2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,400 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 62 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 548 posts. There were 48 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 10mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was March 31st with 57 views. The most popular post that day was Kluging: An LMS Alternative.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were teacher.pageflakes.com, c4lpt.co.uk, twitter.com, ianmason.net, and browse.workliteracy.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for visual literacy, fotobook editor, udutu, google cheat sheet 2010, and google search cheat sheet.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Kluging: An LMS Alternative October 2008
11 comments

2

Visual Literacy and Visual Thinking July 2008
10 comments

3

Joan Vinall-Cox’s E-Portfolio September 2008
20 comments

4

Photobook Adventures (and advice) December 2008
4 comments

5

udutu – Free, Easy, and Perhaps Unnecessary August 2008
2 comments

Why I Use More than One Social Bookmarking Service

Not that I’m paranoid (or maybe I am but I like to call it cautious skepticism) but I am always aware than any of the free web services that I use, or even ones I’ve paid for, could go belly up and my stuff on it (them) could vanish into a black hole. So when I read about speculation that my wonderful collection of bookmarks on del.icio.us could disappear, I feel my paranoia is justified.

Internet search marketers could lose some invaluable free tools from Yahoo such as their Site Explorer. Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb was concerned what the deal meant for Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS), Yahoo’s search developer platform Search Monkey and social bookmarking service Delicious, which he described as “one of the last era’s most heartbreaking symbols of untapped potential in social media”.

Bing is exciting as an effective challenger to Google, but if that competition comes at the cost of cannibalising Yahoo’s innovative search work – then we won’t be so excited about Bing any more.

I also celebrate that I have a strategy to deal with this. What are the odds that two similar web services will disappear at the same time? Not good, I hope.

My web stuff paranoia has led me to set up another social bookmarking service called Diigo. So I have two active accounts on different social bookmarking services.

So does that mean I have to save everything I like twice? Well, sort of, but that’s because I’ve recently taken to using Evernote, a broader and more visual saving application. But back to strictly social bookmarking. I only save once.

How? you ask. In Diigo, under my account name, I go into “Tools” where I can “Import Bookmarks”, but more importantly, I can “Save Elsewhere”. I have added my del.icio.us account here, and every time I save to Diigo, I also save, without any extra work, to del.icio.us.

So I’m prepared! If Yahoo and Microsoft let del.icio.us die, I still have all my bookmarks in Diigo. (Same thing if something happened to Diigo.) And I have Evernote too!

The Web is a Bottomless Toy Chest

I like to play on the web, and my biggest problem is my “I-can’t-catch-up” anxiety. There is always more to explore. And for free, either for the basic version or for a month. I can never try everything out. I can’t catch up. Ever.

I make things even more intense by following people who suggest really interesting web toys. Like Jane Hart, with her Jane’s E-Learning tip of the Day

If you teach or train, or just like to play on the web, you should check out her blog, and subscribe to it.Another of my current people to follow ’cause they give really neat toys – whoops, I mean URLs – away, is Steve Rubel – http://www.steverubel.com/ – Twice he mentioned Posterous. The first time, I tried it but left it orphaned. The second time, months, maybe years, later, I found my original account and started playing, even sort-of lifestreaming, copying him. Great fun.

His constant exploration and evolution is inspiring. Check him out, and subscribe to him in Posterous, and maybe to me too;-> As they say on tv, “Time well wasted!”

An Autodidact Learns From the Web

An autodidact is someone who learns outside of regular school settings, someone who teaches herself (or himself). It used to be a kind of demeaning label, meaning someone who had spotty and uncertified knowledge. I claim the label “autodidact” as a badge of honour! I used to learn from books, even sometimes from tv, but now we have the web. I love the web. I learn so much from what I find on it.

Recently I gave myself a task that requires me to learn more about how to create web pages. I’d heard about CSS and knew, theoretically, what it could do. But every time I tried to do anything using it I hit THE GAP. THE GAP is the point where I get stuck and can’t go any further, even though I can see what I could do two steps along the learning path I’m on. When I hit THE GAP, I’m stuck. What I do then, is ask a knowledgable friend, if I can find one, or, more often, find a workaround. For a while, my workaround was wikis. I love wikis but they’re meant for sharing, not for using as your personal website, although they can work, sort of, as one.

One of My Wikis
One of My Wikis

Sometimes I find something a lot of the design work has been done for me, and I use that. Blogger had templates, and so does WordPress, which I graduated to.

My Blog
My Blog

But my design vision just isn’t satisfied.

I used tools like the old Netscape Composer and currently its grandchild, Nvu, both of which are WYSIWYG web page creators.

My Domain
My Domain

But my reach exceeds my grasp because I want something I have more control over. I want to produce the kind of website that says to readers “this person has powerful content: you can tell by the appearance!” (I’ve read the research on how people are reading before they decode a single word. The appearance of the text and page gives information that signals information to readers which profoundly affects how they take in the content.)

I’ve learned a little HTML code, and I’ve bookmarked sites where I can find more. But I’ve never taken a course in it, and a lot of it just looked bizarre and unreadable to me. (I was a text person initially, and not technically inclined, but I want to communicate on the web so I have to learn how to do so wholistically.) And using “View Source” and copy/paste seemed to me like a kind of plaigarism and theft. (What can I say? I’m old-school.)

Sometimes I think I learn backwards. I know my desired destination but I keep getting blocked at THE GAP. But I continue to struggle to build a little further out into the unknown territory, and I learn something from each struggle. Each struggle closes THE GAP a little more. I read manuals and follow instructions but I think most people who are inside the knowledge bubble have trouble being aware of what those outside the bubble might not know. The instructions are crisp and clear until they mention going to the “terminal shell” or some other ‘obvious’ term. Huh? Wikipedia tells me what it is, but I don’t get how to use it in this set of instructions. (I’m not the knowledgable audience they were writing for.) So I stop and try some other path. Till I get frustrated with it, because I’ve found THE GAP in it. I’m really good at finding THE GAP. So when I find someone, often on the web, who explains things in a way I can understand, someone who gives me the practical aspects of the concept, I am delighted, excited and grateful.

That happened to me today. I found Chris Coyier’s video on HTML & CSS – The VERY Basics. 32 minutes of pure pleasure. He shrank the gap – till it virtually (no pun etc.) disappeared for me.

He has a gift for teaching and I’m a grateful student.

MERLOT Presentation on PLEs

I head out tomorrow for the MERLOT International Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesoda where I will be presenting on Web2.0, the Social Media, and Academia: Using Personal Learning Environments to Expand Teaching and Learning.  (The description is second from the bottom here.) I am asking for some help in proving my point – that creating your own Personal Learning Environment is essential for teachers and other knowledge workers.

I’ve worked up a PowerPoint with many links to many free applications and images of what a PLE actually is, but I want to show its value during the presentation. I received  some important help in my learning from  comments when I posted on Visual Literacy here, I’ve received help from responses to some of my Twitter postings, as you can see here, and someone (sorry, I can’t remember who) pointed me to http://aquaculturepda.edublogs.org/2008/07/19/listen-to-the-wisdom-of-your-network/ – which has really inspired me. I really like Sue Water’s use of the phrase “Personal Learning Networks”, and I’m imitating some of her approaches, and this is where you come in.

Please help me show the power of Personal Learning Networks by responding to some or all of the following requests:

  • Add a comment to this post mentioning any part of your own PLE that other teachers might find valuable;
  • If you are on Twitter, follow me, and when I ask for responses, use “Reply” so I can show how the network can help almost instantly; and/or
  • If you have some ideas that might help, “Direct Message” me in Twitter.

I’m presenting Sunday, August 10 at 11:45, Central Daylight Time – an hour ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. (It’s 8:30 near Toronto, and 7:30 there.)

So I’m requesting your help, and, in return, I will post some version of my presentation after the conference is over and I’m home again. So thanks in advance.

MERLOT Member Page
MERLOT Member Page

Jing (for Screencasting) and TweetDeck (for Twitter)

Summertime is playtime, and we’ve had record amounts of rain where I live, so my playing has been indoors. Here are a couple of tools I’ve been playing with.

Jing is a free and very easy screencasting tool. Because I’m thinking about Personal Learning Environments, that’s what I made this screencast on –

http://www.screencast.com/users/JoanVinallCox/folders/MERLOT/media/15cb112a-af72-4d8a-a7c0-f41d42041696

My problem is that by covering my full screen, I get a screencast the size of my full screen, which is too big. Twitter helped me get a partial answer. (I’m using TweetDeck because with it, I can see any replies immediately and I can separate the people I follow into different groups, for ease of following conversations.)

From TweetDeck, Alana James answers my request for help.
From TweetDeck, Alana James answers my request for help.

Alana’s advice allowed me to reduce the size of my Jing screen, but it only showed part of what I had captured. I wanted the whole image, but smaller. I have asked for help on Twitter several times previously and most often got a reply, so I consider it an important part of my PLE. It’s a place where I can ask and answer questions from peers.

So I’m playing, and thus learning how to use these tools, so when the weather is sunnier and/or I’m busier, I’ll be proficient and efficient in using them.

Autodidacts and Web 2.0: Are Universities Still Needed, Part 2

As I thought again about being an autodidact and what universities could do for learners, I realized that universities have been part of my Personal Learning Environment. (If you are an autodidact, you have to have your own PLE. For years mine only included books and other people. Now it includes bloggers, social bookmarking, the way I’ve organized my computer, other people in person, and books, probably in something like that order;->)

That wasn’t true for my undergraduate degree, or only partially so. I took the courses I had to and the ones I believed I could pass. But while I can recall nothing from my Astronomy for Humanities Students except the professor’s disdain for Astrology, I did learn which is which. Of some importance I guess;->

What I learned in the courses I thought I could pass was that some courses (in my stronger areas} that I took because they gave me a nice schedule, could open up into new insights, understandings and interests. I came to appreciate that courses could have hidden treasures for me, that some academics had an approach and a breadth of knowledge that I could learn from, that they weren’t just showing off their knowledge so they could win some obscure “I know more than you – ha, ha” game. I learned that, sometimes, struggling through ideas and information allowed me to construct a complex web of understanding that was deeply meaningful to me in my life. It was a thrilling discovery. That and a mate who habitually reads, questions and wants to know more, have made me a learning addict (and an autodidact).

I have spent my life trying to figure things out. Both my graduate degrees unlocked new understandings for me, and both were part of my PLE. I signed up for each because I had a question that the books and the people around me couldn’t answer. Both times, some of my courses were blind alleys to endure, and many were quests that left me with new treasures. And both times, I chose what I wanted to learn about and continued my learning outside my studies as well as inside.

So my attitude towards universities and learning is that of a frustrated idealist. I know I learned deeply and richly because universities have been part of my life, but why are the pockets of innovative and exciting learning/teaching about communications so few and/or so hard to find in this era of explosive change in communication tools and concepts?

Personalizing Web Access

Sometimes a bunch of experiences mash together and inspiration results. A couple of day ago I received a comment on one of my posts – #2 by Virginia Yonkers where she said “Try working on another’s computer! Just as we have idiosyncrasies in the speech, how we do math, writing (think of handwriting), we develop different patterns for tools and how we use them. If we can see how to modify a tool or how it is used to achieve our goals, we are more motivated to ask for help, persist through problems”. That has been my experience in my own learning.

Later in the day I was working with some people who were not that efficient at using the web and wanted to show them what I regard as an essential web tool, del.icio.us, the social bookmarking application. I reached out to the laptop, not my own, to try to open up my del.icio.us account so I could show them why it was so useful. Two problems:

  1. Although this was the same model as my laptop, the owner doesn’t use a mouse, and I do. I have to think to use the trackpad and that slows me down and klutzes me up;
  2. The owner’s desktop looks different and so do the applications because she has them set larger than I do mine, also disorientating.

Both of these reminded me of Virginia’s comment, and an often overlooked factor in encouraging people to expand their web efficiency. I think knowing how to set up and manipulate our tools is essential to any skilled artisan, knowledge workers included. Which computer we use is important, but knowing how to set up our PLE (Personal Learning Environment) or, the term I prefer, our PLWE (Personal Learning and Working Environment) is foundational. To work efficiently and effectively, you need to streamline your access to the different software and applications you are going to use. You need to fit your tool to your use.

Because I have a laptop, I can travel with it and use it for presentations. Because I am on it for several hours almost every day, and because I am impatient, I have researched and developed my own idiosyncratic setup.

Working SetUp

So let me explain, starting at the top left:

  1. I use Apple and Firefox because experts I know talked about how easy and handy they were, and that has been my experience too; I like them.
  2. I have my applications dock on the left side where I am less likely to “bump” into it. What can I say; it works for me.
  3. Most importantly, I have a personal toolbar, right under the address bar, where I keep all the links I regularly use. I use the Bookmarks feature to put these in the order I want them in, and to shorten their names so I can squeeze more on. I add other links I frequently use too, but allow these to be beyond the “>>” at the right end of my personal toolbar. When I click on the “>>” a long list of these medium important links appears and I can choose from them.
  4. Most of my “Saved for possible future use” bookmarks, I don’t put in the Bookmarks feature of my browser (Firefox) because they are then tied to my computer, and when I get a new one (yum!) or have a crash (the pain! the pain!) or use another computer (awk-ward!), I don’t have access to them. Instead I use an online application for social bookmarking, usually del.icio.us, (although I’m also checking out diigo). I can access my del.icio.us (or diigo) accounts from any online computer, provided I can remember my user name and password. (Not always that easy ;->) So I always have access to the links I’ve saved. Saving to del.icio.us is easy using the (circled) icons (which I dragged onto my address bar from the del.icio.us site) to the left of the URL field. The checkerboard, when clicked, opens my del.icio.us account so I can find previously saved links.  The  tag icon that says “TAG” on it, when click opens a small field in front of the site I’m saving, and allows me to add tags so I can easily re-find the site when I want it.
  5. I have a Google toolbar even though it takes up screen space on my small laptop screen because it has an icon, circled, that allows me to open a new tab with one click. I like having lots of tabs open so I can switch from site to site with ease, which brings me to my final PLWE essential >
  6. When I took the screenshot above, I had seven (count ’em!) tabs open in Firefox. Often I have more because it makes my work easier. When I finish this draft, I will add links, and what I usually do is open the site I want to link to in another tab, copy the link address, return to my draft and add the link. Multiple tabs – I love ’em!

So there you have it, some of my secrets for making my work efficient and easy to manage, for setting up my PLWE, my “tool”. All learned, I’ll add, over years of chatting with others and reading about what the possibilities are in this ever changing web world.