Learnings from a MOOC

By Jan Schwartz

In fall 2008, I participated in a semester long MOOC — Massive Open Online Course — through the University of Manitoba. The name of the course was Connectivism and Connected Knowledge; Stephen Downes and George Seimens facilitated it. Of the over 2000 enrollees from all over the world, I think fewer than 30 took it for credit. It was one of the most fascinating educational experiences I’ve ever had, and by the way it was free. For those interested, there is a short explanatory slide deck.

I admit to being primarily a lurker in the early part of this course because I had no idea what connectivism and connected knowledge meant, but by the end of the course I had a pretty good idea. A lurker in this instance is similar to an auditor in a face-to-face class; she is there to soak it all up, but not really to participate. There were published readings each week, but most of the learning came from other participants. We posted on Twitter, blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, and Moodle, which was the “home” platform for the course. There were even some discussions happening in Second Life. (Yes, eventually I started to participate.) In addition there was a once a week synchronous discussion on Elluminate. Continue reading

HOT@ ETAI – Day 2: English Teachers Association of Israel

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

I am presently attending the ETAI (English Teachers Association of Israel) “Linking Through Language” conference in Jerusalem. (Click here to see the first-day report.) One of the keynote speakers was David Crystal, a renowned linguist. His keynote plenary lecture was called “Myths and Realities of English on the Internet.” As an educator interested in both language and technology issues in education, I found his talk engaging and interesting.

Since the theme of the conference is “Linking Through Language,” Crystal opened up his remarks by referring to the Internet as “the language linker par excellence.” After hearing his talk, I think he would agree with Tom Preskett’s article from April 8, 2010, Social Media Doesn’t Threaten Literacy! Among other things Crystal pointed out that in order to text using abbreviated words, one needs to know how to spell the word to start with so you can leave out the proper letters. He also cited anecdotal evidence from teachers showing that students do not carry over these habits into formal writing to a large degree. Continue reading

What’s the Buzz? Buzz

A Google search for the term Google Buzz returns 72,400,000 hits. Google Buzz Twitter returns 53,100,000. This is considerable, given the relative new shininess of the Google Buzz functionality. But isn’t Buzz just like Twitter in Google? Is it a Twitter killer? What the heck is it? Continue reading

Textbook Tweets – Integrating Twitter into a Telecommunications Design Class

Dr. Carrie Heeter, a professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University has been integrating Twitter into her graduate Design Research class this spring in two very different ways. She is moderating a class Twitter ID (@tc841) set to follow experts in the field. Heeter retweets particularly important content to students and to the vibrant professional community of design researchers on Twitter.

Heeter is using Twitter in an unusual way to enhance live class discussions of assigned readings. She calls it “Textbook Tweet Time.”

As a graded part of live class participation, Heeter’s students are assigned to come prepared to tweet interesting insights they gleaned from the week’s readings from the Twitter ID they created for class participation (this can be their personal Twitter ID or one created exclusively for class). Using the PowerPoint Twitter tool from SAP, Heeter configures and projects a PowerPoint slide to search for the hash tag #tc841read. The search is continuously updated so new tweets show up within 10-20 seconds.

Dr. Carrie Heeter

Students must include that hash tag in the tweet in order for it to show up on the slide (and in order to receive credit for participation). The PowerPoint Twitter Tool can be toggled between two alternate formats – one shows the 9 most recent tweets in dialog boxes, along with the twitterer’s ID and photo. The alternate photo shows the most recent 18 tweets. The examples below are from Textbook Tweet Time about Will Wright’s chapter, “Sim Smarts,” in Design Research by Brenda Laurel.

As tweets appear in class, Heeter calls on the tweeters to describe their post. The class discusses each post, then moves on to another tweet. The class tweets about and discusses one chapter at a time, to limit number of tweets and to focus the discussion.

Heeter finds that “the tweets give each student a platform, almost like handing them a microphone. The students explain and expand upon their tweet, and discussion ensues.” The tweets focus class discussion and ensure 100% participation (in this small graduate class). There is a permanent record of the tweets, which facilitates grading of live class participation and motivates attention to the readings before class.

Learners can also view the search results for #tc841read on Twitter search (located at http://search.twitter.com). This view does not limit the number of tweets that are returned unlike the PowerPoint tool (shown above). Heeter subscribes to the RSS feed for that Twitter search, creating a permanent record of the class tweets on her desktop. Heeter says, “Because I can search and archive the tweets, grading classroom discussion becomes more systematic, thorough, and objective. I gain a sense of what matters from the readings, and some feel for how deeply different students are delving in to the readings. The tweets motivate preparation for class and then serve to reinforce the important points; and they give each student a turn.”

Twitter is a public space, leading to the potential for privacy concerns. In Heeter’s design, the students can use their personal Twitter account for class or they can create a unique twitter ID just for TC841. She says, “They control their anonymity in their choice of twitter ID.” For example, one student’s Twitter ID is six letters, all consonants and unpronounceable. Another student is a deceased movie star. Still others use their real names.

Some students post a picture of themselves as their Twitter icon while others post a graphic or picture of something other than themselves. Still others are simply a variation on the default Twitter icon – a white bird silhouette with a color background. “I have one orange student, one purple, and one light blue,” says Heeter. “I know the Twitter ID that each student is using for class so I call on them by their real name (or for fun, sometimes by their silly Twitter name). Their tweets are public, but depending on the set up choices they have made, they are more or less anonymous.”

By navigating to http://search.twitter.com and searching for #tc841read, Heeter can click on the feed for the #tc841 query button to have a folder in her default RSS reader collect and save all textbook tweets.

Heeter feels that using tweets for classroom discussion and collaboration is working well, though she notes that “for larger classes I would need more control.” As it stands, with the number enrolled, she finds “this particular interface happens to be perfect as is right now in this class.”

Heeter lives in San Francisco and teaches in East Lansing. The design research class is a hybrid class with between one hour and 90 minutes of live class and the rest online. Heeter participates via Skype and Breeze connect. Students can either come to the classroom or Skype and Breeze from any remote location. Of course, the instructor need not be remote for Textbook Tweet Time to be an effective component of synchronous class discussion.

A Quick Hello

ETC, Twitter and Me by Jessica Knott
“That sounds useless.”

“I don’t care what a bunch of teenagers are eating for lunch.”

“I just don’t have time for it.”

I’ve heard all of these arguments (and then some), and could not disagree more. Hello, my name is Jessica Knott, I work as an instructional designer at Michigan State University, and I love Twitter. Since I signed up for the Twitter service in 2007, I have watched it (and myself) evolve from “I just ate a sandwich” to “Does anyone have good resources for marketing my online course?” When used well, Twitter is so much more than a status update service, it is a wonderful communication and information gathering device.

From conference back channels to blog post sharing to chatting with friends, the greatest thing about Twitter is that it can be whatever you make it. I have had the great fortune of making friends and valuable contacts from around the world, and fervently believe that the opportunity to network is one that educators should take advantage of. We’re all doing such fascinating things, why not share them?

Twitter

That said, I understand that Twitter is not for everyone, nor will it meet the needs of all. I hope that, in my time here, I will provide information and resources you find useful to improve your Twitter experience, or help you in your implementation decisions.

I would love to hear from you. What do you want to see? What do you struggle with? What are your concerns? Let’s start the conversation! If you’d like to start it on Twitter, I can be found at http://www.twitter.com/jlknott or http://www.twitter.com/etcjournal.  Otherwise, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at jlknott@gmail.com. I look forward to “meeting” you.

Twitter Could Drive You Cuckoo – If You’re Not Prepared

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

[Note: This article was first posted as a comment to Lynn Zimmerman‘s “Twitter Could Drive You Cuckoo” (1 Oct. 2009).]

At first, Dr. Alloway’s criticism of Twitter may seem part of a long line that includes Rousseau’s of La Fontaine’s fables in L’Emile, Flaubert’s of novels in Madame Bovary, Orwell’s of Boys’ Weeklies, and further educational damnings of TV, transistor radio, the internet, blogs, Facebook itself. Education pundits tend to damn new things until they become familiar enough to pundit about them.

But Dr. Alloway is not an education pundit. She is an educator concretely helping a group of slow-learning 11-14 year olds to improve their short term memory and reporting what she has seen in this group. Hence the unfairness of Malcolm Parks’s comment to the Higher Ed Morning article about the fact she has no research paper about new media use and short term memory: one doesn’t write a research paper on such a statistical basis.

Some other comments are more constructive, suggesting the exploration of more active and learning-enhancing uses of Twitter. Also possibly relevant: Danah Boyd’s Twitter: “Pointless Babble” or Peripheral Awareness + Social Grooming? (16 August 2009) on the importance of socializing and on the fact that socializing communication – in real life too – contains a lot of phatic roughage, i.e., utterances only aimed at indicating readiness to interact with others. If you have a bad short term memory, telling this “roughage” apart from content communication might be difficult.

But there might be a very concrete usability factor in the different impacts Facebook and Twitter have on Dr. Alloway’s students. For someone who has short-time memory problems, Facebook is easier to use because Facebook messages stay put, whereas they slide away very fast in Twitter. So her students are more likely to be paralyzed into passivity by this rapid flow than their peers who have a better short-term memory and can use the Twitter search engine or a remembered hashtag to participate in a conversation about a given theme.

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Education pundits tend to damn new things until they become familiar enough to pundit about them.

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To overcome this issue, she might show her students how they can limit the number of people they are following until they get more familiar with Twitter so that their homepage is less crowded and does not move so fast; how to bookmark the RSS feeds of hashtags for conversation topics they’d like to participate in; how to mark a given tweet as favorite and, in general, explore with them the Getting Started topics of Twitter’s help forum – help forum topics don’t glide away, and they can be bookmarked in a browser.

Another possible factor might be young slow-learners’ fear of seeming dumb in a whirl of fast moving Twitter conversations, just as in real-life fast moving ones: people tend to equate quick-wittedness with intelligence and slower thinking with stupidity, and this is possibly even more true for pre-teens and teens.

Here, an educator might show people who need more time both to understand and to utter how to use twitter to bring people to other modes of conversation, for instance, by tweeting links to blog or forum discussions where they can have enough time. This can even be automated: new posts and comments on ETC are automatically announced at http://twitter.com/etcjournal via twitterfeed.com, which translates the entries RSS feed and the comments RSS feed into tweets. Same with many other twitter accounts.

The twitter whirlwind might drive some people cuckoo if they enter it unprepared. But they can be shown how to use its power to steer themselves and others towards quieter conversation venues.

Twitter Bad for the Brain? – Balderdash, Poppycock, Twaddle

John SenerBy John Sener

[Note: This article was first posted as a comment to Lynn Zimmerman‘s “Twitter Could Drive You Cuckoo” (1 Oct. 2009).]

Studies like this, and the related reportage and unsupported speculation, are what could drive me cuckoo. More accurately, taking such reportage (and the related study behind it?) seriously is likely to be far less healthy for one’s brain and working memory than Twitter.

Look closely at what’s going on here. The cited articles make no mention of how Twitter was used in the study. So I spent (wasted?) 30 minutes or so looking for the actual study. Still haven’t found it. That’s your first clue: the assertion that Twitter is bad is mostly, perhaps entirely, an echo chamber.

A Google search did not yield the study; none of the articles I found have a link to it. I did find Dr. Alloway’s web site; that should have been promising — except that I couldn’t find a link to the study there either. I found a couple of references buried on her web site and through Google searches, but none which appear to be the related study either. Much more easy to find on her web site are links to all the media coverage she’s received and the talks she’s giving. That’s your second clue.

It appears from her web site that she’s doing some good research to establish the importance of working memory, among other areas. Bravo for that. She claims that it’s more valuable than IQ as a measure of intelligence (although the study I found measures the efficacy of working memory in terms of increased performance on IQ, literacy, and numeracy tests — hmmm). But even this appears to be a double-edged sword: she is also promoting “JUNGLE MEMORY, a brain-training program based on my research and promoted by Pearson Education, improved from a grade C to a B, and a B to an A after just 12 weeks! It is the only training program scientifically proven to raise grades.” So her web site is long on self-promotion and short on links to actual research.

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Clearly working memory as defined is an important skill. But why is it THE most important skill?

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But here’s the thing: What does all this have to do with Twitter being unhealthy for working memory? Where’s the evidence, the data? I found someone who suggested that the study did not actually test Twitter (can’t find that reference now). Dr. Alloway herself noted in a comment on her web site that the conclusions are “based on findings from a pilot study, more to follow once the study is complete.” Hmmm. Someone else on her web site asked four weeks ago for a link to the complete study; no response was posted. The reportage also suggests that Twitter was not actually tested, and that its detrimental effects are pure speculation on Dr. Alloway’s part. As reported in the Scotsman, “Paul Allen, editor of ComputerActive magazine, questioned the study and said technology like Twitter was ‘too new’ to make conclusions about. He said: “‘It sounds very spurious. I don’t see a correlation between the length of a message you send someone and the effect on memory. It could be a really interesting Twitter message.’” Exactly.

But in the meantime, the blogosphere has already run wild, and sooner or later you’ll be hearing someone tell you how science has shown that Twitter is bad for your brain. Just like another British scientist ran amok earlier this year with unsubstantiated speculation about how social networking sites were harming children’s brains.

Fortunately, the British have also provided us with several fine words for dealing with such situations: Balderdash. Poppycock. Twaddle.

To me, the worst part about this is that it totally obscures a deeper, more important question. As Dr. Alloway says on her web site, “Cutting-edge research has shown that working memory—the ability to store and manipulate information—is the most important learning skill a child can have. Working memory is the foundation of good grades and a successful life beyond the classroom. Without it, students would fail at every task, and with it they can dramatically improve their classroom performance.”

Clearly working memory as defined is an important skill. But why is it THE most important skill? It makes sense to say that if you believe that classroom performance as currently defined (store and manipulate information as per the teacher’s requirements) is in fact most important. But if you believe that there are more important skills, and that getting good grades is at least as much about social conditioning as it is about learning, then you would be asking a different set of questions. Ones, sadly, which we are not going to hear in this media blitz of misinformation…