Saturday, September 12, 2009

VIDEO - Community Wall

Above is a sample of an instructional video produced for a nationwide community of language learners.

This community existed to provide members online venues for social interaction in their second languages, so social learning activities targeted at language development were integrated into its core functioning. As such, the usefulness of the community depended on member participation.

Cultivating an open, trusting and supportive environment for adult learners to comfortably share new ideas in a second language was a challenge. For me, this was related to the parallel challenge of asking adult learners to pick up and use new communication technologies in natural and unselfconscious ways.

There needed to be a feeling of learner control over the technology, a desire to communicate and a sense of tolerance within the community for (both technological and linguistic) mistakes.

I tried to address these needs in the member activity above -- the Community Wall: a personal introduction to the online community -- which for me wraps social skills (sharing of personal histories) with technological skills (using the online tools) important for building virtual communities.

The instructional video for this activity, which is one of the first things a new member would see in the community, therefore tackles multiple objectives:
  • Familiarizes members with the space
  • Introduces online tools - empowers members to change the space
  • Encourages sharing of personal details - fosters a sense of community
  • Applies a task-based approach - uses adult/distance learning models
  • Supports member-to-member communications - motivates social learning
All of the above had to address an audience that included second-language viewers, so the instructions had to be comprehensible and useful without being overwhelming technologically or linguistically.

I chose video (rather than text) for these instructions because I felt that, as the community developer and administrator, my own image and live voice would help to humanize the activity and lend to the sense of community I was asking members to participate in. The video also served as a listening comprehension exercise for members, thereby meeting their language-learning objectives.

Launched as a group introduction to the community, this activity aimed to generate curiosity, enthusiasm and member connections vital to the future growth of the community.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

PRESENTATION (Diigo) - Groupthink: Expertise, Credibility and Truth

Clicking the image above will take you to my Diigo presentation, which attempts to foster media literacy among my students.

As my students are adult language learners whose objectives in my classroom revolve around English (rather than media) literacy skills, and as their use of the Internet for this purpose tends to focus on searching out useful sources for linguistic information and practice, I have to slide in media literacy skills on the sly to have the concepts addressed.

This is not difficult, however, when approaching the learning from a constructivist angle that focuses on generating dialogue rather than on imparting rules. When confronted with provocative ideas that challenge accepted norms, students tend to feel a need to express their own views -- and the more abstract the concept, the more abstract the language needed to articulate opinions and to negotiate towards some kind of classroom consensus.

As such, issues that are current and newsworthy are often also quite classroom-worthy, and within a mediascape replete with collapses in citizen confidence in the information provided by experts and leaders, the validity of received information is a hot topic.

The presentation above takes this context as a starting point. Using the new web-page annotating technology of Diigo -- which permits users to highlight, comment and discuss directly on any web page -- an online activity has been constructed that is part scavenger hunt and part semantic analysis.

Starting from a central web page, students are asked to tour through and examine selected online media sources and to reflect on the information they find there in terms of concepts such as expertise, credibility, truth...and groupthink.

Each web site visited on their tour has previously been annotated as follows:

  1. A speech bubble at the top of each site that, when clicked, opens instructions for that particular page, which include questions for reflection and discussion.
  2. Yellow highlighted text that draws attention to particular sections or language on the page.
  3. Blue highlighted text and images that, when moused over, open comments or links to other web sites for a questioning or cross-referencing of information.

This is an effective activity for language learners because it provides:
  • multiple pathways to multiple sources of information
  • the realia of existing web pages
  • intellectually provocative and controversial topics
  • avenues for expression of abstract concepts
  • an environment for social discussion
  • a multimedia mix targeting all four skills (texts for reading, discussion forums for writing, videos for listening and realtime [virtual] discussions for speaking)
The activity begins on a creatively constructed web site spoofing the New York Times and from there links to and through a real NYT editorial, a FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) media analysis piece, Democracy Now! (independant news and analysis) video, the Yes Men (political pranksters and hoaxters) web site and a PsyBlog (blog focussing on psychology) post on groupthink.

At each stop along the way, students are asked open questions to stimulate reflection and generate discussion in their target language. Assuming the students are also Diigo members, opportunities exist for them to leave comments and notes directly on the pages they visit, thereby building up a social network exchanging ideas around these information sources. They may also expand the activity by seeking out and adding to the network new or alternative sources of information in order to expand opportunities for critical thinking and dialogue.

Diigo also permits members to generate static versions (no live links, no opportunity to comment) of annotated pages that can be shared with non-members, thereby allowing non-Diigo-ites to view the existing annotations.

This is what I have done for the presentation above -- this means that, although you can see my annotations on the pages in the presentation, you will not be able to comment on them and you will have to copy/paste any hyperlinks into your browser rather than being able to click them. A bit cumbersome, I know, but it still gives you a good sense of how this technology can be used for web analysis, commentary and social networking in a classroom context.

And for me, it provides a creative way to blend some digital/meda literacy -- specifically, the ability to find, question and evaluate accepted (or not) sources of information -- into the language literacy that is my students' primary objective.

Please click directly on the image to begin the activity...and enjoy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

CMAP - Needs-based Literacies for Community Builders

Literacy/ies is/are (a) slippery thing/s, as shown by the lack of consensus on what exactly it/they consist/s of in the digital era -- not to mention the historical lack of consensus on what exactly a literacy is.

As for digital literacy/ies, although valiant attempts at mapping out all-encompassing frameworks continue (not without controversy), the final conclusion in this relatively nascent field still seems to be: come up with a model for your personal needs that works -- a feat that itself requires the metacognitive dexterity of digital literacy/ies to accomplish...and yet both are appropriate responses in the age of information superfluity and flux.

For me, the concept of literacy is intrinsically linked with power -- it is the knowledge of how to identify, access and use information to build economic and social power.

So, my definition of literacies (in the plural) is: What you need to have in order to understand what you need to understand so that you can know what you need to know in order to do what you need to do.

Confused? Hopefully you won't be after taking a look at the concept map above.

It breaks down the function of building an online community of practice into sequential steps and then attempts to map onto that sequence the necessary literacies involved at each step.

It goes without say that multiple literacies may be involved at any given step; however, what the map tries to do is define the dominant literacy needed to successfully complete each step and move on to the next.

I focused on the role of community builder because this is what I do, and the map represents my own literacy framework, but also because I think that the tasks involved generally represent skillsets -- and therefore literacies -- expected of new knowledge workers:
  • Cultural literacy
  • Research literacy
  • Tools literacy
  • Information literacy
  • Evaluation literacy
  • Communications literacy
  • Management literacy
I put this map together using Keynote, a PowerPoint-type application for Mac, trying to keep the visuals simple and the links intuitive while focusing on breaking down workflows, tasks and information needs.

As with all my concept maps, the hard part was having to define and categorize what I generally do intuitively and holistically. And of course, that was the value of the exercise, which has left me with not only a clearer understanding of my own digital literacies (and lack thereof) but also a nice digital product that I can now repurpose into my work.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

CMAP - Intro to Emerging Technologies

This is a concept map of how I saw the various elements of the Intro to Emerging Technologies course relating to each other.

I felt that the learning centred around three interrelated core concepts: literacies, identities and networks. These concepts were explored via theoretical consideration of some important associated issues. And they were given physical expression in practical applications.

For me, this describes series of interconnected events occurring simultaneously at different levels, rather than a strict chronology or sequence of elements.

As such, I opted for a concept map that uses space and colours to indicate relationships, rather than lines and arrows. Elements have been organized into levels and juxtaposed in relation to their neighbours to indicate their interconnections across levels.

Getting rid of the lines and arrows allowed me to freely lay my elements on the page and move them around without pre-structuring them into relationships that were either too simple to describe what was going on or too complex, resulting in multiple crisscrossed lines which rendered the map illegible.

I grouped the elements in each level into succeeding "nested nodes" and then formatted each level differently.

I'm happy with my choices. Although it takes careful reading, I think this map can be interpreted in quite a nuanced way. I also got to get a little more creative with the CMAP tool, which in itself was fun.

As always, I had to fight the aesthetic desire for symmetry when laying down and arranging my elements. There's always a danger that making the map pretty could overcome the functional objectives of the exercise, and the further danger that you then start trying to make your reality fit that map.

I have to say, though, it is a pretty map. Feels organic, like pebbles settled at the bottom of a pond. But it's only a map.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

PRESENTATION - Personal Brain

The video above is part of my presentation on the Personal Brain, a mind-mapping tool I discovered, used and gave rave reviews about early in the course (see my March 12, 2009 post below). When I heard that another student was having trouble with the tool, I chose the Brain as the subject of my presentation.

Following up on a Moodle exchange between two participants in the course, I consciously chose to use the tool itself to present the tool -- so that the presentation environment would also serve as an example for the users.

I wanted to keep this presentation as simple as possible while meeting the following learning objectives:
  1. Introduce the tool
  2. Demonstrate its basic functionalities
  3. Provide working samples
  4. Provide sources for further information
I also wanted it to be as intuitive as possible for the user; to be rather than to describe.

I integrated into the tutorial both the company's web site and a video documenting how I produced the presentation of the Brain on the Brain. The idea is to have the final product demonstrate how it itself was produced.

I used SnapzPro X (for Mac) for the video/audio capture and this time (after my harrowing experience with the video essay) I did the entire thing in one take, after some careful storyboarding. I uploaded the exported .mov video to my new account and linked to it there from the presentation.

There's a small glitch in the logic of the video that attentive watchers will catch -- it's revealed at the surreal moment in the presentation when the video begins to play within the presentation video.

The presentation itself was produced using the Personal Brain, exported as SiteBrain HTML, and then uploaded onto a server, from which it can be accessed on the Net.

I'm quite happy with this final product, although I'm not sure if I've accomplished my objective of producing an intuitive interface. On first glance, it's nondescriptness can be confusing and the user experience will be altered depending upon what is clicked first.

Nonetheless, it took a lot of careful planning to come up with something that was simple, in the sense that it provided basic information and a springing-off point for the user to go ahead and try the tool.

That for me was the value of doing this assignment -- understanding the amount of behind-the-scenes work it takes to simplify the final learning experience for the user when it is mediated via (and informs about) a new technology.

The most gratifying part of this experience for me was when my co-student told me that she had used the tutorial and found it helpful; what's more she went on to give the tool another try for her next assignment.

Yee haa! Nothing better for an educator to hear.

Friday, March 27, 2009


This is a video essay on the phenomenon of lurking -- the tendency of the majority of the members of a(n online) community not to participate in group discussions on topics of interest to that community.

I chose to explore the topic because it's something I'm dealing with in my own work as a community coordinator, and I decided to approach it from a personal angle because the course got me thinking about my own online behaviours -- rather than simply theorizing about others'.

I also wanted to explore the 'video essay' genre: part documentary/part presentation. I think it could be an effective way to communicate information on the Net. While I've had the opportunity to do promotional videos and instructional videos, I've never done anything personal or reflective like this.

I cringe a bit when I watch this now -- I see it as long-winded and narcissistic, although when I was doing it, it seemed intellectual and profound. Showed me what an intimate medium this can be.

Videoing the web to explore the web was an added bonus and challenge. While it's great to have all your footage at your fingertips, it was hard for me to make the Internet look interesting in a video. So I had to play with integrating my own images and text. I don't think I quite succeeded, but I did learn.

The voiceover had its own interesting moments. Transferring my ideas written in text to the live medium of voice made them sound stilted; a whole new set of performance skills is required. Also, because I did the voiceover on each clip as I was recording it, when I finally put them all together it came out disjointed at points.

The best part of the learning experience for me was going through the workflow of the project and working with new tools at steps along the way.

I started with my basic concept -- a personal history of online communities I've been part of, and why I did or did not participate in group discussions. I went through and found (the current versions of) each of the sites and storyboarded the pages I wanted to hop through on the tour.

I found and used SnapzPro X (for Mac) for screen and voice capture as I flipped through the sites and rendered the resulting videos as .mov files. I also used this tool to grab images and edited the .jpeg files in Gimp.

I used Quicktime Pro to export the .mov files as .dv files.

I opened the .dv files in Final Cut Pro and edited the video clips, images and audio. My first time using this tool and I learned a lot about its basic functionalities, plus had some fun. I think it's a fairly intuitive tool to use, if you've used other video editing software.

When I couldn't take watching it anymore (at roughly the 7-minute mark), I decided to close the project without finishing it as per the initial concept. I figured it had served its purpose as a learning experience and I would have the opportunity to flesh it out in the future, after feedback and reflection.

I exported the final project as an .mov file and uploaded it as a video to this blog.

When I had problems or questions with any of the tools above I simply went to YouTube for the tutorials (somebody has always done it first) or did Google searches and ended up with answers by following discussion threads.

This was a rich learning experience for me, particularly when I pieced the whole thing together and watched it. I know what I will apply and not apply from this in my upcoming presentation.

Friday, March 13, 2009

CMAP - Intro to ETL & my learning environments

This is a concept map I did of how the Intro to ETL course fits into my wider learning environments.

I like this c-map because it contains cycles within cycles. The pre-existing learning environment, itself a cycle, is part of the larger cyclical structure of the current learning environment.

I see the cycles operating as mini-motors on the page, like cell structures powering a cell.

The element of time, which snakes across the map in red, lays out the chronological pathway that my learning has followed as I enter new situations with new information needs. The new knowledge gained is then transferred back into pre-existing and current knowledge cycles.

I consciously included two aspects I liked from the Collection of PLE diagrams studied during Week 2 of the course:
  1. The idea of environments nested within environments, which I got from Joyce Seitzinger's diagram.
  2. The element of time and a history of learning, which I got from Jeremy Hiebert's diagram.
Constructing this map helped me define and categorize the types of learning I have been doing in each of my learning contexts:

While the institutional context requires production, the community context allows for reflection and relationship building, and my personal web spaces provide opportunities for creative experimentation.

The ETL program is helping to organize all of these forming concepts and practices into a more comprehensive and comprehensible whole. At least that's what I'm hoping, as my learning pathway snakes forward.

In doing the map, I had to better learn
the language of CMAP to depict relationships between the different elements on the page.

In particular, I spent time thinking about:
  • whether arrows should be two-way or one-way (I settled on two-way to show knowledge sought and transferred flowing in both directions)

  • what to put as descriptions on the links between the elements (I ended up using verbs to express the action that was being taken in that link)

  • how to indicate time in a non-linear, multi-cyclical diagram (I went for a cascading sequence of cycles and the red time line)
The ability to communicate succinctly visually -- worth a thousand words, they say.

All part of building up my digital literacy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


This is a diagram of my Personal Learning Environment, the place where I organize and access my online learning resources.

I put it together using the free version of a mind-mapping tool called The Personal Brain. I chose the Brain because:
  1. I find the user interface easy to use: click-drag-and-type, copy-and-paste.
  2. I like the logic of parent, child and peer relationships between 'thoughts'.
  3. I like how it collapses and expands to organize and display information in clusters.
  4. I like the interactive final document it produces: searchable, navigable, hyperlinked.
  5. I can export the final document as a web page (that I FTP onto a server) that displays both the map and the web site I'm working on in the same page.
Now when I get online I go first to my PLE page and then through that to all my learning links (including this blog). I love having the map available to me on any page I'm working on: just click a small arrow at the top corner of my screen and the map unfolds down to let me navigate to another page.

The Brain also helped me resolve what for me was an 'intellectual conflict' between producing a visual map of my PLE and visualizing the final environment itself. I guess I wanted to build it as I was mapping it out. With this tool, I was able to produce an image that is itself the final space, so two birds with one stone, I felt.

I appreciated doing this assignment because it forced me to consider and organize my favourite online places visited for information and knowledge. Just seeing visually how my visits are clustered helps me to understand and shape my learning.

The assignment also forced me to open other online spaces: an iGoogle aggregator space for my emails and RSS feeds, a GoogleReader space for my journal subscriptions and this blog to document my progress through the course.

Guess my digital footprint's growing.