22 Nov

Lost in Technology

This past week was an online feast I had not experienced before. I tried to catch as many sessions of the conference Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008 at which great minds shared their knowledge, experience, and thoughts. I will blog about that over the weekend a bit more trying to summarize important points for me before they get lost in next week’s travel excitement.

On top of that it was the 11th week of CCK08. Though I have not been an active participant in the course by way of writing blog posts, discussing in Moodle etc., I try to participate in the Wednesday Elluminate and Frida uStream sessions. I always look forward to them.

As we are nearing the end of the course next week and I will not be able to attend the last sessions (maybe next Friday if I am very lucky), I was happy that I would be able participate today during a break of the online conference. However, as our hosts Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, and George Siemens are very busy people, we did have to have one day when a session would have to be canceled. That was the case today. Nevertheless, and due to not reading “The Daily” earlier, three of us (Eduardo, Lisa and I) gathered in uStream and reached the decision to have our session anyway. Thus, we did get to have our revolution after all (if you don’t know what I am referring to, I point you to the beginning of the uStream session of Week 5). πŸ˜‰

Lisa quickly pointed us to her uStream channel, but as all of us had never experimented with uStream before, we had difficulty to bring everybody in on the audio (and video). Andreas and Carmen joined us there after they got our Twitter messages. Soon, we realized that we couldn’t get onto the uStream audio and decided to try Skype because that would allow us – in theory – to audio chat together.

That meant to get all our Skype IDs together and start a conference call. We kept uStream open to be able to text chat while continuing the tech experiment in Skype to get everybody in there. After some bits of discussion in Skype in a smaller conference call with three of us and the other ones listening to Lisa filling them in and text chatting in uStream, we were all united: Eduardo in Uruguay, Lisa in Southern California, Carmen in Minnesota, Andreas in Germany and I in Luxembourg.

Unfortunately, the tech gods did not have their protective eye on me during that hour. I could only get sound through uStream although I was on Skype and could be heard through there. On top of that my audio lacked behind between 30 seconds and 1 minute thus making it difficult to contribute to the conversation in a timely fashion. I usually cut in while others were talking and I felt aweful about that because I interrupted the entire conversation. I resorted to text chat in the end but could hear everybody.

As Lisa rightly said, “And here, you know, the pipe really was more important than the content.” That was certainly true. We had to figure out how to connect and not just connect but bring everybody on the same tool and allow for participation (no willing CCK08 participant left behind). Due to the technical problems, we could not finish our discussion on the blog software we used for what reason, what we will do after CCK08 will be over, whether we will continue blogging, staying in contact etc. It would have been a really interesting discussion had we had more time and mastered our internet communication tools better.

Hosting a live session certainly takes preparation and even when you have all the technology available to you that does not mean that it will cooperate and do what you want. However, we managed to get connected and stay that way more or less using two tools (not in one environment) simultaneously.

A big THANK YOU to Jeff who usually manages our Friday sessions and stays on top of his tech game to connect Dave, George, and Stephen to us from wherever they are on the planet and with whatever internet connection they have to work with. He’s always in the background handling the difficult part of connecting everybody as smoothly as possible.

After our allotted time for our Friday class, everybody went back to their other tasks. I wondered what happened to theΒ  intentions to have meetups as they were discussed at the beginning of the course. There are two Second Life group that meet / met regularly if I remember correctly: one English-speaking one and one Spanish-speaking one. Are there other groups? Maybe even face-to-face ones? How often do / did they meet? What are their experiences?

Our little group was a great experience today, we stayed in class, and learned together without our teachers / instructors / facilitators / moderators / curators / enablers…

Communicating online can be more difficult but still be fun

Communicating online can be more difficult but still be fun

05 Oct

Salad Bowl vs. Melting Pot: Old Metaphors Revisited

In preparation for CCK08’s Week 5 (yeah, I did some reading again, finally πŸ™‚ ), I read Stephen Downes’ transcribed presentation on “Groups vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues“. He makes compelling distinctions between groups and networks and uses old metaphors that I know from my English and North American Cultural Studies classes.

Groups – groups are defined by their unity. In fact, one of the first things you do in a group is you try to maintain its unity. A group need to be, in some sense, cohesive, united, “e pluribus unum”. Or to keep this politically fair, “The people united will never be defeated,” the “melting pot”, the encouragement to be the same, the encouragement to have the same values, to follow the same vision, to be, in some relevant way, like the others because that’s what the group is. (Downes, 2006, ΒΆ40)

Image by Watchcaddy, June 11, 2008

"Melting pot dinner" by Watchcaddy, June 11, 2008

Networks, on the other hand, are salad bowls:

In Canada, we were all taught, is a salad bowl where each entity, the lettuce, the tomato, the whatever, cucumber, I don’t know what you put in salads. That’s what we put in salads. All of these things maintain their distinctness and their identity and by maintaining their distinctness and identity, they create a whole that is something distinct and different from any individual entity and indeed, something that cannot be created without maintaining that distinctness and identity.

[…] And so there is this idea of the network, there is this idea of distinctness and diversity in an environment where people are encouraged not to be the same, but to be different. (Downes, 2006, ΒΆ46-47)

Sald in metal bowl by mollyali, October 23, 2007

"Salad in metal bowl" by mollyali, October 24, 2007

These two metaphors provide me with a very clear distinction between these two concepts that help to keep them apart. Stephen’s tabular comparison between groups and networks is of additional help to get some characteristics straightened out.

Groups and Networks by Stephen Downes, September 24, 2006

Groups and Networks by Stephen Downes, September 24, 2006

This distinction had me already wondering before when the terms “group” and “network” were used in CCK08. Finally, the week has arrived where these issues will be addressed closely. πŸ™‚

Do we have groups in our course or subnetworks?

In presentations and the synchronous sessions, there has been a lot of talk about groups within CCK08. Are they true groups taking Stephen’s characteristics from his eFest presentation into consideration or are they something else? The only argument indicating to “group” is that some aspects of CCK08 are closed at first glance: you must be a member of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twine, Diigo, Google Groups, Second Life etc. to have access to unofficial parts of CCK08 that were created in these services. However, membership in these groups is open to anyone who wants to identify with CCK08. We are free to come, join, contribute, and leave. Some other avenues are entirely open: the course blog, the course wiki, the course Moodle (though you have to sign in when you want to contribute), the Google map, the blog posts, Twitter messages.

The “groups” within CCK08, at least as far as I perceive them, are not coordinated or dominated by one person, but everybody can contribute equally and bring in her/ his points of view. Usually, there is a person who sets up a certain service, e.g. the Facebook group, the Twine etc., but that does not mean that this person dictates the direction of the discussion or the (correct) use during the course. To speak in the salad bowl metaphor: This person just provides the bowl in which all ingredients can mix happily.

Then, is such an arrangement still a group? I had feared that this discussion might have already happened as Week 3 already dealt with network properties. However, searching the Moodle forums, I only came up with one reference for “subnetwork”, but the discussion centers on something else. As I do not have an overview of all blog posts, I may be missing reflections and / or discussions that have been going on there about this topic.

Looking at Stephen’s comparison, I think, we form subnetworks within our CCK08 network and not groups. Thus, do we use the term “group” only in a very wide everyday sense of something like “people gathering together to accomplish something” (leaving out all other aspects like leadership, prescribed values, centralization etc.)?

01 Oct

Who cares about grades?*

@timbuckteeth (aka Steve Wheeler) tweeted his Twitter grade today (and beat me to a blog post that I got to know about via Twitter while writing this one here). It was at 67. In his blog post, Steve brings up examples of edubloggers that score much higher or are not found at all for no explainable reason. Thus, I can happily refer to his work without coming up with my own list. πŸ™‚

However, while I was unaware of Steve’s post, I had already run the Twitter Grader on my account (yeah, I know, now it’s not only ego Googling but also ego grading πŸ˜‰ ), and came up with a 47. That means that I “score higher than 47 percent of the other user profiles that have been graded.” Randomly running another account through the mill, I chose @gsiemens and he got a “0”. Wow. Surely, that must have been a mistake. After re-grading him because he can’t have such a low grade (and because I messed up my first 2 screencasts), he finally had a grade of 97.7. That is more like my perception of his Twitter activity. πŸ˜‰

Now I was curious as to the methods used for the grading. The website only gives the following general information:

The Twitter Grade measures the relative power of a Twitter user. It is calculated as a percentile score. […]

Your grade is calculated using a combination of factors including:

* The number of followers you have
* The power of this network of followers
* The pace of your updates
* The completeness of your profile
* …a few others.

The “a few others” are the bolts that make this interesting. What are these? How do they figure in? What were the selection criteria for the 36,133 ranks? What do these ranks represent? There are 3,134,420 accounts according to TwitDir (stats from today) that only lists public accounts. So how does it work? Or is it just a nice gadget that you try once, look at your rank, be (not so) happy and then never think back to it?

The grader does not return a pretty visualization to look at, but the final grade is already powerful in itself if you take it seriously and try to figure out what your grade actually means for your Twitter network.

I don’t really trust the calculations (which you should never do anyway unless you manipulated them yourself) because the ranking does not stop at 100. @Scobleizer, a high-flyer in terms of followers (34,968), following (20,991) and updates (14,402) got a rank of 100.3! Explain that to me please. πŸ˜‰

Scobleizers twitter grade

Scobleizer's twitter grade

On a lighter note and aside from statistics etc.: While you are waiting for the computing teacher to come up with your grade, you are treated to some human phrases instead of the usual “Loading…”.

The human in Twitter Grader (Flash required)

* … when it comes to Twitter?

14 Sep

It’s the end of week 1 as I see it

The first week of the MOOC CCK08 (these abbreviations are already ingrained in my brain) is almost over. I still have a lot of work to do, but have to interrupt it after this post to prepare some stuff for work. Unfortunately, I cannot devote my entire waking hours to the course which I think would be extremely helpful at times to really follow up on interesting discussions and trying to contribute to them instead of just opening them in my tabs in Firefox. I don’t feel comfortable to jump into a very theoretical discourse if I still need to straighten out the basics in my head. Hopefully with time it will get better, my inner optimist encourages me. Of course, I don’t and can’t follow all discussions, but at least the ones that I am interested in should be possible. πŸ™‚

The “Mookies” (Stephen Downes coined that name for people who participate in a MOOC) have been producing a lot of writing, video, concept maps and other visualizations in this past week. The visualizations certainly help me to get a better idea of the connections among us all and to sort out the many participants.

Tom Whyte and Trevor Meister try to come up with visual representations of our networks. Tom has started on the Twitter connections and Trevor put forward his ambitious and awesome ideas in his blog entry “Visual Network Interactions in CCK08“. As of now, Tom had already nine Twitter networks connected and there will hopefully be added many more. There are common connections already within these nine networks, and the network map starts to become complex. Pretty soon, we will need to invest in screens as big as walls and have them multi-touch enabled to navigate through this visualization. πŸ™‚

I order to see where I have been active and to reflect on my sparse activity during the week, I collected all Moodle and blog posts as well as tweets connected to the the course and put them in the infamous Wordle. Of course, I already knew where my emphasis was in the discussions, but maybe I had missed something which could have come up in the visualization.

Wordle of my participation in Week 1 in CCK08

Wordle of my participation in Week 1 in CCK08

Common English words as well as numbers have been removed by the program which leaves the most often used words in the visualization. As you can see, “course”, “can” (isn’t that also a common English word?), “use”, and “moodle” dominate the word cloud. I never imagined being drawn into a discussion on Moodle as much as a I was, but that is what happened and where I posted mainly. In hindsight, this forum, albeit I am not an expert on Moodle and there are participants in the course who are much more familiar with the software, was a safe place for me because I knew the topic, had read about advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning environment, had tried a few myself, have worked with them for several years now and was confident that I could contribute something. Although it was a safe spot, that does not mean that it was not challenging, just not challenging in the same way as if I had tried to wrap my mind around a less familiar topic.

My resolution for the coming weeks is to spread out more thematically to the discussions closer to connectivism trying to geet a better understanding of the theory. I am not sure yet, if the coming epistomological week will actually be the perfect week to start with ;-), but I will try my best and stick with the discussions even though I may be a more silent observer.

For this week’s Wordle, I have tried several versions as the words are redrawn every time you select a different font. Finally, I chose the one above as it gives me hope for my New Year’s course resolution. “Connections” sticks out a bit from the rest of the words and I take that as a sign for the next weeks: Look out for new connections and foster the ones that have started growing and that I want to keep. Connect week 1 with the coming ones.

The gathering of the data I used to feed to Wordle showed me that I will need a different strategy if I want to continue doing that for the next weeks. It’s been only one week and I had to remember where I had posted. It was rather easy for Moodle because you can access all forum posts of one person in the profile. However, for the blog entries it would have been more difficult had I posted more. In the first instance I even forgot Twitter. So I went back there, got my tweets out with Tweetake, the service Tom uses for his experiment, and fed it to Wordle as well. Next time, I guess, I should also include Facebook. The only thing I can think of right now is to paste anything immediately after posting into a document to keep track of. That’s the disadvantage of the distributed discussions, but I would not change that for the sake of ease to gather data. That would be like adapting your teaching to the technology that is available and being unhappy about it.

To end this post on an optimistic note, I am looking forward to the continued discussions, (visual) experiments, live online sessions (I hope I can make the Elluminate session on Wednesday) besides starting the new semester and everything that comes with that.

10 Sep

Elluminate me

A crowd of approx. 82 participants of the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course, commonly known as CCK08, just met in a synchronous online session in Elluminate. It was quite an experience for me as that was my first live session in Elluminate. Previously, I was only able to watch recorded sessions of webinars.

Participating in this hour long discussion was challenging as I had to listen to the various speakers and watch the rapidly flowing chat. This time, the whiteboard could still be mostly looked at peripherally. Had the session been at the previously set time (2 a.m. in the morning for me), I would not have been able to follow for most of the time, I guess, as I am not a night owl. πŸ˜‰

I think I would have coped a little bit better even now if the chat window had been bigger. This little window was way too small for me to see the comments properly. I’m not talking about the size of the font, but rather the comments themselves. At times they just sped past and were gone beyond the scrollbar. Maybe I can increase the window size. I haven’t figured that one out yet. However, I still have 11 more weeks to go to either find a way to enlarge the text chat area or to get used to reading the comments in the small window without losing track of the speaker. πŸ™‚

This shows that I am not so good at multi-tasking. George Siemens, who moderated the session by himself for a few minutes before Stephen Downes joined, and was already there before the session, did a wonderful job of talking and reading the comments at the same time and getting back to them.

Screenshot of an (empty) Elluminate session. The text chat box is way too small for my liking as a lot of stuff happens in there.

Screenshot of an (empty) Elluminate session. The text chat box is way too small for my liking as a lot of stuff happens in there.