Monday, November 11, 2013

Who's Got Your Back?

"It's not a question of whether your hard drive will crash, it's a question of when."  Bright faces look up at me from the classroom seats.  Some nods.  Some open mouths. They're paying attention.  "So if you haven't backed up your work, and it makes you hand in your paper late, too bad. Don't write at the last minute.  You're responsible to allow yourself enough time to deal with the computer problems that inevitably will happen to some of you this semester."  I've imparted maybe the most important thing I will ever teach in a classroom: BACK UP YOUR WORK! Yes: I am a backtivist.

I've been a big proponent (read: nag) of backing up. I preach the backup gospel to my students at the start of every semester, and before every deadline.  I always back up everything.  Important files I'm working on go to the cloud, and I use a couple of different services such as Dropbox and SugarSync.  Still haven't jumped on the iCloud bandwagon yet, but that's in the works.

I also use Apple's application, Time Machine, which saves multiple versions of your files.  I send my backups wirelessly to Apple's Time Capsule, the magical white box that may save my behind one day.  Or will it?

My dirty little secret is I'm not really sure how it works or what it's backing up, and I haven't troubled myself to find out.  The burningest question is, does it back up the files of the other users on my computer?  Apple compartmentalizes, so that I don't have to see my husband's stuff on my desktop or listen to his iTunes, and he doesn't have to see mine.  But is his stuff going to the capsule?  What about my laptop? Can I send that to the Time Capsule too? 

And what about how this all works with the laptop? I've mostly been backing up individual files, keeping only what I'm actually working on on the laptop and backing it up to DropBox.  Then when the project is complete I transfer it to my desktop machine, where, presumably, Time Machine automatically sends a backup to the Time Capsule. 

I've finally decided to get serious about it and found a  basic article from Smith College outlining the pros and cons of various backup methods in clear language.  Next column - let's see what I find out.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Collaborating in the Cloud: Flat PaikBot and Teaching

PaikBot at a stockton tricking session by @Gronnana
This striking image was created by my student, photographer Glenn Armstrong,  as part of an optional assignment in Art History: Renaissance to the Present, a survey course I taught at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in fall 2012.  The assignment asked students to contribute to the Smithsonian American Art Museum's online project, Paikbot Travels, in connection with Nam June Paik: Global Visionary, its 2013 retrospective of the work of Paik, a pioneering video artist.

My goals were to urge the students to explore the web resources typical of a large national museum, and to gain an understanding of some of the ways art and art worlds are changing in the digital age.  To counteract the tendency of large lecture courses to create passive recipients, I designed the assignment to urge students to participate in art worlds - and to be a part of American art history -  by creating and contributing.  We had research projects and presentations, but I wanted them to experience new media as well.

To see more of these images, check out the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Pinterest board for Paiklandia: Paikbot Travels.  The project drew participants from all over the globe.  So proud of Glenn's arresting contribution!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Great Wiknik Wikipedia Picnic is coming to Penn Park!

Wikipedia Wiknik Meetup

Every year thousands of contributors to Wikipedia meet all over the world to celebrate.  This year Philadelphia will host one such gathering on June 22:  The Wiknik, a huge picnic in Penn Park allows people who use, contribute to, or otherwise love Wikipedia to meet up, have fun, and share a picnic.  Head out there and bring your lunch, sunscreen, blanket, a Frisbee, and sense of camaraderie!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Another Great Library Goes Online: Netherlands

Research mavens rejoice! Publishing Perspectives reports that yet another of the world's great libraries has made its collection accessible online.  Read this Publishing Perspectives article to learn how the National Library of the Netherlands has made 80,000 titles available, some from the 18th century.  Another 80,000 are in the pipeline to be digitized and made accessible in the near future.  Before you start whining that you don't read Dutch, some of them are bound to be in Latin, if that helps.  The illustrations alone are worth a peek.

I don't read Dutch, either, but as the inimitable Renata Holod taught me as an undergrad, "Don't let the fact that you don't know a language stop you from using a book."   She said, "Get a dictionary.  If it's in Russian, you can learn the Cyrillic alphabet."  I took that advice to heart and I've never looked back.  Now we have online sites like Google Translate to help us get the gist of what we read, although I still recommend breaking out a really good dictionary - and your judgment -  if you really want an accurate understanding. 

But to get a taste of the riches in store for all of us, click this link to see what I found when I typed "English" into the National Library's searchbar on its  page

So, teachers: Age of Discovery or World History projects? Botany projects?  Geography, anybody?  The resources available to our students boggle the mind. And almost none of it was online even 20 years ago.  Happy hunting!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Getting rich off of schoolchildren

If you follow educational technology, by now you will have noticed the competition for school technology dollars heating up.  In Getting rich off of schoolchildren, Salon's David Sirota asks if some big-bucks reform advocates aren't really wolves in sheep's clothing.  

He blasts what he calls the pervasive media myth of "Greedy Teachers vs. Altruistic Billionaire" and questions the motivations of the bumper crop of super-rich technology satraps swooping in to "save" education from venal, moneygrubbing teachers:
The first reason to scoff at this mythology should be obvious: It simply strains credulity to insist that pedagogues who get paid middling wages but nonetheless devote their lives to educating kids care less about those kids than do the Wall Street hedge funders and billionaire CEOs who finance the so-called reform movement. Indeed, to state that pervasive assumption out loud is to reveal how utterly idiotic it really is, and yet it is baked into almost all of today’s coverage of education politics.
If there wasn't huge profit, it why all this interest?  Sirota continues:

This is why the tech site Geekwire predicts another full-scale tech industry bubble, thanks to “K-12 and other education segments now being chased by a mob of investment capitalists.”
I can't help noticing that a lot of the free webinars and other teacher-ed and pedagogical help I'm offered online is really shilling a particular product.  Of course advertisers have the right to market their products.  But when does it cross the line into distorting educational policy?

What do you think?

Friday, February 8, 2013


So my first MOOC didn't go that well.  After a confusing and frustrating week, Fundamentals of Online Education (FOE) went down in flames.  Technical issues and course design flaws bedeviled the course from the start:  videos failed to load, groups couldn't form because students crashed the Google Docs forms the instructor set up, it was hard to navigate to the course elements, and students complained about the reading load and pacing.  Ironically, Fundamentals of Online Education was the first Coursera course ever to be suspended.  Georgie Tech and Fatimah Wirth, the instructor, evidently have slunk off to do a redesign, and the course will be offered again at some unspecified date.  To learn more, check out these articles:

Salon's report: "The Internet Will Not Ruin College"

Chronicle of Higher Education: Georgie Tech and Coursera Try to Recover from MOOC Stumble

I feel for Fatimah Wirth.  I just hope she already has tenure.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Greetings from the MOOCpocalypse!*

I'm ready for my MOO-c, Mr. De Mille.

I've joined a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Fundamentals of Online Learning, and the first week has been a whirlwind, starting with the technical issues:
Says our instructor:

It has been an exciting few hours. The course has just started and some of you have managed to delete entire rows and columns in Join A Group Google spreadsheet , removed people from their groups, crashed the Google server, and rebuilt the page back up.

This is exciting for me because you are figuring out how to work with each other. I am also excited to see that you are personalizing your groups.
 Ultimately the Google Spreadsheet idea had to be abandoned, and the instructor, Fatimah Wirth (of the Georgia Institute of Technology) had us form groups in forums.

Interesting to see how people worked together.  Scores of groups were started.  To attract like-minded participants, some chose informative group names ("Humanities and Social Sciences Higher Ed") while others inadvertently warned away prospective members ("How do I Join a Group?").  Or maybe not:  maybe the technically forlorn gravitated to the comforting company of other confused people, just like in September where the awkward kids find each other clumped together in the far corner of the schoolyard.

I clicked into several tempting but already-full groups (curses!).  I tried to stay away from groups where it seemed like the members were challenged by the basic forum technology "I'm so confused!" "Me too!" I don't want to sit through a lot of plaintive spam and mis-posted threads.  I also stayed away from groups where the people gave little info about themselves: I wanted people who were at least a little familiar with being part of an online community.

Choosing a group made me think through what I want out of this MOOC, and out of my group:
  • International - I want to learn from people who teach and learn in educational systems outside of the U.S., and who have different perspectives from me about technology, education, and what is the ideal dinner.
  • Serious - I want articulate group partners who care about the subject and will do the work.
  • Sense of humor - no trolls, a little fun here and there.  Witty is good.
  • Friendly:  I want a group that's not likely to start flaming each other.
  • Functional: I want an active group that has a steady volume of on-topic posts, and a core that won't drop out and leave me stranded.
  • Diverse - my interests are broad - I don't want only K-12 teachers, or only university types, or only corporate trainers. I want to learn from other pedagogical perspectives.
I chose a group that called itself "Spain, Latin America, and the Rest of the World."  The organizer seems energetic and personable and has done other MOOCs before, and has a background in both education and the corporate world.  So far there are three of us, but with 40,000 people the boards are *very* active so that's probably changed as I write this.

Interestingly, a thread has already started about privacy concerns - will we have our identities stolen? Who owns the rights to work we post?  Good questions.  Some have expressed a lack of confidence in the instructor, given the first-week glitches.  I'm not feeling that way - MOOCs are new for all of us, and I'm with her: it *is* very exciting.

MOOC on!

*Had to steal that tagline from my friend - sorry, Ian, it was just too good to resist.