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I have to admit that I’ve been skeptical about using Twitter for students. I know all of the research is saying to make use of the social media services that they’re already using if you want to reach them and have good student participation but I've been hesitant to try Twitter.

Well I found out about one project that actually seems to work well!  Twitter sites have been set up for historical figures and characters. You can have your students follow people like William Shakespeare, Florence Nightingale, Benjamin Franklin or King Henry VIII, sites that are already in place. You can also set up your own historical figure on Twitter. (See how to be a historical figure on Twitter.)

Ben Franklin & Friends, pre-Twitter era (iClipart)
Ben Franklin & Friends, pre-Twitter era (iClipart)

The idea of having the students tweet questions and comments to @KingArthur would probably not find favor with the Society for Creative Anachronism, but why not? I can see where the students could become fully engaged in tweeting @BenFranklin (after he’s had a few beers and would be in a happy mood of course). Setting up a Twitter account like this could have uses in several disciplines other than history. As a French instructor, I can certainly see the value in setting these up for famous writers and historical figures we were studying, and then having the students tweet en français.

Remember the party game of explaining your “Last Supper” list of people with whom you’d like to share a meal once you get to heaven? Well, here’s a way to converse with your dream list via Twitter! Let’s see, I need to look for a Twitter account for @BobMarley, @CocoChanel, @ElinorofAquitaine, @LéopoldSédarSenghor and @MahatmaGandhi for starters. Who’s on your dream list? Happy Tweeting!

P.S.  Check out this blog post (where I read about this topic) for more ways to promote creative learning: http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2013/09/5-technologies-to-promote-creative.html

Do you enjoy email? Do you want to spend more time managing your inbox? Do you look forward to sorting through lots of messages each and every day of your life?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you'll love bacon.

Bacon!

That's right, bacon. You're probably already bringing home plenty of bacon, and the future holds more. Don't worry about a thing, just keep on doing what you do and you'll collect more bacon every day.

If, on the other hand, you find your email inbox cluttered and sort of overwhelming, then you may be interested in learning more about bacon. You may benefit from understanding what it is, why it's so insidious, and what you can do to reduce it.

What is bacon?

Bacon is email you kinda sorta want. At least you thought you wanted it once upon a time, and maybe you still do. Perhaps you signed up for an electronic newsletter from your favorite musical act, or political cause, or health and wellness blog, or the latest social media site. Electronic alerts and notifications of all sorts can be classified as bacon.

It's not spam, not quite. After all, you asked for it.

It's bacon. It's been a round for quite some time, but the term "bacon" originated a few years ago, at Podcamp Pittsburgh in 2007. NPR covered the story then, including speculation that "it won't sizzle for long." Au contraire, mon frere! Check out this Mashable article from March, 2011, and be sure to pay special attention to the accompanying infographic.

The trend has only gotten stronger since then. There's more bacon flying around than ever before. More and more people are putting content out there on the net. More and more people are discovering email messages are a cheap way to reach an audience. The number of electronic newsletters and semi-automated messages is ballooning. The competition for your attention is increasing.

Insidious bacon

Spam filters have become pretty effective. You may not even be aware of how much spam they catch. Personally, I couldn't operate without spam filters.

Bacon is insidious because, unlike spam, you may actually feel a desire, a compulsion, even an obligation to read these messages.

Nevertheless, the amount of bacon you're getting can gradually increase until it's just as overwhelming as unfiltered spam.

At some point, you may need to ask yourself if all this bacon is becoming a problem. Is it distracting you from other tasks? How much time in each day is getting tangled up in bacon?

Debaconating

I recently took stock of my personal and professional email situation. I discovered I was getting about twenty bacon messages per day. I decided to take action.

With any given source — let's call it a baconstream — there are two options available. You can create filters so that you keep receiving the bacon but file it away for future reference. That way you don't see it right now, and it doesn't distract you. You'll read it later, on your own terms, when you get around to it.

Yeah, right.

The other option is what we might call the nuclear option: unsubscribing.

Many people do not unsubscribe because they think it will take too much time or too much effort.

I took some time on a recent Friday afternoon to try it myself. I let the bacon pile up for a day, then I went on an unsub spree. I simply looked for an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each message.

It took me 21 minutes to unsubscribe from 18 baconstreams. That averages just over one minute per unsubscription effort. So yes, it does take a little time. But now that a couple weeks have passed, I can report that it was time well spent. My inbox is less clogged than before.

New tools

Email programs are offering new tools to help you manage your bacon. For example, this summer Gmail has been rolling out a new tabbed inbox which automatically classifies your mail into categories such as Promotions, Social and Updates.

Gmail Inbox Tabs

These tools are pretty handy. Though users have pushed back, and marketers are panicking, some experts believe it's a helpful innovation. By separating messages into defined categories, cognitive overload may be reduced.

In the final analysis, though, it's up to each individual user to decide just how much bacon they want in their lives, to decide what's truly useful and what's a distraction. My recommendation: Develop your own personal policy and enforce it through judicious unsubscription.

It's working for me.

Note: Some services allow more sophisticated tools for managing your bacon; you might be able to tweak some settings and turn a daily notification into a weekly, for instance. But in most cases, it's all or nothing.

Photo credit: Bacon! / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

2

50 Web Tools in 50 Minutes

Thanks to everyone who attended our workshop on "50 Web Tools in 50 Minutes."

Full House

For your clicking convenience, check out the full list of web-based tools that we covered.

  1. Online OCR — Convert scanned documents to text.
  2. Wordle — Word clouds! (example) See also Tagxedo
  3. Up-Goer Five Text Editor— Can you explain a hard idea using only the ten hundred most used words?
  4. Scribd — Document sharing. (example)
  5. WordPress.com — Blogging platform.
  6. Edublogs — Like WordPress.com or Blogger but specifically tailored to educational needs.
  7. Wikipedia — "a collaboratively edited, multilingual, free Internet encyclopedia"
  8. NolaWiki — "a collaborative, reliable, comprehensive look at the people, places, events and ideas of the city of New Orleans."
  9. Wikispaces — Create your own wiki. (Note: This page is hosted on Wikispaces.)
  10. Google Sites — Create your own website/wiki. (example)
  11. visualizing.org — Find (and share) visualizations of complex issues. (example)
  12. Many Eyes — Find and create data visualizations. (example)
  13. Pinterest — A social environment for collecting, discovering and sharing images. (example) (more on educational use)
  14. Compfight — Search tool that makes it easy to find Flickr photos, including those licensed for re-use.
  15. YouTube — Everybody knows about YouTube, but did you know about their Education Channel?
  16. Vimeo — Video hosting. Like YouTube but cooler. Lack of support for captioning could be a deal-breaker.
  17. CaptionTube — Speaking of which, here's a tool for captioning YouTube videos. (example)
  18. TED-Ed — Like YouTube's Education Channel but even more highly curated.
  19. Animoto — Easy-to-make online videos from photos and music. Free for videos under 30 seconds. (example)
  20. Screenr — Screen recording. Yes, it's web-based. (example)
  21. SoundCloud — Audio sharing platform. Free version limited to 120 minutes total. (example)
  22. AudioBoo — Audio sharing platform. Free version limited to three minutes per file. (example)
  23. Educreations — Recordable interactive whiteboard. Captures voice and handwriting/drawing to produce movies. Especially nice with an iPad but can also be used via web browser. (example)
  24. Prezi — Make (and find) crazy zooming presentations. (example)
  25. Timetoast — Build (and find) interactive timelines. (example)
  26. Capzles — Make (and find) multimedia storylines. Educational version in the works. (example)
  27. SlideShare — Share and find presentations (mainly PowerPoint). (example)
  28. VoiceThread — "A VoiceThread is a collaborative, interactive, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos." (example)
  29. MentorMob — Make and find learning playlists. Virtually all media supported: videos, PDFs, webpages, etc. (example)
  30. Quora — Social Q&A site. There are many of these but Quora's the best. (example)
  31. Khan Academy — Lectures and quizzes with an emphasis on math, science and finance. (example)
  32. Poll Everywhere — Easy way to aggregate live responses. (example) (example) (see also Socrative)
  33. SurveyMonkey — Surveys made easy.
  34. Moodle — Free course-management system.
  35. Quizlet — Make and find study tools (flash cards etc.) (example)
  36. Evernote — Store notes, images, documents, web clips, audio notes. Searchable. Sync across your devices. Claims to recognize handwriting from, say, a photo of a whiteboard.
  37. LiveBinder — Like a three-ring binder for web pages. (example)
  38. Delivr — Make and manage QR codes. (example)
  39. Facebook — Yes, it can be used for teaching. For example, make a group for your class.
  40. Twitter — For developing connections with colleagues around the world.
  41. LinkedIn — Professional networking.
  42. Yammer — Enterprise social network: social software designed for the institutional context.
  43. Dropbox — Easy file sharing.
  44. Popplet — Mind mapping, image galleries, more. (example)
  45. MindMeister — Collaborative mind mapping. (example)
  46. Voki — Create talking avatars. See example below. (example)
  47. MakeBeliefComix — Create your own comic strips. You'll have to make a screenshot for sharing online. (example)
  48. Diigo — Bookmarks on steroids. Allows you to highlight and add sticky notes to web pages. (example)
  49. ScoopIt — Curated web content. (example)
  50. Learnist — Curated web content, possibly more education-oriented. (example)

See also: The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies' Top 100 Tools for Learning

Bill Gates provides a good overview of the challenges facing higher education.

Is College Worth It?

Most of us actually working in higher education are already painfully aware of these realities. This is a good resource to share with people outside the academy. Social media makes this easier than ever. Gates has published this presentation on Scribd, a document-sharing website. Scribd offers a number of tools that make it easy for people to share documents on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or via embedding as I've done here. Get a free Scribd account and you can publish documents there as well.

1

W i K I S

I've been looking at wikis — lots of wikis — in order to find a few of the most interesting to present at a hands-off technology workshop next week. (Won't you please join us?) Of course interest is highly subjective, but I hope you find these projects intriguing, stimulating, and otherwise though-provoking.

First let me mention the elephant in the room. In my opinion, Wikipedia is one of the most interesting projects in the history of humanity. But we all know about Wikipedia. My goal here is to show that Wikipedia is not the only wiki on the planet. Onward!

  1. What if Hitler won World War II? That's one of the most common scenarios when imagining alternate histories. The Alternate History Wiki goes much further, with contributors speculating on thousands of other possible timelines that might have unfolded. What if Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated? What if a virus had devastated the Mayans in the 9th century? What if the earth was tilted 90º so the North Pole was off the coast of Africa? (In a similar speculative-imaginative vein, see also Galaxiki, which bills itself as a fictional galaxy anyone can edit.)
  2. As the name suggests, Appropedia is structured much like an encyclopedia. Because wikis can be sprawling in their scope, this is a common and sensible form. Appropedia is notable not merely for its admirable focus (on sustainability, appropriate technology and poverty reduction) but also for the quality of its engagement, which includes a substantial service learning component.
  3. There's a type of wiki known as a "city wiki," focusing on a single urban locality. Examples abound, but one of the weirdest and most wonderful is surely Davis Wiki, dedicated to the city of Davis, California. What makes this one stand out, besides its prodigious size, is that it's not as serious and straight-laced as many others. The wiki provides a wealth of serious content where appropriate, but also has room for a listing of the bathrooms at UC Davis — ranked by cleanliness or lack thereof.
  4. The Internet Movie Firearms Database is dedicated to figuring out just what guns were used in every scene of every movie ever made. As you can imagine, that's a lot of guns. I'm not a gun nut, but to me this is an intriguing proof-of-concept, demonstrating how a data-set can be developed with collaborative tools.
  5. The most interesting wiki I discovered was undoubtedly TV Tropes. A trope is a commonly recurring device or motif, not necessarily cliché, found in writing of all sorts. This site aims to catalog such tropes, initially stating with television (and apparently involving more than a few script writers) and eventually branching out to other forms such as film, radio, comics, theater, literature and more. Note that this analysis is very different from the encyclopedic approach. According to the site itself, you "can probably gain more info on the what of (for example) Star Trek from [Wikipedia] than you can from actually watching the show, and that's nice. Here? Here, you can get a glimmering of why the show is like that." Fascinating stuff — to me, anyhow. Your mileage may vary.

In recognition of the fact that interests vary, I've compiled a further listing of wikis that may be interesting to other people — perhaps one of them will be interesting to you.

  1. For those who are interested in the U.S. political process, OpenCongress Wiki, Ballotpedia & Judgepedia may be worth a look.
  2. SourceWatch, run by the Center for Media and Democracy, "aims to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interest groups." (See also CoalSwarm, a sub-project.)
  3. I hesitate to post a link to Metapedia. It's a multilingual white nationalist and white supremacist, extreme right-wing encyclopedia. The perspective represented here is morally repugnant to me personally, and I expect to the Xavier community as well. And yet, I think access to this site presents obvious educational possibilities for creative teachers interested in history, politics, race relations, ethics and morality — to say nothing of critical thinking.
  4. Given Xavier's stake in the life sciences, the following may be useful: MedPedia is an open access online medical wiki encyclopedia, and MetaBase is a user-contributed database of biological databases.
  5. NotePub is an online notepad. You can write private, public, and shared notes. Extremely simple, easy-to-use and possibly quite handy.
  6. OpenStreetMap is quite impressive. Compare to Google Maps, but note this is published under the Open Database License. I think this is more of a tool for web developers to build upon but the potential is inspiring.
  7. Scholarpedia is kind of like an open access online journal in a wiki format. The articles are written by invited expert authors and are subject to peer review.
  8. Uncyclopedia & Encyclopedia Dramatica are satirical. The former is a direct parody of Wikipedia and feels a bit safe, while the latter is focused more on net culture and is not for the faint of heart.
  9. Wikitravel is a travel guide. Nuff said.
  10. Sensei's Library is a wiki about the game Go. It may be the most extensive Go resource on the web.
  11. Wookieepedia is an example of a fannish wiki. It's all about Star Wars, not just the movie but every aspect of the franchise. Any popular culture phenomenon with a dedicated cult is likely fodder for a wiki. I cite Wookieepedia because it's one of the biggest and most popular of such wikis, and provides an excellent example of the form.
  12. If you don't find any of the above even vaguely interesting, then Meatball Wiki is surely not for you. It's a wiki about wikis. Not a mere list of extant wikis, it "contains technical analyses of indexing schemes, wiki architecture, and inter-wiki protocol design. Yet it also philosophizes about the nature of hypertext, government, and identity, not to mention detailing user interfaces, community building, and conflict resolution."

If you're interested in learning more about using wikis, let me know. I'm happy to work with you. And don't forget to come to our workshop.

Photo credit: Various letters by Chris / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0/

Scalar is a new online publishing platform specifically designed for scholars and educators. It's still in development, with a public beta release not expected until early 2013. This video gives an intriguing overview.

Clearly this is something to keep an eye on. More information is available on the website of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.

A quick note to Xavier faculty: CAT has upgraded our Vimeo account to Vimeo Plus. (If you don't know, Vimeo is like YouTube, only better.) So if you need increased upload capacity to get a teaching-related video online, we may be able to help. Please note that Vimeo is strictly for publishing original works, not copyright violations.

As an example, here is a video recently produced in collaboration with the Chemistry Department, "How to Use a Buret for Titration."

Get Involved: Rising Tide returns to Xavier in 2012

Rising Tide is a conference on the future of New Orleans. It's an annual gathering for all who wish to learn more and do more to assist New Orleans' recovery. It's for everyone who loves New Orleans and is working to bring a better future to all its residents.

Last year Rising Tide came to our campus for the first time, in partnership with Xavier's Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The program was bigger and more ambitious than ever, with programs on social media, social justice, the BP oil disaster, food and music. Keynote speakers were Richard Campanella and David Simon. (If you missed it, don't worry, you can watch it online.)

This year's conference (Saturday Sept. 22, 2012) promises an even broader scope. Topics currently under development include the cultural economy, education, electoral politics, the NFL bounty scandal, and religion and spirituality. If it is relevant to New Orleans, you may find it here.

Want to get involved? Help develop programming, volunteer to work the event, or just tell us what you think.

Call Bart Everson in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at 504-520-5164 or email bpeverso@xula.edu for more information.

A few days ago, Lee Bessette posted a call to action on Inside Higher Ed:

We need a Day of HigherEd (hashtag #dayofhighered). While many of us have written posts broadly outlining what we do in a day (and how disgusted we all are by the at best misleading and at worst dishonest portrayal of our work), few of us have ever taken the time to actually record, in minutia, what we do as professors from the moment we wake up to the minute we fall asleep. All the work we do that contributes to our job as educators.

The idea, then, is for academics to take the day of April 2nd to tweet and/or blog about what they do, as a way of reminding the world that yes, we do work for a living.

This might best be understood in the context of David C. Levy's recent polemic in the Washington Post, which asks the question, "Do college professors work hard enough?"

As for Bessette's post, it garnered only three comments, one of which derided the proposition. One might think that idea was dead in the water.

Not so.

There's quite a discussion on Twitter. Just check the #DayofHigherEd hashtag. Bessette affirms it's on for April 2nd.

Of course, that's right in our spring break, so authentic participation from Xavier faculty is probably not realistic. Still it's something, perhaps, to keep your eye on.