Final Course Reflection

There’s nothing wrong with being predictable.  For example, whenever I take one of Dr. Yuen’s courses, I can predict a few things:

1) I’ll learn some new technologies that I’ll end up using extensively outside of class

2) I’ll learn more about theories and methods of technology in education

3) I’ll be invited to fill out an online questionnaire

4) I’ll be incredibly impressed by how well the class is put together and run

IT860 has been no exception to this pattern (well, #3 remains to be seen).  I’ve gained at least passing proficiency with ScreenCastle, Splashup, VoiceThread, and Scribd, which I believe I will use in the future, and Mixxt and Diigo, which I’m using to good effect right now.  Our textbook has been a good one (not surprising, considering that Dr. Yuen co-edited it), and despite the fact that I have been by far the most critical of some of the chapter authors, I’m glad that we are using it.

As soon as I found out what social network site (Mixxt) that Dr. Yuen had found for us to use in IT860, I immediately created a Mixxt site for the Gulfport section of my IT201 class.  It helped to keep everyone on the same page, and to give them easy access to assignments and updates, since they live so far from me.  It would be going too far to say that the class was a “hybrid,” and we certainly didn’t use the Mixxt site to the extent that Dr. Yuen has, but I truly believe it was a real help to both the students and me.

Another thing I particularly like about this class is the way that the assignments are meant to cover multiple topics.  For example, our ScreenToaster assignment involved screen capture tools, social video uploading (YouTube), and the requirement that we select and master an additional Web 2.0 tool (since we have to know it well enough to create a tutorial on it).  Our Second Life assignment involves giving a mini-conference presentation on a topic related to Instructional Technology.  I chose Augmented Reality, which is also the subject of my term paper (and is something I find quite interesting).

It’s been interesting to work with my classmates, though I do have to admit that I don’t feel as connected to them as I have in other online classes.  I think this may be because our discussion forums served, in fact if not in intention, as a place to post our assignments and our chapter summaries.  There was not really much discussion or interplay between the students in that respect.  I think that forum discussion topics that are more aimed at stimulating discussion (things that people might disagree on, and discuss intellectually, rather than chapter summaries, which are largely going to be similar and uncontroversial) would have helped stir this interaction more.

Again, all in all, I’d rate this class very highly . . . but that’s no surprise.

Second Life (Assignment 7)

I had limited experience with Second Life prior to taking this class.  Largely due to conversations with Dr. Mark, I was aware of and interested in Second Life some time ago.  When I finally got a computer (last October) that would run Second Life, I created an avatar (Mercutio Foxdale), and went online.  But since I didn’t have anything much to do, I just sort of wandered around Orientation Island, looking lost.  I recorded my impressions at the time:

Well, I actually managed to get onto Second Life for the first time today (it’s very hardware and driver-picky).  I edited my avatar’s appearance a few times, mostly making him taller, slightly thicker, and not quite so effete-thin Final Fantasy lead character looking.  Got a whole passel of free clothing, and decided not to use any of it :)

Got into a brief conversation with another SL’er (very short female avatar. Couldn’t tell if she was going for “kid” or “short young adult.” Didn’t much care, honestly).

Her: Hola.
Me: Hi. What’s up?
Her: Me no ingles.
Me: Ah. No habla Espanol. Sorry.
Her: Adios!

So…I’m not really in the mood to socialize with strangers, and flying around looking at scenery is only fun for so long. So, feh.  If anybody else on my friends lists uses Second Life, my handle there is Mercutio Foxdale. I’m not on much, and probably won’t be on much, unless I have a reason to.

Needless to say, Second Life is no more fun than First Life if you’re broke and friendless (which Mercutio Foxdale was, but, fortunately, Tim Dedeaux is not).  From an interface standpoint, Second Life is a little sluggish and jerky if you’re used to video games, but it’s not that hard, once you get used to it.  Of course, in the time I’ve been using it, they’ve “updated” the interface, and now the menus are all in different places, but I guess I’ll get used to that eventually.

I can see several educational uses for Second Life.  In addition to serving to add a virtual face-to-face element to online classes, Second Live and other OLIVEs (OnLine Interactive Virtual Environments) can be used for simulations, conference presentations (either the small-scale one we did in this course or large virtual conferences that are planned and publicized for months in advance), and cross-cultural interaction.

That said, I doubt I’ll be using Second Life much in my classes.  At this point, too few people have the technology to really take advantage of it, and there is just too big of a learning curve.  Whatever advantages Second Life would bring to an undergraduate class could potentially be overwhelmed by the amount of time and frustration directed at trying to get the whole class signed up, running it reliably, and comfortable with the interface.  But I may be on, either as Timothy Wheelwright or Mercutio Foxdale, so say “hi” if you see me.

Edited to Add:

The possibilities for global cooperation in Second Life are outstanding.  After I get my PhD, I’m planning to try to learn a second language (I took a bunch of French courses years ago, but didn’t have anywhere to practice it, so I forgot it all).  I’ll probably go with Rosetta Stone for the instruction, and then head to Second Life to actually practice speaking with native speakers.

If only in the area of language instruction, Second Life has the opportunity to radically transform the way education is done, and not just for online classes!

Edited to Add, Part 2:

We had an excellent Second Life conference yesterday. I really want to thank and commend Dr. Mark for setting the conference up.  Between the alcoves, the t-shirts, the avatars, the tours, and the publicity – he must have put dozens of hours of work into getting us all set up, and he did a great job with all of it.

I learned a bit more about the interface, such as the ability to have an ongoing group chat separate from the local chat, allowing you to have a running conversation with group members while also talking to whoever is near your avatar (just be careful not to send the messages to the wrong conversation).  I also learned a bit about the controls: apparently, using “Mouselook,” you really can move around using an old FPS-style interface.  Unfortunately, the Mouselook controls don’t let you click on anything, so you’re limited in that.  Perhaps a “click on crosshairs” would be a nice new addition for Mouselook, allowing Second Lifers to actually use the first person perspective effectively.

We had a lot of people at the conference, and I think it was a real success.  People were complimentary and polite, if not terribly talkative, and I ended up “giving out” my Diigo library URL in conversation several times (and wishing I’d prepared a more data-heavy handout, rather than just giving them a “copy to keep” of the slides on my alcove).

Here is a link to my Second Life Conference Handout.

Another thing I learned about SL’s interface is that I absolutely LOVE flying, especially flying up and landing on objects.  It takes a bit of skill, like a mini-game, but it can lead to some really cool looking avatar photos.  Here is a picture I took of “Timothy Wheelwright” before the conference, standing on top of my alcove.  Not bad, huh?

Timothy Wheelwright, standing atop his Alcove

Timothy Wheelwright, standing atop his Alcove

Voicethread (Assignment 6)

Voicethread is an interesting Web 2.0 tool.  It reminds me a lot of Slideshare, in that it seems to focus primarily on uploading and sharing PowerPoint style presentations.  However, Voicethread does have a neat feature that Slideshare doesn’t, and that is the ability for viewers to add comments in either voice recording or text format on any slide in the presentation.

Slideshare seems to be more user-friendly as a backup tool for making sure you have access to your PowerPoint when giving a presentation (in case something happens to your USB drive, or in case the computer you have to work with simply has a problem and won’t run your presentation), and it seems more ‘respectful’ of your presentation, in that it keeps it ‘intact,’ without others’ comments affecting it.

But Voicethread takes a completely different approach.  Instead of being useful as a backup, or even as a Youtube-style social media site, it allows users to jump in and comment on your presentation at any point, turning a presentation into a conversation between as many people as want to comment upon it.  This completely puts the focus on the social, online, Web 2.0 experience, merging some aspects of a Wiki into presentations.

Voicethread was extremely easy to use, but I did run into a few problems.  First, I simply created a presentation with PowerPoint 2007 and uploaded it.  But then I ran into my first problem.  It appeared from the thumbnails in the arrange slides view that my slides were out of order, but in reality, the thumbnails were wrong, and when I “put the slides back in the right order,” I was actually rearranging them FROM the right order TO a wrong order.  It took me a while to figure that out (I had to shuffle the thing several times and re-upload it three times).  They really need to fix that problem, because it makes arranging slides a matter of blind guesswork.

Additionally, I used a very attractive PowerPoint 2007 template for my presentation, but Voicethread did not render it correctly, leaving the slides looking bland and boring.  While they were still very readable, they did not look good at all.

Recording the sound was easy enough, as was creating text and voice comments for other peoples’ slides.  In fact, the commenting process was absolutely painless.  I think that if the site owners fix the technical problems that currently exist, Voicethread will become a very useful, easy-to-use site with a great, unique social dynamic.

Here is my Voicethread: http://voicethread.com/share/1241797/

Drop.io (Assignment 5)

I’m really not sure what to think of Drop.io.  I really like the idea of a non-searchable, essentially private way to share documents that doesn’t require the users to sign up, sign in, or otherwise identify themselves.  With Drop.io, one person chooses the URL and uploads the file, and anyone who knows that URL can go and get (download) the file.  This, I think, is the most useful aspect of the site, as it allows users to share files on an individual basis.  If I put files up on my Mixxt account, and gave both Jack and Jill the passwords, then Jack and Jill would both be able to access all the files on the account.  But if I wanted Jack to access some files, and Jill to access all the files, I could put the files up individually on Drop.io, and only give Jack the URLs of the files that I want him to be able to access.

When it comes to voice recordings, though, I think Drop.io is the solution to a problem that never existed.  The last thing I want to do is have to phone everything in.  If I have a computer in front of me, I can record a voice-based podcast, send a Tweet or email, or create a blog entry, any of which are easier to access, respond to, modify and use in general than an MP3 of a voice message.  If I have my cell phone, I can call or text the person directly.

Having to use both a cell phone and a computer to create a recording just seems incredibly inconvenient.  First, I have to go onto the computer to get the number to call to record my message, and then I have to call and record the message.  I’m afraid I do not understand what this does that a podcast doesn’t do better, easier, and without having to wade through an automated phone menu.  Perhaps this is a considerably more convenient process on a smart phone (like the Droid or the Apple iPhone), because you could do both the Web aspects and the telephone recording aspects on the same device.  At the moment, I have a standard “dumb” phone, so I can’t speak to this directly.

I would say, however, that I have an overall favorable impression of Drop.io.  I can see a lot of different situations in which its file upload and download function could be of great help, whether in an educational, business, or personal context.

The link to my Drop.io is here http://drop.io/tdedeaux

ScreenCastle and Youtube (Assignment 4)

I really like ScreenCastle.  Having a fully Web 2.0 tool for recording screen-capture video is really nice.  I remember Jing, and how much trouble it was – I could never get the audio to sound good (it was adequate as best), and it stayed “in residence” on my computer, slowing things down even when it wasn’t in use (unless I switched it off manually, which I did).  ScreenCastle really solves those problems.  I had no problems putting together a very usable screen captured tutorial on Splashup.com.

Speaking of Splashup, I can’t say enough good things about this site.  I’ve used several Web 2.0 image editing sites before, like Picnik.com, but Splashup is by far my favorite.  Instead of feeling like a Website that allows photo editing, Splashup really comes off as image editing software.  Its interface reminds me of a longstanding favorite of mine, Paint.net, and it does almost everything that Paint.net does, including layers.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally have a Web 2.0 tool that will work with Layers and multiple open images.

I have to say that I like the recent changes Youtube has gone through.  The new changes have made uploading, watching, and finding content easier, with a cleaner overall interface.  I am always amazed at the sheer amount of content available on Youtube.  No matter what I’m looking for, I can usually find something relevant to it on Youtube, from music videos to software tutorials.

I use Youtube as an additional resource for my IT201 classes.  While I’m glad to answer questions for students via email between classes, sometimes it’s faster and better for them to just be able to go to Youtube and search for a related video, then watch somebody do the action and explain it at the same time.  The only hard part is sorting through the often hundreds of tutorial videos that pop up with each search.  It’s a shame that so many school districts take the easy way out and block the entire site, rather than just blocking objectionable videos, because there is a real wealth of useful, helpful information up there.

The social media aspect of Youtube is very interesting as well.  People not only comment on each others’ videos, but also post video responses, create and share playlists, and upload or link to relevant content.  It’s possible to have a very social experience in Youtube, sharing information and helping other people, even without uploading any new content of your own.  In a way, I guess you could say that Youtube has a folksonomy of its own.

Here is a link to the Youtube video of my screencast: http://www.youtube.com/watch

Scribd (Assignment 3)

I have been familiar with document publishing Web 2.0 tools for some time now, in the form of Google Documents.  I was not, however, specifically familiar with Scribd.  One useful thing that sets Scribd apart from Google Documents is the social aspect of Scribd.  While Google Documents tends to protect documents so that only authorized people can read them, Scribd tends to put them out there so that everyone can read them.

For example, I “published” (I’m not sure that’s really an accurate term for posting something online, from the perspective of the publishing industry, but I’ll go with the term anyway) an essay on the Perennialist educational philosophy that I wrote in the Spring for my REF 607 (Building a Student-Centered Curriculum) course.  Since I put the essay online on June 18, 2010, three people have read it, “bigkids97,” “Maria Cris Salcedo Zorilla,” and “Sandilaw.”  As far as I can tell, none of them are in our IT860 class.  This is a good feeling, knowing that something I wrote for class (without any consideration that it would be the kind of article that would be considered for publication in a peer reviewed journal) could be of use to people I have never met.

This social aspect is a major part of what makes Web 2.0 what it is; it’s not only about user content creation, or about not having to download and install applications, but it’s also about socially sharing that user-created content.  It’s also interesting to “follow” your readers, and see what else they are reading.  This can be a good way to find other material that may have some connection to what you’ve written.  I imagine that it is possible to spend a tremendous amount of time on any one of these Web 2.0 sites, just following links and reading what comes up.

On a more technical note, Scribd did a great job of preserving the formatting and readability of my essay (in Word document format), but only did an adequate job of preserving a classmate’s PowerPoint presentation.  Of course, video content was not preserved, and I could not get audio to work in the browser window (using Mozilla Firefox), but that was expected.  However, some of the text was jumbled in some of the slides, and I had not expected that kind of problem to arise.  If I were going to publish a PowerPoint presentation, I would not use Scribd, but would instead use Slideshare, or possibly Voicethread instead.

Here is a link to my Scribd document: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33240674/Essay-on-Perennialist-Educational-Philosophy

Diigo (Assignment 2)

I have to admit, I was first introduced to Social Bookmarking in a previous course, wherein Dr. Hartsell had us use Trackstar to create annotated lists of material related to the papers we were writing.  I became much more familiar with social bookmarking in the precursor to this course, IT780, and I was somewhat fascinated by the concept and execution of it. The idea of taxonomy, such as the ones used in libraries, (official, heirarchical, rigid and formal organizational structure) as opposed to folksonomy (informal, often rapidly changing, organizational structure created by users “from the ground up”), which is used in social bookmarking, is very interesting.

Both require a degree of learning and study to use effectively, but the two are different, in that to learn a taxonomy, you have to learn the specific, technical terms that refer to different subjects and materials,  However, once a taxonomy is learned, it does not change, and you can count on the materials to be labeled accurately (unless somebody made a mistake in sorting – the point is, taxonomies are not subjective or opinion-oriented, although interpretation can involve a few judgment calls).

Folksonomies are, at first glance, extremely intuitive.  Just put some tags on whatever you’re posting, and when you want to find something, just type in some likely search terms.  However, it does take a certain degree of skill and understanding to learn what kind of tags will make your content easiest to find, and what search terms will get the most relevant information (and the smallest amount of useless, unrelated information).

Diigo is a good place to post links, and a good place to look for other people’s links.  However, like much of the user-generated content on the Web 2.0-dominated Internet, there is so much material available that it is very easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer mass of it all.  This is one reason that familiarity with the relevant folksonomies is so very vital, so that you can separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Even if a user is relatively unfamiliar with the folksonomy of social bookmarking, he or she can still get a great deal of use out of Diigo, by creating a library of related web sites (with annotation) for a project, such as a term paper.  This list can be a great help, because it is available on any computer with an Internet connection, as opposed to a web browser’s “Favorites” list, which is only available on the computer on which is was created.  I have used Diigo in this fashion; I’m working on a paper on Augmented Reality, and I have created a list that includes several links to sites with news, reviews, and information on the subject.  I’ve also tagged all of these items, so they could be of use in the future to other Diigo users who are interested in the subject of Augmented Reality.

Here is a link to my Diigo Library: http://www.diigo.com/user/tdedeaux

Twitter (Assignment 1)

I’d played around with Twitter before this class, and never really found much use for it previously.  Coming from a humanities background (English and History), I find that (certain poetry aside), the things that can be said in 140 characters are rarely worth saying.  This is also one of my issues with Facebook, since the bulk of the entries are short and fairly pedantic.  I really don’t CARE who’s standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Tweeting from his cellphone.

However, in the course of this class, I have seen some really smart uses for Twitter, specifically as an announcement service for all of your other social media.  After creating a new blog post, putting a new presentation up on Slideshare or Voicethread, or uploading a new video to Youtube, you can send a Tweet out announcing the new material.  This way, the people on your Twitter list can get everything you do, even if they aren’t on your friends list on every single Web 2.0 tool out there (this is especially useful if you frequently find and use new Web 2.0 tools, which means your friends list will have a lot of trouble keeping up with all your new tools).

Twitter has a pretty easy interface; just type in your thoughts.  I actually had trouble getting the links to work because I was making things too complicated.  I posted the HTML markup for a hyperlink <a href=”INSERTLINKHERE”>Text you want to display goes here</a>, only to find out that it wouldn’t work.  Then I started Googling how to insert a hyperlink into Twitter, and found only information about different software and Web 2.0 programs (many of which required a fee to use) that would do it for you, but no advice about what kind of code or markup to use.  And nobody ever told me that you just had to type the URL in (like this: http://www.twitter.com) or copy and paste it from the URL bar of your browser; I jus thad to figure that part out on my own.

I think this assignment was pretty good, since it showed me some of the practical, academic uses of Twitter.  I still don’t care about what Lady Gaga had for dinner last night, or how long the line is at the DMV, but I see how Twitter can be a valuable tool for keeping others updated as to what you’re doing, and what new content you’re uploading, in a variety of other social media and Web 2.0 tools.

Here is a link to my Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/timdedeaux

Introduction to Blogfolio

Welcome to my blogfolio.  I am preparing this for IT860, Emerging Technology in Instructional Technology, for Professor Steve Yuen at the University of Southern Mississippi.  This class has focused on Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies, and how they can be used in education.  IT860 is a continuation, or follow-up course, to IT780 which I took this Spring.

Dr. Yuen has done a great job in both classes exposing us to new technologies and helping to create an attitude of technological flexibility that will help us stay abreast of new technological developments as they happen.  Technology changes and grows so rapidly that many of the technologies here may be superceded or rendered obsolete in a metaphorical blink of an eye, so the learning the technology is less important than learning how to learn the technology.

This blogfolio will include an overview of the seven major assignments we have covered in this class, each of which covered a different Web 2.0/Emerging Technology tool: Twitter, Diigo social bookmarking, Scribd, ScreenToaster, Drop.io, Voicethread, and Second Life.

Spy Glasses! The future is now!

I got an email from a sporting supply website about new, outdoor-safe camera glasses, the I-Kam Xtreme Video Eyewear.

These include a 3 megapixel video camera with 4GB of onboard memory, for 3 hours video recording.  They also have SD slots for extra memory and can connect with PC’s, no drivers required.

The Realtree camo version is only $169.99, with free shipping.   White and black are $10 cheaper.

Seriously, who thought we’d be hearing about this from a hunting website first?  And what are the implications for privacy and surveillance?  On the one hand, this will make it easier to spy, but on the other, it will make it easier to watch the watchmen, so to speak (how many instances of police brutality have been brought to light because of people with cameras?).

Perhaps devices like these will bring about David Brin’s Transparent Society, after all.

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