Archive for June, 2007

Using Tag Clouds for insight into what’s important

June 29, 2007

It started because the TagCloud on our university-sponsored blog was broken. Since it doesn’t look promising for a fix, I Googled and I found US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud, which gives some cool insights into what was important in the times of various presidents. (Check out the the appearance of the word “war” relative to other words.)

Since TagCloud died, I went looking for alternatives, and ways we might build them. I’d rather find a free resource that we could feed RSS into, but with TagCloud gone, maybe we need to take it on.

Ideas and thoughts on addressing this are welcome.

Washington State University’s Global Campus

June 27, 2007

WSU has a new President, Elson Floyd and he has a vision to expand our distance education efforts.

“In order to realize this vision we must partner across the University to provide a full array of academic courses and degree programs and offerings for our current and prospective students in a robust electronic format. I envision a full menu of courses and programs that can be accessed by learners anytime and at any location.”

A decade ago, I would have found this vision exciting (I was naive and the Internet was young). Now I find it a daunting challenge. With a crowded field of other school’s online offerings, Western Governor’s University, MIT open courseware online, and the University of Phoenix, I have to wonder how to design WSU’s offering to make it unique and differentiated in the marketplace.

MIT describes its resource:

“a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world.


  • Is a publication of MIT course materials
  • Does not require any registration
  • Is not a degree-granting or certificate-granting activity
  • Does not provide access to MIT faculty”

Which opens an interesting hole, create a program that advertises it takes advantage of MIT materials, but provides access to faculty and grants degrees or certificates.

But how to scale the “access to faculty” (presumably Floyd wants this program to have a large enrollment) and be able to advertise taking advantage of MIT’s materials without straightjacketing WSU programs to the scope of MIT offerings or WSU faculty to teaching with MIT-created materials?

Competing with University of Phoenix will involve working with returning learners, learners situated in the context of jobs and life experiences. How to appeal to them when a large fraction of WSU upperclassmen say their courses involve memorization and not application of information?

If this Global offering is so appealing, how should it be designed so that it does not cannibalize the enrollment of WSU-Pullman’s residential campus?

Can campus-based courses with small enrollments be augmented with distance learners such that the cost of hiring new faculty can be deferred until the program has a head of steam? If so, what implications does this have for the design of courses to meet the needs of both residential and distance learners?

In an era of “No College Left Behind” assessment, how will this offering differentiate itself, by competing on the NAICU or NASULGC measure? WSU is looking at the latter, but will that provide the product differentiation in the marketplace that this global initiative needs to succeed?

And finally, in an online world, the next university is only a click away, how to retain students once they are recruited and not end up with a large fraction of a student’s transcript being transferred in from other providers?

Cover Flow & Quick Look

June 16, 2007

Cover Flow – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and Quick Link in the new Apple Leopard OS X have some interesting implications for thinking about visual portfolios. The two tools combined give some new ways to think about browsing and forming overall impressions about a portfolio. Watching the middle portion of Job’s June 11 WWDC keynote will give you some impression of the idea. (Features 5 & 6 of his talk).

Beppe Grillo Launches Citizen Primaries: Online organizing for F2F community

June 14, 2007

Previously I reflected on how to use community online to integrate with off-line community organizing.

This is a different take on that idea, at a much different scale. But its also the same idea. Grillo is posting an idea and soliciting perspectives. Found via the SmartMobs tag in

Beppe Grillo Launches Citizen Primaries: Italian Blogger Takes On Participatory Grassroots Politics Via His Own Blog – Robin Good’s Latest News
Particularly striking has been Beppe Grillo’s idea to recently launch the Citizen Primaries on his blog (English version here). The idea for Beppe is to put out a number of suggestions and solutions to different important issues, such as energy or the economy and to then let all Italian readers publicly comment and provide in-depth feedback to them in the blog. A participatory, grassroots democratic process in which everyone can participate to respond, extend or counter Beppe Grillo many interesting and much needed suggestions.

Visible Past — thinking beyond Second Life

June 13, 2007

An interesting articleVisible Past: Learning and discovering in real and virtual space and time by Matei, Miller, Arns, Rauh, Hartman and Bruno is exploring collaborative mapping. The abstract says:

Visible Past proposes a cross platform, scalable environment (Exploratorium) for collaborative social, geographic, and historical education and research. The Exploratorium will be deployed in a variety of settings, from Web to fully immersive virtual reality environments. Educational activities can be formal (classroom teaching) or informal (conducted in a museum or self–directed online learning setting). The specific goals of the Exploratorium concept are two–fold: 1) to create a set of tools for collecting, organizing, or disseminating knowledge in a collaborative manner at various scales and in various formats; and, 2) to extend and refine a theoretical framework and methodological tools for prototyping and testing future research and learning applications and architectures that benefit from 3D and location aware applications. The heart of the Visible Past Exploratorium concept, the Exploratorium, is an information space built on top of a georeferenced wiki database that can be accessed through a variety of avenues: full immersion 3D environments, Web interfaces, or Geographic Exploration Systems (GES), such as Google Earth or NASA’s World Wind.

The article goes on with a critique of Second Life:

“For all of their titillation and sparkle, for all of their realized and future potential, Second Life–like environments aren’t engineered (yet) to be open, expandable platforms for communication and social interaction across spaces and experiences. Second Life falls short of being an architecture supported by open and extensible protocols that can seamlessly support 2D and 3D worlds beyond its own. Opening the Second Life idea to data and geographies that connect real worlds to real social communities opens it to existing and future virtual environments, existing and future participatory communities, and existing and future scholarship and teaching methodologies.”

This goes well beyond the more limited explorations Steve Spaeth and I have undertaken with Wayfaring and other tools.

On Groups, Networks and Collectives

June 12, 2007

Steven Downes’ post on the traits he sees that distinguish groups and networks drew a response from Scott Wilson who tried to create a different diagram and also pointed at this item where Jon Dron and Terry Anderson have been “developing a paper for ELearn in which we’ve been wrestling with the distinctions between three granularities of social software. In the process it has helped me to clarify Stephen Downe’s distinctions between groups and networks, the way that certain tools seem optimized for different levels of these granularities (for example blogs are better for networks than for groups) and it has helped us to create a rationale for use of collectives in formal education.” (There are several related posts off of the Anderson and Dron blogs.)

It got me thinking about some of these ideas, and the story from Xerox where the repair technicians were instructed to keep their two-way radios on so that they could listen to the chatter among their group as members went about distributed repair jobs. In effect the always on radios created a virtual water cooler that provided peer networking and support.

Within our office we have been talking about a dimension of annual reviews called “Attendance,” and spent a morning retreat thinking about how we wanted to define that term. The discussion sought to move away from “seat time” (which is probably the University’s original meaning) to ideas of “attending to” the needs of the group, the implications of one’s work on others, the implications of some external event on other aspects of the group.

I’m pondering how “attendance” as we are trying to use it attenuates as one moves out from group to network to collectives. We have another category “professional development” which we are extending from the original meaning (for oneself) to facilitating the development of members of the unit, peers at the institution and even wider circles. This also seems to attenuate as it moves out. Posting findings in, for example, might serve the collective. Pointing colleagues to specific results might simultaneously advance the more local group.

Student-owned learning resources – regulate or educate?

June 12, 2007

I’m following a thread that starts with the upcoming IWMW Conference in July 2007 and a discussion started by Alison Wildish of how the university might think of embracing student-owned learning resources (aka Facebook, gmail accounts, etc). The thread took me to an article in The Register:

Keele University has ordered its students to watch their mouths on Facebook, and asked them not to express dissatisfaction with the institution on social networking sites.

The administration was provoked by a Facebook group called “James Knowles is a Twat”. Professor James Knowles is an English literature academic at the Staffordshire university.

Members of the group were warned that the group was unacceptable and would be dealt with “very severely” if it continued.

These reminded me of a recent piece in InsideHigherEd exploring the reliability of compared to campus-based course evaluations. (Original article: versus formal in-class student evaluations of teaching Theodore Coladarci & Irv Kornfield (PDF)) The authors tentatively make a recommendation similar to Alison’s:

“First, and predicated on the belief that is not going to go away, higher education institutions should consider encouraging their students to post ratings and comments on RMP. If a large proportion of an institution’s student body were to regularly and responsibly contribute to RMP, the potential value of that information to the institution would only be enhanced.”

“Higher education institutions should make their [student evaluations of teaching] data publicly available online. Although students doubtless would applaud this move, many faculty would oppose it because of genuine concerns about privacy and the negative consequences that published SET data may bring (e.g., see Howell & Symbaluk, 2001). But privacy is a thing of the past in the age of RMP, MySpace, and the like.”

Which brings us back to the Keele case. What is a “responsible” (to apply Coladarci and Kornfield’s word to Keele) Facebook group? Perhaps a group that engaged in critical thinking rather than ranting. And what is responsible rating of professors — perhaps not chili peppers but an engagement with the way the course contributed to substantive learning outcomes. Are current student evaluations of teaching as “responsible” as they might be, or are they chili pepper ratings in disguise? Perhaps universities should provide the vehicle (facilitation of critical engagement) that would allow students to judge and develop for themselves the desired “responsible” faculties. Perhaps this is one of the true missions of the institution.

Zoho Creator — web-based database application

June 11, 2007

Long ago Steve Spaeth had discovered NumSum, and then later I commented that its spreadsheet functions appeared in Google (after it swallowed Writely).
I keep waiting for JotSpot to re-emerge from being swallowed by Google, and in the mean time, am looking for light-weight collaborative tools for small collaborations. FreeSharePoint is a possibility, but the learning curve for SharePoint makes it such that its not light-weight.

Now Steve has turned me on to Zoho Creator, a web-based database application. I found him exploring Google’s ability to index his databases. I watched the demo. Looks like you can create a normalized database, at least some simple ones. And you get an application that you can invite others to use. Interesting potential here.

Managing comment spam, implications for Web 2.0 learning

June 8, 2007

I need to come up with better process for dealing with spam being posted to this blog. My typical process is to just ignore the notifications I’m getting about replies to my posts and then occasionally delete 500 spam items, but when I’m preparing to delete, I always find the occasional real reply among the trash. I really don’t want to throw those babies out with the bath water. But I have adopted this procedure because I don’t want to spend time every day reviewing and deleting the trash.

In today’s deletions I noticed a range of university resources being hijacked by spammers. Below are example links (I left something off each link so it doesn’t point to the spammer’s content). If universities are having a problem with their systems begin compromised by spammers, what should be advocated to learners who are opting to manage their personal learning environments? Will spam force learners to retreat into closed web communities and what are the implications of that?

Cheating on online exams (a speculation)

June 8, 2007

In Open Source Assessment I wrote a reply to Stephen Downes’ ideas about open source assessment and open source course design. One of the advantages of the thread he started is the assessment ideas are relatively “cheat proof.” I was reminded of this issue because of an incident we have been investigating from the close of the last semester – during Finals week our WebCT server suffered a crash and in the logs were many connections to the chat port. I speculated (now refuted) that students where chatting concurrent with working on their exam. (Turns out that the chat port is also used by an innocent “who’s online” function.)

But the speculation stands:

  • Facebook offers twelve 3rd party applications under the “Chat” heading including “WalkieTalkie gives each Facebook group a dedicated voice channel. Just push and talk.”
  • Facebook facilitates students making groups associated with their class.
  • And students are online concurrently during a high-stakes online exam.

Now, maybe using Facebook to cheat with your classmates is too brazen, and so students opt to exchange IM names and to message one-on-one, but they are online concurrently during an exam, and often at unproctored locations, so the potential must have been recognized by at least some students.