the amazing mind

The human mind is still something that keeps fascinating me … I was working on my dissertation, looking up a reference to an article of Jonassen on learning as activity, found an article from a Dutch researcher Jan Visser, referencing the Jonassen article. When looking at the references my eye fell on another reference in Dutch – citing a VPRO TV program by Wim Kayzer. Suddenly I remembered this TV series that I had watched back in my student days, and couldn’t remember the title of the series, but still remembered being intrigued by one scientist that was featured (also Daniel Dennett, but that’s for another day) and this scientist had a theory that mice would learn and spread their knowledge somehow through a form of telepathy. So one mouse would learn how the mouse trap works and all mice at other places would get their knowledge updated. Similarly when doing the crossword puzzles in the paper, it would be easier to do it the next day, when some people have already figured out the logic. I remembered this theory and I never remembered the name of the scientist.

So I did a search for Wim Kayzer, got the name of the TV program “Een schitterend ongeluk” (1993) – wow, this is 16 years ago. Found the name of the scientist… Rupert Sheldrake! His theory is called morphic resonance.

http://www.sheldrake.org/

Should go and look for his books!

First to finish my Masters, then I can go and read about this kind of theories again…

online marketing – facebook

Though I’m not a professional in the field of online marketing I am always exploring, trying out and using new technologies out in the field. These are just some pointers and things that I have personally experienced or tried out on facebook. 

Getting started

On facebook first of all you will need to create yourself a personal account and look for people you know to add them as friends. It is not meant as a marketing tool but a social networking environment. Basically it helps you keep in touch with people that you know, new people that you meet and people with similar interests that you could find through facebook interest groups. 

Facebook groups

If you have an organisation, company, interest or volunteer group you can create a group on facebook, to which you can invite the people that would be interested in being associated with this group. This is one of the ways you could use as a marketing tool. It is something that will naturally grow – that is if you make it interesting enough for your friends, clients and other interested people to join. The people who join the group can also invite their friends etc. to join and that’s how your group can grow. In the description of the group you can post an address and an external weblink as well. 

Once you have a group in place, you can encourage the members of the group to upload photos, videos related to the group or start a discussion thread to get feedback and ideas. You can create a newsletter and send a message to all group members if you want to keep them updated on what’s happening. Another way is to create events and invite the group members to the event. Members invited can RSVP (all build-in to the tool) to state that they (1) are attending, (2) maybe attending, and (3) not attending. If they don’t RSVP they are listed at the event page as “awaiting reply”. This is a very good way if let’s say you are organising a  weekend trip to somewhere or even just a talk about a topic, and they say that their friends are attending, it might encourage them to attend too. At the same time if any of their friends is sending a RSVP to an event it will be shown on the news feed of their home page.  Members invited to an event can on their turn also invite others to attend the event.

Fan-page

Another avenue on facebook is creating a fan-page – similarly with groups you can invite people to join the fan-page of your organisation. Members can upload photos and videos and write on the “wall”. You can’t create events and such, but the good part of having a fan-page is that your fan-page will occassionally be featured on the side bar of your members’ friends. So for instance, I would sometimes see for example “Mozart – A great music composer for classical music” – one friend is a fan (see who). I can then click on the link to see whom of my friends is a fan of Mozart and/or click on the link to get to the fan page. For me it has worked a few times that I saw something in which I’m also interested, whether it’s a scuba diving organisation or a musician that I like too – it could bring me over to become a fan too.  

Causes

If you have a cause for which you want to create awareness or even collect funding, you can create a cause on Facebook. To this cause you can invite your friends to join, who if they join, most likely will invite some of their friends to join as well. 

Facebook ads

This is where you can sign up to create an advertisement that will be displayed on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/advertising/

The great thing about this is that the advertisement can be targeted to certain age groups, locations, even gender if you like. That means your ad will only be displayed at the sidebar of facebook users who fall within your target audience. You can pay per click – which would be only if people are interested in your ad and click on it to find out more. 

The personal drawback I found with the advertisements is that sometimes I see something interesting on my sidebar, but I only notice it in the corner of my eye when I’m already clicking on something else. That means the facebook page is reloading and I will get 3 new ads in the side bar. The good thing is that usually the same ad will appear again another time and I can click on it then (they rotate and some ads will come back). 

I have not tried advertising anything myself, so I’m not sure how well the statistics will turn out, but facebook does provide statistics to see the details of users who have clicked on your ad. 

Some final comments

As with anything online in social media – it is mainly self-regulated and it works negatively to push things. What does work is to have interesting updates, organise events, send news letters, and inspire the members to contribute. If it works out well, you don’t even have to spend a lot of time yourself. Word of mouth is very powerful online!

Your online footprints

Do you ever perform a google search for your own name on the internet? If you do, you may be surprised to find that you are leaving more footprints behind than you might think.

I sometimes do it just to see what other people would find should they try to learn about me. In my case my first name is not very unique, neither is my surname, but the combination of the two is pretty much returning only results related to me. 

That way I once found that I have co-authored 4 publications, which were derived from my MSc dissertation by my then supervisors. The first two I was aware of, as they had sent it to me by email at the time, back in 1997, when I was still in my first job and they were subsequently published in 1998. But the more recent versions of it in 2004, I found out through google. It seems that it is still a hot topic in the Artificial Intelligent negotiating agent research.

More recently, my portfolio of a course I took at the NIE and that I had posted on my personal website also came up in the search results, and so did my LinkedIn Profile amongst others. Other websites like Naymz and Pipl are also gathering info about persons and if you search for a first and a last name, even a city, country, it returns a list of websites, including social networking sites that you may have signed up with.

I was surprised that even my MySpace account came up, where I am using a nickname to hide my identity and I don’t actively use it, just to link to some music that I’m interested in only.

My Facebook account is also interesting, my profile is only visible to people that are in my contact list, and a limited version of it to networks I belong too. However, it did show some of my friends, as well as book and movie reviews that I had done in the search results on google. So, the identity protection is not as water-tight. Not that I am doing anything on FB that should worry me should others see it.

Some of my wordpress blog entries popped up too and my name also popped up at the digital movement site as one of the attendants to a networking gathering that I participated in.

And the website of the dive school in Thailand I did my Advanced Open Water with in Scuba diving, as they list all their “graduates” by calendar month on their website. And an art exhibit that I participated in back in 2002. 

Last but not least my company website came up too in the search results.

Nothing for me to be worried about, but yet another warning that we should be aware of the digital footprints that we are leaving behind online for future employers, or other people interested in finding out more about you!

does having a degree make you a better teacher?

Today I read in the Strait Times newspaper that Singapore is planning to have only graduates as teachers in the Primary schools by 2015. This is the online article I found which covers that story partially: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/378325/1/.html

It made me wonder why this would be necessary? Though I tend to agree that teachers should always try to upgrade themselves and continue learning both content and teaching/learning methods, I don’t think a degree is a necessity for this. I’m sure that there are good teacher who are not degree-holders and degree-holders who are not good teachers.

Facebook in the classroom?

Came across this blog post: http://scottishwebfolk.wordpress.com/2007/07/29/teaching-learning-with-facebook-group/ which refers to a facebook group on “Teaching and learning with Facebook”.

Another site http://blog.larkin.net.au/2008/01/17/social-network-sites-in-the-classroom/ is discussing the use of social network sites in the classroom, citing MySpace and Facebook.

It would be interesting to see how Facebook could be used in education, but I feel that at this moment, it is difficult to shield of private life and classroom life on such social networking sites. They are not really meant to use for teaching purposes. Of course you could set up a group that doesn’t appear in people’s profiles, and have discussions within that group. Events can be created etc. But then what is the difference with setting up a normal discussion forum?

I believe that blogs and group blogs would be great to use in classrooms for reflection / group reflection, discussion forums, knowledge forums, wikispaces etc, but not really a social networking site. However, this could change in the future, as the technology evolves! I have signed up for the group anyway and hope to see if there are some interesting ideas there…

From lunch boxes to laptops – 1:1 project

On Wed 7 Nov 07 I attended a talk by Mr. Angus King, the ex-governor of Maine, at the SCGS. Thanks to Amanda who was so kind to invite me.

Mr. King made a bold move, to introduce a laptop for each 7th grader in Maine, a project that was initiated in the late nineties and got realised in 2000. Over lunch with Seymour Papert, one of the gurus in Artificial Intelligence (he set up MIT with Marvin Minsky) and education (he worked with Piaget in Switzerland for a while), Papert suggested him that he should go for a student / laptop ratio of 1:1. At that time it was around 5 students per computer, whereby the computers were used in the school ground only. Papert said that even a 2:1 ratio of students vs. computers would not make a huge difference.

The reasons for the idea to spend state money on computers for students was with the goal to improve the economy of the state:

  1. more education and technology –> necessity for the future
  2. all state governors were chasing after the same goal –> need to make a difference to have impact
  3. improvements were incremental so far and not keeping up with speed & scale of changes taking place in the world

A good write up of the reasons why, can also be found here.

Papert’s influence on the plans are written up here.

The idea for the project was not met with too much enthusiasm at first for various reasons:

  • controversial
  • fear of change
  • lack of understanding of power of IT/internet

When the project was announced and King got the first questions on it, “Who is going to own the computers?” his immediate intuitive response was: the kids. He had empowerment in mind and the laptops should be taken home, that way the parents would be introduced to them as well. This however was met with great resistance, to have kids owning such an expensive device, expecting they would be careless with it.

One school decided not to wait for the state of Maine to launch the project, and got a local company to sponsor them and they bought laptops for all their students. This became a model school to convince people that the idea actually worked.

Apple won the tender to provide laptops for all 7th graders in Maine. What was interesting is that the tender did not specify any technical details on the equipment. Instead it specified what they wanted to do with the technology, word processing, internet, email, maths, etc. In the end it was left up to the schools whether they wanted the students to take the laptops home with them. About 50% of the schools allowed this. However, the laptops remained property of the school.

Professional development was equally important and time was spent as well to introduce the technology and the new ways of teaching to the teachers first. The teacher’s role is more of coach / facilitator and the students are finding their own information. Each school appointed a lead teacher, and for every 7 schools regular meetings are/were held amongst the lead teachers. A webportal was introduced too. Surveys held amongst teachers showed that 70-80% of the teacher are very positive about the program.

A comparison was done on writing proficiency between a group of students being taught by a teacher who was amongst the high computer use group and a teacher who stuck to the traditional teaching methods. The high use computer group class scored twice as high in the test as the group who did writing in the traditional way.

Student engagement is heightened with the introduction of the laptops. They are more engaged in the learning and being engaged helps them to learn better.

Security: schools have filtered wireless access on the campus, and a remote desktop feature available for teachers plus a history log to check which websites the students have visited.

Next step is to introduce the laptops into the high schools and to facilitate this, all teachers have received a free laptop.

Home internet access is a problem for low income groups or remote areas. There is a private fund that will help the lower income groups to apply for dial up access.

What are the benefits of the project?

  • students learn how to discover and use information (in this world of information overflow)
  • teamwork
  • creativity is stimulated
  • better student engagement

What it doesn’t necessarily do is generate better test results, because the tests are still based on rote learning.

A very insightful and inspirational talk!

First encounter with PowerPoint

The learners in our Computer Class on Sunday had their first encounter with PowerPoint last week. Rather than telling them what to do, which button to press and giving them an assignment, we gave them the task to open PowerPoint and just try out any of the buttons on the screen. 

It was interesting to see that each of them was trying different things. Some were a bit confused though, they managed to open PowerPoint and then asked me “What should I do now?”. Some were happily clicking and trying different things.

The majority started off with typing some text in the Title page. A few of them didn’t want the title to be centre aligned and asked me how to get it left aligned. I showed them the align buttons and their function. Others were adventurous and found out how to insert ClipArt pictures, or WordArt. Some were applying slide designs. Upon seeing their peers having interesting colours and pictures, they started asking them how they did that. 

Last Sunday was their second session with PowerPoint. This time we did a short instruction on what they can find on the interface, how to view the different toolbars, and going through some basic functions. For the practical session we asked them to try out the viewing of toolbars and applying a slide layout with title, text & clipart by using the task pane. We reinforced the saving of file to be important. Everyone is doing is very well in both of the groups.

There is one lady whoever who is only able to come alternate weeks and she also has a problem with understanding English. We are not sure what to do with her, she is lagging behind and we have now asked her to come for both group sessions on the days that she is able to come. At least we can give her more time to practice and individual attention that way.

I’m also installing LAMS on the server, hope to finish it by this week, so that we can start trying it out! That way we can monitor individual student’s progress and give extra assignments to those who are faster. Some students really pick up very fast and they need extra attention as well – otherwise they’ll get bored. The group dynamics are quite good this year, students are willing to help each other and even the cleaning of the room at the end of the class is being arranged without us needing to interfere.

The decision to split the class in 2 groups has worked out well too. Although that way we need to conduct instruction sessions twice, we are already cutting down on instruction time and giving more practical time. The practical time is now about 45 – 60 mins per lesson and gives each student a 1-to-1 time on the computer.  Previous years we always had a few people sharing computers and then we had to monitor that each of them had equal chance of trying out the exercises.