Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Great Web 2.0 Application - Wordle

Please feel free to click on the word below to connect with this site:

Some of you may have encountered this site before, but for those of you who haven't you may be asking the questoin "so what does 'wordle' do?"  This is where I would use positive commentary and utter "good question you lad/lass" basically it is a website that generates word clouds from whatever text you input.  Within these clouds there is greater size and repitition given to those words that appear more frequently in the source text.  You can change your wordle clouds with font and colour however you want.  The only issue this site has is that you cannot save them as a .jpeg, .gif or any other format.  The only options you have are to print them or save them to the wordle gallery.  It isn't a major inconvenience, but does mean that you do not have your own soft copy.

One great strategy in using this application is in teaching your students inference.  You can find the text of a book, or chapter, or article and then show them a word cloud and have them try to guess what that text was about.  From the words you can try and have them gather clues and try to infer what a story may be about.  It would help them in honing in on key words and using their creativity in figuring out what the contents of the text is going to be.  From there you can read the story and see how close the students were and whether they agree with the word cloud that was generated.  It also promotes critical thinking skills in evaluating what is important.  Give it a try, it is an interesting and useful tool.

Web Based Courses - Manitoba Education

The Manitoba WCB site has many different disciplines offered.  It runs the entire gamut from all kinds of math, science, and ELA courses to computer science, drafting, French, phys.ed and social studies.  Many different grade levels are offered, but not every subject is complete on the grade offerings.  I decided to explore the phys.ed course because it is something that I have yet to explore as an option in my Ed degree.  Change it up a bit.

Surfing through this material the information is broken down into sections and then further broken down into lessons, as one would expect.  There is a lot of text present that gives the instruction which seems like a fairly traditional approach, considering this is a new concept of using the internet to offer courses.  One would naturally suspect that in creating this type of instruction many different modes of web 2.0 instruction would have been used.  At the very least the use of videos, or downloadable powerpoint slides.  With this particular course the main focus was on the health aspect of phys.ed.  There was not much of any instruction that pertained towards physical activity, although students are required to log what activity they do maintain for this course.

The course seemed well thought out and did not seem daunting.  Sometimes at the beginning of a class when the outline is handed out there is a bit of a panic on how to balance or juggle everything with all of the assignments, but this did seemed manageable and balanced without being daunting or intimidating.  Almost like they were aware of that stress factor when making the site.  A concern of mine is that using courses of this nature does take a motivated and mature attitude towards learning by a student.  They are more accountable for their work and their instruction.  So it isn't for everyone, and the way that the online information is not varied might even make it more of a challenge for some learners who think they are able to handle this manner of conducting a course.  As with most things, I'm sure there is still a lot of tweaking to be done to make this site and these courses even better.  Who knows maybe this blog will help with that, lofty goals.

Does the Internet Make Us Smarter or Dumber?

Those were interesting articles and it is a conversation that I am sure will be debated for a long time.  There has become a huge reliance factor on the internet which means that in certain instances it has become a crutch and means that we are not forced to retain information for ourselves because it acts as a massive data bank that we can recall with a few strokes of a keyboard.  Obviously, with the search engines like google we are also able to extract more precise information with those few stroes, rather than having to thrift through thousands of pages of information.  As an example of this, try to think of 15 movies that Tom Cruise has been in.  I would think that most Scientologists could probably muster out 10 to 12 movies (I should mention we will count all Mission Impossible movies as one disaster, not three separate incidents) but for most of us it would be tough to gather enough to make a full fifteen responses unless you were a huge fan.  If we really wanted to know what movies he had been in what would our first instinct be now days?  Well it would mostly likely be Wikipedia or IMDb.  We might sit there and grind out a few moments trying to think of more movies, but when it came down to it we would turn to the internet.  It is tough to think of how we would have gotten up to date instant information like that prior to the internet.  It would have been a much more exhaustive search.  Maybe we would've just made ourselves more cognizant of all information, however trivial.  But now we can allow information to pass right through us because of our confidence in being able to use the internet as our new memory bank.

I realize this doesn't make us dumb, but it doesn't help in making us look intelligent either.  That is one part of the arugment.  The other side is that the overwhelming wealth of information on the internet has granted us the ability to connect with so many different strands of thought and knowledge that it is expanded our world beyond anything we could have thought of a couple of decades ago.  The stuff that children are informed of today is so far advanced and worldly than almost anything I was exposed to in even high school.  It is a truly incredible change.  This has definitely created a better informed group of youngsters, and a more socially conscious group of citizens.  It could be a debate of semantics, but to say the internet makes us dumb or smart is difficult to measure.  I think that a better way it could be stated would be that it has to ability to make us dependent and at the same time is has the ability to make us much better informed.  At the same time it can engage different perspectives of learning, it can also make us passive in actually absorbing that information because we know we can always access it.  Each one of these attributes has the capacity to make someone 'dumb' or 'smart' depending on their disposition, but as a broad statement I think they are much too harsh.  When it comes down to it, there is no question the internet is so much more beneficial to mankind because the internet can shift perspectives, and you do not need to memorize facts in order to have that shift.  You just need a stimulus that creates a feeling, which many times we now get from the information we gather online. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

ohhhh Animoto

This sweet production is so scintillating you will think you were there.  Although, in my haste I proceeded to publish a typo so please forgive that egregious crime near the end.  My only excuse was that I was up all night in the studio [rumpus room] producing this Oscar nominated short, and could barely focus by the end.  Such is the life of the prodigious in the film industry.

Click below for your ticket of teleportation:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Technology's Environmental Impact

Here are a couple of short articles that may be of interest.  They shed a bit of light upon an intriguing topic I suspect we've all overlooked when it comes to our use of the internet.

"Carbon Cost" of Google Revealed

The Offline Cost of an Online Life

Filtering and Blocking the Internet in Schools

We were treated to a presentation in class yesterday about blocking and filtering sites by schools and school boards and how it impacts students.  This is a frequent discussion that we have undertaken in this faculty and it is definitely one that needs to be highlighted.  I agree with the presentation in that we need to prepare students for the content they will encounter on the internet outside of schools.  By insulating students behind filters in school we are not creating a situation that mimics the challenges they will be presented with outside the shcool.  What needs to be done in my estimation, and what has been repeated consistently over the discourse in our class, is that we need to educate students on how to use the internet wisely and appropriately.  We need to help them realize the great assets of the internet while giving them insights on how to surf the internet through a critical gaze so that they are not just absorbing everything without challenge.  Great presentation!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dean Shareski - Teaching and Sharing

The topic presented in this video is very poignant considering that it is closely related with the topic we discussed earlier in class, possibly these topics are siblings?  This being the importance of sharing for us as educators.  The thing that struck me the most was the story that was shared about a video lesson that a teacher put together one weekend and posted online.  I really respected and enjoyed the fact that as much as this individual may have been able to profit financially from their work, instead they posted it for free and everyone who downloaded it was able to take away something worthwhile.  This kind of atmosphere, the kind that cultivates the promotion of shared objectives is what we should all be aiming towards.  Having this kind of network already established is fantastic and hopefully it continually perpetuates.  We can all learn from other people's experiences and revamping lessons and assignments based on these experiences may help us avoid similar pitfalls and hopefully achieve similar successes.

Here is the Link to our Presentation

Please feel free to peruse, but peruse responsibly.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius on the Internet

Sharing Sharing Sharing...

...there will be a prize of a solid pat on the back for those that know where that motto comes from.  But enough of that tomfoolerly and on to the topic at hand, which is sharing knowledge and resources and encouraging the use of technology in the classroom.

Our class was recently treated via a skype video conversation to a presentation by George Couros.  I really enjoyed his personal take on employing technology because I agree that as much as we are pressed of technology's importance, there is lot of lag in the implementation of it in school.  Therefore, the use of blogs in the classroom for completing assignments and for general communication is a great tool that gives the students a real outlet towards their learning through technology.  Due to this, there may be a positive spin off in which the lines between school and home may become blurred and those that are resistant towards institutional learning may swing towards becoming more engaged.  Learning may evolve and assignments that may have been previously seen as a chore, could be seen as an opportunity to express themselves and share their ideas with others using a medium that is fun and engaging to them.  Using communication devices like computers and iPads and platforms like blogs or wikis generate interest that can extend beyond the classroom and the school and since we know that learning happens everywhere, this demonstrates that point well.  It not only grants new avenues to expression, but can also offer the opportunity for a stronger school community because groups of students will be able to interact online and confer with others from their class, school, and from all over the world.

The other part of the talk was about sharing knowledge and strategies in order to connect outside of your immediate environs and promote a culture of learning.  To be honest I hadn't really ever thought about sharing ideas becaues it didn't strike me as something that was valid to me at this point, or that anyone would want to read my triumphs and mistakes.  But Mr. Couros made a good point in noting that sharing information and practices with each other is for the greater good and benefits everyone involved.  Accessing things like PLNs and continuing to seek out intriguing and interesting ideas will not only help your own teaching, but also that of those around you.  A saying I stumbled across a few years ago serves this point rather well I feel, it goes "if you have a penny and I have a penny and we exchange pennies, we both still have one cent.  But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange them, we both now have two ideas."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bell Throttling Internet Speeds

Here is a CBC News Article you might be interested in about Bell and how they control the internet.

Small ISPs fight ruling that let Bell throttle internet speeds

Small internet service providers are challenging a ruling that gave Bell Canada Inc. the green light to selectively slow down internet speeds for some of their customers.  Canada's internet regulator, the Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, didn't fully understand the technology involved and made errors in the November 2008 judgment, said an application filed with the commission Thursday by Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), along with the Consumers' Association of Canada and a number of other groups.
The groups listed on the application are:
  • The Consumers’ Association of Canada.
  • Canada Without Poverty.
  • Canadian Association of Internet Providers.
  • Acanac Inc.
  • Accelerated Connections Inc.
  • Cybersurf Corp.
  • Execulink Telecom Inc.
  • Managed Network Systems Inc.
  • Skyway West Business Internet Services,
  • Start Communications, TekSavvy Solutions Inc.
  • Vianet Internet Solutions.
  • Yak Communications Inc.
The application asks the commission to review its decision.  Bell's "throttling" targets internet traffic generated by peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing applications used by its own customers and by customers of the smaller ISPs. Bell is required to rent network access to smaller ISPs at regulated rates because the networks were built decades ago at taxpayer expense.  Bell said throttling is necessary to prevent network congestion.

In November 2008, the Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruled that Bell's throttling is not discriminatory, as the practice is also applied to Bell's own internet customers.
The decision came in response to a complaint filed in April 2008 by CAIP, which represents about 50 companies. The ruling did not address the larger issue of whether throttling should be allowed or whether ISPs should avoid favouring some users or some applications over others, an issue referred to as net neutrality.

In response to the new application, Bell said in a statement Thursday that it has only just received the submission and is reviewing it. The company added that the CRTC made "the right decision" in November, and noted that the commission already has another proceeding underway to examine more fully issues around network management. That proceeding, announced by the commission on the day it released the original ruling, includes a hearing on July 6.

Decision hurts consumers, say small ISPs
The groups involved in the new CRTC application allege the November decision was flawed and interferes with the companies' ability to distinguish themselves from Bell and therefore compete effectively.
"They're being forced to becoming mini Bells and removing choice," said Rocky Gaudrault, CEO of TekSavvy Solutions Inc., one of the companies listed on the new application. "Consumers no longer have an option."

That concern is the reason the Consumers' Association of Canada, which wasn't involved in the April 2008 application, is involved in this one, Gaudrault added.  John Lawford, a lawyer representing the Consumers' Association of Canada and Canada Without Poverty on the application, said the groups believe that if ISPs are allowed to control content sent over the internet, the price of internet service will rise. In addition, the groups have privacy concerns about deep-packet inspection, the technique used by Bell to identify peer-to-peer file sharing so it can be slowed down compared to other applications.

The fact that the CRTC is holding public proceedings to gather more information about internet traffic management practices shows that it didn't have all the facts when it made its earlier decision, the application argues.  "If they did not have sufficient facts in front of them … they shouldn't have rendered the decision," said Tom Copeland, chairman of CAIP.

Ruling could sway outcome of public hearings
The fact that the CRTC made that decision will also influence and narrow the scope of the public proceedings, the applicants argue.  "A lot of us are pretty convinced that the outcome of this new public proceeding has already been decided. It's going to be based on the CAIP decision."

That ruling has since been used by other internet service providers to support their own throttling, Gaudrault said.  "It's almost become an accepted practice."  Meanwhile, he added, Bell has revealed that it is installing hardware solutions such as switches to deal with its network capacity crunch.  "So there indeed were and are alternate means to dealing with capacity other than throttling," he said.  That shows the CRTC erred in deciding that throttling was necessary, he argued.  "At the end of the day, it's about investment in infrastructure."

Who Is the CRTC Working For?

The short excerpt below is taken from the CRTC website and notes their position on why they are taking steps to create a usage fee for the internet users in Canada.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today launched, of its own initiative, a proceeding to review its decisions on billing practices that would have applied to the residential customers of Small Internet service providers (Small ISPs).

   1. as a general rule, ordinary consumers served by Small ISPs should not have to fund the bandwidth used by the heaviest residential Internet consumers, and
   2. it is in the best interest of consumers that Small ISPs, which offer competitive alternatives to the Large Distributors, should continue to do so.

There are competing views on this action taken by the CRTC, ostensibly it could be seen that they are taking measures to protect the Canadian market from any internet monopoly, but in fact they may be limiting the ability of people to access this invaluable resource.  Another view that can be taken is that they are trying to scuttle the illegal downloading of movies and music.  Many profess that the internet bandwidth is a scarce resource and signing up new users only draws away more of that resource, therefore charging those that draw the most is the only appropriate action.  This appears to be a reasonable argument, but maybe these companies and the government should invest more into infrastructure in order to accommodate their customers and the people, which could help to stymie the ever decreasing speed of internet access.  There are many factors that have to be weighed in this discussion, but upon looking at the price of internet use here in Canada already, we are one of the highest in the world which goes hand in hand with our cellular costs as well.  Obviously, geography, population, and our social system all play a part in this, but it is also the disinformation of the providers that plays a part in artificially driving up prices and their desire for higher profit margins.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Social Media - The Weapon of The Revolution

Social media has hit the news recently with some very interesting applications, it has been used to connect and create revolution to overturn despots.  Most notably in Egypt, which has gained the most press coverage, but it also played an important role in the earlier overthrow in Tunisia.  These sites became so important that the internet was actually "turned off" in Egypt to prevent the organization of the protesters demanding change.  With such broad applications there is no wonder that it is a useful tool for education when applied in a mature and reasonable manner.
These sites connect people quickly and without much effort.  Therefore, it can be done from anywhere a person has a computer and internet access.  Assignments can be reached from home and parents can stay completely up to date on the school and class activities if the teacher utilizes these sites and keeps them up to date.  Also, using blogs and skype can put people in touch with one another over great distances and engages students to use the medium that they are proficient on, such as the computer and these networking sites.
I think it can be seen quite clearly that these sites are powerful tools for organization and for informing people.  The connection and attraction they have is undeniable and neglecting the use of them in education only sets up to deny what is taking place around us.  Keep the revolution alive!!!