Tuesday, April 24, 2007

RSS in Plain English in 3.5 minutes

I just wanted to share with you a great video that explains what RSS feeds are in plain English in 3.5 minutes:

Just what I've been looking for an introduction to RSS! I'm just amazed that so many people are still unaware of this great technology. But of course that also means that are still many people out there that we can show the magic of RSS to ;) RSS feeds really help me to get all the interesting news; although I admit that I sometimes do feel overwhelmed by so many new items calling for attention and deserving to be read on my own computer :)

(By the way: for more info on the video check this Common Craft post)

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Student blogging: first impressions

Last night I had another meeting with my RL E-business Management students in Second Life. We talked a lot about different course activities, but mostly our discussion was focused on blogs. Why blogs and what did I learn during the discussion? Read below ;)
Waiting for students
Waiting for students
I already mentioned in a previous post that we'd introduce research blogs as an obligatory study activity this year (for our postgraduate students), and this Monday was the end of their first week of blogging. My task was to read them all though, assign grades, and write comments on blogs as a whole (I think the commenting part was THE important part of my task). I was really impressed with some of our students' blogs: many have managed to write really interesting posts, and it was really enjoyable to read some of their posts, get to know my students a bit better through their opinions and writing styles. We all still have a lot to learn about blogging, but the results of the first week show that some students have potentials for becoming good bloggers (I'd certainly love to some of them choose to continue blogging after the course), and that the majority of them will have no problems in completing this activity successfully.

But of course, that was just my personal observation of the activity, so I was really excited about last night's meeting in SL, as I saw it as a perfect opportunity to talk about how they feel about their blogs and blogging. Some students said blogging really engaged them, and that they really enjoyed this activity although it is quite time consuming (that's pretty close to my personal experience of blogging). A few students said they still didn't understand the point of blogging: why would someone want to make his/her own journal public? That is quite a usual question related to blogging that I often hear (not just from my students). People often see blogs as public, personal journals and don't understand why people are willing to let everyone know what's going on with their lives. I think that a lot of people don't know that the blogosphere isn't just about people writing about their personal lives, but also about people sharing their professional experiences and their passions. I don't like to blog about my personal life, but I enjoy sharing my professional experiences - both to keep track of my own development and to contribute my knowledge and experiences to the community.

During last night's virtual discussion I was also positively surprised by some of the questions my students asked. For example: how can we tell the relevance of information on blogs? Another student figured out that blogs can't be the only source of information when doing research. This shows that they have a positive critical attitude towards blogs. Although most of them never used or even read blogs before, they approached them both with an open and a critical mind. They don't just do what we told them to, but they ask their own questions! Isn't that great? One student even asked: who invented blogs? And I must admit I couldn't answer that question *blushes* But I find it extremely positive that students think of such questions! Especially because my students are adults, most with kids and jobs, and some with little or no experience with ICT - but still they show great readiness to learn, and great curiosity! I really feel lucky to have such students.

Having a discussion about blogs
During our discussion about blogs
Of course, I realize that the students that were willing to come to our virtual meeting in Second Life were probably the ones that had the most positive attitude towards the course or are naturally more motivated to learn new things, but still; honestly, I didn't expect so many students in SL, and I didn't think that so many of them would feel so positively about blogs, and all other course activities. But I guess it goes to prove that our educational systems have to be reinvented (call it Education 2.0 if you want :) ) and that the problem is not always with students not being interested.

I'd like end this post by pointing out some of the important lessons that I've learned from last night's discussion and our first week of student blogging:
  • Number one: the students really appreciate the fact that we're showing them new, real-life tools and giving them an opportunity (or even a reason) to try out new tools and learn about them in a different way (learning by doing). They like the fact that we challenge them, put them outside their comfort zone, and show them new tools.
  • Number two: not everyone likes the concept of blogging. Some still think forums are the best way to express yourself and connect with other users. However, those that like blogging feel really engaged by the activity.
  • Number three: Second Life is a good place to have discussions with your students. Adult students can put their kids to bed, and meet with their fellow students and instructors in the comfort of their own home. It can be a bit confusing to have multiple people trying to talk at the same time, but their "physical" presence does add a special feeling to it.
  • And last but not least: it is all worth it. It does take a lot of time to read students' blogs, it does take a lot of time to master new tools like SL. In fact, since we've started with our online course I've often felt overwhelmed by having around 80 students to follow more times a day (also during the weekends), 32 blogs on different topics to read and to comment (and not being to use RSS as their blogs are private), preparing the SL meetings, and all other every day obligations. But in the end, when you see happy avatars typing about how much they enjoy your course... that's really the reward every educator wants to get at the end of the day, isn't it? :)
Yes, it is all worth it.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Friday, April 13, 2007

My first teaching experience in Second Life

In my previous post I wrote about the plans of having virtual meetings in Second Life with our postgraduate students of the E-business Management course. And I've got good news! The first virtual meeting tool place yesterday evening our time (12.00 SL time) in Sloodleville. 7 of our students attended the meeting (+ 1 that only managed to be with us for a short time, because her SL client kept crashing), which is more than we ever dared to expect in the first week (and we didn't even offer extra points for attendance!).

During the meeting students had the chance to ask questions about the course activities that take place in our e-classroom (based on Moodle, which we still haven't hooked up with SL), and I also prepared a short exercise in which we learned about the use of the SL inventory. I prepared a box that students had to accept, find, drag it in-world, open it, and then copy its content to their inventory. The box contained some notes (instructions on how to use objects, tips and tricks about using SL, and a note with some ideas and questions about business uses of SL), our faculty T-shirt, and two boxes of content (one with animations, and one with useful objects like a cup of coffee, a glass of margarita etc ;) ). The notes contained in our box are in Slovenian, but I can make a translation to English if anyone is interested in reading them. And here's a picture of me and my students playing with the boxes:
Opening MeP boxes
I must really say all the students did amazingly well, and in no time we were all wearing our official T-shirts:

Everyone wearing FM T-Shirts
Aren't we pretty? ;) We also had a drink, tried dancing a bit, and we learned that not all boxes are meant to be worn. All in all it was a lot of fun, although we did have some minor technical problems (I think we can officially call technical glitches a SL feature; now I understand what "perpetual beta" means ;) ). I had a lot of fun during our 1,5 hr long class, and I hope the students also enjoyed it. One of the things I really enjoyed was seeing students that thought they didn't have enough knowledge/experience with computers to be be successful in our course catching up on new concepts in SL very fast. I'm so proud of them, and I think that this experience can help them become more confident ICT users in general. Also, the first student feedback was very positive, so I hope they keep attending our meetings, and that we'll have a lot more fun in the future.

We plan to use our future virtual meetings to have discussions on themes that are related to the course, perhaps we'll have some field trips. I'd also love to include some guest participants our students could interact with. For now the plans are still pretty open; we want to give our students the opportunity to choose discussion topics and activities for our virtual meetings. I'd also like to use this post to invite guests to join our virtual meetings. If you're in any way involved in the business/management field (you can be a student, teacher, virtual entrepreneur,...) and would be willing to have a talk with my students, please contact me (iAlja Writer). I'd also love to meet with other teachers in-world to "exchange notes" as Glynn (who spotted our class in action yesterday) already offered :)

What more can I say? Teaching, and interacting with students in SL is fun! Seeing the students' avatars adds another dimension to online communication. I usually don't like text-only synchronous chats with multiple users, but chatting with multiple avatars in SL is really engaging. It still isn't as good as having a real conversation with the students, but it comes close. Especially if you consider the fact that we were able to meet in a virtual place, while still being in the comfort of our own homes, wearing our pajamas :) So my decision is that I'm not giving up on Second Life. It does have a lot of problems (especially technical), but the learning/teaching potential of virtual worlds that can already be seen in SL is just too tempting to ignore.

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What are you up to Alja?

The past week has been quite busy for me, because we were working on the final details for the E-business Management course (for postgraduate students) that has just started today with a pleasant, well attended face to face meeting and a short introductory lecture. The rest of the course will mostly be delivered online, through our e-classroom (based on Moodle), with the constant support of online tutors (ahem, that would be me ;-) ). I am really looking forward to this experience, because I really enjoy online tutoring, although it is a lot of work. And I'm also very excited because we've added some new tools and different teaching/learning methods to the course this year. Let me mention just a few of them.

One thing I'm excited about is the use of blogs during the course. The students will be keeping a research journal on their blogs, and will be invited to respond to current news related to the topic they'll be covering in their research paper. Also, they'll be reading, commenting, and responding to each other's blog. I hope this activity will be well accepted and that students will learn a lot from the experience. I am also very happy about the fact that we won't be using Moodle's blog module for this activity, but dear old (well, actually New :-) ) Blogger. I think that's great because Blogger is a real world tool the students can use any time, and not part of a LMS, which is only used for their studies. So this is is also a small step outside the walled garden of traditional LMS. The students' blogs will be private, and visible to selected readers (the teacher, tutors and other students of the course), but the students will be free to make their blogs public and enter the real world of blogosphere.

We'll also be offering new channels of communication and interaction. They'll have the opportunity to contact their tutors through Skype and Google Talk, and we'll also have meetings in Second Life. This will not be a compulsory activity, but we want to offer them the opportunity to discover different technologies. For this purpose I created a new Second Life group for my faculty (the group is called Fakulteta za management Koper), and even made a faculty T-shirt that all our students will get for free when they visit Second Life (if you want one too just IM me - iAlja Writer ;-) ). I used The Robin (Sojourner) Wood T-Shirt Template to make our T-shirt, because it provides simple and step by step instruction on how to make a plain T-shirt with a logo.
FM Koper T-shirt
It's hard to tell whether we'll get any students involved in Second Life, but I hope we can get at least a few of them in-world. If we manage that I hope you'll come by to some of our meetings - business/management students, teacher and professionals are especially welcome :-)

So, lots of interesting stuff going on for me (and hopefully for our students) right now, and we already got some extremely positive feedback from our students about the course format. I hope this trend will continue, and I'll of course be posting any interesting findings and experiences from our virtual classroom.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've already got some interesting blog posts to comment on ;-)

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.

Monday, April 02, 2007

View Blogger Labels in a Label Cloud

If you are a faithful reader of my blog (ah, the dreams of a young blogger ;) ) you might have noticed that my post labels are now organized in a tag (label) cloud. How cool is that? :) Yesterday, a reader reminded me that I haven't wrote a word about how to achieve this, and I must admit I simply forgot to post about this *blushes* (thanks Dino for the reminder!).

So, if you're blogging on the new blogger and want to get a label cloud, just follow these simple instructions. Don't be afraid when you see all the code (though make sure to backup your existing blog template before you try anything new!). Mainly it's just copy and paste, and the author provided a great explanation on how to customize the settings of the label cloud. I just wish I had a label cloud when I started blogging. I always felt so limited by the default label view because I don't like long lists and it was sometimes so hard to limit myself to using just 10 labels. Now the label cloud might seem a bit messier, but I think it's just a better visualization of the purpose and topics I like to blog about :)

And by the way, here are a few links about tag clouds:

Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.