I’m alone in my snub little private garret, alone at Walden, I’m using socially constructed concepts and language to talk to myself, to write, to think with. Language and meaning are social. You can’t stand outside language and expect to mean anything.

My point is that Moodle makes an effort to explain itself. On the other hand, D2L’s literature – like formalism – focuses on “delivery” of educational content:

What We Do
We provide a user-centric, web-based platform for the delivery of online teaching and learning, as well as a complete spectrum of services. >> Learn more about our products

Why We Do It
Our products assist in the delivery of online learning for Schools, Colleges, Universities, and Corporations. Ultimately, this allows our clients to realize their eLearning visions and measure success. >> Learn more about our clients

Short, empty, and focused not on teaching practices but on products and clients. The altruism in Why We Do It is touching (“This allows our clients to realize their eLearning visions “), but really not in keeping with the register. What D2L says is taken back by how they say it. As in formalism, which splits knowledge and knowing from language, learning is independent of delivery. D2L makes a content-less, agnostic delivery system, a platform. No ideology here, of course.

Even D2L’s Media Library (titled Literature on the main page) focuses on their business concerns – those formalistic aspects they can control – rather than pedagogical matters. The ideology isn’t subtle here; it’s enacted. To read their stuff, you have to register with D2L. And in such arch terms, too.

Welcome to the Desire2Learn Media Library

Please fill in the short form below and select which documents you would like to access.

Upon submission of the form you will be able to download any brochures and information that you have selected.

Desire2Learn Website Privacy Policy

1. Please select which item(s) you would like to view:

Hyper-correctness and archness are hallmarks of formalism, seeking to sound as upright as possible. Not simply “Fill in the form and select the documents you want to read”, but “Upon submission of the form you will be able to download any brochures and information that you have selected.” And look at the desire to be uber-formal in “select which item(s).” Better – that is, more formal – would have been “item or items.”

And D2L doesn’t escape the social construction of meaning here, either. What they call a “short form” makes 20 requests for information. In D2L’s social world, that’s short.

Even better? Just let visitors read the press releases and product descriptions. The need to give D2L information first is a real mark of their ideology, and the formalistic philosophy of education on which their D2L is based.

Which gets me back to Luke Fernandez’s encounter with Moodle

“I wasn’t sure I wanted a philosophy of education built into the software I used in my class,” Mr. Fernandez writes. “After all, what if I subscribed to some other teaching philosophy? Wouldn’t a more agnostic technology be more consonant with a professor’s need for ideological freedom? Mine are common sentiments, and they explain why some harbor reservations about the Moodle software.”

But he says he left the meeting feeling “evangelized.” Moodle, he decided, was both a technology and a community, where software developers interact to create a collaborative environment, and teachers build on that collaboration.

But back home, he’s had two second thoughts. One is that, in his own teaching, things haven’t been as collaborative as Moodle developers preach. Software, he concludes, can only take you so far. Teachers have to go the rest of the way.

Mr. Fernandez had another reservation. “I wonder whether in the rush to celebrate the virtues of openness and the fun of group learning, we’re forgetting the virtues inherent in learning in private, in reclusive Walden-like settings,” he writes.—Josh Fischman

Given the cheerleading language of the Moodle site, I wouldn’t doubt that the Moodle conference touted celebration and fun over the more substantial and difficult work of collaborative learning. Moodle likes to hype as much as every sales person:

You can download and use it on any computer you have handy (including webhosts), yet it can scale from a single-teacher site to a University with 200,000 students.

Understatement can be a virtue, Moodle. Too often, the Moodle developers fall into catchphrases at those points that really need thorough explication. Example: These “referents” (huh?) “boiled down into a simple list that I carry around under the moniker of ‘social constructionism'”

1. All of us are potential teachers as well as learners – in a true collaborative environment we are both.

2. We learn particularly well from the act of creating or expressing something for others to see.

3. We learn a lot by just observing the activity of our peers.

4. By understanding the contexts of others, we can teach in a more transformational way (constructivism)

5. A learning environment needs to be flexible and adaptable, so that it can quickly respond to the needs of the participants within it.

All the statements are true and valid – sort of. Because they are just as false and invalid. It’s less a matter of We Learn by Observing and more a matter of what we learn by observing and what else we do when we observe in order to learn.

In any case, the takeaway oversimplifies and universalizes just at the moment when finer distinctions are necessary, and it’s too easy to slip into takeaways at conferences.

So I can understand Fernandez’s frustration when group learning doesn’t work out. And while I’m not familiar with the educational literature on solitary learning, I can think of a number of “virtues inherent in learning in private, in reclusive Walden-like settings.” Those virtues are all pretty romantic and lyrical, but they made up the bulk of my university learning. As an undergrad in literature and lit theory 30 years ago, I reveled in being left alone with my books.

But I also reveled in the parties and the bars and the discussions ’til dawn. The promiscuity, the existential intensity, the moodiness, the luxury of being anti-social when the mood struck. And the promiscuity. All social. All part of the contexts in which I learned….

Sorry. Got off track there.

What did I come in here for?

Oh, yeah. A statement: All interfaces, every delivery system, every classroom is deeply informed by an ideology of teaching and learning – as well as a social one. It’s a matter of orchestrating them. Books, blackboards, desks, or Walden, or Moodle, or D2L. All media is mediated, all delivery packaged in ideology.

Image: The Glastonbury 2008 posterity shot, BBC.

teacher in your pocket

What I really like about this Apple email ad is how it quietly suggests that to learn, you need an iPhone. Buy the phone and get the content for free.

Having just bought an iPhone and committed myself for two years of at&t, I couldn’t agree more. I need a good ROI.

Forever curious.
Learn more
From lectures to documentaries to museum tours, iTunes U lets you learn anything, anytime, anyplace.
Now your favorite destination for music and movies is also a great place to entertain your brain. iTunes U in the iTunes Store offers free audio and video content from top universities, famous museums, public media stations, and other cultural institutions. So whether you want to learn from the world’s leading thinkers, get a sneak peek at the latest MoMA exhibition, or simply brush up on your Spanish, iTunes U makes it easy. To see for yourself,watch the tutorial.

This is an interesting ad for a close read. Teacher – and teaching – has been iPhoneized: captured, in the phraseology of knowledge management, to be processed later. The technology dominates, even to the extent that the professor – pictured at the business end of his own concrete tether – is now captured on screen, for access – or not – anytime, anyplace. Play, pause, rewind. The copy, too, glosses over any human construction or creation of content or ideas. Content comes predominantly from universities, museums, public media stations (BBC and NPR I guess). “Learn from the world’s leading thinkers” is the only nod.

Anytime and anyplace because the content is recorded. Perhaps the obvious use of the iPhone (or any 3G phone) for on-the-spot-just-in-time teaching and learning from a teacher/mentor is just too obvious to mention. Anytime anyplace is pretty hackneyed. Come to think of it, so is “entertain your brain.”

But really the ad promises no more than you could get from a local library: books and magazines. A good parody for reading would play on this matter. Use books for iPhones, adjust the copy just a little, or use it against itself, and link visit your local lending library. Get outside. Meet people. Have a coffee. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask someone.

Or call me. I still have to justify my new phone for teaching.

this way to the museyroom

joyce-1.jpgI’ve been reading Shirky’s HCE (nice to see a TIP callusion to Sterne Swift Joyce), so when I came across this final paragraph at Abject Learning, it leapt right out for the noticing. In Just to recap: we can find what we need, but will we find you? Brian Lamb is writing about a (really more sensible) option to creating a professionally-indexed (that is, filtered) TIP database of learning objects. Something involving cooperative production, perhaps. Recipe follows.

• Assemble your ingredients. ZaidLearn saved us a lot of hassle by assembling this handy list of open educational resource (OER) sites.

• You knew that Google already allows you to set up your custom search engine by whatever domains you wanted, right? So Tony Hirst took the ZaidLearn list and used it to quickly create an OER Search Engine. You can put the search box anywhere you want, including right here, just by cutting and pasting a little HTML:

• Then Scott gets it into his disturbingly shaved head to have the list of supported search domains run off of a wiki, so anybody can come in and add resources collections. I added a few bits, including the Creative Commons rich media search, though it might be necessary to paste in some of the specific collections.

But the paragraph that struck me was this:

As far as I know, Zaid Ali Alsagoff, Tony Hirst and Scott Leslie have never met, and there is no coordinating body to facilitate their collaboration. What is required (in addition to Google’s scary hegemonic presence providing a powerful platform) is openness. The resources need to be indexed on the open web, and when people do cool stuff and then blog about it, others can take the work to unexpd places.

That says a lot about earlier experiments with proprietary learning TIP objects our local system still puts its faith in.

Now yiz are in the Willingdone Museyroom.

no learning in the gazebo

no gazebos-1.jpgIn a guest posting, EdTechie Martin Weller considers the position of the LMS with social learning. Learners, OU research has found, from social groups to help each other out. But the LMS – being centralized and less than useful for social networking – can get in the way. So, move towards social networking spaces where students can work together. The LMS is, after all, based on a centralized bricks and mortar model, bundling a set of services and facilities together in a classroom. Time to change –

When it was necessary for education to be performed face to face, a number of services were bundled together. When it becomes digital and online, this may no longer be the case, as we have seen in most content industries, such as music and newspapers (education has some similarities with content and also some significant differences).

[From SocialLearn: Bridging the Gap Between Web 2.0 and Higher Education at e-Literate]

The idea isn’t new, but it gets new life from Weller.

But, at least locally, the message is only half-heard. Locally, our ed tech design people are looking at Facebook and SL for social interaction among students rather than looking towards social spaces for learning. They separate the LMS-as-classroom from Facebook-as-social-gathering. Accredited learning goes on in the former; spontaneous, informal learning in the latter. LMS keeps its centrality as the classroom. We just add a gazebo on the lawn.  Nothing wrong with a freestanding gazebo, of course, but it’s not the sanctioned learning space.

Part way there, but still coming up short.

And that’s why Weller’s – and the OU’s – thinking on what open means is important.