New test gauges ICT literacy

ETS, the nonprofit group that created the SAT and a number of other standardized tests, has worked with educators, information technology experts, and other institutions to develop a new test designed to measure what it means to be literate in the digital age.

Check out this article (registration required) about a new ETS test designed to test IT literacy. I think the design of the test is interesting. Students are presented with a problem that they must use technology to solve–rather than being tested on specific software skills. We have a technology proficiency here at UMW that focuses more on software skills–perhaps this is an interesting alternative we should keep an eye on. . .

Finding “Value” in Online Social Networking

So according to an article in Salon, the social networking site “43 Things” is actually receiving funding from Amazon.

(I actually came across this site a few months ago and thought, “Hmmm. . .I should come back and check this out later.” Then I never did. Somehow it got lost in the digital circular file that my mind is becoming–still looking for ways to control the chaos. . .But that’s another story.)

Anyhow, it is somehow disheartening to me to find out that a corporate giant like Amazon is behind this simple, harmless social networking site. It reminds me that all of these wonderful online communities that we are building together might make a welcome feast for a corporate giant looking for new advertising/revenue channels.

On a related note, Bloglines has been acquired by AskJeeves, and Ross Mayfield blogged today about a Bloglines presentation he saw recently post-merger. Among other things, the presentation mentioned the role that advertisers might play in this newly forged relationship. Another reminder that the human networks created by social software might actually have some monetary value.

All of this reminds me of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (see, that’s where Amazon belongs. . .), which explores the charged relationship between the amazing experiences and communities that we are creating and discovering online and their potential commercial value (that’s actually a vast over-simplification of all the issues that this book explores, but it’ll have to do).

Call me naive, but on some level it was nice to think that all of the sites out there that foster social networking and human connections were being provided out of the goodness of someone’s heart. I guess, it’s only a matter of time before Madison Ave. discovers the “real” value that can be mined out of these networks. . .

When Blogging Goes Bad

Like email and the World Wide Web in their times, blogs have become the “killer app” of the moment. Three years ago, all but the most hardcore of followers of Internet phenomenons would not have thought much of the term “blog,” other than perhaps it was a misspelling of “blob.” Now you know you are most certainly not a mainstream Internet user if you are unaware that “blog” is an adaptation of the term “Web Log,” and that blogs exist as personal journals, professional writing spaces, news sources, or some combination of all of the above.

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. . .)

Wikalong Firefox Extension

When I was in graduate school during the dot-com craze, there was an online service that allowed anyone to annotate any Web site. I think the way it worked was that you had to visit the site with a particular plugin enabled, and then you would see all the annotations that had been left behind by others. The annotations dispalyed in little pop-up windows, which were buggy and hard to read/use. The service was also pretty slow (all the information about the annotations was stored on some server that everyone had to access sites through).

Today I discovered Wikalong, a browser extension that provides a lot of the same functionality, but using a much simpler model and interface. Basically, I installled this extension in Firefox and was then able to open a new Wikalong sidebar in the browser. Whenever I browse to a Web site, the plugin checks to see if there is a Wikalong page assocated with it. If there is a page, it is displayed and I can read other peoples’ comments on what I’m looking at (and add to them if I choose). If the Wikalong page doesn’t exist, I can create one.

As you can probably guess by the name, the plugin is really accessing a wiki, where new pages have been created that are indexed to a particular URL. You can actually browse the wiki independent of the Wikalong sidebar.

Right now, coverage is spotty. I don’t know how many people are using it, but, not surprisingly, there are a lot more sites that don’t have a Wikalong page than that do. And I’m not sure how well this would scale, to be honest. If too many people got involved, the annotation pages could get really long, spammed, cumbersome. . .However, I’m interested in the possibility of a “private” Wikalong space. What if an instructor created a Course Wikalong, allowing the participants in a course to annotate a series of Web resources that were identified? The wiki behind this could be part of some larger wiki presence for the course, that ultimately captured an interesting kind of conversation about resources found/used on the Web. It doesn’t look like private Wikalong space is available yet, but someday. . .?

NLII Highlights: The Coolest Stuff

Last night I got back from the NLII Annual Meeting in New Orleans. It was my first time visiting that city, and I think I’d like to go back when I’m not 6 months pregnant. Between having to limit my fish intake and not being able to enjoy a Hurricane, I feel like I didn’t really get a “true” New Orleans experience. Luckily, neither the ability to eat seafood or partake in intoxicating drinks were a requirement for enjoying the proceedings of the conference.

Generally, the sessions I attended were very good and certainly thought-provoking, but I wanted to share two things I saw in particular.

On Sunday, I was able to attend a workshop on Croquet (http://www.opencroquet.org/), described by its creators as “a combination of open source computer software and network architecture that supports deep collaboration and resource sharing among large numbers of users.” Frankly, this doesn’t really begin to describe the experience of seeing Croquet in action–I don’t know that any description could. The presenters took us into a virtual, 3D world that can be used for teaching and learning that I could only have dreamed of before. It was beyond cool. At one point, when one of the presenters drew a strawberry using a built in image editor and then transformed it into a three-dimensional object that could be manipulated in the Croquet environment, I wouldn’t have been surprised if an actual strawberry had popped out of the screen.

There is a download of an early version available on the Croquet Web site. I plan on installing it at the first opportunity and will post about any wonderous experiences I have. It is entirely possible that I will simply slip into the Croquet world and never be heard from again! (On a side note, the project loosely uses an Alice in Wonderland metaphor to describe itself and its components. But I kept thinking about The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe throughout the presentation–and the idea which intrigued me as a child that there are whole worlds hidden around us into which we can dissapear and, perhaps, never emerge from.)

The other truly amazing think I saw was at the capstone presentation on the 2005 NLII Horizon Report. During this whirlwind hour, a slew of speakers shared their visions about short- and long-term emerging technologies that we can all expect to be hearing more about (these technologies were all identified during the year-long process of researching and writing the Horizon Report which is available at http://www.nmc.org/horizon/index.shtml).

The presenter on Context-Aware Computing/Augmented Reality showed us something called Magic Paper, being developed at the MIT Media Lab (The presenter was from the Lab, but I can’t find his name right now. . .). I’m not even sure how to describe this technology, so take a look at the video. I recommend watching the entire video; the last simluation (which is what was presented during the sesion) is, I think, the most impressive. This video was so cool, that I actually started to applaud. To my embarrassment, I was the only one in the hall who had this reaction. Not, I’m sure, because other’s weren’t as impressed–they were probably just better able to contain their enthusiasm.

tales of swimming upstream