3 ways I use Google Reader to do things other than read

The ultimate Swiss Army Knife for sale in Interlaken

A post by George Veletseanos got me thinking about one of the key tools in my PLE – Google Reader – and how I use GReader for things other than reading the myriad of sites and blogs I subscribe to. Here are three things I do with GReader beyond reading.

1) Archive my tweets.

I subscribe to the RSS feed of my Twitter account. I started doing this back in the day when Twitter capped access to old tweets at “about a month” or around 3000, or some other ridiculous number. Now, with Twitter tightening developer access to their api’s, we may begin to see services that allow you access old tweets slowly dwindle.

If you have some server skills, you might want to use a tool called ThinkUp to archive tweets (which not only archives, but also gives you some Twitter stats on your own network activity).

But not everyone has access to their own server or the chops to install and configure their own web service, so a relatively quick and dirty way to archive your tweets is to subscribe to the RSS feed of your Twitter account.

Now, your Twitter accounts RSS feed is even tougher to find than the RSS feed for a Delicious tag. To subscribe to the RSS feed of a Twitter account, you need to know your Twitter user id number. You can do this using a service like MyTwitterID or IDFromUser and then plunking that number into the following url:

 http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/xxxxx.rss

Replacing the xxxxx with your Twitter ID number. Pop that RSS feed in GReader and you are archiving your own tweets.

This is also handy if I want to archive the tweets of key members of my PLN and take advantage of the second thing I like to do in GReader…

2) Search my trusted network for resources.

In GReader, you’ve got the power of Google search,  and I  often use that as a place to start my search about a group of topics. After all, I only add sites that I trust and have vetted as being a valuable resource to me, so who go to the crazy wild web first when I can go directly to the sources I have curated?

3) Track my own comments.

If I add a comment to a blog post, I will subscribe to that comment feed so I can follow up with what gets posted as comments and take part in the conversation. I have tried a number of comment tracking services over the years, but still find this the most reliable and user friendly way to track conversation on blogs. In Greader I have a folder called Comments, and when I subscribe to the Comments feed for a blog post, I add the feed there. That way I can take track the convo and take part in the conversation.

So those are 3 ways that I use Google Reader beyond reading. How about you? Any hacks or ways you use Google Reader that is a bit unusual?

Photo: The Ultimate Swiss Army Knife by redjar used under Creative Commons license.

 

Twitter, PLEs and PLNs

Thought I would share some bits of my thesis on Twitter, PLN’s and PLE’s  as others might find it useful.

What is a PLN?

For all of the conversation occurring among educators about PLNs, there has been surprisingly little academic research on PLNs (Couros, 2010, p. 123). With many educators using this term to describe their own informal learning habits, it is important for educational researchers to investigate exactly what this concept means to those who are using it as a term to describe a learning activity

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a network of people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning (Tobin, 1998). These people may assist you in your learning by acting as a guide, direct you to learning opportunities, and assist you with finding answers to questions (Tobin, 1998).

Digenti (1999) defines a PLN as:

relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning which is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other (1999, p. 53).

Couros (2010) echoes Digentis notion that a PLN is defined by the relationships among the individuals when he states that:

“a PLN is the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment” (2010, p. 125).

In order to fully understand this definition, a distinction needs to be made between the Personal Learning Network (PLN) and the closely related term, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) as the two terms are often used interchangeably when, in fact, they refer to two separate conceptual models.

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) can be thought of as the ecosystem that enables a PLN. A PLE represents

“the tools, artefacts, processes, and physical connections that allow learners to control and manage their learning” (Couros, 2010, p. 125).

Using this distinction, Twitter, along with other ICT’s, are tools of the PLE that enables interactions with a PLN. These other ICTs are significant as the PLN is not limited to interactions on Twitter alone and encompass not only other ICTs, but also face-to-face and non-ICT mediated interactions.

The other ICT’s  that are often used alongside Twitter can be divided into three broad categories; technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data, technologies that are used in conjunction with Twitter, and technologies that are used independent of Twitter.

 

  1. Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data: Twitter extensions are tools that specifically enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data. This category can further be divided into three subcategories;
    1. technologies which participants use to view and manage the Twitter data stream (Tweetdeck and HootSuite),
    2. technologies that participants use to repurpose or modify Twitter data (such as paper.li, Packrati,The Tweeted Times), and
    3. technologies that are used to search Twitter data.
  2. Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter: Technologies in this category are tools that can be used independent of Twitter, but are often use in conjunction with Twitter, such as  blogs, social bookmarking applications (Delicious and Diigo), and collaborative tools (Google Docs). For example, Twitter itself is not a collaborative platform in that participants do not use it to collaboratively create a tweet. However, Twitter is often used in conjunction with Google Docs, a collaborative document authoring application, to help facilitate the creation of a shared resource among the PLN.
  3. Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities. Other technologies that are used independently of Twitter. Examples are Facebook, LinkedIn, forums and Ning.

This is not an exhaustive list of ICT’s used within a PLE, but a sample based on interviews with thesis participants. PLE = Personal Learning Environment; PLN = Personal Learning Network; Data = Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data; Conjunctive = Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter; Independent = Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities

References

Lalonde, C. (2011). The Twitter experience?: the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks. Retrieved September 13, 2011, from http://dspace.royalroads.ca/docs/handle/10170/451

Couros, A. (2010). Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 109-127). Edmonton, Canada: AU Press.

Digenti, D. (1999). Collaborative learning: A core capability for organizations in the new economy. Reflections, 1(2), 45-57. doi:10.1162/152417399570160

Tobin, D. R. (1998). Personal Learning Network. Retrieved October 4, 2009, from http://www.tobincls.com/learningnetwork.htm

 

Embedable tweets

One of the new features Twitter rolled out as part of the recent redesign is the ability to embed tweets in other sites, much like a YouTube video.

In the past, if you wanted to embed a specific tweet in a site you had to use a third party plugin. For this WordPress blog, for example, I’ve been using the Twitter Blackbird Pie plugin to embed tweets like this:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/clintlalonde/status/147501892551983105″]

It has worked well, but reducing the number of plugins you need on a site is a good thing in terms of possible platform conflicts.

For Moodle, on the other hand, the ability to add Twitter content into Moodle has been a bit of a pain, even with the official Twitter widgets, which don’t give you the option of embedding a single tweet. Last weeks announcement should fix that and make embedding tweets into Moodle fairly straightforward (and as soon as I get the new Twitter interface on my own Twitter account I’ll give this a try & update this post).

If you have the new Twitter interface, you can try this tutorial and learn how to embed a tweet using the new embed feature.

 

The role of Twitter in Personal Learning Networks

My Masters thesis (the full title is The Twitter experience : the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks) is now public in the DSpace archives at Royal Roads University.

Here is the abstract:

This qualitative phenomenological study involving in-depth interviews with seven educators in K-12 and higher education examines the role that the microblogging service Twitter plays in the formation and development of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) among educators. A double hermeneutic data analysis shows that Twitter plays a role in the formation and development of PLNs by allowing educators to; engage in consistent and sustained dialogue with their PLN, access the collective knowledge of their PLN, amplify and promote more complex thoughts and ideas to a large audience, and expand their PLN using features unique to Twitter. This research also examines the nature of a PLN and shows that participants believe their PLN extends beyond their Twitter network to encompass both face-to-face and other ICT mediated relationships. Secondary research questions examine how Twitter differs from other social networking tools in mediating relationships within a PLN, what motivates an educator to develop a PLN, how trust is established in a PLN, what the expectations of reciprocity are within a PLN, and what is the nature of informal learning within a PLN.

It has been on the site for just over week now and I was holding off to post this until the RRU thesis office could correct the typo in the title (all fixed) I noticed that people have started making reference to it (thank you, Dan), so thought I should get something up here.

Other than the spelling mistake, one glaring oversight on my part is the lack acknowledgments, so if you will indulge me I want to publicly acknowledge some people.

First, to the 7 participants in the study, thank you for your time, your voices and your stories. This was not a “spend 10 minutes filling out a survey” type project, and I appreciate your graciousness and generosity as participants.

To my thesis supervisor, Bill Muirhead – a calming presence who was always there when I needed him, his steady hand guided me through the process. I feel extremely fortunate to have him as a mentor.

To my PLN (and you know who you are but if you don’t here’s a big hint – you are reading this right now). You feed my head with the best stuff. Thanks.

To my co-workers at both Camosun College and Royal Roads University, specifically Susan Chandler (Camosun) and Mary Burgess (RRU) who’s support and understanding cleared many non-thesis related hurdles away from my path during this project.

Finally, to my family; Maggie and Graeme, who missed their Dad a lot during the whole Masters journey (yes, Graeme, Dad is finished his see-ssus). I know a trip to Disneyland won’t make up for all this missed weekends, but I suspect it might help :).   And to my wife, Dana. No one has had to wear the extra burden of this project more than her, and I feel truly blessed to have someone as supportive as her in my life.

 

3 research studies on potential advantages of using Twitter in the classroom

Three academic studies are cited in this article about Twitter, and how it can increase student engagement, enhance social presence, and help develop peer support models among students through the formation of personal learning networks.

Amplify’d from spotlight.macfound.org
A small but impressive study of students at Lockhaven University in Pennsylvania found that those who used Twitter to continue class discussions and complete assignments were more engaged in their classwork than students who did not.

Four sections (70 students) were given assignments and discussions that incorporated Twitter, such as tweeting about their experiences on a job shadow day or commenting on class readings. Three sections (55 students) did the same assignments and had access to the same information, but didn’t use Twitter.

In addition to showing more than twice the improvement in engagement than the control group, the students who used Twitter also achieved on average a .5 point increase in their overall GPA for the semester.

An earlier study [pdf] by Joanna C. Dunlap and Patrick R. Lowenthal from the University of Colorado at Denver found that Twitter was able to “enhance social presence” and produce other instructional benefits in an online course.

Another experiment into the use of social media at the University of Leicester found that tweeting helps to develop peer support among students and personal learning networks and can be used as a data collection tool. Read a more detailed description of the experiment here. [via Faculty Focus]

Read more at spotlight.macfound.org

 

Using a wiki to collaboratively create course curriculum

I like this case study. It’s not from post-sec, but K-12, and the interview with the educators was done by Wikispaces so they have an interest in promoting wiki technology in a positive light. However, that said, it is still a great example of how educators living at a distance used a wiki to collaborate and develop an OER based on the Grade 6 social studies curriculum in Ontario. It also illustrates the benefits of being open, as the teachers involved sent out a tweet about their final result, which was picked up by the Wikispaces staff, who then interviewed the teachers and hilighted their wiki on their site – which was read by me, and is now being sent out to my network. Their work gets pushed around various networks and amplified, based on a single tweet that they sent.

Amplify’d from www.wikispaces.com
However, as we began to work on the project, we needed a way to share ideas, and work on pulling the assignment together without meeting in person as we all lived a distance away from each other.
We wanted to reach more educators than only those in our faculty and within the first week of our unit being posted, we had other universities’ and your own recognition!
Rachel: As part of our IT course, we were all required to open Twitter accounts and we were encouraged to use it as a way to connect and collaborate with other educators. We were all very excited about our completed wiki so we decided to “tweet” about it. The fact that you found us through Twitter demonstrates first-hand the power of Web 2.0 tools and how effective they are for connecting and sharing with others around the globe.
Marsha: We learned so much for this experience beyond just how to create a unit of study. By jumping right in and being willing to try new things, we really discovered the value of technology in education and one’s own professional development. Now that we have each had experience with creating Wikispaces, we have been able to implement them in a practical way in the classroom and have experimented with its many uses.
Not having integrated vast amounts of technology before, we have realized its potential as educators through the power of collaboration and its use for professional development and its power for our students and their continued learning.
It becomes really difficult when the school isn’t equipped with technology and when— if you’re in a community that is accepting of the idea of integrating technology, I think that that just allows so much growth for your students.
And I think, too, with traditional education, when you think of online games and Web tools and, you know, doing things like this with technology, that it’s not “educational,” and that it’s more just fun, and you’re playing online. But we learned that there are tons of games and tools and resources online, and even just different technological tools that you can use in you classroom that are educational, depending on how you use them and what you want the kids to get out of it.
So if you’re learning from it and enjoying it, then imagine what the students will get from it.
you don’t know if it’s going to work until you’ve tried.
And don’t expect it to be the same experience that someone else had, because you go in, and it’s all trial and error. Does this work, and does that work, and we found that the best way to learn was to play with things ourselves instead of having the instructor sit beside us and set everything up for us, it was so much more, “See what works for you.”

Read more at www.wikispaces.com

 

 

Academics work around the paywall

Academics are finding ways around paywalls to provide access to academic research for colleagues. That’s one of the findings of research conducted by Jason Priem and Kaitlin Light Costello of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on how and why scholars cite on Twitter.

In the research, Preim and Costello analyzed the links tweeted by academics. They  broke the tweets down into 1st and 2nd order tweets. 1st order tweets were tweets that contained direct links to peer reviewed resources. 2nd order tweets were links to a web page (like a blog) which contained either a link or description of a peer-reviewed resource. The tweets analyzed were almost evenly split between 1st and 2nd order links (52%-48% respectively).

What is interesting about this is the reasons why academics link to 2nd order resources. Some found that it fit their workflow better. But others said that it helped them get around paywalls to articles.

That second point bears repeating. It helped them get around paywalls to articles.

[Armando] I’m much more likely, if I see an article that I think is really interesting, to blog about it myself and post a link to that or to link to someone else’s blog about it. Because you can provide a little more substance that way, even to people who do not have access to it behind the paywall.

The quantitative data support this interview finding. While 56% of first-order links were open access, only 25% of second-order links were free to access. This significant difference (p < .001, ?² = 12.86) suggests that scholars may prefer to link directly to the article when it is open access but will resort to second-order links to bypass paywall restrictions. Participants were attracted to open-access articles for Twitter citations; Ben said “I would certainly be much more likely to link to things if they were more readily available.”

Now, I am no academic. I am clueless about how the inner machinations of academic publishing work. But something tells me when academics are finding ways to work around the restrictions put in place to prevent access the research they are creating – well, that tells me something is not quite working with the current system.

Thanks to Tom Fullerton for sending this article my way – via Twitter – a first order citation of the highest order.

 

An Amazing Story of Openness

More reading for my thesis lit review has uncovered a story that would fit nicely into Alan Levine’s growing collection of Amazing Stories of Openness; “personal stories that would not have been previously possible, enabled by open licensed materials and personal networks.”

This one involves Twitter, and comes from a research paper called How and why people Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work.

The open subscription feature in Twitter not only allows users to find interesting people to follow for exchange of information and thoughts, but may also help to establish valuable personal relationships for future collaborations. Tom told us an amazing story about such an experience. A while ago, he tweeted about a book that he was reading and liked a lot. Natasha, a social constructer, was reading the book at the similar period of time. She found Tom’s tweets about the book very interesting and they started following each other on Twitter. Natasha worked on a project with the Kenyan government working to pull Kenya people out of poverty through ICT. Several months later, Natasha sent Tom a message on Twitter asking whether she could talk with him to learn more about Tom’s company before her meeting with executives of the company about the Kenya project. After the meeting with Tom, Natasha invited him to the executive briefing and also invited him as a representative from the company working on the Kenya project. In Tom’s words:

“So, that’s the type of relationship that can be built simply through Twitter. I never knew Natasha, and haven’t been knowing anything about Kenya. She finds me because our common interests and developed a positive relationship that I am very proud of and very interested in continuing.”

Later in the paper, the researchers elaborate more on this relationship.

In the story that we have described previously about Natasha inviting Tom into her Kenya project, Tom told us that this collaboration opportunity not only came through a personal relationship built between him and Natasha, but also because she was able to get to know him from his Twitter updates.

“One of the things that I said to [Natasha] is that I am not an executive and I don’t have any related to executive pool. She said, yeah, I know, I have been watching you for 4 or 5 months now, I understand who you are and I understand your position, but I still want you to be part of this conversation because I know you understand [the technology]. She didn’t care whether or not I had any executive poll, she knew from following me on Twitter, what I was interested in and she knew how I could help her.

Would this type of opportunity come about for Tom BT (Before Twitter)? Perhaps, if Tom and Natasha were in fairly close proximity to each other, and had the opportunity to interact on a fairly regular basis in such a way that Tom could showcase his expertise in an area that Natasha was interested in. But the fact that Natasha was able to follow Tom’s work for such a long period of time, and observe, in such an unobtrusive, ambient way, the level of Tom’s abilities and understanding on a topic Natasha was interested in says to me that there is a different form of relationship building happening here. And, more importantly, a different measure of how we determine who the “experts” are who can provide us what we need when we need it.

Zhao, D., & Rosson, M. B. (2009). How and why people Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work. In Proceedings of the ACM 2009 international conference on Supporting group work (pp. 243-252). Sanibel Island, Florida, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/1531674.1531710

 

I've added Facebook Connect and Twitter login

I have been using Intense Debate as a comment system for a few months now on this blog and, after a few initial hiccups, have been happy with the system. I like the threaded comments and the ability to reply to comments via email without having to log in to my blog. And Intense Debate makes it easy for users to comment using video (which I have activated, but have yet to see an example of from readers).

But above all, I think comment systems do a better job in helping foster a sense of community in a blog. It makes it easier for me to keep track of repeat visitors and commentators, which helps me develop relationships with people who take the time and effort to post a comment.

To help with this last point, I have activated a couple of new Intense Debate options that might make it easier for people to leave comments.

You now have a number of options as to what “identity” you want to use when leaving a comment on the blog. You can do so anonymously as a guest, enter in a name & email address, sign in using an existing Intense Debate account or an OpenID account and now sign in using your Facebook or Twitter account.

What this means is that when you leave a comment using either Facebook or your Twitter account, the link back from your comment will go to either your public Facebook profile or your Twitter page. I am also hoping that it will make it easier for you to share content from the blog on either Facebook and Twitter, but at the moment I am still figuring out exactly how that part works. Still a work in progress…

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#gr8t Tweet

For the month of March, educators who use Twitter are being encouraged to share their favorite tweet of the day by retweeting it with the tag #gr8t. The criteria for what you tag as #gr8t is personal. Share whatever you find relevant, insightful, interesting, humorous or useful.

I like this idea, essentially creating a kind of “best of” filter for Twitter where anyone (whether you use Twitter or not) can track valuable conversations, links, resources, whatever being passed around by educators. Plus it is a nice acknowledgment to the people who pass on useful resources.

If you have been hesitant to dip your toes in the Twitter waters and find out if there is substance to the hype, this might be a good time to jump in to see how powerful Twitter and micro-blogging can be. Sue Waters has set up a very good resource page for educators who want to get started using Twitter.

Even if you decide not to join Twitter right now, there are still a number of ways you can follow along with what is being tagged. The easiest is to use the Twitter search engine and search for the tag #gr8t. This will give you a current snapshot of what educators are tagging as #gr8t right now. Or you can see an aggregated list of tweets on the #gr8t wiki homepage coming from a number of different sources. I expect that over the course of this month, both of these resources will yield a bevy of useful information and resources.

Photo credit: My Twitter Class of ’08 by mallix. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Using EdTech tools – where to start?

217 educational technologists and learning professionals from around the world are currently collaboratively to create a list of the Top 100 Tools for Learning in 2008.

This list has been compiled for the past few years by the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, and is a good jumping off point if you have been thinking of trying out some new tools in your teaching practice, or are looking for new tools to boost your own productivity.

Social bookmarking tool Delicious, web browser FireFox and RSS reader Google Reader currently sit 1, 2 and 3 on the list.

Tools that seem to be gaining traction among educator and educational technologists are the microblogging site Twitter, (although at least one high profile EdTech user has recently abandoned the service). Twitter is up from 43rd to 11th place since last year. Social networking site Ning (31 to 16) and collaborative slideshow tool VoiceThread (101 to 23) are also on the rise.

The Centre is accepting entries and votes for the list until October 31.

 

3 months of Twitter

I was about to add my name to Alan Levine’s Twitter Life Cycle when I realized I have been using Twitter for 3 months now. Has it really been 3 months since I hopped on board the Twitter train? Wow. Time flies when you are having fun. And Twitter is fun.

But beyond fun, in the past 3 months Twitter has quickly become an indispensable tool for me. It is allowing me to connect with people at a completely different level. Clive Thompson at Wired puts it well when he says Twitter creates a social sixth sense.

It’s like proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.

I experienced one of those “feats of coordination” a few days after I signed up for Twitter. Northern Voice was happening in Vancouver. I was unable to attend, but was able to virtually attend as my network kept feeding me information via Twitter. Links to supplemental materials and live videocasts of keynotes were popping up, allowing me watch and listening real time. I followed the backchannel conversations and was able to get a sense of what was happening, from multiple independent sources. People who did not know each other, but happened to be at the same conference in the same room all commenting on the same points. It was incredibly rich – an aha moment for me that convinced me there was something to this Twitter thing.

Since then my delicious account has been filling with Twitter specific content – how academics are using it, both professionally and pedagogically. Tools and mashups to leverage it, and guides and resources I can use to help me convince others to join in.

So, after 3 months with Twitter I can say that there is something there, despite the frequent outages. If you want to find me I’ll be at twitter.com/clintlalonde.

 

I just joined Twitter and I'm lonely – wait a sec…Google can fix that!

Google releases Social Graph API

The scenario:
EdTech geek finally joins YASN (Yet Another Social Network), in this case Twitter. Said EdTech geek now needs to find friends also using Twitter (and find a reason to use it) or else see it go the way of other social networks. Fortunately, some folks whom I virtually follow on a regular basis are already using it, so I check out their profiles and follow along. Uploading my Gmail account catches a few more friends, but this all feels pretty clunky.

Soon there will be a better way. Today Google announced their Social Graph API. Using 2 technologies I’ve never heard of – FOAF and XFN – Google will now be able to track my relationships like they track the linked relationships of webpages. They then open this information up to social network developers who can now make it possible for me to, say, find all my Facebook friends who are using Twitter.

Here’s the high level overview.