1 Month of Wave: Post the first

November 4th, 2009

I now have a Google Wave account.

I got it a few weeks ago, but haven’t really had the opportunity to try it out in a meaningful way. There’s no point in playing alone… Wave’s potential lies in the ability to collaborate with others. “Potential” is really the key word here. My first experiences with the features and user interface have left me hoping that it will evolve in the right way, but it does fall short in some ways.

What is a wave? It’s hard to describe… it’s like an enhanced wiki tool that you could use in place of email, plus gadgets.

Actually, it’s much more complex than that, especially once you start taking into account the ability to make public waves (so now you have a public forum? a public blog?) and embed waves into other sites (like your existing blog).

This video explains the concept behind Wave pretty well (and it’s pretty funny, too). Also be sure to check the Google Wave Intro at the bottom of this post… it shows some cool features that will be possible in the actual release of Wave.

Can’t see the embedded video? Click here!

One thing to keep in mind is that it is in preview — not even in Beta! There are no guarantees that features will work (and, in fact, I’ve had some work one day and not the next), so you can’t really use it professionally yet. Many of us are just trying it out, to see what we think we can do with it, and provide some feedback on things that just aren’t working for us.

Things I like:

  • Wiki-style group collaboration on documents (asynchronous… and kinda synchronous)
  • The ability to embed tools like polls, map tools, conferencing, etc. (although I haven’t been able to try them all yet)
  • The ability to make your Wave public, and search public Waves on different topics. Very cool!
  • The ability to add things like Twitter into a Wave. Not sure I know what to do with it, but it’s neat that I can.
  • The group of folks attending Educause that decided to try using Wave for sharing conference notes and info… I’m TOTALLY spying on you all!

Things I’d like to see improved:

  • The total destruction of the darn “Done” button you have to click when you’ve made an update to a Wave. Doesn’t seem like a big deal when you’re testing Wave on your own and have a 2-line wave. When you are participating in a BIIIG wave that scrolls forever, and has various long replies, etc. the “Done” button is tricky to find.
  • Long complicated waves can be complicated to navigate. Not sure how to improve this, but I am finding it challenging.
  • Difficulty in locating changes to a Wave. I know there’s a green bar on the side. Doesn’t help if I have to scroll for 10 minutes to find it. Give me a ‘history’ page with a list of changes, like you’d see in a regular wiki. The playback feature seems like a cool idea, but has been useless for me so far.

There are other points, but I’ll save some for my next post. Overall, I do see its potential, and I hope that Google takes the feedback that they are given.

One weird thing that’s come out of this is trolling for account invites. I’ve actually had strangers ask me for a Wave account invite when they saw me post on Twitter that I had an account myself. Weird, no? Unless I know you personally or professionally, please don’t ask me. I want to use my invites to gather a group of people that I can test and collaborate with.

Can’t see the embedded video? Click here!

Some other first impressions:

This series is a (roughly) 1-month attempt to figure out what the heck to do with Wave, with some commentary along the way.

EVENT: Teaching and Learning Uses for Social Networking Technologies

October 9th, 2009

A little while ago, I tuned in for 3 of the speakers in this event, and found them all to be very different even though they share a theme (educational uses for social networking technologies). I’ll include my notes from each speaker below, so you can get an idea about the type of projects discussed. You can find the description of each session on the event website.

Some interesting points that I found in all three presentations:

  • You have to integrate the technology into the teaching and learning. It can’t just be added on top of an old learning structure, and expect the students to engage with it. Things have to be properly planned out and executed to the best of your ability!
  • With these ‘social’ technologies, the students are a part of the process, not just a casual observer. You may not want to give them the power to veto your use of certain features, but it can be useful for them to feel included – especially when the technology doesn’t work the way you were expecting. Their input and feedback is as important as yours (maybe MORE because they are supposed to be getting an education out of it!).
  • Choose solutions that utilize interfaces most users are already familiar with. Getting “past” the technology is often one of the hurdles to having an engaged group.

(My notes on each speaker below)

Read the rest of this entry »


October 6th, 2009

I didn’t catch all of the keynote today, but there was one big announcement that I wanted to repost here.

Flash01Flash CS5 will include the ability to develop iPhone Applications using Action Script 3.

This is one of those announcements that is both positive and yet a little disappointing. Let’s start with the good stuff — Flash can be a great tool for developing interactive applications delivered online. We’ve all seen examples of Flash at work, with things ranging from online games to animations to video sites like Youtube. People with a creative mind can take Flash really far! Now Flash developers can create iPhone Applications that can be delivered via the Apple iTunes Store (or iPhone developers can use Flash to develop… either way). Sounds great!

Apple and Adobe have not been playing well together when it comes to Flash on iPhones. I’m not pointing any fingers, but I know that I want to pull my hair out every time I have trouble accessing a site on an iPhone because it uses Flash. The hair-pulling will continue, unfortunately, because they have not agreed to permit in-browser Flash support for the iPhone.

Regardless, it is a good first step — now I hope they can take it all the way home!

Some Links:

Now to find out about Connect Pro on the iPhone…. saw a tweet about this (#adobemax #adobemaxgs on Twitter) and didn’t catch it in the keynote. This would be a really great addition!

I hope I have some time to tune in to the sessions tomorrow… it’s always good to keep up on this stuff!

Event: Flattening the Classroom: Building Collaborative Learning Environments

October 5th, 2009

Event website

This two-day virtual event focuses on effective collaboration. I’ve missed some of it, due to some technical difficulties, but what I did catch was pretty interesting!

Diane Chapman – What is Collaboration?

Collaboration – a dirty little secret?
I’m not sure I agree with this statement… at our school, the lack of a potential for collaboration in some of the campus-wide tools is the dirty little secret that isn’t such a secret anymore. A key point made that I do agree with, however, is that collaboration has to be PLANNED in advance. Sure – it can be fun to be spontaneous, but it can get messy very quickly without a plan.

“Plan for inevitable bumps in the road” – This applies to any technology, and is often forgotten when using it.

“Group think is NOT Collaboration” – I love this quote!! “Group think” is when a group gives in to a dominant idea, instead of everyone participating equally. Something that we have to teach groups to remember, and something group members have to practise. Going along with the ideas of the group is not the same as adding your ideas to the mix. Yes, it’s easier to go along with everyone and seems to get the job done faster — but it defeats the purpose of the whole exercise!

The role of creativity in collaboration: unique viewpoints, not equal to chaos, important to collaboration.

Noshir Sarosh Contractor – Understanding and Enabling Online Collaboration Networks

Social collaboration is not as much about who you know, or what you know, but others’ perception of who and what you know. These notions make up different kinds of networks, and the different ways in which they work. It doesn’t just involve a collection of people, but people, networks, data, and the relationships between all of these areas – a “community”.

The best collaborative ideas come out when the community is not made up of people from the same circle – but we still often end up creating social networks with people that are from our area of the world.

Michelle Pacansky-Brock – VoiceThread: Collaborative, Community-Oriented Learning Spaces

What is a voice thread?

Online media “album” featuring presentations, imags, documents and videos. Thse open up into collaborative conversations where users may comment in text, voice, or video. She has used this from w/in Blackboard courses. Users are of varying skill and comfort level – she is there to demonstrate “mastery” (goes along with first speaker, who says that modelling is very important).

Students commented that they liked to hear their peers’ voices and see pictures and images – gave a better sense of the community.

Beryl Levinger – Technologies That Enhance Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Learning

DPMI – an INTENSIVE program, that leaves students with many skills that will aid them in professional life.

Feedback is an important skill…

Use mostly synchronous collaborative technologies for co-creation.

Tool-rich – mastery of a set of tools within a framework, some applied collaboratively and online, but some individually and on paper.

  • Results Framework
  • Logical Framework

Community-oriented – creating social bonds that enable them to work together effectively, and enjoy their time together, seeds are sown for collaboration

Avowedly collaborative – harness collective intelligence, use of wikis

Cheat, steal and be lazy! – DPMI Motto, and my second favourite quote of the day!! – build on the thinking of others! (Ha! I just posted about this topic!) Shared ownership and empowerment to collectively take action.

The ability to collaborate is as important as the outcome of the collaboration.

Collaboration as a learned skill…

Uses Zoho Wiki, Zoho Notebook (a shell that links all of the students’ personal notebooks… where they post various media, notes, etc.), Poll Daddy, Zoho Polls (peer-to-peer feedback), students must present poll results in their final presentation and explain how they used poll results to affect the final product.

Wiki inconveniences (that Google Docs addresses) – wikis don’t handle spreadsheets and diagramming very well, are generally asynchronus (only one student can update at a time). Use Google Docs for this, but link to the docs from within the wiki so that all content is accessible from the wiki.

Twitter – has gotten some students to participate that would normally not (sometimes because they are not as fluent in English, and is an easier method of communication). Yet, feels like a distraction. Still experimenting with it.

CMAP Tools – Synchronous/Asynchronous for mapping relationships

Students appreciate the collaborative aspect of the program MORE after the program than during it. Down the road, they realize that the skills that they have learned in the program are valuable for the real world, and they are skills that not everyone learns.

Telling Stories in Land and Food Systems: Future Advocates & Citizen Journalists

Podcasting – repurposing lectures, but not dynamic use of the technology

Day 2

Janet Salmons – How Did WE Work? Assessing Collaborative Assignments

Students are wary of group work, because they don’t trust their groupmates (to complete their tasks, to take the project as seriously, to provide a certain level of work) or the instructor (to fairly assess group work, to protect the group members from ‘bad’ group members).

  • Assessment of collaborative work requires planning, checkpoints
  • Assessment not only of outcomes, but of the process itself.
  • Assessment of the group and the individuals (not necessarily the same thing! peoples’ contribution differs!)

Balance instructor-driven and learner-driven styles.

Lecture Online?

October 5th, 2009

With all this talk of the dreaded ‘p’ word (that’s PANDEMIC, for those of you not in the University environment), a spotlight has been placed on ensuring courses can continue offsite. We already have the ability to deliver course materials online, quizzing online, assignments online… but what about the lectures themselves?

We’ve probably all seen some examples of lecture content online, and many of us have differing opinions about what is best. There is a big difference between a 1-hour recorded lecture viewed online,  and a free-flowing lecture and discussion where the students are all present and interacting with the instructor and the environment. (Hopefully that’s what happens in a face-to-face lecture, and I’m not ruling that out for online components.)

So what should we be recommending to faculty who want to have an online lecture presence? What is my idea of a perfect online lecture?

If we’re talking about an audio/video lecture, to be viewed asynchronously by students (with no real student participation),  the online lecture components are planned, to the point and as engaging as the technology and the topic allow. When I say ‘to the point’, I think they shouldn’t be “too long” (5-10 minutes is perfect!). That doesn’t mean the whole lecture has to be summed up in 5-10 minutes — but the important concepts should be broken apart into their own separate entries. These may be delivered via a streaming technology (where users must view them online, in a web browser) or something like a podcast (where users download the content, and view offline on their computer or on a mobile device)

On the other hand, an “online class” delivered via a collaboration tool such as Adobe Connect may go for much longer, as there are lecture portions as well as student questions and feedback. This is a less structured model, with its own benefits and drawbacks… and it requires more time. Participant audio and video adds another layer of complexity to this model, but when it works well can result in some really great community building and concept development.

Start to think about some of these possibilities as we plan for offsite learning. The method you choose will depend on the topic, the style of the lecture, the technologies available, and often how tech-savvy the students are.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your ideas and past experiences – we would love to hear them!

Yummy Bookmarks

September 30th, 2009

I surf deliciously. Yes, I said it… corny as it is, it’s been an interesting evolution for me. Let me explain.

This post is about the personal – and not so “social” – side of social bookmarking. (What is social bookmarking? Check out the great link at the bottom of this post!)

I got a delicious account a few years back. Honestly, I didn’t do much with it at first. Like with most things, I signed up to try it out so that I could see what it was about and how people used it. I didn’t end up using it very much, and my bookmarks didn’t get used much, and I basically forgot about it.

This year, I decided to make more of an effort to put important bookmarks on it. I could see its use — being able to access my important links from anywhere, tag them in various ways so that I could find them again (maybe!). Sure, I knew it was useful, but I wasn’t using it. This time would be different, I would make an effort.

And then it happened.

I installed the delicious plugin for Firefox, so that it would be easier and more efficient for me to add links. Little did I know what I had done. The next time I tried to access my computer’s bookmarks via Firefox, I was in for a shock — my local bookmarks didn’t show up, my delicious ones did!! I was angry at first, and then I saw it as an opportunity.

You see, I now had no choice but to actually use delicious. I had to add my links there. I had to properly tag them so that I could find them again. I had to learn how to access them.

I learned that you could create a list of ‘favourite’ tags to appear at the top of your browser window – and you set these favourites on each computer, so they can be different at work than at home. Brilliant!! My biggest fear in using social bookmarking for all of my bookmarks was that I would end up with a meaningless list of hundreds of links with no context. With the browser plugin, you can narrow that view to just what you need in that context.


Above, you can see the delicious bar in my browser, showing only the tags (categories, shown here as headings to a dropdown menu of links) that I have deemed ‘favourite’ in this browser on this computer. This makes it easy to categorize and access just the links you need at that time! The list of ‘favourites’ on my home computer is much different, of course!

Forcing myself to use delicious means that I have access to my bookmarks from virtually anywhere! There is even an iPhone/iPod Touch application that you can install for even more mobile access.

Next Steps: to explore the “social” aspect of social bookmarking. I’ve figured out how to use it for myself, but how to I share my bookmarks with others? How does social bookmarking make it easier for you to find resources that interest you?

Related Links:

Idea Thievery!

September 23rd, 2009

Is it possible to steal ideas? Is it bad to steal ideas?

Whose ideas are they anyway?

OK, so I’m not looking to make big bucks by stealing ideas that other people initiated. What I’m really talking about here is the propagation of ideas in this big blogiverse that exists in the even bigger webiverse. As a blogger, I sometimes feel bad when something I post started as someone else’s idea. Maybe someone posted a great video (that I re-post), or someone posts on a particular topic that I reflect on and add to.

How is this supposed to work?

When it comes to instructional technology, I think it’s best when something sparks other discussions. It starts with one idea – and if it’s a good idea, or at least one worth talking about, we’ll start talking about it. Different viewpoints emerge, some posts refer to other posts that refer to other posts, ideas evolve, experienced people offer anecdotes… and then things happen! Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

So when you see me post about something I saw on someone else’s blog, it isn’t because I haven’t got ideas of my own… it’s because I want to remember what I read, and my thoughts on it, and I want to ‘pass it on’, so to speak.

Feel free to pass on any ideas you’ve found on my blog! Honestly, I’d be flattered to know that someone was reading, nevermind that someone was inspired to repost something I’ve blogged about!

Until next time…

Living & Learning with the iPod Touch

August 24th, 2009

Yes, this is my iPod.Welcome to a new system for my Adventures in Technology!!! That probably means that you’ve never seen this blog before, or you managed to find the trail of breadcrumbs left at ye olde site. A giddy ‘Welcome’ to everyone, as we settle into our new home. I still need to paint, rearrange the furniture and maybe buy a new entertainment unit (I broke the old one in the move), but I’m still happy to be here!

With all of the excitement of moving, I’m feeling a little tired and lazy. Instead of coming up with something entirely new, I thought I’d share some info that I found on another blog (one I’ve mentioned before, Kinda Learning Stuff). I recently got an iPod Touch, and am really trying to fit it into my life, for more than just listening to music. Of course, I want to see how it can be used for education as well!!! I came across this article a while back, and keep returning to it to find another task that I can add (I’ve been adding them little by little… don’t want to overwhelm it with apps and features I will never use!!). The format of the blog post on KLS was to introduce the article they read, then add their own thoughts. Sounds good to me… I’m going to do the same!! Maybe someday we can compile a definitive list!!

Articles of Interest:

Some Highlights:

  • Screen-grab – this is my next thing to play with, but sounds like a great tool to have!!
  • Note-taking – I use this feature ALL THE TIME (mostly for groceries). Granted, it’s not the most flexible tool, and I wish I could load pre-made text files from my computer, but it’s handy dandy. Oh, and you can email your notes elsewhere.
  • Synching Calendar & Contacts – this one saved me… I thought I could only access my Gmail, using the available mail option. Little did I know that I could also synch my Google Calendars and stuff using the Microsoft Exchange part.

Some Additions of My Own:

  • Delicious Bookmarksan app that pulls in your del.icio.us bookmarks and tags. I recently switched ALL of my bookmarking over to del.icio.us and now do not use the internal bookmarking in the browser. Since all of my bookmarks are stored centrally, I can pull them into any browser I like, and yes – even my iPod!
  • WordPressanother great free app, will let you update your WordPress blog using your iPhone/iPod Touch! Yes, you might be able to do this using the browser interface, but the app makes it that much simpler. Pretty handy, if you ask me!
  • WPtouch blog plugin for WordPress – OK, this is not specifically an iPhone app… but it is related to accessing WordPress blogs on an iPhone. I’ve also started testing the WPtouch, which automatically generates an m-version of your blog! While it does strip out the “look & feel” of the site, and is a little wonky when you have large videos embedded in your blog, it’s pretty cool! It works for iPhone/iPod Touch, as well as Android! (sorry, Blackberry)
  • Google Apps (via the browser) – still not 100%, but really improving. I can access (but not edit?) my Google Docs, Picasa Photos, Google Reader, etc. Still painful to use with Google Maps, though.

I’m still exploring, and will hopefully have some learning-specific posts after a little more practise with my new toy.

A Few More Articles:

We love Free! Or do we? We do! But do we?

June 11th, 2009

What is the cost of free? That topic came up in a great blog post I read on the Kinda Learning Stuff blog.

I’m sure we’ve all participated in the discussion around online tools (like blogs, wikis, podcasts – even email) and whether universities really need to have their own, in-house systems to offer them. It seems like the culture is moving away from our offering the needed services, and towards being open to supporting the tools available online.

In my daily job, these things come up all the time. Sometimes there aren’t the resources (human or otherwise) required to implement certain systems – and definitely not for ALL of the systems that people may want to use. I’ve always been of the opinion that if we can offer the services in house, we should. It offers the users a safer feeling environment, a possibility for better user support, possible integration with our existing systems, etc. There’s also the wee issue of the US Patriot act, which makes it difficult for us to recommend or support the use of any hosted online service that uses servers that aren’t in Canada.

Until I read this article, I hadn’t really considered another possibility: free online systems can magically disappear, taking all of your hard work with it! As the ‘Kinda Learning Stuff’ blogger learned the hard way, sometimes companies don’t feel that non-paying customers deserve notice of the end of their accounts (or the entire system!). Very risky!

Do I think that Google will remove all of its lovely services (Docs, Email, Reader, etc.) without any kind of notice? Not likely… it wants to succeed in taking over the universe!! But some of the smaller services could be at risk of going under, and we’d never be the wiser until it was too late.

Thought I’d share that new (to me) insight with you.



June 2nd, 2009

Why is it so hard to find an appropriate wiki?

 Good question… I’m not sure I can answer that on my own. I’ll admit that I have a set of features that I’m not willing to do without. There’s also a general lack of consistency across wiki tools, which make it hard to compare.

I have actually become a HUGE wiki user in the last year or so, tracking all sorts of projects and investigations on a wiki. Some are on my private wiki, that only I (and a few sys admins!) can see. Some have been posted to one of my group wikis, so my colleagues can possibly benefit from the things I’ve discovered. (FYI: I’m currently using a wiki tool called Confluence, which is a fairly "techie" wiki tool, and may or may not be exactly what we need for our wider University community). 

 What is a wiki?

At its core, a wiki is a collaborative document. Users can all edit the document, and work on it together. Their changes are tracked, so that the different versions of the document can be compared. At the end, there can be a cohesive product document that everyone worked on, without having to be in the same room together!

What can a wiki be?

Another good question. I think we’re still working on this one. It can be a collection of documents that track the progress of a project — or, the documents could BE the project. Wikis are great for evolving projects, where the information needs to be updated at different times, by different people involved. Wikis are great for growing concepts from different viewpoints. In education, wikis are often used for groupwork, for the development of the class materials by various instructors & assistants, for research projects, etc.

What features are important in a wiki?

Here are some of the things that I’m looking for:


  • Page hierarchy, so people can build a navigable collection of wiki documents. Since wiki pages aren’t physical, there doesn’t need to be a strict folder structure — just a nice user interface that allows the user to contextualize what they’re doing.
  • Easy to understand navigation of the content you’ve built!! I like tree structures and breadcrumbs (the list of links at the top of the page that link back to the outer layers of sections — you know, like an onion, and therefore Shrek), but they aren’t the only way to go.
  • The ability to easily embed various media types: quicktime movies, windows media, flash, audio files, youtube clips, etc.
  • An easy to use rich-text editor for editing text and embedding things (links, attachments, media, images, etc.) AS WELL as the ability to edit the code (not sure if I require wiki markup, or if I’m OK with HTML — the concept of HTML code for a wiki baffles me a little, but I think I can be cool with it).
  • The ability for a wiki administrator (not just the system administrator) to manage who has access to the wiki, and to what extent. Is it totally closed to the public? Is it viewable by the public, but only editable by a select group of users? That choice is important!
  • The ability for us to host our own server, mostly due to confidentiality issues, but also so that we can have things like authentication using our current my.ryerson accounts and the possibility of creating enrollment-based groups.
  • Auto-saving of documents while a user is working on them. I don’t know how many times I’ve been working on something, just to be kicked out of a system when I click the Submit button and having to re-do EVERYTHING because there was no auto-save.
  • An easy way for users to link to: other pages in the wiki, webpages, users’ email addresses, etc.
  • Change tracking and version comparison.

The key thing, for ALL of these features is that they need to be EASY to use, and ‘not too techie’. 

So, tell me… are these the same things you look for in a wiki? I’m not even sure anyone reads my posts, since I’ve never gotten a reply to my questions sent through the ether. Just like with the blog investigation, input is always welcome – whether you agree with my wish list or not!!

Always wikilicious,