Web 2.0 and San Diego Fires

When there are 500,000 people being evacuated, over 200,000 acres burned, all the local schools closed, and local news that has too much to cover – where are you going to stay informed?

Well, the local newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune turned to a blog at Blogspot when its own web site became sluggish and at times simply unavailable (I assume from the sheer volume of hits). They and our local PBS affiliate (KPBS) are also using Google Maps to show evacuation areas and the current placement of the fire.

Overall, this information has been easy to access and has allowed me to turn off the television and still feel like I know what is going on.

I’ve been lucky to be in between the two major fires. A good amount of smoke, but it appears that my home will remain unthreatened. Hopefully it starts to calm tonight and tomorrow.

Obviously, Taking a Break

Since the end of last school year I have been trying to keep up with an expanding number of commitments. I will return to this space and add more to it in the future. Maybe things will slow down at the semester as a couple of the projects I’m working on wrap up – or I’ll just take on a couple more to fill those spaces. Basically, I’m on hiatus from the blog.

See you soon and take care.

Better Student Searching – Cool Tool #7

This has been sitting as draft for over three months, I don’t know why I never published it…

Google continues to just make life easier. Now you can create a customize a search engine by including only specific resources. Using Google Co-op, you can simply add sites you want to include in a search. Here is a way for many teachers to teach their students to search in a safe environment. It also allows you to embed the search box into your web page, blog, wiki, etc. I hope to build one just for world history. I could then point students to it for research and enrichment.

It might also be a nice addition to the world of the WebQuests – generally the rule is that the links are included. However, if the teacher provides a customized search engine, you get the best of both worlds. Contained searching on a specific topic (let’s say the Holocaust) and the comfort that your students are still only looking at sites the teacher has verified as suitable.


Too Much

This summer has swept by. I can’t believe I am reporting back in just two weeks. This has been my most unrestful summer yet. I’ve been creating my school’s web site in Joomla, developing educational materials for an upcoming PBS documentary, taught a class at SDSU, a made a short business trip to the PBS office in DC, and will conduct five days of workshops in the next two weeks. It has also been the most rewarding professionally. I feel like I’m back in graduate school – I’ve been learning so much. I just need time to wrap my brain around all of it and see where it fits and where I’m going. Right now I’m being pulled in so many different directions. It might also be the exhaustion setting in.

These last two days in DC have been truly amazing. I hope I can find some time to share in the coming days….

Six Offices – No Keys

In preparation to teach a Saturday seminar on digital video at San Diego State yesterday, I had to acquire a key and security card to the computer lab. Seemed easy enough so I brought my six year old with me – I was going to make it an adventure. I parked off campus to avoid a ticket or paying for parking and hiked over to the Ed Tech office. There I got the form that would allow me to check out the key. It is a pretty hot day, so to head my son’s complaining off I bought him a small box of candy. Then I headed FAR across campus to the security office only to find out that I needed a faculty ID card to get a key. Now I had to get to the ID office, which was near where I parked. The candy was gone and we still had a lot of walking to do, so I gave him a piggy back ride. At the ID office I was told that I needed an authorization form from the department. Now my son was out of candy and patience. As we lumbered back over to the Ed Tech office, I now offered a treat from Starbucks. This bought me more time (my 45 minute errand was already over an hour and a half).

We got the authorization to get an ID card, headed back to that office. Took a picture – complete with with a sunburned face, and went to Starbucks to split a strawberry smoothie thingy. Next we walked off campus to the car, drove a little closer to the key office. Walked up a hill, got the key and security card and finally headed home.

But here’s the kicker. I show up and the security card doesn’t work. A SDSU police officer had to come turn the alarm off before I could unlock the door. Now I have to go back and get a new card.

Using Gmaps-Pedometer, I figured my six-year old and I walked about 2.5 miles to get into a classroom that still required someone to let me in. Here is our route.


Plagiarism, Just Fine

OK, it’s not. However, a group of students are suing Turnitin.com for archiving their papers after they submit them so they can later be referenced. Make sense? If you are not familiar with Turnitin.com, it is a service used by universities and high schools to check for plagiarism. A teacher sets up a class on the Turnitin.com web site and requires students to submit their work through this site. Student then get to see the results of the plagiarism scan and resubmit if necessary. The teacher can also see the results of any paper officially submitted (although I think a student can have the paper scanned before he/she actually turns it in). The program checks the submitted papers against the Internet as a whole and thousands (millions?) of other papers submitted into the service.

The lawsuit alleges that the company is violating the high school students’ rights under U.S. copyright law. The students are required by their schools to submit some essays to Turnitin.com, a Web-based service that compares the documents against a massive internal database and other sources to look for signs of plagiarism. It then places the student works in an electronic archive. (from Education Week)

Interesting approach. Actually, you could argue just opposite! By archiving student work, students can be ensured that one will take credit for their personal work. Buy, anyway…

Well I don’t specifically use Turnitin.com (my school pays for the service, I just haven’t had the time…), I’ve caught too many students over the years plagiarizing information by typing in a particular un-student-like line of text into Google. Most of the time, that does the trick. Some inventive students actually pull resource from a number of sources and paste them all together, creating the Frankenstein of essays and term papers. Needless to say, these are particularly easy to spot.

However, over the last few years, I’ve changed my approach to academic papers. I no longer ask for the standard report or general essay on a topic. I force them to think about the information and do something with it. I’ve done many different versions of a WebQuest on the Industrial Revolution where students create a newspaper. In the original version, students had to do a short news story on an invention and/or an inventor from the era. Sounded good at the time and it hit the standards. What I discovered was that numerous students simply copied and pasted that section from a source I PROVIDED! The first year I caught almost ten students. Even the second year when I WARNED them I would be looking specifically for plagiarism, three students committed the same offense. The next year I reworked that section and instead of the bio/report, I required students to create an advertisement for an invention. A much more creative task where students demonstrate their understanding. Plus there are no advertisements “out there” for the spinning jenny or early steam engine.

With the massive of amount of information online and the numerous services that sell term papers, it seems we (the teachers) need to re-think the term paper. We have to get beyond the write a report mentality. We need to teach them to use the information out there in some way, not just regurgitate information on a topic. While there are elements of formal research papers that we need to teach, I believe the traditional term paper of my youth (80’s and 90’s) is dead. Yes, dead. We can get a dozens of these papers with a few directed searches, why make the students reinvent the wheel? Why tempt the students? Instead we need to find better ways to get our students to think about the material.

What do you do beyond the term paper?


That’s Mr. Google Certified Teacher

Yesterday I attended the Southern California Google Teachers Academy in Santa Monica. I’m exhausted. In addition to five hours in the car, the conference lasted another eleven+! From 8:30 am to 8:00 pm we lived and breathed Google tools and, perhaps just as important, Google culture. I’m still wrapping my brain around the day and need to reflect the uses of the tools more deeply (meaning, I will discuss some of them in future posts, no really, I will).

Living the Google life. Living la vida Google. OK, I’m still a little punchy from yesterday. Now I only got to visit the Santa Moncia office, apparently the Mountain View “campus” is monsterous compared to this office.

Without sounding too much like a Google employee (we were well fed, but didn’t receive any actual compensation!), I was taken with some of the elements of the Google culture. The environment was very simple, definitely not cluttered in any way. Even most of the work stations seemed clean.

In one of the main work areas we toured, there were a series of cubicals with tinted glass separating the employees. All of them opened up into the same area. I saw people meeting together in the center of the area having a discussion and others who wheeled their chairs into another person’s work station to look at something on one of the pair of 24 inch monitors each person had at their station.

One of the most inviting aspects of Google involved what employees did when they weren’t working. Microkitchens apparently dot Google facilities around the world, complete with drinks and a variety of healthy and not-so-healthy snacks – all completely free of charge and stocked by the company. In main kitchen, lunch and dinner is prepared by a gorumet chief. I overheard some Google employees eating at a table next to mine, talking “shop.” I can’t forget the game room, complete with a pool table, couches, and two wide screen televisions connected to a WII and my personal favorite, an Atari 2600 (I regret selling mine on eBay!). My tour guide also spoke very highly of the subsidized massages!

The most striking element of working at Google is what they call “20 percent time” which allows them to spend a fifth of their work week on a projects outside of their job description. Some of their newer products started as someone’s pet project. What a great way to spark innovation. Pay people to do it.

The collaborative and straightforward nature of the Google work place mirrors the nature of a lot their tools. Mostly in that they are collaborative, user-friendly, and not terribly imposing (plus they are mostly free!). They enable and reward innovation. I got the feeling that the employees were very happy to be there, that they lived and breathed their jobs. Heck, in a place like that, I’m sure it could be very easy. I have no idea how “family friendly” they are, but everyone I saw looked about 12 (which means they were probably in their early 20’s). Probably when I was that age, I would have loved a job like that, but now….

Throughout the day, I tried to think how this new corporate culture can be applied to education. I like the 20 percent time idea – both at the student and teacher level. If we gave our students the power to explore what they wanted within the context of our classes once week, some would no doubt do great things, others might not. The most influential characteristic of the Google culture has to be the collaborative nature of the work environment. So often as teachers we are isolated from one another, except for small chunks of time. I know my own experience at true collaboration this year has been powerful and positive. Google makes it an essential element of their philosophy.

Enough Google loving today. More soon.


Collective Memories – A Cool Wiki Tool

We all have our individual memories of shared events. I have clear memories of where I was when during the Challenger disaster, the death of Kurt Cobain, 9/11, the LA Riots, Columbine, and fall of the Berlin wall. I remember being in a small Baptist Church covering a visit of Jesse Jackson, a UCSD protest that actually moved onto I5 and stopped traffic for hours, and being one of thousands of screaming fans at numerous u2 concerts over the years.

Our individual memories might be recorded in a journal or blog.  We might tell our children or grandchildren, but I can’t imagine them lasting beyond a generation.  One of my biggest regrets in my life so far centers around one of my grandfathers.  He lived an eventful life, fighting in WWII and spending his career as a police officer in Chicago.  I never asked him much about his life.  When he passed 11 years ago, those memories were mostly lost to me.

Technology gives us a new window to our collective memories.  Holocaust survivors are telling their stories to various organizations who are recording them so that the generations to come can witness the testimonies of the witnesses.  What about the rest of us? The importance of our stories has a different importance.  They help define our era, interests, daily life, and  culture.

Well, you probably could have guessed, there is a cool newish web site that is doing just this – it is giving everyday people the opportunity to record their memories.  MemoryArchive is a site powered by MediaWiki (of Wikipedia fame) where anyone can write a story about an event or individual.  You simply add it to the wiki (they have instructions), they review it and then lock it so others don’t change your memory.   They even added a teacher section.  I could see some great potential here.  Students could go out in the community and write the story of a grandparent or neighbor.

Go check it out.  Add a memory to our collective knowledge base.


The Revolution Will be Digitized

I’ve written and talked about how Web 2.0 is leveling the digital playing field and  democratizing the Internet.  But who knew we were talking about a revolution.

Apparently over at Digg.com, information was posted about a decryption key for HD DVDs.  Digg.com was then asked to remove the post, which it did.  Instead of the situation ending there, it exploded.  Users posted numerous items with the deleted content and overran the main Digg page.  Finally, the owners capitulated and decided to not delete the new posts.

If you are not familiar with Digg.com, it is a site that allows you to bookmark some sort of media.  Then if others like that media, they can Digg it or Bury it.  Those with the most Diggs, end up on the front page.  Here is their description:

Digg is a digital media democracy. As a user, you participate in determining all site content by discovering, selecting, sharing, and discussing the news, videos, and podcasts that appeal to you.

The populist in me thinks it is pretty cool.  However, as an educator, this lose of control is certainly something to be wary of, while I believe strongly in giving students control.  That controls comes within instructor-set educational boundaries.  I could imagine a poor teacher being digitally over run by hoards of students.  That’s one way to make we never increase our technology funding.  Nothing like a little fearmongering.

Scary or cool?  You decide.

(Taken from Techcrunch)