Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Testing, Assessment, and Mastery Learning

Fair Juliet claimed that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but Juliet never had to assess learning and certainly could never have imagined the tools we now have to do so. Most of which we just don't use much or in very inventive ways.

Use of technology that allows a learner to take more ownership of learning, subject mastery and self-evaluation has helped in understanding more applied formative assessment practices. A few that we tossed about in the latest College of Public Programs TechByte lunch topic on assessment were the rich, often hidden features within Blackboard tests/quizzes.

Here's bottom line. We want learners to learn. Do we really care that it took them more time/effort than another learner, or that they didn't understand a concept first time around? Why not use testing as a way for them to explore meaning, work through issues they don't understand, concentrate harder on the material they didn't master, and give them a tool and an option to rethink / redo / revise? Isn't that how learning happens best?

Here's a few practices shared in putting our heads together. Add any you've come up with and perhaps our students will actually value, instead of dread, our assessment practices.

Blackboard (at ASU; other places, other CMS...same principles):
  • Set test for multiple attempts. You can choose number of attempts (unlimited, 3, etc) and time frame (Monday from 9am-noon, 50 minutes per attempt) , but why are we asking that they get it right first time? What if it's the way you phrased question that stumped them? Where's the harm in going back to the book, rethinking, trying again, going back to the source? It may be the only time they do!
  • Randomize questions for each redo, forcing students to concentrate on questions each time, not just fill in madly to get to the missed questions. (also hinders sharing)
  • Put questions in a pool, allowing students to pull different questions each attempt (see bullet above on sharing). This is also a great way to offer a final, randomly pulling questions from previous quizzes.
  • Set exam for storing best attempt, not last attempt. Research shows that students are more likely to try again if not afraid of inability to top last score. (BB instructors: this feature is oddly hidden in Grade Center/Modify Column, rather than via deployment - which is why so few of us use it and leave last attempt as default)
  • Give feedback immediately for each of the missed questions. Don't provide answer, but perhaps the page in text where concept is found or the reason they may have missed question, etc. One instructor (Hey, Kelly!) tells us that she has been consistently receiving grateful feedback from learners as she improves feedback on missed (and correct!) responses in her quizzes.
Tom D'Angelo and Patricia Cross suggest that unless feedback is very immediate or absolutely needed to progress (eg "follow my advice on your rewrite of this paper, or else"), students don't review or follow up on feedback. Giving them auto-feedback, in a low-risk environment where they know you don't see their first effort, is a great use of technology to invite time-on-task and mastery learning.

Other ideas for more formative self-assessment practices using the CMS testing options? Send them my way and I'll incorporate.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Best Practices in Online Teaching, Part II

Long ago and faraway, I wrote a post about the workshop I do on e-Teaching. The point of the workshop is to remind all of us, again and again, that technology can be a time-sucking black hole and that online instructors often burn out by not setting boundaries or using known "best practices" in e-Teaching. I listed a few easy things you can do to create very engaging learning experiences while still protecting your time and sanity. I promised that I'd collect more ideas from the workshop offerings and post them and like so many good and well-meant plans, they got sucked into the time-sucking black hole of technology, e-learning and life.

So, meeting with the community that calls itself "instructional designers of ASU" and talking about these ideas & asking for more/their favorite/new e-teaching practices that save instructor sanity brought a few reminders and new tools to my kit. Here, many months later, are Tips, Part II:
  • Use an FAQ. Gather your questions, especially the technical or how-to kind, into an FAQ. You never know when/where/why students will mysteriously forget how to do the simplest things and if they don't find the answer where they're looking, they'll send email (forbidden, as you know if you read Part I) or ask in the discussion board. Teach them to look before asking by putting general questions in one helpful FAQ location.

  • Don't use dates in your content. Don't put hard dates in any of your material. If you work with good designers, you'll know they repeat this till they're blue in the face, and there's a reason. You'll just have to rip them out when you offer the course again, and dates are hard to find. Label your modules "Week X" or "Module X: The Role of Z in Y" or whatever you like, but NOT "Week X: April 3-10". Instead, post a course calendar or schedule in a prominent place. Post current week/module/topic in the announcements. Send them email. Just don't build dates in your content material.

  • Plan Ahead. Duh! And still we don't because life happens. But unlike the F2F mode, you can't scramble online. Mistakes are made and you can't see the puzzled faces at the end of the "series of tubes" that deliver your course. It's twice as much work if you scramble to pull together material and assignments and outcomes and assessments online. Like the novice carpenter that measures once, cuts twice and wastes a lot of wood, many of us learn the hard way that the best online material is the kind that's fully developed on the first day of class.

  • Summarize & summarize again. Yes, something is lost when learners can't see your face or gestures. Mastery of the medium means we use technology to create other ways of enforcing meaning. An excellent suggestion at the ID meeting came from an instructor's practice of "Summary Monday and Surprise Thursday" posts. Every Monday morning, the instructor recapped in a post all the questions/comments/ideas that had come up that deepened understanding. On Thursday, she posted summaries of little problems, glitches, misunderstandings, etc that she had encountered or heard about. It is a great way of creating community, deepening understanding, encouraging more time on task, and sharing solutions to problems that might occur again.
  • Highlight the process. One designer claimed that the most problems disappear if you send the student back to the instructions, which they didn't read. Most likely true, but turning the lens back on ourselves, perhaps the message is don't embed important instructions in line after line of dense text. Use "microposts" for important info and dates. Try providing text and an audio file. Consider using the free software Jing to record a short animation capturing onscreen action when you're asking them to do a computer-related task (like submitting an assignment or searching library resources). Maybe the learner is making mistakes because we're making it so easy for them to get lost.

One designer talked about a course that uses Adaptive Release to motivate learners to stay up to speed. It was a great example of new approaches to teaching-as-coaching, but that's a whole new Blog post. Meanwhile, if you have a favorite teaching/tech practice, please share!
Happy trails, happy tech innovation, happy teaching.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blackboard 8 and IE8 - another strained relationship

When our lives intertwine and in the first rush of emotion, we promise to love each other forever. Then one or both of us changes. We can't help it.
It just happens.

And in that change, things go amiss, nothing is the same and it just doesn't work anymore. Broken compatibility. It just happens.

It happened with the the two 8s recently. Blackboard 8 and IE8. Reports are numerous of odd problems, large and small, when using IE8 with ASU's latest BB version. Until a new version of BB is released, ASU can only recommend that instructors and students USE A DIFFERENT BROWSER with ASU's version of Blackboard. The UTO promises to send out a message when an update is available that solves the problems reported. These problems include:
  • Small: A security warning that sometimes appears when logging into BB, asking whether you want to "view only the web page content that was delivered securely?" This question sometimes is also asked when instructors enter the Grade Center. Students and instructors should say yes, or log out and use another browser.
  • Large: Timer blocks submit button in an exam, making it impossible for students to submit exams. IE8 seems so buggy that it's been released with a "compatibility viewer button", allowing you to choose Web sites you know don't work in IE8, enter their address, then switch to IE7 compatibility mode. Students must know to do this BEFORE entering the exam or use another browser.
  • Large: Students get false message "Please enter valid file" when attempting to upload a valid file in the assignment feature. Again, IE7 compatibility mode will work, or use another browser.
From an ease of use point of view, despite your desire to make a previously lovely relationship work, the best advice is to always use a different browser with BB8 at ASU until we hear that an update has been received and installed on the BB server.

Especially if you're a student entering a "one time only" exam at ASU!

Students using computers at ASU campus sites have the option of using Firefox. The students should click “Start” on the lower left corner of the screen, then click on the link to “Firefox” to use this browser. Students using computers off-campus may download a free version of Firefox at

In online work, Blackboard, library or just visiting Web sites, "Use another browser" often solves 80% of your troubles.

IF the easy way isn't someone's style, or they only have IE8 and can't install another browser, here's ASU's advice on setting up IE8 Compatibility Viewer for ASU.

Reminder: If you're taking an exam, this must be done BEFORE entering the exam as your page refreshes and you're tossed out. IT'S TOO LATE if you're already there; you should have... used a different browser.

Friday, September 11, 2009

ASU Library toolbar rocks

ASU affiliates: If you haven't heard about it yet, download the toolbar that the Library has released for Firefox, IE and Safari. I'm hoping they'll keep going and release for Chrome, but right now I'll just rest in gratitude for great work done. You can download and install in seconds and it provides quick, configured access to their most popular and useful resources.

So lovely. So helpful for the digital scholar. The benefit isn't simply in having important resources like Google Scholar, the catalog and your account at your fingertips, it's that you're authenticated through the Library when you access the materials.

Here's a brief demo on the tool and why it can change how, and how quickly, you find the resources you need when you need them.

Happy scholarly journeys and W00t to the ASU Library.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Digital Me: Writing tools, sites, services

An ASU-Centric Guide to Web-based tools for student writing and scholarship.
Major Resources Referenced on this Page:

Sometimes, it's about the Tool

One aspect of technology where higher education has worked collaboratively and created a strong community of practice is in the area of student writing.

writingSoftware, sites and shared ideas are available to all student seeking to improve their writing and to the instructor that is looking for materials to help with specific aspects of student work.

Beginning locally, the ASU Library has a site with resources for online students. Their tutorials section has an extensive set of short, easy to understand guides into beginning a research paper or project.

Starting earlier in the process, the Purdue Online Writing Lab offers an open set of resources for instructors and students. Instructors wishing to help a student with a particular problem (outlines, brainstorming, the meaning of a paragraph, grammar, academic writing, APA...) will find help, language and examples on the OWL site.

An important part of scholarly work is being able to synthesize readings and research, and instructors can incorporate the use of RefWorks by reviewing a student's annotated citations before allowing them to begin writing. You will find the RefShare Web function of RefWorks an excellent way of sharing resources. Colleen has a public example online, and Yale Medical School has a nice tutorial on uses of RefShare.

Techniques in online pedagogy

For faculty teaching online or in reduced seat time (hybrid) formats, a number of best practices can be considered in creating a learner-supportive environment:

1. Set clear standards and expectation.

  • A rubric sets objective standards that allow the learner to critique their work before submission. Rubistar provides free tools and support for creating effective rubrics, as well as providing a site for sharing by assignment category. Here's one for a persuasive essay.

  • Provide an overview set of resources on scholarly writing, plagiarism, and standards for the discipline before assigning writing projects. Students often don't associate certain writing practices with "plagiarism". Rutgers University has an excellent, informal, light-hearted review of plagiarism and what it means to be an intellectually honest college student.

2. Consider making writing more public via posting writing assignments in the Blackboard discussion board so that students can see other posts, comments, critiques.

3. Posting work in a public Blog e-portfolio also assists in helping the student to take more ownership of the work and in having them see themselves as public writers.

4. Provide a framework for student critique and revision. GoogleDocs at MyASU might be a great tool for both collaborative writing and peer review assignments.

5. Be very specific in addressing the student's weakest writing point. OWL is a very good site for breaking these down and offering aids to improve that issue.

One simple practice

If you're still using the Blackboard Drop Box, stop! Create a BB assignment. It allows you to assign comments in the gradebook, where students focus much more of their attention than red markings on a paper. Tom Angelo (Classroom Assessment Techniques) often reminds us that red marks on paper aren't as effective as summarizing improvement needs. All your hard work can be lost if you don't reach the student where they are.

Not every student can be a great writer, but every student can be taught to be a better, clearer, more scholarly writer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Revisiting Respondus

Many faculty at ASU don't know that long before ASU purchased the Respondus LockDown Browser, we site licensed the rest of the Respondus suite to make faculty lives easier.
On request, instructors are provided with these easy-to-use quiz creation and learner flash-card/memorization authoring tools. The major (and most time-saving rather than draining) component of the software is a PC-only piece of software that allows the instructor to quickly type up exam questions (albeit in a stylized, Respondus format) and upload to Blackboard. If you're a Mac user, type up the questions and install Respondus/load into your BB course shell from a department PC on campus.

If as an instructor, you make use of Blackboard exams, Respondus saves you the tedious, time-consuming, dull BB process of creating exam, typing each question and answer in a little box, setting points, clicking next and waiting, etc. Yes, it takes a bit of time to download and configure the Respondus software, recognize the BB server and find your course, but do it once, and then you're good to go for all your courses. It helps to keep a cheat sheet of Respondus question formats nearby, as the format is strict, documentation hard to find and it's easy to forget an asterik or parenthesis where needed. If you're willing to learn the process, then creating a Blackboard exam can truly take just minutes.

Here are a few links to help you with the learning curve:
Now wasn't that easy?

Friday, July 17, 2009

ASU changes BB course request process (again)

When returning for Fall semester, ASU instructors will be surprised to find that the process for creating/copying BB course shells has changed without any notice going out to them. Again. The positive piece of the news is that for courses with existing SLNs, the system now pulls in the details and we no longer have to know #, title, SLN on hand to request a course.

New process for instructors requesting BB course shells:

Log in to, and click on “My Info” tab at top if not already taken there. At the top right, you’ll see “My Classes” with all their courses listed by semester. If the BB image on right for a course has a “+” sign, there is currently no course shell for this section and it can be requested by clicking on the BB icon. The yellow icon now takes instructor to Class tools (roster, submitting grades, academic status report).

IF the course doesn’t yet have an SLN, and instructor wants to begin work developing the BB material, click on Course Request farther down in Faculty Tools and put in a working title for a DEVELOPMENT shell that can then be copied to an SLN course at any time.

Clear as mud? I'm here most of summer if you need help.

click on image to display larger view

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

PollEverywhere, Poll Everyone!

PollEverywhere did it!
Every once in awhile, affordance of a technology reaches across the Web and grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me till my teeth rattle. I don't have to think deeply about how to use it or how to convince instructors to struggle with changing their teaching practices to use it in meaningful ways (Blogs, Wikis, RSS, RefWorks, shared docs, etc).
Every once in awhile (and oh I love those awhiles), there's a tool that can instantly be adopted across the disciplines to make learning more active, engaged and participatory. Student response systems (clickers) were all that, and I lobbied long and hard ~5 years ago for budget to purchase enough TurningPoint clickers for ASU West to outfit the auditorium. The mobile service my cracker-jack sharp team created was popular with a number of instructors, but never caught on the way I thought it would because of the difficulty for instructors in:
  • learning the software to pre-incorporate questions into PowerPoint
  • installing in the desired classroom
  • ordering equipment
  • passing out the clickers
  • working around hardware problems (line of sight, battery, etc)
Too much wasted time. Too hard to work around the glitches. Lots of effort simply to give learners a voice in polling, checking understandings, determining results. Mostly I failed in my convincing arguments and the mobile cart of clickers sat in the supply room.

I tried writing a Web application that instructors could copy and use in the computer classrooms to do their own polls on the fly, but it was kludgey and little utilized. I KNEW the research showed better engagement and attention when learners were involved in thinking, deciding, choosing, responding and that instructors paced and re-evaluated lessons based on awareness of student understanding. What to do about that?
PollEverywhere did it!

Recognizing that people in an audience generally have access to SMS, or Twitter or the Web...they built a Web-based audience response system that takes input from all three. Plus, they made it time-and-idiot proof for me to put up a poll in moments via their Web interface. Each response has a number (clearly displayed) that the audience chooses if they want to vote for that option. And PollEverywhere even keeps track of machine/browser, politely telling your students that they already voted on a particular question.

From my poll authoring account, I can instantly display all incoming results via the Web site, or close the poll and download results to a slide. (Don't forget to upgrade to the slightly more generous, higher education account for this option).

It couldn't be easier and here's more info on that. I can use it online and in F2F classes. Advice: if there are students in the F2F class that don't have an SMS-ready phone, Twitter feed or their laptop with them, tell your students to work in teams. Ask everyone who does have access to raise their hand. Start there and in no time, you may find more students bringing their laptops to class. And that's a good thing! Feel free to ask me why.

The bid disadvantage: free accounts only allow 32 responses per question. Your students will have to work in teams. This isn't a bad idea as you may find students in your F2F class that still don't have an SMS-ready phone, Twitter feed or their laptop with them. Ask everyone who does have access to raise their hand. Start there, form <32 groups and collaborate.
If I had a bucket of wishes, one would be that ASU purchases the site license for PollEverywhere and makes polling possible for all instructors, for classes of all sizes. We'd be able to tie responses to student ID, take attendance automatically, use as team reporting tool. Plus, we don't need to be passing the cost of expensive clickers on to students at a time of spiraling tuition and textbook costs. We do need access to meaningful learning technologies embedded in the fabric of the university. So that's what I'd wish for if I had a bucket of wishes.
Failing that wish, I'd wish that PollEverywhere had kinder pricing for teachers going it on their own. Right now, education budgets won't support this pricing, and no HE instructor is going to reach into their pocket for $700/year to replace student-purchased clickers. We're stuck with free, limited seat option for now.

My poll on ASU's efforts in digital literacy, results and info on voting via Web, Twitter or SMS are all available here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Top Ten Learning Tools

There's a wonderful researcher working in the UK by the name of Jane Hart who compiles a number of Top Ten lists on everyone's favorite learning tools. With so many new and amazing ways to find and share knowledge out there today, narrowing to 10 is a tough task, but I'm taking it on just to spread word on my favorites and link you to the consensus page that Jane hosts. 

Colleen's Top Ten Learning Tools for 2009

Google Search - Who can live without? (If you need peer-review, use Google Scholar)
Wikepedia - What do you need to know? The world may have an answer
Jing - easy screen and action capture
Flip Video - sometimes, it's about the hardware. 
GoogleDocs - collaboration across time, space, applications - Learning through reflection and inviting comment
Ning - creating quick communty sites for social learning
Twitter - and related apps (, for all things micro-bloggable
SlideShare - takes the tech glitches out of presenting and stores for anytime retrieval
IBM's Many Eyes - Visualizing data in new and intuitive ways

If you haven't explored any of these tools yet, take some time. I've used them all in my teaching, learning to find, share, make sense of or collaborate in the knowledge realm. And some are just plain fun to use. If you have others, favorites, can't live withouts...send them on to Jane or me. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Best Practices in Online Teaching

I'm doing a workshop at the Teaching and Learning with Technology 2009 Conference, hosted by the Maricopa Community Colleges, and thought I'd beta-test some ideas on my own community here in the College of Public Programs at ASU. First, because some of the faculty here have been experimenting with better teaching online for years, and second, because this is a great conference that the Center for Learning and Instruction at MCC does each year, and I want ASU to look good when I present.

My topic will be "e-Teaching: if it's more work, you're doing it wrong" - a topic very dear to my heart and one that I promote to the faculty until they're tired of hearing from me. But it's common knowledge and much discusses in the online research that instructors struggle managing workload when first teaching online. And if they don't seek help, they often burn out and tell others not to attempt it. It doesn't have to be that way, and there's much in the literature regarding practices that make it easier for the instructor and the learner to experience online courses. I'd go so far as to say that if you're doing it right, you can leverage the technology to make less work for you, once the course is developed.

Quick tips of the Top Ten sort:
  1. NO email. At least not on the course content, assignments, schedule, etc. That's what the discussion forum is for and rather than answer the same question 10 times, you answer it once.
  2. Simple, clear navigation and course structure. If you don't know how to turn off some of the navigation menu in your course management system, ask someone. Students hate 10 links, and they hate them more when half of them are blank. Mine are: Announcements, Course Information, Learning Modules, Communication, Discussion Board, Tools. Students find what they need quickly and in the places expected. I also link to other places in the course when inside the learning modules (eg discussion board for a post, Course Info/Syllabus when referring to policies, etc)
  3. Frequent communication. Lure them to class! Send an email when you've opened a new module, released a quiz, posted grades, posted an announcement, etc. The more time 'in class', the better they'll do and letting them know something new is waiting often lures them in.
  4. Clear expectations. It is harder online and the written text might be interpreted in different ways. What you mean by "a rich discussion post" might be 2 sentences to a student. Let them know exactly what's expected and consequences for not delivering. Rubrics are great for setting explicit values to grading. Pts, # words/paragraphs/citations/, language, spelling, etc all help. Hate creating rubrics? Try the Rubistar site where instructors share work. Sadly, they don't organize by grades, so you need to be specific in searching. Here's one for a research argument essay.
  5. Instructor presence. Your students need to feel a connection to you. Announcements help, but audio announcements, pictures, personal stories all create a better 'virtual you'. A colleague of mine publishes a picture a week with his announcements. During my fellowship, travelling around the US, I put up pics of where I was each each week.
OK, those are my top 5. Sound right? Send more and I'll add a Part II.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Words, Tags, Bones and Trees: the Value of Clouds

I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow,
It's cloud illusions I recall,
I really don't know clouds, at all.

Another post on data in the clouds? No, not today. Instead, a presentation about extending word clouds as trees got me thinking about the value of presenting data in the shape of clouds. Clouds and trees and ...fishbone diagrams. For those new to word clouds, it's time to hop into a new tool for visualizing text and the amazing possibilities it affords for better understanding and text mining. In that vein, I enjoyed a presentation (linked below) by Gambette and Veronis, not because they offer some very complicated home-grown software for generating a version of tag clouds via tree structures, but because they explain the value for use of analyzing text via cloud structures.

In teaching, use of simple tag/word cloud tools like Wordle or IBM's Many Eyes provide a tool for visualizing the student's own or another author's text. For visual learners, this provides valuable insight and synthesis of ideas that may otherwise prove elusive. As the presentation below describes, tag clouds provide tools for objective literature analysis, discourse analysis, text mining for meaning, or an exploration of natural language processing - which the authors describe as text desambiguation. Much more complicated than necessary, when a picture speaks 1,000 words, but first one needs access to the picture.
Wordle: TagClouds
So explore Wordle first with a favorite piece of your text (as I did with this Blog post on right; click on thumbnail to access). It's as simple as copy and paste in the Wordle window. See if it doesn't provide immediate insight into the text and a new option for exploring meaning. Then, wander over to ManyEyes and explore the many, many visual and structural options for doing the same. Both are free to use. If you have ideas for using in your teaching, post them here and I'll share in my work. For a more detailed and scholarly look at the use of cloud analysis, follow along in the Slideshare presentation: Visualising a text with a tree cloud

Monday, March 30, 2009

When Recession Meets the Cloud

I often do workshops and presentations on Web 2 and social media, but you'll now hear a new hesitation in the current topics I cover. In the past (a few brief months ago), I passionately demonstrated and encouraged the shift from desktop work to the amazing collaborative possibilities in shared knowledge creation via the cloud. Wikis, Blogs, RSS, Google Apps, flickr, furl...endless tools for combinatory work in creating emergent and consensus-based information. A new digital world, literacy, connectivism.

I don't change my philosophies lightly, but in a workshop this weekend for the Phoenix Think Tank, I proposed caution. Working in the cloud means your data exists out there, and it doesn't take a mind like Ray Kurzweil's to know that some of the companies providing free tools we're accessing will go bust up ahead. Never is it more important to have a backup of your data. And backups of data originally entered in the cloud aren't easy to access, shape, manage or recreate for meaning.

Free wasn't a sustainable business model. Great software, free accounts, almost unlimited storage. What happens to our collaborative mind maps if MindMeister folds? To our common galleries, and personal collections, if flickr falls? To our shared documents, calendars, spreadsheets if Google takes down the free versions of GoogleApps?  What, lose Google stuff?? Yes, dear reader, even Google users,  knowing that the G-kids are richer than God, aren't immune. I lost all my avatar work when Google abandoned Lively, and now that they're shutting down GooglePages, I'm expecting the same to happen to the Web site I have there. Even the wealthiest vendors may become tired of providing a free lunch in troubled times. And the ones hanging on by a thread will no longer be able to sustain the investment.

So I'll continue to promote the tools I demontrated for the Think Tank:

A rich discussion related to the  "we smarter than me" wisdom of crowds philosophy ensued, and included the rise of Wikipedia, and concerns regarding the definition of expert, smart and literate in the digital, just-in-time everything age. 

Great group. Great discussion. Still lots of enthusiasm regarding social media, but business-minded people know that we're in a new (and every other kind of com) bust and it may not be wise to depend on these tools being here tomorrow. There's no such thing as a free lunch OR free software. You pay somehow. In the past, with Web 2, the publicity and advertising worked for vendors. Don't expect it to work for all of them in the months ahead.

My guess is that most of the survivors will succeed through a tiered system of features and services. SurveyMonkey provides great entry tools for free, but if you need to download and do deeper analysis on your data, you pay for a deeper license.  In the future, I'm guessing many vendors will find current services unsustainable. 

If your software has value to the user, it has a chance. Otherwise, we'll give up the toys that clutter our bookmarks. We'll choose more cautiously: 
  • individuals will pay for features they need, 
  • companies will pay for ROI-driven tools that are backed by security, privacy and firewalls (see Google's commercial offering of GoogleApps), and 
  • those of us who love techno-bling will pay for the next affordable killer app that lures us in and makes us realize we just can't do without it. (Take a look at IntroNetwork's social networking software for a new candidate in this category!)
That's what I talked about at the last presentation. But I'm known to change my mind. And as Dennis Miller used to say after his infamous rants, "I could be wrong."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Twitter, Part 2

A few more thoughts on the not instantly apparent value of our favorite love/hate tool. Trick is, to find the value, you need to leave the site and use other tools. 
Here's my favorite:
Login with your Twitter account there and join your friends, colleagues, team, etc in a real-time, spontaneous chatroom where all tweets are auto-hashed, as well as created and displayed in that tweetchat window.  YOUR tweets are auto-posted to your personal stream. I could have actually done without the latter as a group conversation on Twitter can become quite raucous and my running Tweet quick bits don't need to be streamed to my followers. (That sounds so cute, my followers!)
Still, Tweetchat is a fast, effective, easy to dynamically access a chat room and preserve the chat. All you need is to choose a name and everyone is in. The room name becomes the hash tag in Twitter.

So, speaking of hash tags: let's dig in there too. If you want to 'collect' all tweets on a topic when not in a tweetchat, put a # in front of that term and then, we search for that hash tag at
By customizing a key term using the hash tag, a group can create a common flow and gather all the tweets on a topic. Now yes, will search on any word, not just hash tags but the value of the hash is being able to label and gather a certain set of posts. Example: hash tags have been used effectively at conferences, where attendees can find, follow, connect to other attendees' posts. Search for "#sxsw09" and check out all the fun tweets that came out of the Austin festival recently.

Twitter as chat room with archive.
Twitter as ...collective sharing of tweets around an event or issue or ...whatever you collectively decide to hash. 
New tools mean new uses. These are a couple of little child tools hanging off the mother tool, Twitter. If you know more, or know more uses for Twitter and Twitter children, let us know!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Twitter!

I'll be the first to admit that I struggled with Twitter. I am a person that picks picks picks apart a technology until I feel that I understand, if not it's buttons and icons and features and hidden tools, then at least - at the very least - it's purpose. What is affordance? How will it help us learn, think, connect, serve, become, undertand, share, create, facilitate? What does it DO?

Twitter was released three years ago today as a 140 character (or less) micro-blogging site. At least that's what others said. Twitter simply said "Tell us what you're doing right now." So, people shared Zen-like bits of minutia. This threw off my hunt for meaning. Micro-blogging would be sharing your ideas, positions, passions in 140 characters or less. It's not having your readers stroll through endless posts on what you're watching, eating, seeing out the window. And yet, that's how people were using Twitter. Because Twitter asked "What are you doing?"

Now, people stay in touch - with friends, colleagues, heroes, wonderful characters, minor celebrities - at the most intimate of details regarding what they eat and do. In 140 characters or less. Maybe it creates community in the old, lost neighborhood sense regarding knowing people on the level of the mundane.

Still, the people who claimed it was a micro-blogging venue are correct, too. Depending who you follow, you find rich posts, deep linking, breaking news. If you're one of the 'need to be plugged in' addicts, Twitter is a killer app. News by the second. Follow enough newsy tweets and your head spins faster than watching CNN ticker feeds while eating and reading the newspaper.

So I still don't know what Twitter's singular affordance might be, but using it to create streaming information across a 'mutual following' community is a great way to gather and share the fleeting, even though atemporal, moment. I think we may find multiple shared thought uses, for academic courses and community, if we think deeply over time. Meanwhile, let me know if you need ideas on how you might use Twitter to reach students, prospective studens, faculty ...or worse. (I'm thinking hashtags and ?)

Happy birthday, Twitter. Wish I could invite all my lovely Twitter friends to your virtual birthday party!