Wednesday, March 25, 2009

LearnCentral Beta Invitation & Feedback Meeting

As I described a little over a month ago, I've been working on a project with Elluminate that I think has the potential to be truly "historic." Really. And we're taking the wraps off of it now and I want to invite you, kind reader, to the early public preview of LearnCentral.org.

Now, as I say in the intro video below, this is kind of like bringing someone to see a house or building that is still under construction... We know there are going to be some "unfinished rooms" and that the paint isn't dry or even up in other areas, but we really are hoping that you will come and let us know what work still needs to be done that we might have missed.

LearnCentral.org is like a Facebook for educators, in that it allows you to specify the details of your teaching or curricular interests and then find others with whom you could collaborate. But it is much more than that, which is what makes this such a fun project. LearnCentral will also have a robust content-sharing repository for learning objects and lesson plans, full-featured discussions forums, and public and private groups. As well, because this is an Elluminate project, you will have one-button access to meeting with someone else online through Elluminate's free and full-featured vRoom program. (I'm particularly excited about what this might do for allowing parent-teacher conferences to take place in more convenient ways!)

And while we haven't worked out all of the logistical details yet, here's the part that really gets me jumping up and down: we're going to make it possible for educators to hold larger group meetings (like our Classroom 2.0 LIVE! meetings) for free. There will be some basic stipulations for doing this: the meetings have to be available to the general public, free (not being charged for), and recorded for the LearnCentral archive. What we think this will do is to extend the incredible professional development that is now taking place asynchronously in social networking and add the synchronous piece. Want to gather together and brainstorm with educators around the world who teach in your field? You'll be able to do it. Want to hold monthly meetings to share lesson ideas? You'll be able to do it.

For me, this holds incredible potential as part of the long-tail concept. Not the part we normally think about--student access to a much broader variety of material--but the part where educators can gather around their special curricular interests that may be unique or alone in their local school or district, but not alone when the whole world becomes the pool of potential colleagues for regular interaction. Like Jim Beeghley, who's specialty is using technology to teach the Civil War. Or the ladies in Hawaii who are starting the Hawaii 2-0 meetings around the use of Web 2.0 in schools there. Or anyone else who doesn't have the budget to travel to larger conferences to make these kind of connections and then follow up on them (which may be most of us in the current economy!)

I hope you'll join the public beta and let me know what you think. As soon as you do, you'll see that I'm automatically added as a colleague. I'll look forward to hearing your reactions and feedback. I've scheduled what I hope will be the first of weekly (?) feedback meetings for this coming Monday, March 30th, at 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern / 12midnight GMT in Elluminate at https://sas.elluminate.com/m.jnlp?password=M.6B8E896955C97D9166E113CE9A3688. If you haven't used Elluminate before, don't be shy about attending--we do a lot of hand-holding so beginners feel welcome! You can test your machine's configuration for Elluminate at http://www.elluminate.com/support.

Here's the new intro video which will soon be on the site.


video

Friday, March 13, 2009

Twitter for Conference Back-Channel Chat

In the all-day symposium on Web 2.0 this past Tuesday at the always thought-provoking CoSN.org annual conference, I was lamenting the degree to which the format of the event didn't actually reflect the participative nature of the topic.  Wondering how I was going to stay alert with only four hours of sleep the night before (flight delays), I decided to see how it would be to take my conference notes in Twitter as a form of live-blogging.

Like many others, I have had a love-hate relationship with Twitter. I find I am appreciating it more and more as the tool is being shaped by good uses, and I'd recently determined that keeping multiple Twitter accounts for different kinds of communication purposes is a "good use" practice for me. I use a NetVibes page with widgets for each of the accounts I have, and when I need to make an announcement in any one, I can do it directly from my one Netvibes page without having to log specifically into a particular Twitter account. Since I thought it would be hard on those following me to receive a live-blogging stream in my regular account, I created an new account just for conference tweeting at shconferences.  It felt a little brilliant at the time, I have to admit, although I'm sure I'm not the first person to do this.  

In each tweet I used the #cosn09 hash tag that would allow others to follow not just my particular conference tweets but any others from the conference with the same tag at search.twitter.com. I also tried to include the speaker's last name in each tweet so that it was clear I was quoting them (I put my own few comments in parentheses). It was fairly easy to type their name and the tag once, ctrl-c copy it, and then just paste it in before each message. By the end of the conference, there were 38 followers of this new account, and I'd sent out 430 tweets (so for any of my regular followers I think this was a good idea!).  I kept one browser page open to my shconferences Twitter account, and one page open to the Twitter search for #cosn09 (which does a great job of updating the feed and letting you know how many new tweets have come in.)

Having allowed others to follow the "thought-bites" of the conference sessions I was in, the task now that the conference is over has been to turn those public notes into a document that would be useful to me to review and for future reference. My goal has been to put them into regular chronological order (not the reverse order--most recent first--that they now appear in the feeds or pages from Twitter), then automate the process of getting them into a Google document.  I've gotten pretty close, but still have a step I need help with.

First I got the RSS feed from an advanced Twitter search for "#cosn09" from shconference. Jim Klein helped to find the API parameter notes for Twitter, so that we could pull more than just the most recent dozen posts into an RSS feed, and it turns out that we can get 100 at a time and then use a "page" parameter to go through all of them. Twitter's help page indicates that you can't go back more than four months, so all of this would have to be done fairly soon after the actual event. I also used the parameter to take out the user information since it's just my own notes.  My RSS feed ends up looking like this:

http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=+"%23cosn09"+from:shconferences&rpp=100&page=1

And I have five feeds, with the page number incrementing to 5 in order to cover all the posts.  I finally spent a few minutes (much less time than I thought it would take) to learn how to use Yahoo's Pipes to aggregate the five feeds and put them into ascending date order (the opposite of the Twitter feed).   Here is the link to the "Pipe:"


This is terrific, and it's so darn close I can taste it...  But when I try to bring this feed into any document converter (RSS2PDF or xFruits) I have a 60+ page document, and each tweet is duplicated both as title and content.  I've tried to use the "sub-element" function in Pipes to just get one field or the other, but for some reason that doesn't work (help?!).  

I am hoping someone else can pick up this ball and run just a bit further with it.  For me, this was much better for back-channel chatting at the conference than my experiences with Chatzy and CoverItLive--not because the technology is any bettter (it's arguably worse), but because Twitter has become so ubiquitous that we didn't have to spend any time trying to figure out what tool was going to be used and who was going to set it up.  And that's usually so hard to do at a conference that you end up with more than one and it's just a hassle...  The potential downside to my using Twitter this way is that if you had even a few people being as prolific as I was, I'm thinking you'd maybe want to have session tags, and then we're back to the whole "organizing" dilemma.  I guess it will be interesting to see how valuable such a backchannel would be with a lot more content.