Friday, March 26, 2010

Thing 23

and then there were none . . .

While I was pleased to learn about the 23 Things project, when it was introduced, I had no idea I would enjoy it so much. I am sad to see it end.

I assumed that I would have the opportunity to explore and practice using new web tools, and I did. The real value for me, and the unexpected bonus, was that there were also opportunities to reflect on how and why we use the internet and how it is reshaping our lives and communities. The video about the internet from an anthropological point of view was really interesting in this regard. Who knew our tech hours could be spent in philosophical contemplation?

If we had the opportunity to participate in another project like this, I certainly would. I enjoyed the independence and flexibility of the program, since it is difficult for me to attend tech classes here at school. The project also allowed us to individualize our approach to the material, focusing on each new Thing in the way that made sense to us, based on our previous experience with that web tool and the ways we thought we might use it in our personal and professional lives. While we were working independently, it was helpful to be able to check in on other people's blogs to see what they were learning--this added a communal dimension to the project, if we chose to take advantage of it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thing 22

Well, I was REALLY excited yesterday. I decided to use this Thing to find and learn to use the greatest timeline tool ever--I know there has to be one out there--which will do exactly what I want it to do. For the last 2 days, I thought I had succeeded. I found a nifty sight called Capzles. It allows you to upload photos, video, audio and little blogs right into a timeline.

Then today happened. I was working up a mock timeline and discovered that I could not set the date prior to January 1, 1753. Since this site is in its Beta version, I jumped on the online survey and suggested that they expand the time parameters. I hope they do it, because, aside from this flaw, the site is perfect for what I want to do.

At the moment, I'm suffering Web 2.0 let down. It's not as fierce as a full technological meltdown, but it's sad nonetheless. Still, I'll pick myself and my laptop up and try, try again.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thing 21

I have had a twitter account for a while, though I don't really use it much. I am not very interested in people who comment on being tired, or driving home from work, or eating a ham sandwich, or this or that. I am a follower of several tweets related to my work. I tend to tune in when there is something newsworthy that I know people/organizations will be tweeting about. I never tweet myself.

For Thing 21, I explored two Twitter-related sites that were new to me. The first was, which is just plain fun in a laid back, nothing else to do, kind of way. The other site I looked at was, which actually proved to be useful. I was able to put in some current events and find tweets related to them from a variety of sources. I will probably use this in the future.

I wouldn't use Twitter in my classes. The format is too limited for connected thoughts on an issue. I can see how it is useful for updating friends and family on an adventure like a project term trip.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thing 20

Slideshare is a great tool for sharing presentations. I found many useful presentations on the website, although I had to sift through a lot of chaff to find the wheat. The presentation I embedded in my last post was kind of cool, because it suggested ways religious education might be enhanced by Web 2.0 and even made comparisons between the use of Web 2.0 and the ways in which Jesus and the church have shared the gospel traditionally. I will definitely visit this site in the future.

Although I would like to get away from using powerpoint in the classroom, this site would make that tool more interesting, as students could post their presentations and then comment on each other's work.

Web 2.0 Ideas in Religious Education

Check out this SlideShare Presentation:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thing 19

I love podcasts. They are what help me survive my daily commute to and from school--and my commute is unnaturally lengthy! One of the things that attracts me to podcasts is the infinite variety available.

Some of my favorite podcasts, which I subscribe to through iTunes, are public radio programs which are made available as podcasts after they air on radio. Included in this category are "This American Life," which narrates first person stories connected by a common theme and "The Thomas Jefferson Hour," in which historian Clay Jenkinson discusses Jefferson's life, ideas and contemporary issues in character. Other podcasts I listen to are produced by magazines which advertise their work through free podcasts. This category includes the "BBC History Magazine." This podcast includes interviews with the authors of pieces from that month's magazine. Other favorites for me are "true" podcasts, written and produced purely for the internet, without connection to traditional media materials. In this category, my favorites include the International Spy Museum Spycast, with interviews of people in the field of intelligence, both US and international; Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, the most passionate and intelligent history podcast I've found online, and Common Sense with Dan Carlin, a non-partisan political show produced and narrated by the same man who makes the history show.

I have used segments of podcasts in my classes. I have found it can hook students into a conversation, and sometimes students have become subscribers to podcasts they first heard in my class.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thing 18

I have posted to Wikis previously, so I am familiar with this task.

While perusing Wikipedia for this Thing, I discovered that many articles now encourage you to post recommendations for changing an article to a discussion page, so that the idea can be discussed before a change is made. This allows the community to reach concensus on changes (community concensus being one of Wikipedia's current stated goals/policies) before they are made and reduce the number of changes. The more changes there are to the article itself, the more cumbersome it becomes to track the changes and development in thinking through the history page. I made a recommendation on one such discussion page for a TV show I watch.

I then ambled over to Wikia, which was new territory for me. I liked that it is still a young community without the ponderous weight that I now feel on Wikipedia, which is trying to prove itself, in some indefineable way. Wikia is lighter, more entertaining and less structured. On some articles I looked at, it even has a section of the month, which people are encouraged to edit in order to improve the article piece by piece. I edited a piece on another TV show I watch, mostly for grammer and spelling.

Both wikis were easy to navigate and edit. I signed up for an account on each site, because when you post a change, if you don't have a username, the site puts your IP address up on the history page.

Thing 17

Wikis are an interesting tool for sharing information with others. The primary difference from a blog is that users don't just comment on the original post, but they can edit it. This has virtue, if your desire is to build a shared deposit of information with a community to verify and correct that information. It's drawback is that it is harder to trace the development of the conversation and compare the views of one person with another. It can be cumbersome to sort through the history for changes and differing points of view.

There is some controversy about the value of wikis, like Wikipedia, as sources for student research. One study in 2005 by Nature magazine claimed that Encyclopedia Britannica's accuracy was better, but not vastly better, than Wikipedia, but that study has been criticized by other researchers. The competing arguments are really philosophical in nature. One side argues that work produced and edited by scholars who are experts in their fields is more accurate. The other side argues that information which is written and edited by a sufficiently large community is self correcting. The first side does not take into account the ways in which a larger community might enrich our knowledge by sharing their differing perspectives. The second side rarely discuss the sources from which the community draws its knowledge in the first place, or how they are to arbitrate a difference of opinion.

The fluid nature of Wikipedia has also been criticized, because it can fall victim to the bias of its authors and political competition, notwithstanding its public policies of neutrality. Wikipedia has actually developed an arbitration process for dealing with serial editing, where people with competing views keep editing an article, one after the other, to reflect their personal views. In the last presidential election, partisans from both parties were found editing the entries about the opposing side's candidate in unflattering, and purportedly untrue, ways. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that not all contributors to sites like Wikipedia cite their sources, as regular encyclopedias do, so it is more difficult to verify the accuracy of the information presented.

One positive result of the dialogue about the nature and value of wikis in general and Wikipedia in particular is that it highlights the subjective side of knowledge in general. While we talk about the "facts" (remember the TV detective who used to say things like, "just the facts, Maam"), we know that facts can be interpreted, organized and presented according to our personal prejudices and ideologies. Most historians, for example, recognize that "objectivity" is beyond our reach, as we interpret the past according to our own culture, ethnicity, gender, religous tradition, etc.

One of the individual Wikis I explored is called MuslimWiki. What interested me most was the fact that it openly admits its partiality. It states that the wiki takes a pro-Islamic view and postings which are anti-Islamic are not allowed. This is a refreshing honesty, since I--with an admittedly cynical air--believe that many wikis are hosted by groups that ensure the information posted does not conflict with their views. When you read blogs and other websites by groups like Evangelical Christians and Atheist groups, you often find comments by the "opposition," sometimes nasty comments. But I explored some wikis on these topics that lacked that element. Makes me wonder . . .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thing 16

Widgets . . . Gadgets . . .
. . . "by any other name would smell as sweet"

It is easy to add gadgets to the blog directly from Blogger. These gadgets display on every page. Unfortunately, widgets from the web can only be embedded in a single post. Both can be accomplished easily, however. The process seems straightforward and trouble free.

You'll find one of my favorite old-time games, Tetris, at the bottom of the page, and here is a bit of history for you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wordle--The Beatitudes

I've been wanting to complete and post this for a couple days, but I was having trouble with Java. Problem solved. Here it is.

The Beatitudes as created on

Wordle: The Beatitudes

Thing 15

Screencasting is an interesting way to capture action on your computer screen and use or share it. Here's a little screencast I made:

This program is easy to use and could have multiple applications for personal and professional projects. Of course the temptation to latch on to copyrighted material is great. This program makes it easy to capture anything you can do on your computer. I confess I experimented and was able to capture video streams and other materials which are, of course, designed not to be downloaded.

There is a constant tension between what can be done with computers and what should be done. There is a tension between what is possible and what is legal. As Michael Wesch remarked in his video, "The Anthropology of the Internet, which I recently blogged about, questions of ownership, copyright, etc. will have to be rethought as the web becomes more interactive, and programs like screencast make it virtually impossible to protect materials from being reused by others.

Thing 14

Voice Thread is a cool tool. I like the way it is built around sharing images and our thoughts about those images. In some ways it is an iconic program for digital natives, since it invokes visual and verbal literacy, rather than simply textual literacy. I have no proof, but I would guess that the folks who type their comments are older than the folks who record their comments. This program also has the virtue of being simple to use.

I could see using this program in my professional life for prayer services, rather than in classroom settings. I found an example of the Stations of the Cross created by an elementary teacher and her students, with homemade drawings and personal voice overs. The format allowed the students to integrate the symbolic dimensions of faith with modern technology. I think it is a terrific tool for engaging students in their faith on a personal level and allowing them to express the results in a medium that is comfortable for them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Anthropology of YouTube

Well, I'm glad I took up the suggested task of watching the video, Anthropology of YouTube (on YouTube, of course). It was well worth the time spent. I was unaware that the creator, Michael
Wesch, was the same man who made the Web 2.0 video we watched for Thing 1, until he mentioned it in his presentation. His work is thought provoking, asking more questions than it can possible answer. His philosophical reflections on the nature of culture and identity in light of new media are thoughtful, if sometimes stretched to the point of incredulity or at least over dramatized.

Several points in the video really struck me. The first is the notion of context collapse, the idea that whatever is posted to the internet can (and probably will) be interpreted and misinterpreted outside of its original context. When you recording yourself and others, you never know where that will end up. The Star Wars kid is the poster child for context collapse, I suppose. The kind of negative publicity given to the words and actions of political figures, movie stars, etc. can now be directed at ordinary people through mediums like YouTube.

A second interesting point was the collapse of the distinction between public and private space and time. User generated content is often created in private spaces, even people's bedrooms, but then broadcast on the internet, making our most intimate spaces accessible to the global village. Through Vlogs and the like, people are simultaneously alone and connected.

Another interesting dimension of YouTube that Wesch remarks on is the nature of the commentary (which could have been directed at the commentary on other forms of new media as well). He notes that the distance and anonymity of participating in web communities decreases social anxiety, allowing people to express themselves in ways they might other censor, which also leads to a public platform for expressing hatred. Anyone who has ever witnessed the work of trolls on a forum knows exactly what he is talking about. This is a trend I find particularly disturbing.

One question I would raise with Professor Wesch is his use of the term collaboration. Typically, we think of collaboration in terms of a mutually voluntary effort. Yet he speaks of collaboration among people who are not aware that collaboration is occuring. When you post something to the web, you know it is possible that someone else will take your work and alter or "remix' it to create something new. Can the original contributer really be said to be collaborating in that effort, however? That is like saying that Shakespeare is collaborating in my video if I quote from his plays. I'm not sure borrowing another's work without their knowledge makes them a collaborator in a meaningful sense, even with the increased possibilities for sharing ideas, pictures, videos, etc. on the internet.

Thing 13

I love YouTube. I've used it forever. I have found many videos on Youtube that I was able to use for class. It is easy to search for just the right videos. I also use YouTube to follow global events. The benefit of watching raw video footage and international newscasts and commentaries is an invaluable benefit of YouTube. On a more prosaic level, I occasionally watch a TV show I have missed on YouTube.

While I use Discovery Streaming occasionally, there are not many videos on that site that are useful for my classes. The selection is exponentially smaller and many of the videos feel dated. While one has to screen the videos on YouTube carefully, I can often find videos reflecting themes of justice, prayer, spirituality, etc. which are excellent for prayer services or class. Videos produced by other young people have a contemporary feel and relevancy to my students. They allow them to see what is possible and expose them to new ways of constructing and sharing information. My students enjoy the way music is incorporated into video.

The video embedded below was created by a high school student. He shared what he had learned in his social justice class in a cartoon format. I think my students would revel in such a project.

While working on this Thing, I signed up for a YouTube account. Perhaps I will post a video myself!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thing 12

I enjoyed looking at these varied Web 2.0 tools. The puzzle site is fun and I want to play around there more, although that is strictly for personal amusement. I found many of the sites interesting, but not things I would visit or use again. It was helpful for future reference to see the types of tools available.

The site I was most interested in for teaching purposes was the timeline site, but I was disappointed in its features, as it only allows for photos and text, not videos, music, voice over, etc. It has spurred me on to further research, as I hope the perfect web tool is out there for making timelines. Any suggestions?

Dolphin Puzzle

Click to Mix and Solve

Thing 11

I haven't heard of social bookmarking before, so this was a new exercise for me. My immediate reaction was one of incredulity. We live in a society where people are increasingly disconnected in person, but we form online communities for everything--and now we even form communities to help each other find websites! Presumably, there is some advantage in finding websites using a social bookmarking site, rather than simply using a search engine. I'm not entirely clear what the advantage would be, except that it eliminates the commercial aspect common to sites like Google and Bing.

In any case, I plunged in and looked around. I searched with tags in my field of study, but didn't find many new sites. I was able to sign in, since I have a Yahoo account, and set up some bookmarks of my own, but honestly, I doubt I will go back to the site. I prefer to use my favorites tab on my browser, rather than having to not only visit, but log in to yet another website.

Aside from sharing information on websites they have found, I don't see much here that would help in the classroom.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thing 10

I enjoyed exploring the mashups. I was familiar with this kind of application, but was not aware of the wide range available. Many smartphone applications are mashups, and they are useful for getting information when you are on the move. I have seen students use Flikr mashups in their projects, particularly Spell with Flikr. They are quick, fun and provide a range of visual tools.

For this assignment, I explored some new mashups online. The first is called If You Dig Straight Down. It confirmed what I already knew, that my childhood endeavors to dig to China were sadly uninformed. I now know, thanks to the knowledge base and advanced technology of the 21st century, that children in Argentina can, in fact, dig straight down to China. Perhaps I will raise a family there . . .

Another mashup I explored is called Trends Buzz. It compares the most popular searches on a range of websites from Twitter to Google to Bing to the New York Times. It is a wonderful snapshot of what people are thinking about on a given day and could have creative uses. I can imagine marketing firms mining this information, particular by comparing the traffic on sites which attract different demographic groups.

Finally, I checked out an iPhone app called Siri. It is a virtual personal assistant which can search for movies, make dinner reservations, call you a cab, etc.--all done with voice commands. These kind of apps show that mashups can have very practical uses.

Thing 9

I have used photo sites on and off. They are a convenient way to share photos with others. I am more familiar with Photobucket than Flikr, as I have been a member and used it recently. Sites like this are great for sharing photos of family events, especially when you have a large family spread across the country. I am not drawn to the concept of creating a community through this type of site by exploring and commenting on the photos posted by other people.

The Tags feature on Flikr makes it easy to search the site the way you would search for images on Google. Another feature touted by Flikr is the ability to set parameters for the use of your photos by other people. Of course, the assumption is that the person who uploads the photo has rights to it, which might not always be the case. The photo I have uploaded here was taken from Flikr and may be used with attribution, which I diligently offer: cc=""> CC BY 2.0

I do not see an application for this type of photo site for my students. In our school, we share photos for the yearbook, newsletters, etc. on our server. When the students are looking for photos they are already comfortable using Google to search for them. They learn how to properly use and attribute photos in their tech classes.

Thing 8

I enjoyed playing around with Netvibes. I had a customized start page years ago but abandoned it. I have also tried played around with widgets previously, putting them directly on my desktop. In the end, I find the start page a bit too distracting. When I get on the computer, particularly to work, I don't want to see all sorts of interesting things pop up that will lead me away from my objective. I have explorer set up with 2-3 tabs on both my home and school computers to take me quickly to the sites I use most. That works for me.

I can see that this might be an organizational tool for students, helping them quickly locate and check in on things they have to follow for school. I can also see that it could distract them from their work, as it does for me, especially if they load up their start page with a number of widgets, plus facebook, twitter, etc.

As with all technology, the start page is a two edged sword.