Friday, August 29, 2008

How 2(.0): Personal Learning Networks, 1/4

It occurs to me that I posted this here and here, but totally neglected to put it on my own site.  Oh well.

If you haven't seen my latest creation yet, here it is.  I'm hoping to record part 2 (or more, time permitting) this weekend.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Not in fact a tribal serenade...

... but still darned fun.  We got to play with "Boomwhackers" at the recent DEN NI thanks to Paula White and I recorded a couple short clips with my own new toy.

I think the video could have been better, but the audio's half decent.



Monday, August 18, 2008

Art Club 2.0


originally uploaded by TheArtGuy.

OK, Personal Learning Network, I'd like to run an idea past you.

In the past I've made attempts to get my Art Club members blogging, but never got a lot of significant buy-in. This was partially because (following my ADD nature) I kept introducing the students to so many different media and projects that we spent very little time in front of a computer.

This is not a complaint. I made my choice for where to devote my time and energy, and I got good results from those projects. But now I'd like to revisit this newfangled blogging thing and see where it takes me.

So here's my idea: Every time the Art Club meets I want them to write a blog post. Some might be critiques of the artwork of others, some might be explanations of their own artwork (scanned or photographed and placed on the blog, of course...), and some might be responses to other blog posts. These will be 3rd through 6th graders (maybe just 5th & 6th graders), so the blog posts will be moderated, but just like last year's theme was photography, this year's theme will be blogging.

I might include other things along the way - maybe some movie or image editing with either built-in software or free websites, but I don't want to do any project that would keep a student from writing something every week.

So what do you think? Is this a god idea? Bad? Is there anything you'd add or leave out?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Academic Aesthetic 166: Audio vs Video

Warning: The following podcast contains words which, when placed in a particular order, can be used to convey ideas.  People who are set in their ways should listen at their own discretion.

So this weekend I actually got caught up on my audio podcasts.  This was no small achievement, as I had several gigabytes of downloaded but unplayed podcasts on my hard drive before I went to the DEN National Institute, and while there I didn't really listen to any of them until after I got back home.

That being said, I still have 43 video podcasts waiting for me to watch them.  There was a time when video podcasting was unheard of, due to a combination of bandwidth, storage, and equipment costs.  Times have changed since then, and while audio podcasts still outnumber their video cousins, there seem to be a lot more .mp4 files showing up in my podcatcher these days.

Unfortunately for me, my method of experiencing these podcasts hasn't changed much at all.  I mostly play them when I'm in the car, playing video games, doing dishes, researching art lessons, folding laundry, and playing video games - you know, activities where my eyes are required to be actively engaged in something other than watching video.  It's this ability to multi-task that drew me in part to podcasting in the first place.

But with video - good video - your attention is demanded.  You might still be able to multi-task, but as you can't look at two things as well as one you'll always be missing something.

And that's my inspiration for this episode - a comparison of the pros and cons of video and audio formats.


Audio podcasts have a much lower entry cost, both for creating them and carrying them on portable devices.  I can spend $50 or less and get a half decent mp3 player, but it won't do video at that price.  Add to that the fact that all I need is a phone to record an episode and I don't even need a computer with a working microphone to get started.

Video podcasts have gotten cheaper over the years (due in no small part to the iPod's video capabilities and competitors' desire to give more value for a lower price), with portable video players selling for $100 or less.  Recording equipment is coming down in price too, with decent digital video cameras selling for $200 or less.  Digital still cameras are actually able to record half decent video nowadays,  and let's face it, lots of laptops have built in cameras so you might not even have to buy anything new at all.

Work Load

Audio is, in my opinion, easier to edit than video.  A lot easier.  I can very easily remove hums, haws, ers, ums, yawns, and so on without the listener ever knowing those things were in there, provided there are no visual cues.  When I cut something out of video using the same process, you notice.  Yes, there are ways to cover these things up, but they're not as simple to do as the tried and true "select, delete, and move on" method of editing audio.

Of course I suppose you could always go with the "I don't edit my podcasts" method that some people have adopted, but I'm not willing to go there ... yet.


I've already covered this a little bit.  When recording or listening to audio, it's very easy to be doing something else at the same time.  With video this is only possible if you don't care much for at least one of the things that's demanding your attention, and I for one don't want to put the extra work into a video podcast if no one's going to watch it.

Wow, I'm really hammering the video format in this episode, aren't I?  With all of these drawbacks, is there any reason to choose video over audio?  You bet there is!

Multiple Learning Styles

Using an audio only format appeals the most to people who learn that way, but some of us (myself included) are visual thinkers.  We can still digest information by hearing it, but it's so much easier if you show us as well.

And by "show," I mean it.  Talking heads add very little to a presentation, but you can still insert slides from a PowerPoint, images of examples, and the like to keep your viewer's interests.  It's true that many of the video podcasts I've made myself had that very problem (even if the times I waxed theatric helped a little bit), but I eventually came to realize that my audience wasn't getting much more out of it through the video I was including.

That's why I'm back to audio only for the most part, saving video for special occasions.  I think the only reason I got away with what I was doing was because video podcasts were still somewhat new at the time, and the "wow, this is new!" factor gave me a bit of an edge.

The problem is, newness doesn't last.

Now there are people out there that are doing it right.  If you ever get a chance to see one of Lawrence Lessig's presentations you'll see what I mean.  They're simple, true, but every slide reinforces the message he's trying to convey.

A recent presentation on the culture of YouTube (found via Will Richardson) would make another excellent, if a bit long, video podcast.  There's a lot of talking heads in it, but the scenes are varied, mixed with images and video from a variety of sources, and even the inserted still images move across the screen in a way to support his message.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Academic Aesthetic 165: Twitter vs Plurk

Warning: If you're sick of hearing about micro-blogs like Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, and Plurk, today's podcast might not be for you.

Those of you who've been listening for a while (at least since show 128) may recall how enthusiastic I was over a website called Twitter.  I found micro-blogging to be incredibly addictive in spite of its 140 character limit because the conversations were worthwhile.  I quickly established a PLN (or Personal Learning Network) of fellow educators and thoroughly enjoyed the learning (and joking around) that ensued.

Then Jaiku came along, and I hoped with all my heart that the people in my PLN would all jump ship and move over to there.  Alas, while some did, most didn't bother, so I eventually abandoned Jaiku and reluctantly returned to Twitter.

Fast forward to the creation of Pownce, and history repeats itself.

I loved Pownce for many reasons, most of which I won't go over here.  It's coolest feature however was the ability to have threaded conversations.  Reading through the posts of everyone I'm following on Twitter is like standing in the middle of a crowded room.  You hear snippets, but not always a complete conversation.

Ok, usually not.  The problem was while I would often see people responding to other Twitter-ers, I wouldn't see what was being responded to unless I was also following that other person.  Through the creative use of putting "@" in front of user names I could find that individual, but if they were prolific with their tweets then it would still be hard to follow the conversation.

And remember, it was conversations that made Twitter cool in the first place.

The best way to solve this seemed to be following everyone that everyone else in my PLN followed, but there is a physical and mental limit to how many people I can follow so I merely replaced one problem with another.

I  still think Pownce is among the best micro-blog formats out there, but the only times my PLN moved over there were when Twitter was down. Granted, that meant they were there a lot, but never to stay.  Most conversations on Pownce could be summarized as follows:

"Oh, Twitter's down again."

"Is Twitter up yet?"

"No.  It's so annoying that it's down so often."

"I know!  I'm about ready to - hey, it's back up!"

And that's the last I would see of them on Pownce until the the next Twitter outage.

So once again, I abandoned a better service for Twitter.  As much as I liked Pownce, I had to stay with my PLN.

My Plurk TimelineAnd then came Plurk.

Plurk has a few annoying things about it, most notably a lack of text messaging support and a right-to-left scrolling "timeline," but every post can receive threaded responses so my main problem with Twitter is already solved.

Plurk also has something called "karma." This has nothing to do with reincarnation, it's simply a score for how well you're interacting with others.  I'm not too certain about the algorithm used, but I do know that your score goes up more for posting only a few "plurks" that generate responses from others than it does from posting 1,000 "plurks" and getting few, if any, responses.  Your karma can go up as you gain followers, but the method I've seen on Twitter of going through and following hundreds of people in an attempt to get them to follow you in return will actually hurt your score.

That's something cool that I didn't expect to see in a micro-blog.  In my opinion one of the cancers of Web 2.0 sites has been the large number of people who treat it as simply a game where whomever has the most followers wins.  I'd first heard of this happening on MySpace when a friend complained that her brother had more "friends" than she did, even though he didn't really know most of them and she knew all of hers.  (I think she wanted me to create an account so her score would go up by one ... I still didn't.)  I've since seen this problem on Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, Youtube, and even to a limited extent on Pownce.

But I've yet to se it on Plurk.  They've essentially replaced one score, your number of followers, with another score, karma.  There are still ways to game the system, I'm sure, but I'm not getting 20 friend requests a day from people who are already following over 1,000 others on this service, and I like it better that way.  (I often block those people when I see them on Twitter.)

On top of that, Plurk's karma score encourages more meaningful conversation than Twitter did.  Posts itemizing everything you're doing from minute to minute can actually lower your score, as you won't get many responses to "Hey, I just made some hashbrowns."

Plurk also has something else: Steve Dembo.  Steve's taken a liking to Plurk himself, and as a result many of those in my PLN have either made the switch or are now active in both. My one reason for staying on Twitter is gone. If I check only Plurk I feel that I have a sufficiently large and knowledgeable PLN.

Or do I?  There are enough people who haven't made the switch to make me wonder, so I did a little three part assessment of my PLNs on both services.  Using I posted to both sites simultaneously, setting up a series of hoops to jump through.

Round 1: "Is this thing on?"

This was simply to test the waters to see who was not only listening, but willing to respond.  I wasn't too surprised that my first response came from someone on Twitter - after all, I have more followers there, so at any given time it's more likely that someone's loading their Twitter client right after I've posted something.  What Twitter didn't have was staying power.  Responses there tapered off after only 6 responses out of 273 followers.

Plurk, on the other hand, had 18 different people respond out of a much smaller pool of 68 followers, some of them responding more than once.

These numbers included some people who were unbiased and used both services, and therefore responded using both services.

It should be noted that when I posted the round 1 results, at least two people on Twitter complained and more than one person on Plurk thought the result was very unexpected.

Round 1 Winner: Plurk

Round 2: "I have a question." (a: Work b: Play)

One of the reasons for having a PLN is to use it as a resource when looking for answers.  With that in mind, I asked two questions.  The first one asked for useful online tutorials for the free, open source Photoshop replacement known as GIMP.  Responses were limited to one on each side, but the one from Twitter was to a page that listed multiple tutorial sites, including the one that the Plurk responder provided.

My second question was for people to "waste my time" by letting me know what their favorite web based games were.  Chris Craft posted a creative game involving Google searches on Twitter, but on Plurk the same question got me two very well designed Flash games and one reference to building up one's karma score.  Oh yeah, and someone complaining that after they read the answers they wasted some of their own time playing those games.

On top of that the conversation in that thread continued on Plurk even after I posted the results, hammering in the solid win for Plurk.

Round 2 Winner: Tie (a: Twitter, b: Plurk)

Round 3: "Convince me."
For the third and final round I simply asked for people to tell me why their micro-blog of choice was better.  I received just one answer on Twitter, though it was concerning Twitter's compatibility with text messaging services so it was a darned good argument.

On Plurk I had several responses, ranging from short and sweet to links to full fledged blog posts on the subject.

Round 3 Winner: Plurk

So there you go, my take on the micro-blog battleground.  I don't expect Twitter to go away ay time soon, but apparently I'm getting a lot more out of Plurk than Twitter these days.

And hey, whether or not you agree with my somewhat subjective results, I'd love to hear your opinion in 140 characters or more.  You could always leave a comment here, but I'd much rather see you write your own blog post or record your own podcast on the subject.  If you link back to me when you post it, I'll be sure to see it when I search Technorati or Google.