The Open Educator as DJ / TTIX reflections

So I definitely slowed down posting here, committed to only posting when I had something significant to say, but then I don’t seem to be even able to do that? Anyways, I haven’t passed away or anything, indeed I am just back from the fantastic gathering in Utah that was the TTIX conference. Put on by good friends Jared Stein and John Krutsch (amongst other talented folks) this annual FREE conference has much to offer both K-12 and post-secondary educators, and this year included keynotes from myself, Chris Lott and Brian Lamb.

Well, Brian urged us to “Go hard or go home” and I think each of us did in our own ways. Brian delivered another of his great talks on the “Urgency of Open Education,”  a ‘must see.’ And Chris…well Chris nearly brought me to tears with his talk on “The Idea of the Idea.” Far from being the dry talk the title might imply, this was a romp through the history of ideas which ended in a heartfelt plea for a return to deep humanistic teaching, not as a luxury but as an imperative. I strongly urge you to spend the time and effort this talk demands.

And me? Well cowed as I was by these stellar co-speakers, I did my best not to throw up and gesticulated wildly through “The Open Educator as DJ.” I am reasonably happy how it came off, and pleased that I will get at least a second chance at it this fall at the ADL Academic Fest in Madison, Wisconsin. I really did try to show, not just tell (you can see a demo of each of the steps in the workflow here) but ultimately I do think there was too much telling, so I plan to rework that.

I was especially excited to do this talk not only because some good friends had asked me to do a keynote (which always brings up your game) but because for me this talk represents the synthesis of a number of different strands of my work from the past years, bringing together stuff from “Mashups for Non-Programmers,” (2007) “Augmenting OER with Client-Side Tools: A Demonstration” (2007) “The Pros and Cons of Loosely Coupled Teaching,” (2007) “How I learned to stop worrying and love Web 2.0,” (2007) “Weaving your own Personal Learning Network,” (2008) “Becoming a Network Learner – Towards a Practice of Freedom,” (2008) and finally “Pimp your Browser” (2009). I’m not citing all of these to show off, but instead because for me this last talk on “the Open Educator as DJ” represents the synthesis of thinking on how OER, PLEs and network learning/loosely-coupled-teaching are initimately related, a synthesis which I did not start with but which I have been groping towards in each new presentation. I keep telling you, I am a SLOW LEARNER!

There was a lot for people to take in; if you don’t want to spend the time going through the talk, you may at least find the resources useful. Ultimately, if there were only 3 things to take away from the talk, I would highlight:

  1. clipmarks (and as a critical new method to add to your arsenal which lets you sample and feed individual chunks of the web in a way that still preserves linkability and attribution
  2. As I tried to demonstrate with the example of the resources page, the myriad methods available to aggregate and syndicate content wherever you want it to appear
  3. the very idea of a network enabled workflow inspired by a metaphor from an existing discipline – as I tried to emphasize in the conclusion, even if the metaphor of “DJ” doesn’t resonate for you, find the one that does, because whether you know it or not, you are already using one, and hopefully by becoming conscious of it, it can become one that helps you to swim in the ever-deepening sea of information that surrounds us.

I think there are lots of holes in this talk, and I am always learning, so please, let me know what you think, what parts don’t resonate for you, and how I can make it better? – SWL

Walking the Web 2.0 Talk…and you can help

Next week I am back in Atlanta to give a talk on “Web 2.0” to the educational technology working group of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

At this point in the game, giving a talk on “Web 2.0” is pretty daunting, not because the topic is that difficult but because it’s been done so well so many times before that the challenge is how to keep it fresh and interesting.

I thought about this for a while and came up with the above approach. First off, rather than try to speak of “Web 2.0” in the abstract, I decided (inspired by Cogdog’s recent examples) to tell a story, in this case my own story of the various points where I came to accept that something new IS going on with Web 2.0. Like many, my tendency was to try and understand the present and the future in terms of the past. While at times this can serve you well, it also results in a tendency to underestimate the magnitude of true discontinuities. And it seems to me that anyone still needing a “what is Web 2.0” talk is likely suffering from this phenomenon, underestimating the disruption these innovations are already affecting.

The other approach I thought I’d try is to do the presentation as a page in mediawiki and then use the mediawiki presentation script during the presentation. (As an aside, I modified the script to work a little better, if you care you can install it from this page.) The idea, obviously, being to

  1. use Web 2.0 tools to talk about Web 2.0
  2. turn the presentation into a demonstration of some Web 2.0 phenomenom (write once/read anywhere; participatory web, etc)

That’s where you come in. I am about to send this page off to the organizers so that they can circulate it to the attendees with the request that they add to it, but I’m also looking for feedback and additions for you.

Each section has two links to areas I’m hoping people will add to. Each section heading has a link where I have added some additional notes, links and an invitation to steer the talk on that particular topic. And at the bottom of each section, there is a link for people to add their own stories of how they came to stop doubting and embrace the change being heralded in by Web 2.0. It’s there that I especially hope you will consider adding links back to your own blogs, your own personal stories of how you came to understand these various aspects of Web 2.0

If you decide to, you can edit the wiki using a generic account I’ve set up (username:wiki, password:wikiwiki). I’m hoping for at least a couple of outside contributions in an effort to demonstrate to decision makers from 16 southern states the power of the network. So please, consider adding a link or note on one of the sub-pages, and I will try to then work it into the larger presentation. – SWL

Suggestions for best sources on teaching with loosely coupled tools

So, if you’ll induldge me again, I have another question as a follow up to the last one.

What is your favourite source for finding new examples of people teaching online with loosely coupled tools? Is there a blogger you already follow who regularly posts great examples from the field? Or is there a trove of examples already identified that the rest of us might benefit from.

If you have specific examples to point to of people teaching with Web 2.0 tools or in a loosely coupled way, I would love to hear about those too, but right now I am trying to gather regular sources/feeds, people who regularly note best practice examples. Suggestions truly welcome – SWL

Study Stickies – Some Thoughts on Effective “Web 2.0” Annotation Systems

Amir Michail, the developer of a new service called Study Stickies, wrote an email asking me to look at and comment on his new service. Study Stickies is a ‘social’ note taking service for students. It allows them to enter info about textbooks, vodcasts, podcasts, PDFs and URLs and add study notes, linked to specific sections of these resources, which can also be tagged for finding and re-finding by others. It also seems to handle mathematical notations with ease.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea; indeed it reminded me of the “conversations” I’ve had with previous owners of second hand textbooks, evoked by their marginalia.

My issue, and what feels like it may be a challenge to adoption for a service like this, is around “where” the annotation takes place, “how” it occurs, both of which tie into the “why.” For instance, to annotate a textbook one needs to first enter in it’s ISBN number. But we already have a few places where students can find their textbooks online, either their library catalogues or A “web 2.0” approach, that took seriously the value in leveraging existing services, would either offer a way (say a bookmarklet) for users to cite the thing they are commenting on *in context*, or, say like LibraryThing, at least tie into the APIs of Google and library catalogues everywhere to offer a query service. This is the kind of thing I often hear dismissed as an “implementation detail” (god how I hate that phrase) but it’s one of those small things that has lead to the uptake of countless web 2.0 sites that ‘get it’ and which is not done in countless web 1.0 sites that don’t. This is the “how” I refer to above.

The second piece is the “where” – the annotation systems that really excite me, for this is in essence what Study Stickies is, are the ones, like Trailfire, that reveal the annotations in context, while I am looking at the very thing that is annotated, especially for the “re-finders.” Think back to my above comment about marginalia in second hand books; this is how the experience should work like, instead of like finding someone’s notebook from last year’s class and then piece by piece connecting it back to the pieces of content on which it is commenting.

And both of these minor “implementation details” for me tie into the “why” people do (or do not) use services like this. If it allows me to easily add a note, while I am studying materials online, then I am motivated to use it for my own uses, and the network benefits from my personally motivated actions. People often point to “tags” as being the fundamental reason for success, but I would argue that the bookmarklets and toolbars that allow you to easily add to it were equally part of its success. And if, while looking at a resource, I am told that there are already notes from others which may be of relevance to me, I become motivated, again for selfish reasons, to take advantage of the network resource and increase its value.

Maybe these issues are not fatal flaws for Study Stickies. I can see ways in which they can address these as they move forward, and clearly it is a very young system. But I’d suggest that small “implementation details” like this are actually some of the things that lead to explosive growth for many of these new systems.

Yet there is an important thing Study Stickies has which the more “internet-wide” systems don’t, and that’s context. When you find an annotation in Study Stickies, by definition it’s a “study note,” something that a user in a likely not-too-dissimilar context to your own made, which offers a good chance of enhancing its value to you. In an internet-wide system like Trailfire, who knows who made the mark and whether it has any value to you. Sure, sometimes they’ll bear serendipity, but as many times, not, and worse, things that by right and by law we are often required to shield out. Or else, what is now more common with the current generation of social software systems, you can form a group, but its yet another ad hoc group built anew with each app that comes along.


I have been trying for almost a week to finish this post. I wanted to talk about the critical need for not just open identification but, as importantly, open authorization. How their absence has allowed things like the Blackboard patent to flourish (read it, what do you think it’s about). And how these will provide the impetus for the next huge round of innovation, truely, social computing. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it in the time I have. So there. Rather than let this post go totally stale, click ‘Publish’ and be done with it. – SWL