Monday, December 10, 2007

Penn part 2

I've just received an email from John MacDermott, Director for Instructional Technology at Penn's School of Arts and Sciences (SAS). He indicates that currently the only course the specifically considers how to use technology for teaching was developed in the Romance Languages and German departments. This cross-listed course (GRMN 517 / ROML 691), developed and taught by Profs. Kathryn McMahon and Christina Frei, "focuses on the evaluation, design, and development of multimedia in foreign language teaching." Students in the class learn how to use video-, image-, and sound-editing software and read about current trends in education. All students create an online teaching portfolio and a multimedia instructional project. Profs. Frei and McMahon have assistance in teaching the class from Ed Dixon, who is the SAS's Foreign Language Support Specialist.

This sounds like an exciting class, and I know that Emory's language faculty make frequent use of instructional technologies in their work in conjunction with our Language Lab. But I'm not sure to what extent the graduate students who teach languages are given formal instruction in the lab or have the opportunity for it. This warrants more investigation on my part.

John indicates that Frei and McMahon's class wasn't developed as part of a larger push to introduce technology into graduate student teaching and that it has not yet inspired the development of similar courses in other departments in the SAS. He did, however, suggest that I I check Penn's Graduate School of Education (GSE). It appears that the GSE offers a Masters in Education in "Learning Technologies in Education." More and more schools appear to be offering degrees like this. The downside is that graduate students in something like Penn's School of Arts and Sciences are not likely to take (or be permitted to take) courses that are taught in the School of Education. What's more, the content in the latter will not necessarily address the specific needs of those teaching in college and university classrooms.

I'm glad to have more information about Penn's offerings to their students. Hopefully I'll hear more soon from Columbia and Brown--the other two schools that were (rightly or wrongly) underrepresented in my findings thus far.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Finally summing it up: TLC Comparison

So there you have it. 9 Schools: Duke, Washington University, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Vanderbilt, Columbia, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania. While you can safely say that each school offers workshops on different technologies, there are in many cases programs that go above and beyond these one-hour trainings on a particular piece of software to provide opportunities for graduate students to become more familiar with specific instructional technologies. Harvard and Princeton have, respectively, PITFs and GAITs that get in-depth instruction in one or more technologies and then get the added experience of working closely with one or more faculty members to create new tools for instruction.

The model of TLC/TPC that we are building on here, however, is most closely mirrored at Duke and Washington University. Here's what I wrote in my summary for the "Comparable Efforts at Peer Institutions" section of our proposal to the Graduate School:

As can be seen, several of our peer institutions have programs in place to train graduate students on technologies that can be used in the classroom. The programs at Duke and Washington University are closest to our proposal: they are specifically designed for graduate students; they teach the basics of many of the technologies we propose teaching; they emphasize the pedagogical uses of these technologies; and they result in a significant number of contact hours.

While the similarities of our proposal to programs at Duke and Washington Universities may recommend our program, we believe two differences in format make it most valuable to Emory’s graduate students and for the instruction in Emory College. First, instead of enrolling students from every discipline in the Graduate School, our program groups students into departmental clusters. This restriction fosters focused discussions about how technologies may be used in classrooms with similar and specific pedagogical aims. Second, while Duke’s course is taught by a faculty member who specializes in instructional technology and Washington University’s workshop is conducted by peers, our proposal employs three complementary layers of instruction: an instructional technology specialist (ECIT staff), a peer (graduate student fellow), and a faculty mentor. In our pilot program, the faculty mentor has led discussions on adapting different technologies to meet the particular goals of the graduate students’ disciplines. A faculty mentor provides the perspective on the classroom that neither a technology specialist nor a peer can provide and ensures that the workshop emphasizes that technology is not the end but rather a means to improving both one’s teaching and the learning of one’s students.

So, if any of you dear readers remain after this trip through the fabulous world of applied instructional technologies, what do you think?

How does TLC compare? Washington University

The last school that I looked into is Emory's arch nemesis--at least if you believe our 2005 undergraduate student leaders.

I'm pleased to report Washington University (in St. Louis) has a program that, along with Duke's, most closely resembles TLC. The Graduate School there offers a yearly Graduate Student Summer Workshop (GSSW) that focuses on the "development and delivery of technology-enhanced course content." The workshop lasts two days (5 hours each day), and the technologies they cover are similar to those that we have explored thus far in T(P/L)C: course management software, web authoring, PowerPoint, wikis, and blogs. The course is peer-led, and there is a faculty panel discussion as a closing event. Participation in the seminar also fulfills one of the requirements for the Graduate School's Teaching Citation.

GSSW is open to students from every area of the Graduate School. In 2006 (the year for which I could find statistics), 36 students participated: 14 were from the Humanities, 13 from Social Sciences and Social Work, and 9 from Natural Science departments. Over 400 students have participated in the program since its inception in 1997. 1997? Wow: this is the earliest program that I have found so far. Is it any coincidence that this is the year that ECIT opened? I think not.

In addition to GSSW (which really needs a better acronym), Wash U has ITeach. This is an annual, day-long seminar that allows faculty to share ideas and insights about teaching with technology. Graduate students can register to attend, but it doesn't appear that they are frequent presenters. The program reminds me of EduCATE at Emory (which we might need to bring back soon).

One other interesting thing that I found on Wash U's websites was the Graduate Online Lecture Project. The project showcases the work of grad students who have applied to the program to gain the skills they need to develop a module to teach a particular "pedagogical challenge" in an introductory course for which they serve as TA. It is also an outlet for students to showcase their research in new ways, including Flash, a tool we don't teach at ECIT. Based on everything that I can dig up on the program, it appears that it has been defunct since 2005. Nevertheless, I think this represents something that, like Duke's e-portfolio project, is something that we should consider in the future of TPC as it would give our students something concrete to walk away with and to show to others.

In other news, there are several long-term digital projects in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, but these are mainly run by faculty.

My verdict on Wash U is that they have programs that parallel ours rather nicely. GSSW in particular is similar to what we are proposing because it has graduate students and pedagogy as its foci. I'm certain that teaching at Wash U and their graduate students have benefited immensely from the opportunities it fosters and the related discussion happening on their campus. There are some differences between TPC and GSSW, and I--perhaps predictably--believe that our program has important advantages. But I'll address those in a final post that summarizes the whole of my investigation.

My Google footprint

Here's a quick one to break up all that TPC monotony gumming up your RSS reader of choice. I've been thinking recently about how being on the job market subjects me to a higher possibility of being Googled. What do you get? And how do you control it?
  • The current first hit on my name ("Brian Croxall") is my profile page from last year when I was a Dean's Writing Center Fellow. That's good, I suppose. Except it doesn't really take you anywhere else. Oh, and I had fun writing the profile. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I would hate to get a job interview where they ask me about my mastery of the "transdigital ukulele."
  • The next few hits are from the SIMILE mailing list archives. So I guess you could see that I"ve been interested in determining the pedagogical uses of interactive timelines.
  • Then you hit a piece of creative writing that I made in conjunction with a group, improvisational writing exercise that was the final activity of a class on "Bakhtin's Circles" taught by Walter Reed and Mikhail Epstein in Spring 2004. That's fun, I suppose.
  • A few more hits down one finally comes across a mention of something more "academic": a newsletter from the JFK Presidential library that mentions my winning an Ernest Hemingway Research Grant to do archival research. Of course, if you follow this link, you'll see that the page no longer contains this information.
  • And finally, the last hit on the page is for this blog.
Until a week ago or so when I first started thinking about this, the top hit on my name in Google was my Amazon wish list. I guess that' s nice if people want to buy me things. But it wasn't really the face I wanted to present to the world. There were a few other similar instances like that, and I've managed to remove these from the hits by changing my screen name from "real name" to a pen name.

I also decided to include my full name in my blogger profile--rather than just "Brian"--as I think this blog is at least a representation of my thoughts on subjects that I view formative for my future research and, especially, classroom practice. But thus far, it hasn't generated much of a bump up the charts.

Of course, the real solution to getting Google hits is to understand their algorithm (which I don't--especially since it's a trade secret) and to have other people link to pages that talk about you. This blog or any of the pages related to my academic work haven't generated many backlinks yet, and this is one reason that interesting things about me aren't really showing up.

Something exciting about the Internet is the chances it gives us to play with our identity. We all know that our interlocutors might be dogs. Or rather, we don't know if we know this. But sometimes we want to establish who we are online and we want to help people see relevant information about us. If you're a normal individual, it can be very difficult to work the system to the ensure that you have a real web presence and one that responds to what you'd want. Of course, there are arguments that I shouldn't have control over what people see about me. If you want that, you can ask me for my CV. A Google search, on the other hand, reveals a sort of Digg-like collective opinion of what's most important to know about "Brian Croxall."

There are, of course, two more things that I can do to try to increase my visibility. First, I can make a much more detailed and useful personal web page. And second, I can write a blog post on the subject of identity, include my identifier repeatedly and let the process take a meta-effect. Let's see how that works.

How does TLC compare? Princeton

By the time I got to Princeton, I had become very good at knowing how to use Google and a university's own website to track down the places where I expected to find information about opportunities for graduate students to learn how to implement technology in their teaching.

So it wasn't that hard to find their workshops that they offer. They have two series:
  • The Productive Scholar focuses on "common and available desktop software to produce more with less effort." Word, Excel, Vista, and EndNote are all subjects that get discussed in the one-hour encounters.
  • Lunch 'n Learns address broader technology topics of interest to more general audiences. There was a recent session on how to make/use podcasts, but another on eBay sniping and human behavior.
One thing that sets these workshops apart from those offered at other schools I have looked at is that they are explicitly open to the public. I imagine that Emory wouldn't have too much trouble with the public attending some of our technology events, but we aren't exactly inviting them or trying to provide this sort of service to the larger Atlanta community.

Another interesting thing I found--and which I already reported on the Emory English blog--is that Princeton as a whole has a blog "for and about Princeton University faculty use of technology for teaching and research." There are no authors listed, so I'm inclined to view this as an official media outlet of the university. This means that this isn't a blog so much about discussion and going back and forth on ideas as it is a means for Princeton to represent to the world that they are doing something with technology. A lot of what gets reported here is on content presented at the Lunch 'n Learns.

Another nice tool that I found that Princeton has provided for faculty and staff is an Office Hours Scheduler. Since students can make appointments using the software, I would think this is something that would be a real benefit to a university community. There's no longer a need for students to pester you about your office hours repeatedly (if you've posted them, as Tenured Radical wrote about a month ago) and an added disincentive for particular faculty members who frequently don't hold office hours). Emory has Meeting Maker, but you have to be given an account and I can guarantee that students don't have this. There's possibly a way that you could do this with Google Calendar, but that would likely be on an ad hoc basis for each faculty member. Nope. Every university should have a program like this--even if it is currently in Beta.

But what we're really interested in as far as comparing Princeton's offerings to ECIT is their Graduate Associates in Instructional Technology (GAIT) program. This is a program designed to educate graduate students in particular technologies while simultaneously improving course content for faculty members. The program is very similar to Harvard's Presidential Instructional Fellows Program. Faculty, groups of faculty, or departments propose a project and nominate one or more grad students at a GAIT. GAITs then receive training from the Office of Information Technology in the technologies and skills needed for the project and then consult one-on-one with the faculty members seeking assistance. In addition to the training they receive, GAITs are paid (currently at $15/hour). The projects last a maximum of two semester and eight weeks during the summer, for a total of 160 hours.

I like the idea of getting graduate students the opportunity to work closely with faculty members on a particular project and, as I said about Harvard's program, this resembles something that we have kicked around about having "TPC-certified" students that faculty here could call on to help them realize projects they don't have the skills for. But what I would contend is missing from Princeton's program is the emphasis on the graduate students as an equal partner/beneficiary. Students interested in the GAIT program are not allowed to apply, but have to wait on interested faculty members in their departments to propose a project and then try to convince these professors that they are the students that should be picked. (This, in my opinion, was a downside for Emory's ECO program.) The GAIT program's description even seems to underplay the role of the graduate students: "[GAITs] also provide a much-needed communication path between faculty and the central IT support staff, thus insuring that IT support efforts are meeting faculty needs. [...A] key function of GAIT members is to connect faculty with the appropriate centralized support resources."

It's understandable that Princeton wants to invest in helping their faculty--after all, the faculty are the ones that will hopefully be at the school for several decades. And this program does allow graduate students a window into how one develops a large project with the intent of improving teaching. But I think the distinct advantage of TPC is that grad students are the sole audience and the focus is pedagogy.

I'm not sure how ECO will be developing given the differences that were instituted last year. I do think that there is room at Emory for a program similar to those at Harvard and Princeton. But I think that it would be complemented in important ways by the implementation of TPC.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How does TLC compare? Brown

The story at Brown is much the same as at Columbia and Penn: there are workshops on various topics offered by Training.Brown. There are some courses listed specifically for grad students, but further investigation indicates that these are mostly the same courses that appear under the faculty and staff tabs. One thing interesting about the Training.Brown program is that, at least for undergrads, it combines training on technology with training about writing and research, led, respectively, by the Brown Writing Center and Library. The conjunction of these subjects seems ideal. All of these entities at Emory would be willing to see each other in complementary roles, but I can't say the the relationship has been formalized in any particular way, and I could see how doing so could produce specific benefits for undergrads, grad students, and faculty.

Apart from these specific training opportunities, Brown offers grants that will result in the Instructional Technology Group creating materials for your classes including customized websites, video productions, and animations to help teach concepts. As far as I can tell, however, these grants don't result in people learning new skills but rather in the people who already have the skills being directed to work on a project that faculty have imagined. This is nice for busy faculty, but it doesn't lead to a dissemination of knowledge and--again as with many of these grant programs--they won't necessarily benefit or be available to graduate students.

To help graduate students (and faculty) with projects involving technology Brown also offers Student Technology Assistants. The STAs are undergrads who can help with creating course websites, scanning and digitizing materials, or providing technical illustrations. Again, I'm not sure how much work the grad students do along with the STAs. Regardless, since one is interacting on a one-to-one level with an undergraduate, I'm going to guess that there is not much of an opportunity for discussing the ins and outs of pedagogy in the college classroom.

I'm going to try to call some people at Brown, Columbia, and Penn to see if there is anything else to the story that I might be missing.

How does TLC compare? Columbia

Next on my list was Columbia. Again, there are courses on specific technologies offered by The Teaching Center of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The Teaching Center offers some interesting opportunities, such as a seminar earlier this year on "Preparing Future Faculty" that was held monthly from January to April. However, if you look at the navigation bar on the left of the Teaching Center's pages, you quickly discover that there are no events listed under "Teaching With Technology." Obviously the Graduate School believes that instructional technology is important enough to warrant notice on their front page, but at the moment it seems that any events connected to this subject aren't making their present felt online. (Of course, as I've mentioned previously, TLC has a similar problem. Anyone conducting research like I have on Emory might be hard pressed to find much about our initiatives.)

Columbia, like Harvard, seems to have many different schools under the umbrella of the university. As such, parts of the community are very invested in the academic application of technology to academic spaces. For example, the Center for Technology and School Change is a part of Columbia's Teachers College. As was the case with Harvard's TIE program, Columbia's CTSC is directed toward K-12 education and/or consulting. Teachers College has another program with similar aims: Communication, Computing, and Technology in Education. If I had to characterize the differences between the programs, I think the latter is a degree-granting one that prepares people to academically discuss technology in many facets of education and to go on to work professionally in related fields. The former builds on this mission with the specific goal of effecting progressive educational change via technology.

There are other programs throughout Columbia's infrastructure that address technology and teaching. But my overall impression is that the Graduate School (the entity to which I'm comparing Emory's efforts) is not offering much beyond short workshops.

How does TLC compare? Penn

All right, I finished all of my research about the various peer institutions I investigated while writing our proposal to the Grad School about TLC, which is now being rebranded as "Technology, Pedagogy, Curriculum" (TPC) as we roll out to organizations beyond the English Department.

I'm still negotiating for the rights to post the entire proposal here on the blog, but until I've secured those I'm going to continue posting what I've learned about the different schools' programs.

So University of Pennsylvania. I'm a little worried that I might have missed something glaring here because there was actually very little that I could find on the subject of teaching/helping grad students with technology. There are, of course, the requisite lunchtime, hour-long courses that people can take to become more familiar with technology. Some workshops are geared specifically for School of Arts and Sciences instructors (read, faculty and grad students). Others are more for the student body (read, undergrads and grad). These are obviously good resources to have, but I continue to believe that there is value for educating grad students separately from undergrads and faculty (as well as together, at times0 on the uses of instructional technology.

Penn also has technology grants available to help with the design of technology components for courses or departments. But so far as I can tell much of the work on the grants is performed by computing services (read, faculty and students don't necessarily learn from the experience). And although I can't find a stipulation that only faculty may apply for these grants, inevitably things of this nature end up going to faculty (and rightly, I think).

Penn uses many of the same technologies as us. And they even have a page devoted to discussing technology with teaching, but it is basically a list of resources rather than a consideration of best practices.

My favorite thing that I have found at Penn thus far is that they provide an online tool for instructors to design and collect midterm evaluations for their courses. Of course we could do this SurveyMonkey...but it's great to see this in place.

My verdict? I would have to talk with some people at Penn to be sure, but it appears that there is little or no instruction aimed directly at graduate students on blending technology with their teaching.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Remediating Coupland's The Gum Thief

So a week and a half ago I finished Douglas Coupland's new novel, The Gum Thief. I learned to appreciate Coupland early on in grad school when I read Microserfs, a mind-1990s book the chronicles the adventures of a group of programmers who break away from Microsoft and try to start their own company and end up forming a new form of family. I liked it immensely.

Last year I read JPod and found it to be far inferior--basically a retelling of Microserfs but with characters who were largely unsympathetic and a postmodern deus ex machina that has the author showing up in postindustrial factories around China. Parts of it were funny, but the charm (are grad students allowed to like charm?) of the first book didn't exist anywhere in its retread.

So my expectations for The Gum Thief weren't as high as they might have been last year. While the novel was definitely better than JPod, I still didn't like it as much as Microserfs. That's okay--my second book isn't sold nearly as charming as my first, after all. The novel is a series of interlocking narratives/novellas/epistolary passages exchanged between people working at Staples. It's perhaps a long poem to the frustrations ( I sound like an English student) of middle age and quarter life in the big box world of retailing. I'd read it again, but it's not high on my list.

Today, however, I discovered on YouTube that there are a series of videos that accompany the novel and its different narratives. In this hypertextual medium you can obviously enter the narrative as you will, but if you were to follow the path of the print book, you would likely begin by viewing a video about Roger, the dominant voice in the book. This project was commissioned by Coupland's Canadian publisher, Random House. One assumes that Coupland himself must have had something to do with this, but one can't determine the extent.

In any case, call me a pitiful millenial, but I think that these videos spark a lot more interest in me about the book as they could encourage different processes of reading and interpretation. And they invite responses in kind, which could be a fun project for a class or students.

Monday, November 26, 2007

New tool for reading

Just in case you missed it: Amazon last week announced Kindle. This is an e-book that, like the Sony Reader before it, uses an "e-ink" that is a lot easier to read than any other screen you've ever encountered. I've seen one of these in person and found 98.42% as easy to read as a piece of paper or a regular book. (I can't tell you how I reached that figure. It's proprietary information.)

What's different about Kindle is that it has built-in Wireless and that Amazon is making the wireless access free. This means that you can buy books wherever you might happen to be. Oh, and surf the web. And listen to mp3s. And read your favorite blogs (RSS subscriptions cost a small amount.) And favorite newspapers (New York Times delivery and others start at $14/month.)

There are all sorts of places where you can read about the $400 machine (a bit overpriced and more than a bit ugly [it's obviously not an Apple product]) including Amazon's own web page, which includes a video of Toni Morrison talking about it. But a good one that you might not find otherwise is at Macworld.

If I had more money, I'd get this. As it is, I'm waiting for the prices to come down. And for them to try to implement easier PDF support. Life would be much better if I could read journal articles on this. Did I mention that you can make notes on the things you're reading?

Vanderbilt, part 2. Now improved with bonus bits of Wisconsin!

I just got off the phone with Derek Bruff at Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching. We chatted a bit about what we are trying to accomplish with TLC and about parallels that Vanderbilt might have.

He indicated that there are a lot of programs at Vanderbilt that focus on helping students and faculty learn how to teach. These programs are run by varying organization and departments. The Center for Teaching provides some of these, but also tries to keep tabs on what the departments are doing.

Given this, he indicated that while technology makes up a portion of the discussion in pedagogy at Vanderbilt, there isn't any one course/workshop that does the same thing that TLC does: a focus on technology as the means to pedagogical ends. He also said that Vanderbilt had had someone at the provost level who was head of instructional technology, but that the position was eliminated a few years ago.

In a subsequent email exchange with Derek (begun after I started this post), he indicated that much of the technology instruction takes place within departments as the disciplinary differences were more important than any divide between graduate students and faculty. I agree that this is important and is something that we particularly like to emphasize about TLC in its current configuration. As I replied to him, "The advantage of TLC was that we had a room of English grad students who were familiar with each other's research and with the basic format for the courses we are teaching. There is also a shared assumption of what methods one uses and what we feel to be important skills for our students to gain. All of these things make it possible for us to discuss specifically how we would use a particular technology to teach in our classrooms. These discussions are assisted by our having had the Director of Graduate Studies and one other faculty member attend all of the workshops. They can lead these discussions in a particular way that the staff in ECIT cannot." This is something that Vanderbilt and I (or we, if I can be said to speak for ECIT and those involved in the project) both value.

Derek also indicated that the Center for Teaching had originally focused efforts on graduate students and faculty separately, but now aim their programs to both groups at once. This shift appears to have come at the same time as the focus on discipline. (Thus, programs that differentiated between grad students and faculty become programs that differentiated between departments.) ECIT has had success with programs that put faculty and graduate students together--particularly Emory College Online (ECO). Yet I feel that there was something gained by the graduate students having a space for themselves--assisted, of course, by Drs. Rusche and Elliott. To my mind, I think faculty who learn new technologies are supplementing the techniques they have already learned over a few or many years. Graduate students are, instead, learning who they are as teachers and have very different questions about the implementation of a particular tool.

Finally, Derek pointed me toward an interesting consortium that Vanderbilt is a part of: the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL). CIRTL is a group of universities (read the list here) who are working to improve the teaching of graduate students and junior faculty in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Each campus has different initiatives related to this, but one of the most interesting are the courses that are being taught at the University of Wisconsin's Delta Program, the CIRTL center in Madison. These courses are available to graduate students and carry credit. Their topics range from "Diversity in the Classroom" to "Effective Teaching with Technology." This last looks very much like what we are doing with ECIT. Of course, it is limited to students in STEM, but Delta has made all of its course's syllabi and materials available via CIRTL as guidebooks. The idea is that any university could take the materials and more or less teach the same class from it. So with nothing more than a click you can have the 75-page guidebook. (It's when you read through this that you realize the differences between how we have talked about technology in TLC and how it might need to be done with people from other disciplines, say the GDBBS.) To me this seems like the ideal mode for scholarship and pedagogy: sharing our tricks.

Poking around Wisconsin's site lead to a couple more discoveries.
  • They, of course, have workshops available to faculty and graduate students on different instructional technologies. There doesn't seem to be anything particularly geared toward graduate students, however, and nothing that focuses on pedagogy so much as the actual technology.
  • The engage program appears to spearhead campus initiatives for the implementation of various technologies across the curriculum. This year there is a focus on podcasting (two English professors received awards for their use of the tool) and on simulations and games. The site has a very good summary of everything you might need to know about podcasting to get started, but I assume that there was hands-on training for interested parties.
  • They also have a site that lists all the grants available to members of the university to begin work on a technology project.
  • The strategic plan for the entire university calls for improving students use of information (scroll down to Roman numeral V).
  • Finally, Wisconsin sponsors the Information Technology Academy, a "4-year pre-college technology access and training program for talented students of color and economically disadvantaged students attending Madison Public Schools. Our mission is to prepare students for technical, academic, and personal excellence in today's Information Age." Students compete to enter at the end of 8th grade. It would be great to see Emory providing a similar outreach program here.
Hmm. I guess I've moved on quite a bit from Vanderbilt. My updated verdict, however, is that we seem to be ahead of Vanderbilt at the moment. Wisconsin has something in place for some of its students (sciences) that is similar to TLC, but it is a semester-long course. Both schools provide training on various technologies, although they might not necessarily be specifically for graduate students nor do they seem to be focused on particular disciplines nor include the sort of faculty mentoring that we are trying to get into place.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How does TLC compare? Harvard

If I thought that Emory had a lot of institutes and programs that aren't connected to each other, it is nothing compared to the warren that is Harvard. I had flashbacks to applying to graduate school as I looked through the pages, remembering that one reason I didn't apply there was because their website was SO dauntingly bad. It's improved some today, but it is still not particularly friendly.

In any case, Harvard has some things that resemble various aspects of TLC, but nothing that replicates it or that any one single student could realistically encounter while s/he was enrolled. The most interesting program they offer is a Presidential Instructional Technology Fellows Program. This program is available to graduate students across the university by the Office of the Provost (which also sponsor grants and awards for faculty). The program trains fellows (PITFs), who can be undergrads or graduate students, to work with faculty to "to develop digital course materials with immediate educational benefits." This can take forms from improving websites to making PowerPoint presentations with video and more. Of course, they have a portfolio of completed projects. The portfolio I've linked to is specifically for students working with Faculty of the Arts and Sciences.

As I understand it, the faculty propose a project to their schools and the schools decide which projects to allocate to the fellows, who have applied independently to each school's program (Harvard Law, the Graduate School of Education, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences all have, for example, their own PITF applications). The fellows work on projects for either a summer term or for an entire academic year. According to a 2005 Harvard Gazette article about the program's first year, 65 fellows worked on projects in over 150 courses.

This all sounds very exciting--especially since it is a campus-wide initiative--but I've not been able to find anything specific about the training that the fellows receive prior to starting their work. The best description of the program lacks this information. Although it is obvious that some training is given, it appears to be on a more individual basis, where the fellow comes to something like Harvard's version of ECIT individually to get some information about how to complete a particular project envisioned by a faculty member. The fellow then works with the faculty member to finish the project. What TLC has that this program does not is a discussion of a wide range of tools and a conversation that is centered around pedagogy. In fact, this resembles an idea that was kicked around following last year's TLC that there could "TLC-certified" grad students who could then get paid to work with faculty on various projects.

The other program that Harvard has that appears to be similar to ECIT is a Technology, Innovation, Education (TIE) program in the Graduate School of Education that leads to an MA. This is a one-year program where the emphasis is on teaching, but technology is the means to this end. Their courses (they take a total of 8 and do not write a thesis) cover many of the subjects that we tackle in TLC, but they are much more in-depth and--again, as happens at Duke--they produce final projects that demonstrate the skills they have learned.

The obvious problem with this program as compared to TLC is that it takes a year. Emory is not interested in a project of this scale. There has been talk and scuttlebutt about a digital humanities certificate that the GSAS might start offering, and this might or might not be linked to the expanded TLC. But such a certificate would arguably provide a middle ground between TLC and TIE. Such a certificate would also, one assumes, encompass discussions about digital research and scholarship, something that TIE is not focused on, since it is not a PhD program.

My verdict? Harvard's PITF program is a great example of a university focusing on giving students and faculty a chance to collaborate. This collaboration leads to improved teaching and building skills for the students and faculty. There is not so far as I can see, however, a central plan for the fellows' training. Moreover, the focus seems to be on the product and not specifically on the use of the product in the classroom. I know this is a fine line, but I get the feeling there is more of a discussion in TLC on the impact of the technologies on the classroom. I think that this is assisted by the fact that TLC is a cohort of individuals. The TIE program at Harvard is, perhaps, a very expanded version of TLC. It's not what we want to do here. Between both programs, Harvard perhaps offers an experience that is close to what we envision for TLC.

Google footprint for TLC at Emory

So this might be jumping the gun a bit, but I realized yesterday in discussing what I'm doing right now, that it would actually be very difficult to find anything on TLC at Emory if I were to do a Google search. It wouldn't be that difficult to find ECIT and the programs they offer, but you'd be hard pressed to see much about TLC. The best bit that we have is a little blurb that I did last year following the first iteration (scroll down for it). Depending on your search terms, this page comes up within the top five or so of hits on Google. But that's not ideal.

Obviously if TLC becomes more of a GSAS initiative it will get a bigger presence on the web. But something that ECIT should be consciously thinking about is how we can let others know what we're doing here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

How does TLC compare? Vanderbilt (with additional thoughts about mp3 services)

As opposed to Duke, Vanderbilt does not have anything that approaches TLC. They do have a Center for Teaching, which seems analogous to our Center for Teaching and Curriculum (CTC). They offer a program similar to TATTO called TAO. They offer workshops on teaching, working groups on different issues, a teaching certificate program, and a Future Faculty Preparation Program. Both of these last two seem useful to me as far as filling a potential gap that Emory has (a GSAS-wide initiative beyond TATTO to improve teaching and to assist students with professionalization).

What they don't have is much in the way of training on technology. They do have a page on the Center for Teaching's website that is dedicated to an overview of teaching technology. The page has a number of resources, such as articles and book reviews. Unfortunately, most of these are far out of date (publication dates of 2001 and 2000 abound). The most useful things on the page are links to a second series of pages on things like class management software, online writing, and podcasting. These, however, turn out to be little more than FAQs. While they have some useful information--particularly the one on clickers--there is nothing about further training.

Further searches for centers of instructional technology and the like have turned up nothing. One thing I did find, however, is VUmix: Vanderbilt's music services for the school community. They can get, for example, Napster accounts and download an unlimited amount of music for $2/month. I wonder how this would affect their iPod ratios on campus since Napster only works with players that can handle WMA with DRM (i.e., almost every brand except for Apple). You can, of course, stream the music on any computer. If you're feeling left out of the good times and low-cost music, then you might want to check out Ruckus. It's a free subscription for all college students. The music is supported by advertising and can only be streamed. If you want to take it with you (on mp3 player), then you can pay $20 for a whole semester of this privilege. Of course you, again, need to have an mp3 player that is PlaysForSure capable. iPods need not apply.

In any case, my verdict regarding Vanderbilt's TLC capabilities? They don't seem to have anything like this. Nor do they seem to have a center of any kind that offers training to students or faculty on technology. I've placed a call to their Center for Teaching to try to get more information, but the appropriate administrator hasn't returned my call. Look here for edits in case I get more.

How does TLC compare? Duke

My first stop was one of our perennial rivals: Duke. Duke has a CIT (Center for Instructional Technology) that seems to offer very similar resources as ECIT. Among these resources are courses and workshops that graduate students can take to familiarize themselves with technology. (I do find it telling that there is nothing listed under the upcoming grad student events.) Of course, students are welcome to attend the courses that are offered to faculty as well. I'm particularly intrigued by the workshop that offers to help people learn how to keep their students engaged.

More importantly, Duke does offer something that is similar to TLC. But whereas we have an 8-session workshop spread over a month, they have a one-credit course: Instructional Uses of Technology. Reading through their syllabus (PDF file) shows that they cover much of the same materials that we do. They meet once a week for an hour and 45 minutes and they have a total of 13 sessions. At the end of it, they must produce an electronic portfolio that showcases some of what they've learned as well as serving as a document they can use when trying to get jobs. You can see sample e-portfolios here, including some by English types.

As far as I'm concerned, the most advantageous part of this being a course is that you're required to produce something and that it must be a finished product. TLC thus far serves as an introduction to different technologies and a discussion of their implementation. This means that students don't have to create anything--nor do you have time to. Some of the feedback that we have received via our TLC survey indicate that this is something that people feel would improve the class. (I'm not sure yet if we will publish the survey results. I'm for it, but I need to take it up with all interested parties.)

The E-Portfolio seems like an important thing. You have to master skills to produce it. (This means you don't just fiddle with Dreamweaver for a few minutes and move on. ) So when you're ready to put your syllabus online, you know how to do it. There is a suggestion that these e-portfolios also include video of students teaching. None of the examples that I looked at include this, but it could be useful. Moreover, the course asks people to write a teaching statement that integrates technology into the statement. There are, of course, a lot of ways that you can do this in any teaching statement. But I believe that our ability to use these technologies are important marketable skills and are especially pertinent to our teaching and they should consequently be highlighted as such.

So there's the Duke report. My verdict? They have a comparable program, but one with a demonstrable outcome. Students therefore leave it feeling like they absolutely know how to do something, as opposed to having a basic knowledge and a feeling that they could do something and know where to go for help.

EDIT: One thing that I forgot to mention where Emory trumps Duke. Since this class is offered to everyone in their graduate school, you have a lot of people from different disciplines learning together. This is good for some things, but you lose the ability to have very specific discussions about particular needs in a particular discipline. Needless to say, the Duke class will probably not feature a second faculty member from a specific field who would be able to direct such a discussion.

How does TLC compare?

Last week, Shannon, Wayne, Michael, and I met with Dean Tedesco to propose expanding TLC to more of the Graduate School. The meeting was very successful, and it seems like this is something that the GSAS is interested in supporting.

When proposing a program, however, you have to find funds. And the best way to get funds at Emory--and at other schools, I imagine--is to demonstrate to those who control the budgets that your "peer" institutions are already doing something like this and that there programs are comparable. This inspires fear in people and a "me too!" response. The other possible outcome is to show that no other schools are doing something like this or that their programs are inferior to ours. This then gives us a chance to see a niche that Emory is filling and doing well at. I would think that this second choice would be the preferable one, and that it would allow us to establish a name for ourselves. But my limited experience with suggesting initiatives to Emory administrators leads me to believe that the first is SOP here.

In any case, if you want to see the results of this search, you can browse my findings at using the tags "TLC+peer." I'll either update this post with boiled down findings or post additional entries. You know, to make your bloglines subscriptions shoot skyward.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Improving my Timeline

I had some time today to play with my timeline again. You can see it here. I've figured out how to resize the bubbles so large images don't get cropped. I've managed to key the different types of events to different colors on the timeline. And I added a box that allows you to restrict certain types of events. If I wanted to specify more attributes for these events, I could bring in additional boxes as well.

I'm not happy about how the one "mixed" event is rendered in white against the light gray background. I've got an email out to the experts about controlling the color selection of both the timeline and the event types. I anticipate that their response might be for me to look at other examples source code (CTRL-U to the rescue), but while I've done that, I can't yet see how to implement this specific change.

I found another related tool today: The Universal Timeline Aggregator. This is basically a tool that takes an RSS or Atom feed and displays the information on a timeline. You can do it for this blog. But the low incidence of posting means that it isn't particularly exciting. I've tried it with more populated RSS feeds: CNN, The Valve, Go Fug Yourself. But they drop off surprisingly quickly. I'm not sure what that means--possibly that the Timeline Aggregator won't reach back past a certain point or that the feeds from these sites are restricted to be only so deep.

But you don't really come here to have problems solved, do you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another tool for Timeline

I haven't had a chance to play with Timeline much recently, but I'm still holding out hopes that the Google Docs implementation (routed through Exhibit) will be what I need to make these tools available to my students.

Today I came across a website that uses a simple form for adding events to a Timeline, with the intent of using it as a calendar. It doesn't look like you can save this in any way and its scale (determined in days, rather than years) makes it much less useful for something like a survey course. In any case, it shows what might be possible to do if you knew more code than I do.

Convert on the fly

A quick one for you right now. In thinking through Emory's implementation of iTunesU, one of the big problems is determining what specs we will require for the media and then making it easy for people to convert their media into the appropriate formats. We're hoping that we can identify good software solutions that are affordable and easy to use. In doing that thing I do here, I stumbled across Zamzar.

This web site converts--for free--files from one format to another. JPG to BMP. DOC to DOCX. XLS to CSV. WMA to MP3 to M4A. And so on. They then email you your converted files. The advantage of the site is that you don't have to have specific software for the conversion process. This is especially useful for when you need to convert a file and are not near your own computer. The downside is that the site has too many ads and pop-ups for my taste.

You can also use upload to Zamzar directly from URLs. This means that you can potentially use it to save, convert, and download audio files that are only meant to stream or YouTube videos. This, of course, is legally problematic and may violate copyright law. And of course, Zamzar is indemnified against legal action that might be taken against you. Nevertheless, you still might find a use for it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Survey This!

Today Wayne asked me to put together a survey for all the participants of this year's Technology, Literature and Curriculum (TLC). Wayne, Shannon, Michael Elliott, and I are getting ready to present the program to the Graduate School's Dean on Monday. Our ultimate goal is to get the Dean's blessing and money to expand the workshop to other departments, hopefully teaching at least one, and maybe two, TLCs per semester throughout the Graduate School.

But it's always better to present your case to administrators if you have some statistics to back you up. And so we're going to take a survey. (Of course, the purported validity of such a survey might be erased by having an English lit person write it. Nevertheless...)

We've all seen SurveyMonkey before. In fact, I got some experience designing with it last year when the Emory Writing Center decided to start taking all of its feedback about conferences online. What I didn't know until recently was that basic accounts on SurveyMonkey are free. There are of course some restrictions (you can only ask ten questions; you can only receive 100 responses), but I can't really envision myself needing much more than this. (Actually, I can't envision needing to really survey my classes at all apart from the requisite end of semester questions that are done by Emory.) So here's one more tool to throw in your arsenal.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Networking the social

So I'm gearing up for a big post (at least it feels like it) on social networking in relation to the ever-looming Horizon report. But November 1st brought something new to the fore of these online tools. Google (again with the Google) launched a new service called OpenSocial. This is essentially a tool to help people write 3rd-party applications for social networking sites. These applications are one of the things that allow people to customize their spaces in MySpace or Facebook. You can see some examples of these tools for Facebook here.

Facebook has devised a particularly ingenious method for coaxing people to try these tools as your News Feed will report on which applications friends have recently added. It worked with me today when I was thinking about this and saw that a friend from high school had added Super Wall. I figured, "Hey, I'll try it out." In any case, what News Feed produces is a viral flocking toward applications.

While these tools are essentially small plug ins, but their viral popularity makes them big business (there are 7000+ for Facebook as of today). They can drive ad dollars and, in some instances, developers charge for the use of the software. What has been difficult thus far is that programmers who develop an application for one social networking site will--logically--want to allow those who aren't cool enough to know that orkut, friendster, and LinkedIn are so 2004 to use their application. Most of these different sites, however, have used different and proprietary APIs (application programming interface). This radically increased the workload for these programmers. And this in turn lowers the number of viable alternative social networking sites since less and less people are making new and interesting applications for these less popular sites.

What Google has done is proposed a new API that will be compatible across social networking sites. This means less work for the programmers. Oh, and more traffic for Google. An amazing number of the social-networking-erati have signed on for the project, including MySpace. The exception is Facebook. There are of course reactions (some negative and some positive) to the Goog's latest move.

My thoughts? I think Facebook is right on this count, from a business perspective. With Microsoft's recent investment in Facebook, the company could be realistically valued at $15 billion. That's about 10x the value of YouTube. It makes sense because while everyone loves a viral video, what people like even more is when that viral video is brought directly to you via your friends (and not through an email forward) but through the News Feed feature.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fixing computers

< geekish blog post >

We've been having a problem with Firefox on the Windows computers in ECIT. Essentially, although the software was updated to version, FF kept trying to update to What this really meant was that every time you launched the browser, you got an error message or two. This is annoying once. When it happens to you repeatedly throughout the day, it gets tiresome rather quickly.

Not so tiresome that we have spent any great amount of time fixing it to this point, however. Today, I resolved that I was going to quash this bug. I first tried reinstalling on the admin side (where the bug was not manifesting). That didn't work. Next I tried uninstalling all of my "Add-ons" (the real reason to use Firefox. See some of my favorites here.) Didn't work. Finally I decided I should try what I should have started with: a web search. Within ten minutes, I'd found a Mozilla forum dedicated to support issues and specific advice for solving my problem. It just goes to show you, the wisdom of the masses will trump that of any lone geek 99% of the time.

< /geekish blog post >

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Emory Horizons

So I've been a bit slow on posting more thoughts about the 2007 Horizon Report. But I'm getting back into looking at this document as Wayne and I are planning a course--"Emory Horizons: [insert explanatory phrase here]"--for next February for members of the Emory community to discuss how we see our campus reacting to these technologies that are on the horizon. In the spirit of Web, we're making some of these planning documents available for others to read.

Of course, you say, if we are teaching in 2008, won't we be a bit behind the curve? What about the 2008 Horizons? Good point. So we're dropping and rolling and getting geared up for the technologies that will be in the new report. EDUCAUSE et al have been working for most of the year on the new report, and we can already see the short list of twelve technologies that will shortly be narrowed down to the final six. All of 2007's six trends are still in the running, but others that I think are more important to highlight have been added (online collaboration and online mapping, in particular). You can also peruse the resources the authors of the upcoming report have found at using the tag "hz08."

So the point is that Emory will be one of the first campuses in the nation to offer up a response to the upcoming report. Become a part of it.

Oh. Did I mention that in ECIT I'm supposed to learn Photoshop too?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Make Them Yourself: Google Maps

Now I swear I'm not the ECIT Woodruff Fellow in Applied Googletechtonics or anything like that. If I was, perhaps my stipend would be a bit larger.

Be this as it may, I have another G-related observation. In addition to planning the upcoming Emory Horizons event, I have also been experimenting with making my own Google Map. Why would you want to do this? Well in my case, I figured it would be an easy way to represent my job search. I can get a general idea of where the jobs are at and refer to it when I have to make those tough choices between Tufts, Rutgers, and Westminster. This is also an easy way to share this information with my family and, eventually, to start thinking geospatially about my future.

This is actually really easy to do. All you have to do is to be logged in to a Google account, and go to their maps page. Click on the "My Maps" tab partway down the page, and you can start adding place markers, drawing lines, and/or shapes on your map. You can then get a URL or the code to embed the map. Of course, you can make the map public or private. Or as KML for use in Google Earth.

More and more, I think that geospatial information is going to become more and more a part of everything we do. And this is an easy way to get a start mapping your own experiences.

View Larger Map

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Timelines again

All right, I have continued playing with my Timeline, and I'm happy to report that I'm getting closer to solving most of the problems that I discussed in my previous post. Mainly, this means that I now have a way to take information from this Google Spreadsheet and use it to dynamically create a timeline. Moreover, I can give other users access to the spreadsheet as a collaborator, and they can add events (or erase them) from the timeline as well. (Wayne, for example, added the Battle of Hastings to the current timeline.)

I have also found out how to add images (click on "Men Without Women") and links (click on "Nobel Prize in Literature") to the descriptions. The latter took a little bit of coding, but nothing obscene. I think it would be easy to hand the students a list of basic commands to accomplish making their own links.

What is making this timeline work so much better than my first one is it is being powered by the SIMILE Project's Exhibit software. This software is--to borrow a term from our TLC conversations--allows you to make mashups of information by building a database and linking objects together in whatever relationships you want. It also provides a good way to filter this information. They have numerous examples: billionaires in history, US Presidents, and cereal mascots. You'll notice that the first two use geotagging (as well as Google Maps) to produce their results. A less visually stunning, but perhaps more useful example is this conference schedule which someone built within Exhibit. The filtering seems really useful (as well as the ability to search on any field). You can also view the conference as abstracts and as a Timeline. This is because Timeline is a component you can add into your Exhibit. And Exhibit, fortunately, allows you to take feeds from Google Spreadsheets.

There are still a few things that I would like to work out on this timeline. At the moment, I can only use years with events; months and dates don't display accurately. I would also like to have the ability to have events show up in different colors based on the "type" of event they are, something I have specified in the spreadsheet. So I have some questions out to the folks at MIT, and we'll see what they come back with.

At the very least, however, this means that I could run a spreadsheet in my classroom without too much work on the part of the students. Good times.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Getting Photos into Google Earth

I was playing around very quickly yesterday with my Picasa Web albums and noticed a new feature. But wait, let's back up. Picasa is Google's photo editing software. In the grand Google tradition, it was the product of a company that Google bought out a few years ago. I've been using Picasa for over two years and I've found it's a very nice tool for keeping all of my photos and movies organized on the computer. When you have children, you quickly realize that you need a tool for organizing almost as much as you need one for editing.

The editing tools in Picasa are nothing special. Basic color fixing, basic cropping, some special effects. Red eye removal. I've found, however, that they are more often than not all that I need for touching things up. The biggest bonus, in my opinion, is that Picasa saves a copy of all the changes I make to a photo and makes it possible for me to always return to the original image if I want to. That way my experimenting with the image doesn't ruin it permanently. Of course, there are other tools out there that do this: Microsoft has Office Picture Manager, Adobe has Photoshop Elements, and I could go on. But an advantage of Picasa is that it is free. And that's something we like in both the Croxall household and in ECIT. (It is also a very good tool for doing progressive backups of your photos, which helps you keep second copies off your hard drive and get secondary backups off site to your parents in Utah.)

Another thing that I really love about Picasa is how it integrates with Gmail. You can bundle photos to send out to people straight from the photo software. Again, you can do that with many other programs, but what was essential for me was that Picasa automatically resized the photos for me when I mailed them out. Since we have an 8 MP Canon camera and we didn't have broadband at home until about six months ago, this meant that sending photos could be a real pain. Picasa took care of all that for us. This isn't so much of a problem on our end anymore, but it is still nice to use the software to prevent our sending out those massive, 8x bigger than your screen photos.

Okay, so we've covered Picasa as it functions on your computer. About two years ago, Google also created a web presence for Picasa that allows you to host photos online and share them with others. Of course, there are a lot of other services that allow you to do this as well: Kodak Gallery, Photobucket, and, of course, Flickr. These tools are great for sharing photos with others (because--at least with Flickr and Picasa--you get an RSS feed of people's photos and can then read them in your feed reader of choice [see previous blog post]). And of course, they allow you to tag your photos, use each photo's individual URL for hosting it in a blog or some such thing, and more.

Another new thing that at least Flickr and Picasa have included is the ability to geotag your photos. What this means is that you can identify where a particular photo album was taken and then drag and drop those photos onto a map to give an even more precise idea. You can see how this works in Flickr (photos geotagged to "Amsterdam, Noord Holland") and in Picasa (an example of photos mapped along the Strip in Vegas). I'm not as familiar with Flickr as I am with Google's tools, but I have to say that I like the latter a little better because it gives better outlines of buildings.

So this brings us to last point (which is really where I started). If you are looking at a Picasa web album that has been geotagged (like this one of photos I took during the Dragon Con parade), then you also get the option (in the right hand corner) to view the photos within Google Earth. When you click on this, you can either run it immediately in Google Earth or download the kml file. And suddenly you have your photos plugged into Google Earth for you. Magic!

Now of course, you can insert photos directly into Google Earth without too much trouble. But if you are already using Picasa Web, this will save you some time. Even if you aren't using it, however, this might be an easier way for people to get photos into Google Earth than having to deal with the coding that is otherwise required.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another Pipe

So it occurred to me this morning that I perhaps should have used my Piping powers for good and not for idle entertainment. As such, I've created this Pipe that parses several academic blogs for content relating to the job search. Of course, you can edit the Pipe source and add blogs that you'd prefer to see here. But maybe this will prove useful to those of us who can't seem to get enough information about this madd(en)ing process.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yahoo! Pipes

So just when you thought you were getting sick of the whole Web 2.0 thing and that you'd seen every possible mashup possible, Yahoo! comes up with a new tool--Pipes--to help you mash all by yourself (no servers or complex coding required). It's basically a visual tool for taking various information (RSS feeds, CSV documents, geolocators and more) and joining, filtering, and/or combining them to produce a specific output that you want.

So what can you mash together? Well, the first thing I did was to take news feeds from CNN and Google, combined them together and put them through a filter to pull up everything on the search terms "Tibet," "Tibetan," and "Dalai." (You can tell what's going on at Emory at the moment.) You can see the result here. You could then use this page for a continual update on this subject--or you could use the page's RSS feed in your reader of choice and get the particular news items delivered to you. No more searching through Google or CNN for the particular stories you're interested in (as long, of course, as you know the search terms that will likely appear in the story). You can see also the representation of the pipe in the lower right corner of the page, and if you have a Yahoo! log-in, you can edit the pipe itself to adapt my work and make it more suitable for your own.

But wait! There's so much more. I then decided to take the Emory news feed, filter it to only bring me news related to Tibet and the Dalai Lama and rolled this together with photos on Flickr that are of Emory University and have tags that relate to the same search terms. The results are here. What's new with this pipe is that it also returns a map. One of the photos has been mapped to a particular location within Flickr by the photographer, and Pipes automatically incorporates this information. If you click "Links" about the map, you will see the results: as of today, there are two hits from Emory News and two photos from Flickr. You can again edit the pipe yourself.

I then wanted to create a crazier looking pipe with more variables. The result was taking the news feed from Emory and using all the photos from Flickr that relate to Emory (not just ones with Tibet related tags). You can see the results and edit the pipe, as always.

But there are a lot more tools within Pipes. Say you want to read the sports from Le Monde, but your French is just not where it was back when you had to, say, pass a Ph.D. translation exam. You can get the feed from their sports page, run it through a translation loop, and get the results. It might not be perfect, but it's a sight better than my own translation.

Other functions within Pipes allow you to map things. I've been trying to figure out if I could use Pipes to solve my Timeline XML problem, but that has yet to happen. To get more ideas about how to build interesting pipes, you can check out the public gallery and copy their source and fiddle with it.

In any case it is a fun service to use and a lot easier than similar things I've tried in the past. It appears that the other big names in the online world (Google, Microsoft, etc.) are developing their own similar tools. But now you can be the first on your block to have piped.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I've been busy with TLC in the last few days, so I haven't had a lot of time to be adventuring in ECIT. Today, however, I finally started work on a project I've been interested in for about a year. Again, I'm going to have to give Jason Jones the credit for uncovering the technology: interactive timelines. Jason wrote about his plans to try to use this in a course during Spring 2007 on his blog. Unfortunately he has since restructured his blog (moved domains or something techno-geekish like that). You can, however, still read about Michael Elliott's discovery of Jason's blog post here.

In any case, the technology for these timelines has been developed by MIT's SIMILE Project. To steal a bit of their boilerplate, "Timeline is a DHTML-based AJAXy widget for visualizing time-based events. It is like Google Maps for time-based information. [...] Just like Google Maps, Timeline can be used with zero software installation, server-side or client-side. And like Google Maps, you can populate Timeline with data by pointing it to an XML file." So yeah. There's a mouthful. However, the results can be stunning.

I've got a couple of different ideas for using timelines like this. You could use them in a survey class to map texts and historical events to put things into context. You could also use them to help you read one particular novel--something with complex chronology like Slaughterhouse-Five or Jazz. Or you might use it to track Emily Dickinson's output. Of course what would make this most is the ability to build the timeline collaboratively among class members. There's not a whole lot to be gained in my opinion, if you are just asking the students to look at the work you've put into it. Instead, you want to help them start mapping (chronologically, of course) the subject of the class. And if you go the extra mile, you can use the timeline as a discussion tool. For example, if you look at the timeline for JFK's assassination and click on an event, you will notice in the lower-right corner that there is a "discuss" link. This link takes you to a wiki page devoted to that event. Linking your timeline to a wiki could allow students to discuss when an event should be situated. Look at all this technology converging! Whee!

Of course, the difficulty is getting your timeline up and running. And let me tell you that so far it has not been a picnic. The "basics" that MIT provides on the timelines are not really all that basic (or legible). The "how to" for creating timelines is not much easier and assumes that you already have a decent grasp of writing HTML. After spending several hours with the how-to page, however, I and my trusty pal Dreamweaver were able to create a VERY simple timeline.

The difficulty in making the timeline, as I'm discovering is entering the events. This has to be done in an XML format. You can see mine here. Timelines with more data understandably require much more coding (as you can see with the JFK timeline's XML). Still, the coding and the formatting is not that difficult. The problem as I see it currently is that I want my students to be able to work collaboratively and on the fly with the data. As in, Suzy Q logs in to *insert name of fantasy software here* and can quickly edit fields for "date," "event name," "event description," and maybe some extra fields like "image" or "link." She can immediately hit refresh and see her work on the timeline. At the same time, George X can be working within the same piece of *fantasy software* and be editing his own portion of the timeline or making some changes/corrections to what Suzy has been doing.

I could ask the students to just cut and paste my XML formatting and substitute their own language. They could then email the code to me. And I could then upload it to my webdrive or something like that. But that's not what I want to have happen. I want this to be as automated as possible. And there's the stumbling block--for the moment. I have a hunch that Google spreadsheets or perhaps Zoho's database can help me out of the bind. Or perhaps it's Google Calendar that can come to the rescue. We'll have to see. And I'll keep you updated.

Just in case you don't like Google...

Today I came across (thanks to Jason Jones) a new suite of online tools for online collaboration. Zoho provides the three big tools that Google Docs does: word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations (aka PowerPoint). However, it has a larger suite of tools including databases, online conferencing, note taking, and wikis. It also offers email clients, chat, and more. In some ways, though, Google is offering--or will be offering soon--many of these same tools, they just aren't necessarily part of Google Docs.

One thing that I like about Zoho is that it should play nicely with MS Office. There's a plug-in that allows you to work offline and keep your documents in Zoho up to date with the changes you make on your desktop. Something else is that Zoho's editing features within, say, documents are more robust and advanced than Google's.

So if you want a little bit more functionality and interoperability than Zoho might be a good solution.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Behold the power of MS Office!

So a number of us in the English department are setting off into the job market. We all know that this is an endeavor fraught with all sorts of hidden codes that we must negotiate in order to secure that lucrative 40K position at Northwest South Dakota Tech. (There are so many of these dang codes that one wonders to what degree the profession keeps them so that a handful of professors have the opportunity to write books about the subject. Of course, these books sell far more copies than my dissertation ever will.)

One of just many difficulties is the rise of digital communication in the job application process. Rather than simply stuffing everything into an envelope and addressing it to "Chair, Search Committee for Asst. Professor of Media, Culture, and Information Flows (?!)," we now get to email things directly to a person or, more likely, go through each university's individual application process at which point we upload some of our carefully workshopped documents. The electronic application is nice in the sense that we can send things later (a few minutes before a deadline) and that it is more likely that the "letter" will reach its addressee (Derrida notwithstanding).

A marked disadvantage of sending an emailed cover letter, however, is that you might lose the chance to make an impression on a potential employer through Emory's letterhead (something we have traditionally picked up from the department office and then printed onto). So today, instead of learning more about social networking, I decided to monkey around with the newest version of Microsoft Office. I've heard a lot of people complain about the interface, particularly of Word, but I find it a lot more intuitive than previous versions of the software. Of course, if you've been using previous iterations it becomes counterintuitive. But I'm getting used to it and love the amount of control that is presented to me on the front page. I like it quite a bit--especially since we students can get the entire Ultimate Office Suite for $60.

In any case, coupled with the Office tools and some guidelines from Emory's Office of Brand Management--where was this site in 2004 when I taught my class about branding? They even have documents that tell you which colors coordinate well with Emory blue (see page 15)--I was able to mock up something that looks remarkably like the English Department's letterhead. Start your letter where I indicate, and you're good to go. Just don't mess with the margins and make sure you don't go onto the third page (where the header will show up again [it's on every odd page; this seemed like a nice coercion to make me toe the line on length]).

There are slight differences between this and the official, printed-for-us letterhead. I won't bore you with the details (although I could be convinced to bare all in the comments), but I did stick to the published guidelines for stationary.

In any case, I hope that this will make it easier for all of us to get jobs. I'm surprised, honestly, that Emory hasn't come up with an interactive letterhead to take care of things like this, but until then we've got this. Feel free to point it out to other departments' students, since it is easily editable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Kicking off TLC 2.0

So a group of 9 English department students met yesterday in ECIT for the opening session of TLC (scroll down for the blurb). (On a side note, I thought it interesting that for the 9 "students" in the course that we have 5 instructor types. I guess Emory is trying to massage its student to instructor ratio or something.)

TLC is something that we are hoping we can role out to more of the graduate programs within Emory with a goal, of course, of providing the training in technologies that will be especially appropriate for the various teaching situations in each of the different disciplines. Doing this will hopefully facilitate discussions among the graduate students and faculty attending that will help everyone discover new methods for teaching materials--even if these methods have nothing to do with technology.

In light of this, I found it interesting how each of the 9 TLC participants already had ideas for how they want to use technology in courses they are or will be teaching in the near future or for specific technologies they want to learn more about:
  • Mapping the action in 24-hour novels
  • Hosting photos a class is taking of the community and podcasting
  • Blogging and building websites
  • Developing a wiki project for the class
  • Blogging and wikis
  • Dreamweaver and creating websites
  • Using technology collaboratively as a way to get them away from regular discussions
  • Using technology to bring people together and work collaboratively
Some of these goals/ideas are very similar, and I think it's interesting that most of them revolve around the idea of user-created content. These are obviously interesting technologies to people who want to help students take some of the control of their own learning processes.

It's also nice to see that ECIT will be able to help people with each of these projects. Mapping? Try Google Earth, which will allow you to customize layers very easily through XML. Wikis and blogging? You can use the new functionality in Blackboard 7.1 or you can find alternate solutions. Photo hosting? Flickr is just one of many options.

As always, the key remains knowing when to use a new technology and when to use an older one (pencil, paper, chalk, eraser). But it's exciting to see--even over a year's time from when I was doing TLC--how much easier the tools for accomplishing some of these projects have become.