Tuesday, June 30, 2009

kansas goes open access

Go Jayhawks!

Friday, June 26, 2009

twitter stuff

Percival, S. (2009, June 21). The story (so far) of Twitter. Manolith. http://www.manolith.com/2009/06/21/the-story-so-far-of-twitter/. Accessed 6-09.

Puente, M. (2009, June 10). There's an art to writing on Facebook, Twitter-- really. USA Today, Freep.com. http://www.freep.com/article/20090610/NEWS09/90610020/There+s+an+art+to+writing+on+Facebook++Twitter+--+really. Accessed 6-09.

Lefkow, C. (2009, June 19). Telling a story in 140 characters or less. AFP, Google. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hyBakGCoR8lwV1Hodzsi6pF8JC9Q. Accessed 6-09.

Stross, R. (2009, June 13). Hey, just a minute (or Why Google isn't Twitter). New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/business/14digi.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss. Accessed 6-09.

Cole, S. (2009, June 4). 25 ways to teach with Twitter. Tech & Learning. http://www.techlearning.com/article/20896. Accessed 6-09.

OnlineColleges.net (2009, June 8). 50 ways to use Twitter in the classroom. http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2009/06/08/50-ways-to-use-twitter-in-the-college-classroom/. Accessed 6-09.

Landler, M. and Stelter, B. (2009, June 16). Washington taps into a potent new force in diplomacy. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/world/middleeast/17media.html?_r=1. Accessed 6-09. (Obama, Iran, Twitter)

Gray, L. (2009, June 18). Friday 5: Twitter 101. Infinite Thinking Machine. http://www.infinitethinking.org/2009/06/friday-5-twitter-101.html. Accessed 6-09. (good links)

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Monday, June 22, 2009

all that twitters is not told

I've concluded that what is special about Twitter is the hashmark, which I didn't quite see for the first few months I was on it. I could get the idea of the at sign (@), which simply directs a tweet toward someone, but even then I missed some of them that were directed at me, because I didn't click on the at sign to my right, to see what people had directed at me. Not that too many people spoke directly at me; as I said, I was pretty sleepy on Twitter for months.

But using the hashmark puts you in a crossroads place, where you see every post that has that hashmark sign; on the #iranelection site, they come at you at the rate of thirty or forty per second, more than a person could possibly read. The ingenious thing about this loose alliance is that literally everything you read is about the same topic, though quite a few are repeated, and the sum total is somewhat like being in a place where thousands of people are talking about the same thing, in this case, the Iran uprising. So here you find people imploring each other to take the wounded to one embassy or another; to learn how to use proxy servers and hide their tweets; to burn the motorcycles of the Basij, a group of government enforcers; to look at this or that YouTube of violence in the streets of Tehran. Videos are often in Farsi and there are Farsi signs everywhere, but because the videos are homemade, it very much gives the effect of being there in Tehran, with the demonstrators.

I've found the whole Twitter/Iran situation fascinating, but of course for a novice like me it brings up a number of unanswered questions. Presumably the government could control cell-phone towers in the country, but do the protesters have other options, like connecting to wireless computers? Or is the government just unwilling to cut off all cell phone communication, since there would definitely be a price to that, socially and politically? I have no idea. I'm like many of the protesters, probably, out there, experiencing the interactions of the masses, knowing that history is being made, yet not quite knowing all the details.

The role Twitter plays in the whole situation is fascinating. I also find it hard to believe that anyone trusts anyone: why would you rely on what is essentially public channels of communication to orchestrate a revolution? The government is clearly trying to track down the writers of revolutionary tweets and provocative offerings; it's a cat-and-mouse game. Tweeters hide their domains, protect their own, try to keep tweeting under adverse circumstances, from their mobiles or wherever. The government kills or arrests anyone deemed to be provoking a revolution.

My reaction to the hashmark game is, basically, why settle for such a long one? These hashmarks are going to get shorter naturally, as people try to squeeze stuff into 140 characters. They will become a code in and of themselves, shorter, a kind of code that most people will recognize but new people won't. Already there are a number of things I don't get. RT= retweet? I guess that should be obvious. A number of codes that don't mean much to the outsider, but, in hashmarks anyway, the shorter will be preferred to the longer. #neda, for example, is clearly better than #iranrevolution. An outsider might need to know who Neda was, to actually leap over there, but the #Neda hashtag has staying power, because it fits into tweets more easily. Its true staying power will be determined by whether its community provides a service for those who join it, a service unique to it, not already taken by one of the other hashtag communities. Being hard to find by the authorities might be important too, but who knows about that? I wouldn't know an imposter tweeter from any other kind. My point being, the lives of the hashtags have trajectories of their own, much like e-mail listservs that have lively eras but change or become dormant until they expire.

It leaves me wanting to write about the view from the streets of Tehran; I'm strangely energized by it, as if I'd seen it from the dirty windows of an old hotel. I know full well that my own view is that of fuzzy You-tubes, retweeted messages that appear to be echoing through streets and tweets, in short, only what some people want me to see, or want each other to see.The world sits tensely by its twitters, waiting anxiously for news from those in the know; I, having only visited this online crossroads a dozen times or so, don't really count. It makes the events of the place immediate though. I can say for sure that I feel like I've visited it; I've seen the streets and their people. Many times, and in many situations. The world is truly watching.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

hello from the dominican republic

Back from the Dominican Republic, I found two weeks of essays waiting for me, makeup classes to teach, and lots of unfinished business. I was a little overwhelmed, but now I'm slowly getting back on my feet.

The Dominican Republic was fantastic. I loved the place, especially the food and the people. The food was delicious, with all the fresh fruit one can eat, and many variations of Caribbean specialties. The people were all very friendly, welcoming, with good English and genuine hospitality. And, it's a baseball-loving country...this is something we have lost.

They have no TESOL organization there, and this is something I might help them work on. I am certainly in support of it, and will do what I can, but my time is limited, and I'm not really involved enough in our own TESOL that I could affect any real change.

I'll link to my presentations themselves, which can be found at the bottom of the template, but I've been too busy to fix them up and present them; in the meantime, it's been pointed out to me that my e-mail address is not readily accessible from them, so I thought I'd rectify that right away and say, by all means, write me. I am grateful for the hospitality shown to me in the D.R., and would be glad to be of continuing assistance in helping teachers ease their classes into the modern ways of communication and expression. I can say a number of things in reaction to my trip there, but let's start with these:

1. In the modern world, there's no reason for isolated English teachers in the D.R. or elsewhere to remain isolated from other teachers in similar positions; they have a lot in common with other English teachers, and should definitely have not one alliance, but as many alliances as possible, with teachers of similar interests and ideas. If you're interested in integrating technology, find other teachers who do the same. They are out there.

2. Each teaching situation is different; some teachers have no access whatsoever, no hope of it, and nothing to put their students on outside of their own cell phones. The best argument for technology is to show how it's already working, and how much easier it makes to get students engaged. Everybody, supposedly, is in favor of engaging students, empowering them and giving them opportunities. It's just the details we have to work out.

3. Issues of going across borders with certain technologies tend to make everything complicated; I am certainly no expert in this. Some things just don't work from one country to another. That's the way it goes in the early days of connecting the world to its various corners. People will soon find, though, that you can't really keep technology, or access to it, out of a place. If you don't believe that, get on Twitter and experience #iranelection: this is a situation that has transfixed me since I arrived; I've become interested in Twitter, and particularly the possibility of writing a book on it; but what do I know? Twitter was all the talk of the conference in the D.R., but even then, the ambassador, or one of the representatives of the State Dep't, knocked it; he felt that substantial things can't be limited to 140 characters. One thing I'll say is, Twitter gets people's hair raised. The argument here is more complicated than the ambassador's remark would state it, but there was some truth in that, too; I'll have to get to the bottom of it. One thing for certain, though, and excuse my ramble, I've gone long enough: the world has changed. It's not going back. The sooner we adjust to it, and help our students do the same, the better off everyone will be. Pictures, and a full report, coming.

Friday, June 05, 2009

skype me

I was aware that there was a Skype, and that it had changed the lives of my students. It changed their lives, because now they could live thousands of miles from home, but still see their families every day, or any time they wanted to. Sure, there are limitations, but, when they found out this was possible, most of them went right to it. Love of family is the driving force that makes it difficult for people to stay abroad, or that drives them home; maybe i've said that wrong, but Skype, I feel, has more than any other force made the world much smaller. And, it's free!

So, Thom T., our lab director, who makes it his business to know these things, agreed to place a call, and sure enough, from my office to his, we not only had a call, but also recorded it; furthermore, he bundled up that tiny recording (he had recorded only a few minutes of it- still, he said, it was quite a large bundle) and sent that bundle to me over the text chat function that is right there on Skype. Apparently people get on Skype as one would on any phone- to anyone who is "on" at any time- and then one can send songs, movies, documents, anything, as one would on an IM or another chat function. But, you can do it, and look the other person in the eye as you do it. Look 'em in the videocam eye, anyway.

The Skype window is a little square that appears on your screen, with another smaller square within it; I saw him in the larger square, and myself in the smaller one. He told me to move the square up by the videocam, which on mac is at the top center of the computer, and it would appear more often that I was looking at him, rather than looking down. How many computers have these videocams these days? Most new ones; dell laptops do not; lots still do not. Sometimes you have to buy an external camera and hook it up, to get the full visual effect of Skype. But, it's still possible to use it just simply as a long distance phone service. Call anywhere, in the world, free- then if they don't have Skype where you're calling, make a local call, and connect to whoever you want. They apparently make their money that way- because, when you get where you're going, so to speak, you have to give them the quarter or the small fee it takes to make that local call. And this is still an enormous improvement over the what, seven dollars a minute people were used to paying. It will change life enormously.

Now how will it change teaching? I'm not quite sure yet. Speaking only of the limitations, the first is broadband; everyone has to have it. We in our building have T1 cable; my picture was smooth, everything went well. However, before I reached Thom T., I accidentally reached his mother-in-law in Maine; she is over 80; she answered the phone; she carried on a conversation with me; and she was not surprised, somehow, that this was happening. She seemed to enjoy it. But her picture was not smooth; every time she moved it took a while for the picture to catch up to her. And, finally, there was some interference, as if Thom T himself's answering his own Skype caused a great amount of interference to whatever connection we had. The interference noise was so great and so unpleasant that I had to eventually hang up on her, but, both of us have a story to tell. I apologized for disturbing her, and never quite figured out why my call went to her in the first place. Is it possible that he had opened up Skype while at her house, and it stayed open, or was reopened later?

In any case, he told of several people who used it, in spite of its not always being extremely clear. These are the early days; some people have laptops, some have dsl or cable; some piggyback on neighbors' wireless, etc. Also, he said, you sign up, you get your name in the directory, and people can find you, and they do; on the one hand, you want your friends to find you, but an occasional porn hustler will find you, or some other scurrilous entrepreneur. It's like other innovations. Sometimes the bad elements are the quickest to find it.

But, backing off a little, it was also amazing to just notice: Here I am, looking at the person I'm talking to. Pure, unvarnished, true image, his actual office, where he is and what he's doing. At one point he grabbed a teddy bear and put it to the camera. You do this, he said, because when you talk to nieces, etc., they can get more of a lively sense of you being there, and entertaining them. I've got to get my niece on Skype. I have a niece who I haven't actually seen in years.

From the educational point of view, it's very important that it can be recorded, saved, shown later, evaluated, etc. Software does this on a mac; he told me the name, but now, at 4 am, I have forgotten it. You can download 30-day trial software for free to do this, for both mac and PC, but different software for each. And he simply paid for his, since it wasn't that much, and he had a lab budget. Nevertheless he stressed how even the small two-minute bundle he sent me was quite huge; it took up a lot of space, and would easily have overloaded many old e-mail systems or more traditional uploading-downloading systems. What was important, he said, was to be able to crop, or cut out only a part of what you had recorded, so that you didn't always have to send huge bundles, most of which you couldn't even use.

Skype is a British company, he said, but he wasn't sure of that. It's the default for this kind of thing; people everywhere are using it. I imagine it's big in business, I said; of course you'd want to see people you're doing business with. But, consider the trends in these things. One, even laptops now can do what it used to take servers to do. Two, even wireless can now transmit huge bundles, carefully wrapped, anywhere. Three, laptops are being given to virtually everyone, everywhere; there are more of them than there used to be. Four, if you can truly live where you want, without really suffering from being unable to see the ones you love, then, what's to stop anyone from living wherever one pleases? Or wherever one can do the best for oneself? That would be a revolutionary change, I think. Another sun rises on what, for the first thousands of years of man's civilized existence on earth, has been a rather dark era. And I saw it myself. Yesterday.