Rheingold a utopian? You think? #edcmooc

•2014/11/07 • Leave a Comment

Twitter Profile and Cover photo of Howard Rheingold in the garden(I wrote this before my Twitter exchange with Howard Rheingold, below.) In this first week of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course I’m taking through Coursera, one of the assigned readings is a 1996 piece by Howard Rheingold, “For Some, the Net is a Lifeline.”

I’m a Rheingold fan. He’s the fourth person I ever followed on Twitter and his Delicious feed is pretty cool too. He curates, comments on, and delights in many things that interest me also–connections between social media and social justice, education, and gardening.

I believe he may have a utopian view of the web, sure. He has long seen its promise for democratizing our world, as “For Some” indicates. I don’t see his utopian view as driven by a blind technological determinism, though. (By technological determinism I mean the idea that technology shapes culture and world.) As I understand him, it’s not so much that Rheingold looks at a tool and sees utopia springing from it. He sees the utopia we deserve, or perhaps the one we are already standing in and just haven’t noticed, and reaches for the tools that will let all of us take our rightful places in a better world.

But who am I to say what Rheingold said or believes? We live in 21st century, interconnected world. I went to Twitter to tell Howard Rheingold my thoughts in a nutshell, and ask the favor of his reply. When I saw his profile and cover photo, I thought we might not be far off on this utopia thing. Or is that just what it’s like to live in California? Maybe he’ll tell me his view.

Update: Howard Rheingold did reply on Twitter, directing me to a piece in which he wrote pretty specifically and thoroughly about technological determinism and his own history and love affair with the virtual world: “Technology 101: What Do We Need to Know About the Future We’re Creating?” I will need to give it a thorough read.

  1. . Utopias got a deservedly bad name in the 20th century. However, abolition of slavery was once “utopian.”


Dusting off the blog for a wee bit

•2014/11/05 • Leave a Comment

I’m excited to begin my first Coursera class this week. It’s taught by faculty at the University of Edinburgh: E-learning and Digital Cultures.

Image of Course Description and Univ Seal

Padlet: Fast, easy, collaborative writing and sharing

•2013/11/28 • Leave a Comment

I’ve recently started using Padlet, a website that provides an instant online wall on which users can post pieces of text just by double-clicking anywhere on the wall and then typing. It’s definitely a low-threshold application–an instructor doesn’t need to spend more than five minutes learning how to use it, unless they want to learn all its features.

Padlet could also be a useful tool for students doing group projects, in or out of class.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Go to http://www.padlet.com
  2. Sign up for a free account
  3. Click on Build a Wall
  4. Optional: Click on the Gear icon to give your Padlet wall a name and description, set privacy settings, and choose a different URL and background image or wallpaper
  5. Share the URL of your Padlet wall with students or collaborators
  6. Visitors just double-click to put their contributions on the wall. They can add links, files, and images to posts as well.

The image feature means that Padlet can be used like a mini-portfolio–Padlet has a gallery with beautiful examples of what you can do with this tool.

Richard Byrne created a nice video for the Free Technology for Teachers blog:  

I’ve found Padlet easy and fun to use.

Riverbend Posted!

•2013/10/27 • 1 Comment
Image of Book, Baghdad Burning I: Girl Blog from Iraq

Baghdad Burning I: Girl Blog from Iraq

Wow. For the first time since 2007, Riverbend, the “girl” blogger from Iraq, wrote a new piece on her amazing blog Baghdad Burning.  (She actually posted in April, but I only found out today. Why didn’t I know this?) From the start of the US occupation of Iraq, Riverbend wrote about her daily life in Baghdad, about politics, about the physical and emotional carnage around her, and about being an intelligent, educated woman sidelined by a national catastrophe. An out-of-work techie, Riverbend posted regularly from 2003 to 2007. Her blogging was well-regarded and published in print in two volumes by the Feminist Press of the City University of New York.

This year’s post:

April 9, 2013 marks ten years since the fall of Baghdad. Ten years since the invasion. Since the lives of millions of Iraqis changed forever. It’s difficult to believe. It feels like only yesterday I was sharing day to day activities with the world. I feel obliged today to put my thoughts down on the blog once again, probably for the last time.

In 2003, we were counting our lives in days and weeks. Would we make it to next month? Would we make it through the summer? Some of us did and many of us didn’t.

Back in 2003, one year seemed like a lifetime ahead. The idiots said, “Things will improve immediately.” The optimists were giving our occupiers a year, or two… The realists said, “Things won’t improve for at least five years.” And the pessimists? The pessimists said, “It will take ten years. It will take a decade.”

We used Baghdad Burning as one of the central texts a course I taught at Keene State College. I and the students were enormously fortunate to have Riverbend’s work to show us the new and valid forms that writing was taking in the digital age, and to provide an alternate account of the US war in Iraq.

Riverbend had not been posting for years. I knew that she had moved to Syria, and then stopped posting. I feared the worst.  She is alive, however, and her writing is still sharp and sad and ultimately full of love.

And what happened to Riverbend and my family? I eventually moved from Syria. I moved before the heavy fighting, before it got ugly. That’s how fortunate I was. I moved to another country nearby, stayed almost a year, and then made another move to a third Arab country with the hope that, this time, it’ll stick until… Until when? Even the pessimists aren’t sure anymore. When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?

For those of you who are disappointed reality has reared its ugly head again, go to Fox News, I’m sure they have a reportage that will soothe your conscience.
For those of you who have been asking about me and wondering how I have been doing, I thank you. “Lo khuliyet, qulibet…” Which means “If the world were empty of good people, it would end.” I only need to check my emails to know it won’t be ending any time soon.   – posted by river @ 10:20 PM

From HackCollege: 10 Memorization Tips for More Effective Study Sessions

•2013/10/09 • Leave a Comment

Schoogle: Find Help for School

HackCollege has come out with yet another usable and informative post to help students at all levels of higher ed make good use of their study time: 10 Memorization Tips for More Effective Study Sessions

Dominique Jackson tells us the how and why to switch to audio, put it in your own words, visualize it, use acronyms, link information, skim readings, use distributed practice, teach information to someone else, and use flashcards.

Flashcards: One of the oldest tricks in the book, yet some people still don’t know how to use them properly. The point of notecards is to help you recall important information by memorizing the main points associated with key terms or concepts. You should not be writing full paragraphs on notecards.

A helpful technique is to write a question on the front, and then the answer on the back. The answer should be short and concise —…

View original post 95 more words

Writing help by phone with Join.me

•2013/08/15 • 1 Comment

Join.me Banner Image

Yesterday I had a successful writing help session with a student over the phone using a screen-sharing program called Join.me. With Join.me I could show the student what was on my screen just by emailing her a link for her to click on. Following the link, she could see my computer screen in her browser window. I brought up the Word document she had emailed me, and I could scroll around in the paper so we were both looking at the same thing at the same time as we discussed possibilities for global revision of her paper.

Screen sharing was even more helpful when we were discussing mechanical issues like in-text citations, reference lists, and headers. If a picture is worth a thousand words, live video is worth a million when you’re trying to talk where you’d put a signal phrase, format a citation, or have Word automatically insert an APA format header on each page of a paper. Screen sharing saved so much time over compared to verbal description that I even had time to explain why I use Ctrl-Enter for a hard return at the top of a reference list!

Join.me is practical for those of us with older computers and limited budgets, too. The basic version of the program is free and it doesn’t take a lot of memory to run. I’m sure there are a lot of other educational applications for it besides writing. You can get the program at https://join.me/.

EdCamp Keene 2013

•2013/08/11 • 1 Comment

EdCamp, I have fallen in love with you all over again. Friday, August 9th was EdCamp Keene, a particpant-driven unconference by and for K-16 (or is it P-20?) educators. That’s right, K-12 and higher ed mixed professional development! Those who work outside education might not realize how rare that is. 

At an unconference anyone who wants to can present an idea for a session; you just write your title on a big sticky note and post it on the agenda that morning. Conversations are favored over scripted presentations, and you find out whether your idea has legs in the moment by whether people show up in the room and stay there for a while having an engaging dialogue. 

Unconferences are also free, another element that makes them near and dear to fans of participatory democracy like me. Like all simple, obvious ideas, it took us forever to come up with them. Not surprisingly, the tech nerds were among the first to embrace them and held unconferences called barcamps. (The bar refers to foobar, not drinking establishments.) EdCamp Keene 2011 was the third ever EdCamp, and EdCamp Keene 2013 was the 300th. Talk about an idea with legs!

I left Keene on Friday completely charged up about the community of educators that came together and the ideas I’d encountered at sessions on: 

  • Let’s Play with iMovie*
  • Coaches’ Eye 
  • Rasperry Pi
  • Intrusion and Ubiquity: To Text or Not to Text (instigated by yours truly)
  • Becoming Badass

Thanks to Antioch University for hosting the event, and Lara Thomas and Dan Callahan for organizing it. 

*For anyone looking for the fly in the EdCamp ointment, when I got home and installed iMovie on my iPod Touch, the only Apple device in my home, I found out that the Touch version does not have the Trailer feature. No Bollywood movie trailer-style films of my ducks, my cat, or my department at work. I was truly devastated for about five minutes. However, if I had the technology to create Bollywood duck movies, why would I ever do anything else? We narrowly missed creating a monster there.