Friday, September 30, 2005

More thoughts on Small Pieces, Loosely Joined

So, I spoke a lot about my personal and professional need to have a "joiner" for all the small pieces used in an online course. Now I've gotten to thinking about the pieces themselves. As a designer and instructor, what small pieces would I need to incorporate in any of my classes?

First, then, I need to answer the question of which class.

Interestingly, my boss was just called into a meeting about a potential client - a group of Chinese students who want online ESL classes. None of us knows any more than that, but I'm going to make a couple of assumptions. The students are definitely adults (that's all we teach), so they probably want ESL either for international business purposes or for overseas academic prep (say, attending grad school in the U.S.) purposes. Let's assume, then, that the desire is for academic prep: "We want our students to be able to arrive at their grad schools and be ready to take classes in their major subjects without having to "waste time" with ESL." (This "ESL as a waste of time" philosophy is quite common in our international students...until they realize that all the TOEFL prep they took back in their countries didn't at all prepare them for the reality of sitting in an American classroom with American students and American professors and functioning completely in English). Let's also assume that we would do what we normally do in the face-to-face setting and divide the skills into a reading/writing course and a listening/speaking course.

I'm mainly a reading/writing instructor. For a reading/writing course, the small pieces I would want are:

- a blog interface for students to keep an informal journal (Purpose: get them to write in English, with volume as the goal. Some of these students don't write anything in English except the assignments their teachers give them, and there's something to be said for "use it or lose it." The blog would be a space for them to write without worrying about being graded - kind of a space for writing without fear or intimidation, just to get comfortable with the habit of putting thoughts down on paper in English.)
- email (Purpose: communication. This could include teacher-student, student-teacher, student-student, admin-teacher-student, etc. This would allow private communication - as opposed to notices posted on forums or public message boards - as well as last-minute notifications...anything that needed to be sent and viewed asap. Students would be required to check their email accounts daily for messages. This would also allow students to submit their assignments to me in the absence of a Bb-style "digital drop box.")
- a space to host PowerPoint "lecture" materials (Purpose: give them writing/discourse guidelines, outlines, rubrics...all the stuff we would normally go over in class during f2f "lecture" sessions. I currently use these PowerPoint lectures as an adjunct to my f2f ESL writing classes, and I've gotten a very positive response from my students. Many of them feel it gives them something to hold onto - guidelines they can print out and refer back to when they're unsure of how to organize their writing or find the "real" meaning of what an English-speaking writer is saying in an essay.)
- a space to host links to readings and to post assignments, due dates, syllabus, etc. (Purpose: basic information exchange, basically one-way from teacher to student. I suppose all this could be transferred via email as well, so a separate interface wouldn't be necessary.)
- a threaded discussion space (Purpose: give them a space within which to collaborate on reading analysis/writing process assignments.)
- some sort of online, auto-grading quiz program (Purpose: grammar & editing review. Many of my students can take fill-in-the-blanks tests wonderfully, but ask them to apply the grammar rules they've memorized in order to correct simple sentence errors and they freeze. I want the students to polish their editing skills without getting caught in the "grammar bog" that some ESL writing classes can become. Auto-grading editing quizzes would provide a realistic scenario - here's some text with grammar errors, now edit it - for students to apply their theoretical knowledge to. Results would come back with feedback (and explanations for why a certain correction was necessary if a student got it wrong) and suggestions for independent study (see this book, this chapter) if a student found their skills lacking. Again, I do something similar through Bb with my f2f writing classes. Even though I see the quiz results and assign nominal grades, they're mostly for the students to see where their personal weaknesses are so they can study up.)
- and MAYBE some sort of real-time communication, either as text chat, VOIP or video conferencing (HERE's where I'm kind of unsure. Real-time communication with ESL students can be painful face-to-face. There are issues of comfort level, pronunciation, listening comp and much more. I can see VOIP being an absolute disaster if the students can't understand each other or me - and vice versa - without visual cues. However, video conferencing takes lots of bandwidth and might not be a realistic alternative at this stage. And I can see text chat collapsing under the weight of time and effort it would take for Chinese speakers to type out everything they wanted to say in real time in English. I would want a real-time communication option because the concepts I try to get across in a reading/writing class are really challenging ones. I'm not asking my students to memorize a list of vocabulary words or translate sentences...I'm asking them to re-order the way they think about the world. It's something most of them have never even considered in their own language, much less in a foreign one. So, I think being able to talk these concepts over and analyze how they appear in different texts is crucial, and I think real-time communication is vital for some students to really "get it." I just don't know how well it would work out with a learner group like this.)

So, there we have list of small pieces. Of course, I feel like all these choices are based on the system I know and currently use, which is an LMS. I'd love to hear anyone who has a "well, have you considered this...?" option to give me. What's out there that I haven't even considered using but might add a valuable dimension to what I'm trying to accomplish? Comments, please!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Time Lag

Strange...I decided to check my Bloglines feeds after making the previous post to see if my Splindarella feed showed as updated. It didn't. I waited. No change.

I seem to recall reading that Bloglines checks for updates every 30 seconds. Could I be mistaken? Or could there be some other reason why my blog has been updated but my RSS aggregator doesn't seem to realize it?
Blogging Assignment 2: Metacognitive Exercise

I feel as though I’ve stepped through Alice’s looking glass this semester. Up till now, my MS classes in the VC have – comfortingly, if not always conveniently – been conducted within the restrictive confines of our own little LMS. I now find myself branching out – blogging here, forum-ing there, trying desperately to keep track of all the “small pieces” that my once-monolithic learning system suddenly seems to have fragmented into.

If, as Clark Aldrich claims, the “loose join” to all those small pieces is Humanity 3.0, I think I must be stuck somewhere back in evolution’s v1.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Mr. Aldrich’s attempt to humanize the fragmented, faceless world of small pieces loosely joined. I appreciate the commentators who echo the sentiment that it’s the people, not the technology, doing the joining. I just don’t buy it, at least not for me.

Maybe I’m a poor organizer at heart. Maybe I need better time-management skills. Maybe my diet is deficient in ginkgo biloba, or maybe I just need to tie more strings around my fingers. Maybe I need a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. All I know is that the one comment that made me heave a sigh of relief came from Harold Jarche, who noted that some small pieces (such as Moodle) are moving towards integration with other small pieces. These “integrated” small-piece systems would preserve the pick-and-choose nature of the loose join while (as I envision it) providing the common connection that we v1 Humans need.

Perhaps v3 Humans can be their own loose joins. Perhaps they can manage their time, their desktops, their resumes well enough to juggle all the connections effortlessly. My admiration for those skillful souls is boundless. I, however, need some help. I need a central source to go to in order to make my loose joins retain some sort of connection; without it, I feel constantly adrift, my small pieces floating ever farther apart in the internet universe.

As an online instructor, I would never be so bold as to assume my students could independently maintain the loose joins of many small pieces since I don’t feel confident doing it myself. I would want some centralized “organizer” to be available (even if students chose not to use it in favor of developing their own organizational and tracking systems) to bring together the disparate pick-and-choose elements. Maybe it would resemble a beefed-up RSS aggregator – capable of linking all the small pieces together, showing when a piece had been updated or changed, summarizing key content from each piece and providing a checklist of what-to-do-when in each piece. Even a simpler aggregator, capable of being a central “holding station” for all the small pieces even if it couldn’t draw content from them to form summaries and checklists, would be preferable to leaving students to fend completely for themselves.

Small pieces loosely joined may be the future – or, at least, one future – of online education. Making sure users have the ability (either self-generated or derived from external sources) to organize, access and keep track of those small pieces is the key to success in that future. Seeing to that might ensure that there will be room in the loosely-joined online learning environment for all versions of Humanity.

Friday, September 23, 2005

How could I not link to a blog titled Yarn Harlot? The fact that it's wry and witty and full of photos of to-die-for hand knits is simply icing on the cake. Check it out:

Yarn Harlot

Heather & Max's Dolls

I can't tell you how delighted I am with how these turned out. When my daughter was just shy of 2 months old, she received a doll like the one on the left as a gift. It had black hair and brown eyes, just like my little girl, and it was the perfect size and shape for her small arms to hug. I immediately decided that I needed to make a pair of the dolls to send one of my best friends, who had just given birth to twins.

The doll was easy enough to copy. Not much more than a simple knitted tube, I was surprised that when I added details - face, hair, bow - it came together in such an adorable way. I sent off Heather and Max's dolls when they were about 6 weeks old (they live with their parents in Sweden) and the babies have snuggled up with them ever since.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Splindarella's Scarf

Not too shabby, eh? Although I've recently become obsessed with knitting, my first love is crocheting. As soon as I saw the pattern for this crocheted cable scarf, I knew I had to make it. Crocheted lengthwise, it uses super-bulky yarn (machine wash/dry - woo-hoo!) and simple stitches to achieve what is, IMHO, a very impressive effect. Warm as heck, too, and believe it or not, a quick project. Watch out, family - you might all be getting one like this for Christmas!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Here goes...our first journal assignment and my first attempt at using Blog This (check out the link at the bottom of this entry for an interesting poem about dead blogs).

Blog Journal Activity #1

“Blogging + Video=Vlogging” reports on the latest twist on the “traditional” blog (if such a new medium can be called traditional): using video clips instead of written text to keep a blog. The author notes that the number of vlogs has increased dramatically during the past year alone, and she quotes several dedicated vloggers who seem to feel that vlogging has unlimited potential for equalizing the creation and distribution of media. “The potential for everyone to self-publish has the ability to revolutionize the world,” enthuses vlogger Clint Sharp.

Vlogging, no doubt, brings a 21st century flair to the age-old practice of diary-keeping. However, how will vlogging fare in the long term? Specifically, how long can self-published vlogs (as opposed to vlogs published by media organizations) hope to ride the wave of popularity as the initial enthusiasm wanes and the realities of technological time-suck take hold?

Keeping a diary, whether offline or on, takes time. Vlogging takes that time commitment to the next level. No longer is it enough to let words spill out onto the page; the vlogger must shoot video, upload, edit, score…. As vlogger Chuck Olsen noted, "I hardly ever spend less than two to three hours (on a video), even if it's something simple… I've definitely stayed up all night making like a three-minute video to post on my blog, which I don't recommend.” How long will individual vloggers, who receive no monetary compensation for their efforts, be willing to put in the time needed to maintain their vlogs?

A quick google search on “dead blog” turns up over 39,000,000 hits. Just as diarists throughout history have abandoned their writings over time, so too are bloggers abandoning their blogs by the hundreds. While blogging itself is far from dying, for every blog that is faithfully updated there seems to be at least one that has fallen by the wayside. Will vlogging follow the same path? Only time will tell.

The American Street � Blog Archive � On Dead Blog Sites
OK, so I don't do blogs...or, rather, I didn't do blogs. This is an assignment, but as long as I have to do it, I might as well have fun along the way.

Splindarella = Spin (my latest obsession - not the "on a bicycle that goes nowhere" kind, but the "turning fiber into yarn" kind) + Linda (yours truly) + a small nod to Salt-n-Pepa ("What a man, what a man, what a man, what a MIghty good man..." - great stuff, that) and their DJ Spinderella

Splindarella's Blog = a place for me to post my class assignments, play with blogging technology and just have fun

Welcome to the Blog!