Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cool tools: Network visualization

The other day I was reading a CCK11 blog on a way to visualize the connections on your LinkedIn network.  Since this week's topic is "the network" on CCK11, I thought it would be cool to see how my network looks. You always get a notification on your social networks indicating who a particular contact has in common with you, but you don't generally get the full picture.

With a few hundred contacts on my LinkedIn network my diagram does look a bit chaotic (I don't even want to know what an Open Networker's diagrams looks like!), but zooming in makes things a bit more clear. The main thing that struck me is that LinkedIn didn't ascribe any specific values to the color-labels.  When I connected with people I usually indicated that I knew them from class, from work, that we did business together or there was some sort of consultation going on. To be honest I'm not really sure how this mapping tool color-coded my contacts.  The low-hanging fruit seemed to be certain smaller groups of people in my network, namely those in the Salem Arts Association and Greek Twitterers that I follow.

My classmates were more chaotic.  It seems like the mapping tool split my management classmates into two groups. Education classmates cross-polinated between the linguistics and the instructional design. I do wonder if LinkedIn worked this out by year-of-graduation.

Overall I think that this is a fantastic tool (which still needs some improvement), but I think it would be useful both as a network analysis tool, and as a tool to discover potential new contacts. We've all seen second or third degree contacts in the recommendations area of LinkedIn (where you're given names of people that you might know). I think that a tool like this could be modified to show potential new contacts and indicate why you might want to connect with them. Potential reasons may include: you graduated the same year as they did, you share groups in common, or you share common interests (i.e. eLearning,). Obviously there could be more categories there, but these are what come immediately to mind.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CCK11 - week 2: This brings back memories!

This week's readings bring back memories; memories of computer science (creating algorithms in C to traverse a network) and memories of my MBA (organizational development).  Fun stuff!

Krebs' reading was short, but quite interesting nevertheless.  What stood out for me was this

Common wisdom in personal networks is "the more connections, the better." This is not always so. What really matters is where those connections lead to -- and how they connect the otherwise unconnected!

I tend to see this common wisdom with "open networkers" on LinkedIn and other social networks (my apologies if you are an open networker).  I never really got into "open networking", connecting to anyone who wanted to connect with me, simply because there was no connection there to begin with. Now on occasion I do make a request to connect with someone whose work I've read and liked, but I guess one could argue that there is a weak connection there to begin with - I know something about the person I am trying to connect to, and there is a reason for the connection request (perhaps future collaboration on mutual areas of interest).

If there is no connection to begin with, what then is the value of open networking? More connections does not necessarily mean that you're better off, it just means that you might have more junk to go through to find stuff you really need - I guess to some extend this might be considered "relationship hoarding."

The presentation on Learning Networks actually brought back memories of spending time (lots of it!) on forums earlier in my professional life, both socializing with fellow geeks, but also learning from them, and sharing my own knowledge.  Most of the information on these forums was not structured, so one had to look around, search, follow streams of consciousness and synthesize their own information (and when in doubt, ask a question!)  I have to say that I learned a lot informally back then on a variety of topics!  One thing that was apparent was the issue of time: if you wanted to get the most out of your network, you need to invest time into it!


Program note: I really didn't go through the Barry Wellman PowerPoint. Honestly, it was way too long!  If you can't present something in fewer than 50 slides, just write an article, it will make more sense!  I'm sure that others might disagree with me, but tables and fragmented sentences are only good in short slideshows with voice over :-) Just my two cents.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Preparation: the key to academic success!

I wrote an article last week for the UMass Online blog on the merits of preparation. If you are a current student or if you're an instructor looking to point your students to another student's views on how to be successful in the classroom and get the most out of yoru educational experience then check out this post. Comments always welcome!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Connectivism: just doesn't hit the nail on the head for me

So here are some thoughts on CCK11 for this first week - I've broken it down to both format and theory.

Format:
I like the fact that this is a distributed blog MOOC. It gives me an opportunity to see what people are writing on their personal blogs, in addition to the CCK content that they post. It's also a nice way of filtering information for me since I don't have a waterfall of information coming down on me, as it would have been if we were using a forum. At the same time, I lament not having a forum because I'd like to know what I am putting on the back burner or just ignoring (i.e. having a choice), versus not knowing what you are leaving behind.

Reading documents is actually quite easy for me, I do it mostly during my commutes. The media on the other hand is more challenging.  Flash is an issue on my iPhone, and the video interviews are something that I wish I had an audio-only version, this way I could just throw it onto my iPod and listed during my commute (instead of draining my iPhone's battery to stream it ;-)  )

Connectivism as a theory:
This MOOC comes at an opportune time for me.  I just finished a course in Psycholinguistics and we did cover cognitivism, connectivism, connectionism (and a whole bunch of other -isms), but we covered 4 weeks worth of content in 3, so it was quite literally a blur, so I am looking forward to exploring one concept in full.

Reading the introductory material, connectivism makes sense neurologically to me - stronger associations = better recall.  From a sociological perspective I have a bit more trouble with it.  One of the main questions that I have: is knowledge really knowledge if it doesn't reside in your brain and you can't access it readily?  If I need IMDB for instance to look up what movie some actor has been  in before (something that I knew but I have forgotten), is it really knowledge? 

By the same token when my friends ask me for tech help and tech support, something that has been occurring for years, can they be said to have knowledge of how to solve some problem when it is someone else that does the work?  Perhaps I am misunderstanding what has been meant by "the knowledge is in the connections", but I am willing and interested in exploring this topic further.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MOOCing about

OK, I stole (errrr....creatively borrowed) the title of this blog post, but I don't remember who posted it first (I'll rectify this in a blog post about CCK11 by Friday.  In any case, with school officially over for me, I got my MA in Applied Linguistics, just waiting for my diploma now, I thought I would mess around with the concept of a Massive Online Open Course (or MOOC).

There are two MOOCs going on now: Learner and Learning Analytics 2011 (LAK11) and Connectivism and Connected Knowledge 2011 (CCK11). LAK11 is a 5 week course hosted on Moodle while CCK11 is a 12 week course (approximating something similar to a regular for-credit college online course as far as timing goes) that is completely distributed.  There are readings to do, and you respond not by posting to a forum, but rather by posting to your blog, and registering your blog with CCK11 so you can be on their RSS feed and/or daily email.

I've opted to be on their email list (as opposed to putting the stuff on my Google Reader since I routinely declare RSS bankruptcy these days).  MOOCs are an interesting concept and I can say that I've already met interesting people, from around the world, in the field of education.

In 4 more weeks I can report back on LAK11, while I am sure that you'll be seeing more CCK11 stuff on here in the next 12 weeks.

More on this week's CCK11 readings by Friday.



If you want to connect: Google Profile

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tech use in the classroom

Before the new year came in, one of my linguistics professors sent me (and other classmates) an email looking for some feedback.  The question was: 

How would you react as a teacher if your students texted, surfed the internet, or did other stuff on their computers during your class?

Given that my classmates all come from diverse backgrounds (some in Higher Education, some in K-12, others in Adult Education, and so on), the question is not that simple. I toyed with the idea of answering this before the new year, but seeing as I was on vacation I decided to make it a blog post for the new year :-)

So here's my answer: It all depends on context and what I expect from the students.  First of all, I think that in a Higher Education context, it's really unreasonable to expect students to not bring any technology into the classroom and to have all devices off (not silent, but off).  There are a number of comments in this InsideHigherEd story about faculty being very draconian about what they allow in their class.

For some classes, like Chemistry, Math and Physics, where formulas and graphs are involved, I would expect a pencil and a notebook (or drawing pad) to be good note taking implements (unless you've got one of those tablet computers that allows you to take handwritten notes). It's just the nature of the beast, putting formulas into a computer is a bit complex without pen input.  In coursework in the social sciences where notes are just text, computers might be better - depending of course on how quickly students can type versus how quickly they can write.

As an undergrad I took a lot of notes on paper for my math and logic courses. For my social science courses...not so much. As a grad student I often brought a computer to class and took notes. In those days we didn't have ubiquitous wifi on campus. In recent years, I've used my iphone to access PDFs and notes stored in the cloud when I've forgotten to bring an article to class (or when we were referencing something that we read weeks ago), I added things to my course to-do list (and synchronized right away to toodledo.com) and yes, I texted every now and again.

I think that the internet does have a place in the classroom. Even if you don't believe in the 2 minute mental break of checking facebook (no one can sit still and attentive for straight 3 hours of class!), it's useful to look things up when you're in doubt.  Sure, you can ask the professor and derail the conversation or topic of discussion, but why not try looking it up yourself and if you still have questions, then you can ask!

At the end of the day, I think that in Higher Education, the instructor has the responsibility of:
  • making the class engaging so that students are not compelled to get onto facebook (or other services) and mindlessly surf
  • make it so that the class requires participation so you need to pay attention
  • recognize that technology is not the enemy - bad pedagogy is :-)
Now, if students don't participate, even thought you've provided ample opportunities for them to do so, then they should get a bad evaluation - it's a no brainer. If students who use technology (let's say they're on facebook and they're giggling at some stupid photo), then they are being disruptive to the rest of the class and that should not be allowed.

Something to think about: I've had classmates that never touched a piece of technology during course, but they were checked out (mentally) nonetheless. They ended up working on projects for other classes while in a different class. To the instructor these people may have seemed engaged, taking notes, and being really with it, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

So there you have it, that is my view on how I would react: let them use what they feel they need to use, we're all adults, and instructors should expect their learners to act like it.