Articles on Educational Blogging

From the New York Times: In the Classroom, Web Logs Are the New Bulletin Boards (try BugMeNot if you want to avoid registering).

Like most NYT articles, this one may soon disappear into the “pay-for” archives. Save or print the text if you want to keep it.

Also, an excellent and detailed article on educational blogging (with a Canadian slant, to boot), from the Educause Review: http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/erm04/erm0450.asp.

Washington Post: Spreading Knowledge, The Wiki Way

An interesting article comparing the development process and future directions of Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Brittanica:
Spreading Knowledge, The Wiki Way.

The part of me that forever proclaims “All knowledge should be free!” is certainly in agreement with the philosophy behind the Wikipedia, all the more so because one of the established goals is to produce paper and CD-ROM versions for third-world countries. However, the part of me that is aware of the commercial necessity of making a buck in order to stay in business, well… my sympathy goes with the EB folks. But the times, they are a-changing. True, it is worth paying for quality, and the EB is certainly a quality product, but it is a commodity whose full merits must be realised before most people would bother paying subscription fees. Why would most people bother paying money for something that has a free version which is more convenient and easily accessible? While the EB has consistently higher quality per entry, many people are not aware of this difference because they want a quick “knowledge fix” and, accustomed to the rapid-fire nature of the Internet, they want it immediately: they have an assignment due the next day, or their neighbours are thinking about Yucatan and want to know more about the country, or they want to know what souvaki is, or they want to know if the cat is in any mortal danger because of the venus flytrap. Why bother going through the hassle of subscribing and paying money for something when that “fix” is easily satisfied elsewhere? (I must reiterate here that I trust the Wikipedia far more than 99% of Internet sites.)

I am not trying to cheapen the value of knowledge, nor the fine efforts of the EB crew, writers and editors; I am merely musing the unique value propositions that differentiate EB from the Wikipedia. Personally, I’d love to have a full EB in real, honest-to-goodness dead tree form, filling an entire bookcase with its heavy leather-bound tomes. Alas, I doubt that day will ever come: as much as I love real books, I cannot justify its cost among so many of my other needs and expenses, especially when I can purchase it in digital form for a tiny fraction of the price of the set.

In the meantime, I need an educational resource that is timely, constantly expanding to keep pace with changing events and discoveries, available anywhere on a moment’s notice, filled with the collective knowledge of thousands of individuals, and free for students: despite the occasional shortcoming, the Wikipedia fills that description in spades.

Moodle 1.4 Released

I’ve been so busy lately that I didn’t notice that a new version of Moodle was released a few days ago. For those of you who are involved in education or training, it’s definitely something that might pique your interest, “A Free, Open Source Course Management System for Online Learning.” A month or two ago, I spent a full weekend weaving my way through the capabilities of the older version, and I was very much suprised to see that such an incredible product with so many capabilities had escaped my attention for so long. I’m really looking forward to experimenting with this version when I get a chance, especially the new and improved add-on modules.

Gmail: Making Email Fun Again

Recently, I finally received an invitation into that secret world known as Gmail, or Google Mail. For those of you who have been hiding from technology news this year, it’s Google’s foray into web-based email. One of the reasons for its popularity is that it’s “by invitation only,” and invitations were very difficult to come by, at least at first. Only well-known techie celebreties received them at first, and they could only invite others on an occasional basis.

It was a coup for viral marketing: the technology was so well-received and talked-about on news and review sites that everybody dreamed of becoming one of the “elite few” to own an account. Besides some interesting ways to manage your email (basically, they are threaded to group both sent and received mail together, like a forum), Google also gave you a full gigabyte of storage (huge, in email terms), access to legendary Google search mechanisms to search and group your messages, and (most important of all) a chance to actually get yourname@gmail.com, as opposed to douglasjohnston2641isalinuxgeek2@hotmail.com. Accounts were being sold off on eBay for as much as $500 US ($234,534.97 Canadian), and swap sites popped up overnight to see what people had to offer in exchange for one. It wasn’t unusual to find on barter such things as iPods, website development, copies of Microsoft Office, nude pictures of wives and, shall we say, certain favours, depending on your locale.

It’s changed lately: it seems every techie and his pet python have accounts to give away, and so it is lately that I finally found the heart-stopping invitation in my inbox. Almost immediately, I received the notification that I could give away six more invites, and so my friends were brought into the fray.

I haven’t had this much fun with email in years. Is it that I’m finally tasting the forbidden fruit? Perhaps, but it goes deeper than that. Gmail is actually an effortless and enjoyable way to handle your email.

I mentioned that the mail is handled through threads, much like a forum: Gmail calls this “Conversations.” While threaded message handling is nothing new, Gmail takes it a step further by bringing everything together on on page, including your sent messages, and hides all the frequently-requoted cruft that makes long threads so difficult to get through (you can unhide them with a mouse click). At any point in the conversation, you can click on the Reply or Forward link at the base of a message, and a little box opens beneath it. Type in your message, press Send, and it’s done. Like I said, effortless. If conversations become too long, Gmail will compress several of the older messages together so you only see the most recent ones, unless you want to Expand All again.

Other little time-savers further involve getting rid of the complexities and information overload that comes with email. For example, you don’t see full headers (unless you want expand them with a mouse click): you see headers like “Rick Norman to me – Sept. 2 (2 days ago)”, which tells me everything I need to know at a glance. Simple keystrokes can be used to function just like a real mail client, too. J and K move your little selection arrow up and down, N and P move through conversations, X will select an item, ENTER will jump into it: the *nix-luvin’ folks at Google chose keystrokes that seem very natural to me.

For the first time since my old UNIX terminal days nearly 20 years ago (eek!), email no longer seems like a chore. In fact, I constantly watch my Gmail Notifier in Firefox, hoping for another message so I have an excuse to use it again. And for something that is normally so much of my daily grind that it wears me down, finding an interest in it again is a good thing.

So watch those inboxes for invites, and keep an eye on the tech news to see when Gmail opens up to the general public (soon, is my guess). In the meantime, check out the unofficial Gmail FAQ for more information about this really cool service.

In case you want to email me at my new address, you can reach me at my full name (see my domain name), without periods, at gmail.com. (Sorry for being cryptic: I want to avoid being automatically spammed on this account as long as possible.)