March 11th, 2009
My name is Penelope (Penny) Coutas and I am an EdD Candidate in the School of Education. My research involves exploring the use of ICTs for learning and teaching Languages in Western Australian government high schools. My main research website is at http://www.exploringthehyper.net, which is a constant work in progress.

I’ll be posting interesting websites, tools, and resources to this blog as I come across them during my studies at Murdoch. To access the blog feed and subscribe, click here. Sometimes I cross-post to my “research blog” at the website above, but this one documents more than just my research.

I also have a teaching portfolio at http://www.exploringthehyper.net/pcoutas. It’s password-protected, so email me for access.

If you wish to contact me, please do! I’d love to hear from you. Email p.coutas [at] murdoch.edu.au

Hello world!

January 11th, 2011

This is an entry. :)

You might want to include videos, audio, etc.

iPad note-taking app roundup

November 4th, 2010

I borrowed the “family iPad” for the weekend because I wanted teachers at the WILTA Term 4 Workshop & AGM to get some experience in using one and increase response rate to our RTV survey at the same time. A lot of teachers I handed it to responded with “I don’t know how to use this” or “I can’t use this!” but I just smiled, nodded, and told them, “Yes you can,” and they did. It helped to have the survey ready to go and for them to have something to do rather than just “play around” as often happens when teachers are introduced to new gadgets (sorry, “magic and revolutionary devices”). It’s hard to see the application of something until you actually apply it…

This was also a great opportunity for me to test out some new note-taking apps that I’ve been itching to try for a long time now. I’ve blogged before about how I found it difficult to take notes on my iPhone during fieldwork and lectures/seminars and I certainly don’t recommend it. The iPhone’s great for recording quick thoughts and jottings but not for extended note-taking. The keyboard is just too small (you have to look at it the whole time) and it’s just… fiddly! I guess I could try my phone with an external keyboard but I may as well carry my laptop around with me if that’s the case.

Enter the iPad. I can really see the potential of the note-taking apps that have audio-recorders built-in and I’ve been downloading apps as they’ve been recommended to me on Twitter in the hope of borrowing an iPad at some stage.  Apps like SoundNote, Notability, and Complete Class Organizer all allow the note-taker to record audio at the same time and sync those notes to the recording. When the user plays the audio back, they can tap on the text/written notes and the audio will skip forward/back to the point in the recording that the note (entry) was made. This would be incredibly useful not only in lectures/seminars etc. but also in interview situations (the interviewer can jot down notes to “flag” parts of the interview) and in fieldwork (recording a soundscape and at the same time completing an observation schedule). I can’t wait to try it out for research purposes!

So during a School of Education seminar, I gave SoundNote a whirl. This was a fairly typical seminar in that there was a presenter, with a PowerPoint presentation, and the audience viewed and took notes. Questions were at the end. There’s no desks in the room where the seminars take place and the iPad was perfect for jotting down notes on my lap. The app is very straight-forward and easy to use but after about 10 minutes I was getting frustrated by the lack of text formatting options because I like to put my own thoughts/notes in a different colour/italics to distinguish them from verbatim notes; make titles bold; use dot-points. I also got frustrated at not being able to insert images (I often take photos of slides instead of writing them out). On top of that, I found myself having to look at the on-screen keyboard in order to take notes rather than look at the presenter/presentation. The drawing tool, though, was very handy – drawn notes could be added in on top of or with typed notes which sped up my note-taking somewhat (and great for diagramming). But… drawn notes can’t be erased/deleted (arrghh!). Exporting the notes and recording was also a breeze – I really liked how it time-stamped the notes so that the audio and notes could be matched up without using the app (great for creating meeting minutes too!). Despite the limitations of text-formatting and imagery, I concluded that this was (is) a good “entry” to note-taking on the iPad: No learning curve required.

At the WILTA workshop, I tested out Notability and SoundNote. I used Notability to record presentations from 9 students from Bali who gave a short speech about their tastes in music (in Indonesian) and then showed a YouTube video example of their favourite artist. My notes looked like this:

I really appreciated being able to insert “web clips” as I took notes and how the app automatically included the website reference as a caption. The text formatting options were also a real boon after using SoundNote and I found myself going back to the recording later on to add more detail to the notes I had taken – this would be invaluable in a languages classroom lesson! But, again, I had difficulty with the keyboard and with the predictive/corrective text. I hadn’t set up a Bahasa Indonesia keyboard option in advance and found note-taking in Indonesian to be very, very difficult because it kept “correcting” my words! I tried to switch the keyboard under “settings” but (unlike the iPhone) the iPad has no built-in Bahasa Indonesia setting despite being set to Indonesia for location (though, no doubt, a bit of Googling would solve this problem). I also had difficulty with taking notes by drawing – Notability only allows you to create a drawing as an image and insert it, you can’t draw over your notes as you can in Soundnote. Exporting the final product was also “messier” than SoundNote – it doesn’t seem to time-stamp it in the same way.

Finally, I gave ClassOrganizer a whirl (I was on a bit of a spending spree, it seems) to see how it stacked up against the other two. I wanted to see how an app “designed for education” / students would stack up to a note-taking app alone. ClassOrganizer organises notes by subject and has an integrated to-do list (which you can handily update as you take notes!). So it’s kind of like having a school binder with separate sections for each class. It also automatically used the region settings (Indonesia) to format the date/time (a nice touch having “Sabtu, 30 Oktober 2010″ appear on my notes!) and has a calendar function as well.

The major benefit of this app is the ease of using bullet points! There’s text formatting options as well, and like Notability, drawings are added in as separate images. Unlike Notability, however, images/drawings are inserted separately to notes (no text-wrapping). It also crashed a couple of times on me, losing the recording that was in progress. On the plus side, I liked being able to jot “to do’s” as I thought of them while note-taking; there’s the option of importing other document types into your notes whilst still recording; and it was very straight-forward to use. Crashing aside, my major gripe with the app was that it organised my notes by subject – there was no way of having notes exist in more than one subject at once. I would have liked the option of “tagging” my notes rather than having such a rigid classification/organisation system.

All in all, Notability wins for me. I like SoundNote for it’s straight-forwardness (and it’s the one I’d recommend for my parents, for meeting-minute-takers, or for new users to the iPad/electronic note-taking) but the lack of text formatting, bullet points, and images really limit its functionality for me. But who knows what an update might bring? ClassOrganizer is a bit too organized for me, and doesn’t really add anything over Notability. But for students after a “binder,” it’d be a good contender.

Using these apps has definitely inspired me to request yet more features for my Omeka/ethnography app, Jot It Down – it would be great to be able to record and note-take at the same time… and then automatically upload it to the Omeka database. Ahhhh….!!!

The perpetual beta of CALL

October 10th, 2010

I’ve been reading a bit about the hype cycle lately as I’ve been putting together my literature review for my dissertation. And since my research is all about the ‘hype’ and the ‘hyper’ of language learning and teaching with technology (in the middle-school context) it seems only fitting to have a look at the hype of the hype cycle.

The hype cycle is attributed to Gartner Technologies who now annually produce a hype cycle of trends in technology, social media, and so on. It’s been used in a variety of ways and the book Mastering the hype cycle: How to choose the right innovation at the right time by J. Fenn and M. Raskino is well worth a read. From the book:

As she wrote research reports about specific technologies, Jackie [a Gartner employee] realised that there was a common pattern that most, if not all, of them shared. Again and again, she saw a rapid initial rush of enthusiasm for a technology’s potential followed over time by a deeper understanding of what the technology could really achieve. She drew a graph showing the ups and downs of this recurring cycle, gave each stage a catchy name (“Peak of Inflated Expectations,” “Trough of Disillusionment,” and so on), and populated it with example technologies. In the two-page research report showing this graph, she added some advice for clients about how to make decisions at each stage, depending on how much risk they wanted to take. Her report appeared in January 1995, with the title “When to Leap on the Hype Cycle” (p. xiii).

(Fenn, 1995, p. 1).

The Gartner authors recognise and acknowledge that the hype cycle is nothing particularly new: many of the underlying phenomena reflected in the hype cycle have been observed, analyzed, applied and rediscovered over many years by many different researchers, academics, and practitioners (Fenn & Raskino, 2008, p. xiv). They recognise the work of Nikolai Kondratiev on economic prosperity and depression; Joseph Schumpeter’s cycles of “creative destruction;” Everett Rodgers’ analysis of how ideas spread (his famous categorisation of populations into “innovators,” “early adopters,” “early majority,” “late majority,” and “laggards”); and Geoffrey Moore’s identification of a “chasm” between early adoption and mainstream adoption of many technologies and new ideas.

The hype cycle’s particular contribution is in highlighting the challenge of adopting an innovation during the early stages of the innovation’s life cycle. The hype cycle is also, we believe the only model of its type that has moved beyond an abstract concept and been used in earnest as a working management decision tool, tracking thousands of innovations over more than a decade. It’s a simple and highly visual way to represent the cycle of overenthusiasm, dashed expectations, and eventual maturity. But it’s more than descriptive – it’s also predictive… (Fenn & Raskino, 2008, p. xv)

The hype cycle for emerging technologies in 2008, when I conducted my fieldwork, looked like this:

Gartner  hype cycle 2008

Image: Philippe Martin

Of course, this has had me thinking of parallels in educational technologies and language learning. It’s easy to think of examples of new technologies that have gone through a hype cycle in the Languages context such as the “language lab” (especially in the tertiary context) and “learning objects” (for K-12). It’s also easy to apply the above hype cycle of emerging technologies to education more broadly (indeed, this has been done by many as a quick Flickr search reveals) and to Languages as well (I haven’t been able to find any specific models, and would love some references). The vertical axis on the chart is quite interesting – it represents “visibility”. In doing so, the hype cycle isn’t necessarily about use of technologies (in this case), but rather awareness or perception of. In other words, what people are talking about and think are going to be “the next big thing”. The hype. Rather fitting for my research, given the phenomenological slant, right?

Fenn and Raskino give a few overly examples in their book, such as Amazon’s stock prices, changing stock prices in China, and the frequency of the term “business model” in articles archived by Factiva. Each follow the cycle quite closely.

(Fenn & Raskino, 1998, p. 11).

This lead me to try a similar exercise with the term “computer assisted language learning” and Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com). Now this type of search may be problematic in that Google Scholar does not reference all of the CALL journals and only has records of publications available digitally (perhaps a library catalogue search is the next step!) but it does incorporate a very wide range of journal databases and when we’re considering visibility (accessible, easy to find articles) then Google Scholar is probably not a bad tool. The resulting chart looked like this:

The chart begins at 1970 because no results were returned via Google Scholar for articles or books before then. I know they exist, but they are not visible via the search engine. A search on terms such as “language learning” and “technology” together may prove more fruitful, but those terms are also too generic to be very useful: a word like “technology” brings up everything from institutions that teach Languages (e.g. MIT) to retail brochures. To put “language learning and technology” as an exact phrase is also too restrictive as authors may have used more specialised terminology such as “language learning and ICTs” or written it in a different way such as “technology and language learning.” Hence although use of the term “CALL” is quite hotly debated (some say that it should be “Technology Enhanced Language Learning” or just “Language Learning”), I found it a very useful indeed for conducting this search because it is a unique identifier. The term CALL may well be out-dated but I agree with Levy and Hubbard (2005) in that its purpose is to identify the field and not necessarily to define it. The term increases the searchability and findability of the field as a concept.

At first glance, the line graph appears to fit the cycle somewhat and the dip around 2000 (a “trough of disillusionment”?) is reflected in the literature with authors questioning CALL’s identity as a discipline and the need for a more explicit research agenda (Chapelle, 1997; Davies, 2001). However, this in turn sparked many more articles on the issue of CALL’s identity, and retrospective pieces that have done much to define and (re)imagine CALL as a field (e.g. Levy & Hubbard, 2005; Salaberry, 2001), accounting for much of the upward trend. Perhaps the graph charts visibility of the term “CALL” rather than visibility of the use of technology for learning and teaching Languages, but to my mind the two are very much related and so it serves both purposes. But the hype cycle is certainly not pronounced (there’s no real “peak of inflated expectations”), and I fear that I’m making the data fit the model rather than using a more grounded approach.

What the above chart shows to me, really, is that the field of CALL and the associated (talking of and visibility of) use of technology is still emerging. 800 ‘hits’ from Google Scholar for articles published in 2009 is tiny, relatively speaking. The field may be growing in momentum and visibility but it is nowhere near the “plateau of productivity.” Indeed, not one teacher or student I interviewed during my field work actually referred to “CALL”, no documents from the schools reference it, and in our second interview, I had to define the terminology in my questions. The same went for my questions about “emerging technologies,” many of which I thought were mainstream but, as it turned out, were not at all visible to my teacher and student participants. So one interpretation is that the field of CALL is still at the beginning of the hype cycle and we are only now seeing the “peak of of inflated expectations.” The hype has barely begun, especially in K-12.

This begs the question, how long does a technology need to be emerging before it is no longer defined as such? How long does a field need to be emerging before it is no longer defined as such? Will the field of CALL ever emerge from perpetual beta? Will I get to see the (K-12) plateau of productivity?

My research project is only one contribution towards the field, emerging or not. Hopefully it doesn’t fall into the “trough of disillusionment” but rather is an attempt to build up that “slope of enlightenment.” In any case, it is a chance to explore the hype and increase visibility and thought about language learning and technology, at least for my participants. It would be interesting to apply the hype cycle to other aspects of CALL, and to chart emerging technologies for Languages education against it, as in Martin’s chart above. It would also be interesting to compare CALL-visibility in the tertiary context to that of K-12. Is anyone up for the challenge?

Chapelle, C. (1997). CALL in the year 2000: Still in search of research paradigms? Language Learning & Technology, 1(1), 19-43.

Davies, G. (2001). New technologies and languagelLearning: A suitable subject for research? In A. Chambers & G. Davies (Eds.) ICT and language learning: a European perspective (pp. 13-27). Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers.

Fenn, J. (1995). When to leap on the hype cycle. Gartner Group, http://www.gartner.com

Fenn, J., & Raskino, M. (2008). Mastering the hype cycle: how to choose the right innovation at the right time. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Levy, M., & Hubbard, P. (2005). Why call CALL “CALL”? Computer Assisted Language Learning, 18(3), 143-149.

Salaberry, M. R. (2001). The use of technology for second language learning and teaching: A retrospective. The Modern Language Journal, 85, 39-56.

Anytime anywhere learning and anytime anywhere teaching

September 15th, 2010

I went to the Apple University Consortium Mobility Seminar at ECU today and enjoyed the presentation by Stephen Atherton and team in which they gave a good overview of recent going-ons with Apple in higher education. The focus was on mobile learning and in particular the “magical and revolutionary” iPad and associated apps/iTunesU. Links and references used during the presentation were made available here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/272671/mLearningTalk.txt

Many of the apps demonstrated by the team facilitate collaboration over “content” (their words), that is, the ability to annotate, mark-up and otherwise share ideas related to the content. For example, one app gave the ability for students to highlight text and insert sticky notes for a “power user” (the teacher) to read. We were told that this would be a great diagnostic tool for the teacher to know where their students were up to in their reading and what problems they were having.

Great. Lots of opportunity for feedback, analytic-reflective teaching, and formative assessment. On the other hand…

A lot of the practical applications presented during the seminar place the onus and responsibility for learning on the teacher rather than on the student or on student groups. I’m sure this wasn’t intentional, but as I saw more and more examples, I felt more and more uncomfortable. As a teacher, I don’t want to be responsible for knowing where my students are up to in their reading or reading their annotations on their work-in-progress all of the time. I have far too many students to follow with that kind of detail. I’d much prefer for them to go through self-assist strategies of researching, asking a peer, asking a member of their PLN, etc before coming to me. As a teacher, I don’t want to be responsible for uploading and managing course “content” (which, by the way, I think we should think of as “learning materials” or “resource”). I want the students to be produsers. As a teacher, I do want to be responsible for providing opportunities for my students to learn, but I want them to be responsible as well. And accountable. And I have to respect their right to fail.

But the idea of access to ongoing, point-of-need feedback and facilitating/mentoring got me thinking. There’s a lot of talk about mobile learning and “anytime anywhere” access – access not only to physical resources (books, videos, podcasts, etc.) but also people resources (teachers, tutors, critical friends, PLN communities). So does anytime anywhere learning lend to expectations of anytime anywhere access to teachers/tutors? To formal learning? A lot of tertiary educators talk about the struggle of email and being contactable 24/7. Well, what about apps like the ones demonstrated yesterday where the teacher/tutor/facilitator is the “hub” of learning, and all roads for feedback lead back to them? Certainly, it is normal to take home with you as a teacher (“pull”) but what about when work comes to you at home (“push”)? Ding! You have new mail! Ding! You have a new blog post delivered via RSS! Ding! There’s an annotation in this .epub where a student needs help. Ding! It’s now midnight and you’re still trawling forum posts and you haven’t uploaded that lecture-cast yet…

Some educators set office hours and stick to that rule, and I admire those who do. But I’m still interested in the expectations for and of anytime anywhere learning. Are there expectations of anytime anywhere teaching? In the tertiary context? In K-12? And what does this mean for how we envisage ourselves, our jobs, and our careers?

Cross posted to my research blog: http://www.exploringthehyper.net/blog

Touching, Stroking and Loving the iPad

June 9th, 2010

Yes, I was one of ‘those’ lining up to have a pay with the iPad when it got released here in Australia. I was a bit so-so about it all, but had to see for myself what all the fuss was (is) about. What I discovered was that it’s not so much about seeing for yourself, it’s about interfacing for yourself. That’s the thing with the iPad: it’s not just a viewer or a portal or a ‘web device’, it’s something that you interact with in feeling and touching. It’s not just about seeing.

I’m hooked. Unfortunately it’s beyond my means to buy one myself and so I’ve been living vicariously through first a lovely professor at uni, then my parents (I have visitation rights), and now a friend’s as I babysit her children. I’m currently updating this blog from it, and although I’m a bit frustrated that I can’t easily flick between apps and put in Flickr pics etc, I know it’s because I haven’t set up the back end of my blog to make that easy rather than a limitation of the iPad itself (athough multi-tasking in iOS 4 will be nice!). And sure, typing isn’t the easiest and the iPad’s corrective spelling can be annoying, but wow. I’m impressed!! I struggle to write extended text on my iPhone whereas this is a joy in comparison. I can see the iPad as being a practical tool in field work, especially observational work because it’s not as obtrusive as using a laptop and much easier to use than an iPhone.

Here’s hoping another team of students take up my iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad project next semester: I’m looking forward to trying out Jot It Down on this “magic and revolutionary device”!!

Cross-posted to my research blog: http://www.exploringthehyper.net/blog

Wordle for June

June 7th, 2010

Cross-posted to my research blog: http://www.exploringthehyper.net/blog

Oh my goodness. I can’t believe it’s June – I’m still getting used to writing “2010” instead of “2009”! Below is a Wordle (http://www.wordle.net) generated from the beginning section of my “Methodology/Methods” chapter. As I’ve blogged before, Wordle works by generating a “word cloud” based on the frequency of words in a given text – the larger a word appears in the cloud the more frequently it was used in the original. In this Wordle, there are no real surprises for the big words that appear:

I expected”research,” “ethnography,”, “data,” “qualitative,” “researcher,” “researchers,” and “ethnographic” to appear in big, bold font. But what’s interesting is looking at the smaller words, the ones that I’ve circled in black. The fact that “may” appears at all is problematic – it signifies that I am using passive language instead of active language or past-tense. As this is a report, I should be reporting on what did occur rather than what I ‘May” have intended, or intend to do (as you would in a proposal). That “experience,” “constructivism,” “perspective,” and “life” are also teeny-tiny imply that I have not drawn enough attention to them in my text. Considering that this beginning section is all about theoretical framework, epistemology, ontology, and so on, these words should be much bigger than they are.

I intend on Wordle-ing frequently as I continue to write. I’ve found it to be a great tool for both data analysis (i.e. my research data) and for writing analysis (i.e. my reporting) because it forces me to look at the source text in a different way and brings things to the fore (literally) that I may not have thought to look at.

Plus it’s pretty :)

Paying it forward with STAR-y eyed batik

May 28th, 2010

Back in 1998, a STAR Peer Tutor from Murdoch University visited my yr11 Indonesian class and tutored us in small groups. This was fabulous – our teacher’s language level wasn’t the best, and because we had a split yr11/12 class it was great to have some more individual help. It is largely due to this peer tutor (and his brochures about Murdoch and ACICIS!) that I decided to continue with my Indonesian language studies and study at Murdoch. I then became a STAR Peer Tutor myself upon beginning university and continued right the way through until graduation. I had the opportunity to experience a range of classroom settings; work with some amazing teachers and students as a ‘tutor’ rather than as a ‘student teacher'; and gain an understanding and appreciation of how complex the school environment really is. I have no doubt that this was of great benefit upon doing my teaching prac’s and then becoming a teacher myself!

Then, as a teacher, I jumped at the opportunity to have a STAR Peer Tutor work with my own students and so now I’ve experienced the programme from just about every perspective! So when I get asked to help with workshops for the STAR Programme for student visits to the Murdoch Campus, I always say “Yes” even when snowed under. My thesis will write itself, surely?

We’ve had over 180 year nine students from a local high school visit Murdoch this week over two days. The students were split into five groups and rotated between science and Indonesian activities. It’s quite unusual to bring year nines to a university campus, but I think very important – it may set something in motion and get them thinking about “what I might want to do after school…” at a time when they’re usually more interested in, well, themselves! I, too, brought students to Murdoch for excursions over 2004-2005 and noticed what a positive impact it had on their approach to language learning upon returning to school.

I always give my batik workshops in Indonesian, immersion style, and get the kids speaking Indonesian as much as possible. It’s a lot of fun and they get to take something home with them. Brilliant artwork? Maybe not. But definitely brilliant language work on their part.

It’s now eight years since I did my first batik workshop for STAR, and I hope someone else will put their hand up when I’m no longer studying here (the end is nigh!! Surely!!). I hope to bring my own students on an excursion to Murdoch again some day, and give them the opportunity to experience a different setting and meet “real people” who “really use Indonesian” in “real life”!!

My PLN and those “Aha!” moments

May 17th, 2010

Mid-2008, I submitted my research proposal for review and gave a panel presentation about it (nerve-wracking stuff!). In my proposal, I outlined the literature and rationale behind the study, the proposed methodology and methods, ethical considerations, research instruments, intended analysis (and analytical framework), and so on – everything you’d expect to see in a qualitative research proposal. I talked about things like the context of the study, hypermedia ethnography as methodology, the use of the iPhone and an online database, how I’d interview people at schools, and how I’d ensure confidentiality for my participants. What I didn’t talk about was the use and potential impact of my Personal Learning Network (PLN).

In beginning my “research journey” (oh how I hate that term but here I am using it again), I had no idea how important my PLN would become or what an influence it would have on my work at all stages of the “journey”. At the time I considered my PLN to be quite peripheral to my work or “core business” (being research) and perhaps I thought it unnecessary to mention. After all, you wouldn’t necessarily describe your intended use of a pen, email or telephone in a research proposal. But over time it has become much more central, especially this writing (and thinking) stage, and I realise just how much it has shaped my readings, understandings, and subsequent analyses of “What is going on here”: my central research question.

My personal learning environment

My Personal Learning Environment is more than just my PLN

A personal learning network is part of a personal learning environment (PLE). The two terms are often used interchangeably, but I distinguish between the two because I feel that the PLE encompasses everything I use in learning and researching (the total environment), whereas the PLN is the networked component, with an emphasis on connections, particularly ones to do with people. So in my PLE I include learning from books, journal articles and other scholarly works; lectures; conferences; fieldwork; and data analysis (just to start! There’s far more than this in my PLE!) whereas my PLN is largely based on Social Network Systems (SNS’s) such as Twitter, Facebook and Skype; chats with peers, friends, and my supervisors (technology-mediated or not); and the chance meetings and conversations at conferences that occur outside of formal sessions. It’s about conversations. I count RSS feeds (to blog posts, magazines, articles, podcasts, etc.) as part of my PLN as well because although the way I read them is part of my learning environment (i.e. computer-mediated), the content is networked (through use of hyperlinks, track-backs, and RSS) and written for a networked audience. The information I access through RSS is designed to be a conversation (even if I don’t engage in it conversing back), and it is informal literature even though it is, in a sense, peer-reviewed. Essentially, though, when I think “PLN,” I think of the not-quite-synchronous-but-potentially-not-asynchronous conversations I have with people through SNS’s.

Follow this link to see different ways people have envisaged their PLN.

Or view this great presentation by the same author, Joyce Seitzinger:

You Are Not Alone – Presentation at #eTLC09 eFest 2009

Engaging with the not-quite-synchronous form of communication enabled through many SNS’s has been termed as communicating in the “nearly now.” Using Short Message Service (SMS) on mobile phones is a good example of this form of communication: The SMS may be sent “now” and there’s a chance someone will respond immediately, but there is usually a lag. It is not as sychronous as a telephone conversation, but it is not as asychronous as email or letter writing either.

As a teenager, I was heavily involved in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and ran one of the Australian-based largest chat channels. IRC was a big part of my PLN because it allowed me to network with other high school students at other schools who were studying the same TEE subjects. Nowadays, I mainly use Twitter and Facebook as SNS’s-of-choice. Twitter is my “professional” SNS, Facebook is my “social” SNS. I have made an active effort to follow colleagues and leaders in educational technologies/languages on Twitter, keeping it as “professional space,” and I’ve tried to keep Facebook as “social space.” Although the two virtual spaces do overlap from time to time, I see this akin to what occurs in physical space: You may run into colleagues and frolleagues at the pub (social space) but you wouldn’t necessarily go there for a seminar or for work (professional space). Then again, that pub may have a function room for hire, and so sometimes it might be appropriate for social space to become professional space (like joining a common professional-interest group on Facebook).

Filtering the Internet

My PLN helps me filter the internet

It is through these spaces (or networks) that a lot of my learning occurs, and through which my learning is filtered. This is both professional learning and social learning: Professional learning being that which I associate with “work” or “research;” and social learning being that I associate with friends, family, and hobbies. For example, I recently learned that Voki have started up an educational version (professional learning) and that one of my good friends is pregnant (social learning) through the use of SNS’s. In both cases I may have learned this news through other means or media, but it would have been very asynchronous and a lot further down the track! But the major benefit of SNS’s and my PLN are the conversations. The links and suggestions are important, but the conversations moreso. For me, it’s all about the Aha! moments, those highly motivational and important moments of inspiration that come during research work. People in my social PLN may not care about those moments, but I like to think that the people in my professional PLN do. It’s like having access to a 24-hour staffroom of people who share similar (work) passions and interests as yourself, and provide useful (critical) feedback and encouragement. Even if this is only my perception of my PLN rather than the actuality, that perception is important. An imagined community is better than no community at all.

Computers won’t ever have Aha! moments; only people are capable of experiencing that joy. However, computers will support your access to previous work, consultation with peers and mentors, rapid generation and exploration of proposed solutions, and dissemination within the field. They can help make more people more creative more of the time (Shneiderman, 2002, p. 17).

I do feel that my PLN helps me be more creative in terms of thinking and producing. I often send out questions regarding everything from opinion-seeking (“do you think language teachers should….”), to practice-seeking (“do you give homework to students?”), to website design/coding questions (“How do I….”), to asking for advice on thesis writing itself (“When using APA style…”). It really is a network of support, and a very effective one (yes, I do get @replies!). One constraint, though, is that it can be a bit of an echo chamber in that I follow like-minded people who in turn follow similar things as myself. Although this is useful in getting timely access to information-of-interest (filtering the internet) it also means that I may miss out on contrary and alternate views and information sources. And so it’s important to recognise that a PLN is not a PLE – it is only one component, and complements and extends other sources of information. Those other sources of information are also very, very important.

My research would not be the same without my (online) PLN. The conclusions I am coming to, the recommendations I will make, and the style in which I write have been and will be influenced by the connections I have in my PLN and throughout my PLE. It is a constant source of support, information, and motivation and forces me to reflect on and extend my learning in ways I would not when working in isolation. I do worry about how I will “disconnect” from my PLN when the time comes to submit but it is far more likely that my PLN will evolve to suit my new professional learning context, whatever that may be!


Shneiderman, B. (2002). Leonardo’s Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

My Favourite Things

April 8th, 2010

I’ve been running (facilitating) a course for Languages teachers based on the 23 Things programme here at Murdoch University (which was in turn adapted from the http://macetg.wordpress.com/about-learning-20-mac/ project of the Emerging Technologies Group at McMaster University Library) for a year and a half now. In it we explore 23 ICT Things that are useful for learning/teaching Languages both in terms of classroom practice and in terms of professional learning. We look at Things like blogging, Wordle, Voki, RSS, Glogster, and so on. It’s been quite successful because teachers are introduced to these tools over a period of time and they do have time to explore them. It’s also been great for me as a facilitator because I’ve had extended contact with participants and get to hear about how they’ve gone with the Things in their classroom contexts rather than being more “fly in fly out.”

Recently, a tweet from @jessmcculloch (Twitter is another Thing!) moaning about transcription work which prompted my suggestion of Transcriva got me thinking. What are my favourite Things in academia? For working, learning and teaching in a university context and for engaging in research? What would I put in “23 Things for Academics”?

So here’s my list (only in the order they leapt out in my mind, not an intentional one!)

  1. Trascriva: a great tool for transcription on the Mac. I don’t know what I’d do without it! Probably curse a lot more at MS Word
  2. Blogging: You’re reading it now. My blog(s) act as an online notebook – the hub of my learning, recording, and doing!
  3. Zotero: A reference/citation manager that runs rings around EndNote because it cuts down on data entry to the n’th degree and has an online backup system. If you haven’t checked it out, go now! Stop reading this list! Go!
  4. Google Scholar: I thought this was a given but I’m continually surprised by how many people don’t use it, and how many lecturers tell their students not to use it! Being able to search effectively, whether that be with Google Scholar or through databases directly, is an important skill in academia. Plus you can see how many people are citing you :). Before there were track-backs there were still citations!
  5. Twitter: If you follow celebrities, you’ll find out what they had for lunch. But if you follow people working and researching in your field you’ll find out what has their attention. And it’s likely something you’d like to attend to!
  6. Wordle: I find this incredibly useful for visualising my writing in different ways, analysing interviews, looking at over-used and under-used words… it’s on my list not just for Languages teachers
  7. Turnitin: I was a bit anti-Turnitin to begin with (how DARE they keep a copy of my work on file!) but as a marker, I really appreciate it. It’s not so much about catching plagiarizers (it’s often oh-so-obvious when it’s not a student’s own work), it’s about building a case against them. Previously I’d have to find the articles/essay/whatever and match it all up manually, building up the evidence that it is indeed more copying than you’d expect in an undergraduate essay. With Turnitin, it’s all there! Brilliant! And it’s a great tool for students (and researchers!) to inspect their own writing and check their paraphrasing.
  8. Google Calendar: This calendar has replaced my diary. I don’t know what I’d do without it now. I love how it syncs to almost anything I want it to, that I can share calendars, that I can get automatic alerts for conferences, and that I can colour code everything. It just works!
  9. Google Docs: Continuing my ode to Google, Google Docs are fabulous for collaborative work and generating quick surveys
  10. A RSS Reader: It doesn’t really matter which one, but a way of managing RSS feeds is essential in academia. Subscribing to RSS feeds of important journals, blogs, and other news sources for the field is essential.
  11. PHD Comics: OK, this might count more as a procrastination tool than an ICT tool, but I have absolutely loved following this comic over the course of my studies. It reminds us that we’re not alone in this “journey” and the comic hits so close to home, so often, that I wonder if the author isn’t spying on our office
  12. Delicious: One of the best tools for managing bookmarks. Mine’s a bit of a mess at the moment (like many of these things it needs some nurturing and pruning from time to time!) but I have long since given up trying to remember website addresses or keep them bookmarked on my computer. Much easier to be able to access them from Delicious whenever I want, wherever I want! Delicious is also a great place to search for webpages that people have tagged as relevant to a topic/keyword, and not a machine.
  13. The Book Depository: Cheap books!! Amazon may still be cheaper for some academic texts, but Book Depository with its free shipping is catching up!
  14. LibX Toolbar: Oh how much easier this makes searching the Murdoch Library Catalogue! You can read more about why a LibX toolbar is so useful it in a recent blog post by Kathryn Greenhill. She’s much more eloquent than I in waxing lyrical.
  15. Slideshare.net: A great place to publish slides so that they’re embeddable in other media (e.g. blog, wiki, etc) and also to find presentations to inform, adapt, or model on. Check out Death by PowerPoint for an absolute must-view.
  16. Search @ CreativeCommons: For making all of those presentations! Copyright free / Creative Commons images are the way to go, and this helps you find them. And then record where you got them from using Zotero! (Thanks Kathryn for that tip!!)
  17. The FireFox Browser: There’s just so much more you can do with FireFox than you can with other browsers. I regularly use extensions such as “Scrapbook” to archive websites, “FireFTP” to quickly transfer files, “Firebug” to find sneaky pieces of web code, and of course helpers such as LibX, Delicious, and Zotero.
  18. Scrivener: I’ve only just begun using this but I like it so far! It seems to ‘organise’ writing the way that I like to work. We’ll see how it goes!
  19. Skitch: A mac app for assisting with screen capture. I use this a lot to create instructions for students, to take quick snapshots of pages (or parts of pages), keep Twitter messages safe, and so on. Also a great tool when constructing PowerPoint presentations.
  20. A program for annotating .pdf’s: Adobe Professional ($$$) and Preview (on Mac) both make annotating .pdfs easy. I mark student assignments using Preview by inserting comments and scribbling (literally) over their work. I find it far easier and more flexible (especially with the scribbles!) than using “track changes” in Word.
  21. CoverItLive: A great tool for ‘covering’ a conference by bringing in a range of feeds and peoples to a web audience. It can be quite intensive to use (I end up focusing so much on what is really a transcription exercise that I don’t listen/engage in the same way I normally would or make my own notes and meta-notes) but it is one of my favourite tools for relaying conference presentations due to its ease of use. Plus you can always go back and re-visit what was said! Check out my EuroCALL Conference posts to see it in re-action
  22. Freemind: An open-source mind-mapping tool. There’s other ones around, but this one is free, easy to use, and offers a range of formats.
  23. QuickTime: I do a lot of video editing in my research work and the new version of QuickTime with its “trim” functionality has dramatically reduced the number of steps and time it takes to edit clips!

So there you have it. My favourite web/computer-based Things. Of course, I use a lot more than this (I hardly mentioned productivity/presentation tools like Word, PowerPoint, iMovie, etc.) but in a 23 Things programme, I think these would make the list.

What would you add or replace?

Interactive Whiteboard Update

April 7th, 2010

Quite a while back (more than a year!) I wrote a bit of a whinge post about using an ebeam interactive whiteboard (IWB) during tutorial sessions at Murdoch. I wrote about how difficult it was to setup, use, dismantle, etc. And after using an IWB again last week, I’m here to report that… not much has changed. There’s been three IWBs installed in the E&H building (that I know of) over the past year or so, which is fantastic (wall-mounted SmartBoards are much better and easier to use than portable ebeams in my opinion!) but they are very rarely used. One is in the science room, with a wall-mounted data projector (yay!) pointed at it (yay!) and is used a fair bit in the science curriculum units, but the others are in large general purpose rooms, fixed to the wall at the back and to the side, with no data projector pointed at them, and no USB cables attached. The room’s speakers are also at the front of the room requiring either a really, really long extension cable or the use of portable speakers. There is no plug’n’playteach functionality here! This means that in order to use the IWB with classes last week I needed to set up –

  • A data projector (with a dodgy foot making it difficult to align with the board
  • Desks piled on top of each other for the data projector to sit on so that it was at the right height.
  • A set of speakers
  • A USB cable and extension cable to hook up to the IWB
  • A power board and extension cord
  • The IWB pens
  • My laptop

By the time I’d done all of this, we were already 10mins into the workshop session, even though I’d arrived 10mins early and entered as soon as the previous class were exiting! There were cords everywhere (a safety nightmare), especially on the first night before I realised what extension cables would be needed, and it was in no way a modeling of “best practice”. Even the way we could arrange desks and chairs was dependent on the cables and projector (which kept slipping out of alignment forcing numerous recalibrations!). What a pain! Oh how I wish I’d taken a photo, it needed to be seen to be believed.

So why bother?

Well, not only does it make a good talking point about ICT installation decisions (on the second night the students set it up themselves to get practice), but I believe that using IWBs as pre-service teachers at university is very important. IWBs are becoming one of the most common technologies in classrooms, especially in primary settings, and our teaching students will likely encounter them on pracs and in their own early careers. They need to practice. They need to download the software and start creating materials using the IWB’s Notebook rather than PowerPoint (all the time). They need to get over the novelty of the IWB and start thinking about ways in which its use extends and enhances student learning. They need to find networks of support and resources, and be able to evaluate the materials they find there based on models of good practice they’ve already seen. They also need to get over the novelty of it so that the teacher is not the one always using it and can ‘trust’ the students to self-access. All of this only comes with practice and experience, and I wonder how they can gain that if the IWBs are never rarely used? I’m not saying that I use it well during these sessions (I’m too much of a novice myself! And I find it difficult to stop “presenting” and start “facilitating”!) but every time I do use it I think I get a bit better, and it becomes a bit more normalised for me too.

Hopefully in another year’s time I’ll be raving about how easy it was to setup and use.