Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Twitter vs RSS: Showdown at 11

I never got into RSS feeds, mainly because I think they were a thing before I cared enough about the Internet to use it to my advantage. I don't know if it is the dynamic status of the web or the clunky user interface, or anxiety of worrying I'll feel bad about missing something if it is hand delivered that kept me from buying in, but either way I have never been an RSS gal.

These days I use Twitter in a similar fashion, and given the lifespan of a tweet makes a Mayfly seem like Rip van Winkle, I guess I am okay with catching up on the highlights if I miss something. The only syndicated content I really grab onto are podcast series and these automatically update when I sync my iPod. I don't need a feed to announce a new episode and I think if I had that service the pressure would turn me completely batty, to the extent I would stockpile the headlines and purposely take the long way around to my laptop.

I read Twitter by topic and by source, follow hashtags, and Google everything just to be sure the source is legit. It is a lot of work, I know, but I am also not bombarded by a steady stream of content that I may or may not care about, and I can choose when to stress out over global economic policy and when to chill out to a new episode of How the Work Works. It is that simple, and while I realize I may be missing out, I think I can handle the disappointment.

About the MooCs ...

Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons
Oxford University has finally released its first Massive Open Online Course (MooC), joining the ranks of top American universities drawing in potential students, engaging people with barriers to access, advertising for free, and helping to revolutionize the future of learning. While the development of full undergrad degree programs delivered MooC-style is still under review, we can rest assured it is only a matter of time.

How will these courses be delivered? the masses wonder, and more interestingly: how will we keep an eye on  students? This is an interesting question, of course, because while it is good and possible to dupe a prof who isn't physically standing before you, most F2F universities don't have professors following you around to keep you honest, limiting engagement to lecture time. In fact, the only real difference than a MooC and a regular online course is the cashola, and I would argue anyone willing to sign themselves up and commit to a course in their free time is probably well motivated.

Truth be told, the progress this indicates is a sign of the times--learning is taking new shapes and new faces and will continue to innovate as part of the human experience because it is part of and shaped by the human experience.

Photo courtesy of Martin Boudreault
Rather than ride the coattails of tradition and elitism, the school is engaging the future and taking positive steps to not go the way of the Blackberry. It is important in all fields and with respect to all forms of evolution to be cognizant of your audience, stay reflective and fair, and be brave enough to take calculated risks. The same is true of education of course -- our lives are a process molded and shaped the the verbs we select and stifled only by the limitations we invent while telling stories about ourselves. If we can hold on and stay focused, anything is possible.

Good for Oxford.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Social Media: It Is What It Isn't

I believe in silver linings.

In the wake of the US election and Donald Trump's mind-blowing victory, everyone from Leftist coffee shop book club members and tree farmers in Virginia to the conceded Democratic candidate and Vladimir Putin have theories about why things turned out the way they did. And now that the dust is settling, people are starting to look deeper at the implications, inner meaning, and ripple effect the Trump presidency will have on the world. Somewhere beyond protests and pundits, there is beginning to emerge a culture of gratitude and understanding that is carefully casting theories about what could possibly line the election dust cloud in silver.

Passionate Eye on CBC hosts "The Choice."
Photo courtesy of CBC.
Take social media. More than once I noticed people (and found myself, to some degree) using Facebook as a news feed, especially when it came to election news. In my own feed, I participated in conversations about the feminist left having a difficult decision to make with a neo-liberal female candidate, read several articles about what makes Bernie Sanders so special, indulged in gossip about DT's shenanigans, and watched a documentary on HRC and DT and their respective careers. Without a great deal of reflection, I became complacent with what I was learning and clung viciously to a statistic I heard from an "expert" commentator in a video posted by CNN: "Donald Trump will never win the election because he will need 80 per cent of the white male vote and that is highly unlikely."



Anyhoo, on election night I was in Toronto at a reception for a tradeshow and among contrived "networking" discussions, I noticed more than half the room was on their phones for a noticeable amount of time and after casually sauntering up next to people at the cheese table, pretending to reach for the jalapeno jack, I saw they were refreshing Twitter for election updates. Interesting, I thought. But it made sense -- up to the minute news in 140 characters or less. Perfect for glancing at between the introductions with strangers and promises to "connect later" that define tradeshow events.

At 11 p.m. EST on election night, I saw on actual TV that Trump was up 230-ish seats over Clinton's 209, but the West Coast hadn't yet been counted. I grinned a little, wiped the nacho crumbs from my lips, finished my pint, and headed off to my room, comfortable in the knowledge that the West Coast was going to save the day.

The next morning, before my eyes were fully open, I reached for my phone (not the TV remote) and checked Facebook (not the CBC or CNN) to see what had happened and how the Dems were celebrating HRC's victory.

Except, of course, they weren't.

But enough about politics. This is really about social media and online presence and the way the world has shifted over the last decade to embrace the world that lives, essentially, in its own cloud.
Like I said, in the days since Election 2016 there has been a lot of ranting, marching, talking, shouting, protesting, hurting, comforting, complaining, blaming, studying, reflecting, caring, discarding, acknowledging, and lamenting but most importantly, there have been some big realizations about social media, its purpose, and its influence.

 Trent Loos, a conservative 50-year-old farmer
from central Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
For one thing, Facebook is not a news feed. It is a custom tailored collection of users' likes, interests, friends, and social, economic, and political preferences. It is an RSS feed on steroids because not only does it provide the news sources you prefer but the actual news opinions, perspectives, and bias we crave. We tell it who we are and what we believe in and ask it to send us news to confirm this, and then we eat it up while posting pictures of our idyllic, rain-free camping vacations, luxury dinners out of a slowcooker, and children who never cry. I know I said I was over talking politics, but check out what happens when the Left and Right switch Facebook feeds >> Talk about mystified.

Twitter, in its brevity and simplicity, is a bit more straightforward, but we still choose who to follow, which prompts suggestions about who else to follow based on our own interests and unless we are discerning, we can end up reading the abbreviated version of our Facebook feeds. I checked CNN's Twitter feed for election news because that is what most of the tradeshow gawkers were doing, but I had to sift through commentary from that organization to get to the facts. The upside of Twitter from a news perspective is, of course, you don't need permission to follow anyone and can therefore get the news right from the horse's mouth and perhaps a sense of one's character >>

As educators, our responsibility is to teach
social media objectivity and critical thinking.
Photo courtesy of
As educators embracing the future of education, the use of social media, and the struggle for objectivity it is absolutely essential we treat social media like a good lecture or Christmas dinner with long-lost relatives: be discerning, take what makes sense, and disregard the rest. Although social media opens us up to a vast array of perspectives, supports grassroots journalism, gives a voice to the underrepresented, and combats media oligarchy, it also requires a heavier hand in objectivity and careful consideration for accuracy and, in some cases, just plain truthfulness >>

When everyone has a voice, the objectivity pool is diluted, but that doesn't mean it isn't valuable -- just like the US Election opened our eyes to why social media isn't an objective source of news, it can also show us important perspectives, other than our own, that shape the way the world works. We learn so much more from people we disagree with than we do singing with the choir, and if we can teach open-mindedness and curiosity when it comes to the opinions of others, we can encourage critical thinking, analysis based in reality and, if we are lucky, the drive to unify and see the silver lining.  

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Learning in the Age of Distraction

This is a great interview with Adam Gazzaley, author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World, which looks at the science of distraction, learning, and the role of technology in both. 

An interesting point in the interview is this: "One of the things we talk about in the book is the need for us to re-train ourselves to become comfortable with sustaining our attention on a single goal and for young people, who may have never developed this skill, to learn the value and to appreciate the value and to even feel the value of sustained attention," said Gazzaley.

This is important information because we can't begin to use media and technology in teaching if we don't know the full breadth of its effects -- positive and negative.

Take a peek and if you can, read the book. 

The Medium is the Message

I forgot about the phrase, The Medium is the Message, having last heard it in university. At the time we were discussing two things, on two separate occasions:

* In a political journalism class we were discussing the upcoming Internet popularity as a medium for discourse (yes, I was in university that long ago); and,

* In human rights training learning how voice, body language, and entitlement shaped by privilege changes what we convey based on how we say things and to whom we say them.

Marshal McLuhan coined the term in reference to the way the medium of communication, rather than the actual thing communicated, changes the message to shape the future and progress of human kind.

"Each medium, independent of the content it mediates, has its own intrinsic effects which are its unique message," he said. "The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace pr pattern that in introduces to human affairs."

But McLuhan suggested wider parameters than media discourse or my class. With this phrase he asked that we observe and be mindful of the ways we extend the scale of our reach by way of the medium we choose, and how the medium and resulting scale changes who we are as individuals.

"It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people," he said. "It is the environment that changes people, not the technology."

So what does this have to do with adult eduction? So much. 

At a very basic level, it means we should be mindful of how we communicate so as to be accurate and meaningful with our messages, who they reach, and how. 

It also means we have the power to affect and influence, and to forge new pathways in how our students meet, understand, change, submit to, and conquer the world around them. 

In a practical sense, it means we can reach different people with different mediums, and challenge students to work through moments if incongruence as they try learning through mediums outside their comfort zones. 

Here is an Open Education course on using language as a medium for learning >> Moving from theory to practice can be tricky and this course covers the role of language in doing just that. 

There are many, many places to view and listen to ideas about media in teaching and learning, and in many ways the more specific the search, the more honed the solutions you find will be. However, there are a few examples that can work in many places, so take a peek >>

Friday, 28 October 2016

Podcasts - More fun than Nickelback

My husband thinks I am a bit loony for running while listening to podcasts.

"How is that fun?" he asks, while searching the radio for a Nickelback clip.

Nickelback. I kid you not.

Podcasts are interesting because you can pick your topic and listen to one or a series, with all the imagination you require to read a book. Except your hands are free to type, wash dishes, run, or change the radio station.

Podcasts are demonstrations of excellent writing and careful word and style choice -- no one is going to listen if you ramble on and on. Speaking of which ...

Here is a link to a post about educational podcasts -- 21 of them. I have used several of these (Ted, RadioLab, The Podcast History of Our World, Stuff You Should Know, History of the World in 100 Objects) and am excited to try some new ones.

Care to make your own podcast? Here's a starter kit >>

Good luck.

Editing 101 - eResources for Awesomeness

I had a teacher in university whose favourite phrase was, "Look it up."

Me: How do you spell "discombobulate"?
Teacher: Look it up.

Me: Is there such thing as editing certification?
Teacher: Look it up.

Me: If my Word processor misplaces my page break one more time, I am going to lose my marbles. How do I fix it?
Teacher: Look it up.

Infuriating and unhelpful as it seems in the moment, it is the best advice on earth. We learn by doing and having someone hand you the answer is a one-way ticket to always needing someone to hand you the answer.

This is why built-in grammar and spell checkers are kind of silly -- well it is one reason. Another reason is this:

Spell cheque is a waist of thyme.

Just sayin'.

Anyway, for total awesomeness in documents and publications, check out my favourite places to look up grammar, spelling, and citation rules. I love the quick, searchable indexes and the no-nonsense plain language.

Purdue Owl >> Citations, language use, parts of speech, writing tips you name it. A one-stop shop for topical direction, complete with examples.

Grammar Girl >> Grammar, spelling, word choice / use, and general rules of verbal fluency. She can be a bit wordy, but I appreciate the explanations and examples so I can be sure the knowledge will stick.

Canadian Press >> Favour or favor? Travelling or traveling? Cell phone or cellphone? If may not seems to matter, except it does for consistency, to meet institutional or professional guidelines, and for general correctness. Canadian Press style books are fantastic, but you have to pay for them. A subscription (your best bet because updates are in real time and language is changing all the time) is about $4/month.

If you want a reliable, unequivocal resource for Canadian citation, spelling, and grammar another option is a good ole' fashioned book -- dictionary, thesaurus, style guide, grammar guide. They can all help keep your writing and research in order. Need some suggestions?

Look it up.