Monday, December 26, 2011

Google-izing Online Learning.

Recently, I wrote about the emerging social learning platforms--and why they are all a bust.

In short, I said that learning requires tasks, criteria and a curriculum. That is: there must be tasks in a sequence, and each task needs criteria that define success or failure. At a minimum, learners need to know: "Am I succeeding or failing?" And after they know that, they can learn a degree of mastery--"How can I do a bit better?"

Already you can guess why so much teaching transfers so poorly to the web. Professors are experts with vast quantities of rich information and complex ideas at their fingertips. So a terrific professor is apt to tell you the twelve things wrong with your work--rather than simply "You're on the right track, but head a bit more in this direction." And it's the latter communication learners really need: right track/wrong track, steps for improvement.

So if learning is to transfer successfully to the internet--how?
What special role could software play? What kind of software?

Again, I've already suggested that to transfer learning here or there, you need to think "learning how" and not just 'learning in general."

And this brings us to how the current social learning platforms get learning wrong.

It's true that a curriculum is a sequence of tasks. It may involve resources like books or web sites or videos. The Khan Academy seems to believe--wrongly, I think, and I can prove it--that a series of videos and online quizzes make up a curriculum. If you believe this is right, go watch a video and take the corresponding quiz and see if you learn what's in the video. An eight-minute lecture of a whiteboard capture or an interview no more causes learning to happen than a classroom lecture. It may, but it may as likely not.

A list of videos and some quizzes does not a curriculum make. It might, if the learner were prepared and the degree of feedback on the quizzes were tuned to the learner's level. And it also might if there were practice that helped you get it right. But that's not where we are yet.

The thing software could really get right is the sequencing of tasks in the curriculum.

The flip side of the "social" web is not just sharing ratings with friends: it's crowd-sourcing. That is the secret behind Google's phenomenal early success. Every other search engine wanted either to individually evaluate web sites or to jigger the search rankings by taking money from web sites to put their url higher in the search results. Google refused to do this.

Google observed that when they returned search results, those results were on their own page. And Google therefore knew which of the results uses clicked on. Therefore Google's own traffic showed them which results were better--and could be fed back into the search algorithm.

That's it. That's why Google was better than the search engines you've forgotten about--like Lycos.

And that's why a web-based curriculum will be as good as the size of its user base.

If a curriculum is a series of sequenced tasks with matching criteria, a web-based repository of tasks could collect what educational researchers today only dream of. Namely, such a web site could capture the exact likelihood of a learner performing better on Task B after performing Task A.

That is the heart of a curriculum: the likelihood of performing better on one task after performing another task. That is a curriculum: a sequence of tasks arranged so that success on one task makes success on the next task more likely rather than less. If you're not doing that, you're just frustrating learners with obstacles--because any task that does not improve learning is an obstacle, and it more likely demotivates than motivates.

The rest is a statistical nicety to be debated by stats wonks. (And the company with the best stats wonks will win--another Google Takeaway.)

In short, online learning tasks need to be Google-ized: ranked by effectiveness.

The rest of the details of a good social learning platform could be inferred from other examples. But I'll blog more about that later.

In the meantime, I think the idea of a self-adjusting system that ranks tasks (with clear success criteria attached) is enough for one day.

--Edward R. O'Neill

So-Called Social Learning Platforms

Truly the phrase "social learning" is a bit like the phrase "wet water." I personally don't recall attending school alone. Yes, we did homework alone. Anything else was called "cheating"; nowadays it's called "collaboration."

But most of the time I was in school, I was in groups. We attended lectures as a group. We had discussions as a group. We had partners in labs. We did projects in groups.

This was not because we were lemmings. You watched fellow students make mistakes you would not, and you felt better that you were a bit ahead of the game. And you watched fellow students make mistakes you would have made--and you quaked a bit inside that you were Not Getting It.

Yes, people learn in part from watching. Learning is social. Some reading and drills can be done alone: go to a library, and you'll see students doing this. But much learning is social. So much learning is social that there's little point in calling some learning "social"--as if to imply there's some "non-social" learning. (At the exact historical moment when some people are obsessed with the brain and its role in learning, others are insisting on networks rather than brains.)

But the phrase "social learning" is not going away. And it underlines something important and connects with major trends, so we need to make our peace.

Almost every web site now needs a social dimension. This means: I don't just listen to music or buy things; I rate songs and artists, share my ratings, view my friends' ratings, meet new friends through their ratings and reviews. And the same goes for buying things. I can announce to my social networks what I just bought--or hide the fact, and of course getting the sharing/privacy part wrong is the big pitfall.

On the one hand, all this truly makes one long for the days when listening to music or reading a magazine was a blessedly solitary affair. You listened to music alone because it would be rude to listen to music while with others. (Ahem.) You complained about your new toaster to the air, your wife or anyone within earshot at work.

Now online social learning platforms are beginning to bubble up. Most 'social learning platforms' get it wrong. Giving people a wiki no more makes social learning happen than giving pens makes people writers, giving them whisks makes them cooks, or giving them bongo's makes them musicians.

But social learning happens. It is real. People learn by watching others. People learn by hearing stories of others' learning experiences. People learn by formulating and sharing their own stories. That's three ways learning can be "social" in a non-trivial sense.

But what does a social learning platform look like?

We've all been in one: it's called a classroom. Or if you've been to a line dancing group, you did some social learning. You watched others, tried it yourself, got feedback, gave pointers where you could.

Try joining a writer's group, and you'll see how it works. Nothing magical happens there--except learning. People share their work. You see others practicing their craft. Writers get feedback and give feedback. And you learn from all these: what other writers do well and poorly, what other writers believe is good feedback, what you experience as good feedback. That's the heart of the matter. It works.

Emerging social learning platforms we're seeing now are a bust for three reasons: tasks, criteria, curriculum. There's no learning without tasks. If you can't perform a task at the end of the learning process, a task you couldn't do before or couldn't do as well, there's no demonstrable learning.

You can go to a writer's group forever and learn to make some very clever comments. But until you pick up the pen and try to write a sentence, no one can say whether or not you can write. (Another remarkable thing about writer's groups: often pretty much everyone agrees 'this is good,' even when their own style or goals are different.)

So a meaningful curriculum is a series of tasks with criteria. Barring this, no social learning platform can really do anything meaningful. They're all just a blackboard and some chalk--and no one ever called a blackboard and chalk "a social learning platform."

Admittedly, this is where our K-12's are having problems. A pencil-and-paper test with multiple choice questions has become the only benchmark for demonstrating learning. Basically, when someone comes up with better, more nuanced tasks, tasks that are interesting, involving and even social, tasks that both help make learning happen and demonstrate it, and when there is a back end to track task performance, the pencil-and-paper tests that educators hate so much--partly for the right reasons--will be history.

As to what such a curriculum or software would be like, that will have to wait for another blog post.

--Edward R. O'Neill

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Introductions in the Syllabus-Free Course

The other day, I introduced the idea of Introductions. (What follows was originally part of that post--which I decided was too long to chew up in one sitting.)

Introductions are short things. They could be prose or images or something else. (Mightn't an Introduction to Beethoven have a few tunes in it?)

Introductions introduce a topic, idea or thing by giving some locating information. Introductions answer the question: "Where the heck does this thing sit in the network of stuff I might know about?"

For instance, I might like an introduction to:

  • Belgium,
  • Heidegger,
  • object-oriented programming,
  • chaos theory,
  • 20th-century American poetry,
  • theories of management.

Introductions could be a nice form & format for higher education. Higher ed desperately needs to go beyond the term paper, research paper, lab report, five-paragraph essay and Powerpoint presentation. New forms might include: the timeline, the small database, and the Introduction.

Hence Introductions could fit some neat pedagogical purposes: they wouldn't just be resources, they could be tasks. Indeed, in the framework of a course, it couldn't take that long to generate some decent introductions.

I sometimes advocate to teachers--in part purely for the purpose of raising some issues--the notion of the Syllabus-Free Course. That is: what if college courses did not have that defensive document saying what the course would and would not address, what books were trustworthy authorities on the subject, what fit within the field and what did not.

You are taking a course on English Literature. What the heck does the title mean? When I taught in an actual classroom, I used to call the first day "Explaining the Course Title" or "Reading the Syllabus." The syllabus usually sets the student straight on what the course title means: a syllabus is basically a title and then an explanation of its meaning.

Textbooks also shut down a lot of questioning. The Who-za-me Anthology of English Literature has decided what's fit to go inside. But in screening things in and out, the whole definitional process of the discipline is lost--whereas it should be core to what students learn. The idea shouldn't be "English Studies" is perfect as it is: it should be that the discipline was something else, was re-defined--and probably will be re-defined again.

What if students were asked to find out what was and wasn't included in this topic? To present definitions and debate them? The instructor could be an expert and could talk about why literature in English but not from England made up the field. The students could propose ways of slicing the topic that would be most interesting.

Introductions could be a wonderful part of such a course. (In this sense, Introductions are more of a tool in an arsenal than an end-in-themselves.)

Go break the course title down into some parts, you would in effect say to the students. How is a course called "Statistics" not just a math course? Why is it taught in a Psychology Department? What are the Big Things People Do With this "statistics" thing-a-me?

If courses used this strategy, a course on the novel could separate it from the epic--but only partially--and then dive into big novelists and kinds, and along the way students could find: "Jane Austen is what I care about in this whole Novel Game"--or Nabakov or Thackeray, for that matter.

Requirements could spell out how many parents and children and siblings and parts the Introduction should include. The "parents" and "children" are the predecessors and inheritors in a tree; the siblings are items that are similar-but-not-the-same; the parts are--well, just that. So:

  • How many novelists "begat" Nabokov? How many "influenced" novelists should be included?
  • How many similar novelists would be useful to locate VN?
  • How many of VN's novels need we know about to get a good picture?

(Indeed, a clever system might store this kind of information in such a way that users could get only as much or little as they liked.)

I actually think a lot of Introductions could be built up relatively quickly--and then re-used--by just a few courses in each department.

And then everyone in the world could access these Introductions to find their own way.

--Edward R. O'Neill

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Introducing Introductions

I have often been frustrated by the lack of a good introduction.

I like flipping through catalogs of catalogs. We all do. is a good example. What is it? A ton of books containing a ton of information. So it's information about information.

In the movie Annie Hall, the Woody Allen-character relates a joke about two old folks in a home. "The food here is terrible," says one. The other replies: "Yes, and such small portions!" Nowadays with information, it's just the opposite: such large portions.

It's been that way for a long time. Go into any library and you'll get lost pretty quickly. There's a lot of sections with a lot of books, and each book contains a lot of stuff--including references to other books. I remember distinctly that the first dozen times I walked into a library, I made a tour of the whole place--and then left. I couldn't find a thing.

Finding things is important: being able to find things. If you leave school and can't find anything--because it was all provided to you, plunked on your desk, shoved into your hands, crammed into your eyes and ears--you really did not learn something very important that everyone needs to know.

The other day I was flipping through a catalog of college courses on DVD and tape. All of calculus or Western philosophy or quasars or neutrino's--in twelve lectures or 24 or 36 lectures. I confess I own several of these already. I've never gotten past the first lecture. Call me ADHD--oh look, a bird is flying past as I type this! But the point is: introducing a topic does not require this much detail: it requires something else.

We live in a culture of experts. There is so much information, and the only way to Be Somebody is to become an expert. We're drowning in experts--when we could really use some good amateurs. That's what good journalists are: good amateurs. That guy at Berkeley who writes about food is that. He goes and tries to find out stuff, and then he tells you about it, and it's interesting, and you can follow it, and you're not drowning in it. Really: the guy has a gift. He can boil what he knows about food--which is a lot--down to sixty pages.

Brevity is a good thing. Not shallowness and not compression but just brevity. What you really want to know is: just enough so you can find out more. Brevity clarifies. Brevity nourishes. Brevity excites. Brevity intrigues.

I really wish our culture had more brief introductions.

A good introduction is a short one. "John, this is Albert. Albert this is John. Albert works in a hospital like you do, John, but in Calgary rather than San Jose. John went to Occidental, and you want to Pomona, so maybe you can swap stories. And you're both married to Swedes." That's a good introduction.

Introductions are more about where than what. Where is this? Introductions connect, situate and locate along lines and in networks that are important. This is this kind of a person from this kind of a place with this kind of connections to the past and the present and to other people. That's really what the titles in personal introductions do: "This is Dr. John Sussmann, Associate Director of the Marlin Group." Now I know a bunch about John based on his title, his name, his job, and where he works.

But little introduction are now rather big. There's a nice series of books called "A Very Short Introduction To...." And then it's idealism in 90 pages. Or Derrida. Or Genomics.

Wikipedia is really a set of introduction. One lovely thing about them is how they're connected. One can lead to another. If it's an award winner, you find out who won the award the year before and after. That's context. That's part of introducing.

But even Wikipedia can be overlong--as introductions go. (Brief introductions are good introductions.)

There used to be some nice introductions. There was a wonderful 'invitation' to sociology. It was short, and any literate high school graduate could could read it with pleasure. Look at the reviews, and you'll find many who recall it with great fondness. But the introduction or invitation was killed off by the massive textbook tome. This contains everything you never wanted to know about X--and were quite rightly afraid to ask.

So when I want to learn about something, here's the kind of thing I'd like to know.

  1. What the heck is it? What kind of thing is it?
  2. What does it do? What does it accomplish? How is it used?
  3. Where did it come from? What did it lead to? So what came before and after?
  4. What else is like it--but not the same thing?
  5. How big is it? How many parts does it have?
  6. What do people argue about it?

These are actually semantic concepts and relations. What is it called? What are synonyms and antonyms? Aristotle offered his own list. (Of course: Aristotle loved lists. He'd be on my list of list-lovers.) You can find many good discussions--but of course, they're too long. But many others have chimed in--although the field of semantic relations is nowhere near as organized as you'd think it would be.

To my mind, an ideal introduction would be somewhere between a few sentences and a page. But is prose even the best medium? A nicely configured database might allow us to store items with explanations and relationships in a form that could then be browsed by whomever could build the best interface. This seems to be The Way Things Are Going. Yes, Amazon has a store, but it's really a bunch of data about products. And if someone else can create a nicer way to browse it, so be it. (The information is fed out through something called an API, if you're into tech stuff.)

It seems to me some basic semantic concepts that would locate stuff in relation to other stuff would be:

  1. kind
  2. name/title
  3. scope & magnitude
  4. parents & children: where did it come from & what did it lead to?
  5. siblings: things that are similar-and-different
  6. internal parts
  7. debates

These aren't too fussy, but I hope they're not too broad, either. The point is that each semantic dimension is a kind of road or avenue bringing us to meanings--like addresses.

--Edward R. O'Neill

P.S. This post was formerly longer, but I migrated the latter half to another post--on how Introductions fit into the Syllabus-Free Course.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Projecting Your iPad in the Classroom.

So you want to show your class what's happening on your iPad? There are a few things you need to know to display your iPad screen on an LCD, flatscreen or data projector.

You Must Adapt.

First, you will need an adapter. It’s an Apple product, so there is more than one type. (Ahem.)

  • The most common is: VGA. This is the most common type of connection between computers and external screens or projectors.
  • Less common is HDMI. It's less common, but it carries sound as well as picture.

Are You Enabled?

  • HDMI will project everything on the iPad: the ‘desktop,’ the Safar web browser, ebooks, everything.
  • Though the VGA interface is more common, what it projects is more limited.

Displaying to an external device from the iPad using VGA is enabled at the level of the app. Some apps are, and some apps aren’t.

Which Apps Are Enabled?

Some of the most important apps you can display using a VGA connection are:

  • Videos*
  • Youtube*
  • Keynote ($)
  • Photos (in slideshow mode only)*
  • GoodReader ($)
  • Brushes and other drawing/whiteboard apps ($)

* = Preloaded in the iPad Operating System.

($) = not free

Sounding Off

If you want sound, you'll also need an audio cable.

  • The most common type is "headphone mini male to headphone mini male." If you have earphones, this cable will look like the earphone plug--but at both ends.

--Edward R. O'Neill

Monday, October 24, 2011

Using Dropbox To Share Teaching Materials

A professor wrote to me recently to ask about using Dropbox to share teaching materials. I replied as follows.

There are a number of factors that affect the use of Dropbox--and implications that follow from using it.

First, it is unwise and against most university polices to store student grades or other sensitive data on 'the cloud.' Some policies demand that student grades be protected with encryption, and Dropbox does not offer this.

FERPA-protected information like social security numbers should not be stored on systems like Dropbox. I am not a lawyer, but I would assume that the disability status of individuals is similarly confidential, so I would strongly advised against discussing particular individuals in files shared on the cloud--or via non-university email.

If, however, you are 'merely' sharing teaching materials, these concerns arguably do not apply.

Dropbox is very popular amongst professors: A professional educational technology called Educause has some brief advice about using these services: But this advice is (mercifully) brief and hence leaves out many pesky details.

If you create a single account (e.g., "mycollegeromancelanguageprofs"), then you will not know who posted what, and any single user could accidentally delete everything.

I would therefore argue that the best practice is: for individual users to sign up for separate accounts. Conceptually, participating instructors can think of every item as existing twice--once as their own work product, and then a second time as filed by topic, level, etc.

In short,
  • Francesca may share a quiz on the past tense, and a handout on literary devices.
  • Gianni may share a handout on pronouns and a quiz on Pirandello.
  • A helpful person might then copy the files to folders on: grammar: verbs, pronouns, etc; literature: devices, authors, etc.
  • Francesca may create a shared folder organized by topic, whereas Gianni might want to create folders organizing by course.
  • Since users cannot control each others' behaviors, a good philosophy might be to 'let a thousand flowers bloom.' (In the absence of rigid taxonomies, 'folksonomies' are useful. Cf. )
Some implications follow from using Dropbox in this way.
  • To share a folder with others, each user would need a list of participating instructors' emails. This would only need to be done once, but (so far as I know) every time a new instructor wanted to participate, every user would have to add that user. Here is information on sharing:
  • Participating instructors would need to be clear about workflow. Namely, each instructor could create a shared folder, but other instructors would have to know NOT to delete or alter these files.
  • Some user will MOVE files rather than COPYING them, so SOMEONE needs how to sign into Dropbox and restore deleted files.
  • If there is no clear or simple way to alert people "hey, I shared a new file on topic X," a certain amount of poking around and looking at dates might be helpful. I cannot think of a clear method here, so if you do, please tell me.
  • One workflow would then be: for instructors to share files bearing their own names, to label documents clearly. Anyone interested in doing so could then copy the files over to shared folders organized by topic, concept, difficulty level, etc.--e.g., first year, second year, grammar, style, literature, etc.
This web page has the best tips I have seen (and I have browsed 50 pages on the topic):

Using Dropbox to share teaching materials has some complexities, but it is a step up from emailing individual files.

--Edward R. O'Neill

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seven Simple Ways To Lower Attrition Rates in Online Courses.

Someone is finally saying in print what those of us who teach online for community colleges have known for some time.

Attrition rates for online courses are high--very high.

In our culture's frenzied love affair with all things digital and mediated--some things really are pleasant to do while at home on the couch in our PJ's--it is worth noting that face-to-face presence exerts a kind of social pressure.
  • When a student shows up to class, he may well feel (quite rightly) that he should kind of do the homework, as the professor might call on him. Call it fear. Call it a stressor. But it's real.
Thus the simple fact of needing to show up at a given place and time, together with the fear of embarrassment, produce a beneficial effect: a student does some work.

Absent this pressure, it's quite easy to forget about the class entirely.

Okay: admittedly some face-to-face students are quite capable of forgetting about those classes entirely, too. But that's another story.

Those of us who teach online--as I have for the last five years--develop strategies, and institutions do the same. Here are seven simple ways to lower the attrition rates in online courses.

  1. Enroll all DL students in an orientation towards the learning management system--and towards DL itself.
  2. The first week of class, orient students clearly towards tasks and deadlines.
  3. The instructor should contact students individually during the first two weeks of the course to make them feel involved and recognized. Say something individual to each student to make a connection and to show you recognize her experiences and contributions. "Mary--Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed reading your Discussion post. I haven't had that kind of experience, and I know your peers will get a lot out of your participation in this class. Thanks for sharing your thoughts."
  4. Re-orient students each week with motivating, substantive emails about the week's course content. "Have you ever wished on a falling star? What causes falling stars? This week you'll learn where falling stars come from...."
  5. Advise students quickly and honestly about progress. Be firm and clear without being mean or negative.
  6. In formative assessment, give specific Next Steps students can take to improve. "The sentences you write are on the topic. But I would like next time for you to group them together in one paragraph: so don't hit 'Return' after every sentence."
  7. Direct at-risk students towards resources which are also available at a distance. "My friend Mona Simpson in the Learning Center looks at student drafts Tuesday's and Thursday's--in person or by email. Why don't you drop by? She's very nice. Ask her about the Celtics."

In short: englobe the student in a social network, help her know you care; make sure she knows what the next steps are--and that they are do-able.

--Edward R. O'Neill

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why Not Just Make a Web Site?

A very smart manager of web services asked me this recently, and I thought this was a great question.

The question can also be flipped: many web sites could just as well be ebooks--they are updated so infrequently.

So indeed, what is the profile of a web site vs. an ebook? It would nice for those of us who work with learning technology to know--so that we can help users decide what kind of content should go on what platform. So this was my attempt at a rough-and-ready set of distinctions.
A web site can:
  • be dynamic (responding to users), frequently changing, regularly updated;
  • be a hosted conversation, not a fixed monologue or dialogue: it's like a play where the audience talks back;
  • collect data about users to track them over time--for their benefit or the site's benefit;
  • immediately connect to other resources via hyperlinks so that the site is seamlessly embedded within the internet as a whole;
  • be accessed sequentially over a long period, but brief and intermittent random access, skimming, searching and hit-and-run browsing are often assumed.
An ebook:
  • takes a fixed form which can be stable for weeks or months or more;
  • does not include an on-going conversation--that takes place elsewhere;
  • does not track user behavior (though some reader programs sync across devices for user convenience);
  • contains within itself a tightly-bound group of coherent elements and may link more loosely to other resources (through footnotes, hyperlinks and other references);
  • is a standalone resource that can be used, read and enjoyed by itself, often over a long duration, often sequentially.
In short: a web site is a snack or a buffet, where an ebook is a meal or several meals.
  • A web site is potentially casual, sampled in short visits, potentially over time, in a very non-linear fashion, and it may be a form of social interaction.
  • An ebook has a longer duration, may be more sequential, and it is a solitary 'conversation' between an author and a reader.
The ebook characteristics in italics are traditional book characteristics. In the era of the web site, we are apt to think of all collections of information as very loosely related. Everything's connected to everything--right? It's all just hypertext.

But in the era of hypertext, the success of the ebook should remind us of a few things--four, really.
  1. That some pieces of information are more tightly bound to each other.
  2. That kind of tight binding or coherence is what we expect of an author or content creator.
  3. That not everyone is connected to the web at every moment--nor wants to be nor should be expected to be.
  4. And that social as we are, we still enjoy solitary, reflective activities--as we have since Gutenberg's invention gave a reasonable price to solitary reading for enlightenment or pleasure.

--E. R. O'Neill

Friday, April 15, 2011

Applying Mind/Brain Principles?

I was recently looking over the notes I took after reading 12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles in Action by Caine, Caine and two others.

While this book has its touch-y-feel-y aspects, there are many good ideas. Indeed, I found that the principles in Caine, Caine et al jibed amazingly well with Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do.

In my notes I synthesized them down to ten or so points.
  • Get the learner relaxed.
    • This can involve things like: clear communication about expectations, short assignments.
    • Assignments that involve contributing or sharing experiences can lower the learner’s stress, while also providing fodder for meaningful discussion later.
  • Give the learner a challenge--but not too much.
    • This implies knowing what the student can do. You can give a pre-test, quiz.
    • Or you can even give a ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ test--e.g., asking students to write about themselves and then noting who can write a paragraph, who has spelling problems, etc.
  • Crank down threats and fatigue and things that make students feel helpless.
    • So: don’t overwork the student. Give clear feedback. Communicate clearly about deadlines.
    • Rewarding the student for submitting work on time, for instance, helps the student feel she has control over her performance.
  • Get the learners to interact socially.
    • Social interaction is a motivation, and it has lower stress than interacting with a forbidding instructor.
  • Encourage the learner to search for meaning that's important to her.
  • Immerse the learner in a complex but clear and structured task.
    • It can be a ‘Where’s Waldo?’
    • Or it can be finding something meaningful based on her own experiences within a significantly complex whole--such as an essay or a textbook chapter.
  • Give her ways of grasping wholes and not just a dizzying array of minute tidbits.
    • E.g., demonstrate a clear pattern and then ask students to recognize that pattern in small examples.
  • Promote pattern recognition.
    • Keep using the same pattern or configuration--a loop in a computer program, an irregular verb, “causes of Expressionism”--so the student knows what to look for.
  • Give the student ways to actively process information with concrete tasks (list, re-arrange, draw, map, etc.).
    • The point is not the beauty of the results: indeed, you needn’t grade on quality, only meeting minimal assignment requirements.
    • The point is for the student to put the information into working memory and build connections.
  • Guide each learner to create her own unique knowledge-map.
    • The important thing is to do and make the map--not that it’s the map you would make for yourself.
A good course design brings these all together. Yes, the devil is in the details. But it can be done, and Bain's book provides fine models.

--Edward R. O'Neill

Thursday, April 14, 2011

TEDxUSC: Annotated Tweet Curation - Themes & Selective Summary

A How-To How To

I already gathered my livetweets about TEDxUSC, made a screenshot and tweeted it:

And I also had to tweet how I did that:

This lets you grab tweets, put them in a window. This lets you capture that window: than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

Meta-tweeting? Meta-meta-tweeting?

But I also wanted to annotate these tweets.
It's amazing/ridonkulous that you can't just search & pull all the tweets you want, and then wrap a commentary/discussion around them.
But there it is. Twitter is still evolving.
There is, however, a tool for embedding the tweets in a blog:

So that's what I did below: pulled my and others' tweets together and annotated a tiny bit.

This is not a complete discussion of the event, just some highlights--with links.

(And if you want to see another Tweet summary, check out one of the best livetweeters there: snidelyhazel. I also mention coachkays below, so here are his #TEDxUSC tweets.)

Big Themes.
  • Participation. Getting involved feels good.
  • Help others. This feels good, too. It's not square. There's some new impulse towards altruism. Maybe after the Great Recession, we understand its value more.
  • Doing and making. These feel good, too. And it needn't be digital, electronic, computerized or 2.0.
  • Re-use, economize, invent. It's not only ecological to re-use, it's smart, requires smartness, and can help others.
  • Value. What do we value? Who creates it? Who gets to share in it? Our society seems to be going back to fundamentals here.

Talks, Performances, Movies

I was worried before the event started: they lost my registration, and people were tweeting about their VIP status (which I tried to parody).

FYI When #TEDxUSC loses your registration, you have to wait 30 minutes. Thnx.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Android Favorite Retweet Reply

Generic brag about seating and/or status at #TEDxUSC --from my iPad....less than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet Reply

(And I wasn't the only one whose registration was lost.)

RT @tastyjules #tedxusc is a major clusterfuck. Event crew shmoozing as at 30 ppl w orchestra seats relegated to 2nd balcony. #disappointedless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

"Oh no," I thought: "another way for people to feel superior."

But that quickly went away.

Steve Connell did a wonderful monologue: a memory of learning from his mom and dad, their insights and hardships, that superheroes fight everyday struggles--including and especially to help others.

RT @snidelyhazel: Steve Connell: "The fight starts when you leave the phone booth as Clark Kent." #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

  • Whom do we lionize?
  • Whom do we revere?
  • Billionaires because they are billionaires?
  • Or when they create value and connect people--no matter how much they earn?
(Warning: if you go to his personal web site, you get re-routed to some media-heavy page that takes forever to load and may well crash your browser. Be forewarned.)

The session quickly moved to a sing-along: basically the room got divided into parts and taught some harmony.

Auditory proof WE are better than me. RT @edwardoneill A sing-a-long? Really? #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

This underlined a running themes: social action,
doing things and doing them together, participation, a greater good.

On this topic, Jose Antonio Rosa talked about the poorest people in the world not as an emerging market (as I first thought he was saying) but as inventors and creators of value.

Scavengers scavenge to CREATE and INNOVATE to fill real needs. #TEDxUSC J. A. Rosaless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Pomona basketball coach
Brian Kays (among the best live-tweeters on the premises) insightfully pointed to the less-is-more aspect of this talk. We are so distracted by technology and newness that we collapse the two. What if the greatest invention used rubber bands and bailing wire?

RT @coachkays: The poor are producing the beat DIY innovation around as they don't have the advantage of tech, results are astounding #T ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Rosa also underlined the importance of hope: that without hope there is no creativity. Hope may be a delusion, but it is a healthy one.

RT @derekfromson: Biz prof Jose Antonio Rosa (University of Wyoming): "Hope allows us to engage in healthy delusion and creative devianc ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

(He also pointed out that creativity can be illegal, violent and inimical, too: this wasn't a greeting card.)

USC professor Josh Kun (casually dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt) talked about music and borders--notably our border with Mexico.
Most interesting, I thought, was his description of deejay parties where participants can have the deejay shout out the names of distant (even dead or missing) loved ones--then buy a CD of the shout-out.

At the Solidaro Party, the DJ shouts out to your loved ones. You get the CD and send it across the border to your loved ones. #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Maybe I spelled the name of this kind of party wrong. Kun called them 'transnational messaging events':

RT @RickyHang: Sonidera parties allow transmission of messages to those across borders- basically transnational messaging events - Josh ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Rick Nahmias from
Food Forward explained how gleaning unpicked backyard fruit could feed our hungriest, notably farm workers who themselves are poorly paid--fruitanthropy.

Rick Nahmias talks about the 1.1 million CA farm workers who feed our whole country. #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

California farm workers earn $11k per year, feed the country, but can barely feed themselves. #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Rick Nahmias gleans fruit and food for the hungry. They've harvested over 1 million servings of food. #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

This is also a tax deduction for the homeowner!
Rick N. called it win-win-win-win: food pantries get food that's fresh and wholesom, homeowners get a tax break, volunteers participate, and hungry people get fed.

(Where is our next Cesar Chavez, I wonder?)
One screening was a short film shot entirely on an iPhone4--and edited on it too (at least the rough cut).

RT @derekfromson: Watching "Apple of My Eye," a short film shot and edited entirely on iPhone4. Very cool! See it here: ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

The fact of the technology produced more ooh's and ah's than the film, which is interesting. But I think this set up very powerfully the message: technology can lower the bar for skillful media content-creation.

Against the tendency to fetishize computer technology, Dale Dougherty showed actual physical objects--some even without batteries!

His "slides" were hand-made pieces of cardboard with letters cut out of them.

Dale Dougherty uses his own handmade slides--physical objects, not software. KEWL! #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

He used salty
Play Dough to make electrical circuits, and he built up to using an Arduino processor.

These were low-tech but joyful devices. He sang the praises of simplicity, play, productivity and poverty, even.

Homemade Play-Do, musical instruments and rockets? Sing-a-long's? We are craving to make & participate at #TEDxUSC!less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Behind social media, which can seem alienating and distancing, there is a deep desire to CONNECT. You could see it at TEDxUSC in the opening participatory sing-a-long.

Annenberg graduate Aram Sinnreich proposed the design requirements for a network that belongs to citizens, not phone providers or the government.

RT @derekfromson: MondoNet (, Aram Sinnreich's ad-hoc wireless mesh network, shows new approach to web connectivity ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Jennifer Pahlka described a project in which programmers work for a year doing small projects for local government.

Code for America is like Teach for America--but for geeks. #TEDxUSC #redundant They develop apps for government/citizen use.less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

I could go on about this one for hours, so I'll have to make it a separate blog post.

Elisabeth Stock explained what a student-centered education looks like--including helping parents have a clear role and not expecting teachers to make learning appear from nowhere.

RT @snidelyhazel: Elisabeth Stock: Rethink digital learning through student-centered lens. Learning follows child, teacher and parents s ...less than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

Her organization offers hundreds of digital assets for teachers, parents and kids to access.

And she told a charming story about a teacher realizing that play could be part of learning, not a distraction.

Elisabeth Stock tells a killer anecdote about teacher realizing a game can be a platform for learning. #TEDxUSCless than a minute ago via Twitterrific Favorite Retweet Reply

This is the kind of 'a-ha' moment we need more of.

There was more. But I found these speakers and ideas very compelling.

--E. R. O'Neill