Category Archives: Uncategorized

Won’t you join my wiki?

I want to follow-up on yesterday’s (multi-part) post about synchronous document editing on the Web by pointing to this post at Om Malik’s Broadband Blog. He wonders if the writing world is really ready for all of these web-based writing tools–particularly given some users’ (himself included) discomfort with writing in a browser. I must admit I can sort of relate (Shameful Little Secret: While writing online isn’t so much of a problem for me, I still have trouble reading on a computer screen. Sometimes. . .I even print articles/webpages/etc. Ahhhh, it feels so good to get that off my chest 😉 )

On the other hand, in the world of higher education we (generally) answer to a higher power: the 18-22 year-old. And I’ve heard from these young adults that they think writing in the wiki-ed/collaborative/socially-networked world is pretty darn cool. And really, it isn’t surprising that this kind of writing would be more comfortable for those who’ve grown up online.

Another point: as a commenter on Malik’s blog notes, these tools aren’t really about personal writing (and personal comfort) but about group writing and collaboration and the powerful synergy that can come out of this kind of activity. We may be more comfotable writing our documents off-line in Word, but offline we can’t acheive the kind of collaborative dynamic that Writely, Synchroedit, and others are aiming to give us

A Wiki to Watch?

Via edugadget last week, I came across the CaseWiki. I love this wiki. Case Western Reserve is providing it as an online space for all of the university’s constituents to collaborate about and share information.

What kind of information? It seems like any kind. The creators provide an orientation page with suggestions.

Taking a look at the activity on the wiki, I found some interesting stuff:

  1. A student’s record of the progress of his independent study.
  2. A collaborative space for the team currently working on the Case screen saver project.
  3. Notes about an authentication projection at Case.
  4. A personal page maintained by a student.
  5. Instructions and information about using the Case email service.

And, then there is this map of content that has been geographically tagged.

Wiki-purists may object to the fact that you do need to be a registered user to make edits, and you must have a CASE Network ID in order to become a registered user. But, personally, I can understand the University’s reluctance to open this up to the entire world. And I think the community of users represented by those with University ID’s is probably large enough to make this a meaningful project.

I think this is worth keeping an eye on. The real test is how this wiki grows and evolves. Will it become a meaningful respository of useful information? Or will it become a cluttered wasteland of Web pages that time forgot?

Stay tuned. . .

Explaining the Unexplainable

Earlier this week, Michael “Brownie” Brown, former head of FEMA, testified in Congress about the Hurricane Katrina disaster. From the transcript:

SHAYS: Did you ask for a higher authority to help you out? You’re the head of FEMA, but if the governor and mayor aren’t paying attention to you, I want to know who you asked for help?

BROWN: On Saturday and Sunday, I started talking to the White House.

SHAYS: To who? The White House is a big place.

BROWN: Uh-huh.

SHAYS: Give us specifics. I’m not asking about conversations yet. I want to know who you contacted.

BROWN: I exchanged e-mails and phone calls with Joe Hagin, Andy Card and the president.

You don’t think it’s possible that he was using the e-mail address on this page?

On Shoulders and Burdens

Interesting conversation over at Abject Learning in response to a post by
Brian Lamb about, specifically, Technorati woes, and, more generally, faculty frustration with technology. More eloquent folks than I have already weighed in on this, but I feel compelled to add my two cents.

First, how lucky are Brian’s faculty to have someone like him on their side? We all should care as deeply about the successes and frustrations that our faculty encounter as they set sail on the technology seas.

That said, I agree with commenters that a burden we all need to shoulder* (we=folks involved with integrating technology into the world of higher education), is the management of faculty expectations. Yes, “managing expectations” is a tired cliche in many ways, but it is still worth remembering from time to time. This burden becomes a little more difficult to balance when we are depending on systems and tools that are managed outside our own realms.

It is a difficult line to walk: How do we vigorously encourage faculty to engage with new technologies while simultaneously preparing them for the possible, periodic failure of these technologies?

One answer lies in how we respond to these failures. We need to approach these times as our own teachable moments–they are opportunties for educating our faculty on the reality of using technology. And, more importantly perhaps, they are the moments at which we need to talk even more loudly and vigorously about why using these technolgies is still great, even when they are occasionally prone to failure.

At the same time, we probably need to do a better job of preparing faculty on the outset of possible system failures and breakdowns. We need to do this, but I think we all know that many people won’t really learn this lesson until they actually experience a breakdown first-hand.

*Side note: When I went to re-read this post before publishing, I discovered that I had actually written “a shoulder we need to burden.” Sigh. Can you tell that the littlest Burtis thought she would like Momma to get up and play last night during the wee hours?

Powerpoint Excellence

Lawrence Lessig blogged about this presentation by Dick Hardt at OSCON2005. I’ve decided that the next time I do a workshop on Powerpoint at UMW, I’m going to be showing part of this. And I’ll also show part of Lessig’s own Free Culture presentation.

A couple of observations:

  • Both Lessig and Hardt made me care about topics that I had previously known little about–I’m quite certain that the style of these presentations was key.
  • I’m assuming (and it looks like others have to) that both of these were done in PowerPoint, but I have no definitive proof of that
  • Whether they were done in PowerPoint is really irrelevant. They certainly don’t look like the typical PowerPoint presentation, and that is actually a dramatic part of their style (and perhaps effectiveness).
  • Both of the presentations would be basically meaningless without the addition of the presentation audio. How many of our faculty can say that about their own PowerPoints? There is a lesson to be learned here. . .
  • You know all those themes that PowerPoint includes (most of which are really silly)? Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a Lessig one? Just white text on a black background (and to really be authentic, it would limit the number of charaters/items on a slide). If Ken Burns gets his own iMovie effect, I think Lessig deserves a Powerpoint theme. Who’s with me?
  • To be sure, Lessig and Hardt’s abilities as speakers contribute a great deal to the effectiveness of these. Neither presentation would work as well without these excellent deliveries.
  • Many faculty create PowerPoints that, in addition to being scaffolding for the lecture, are also meant to be study aides. Lessig-like presentations could be aides too, but in a different way. This is worth exploring. . .

Oh, and one more thing: Commenters on Lessig’s blog also applaud the “Who Owns Culture” conversation that he participated in with Jeff Tweedy this past April in NYC. I’ve tried multiple times to access and view this presentation with no luck. Quicktime just sort of freezes up on me when I try to watch the streaming video. Any one have any ideas?

Making a Difference with Social Software

Came across Scipionus.com via Wired today. Scipionus ScreenshotThe creators of this site have created a “visual wiki” that people can use to record conditions in areas struck by Katrina. They’re using the Google Maps API to allows tagging of locations. The tags are at the same time fascinating and heartbreaking.

One of the tags led me to The Interdictor, a self-described “Survival of New Orleans blog.” And from there I came across this Web cam which appears to be near the Hotel InterContinental where I stayed last January for the annual NLII conference.

This whole last week has been surreal watching this disaster unfold. One aspect of that surrealness has been following how people are “connecting” with each other and gathering information through the use of Web sites and social software. A disaster like this which disperses so many thousands of people in so many different directions reminds me of just how big the world can seem. Seeing how technology can help to make it feel a little smaller and more manageable is somehow heartening.

Textbooks Just Got Lighter. . .

Just came across this new item from SanDisk: the Cruzer Freedom.

It is touted as a “digital backpack.” According to SanDisk’s site:

. . .proprietary software allows easy and secure downloads of copyrighted content including textbooks, novels, study guides, educational software, and much more.

I can’t say I’m exactly sure what that means. How is this any different from a regular USB drive, and what make the downloads “secure?” But it’s probably worth keeping an eye on.

According to the Mac News Network, which led me to this find, the drive is due in Staples stores this September.

Reborn

Well, birth seems to be the theme of the day for me lately, so here’s the new, relaunched Fish Wrapper. And in honor of this new beginning, I’ve moved to WordPress (b2evo spam was getting me down).

I’m slowly adjusting to life as a mom, and I think I’m ready to begin blogging again.

Let the games begin. . .

Wired News: Folksonomies Tap People Power

I meant to blog about this topic last week; then I got distracted, closed my posting window, and thought “I’ll get back to it later.” Well, today Wired News ran this article on folksonomies and reminded me to get back to it now.

I’ve been reading a lot about the folksonomy phenomenon lately (particularly at Many-2-Many where a debate has been raging on the pros and cons of folksonomies). For those unfamiliar with the term, a folksonomy is a user-created tagging system, like those used by Flickr and del.icio.us. Basically, when a user enters an object into their repository (photos in Flickr and bookmark/urls in delicious), they can tag it with custom descriptors. The tags then become a way for the site to organize all the content that users have added to the system.

One of the things which folksonomies allow that I love the most is pages like this, where I can visually assess the current popularity of tags on Flickr based on their font size.

Recently, Technorati has gotten in on the action, and they are recording tags for blog posts (you can rely on the categories setup in your blogging software to create these tags or you can create then manually). Then they are combining this data with data from Flickr, Furl, and delicious to give us this page. I think it’s a intriguing way to see what people are talking about (and taking pictures of, and saving bookmarks about) at this moment in time.

What I think would be really cool is if I could establish a network of “trusted” sources (people who’s work/opinions I respect) and track just their tags. Then I could monitor what was the “latest thing” among people whose opinons actually matter to me (not that the opinions of the unwashed masses don’t matter to me, but, you know, they are the unwashed masses. . .)