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Archive for the ‘Blogs@PSU’ Category

Horizontal Contributions

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Since I am thinking in a very Google Wave like mode I thought I’d share another thought related to the tectonic change that platform may inspire. In the days after watching the video of the Wave demo I’ve been finding myself thinking about how much of our online cnversations we are missing. In the Universe the Wave has led us to conversations happen in lots of places, but are instantly available in one central place — the Wave client. What I mean is that I can start a Wave, embed it in a page, and let people contribute from all over the place. The power in what I am understanding this whole thing to look like is that these contributions are not only available in the context of the submission (perhaps a comment on an embedded wave on a blog), but also in the original Wave. What I am pulling from this is that I can, via my Wave client, revisit my social contributions in context without revisiting all the sites. Just this idea has me really spinning.

So if I apply this to the notion of the traditional blogging platform I can see where this could be really important. Here at PSU we promote our Blogs at Penn State as a publishing platform … one that is powering new forms of ePortfolios. Last summer while working with Carla Zembal-Saul we explored and shared the idea that the portfolio is more than a single person’s thinking, but also a place to engage conversations. So if we look at the fact that someone commenting enhances my own artifact, then shouldn’t we think about the comments we leave elsewhere as part of our overall evidence as well?

If I think about it, lots of times I stumble across an old blog post someone created that I’ve commented on at one point and I’ve forgotten. Sometimes I read those comments and think that I should have a way to move that content back into my own space — even if it means I can only review it out of the context of the original post. With all that said, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll call horizontal contributions. In a vertical sense we contribute original posts in our own space and people comment on them. Then if I show up at your blog, I can contribute a comment in that same vertical sense. In a horizontal model I have some sort of tracking that allows me to see not only all my own posts, but also my comments across the entire web. This would give an opportunity to gather these as further evidence of my overall contributions online.

This isn’t Wave specific per se as there are third party commenting engines that do stuff like this — if everyone on the social web used them. I’m not promoting a tool like Disqus for general use, but in an environment like ours we could easily replace our MT commenting engine with a third party one. It would be integrated into the templates so it would be invisible to users. What would need to happen is shibboleth integration, but we’ve done that before. I think it is something we’ll explore … and if we do I’ll be sure to share what we find. What do you think about this thinking? Crazy talk or is there something to it?

Written by Cole Camplese

June 3rd, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Why Run a Service?

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The debate over when to build, buy, or use is one that rages in higher education information technology units all the time. I am constantly asked why we’d run that service versus just relying on someone else to host it for us. I sit in meetings where the debate over taking something off the shelf for our use is weighed against our desire to build it. It never ends and I don’t expect to ever really have a solid answer.

Not too long ago, I was sitting and talking to Brad Kozlek about our choice to run our own blogging platform. I go through these massive swings about the topic — usually settling somewhere around, “why not just lean on wordpress.com and focus on training and adoption.” That argument works on lots of levels. On this particular day we came to another conclusion about why it is so important that we are running our own service — the potential for community.

Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend time talking and presenting with Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, Chief Scientist at Twitter … I wrote about it then, but have been thinking about it nearly nonstop. What became incredibly clear to me was that Twitter is sitting on an Ocean of data. Data that they are working really hard to turn into meaningful content. If you go to the Twitter Search page you’ll see that they are making sense out of this data and showing us how clearly the social web is plugged into what is happening. They have their “Trending topics” displayed right below their search field and it shows you what we are all talking about 140 characters at a time. I’m sure many of you have heard the story about how reports in Mumbai were first broadcast via Twitter and the first picture of the plane landing in the Hudson River came through the same channel — its obvious that what is wrong with big media is the same thing that is so very right with the social web — connections building community that is, in the case of Abdur and Twitter, predicting the future as it happens.

Trending Topics

Trending Topics

So back to the Blogs at Penn State … as Brad and I sat there we realized we are sitting on a river of data that is built entirely on people right here at PSU. Now that we are reaching the 10,000 user milestone with the service we are seeing an explosion in the understanding and use of tags for filtering content. Courses are using them to aggregate student posts together, students are using them to mark portfolio entries, departments are using them to pull information/knowledge about initiatives into focus, and so on. Once we realized that we started to realize that we could begin to act a little bit like Twitter and use our data to see trends and ultimately predict the future as it unfolds. With this in mind we’re working on a few new and interesting ways to not only tap into the community but also ways to let them move the state of the University around a bit.

A simple example is something I’m loosely calling, “PSU Voices.” Essentially we would hand out a tag each month (or perhaps week) related to topic we’d like to see the community explore. Imagine during April (when Earth Day is) asking the student body to write, or post pictures, videos about “ideas to make PSU a more green campus?” We’d ask that question, provide a tag, and watch as the aggregate posts of that month’s conversation came into focus. If we took a simple advertisement out in the student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, to get people to participate I wonder if they would? If they did I think the results would be amazing.

We’ve already started to pull out some trending data based on the popular tags and we are seeing some really interesting things. It was clear last week that lots of students were working on their portfolios. One of the next steps is to build an interface between the tag and content search to see what people are talking about in mass … I can’t even imagine how interesting that could look when we have 20,000 or 30,000 people writing regularly around PSU. I’m not ready to share the pages yet, but I am hoping that in the next couple of weeks we’ll start to see the unintended results of running our own service — the ability to not create community, but to coalesce it. Anyone have thoughts related to these ideas and others?

Written by Cole Camplese

March 22nd, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Our eLearning Platform

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I’ve been on vacation all week and haven’t really even checked my feeds to see what is going on in the World. I was sort of surprised to see that Apple released a new iPod Shuffle that talks given how hyper-connected I typically am. The thing that prompted me to post this morning has nothing to do with music players however. I came across a post at my new colleague Matt Meyer’s blog, Blog Platform: Authoring Tool, where he exposes some thinking about how he is planning to author and deliver the Biology Wet Lab course he is the lead designer on. I really like the thinking and thought I’d share some overall thoughts.

I’ve written about my struggles with eLearning and eLearning authoring in general lots of times, but after reading Matt’s post this morning I jumped into my way back machine (this blog) and found a post from a couple years ago where I asked for some help thinking about this topic.

What I struggle with is the idea of what is a really good eLearning environment these days? In my mind, a handful of pages of content that link and embed objects that drive student and faculty to engage in conversations (on or off line) seems to be the goal. With that said, why not design those content pages in a blog so students and faculty (and maybe people from the outside) can have conversations in context? Why are we still struggling with what the right eLearning tool set looks like when we are sitting in a world with dozens of content creation tools? The model we are trying to avoid consists of tons of static text pages that prompt students to leave the content and jump into a discussion forum to interact — I’ve never liked that, but now the technology supports what I am after … the opportunity for conversation at every level of a course experience.

I’ve built a couple of examples of blog powered eLearning spaces since then and I’m pretty sure having these examples were helpful in sharing my thoughts with Matt last week. I had written about it back in October as I did a survey of some of the emerging ways our blogging platform has been being used.

HCI in a Blog

HCI in a Blog

Recently I took an old topic from an Online IST course I helped design about seven years ago and republish it via the Blogs at PSU environment. It took only a handful of minutes and produces a portable package that can be customized by an entire team in a collaborative way. And since our platform allows for easy export and import, a faculty member who wants the content can easily download an export file and import it into a new blog space to customize the look, the feel, the content, the activities, or anything else for her own instruction.

When I built the examples I wanted to explore the potential of the platform as an easy to use design and development environment as well as experiment with personalization. I ended up with two versions of the content … one to be used as a “standard” version and one as a fully customized version. The Master Course provides a baseline version of the content in a central location — perhaps in an Open Courseware model. A faculty member could browse the content and download a simple file. This file contains the entire course and structure. This is ideal because it allows that faculty member to manage and customize the content as their own. This can then be used to create a personal version of the content.

What is great to see from Matt’s post is that he gets the notion and he is thinking about how to use the built in communication tools as a way to gather feedback. I can see he and the team he is working with taking advantage of the commenting system to get an idea from students as they work screen by screen what they think of the environment. I am also excited that we are buying into the idea of embedding different kinds of content to make the experience a little more complete — we all know how easy it is to drop in media from YouTube, but imagine collecting data live via an embedded google spreadsheet form and you can imagine that is when things start to get really interesting.

All of this is important stuff and it puts a new look on some existing and (IMO) outdated and outmoded thinking in the eLearning design world. I am anxious to hear what others are thinking about this and the questions Matt is looking to explore.

Written by Cole Camplese

March 11th, 2009 at 10:48 am

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