Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Improving USU's Instructional Technology Department

So far the USU Instructional Technology department has done a poor job convincing me that I matter as a PhD student within the department. (No, this has nothing to do with COSL or my choice of program chair.) I've been at it for a couple years, and I'm not even in the student directory on the INST web page. Other departments I have seen have walls with photos of their students, including their names, where they are from, and when they started the program. We have an online version, and it is completely outdated and boring. But I have a suggestion.

When I visit other departments I see photos of their grad students on their walls. It's cool to look at, and it sends a message. "Our students matter." Something like would help us put names with faces. I see the need for both an offline and an online version. And with our online version we could do much better. Why not add rich student profiles to the department's web page? Like personal blogs, LinkedIn profiles, flickr or Google image accounts, and other things we want to share as part of our online identity? Do you think this would be hard to build? It's already done. It's called Ozmozr, and it was built right here in the USU Instructional Technology department. But I bet not many people in the department even know about it.

Don't get me wrong, I will succeed at my goals regardless of my "headless" department. This is not about students wanting to see their own photos in the hall in front of the Instructional Technology office. It's about interacting with faculty and grad students and sharing ideas. So an important question for any new department chair should be, "How do we convince students that they are a major focus of this department?" Start with a major overhaul of the INST website. Make the new site compelling and interactive for current students as well as alumni, with rich member profiles that leverage existing (free) online services and encourage sharing and interacting. And, just for old time's sake, put some student pictures up in the hall as well.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Obey the Google Bot

I wish I had a screenshot to prove it, but not long after I copied a recent geofacts article I wrote over to this blog my Google pagerank dropped from 6 to 2!

Lesson from Wise and All Powerful Google Bot: Never self-plagiarize!

Geocoding Family History

For those of you who have been faithfully following my blog (both of you), I am now also posting stuff to techconsumer.com and geofacts.org. Here is a recent post on geofacts that I am also posting here, just to see what the Google bot does to my pagerank when I self-plagiarize...

This week I started using a site called MyFamily2.0 beta after a recently family get together. The site is free, and describes itself as “a place where you can share photos and narrated photo stories with your family and friends.” I am quite impressed with it so far, particularly the “stories” section of the site. It allows users to add audio stories to their part of the site. This is done using a regular telephone to record the story (they provide you with a unique PIN number when you call). You can also tie photos to the recorded story. All that is missing is a geocoding feature to allow users to tie these stories to specific locations.

I see great potential with this site, so I used their feedback link to make this plug for geocoding:

One suggestion I would make that could really bring the photos, videos, and audio stories to the next level would be to “geocode” or “geotag” these memories. By this I mean allowing users who add media to browse to a specific map location using a Google map or something similar and link them to a physical location. You could tie all this wonderful media to specific locations, such as a cemetery site or a childhood home. Panoramio.com is doing this with photos, but I don’t know of anyone else who allows users to geotag audio and video media. It won’t be long until we all carry GPS-enabled mobile devices that can search by location. The sooner we can tie media files to physical locations, the more likely MyFamily.com will lead the way in “on-site” family history.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I'm ready to move back to France

I watched SiCKO online tonight, and I am ready to move back to France. There's a part in the middle of the movie where Michael Moore has a hard time understanding why the media hates the French so much. They have better health care (along with the rest of the planet), more vacation time, and a shorter work week. But it's more than that. It's just a better quality of life. And people actually care about other people -- not just their family and friends. It's hard to explain. Most Americans wouldn't understand.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I now twitter...

Sign up for an account now. Ask questions later. (Questions like "what does this do, and what is it good for?) Like my friend Marion, I can't really answer the second question when it comes to Twitter. But I joined anyway, so I may as well announce it here. I now twitter.

"Give away the content and sell the object"

Here's an interesting quote from artist Nathaniel Stern recently interviewed on iCommons: "I think we need to recognize that it’s not necessarily at odds to both give away the content and sell the object. Art that is in the public interest can be distributed widely, and the same art can be a luxury item for sale."

This applies equally well to books, movies, etc, etc. You can give it away and sell it too. The one is the content and the other is the object. Of course, someone else can come along and sell your content as an object too. But if I am given the choice as a consumer, I will buy the object from the original author, even if it costs a little more. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Criteria for Evaluating Social Bookmarking Tools

I met Daniel Stanford at NMC last week, during Shelley's presentation on MOCSL tools. He mentioned that he had taken some time to create some criteria for evaluating social bookmarking tools. Daniel has started a new blog which could be a great place to discuss this further. Here it is for those who might be interested in his list....
Criteria for Evaluating Social Bookmarking Tools

Monday, May 14, 2007

The one thing I learned from ProSem...

Several professors in the Instructional Technology department seem to have it out for me. But that's OK. I don't take it personally. They don't even really know who I am. You see, I work for the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning, or COSL. The feeling in my department is that people who work at COSL are arrogant and don't follow the rules. So I have tried to be extra nice to overcome this stigma, but so far no one has really noticed.

Two of the five papers I turned in for a class called ProSem did not meet the expected length requirements, and one of them was admittedly a poor effort. But rather than conclude that my papers were simply too short or just plain lousy, it was blamed it on my "COSL arrogance." I believe this is referred to as the halo effect, "a cognitive bias whereby the perception of a particular trait is influenced by the perception of the former traits in a sequence of interpretations." (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

So I got a C+ in the course. I'm sure I'm not the first person who had something come up and ended up having to turn in a paper that wasn't my best effort. After checking with several department people I finally figured out that the minimum grade for coursework within the school of Graduate Studies is a C. So I'm OK. But it sounds like some of the professors in my department feel I need a tougher consequence, and they are pushing for me to have to retake the last ProSem course. I am willing to take my C+ and move on, but unfortunately I seem to have become the scapegoat for those who dislike COSL. So this is a plea to the folks who have halo effect problems or COSL-envy issues: Please leave me alone. I'm just a guy who is trying to earn a degree and who happens to work at a place called COSL. Honestly, if there is one thing I learned in ProSem it is which professors I need to stay away from.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Vintage worms... my rant on social drinking

The first days here in Europe have been mostly meetings and travel, but today we rented rode bikes and rode 55 km in Holland. Part of the time we could see Germany and Belgium, but we didn't cross over. Here are some photos of the trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/caswell_tom/sets/72157600150840734/

I have been offered more beer, wine, and liqueur than ever in the last couple days, so I have added a special "nobeer" tag for photos from places where I have disappointed the locals by ordering nothing more than a soda :-) This all reminds me of my dad's diplomatic drinking story. The same thing happens in the US, too. When my dad was in high school, some other kids held him down and chipped his tooth trying to force him to drink alcohol.

I have no problem with people drinking -- as long as they drink responsibly and don't run over my kids. But can we please get over this fixation with trying to get others to drink? Why is not drinking less acceptable than drinking? I don't drink because I have been asked not to by my church. I feel fine about my choice, and that's that. If this seems too strange or hard to understand, let's try a different example.

If as part of a certain church's beliefs the congregation was not supposed to eat worms, and if I wanted to be part of that church, I would stop eating worms just like that. Even if worm eating was trendy and hip. Even if people hired special worm selectors to find them the very best vintage worms for special occasions. And actually, when it comes to worms I really don't have much of a desire to eat them anyway, so it really isn't much of a loss for me. That's how I feel about drinking alcoholic drinks.

So you might be wondering how I know what I'm missing if I haven't tasted it? Well, not that I am too concerned about what I am missing, but I did taste beer by accident when I was 14 or 15. I got the cups mixed up at my friend Greg Pickett's house and accidentally grabbed his dad's beer and took a swig. It was so nasty! I ran to the bathroom and spat it out as fast as I could. Some people say beer and other drinks are an acquired taste. Sure, and so is eating worms. I also realize I haven't tasted every kind of alcoholic drink, so there might be a good one out there. I feel the same thing holds true with eating worms. Some will invariably taste better than others.

So if I offend someone by not drinking with them, perhaps I should be equally offended by their lack of respect for my choice. Maybe I have found something that is worth giving up drinking for. You may not care, and that's OK. Just don't try to impose your way of doing things on me and I won't impose my ways on you. I can still join in your toast, but I will toast with my soda.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I am a serial hobbyist...

So just the other day a friend of mine called me a serial hobbyist, and even though he doesn't know me that well, he's right. To counter this accusation I am surrendering several hobbies -- at least for now...
  1. Guitar playing - I haven't learned a new song for over 10 years. It's just fun to play the same stuff I already know. I'm not selling my guitar or anything; but I just won't claim it as an official hobby.
  2. Photography - Yeah, I'm one of those guys who actually had his own darkroom for doing black and white photography. Those were cool times. I still have all the equipment, and I've been packing it around for 10 years now. I still like taking pictures, but I just do the point-and-shoot thing with a little Canon Elph. You tend to take less artsy stuff when you have 3 kids. So I'll enjoy all the great kiddie shots, but photography is no longer a true hobby.
  3. Baseball card collecting - So I have 13,000 cards and I really don't know what to do with them at this point. This is an easy hobby to give up, because I haven't really done much with it for the last 15 years. Anyone want a ton of cool cards? You can have them as long as you promise to enjoy them.
There's plenty more where that came from, but I want to shed my hobbies a few at a time. And don't feel bad for me. There's plenty more where that came from. This year I plan to add paintballing to my hobby collection. Remember, I am a serial hobbyist.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Balancing Exploratory Testing With Scripted Testing

This is the best explanation I have ever seen that deals with the balance testers must strike between scripted and exploratory testing:

"To the extent that the next test we do is influenced by the result of the last test we did, we are doing exploratory testing. We become more exploratory when we can't tell what tests should be run, in advance of the test cycle, or when we haven't yet had the opportunity to create those tests. If we are running scripted tests, and new information comes to light that suggests a better test strategy, we may switch to an exploratory mode (as in the case of discovering a new failure that requires investigation). Conversely, we take a more scripted approach when there is little uncertainty about how we want to test, new tests are relatively unimportant, the need for efficiency and reliability in executing those tests is worth the effort of scripting, and when we are prepared to pay the cost of documenting and maintaining tests. The results of exploratory testing aren't necessarily radically different than those of scripted testing, and the two approaches to testing are fully compatible."

This makes sense to me. The messing around I do as I am figuring out how new things work and how I should test them is really a form of exploratory testing. And this may be the only testing that is necessary for very small applications. But with a bigger app like eduCommons it is clearly impossible to keep everything organized without scripted (preferably automated) tests.


Grig Gheorghiu presented at PyCon and then blogged about what makes software more testable? Here it is, shamelessly borrowed from his blog:

I mentioned a list put together by Michael Bolton, and summarized/enhanced by Adam Goucher in this blog post. Recommended reading, both for developers who want to add testing hooks into their software, and for testers who want to know what to ask for from developers so that their life gets easier (and if you're one of the unfortunate souls who have to deal with Java or .NET, this blog post by Roy Osherove talks about testability and pure OOP.)

Although our tutorial was focused on tools and techniques for implementing test automation, we also mentioned that you will never be able to get rid of manual testing. Even though the Google testing team says that 'Life is too short for manual testing' (and I couldn't agree more with them), they hasten to qualify this slogan by adding that automated testing frees you up to do more meaningful exploratory testing.

My experience as a tester shows that the nastiest bugs are often discovered by manual testing. But when you do discover them manually, the best strategy is to write automated tests for them, so that you'll check your application in that particular area from that moment on, via an automated test suite which runs in your continuous integration system.

You do have an automated test suite, right? And it does run periodically (daily or upon on every check-in) in a continuous integration system, right? And you have everything set up so that you're notified by email or RSS feeds when something fails, right? And you fix failures quickly so that everything turns back to green, because you know that too much red, too often, leads to broken windows and bit rot, right?

If you answered No to any of these questions, then you are not testing your application, period (but you already knew this if you took our tutorial -- it was on the last slide :-)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

My first eBusiness

I put together a little eBusiness with my wife back in 2002. AskADate.com was supposed to be a place to order themed gift packages for a loved one. If I remember right, the only person who ever ordered from the site was my mom. (Thanks, mom!) Anyway, it was a great excuse to buy a digital camera. In business terms it was a total loss, but I actually learned quite a bit about eCommerce, and I passed that on to my Computer Science students. If you count the advertising we bought through Google AdWords, I think the whole thing cost me about $250 ($200 of that was the digital camera). Even though the site is gone, it's great to be able to see it through Archive.org at http://web.archive.org/web/20030210140323/ask-a-date.com/.

Thanks for the memories, WayBack Machine!

Vision of an Open Library

“I don’t know what it will be like to have books from our libraries injected into our culture again, but I’d like to see it.” --Brewster Kahle


I realize this isn't new news, but it's new to me. Here are the parts of the 2005 Open Library/Open Content Alliance announcement from Archive.org that really hit home:

3 to 4 billion of the 12 billion libraries spend every year goes to publishing.

Other projects: International Childres's Digital Library, Internet Archive Bookmobile (dollar a book!). BookShare will use this content for access for the blind. $100 laptop will include books from this project onto their laptops. Open Content Alliance will create protocols and formats.

Library of Alexandria 2.0

The Microlibraries Project at the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning is off to a great start. They are figuring out how to format, print, cut and bind Gutenberg books in an attractive and cost-effective way. It's kind of like Brewster's Bookmobile -- except without the minivan. It turns out that for less than $2500 you can buy everything you need to print and bind paperback books. This has implications beyond the current goal of giving away 5000 books to elementary school students in rural northern Utah schools. But that's not a bad place to begin.

The trick is learning to share. Brewster Kahle points out in this excellent podcast that at it's peak, the Library of Alexandria in Egypt was able to collect and store most of the books of the world. An amazing achievement, but not very useful to folks who couldn't go there. So how do we share all these books and all this knowledge with more people? Many people think that the answer involves putting books online. I'm all for that, and it's an exciting to see it starting to happen.

But what then? Do you really want to read those books on your laptop? Me neither. There is something about printed books. So while thousands of people work on digitizing books all over the world, some of us should think about sensible ways to get books back into their original format. If this is all about making knowledge more accessible to people everywhere, then let's not limit it to folks with a computer and an Internet connection. Let's share books.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

No Child Left Behind - The Basketball Version

I have had this in Word format for a while -- someone sent it to me via email a few years ago. So *poof* now it's online. If I have stolen your idea, email me and I will either attribute it to you or remove it. Your choice.

EDIT: The same thing is available here: http://participation.blogspot.com/2005/05/if-no-child-gets-ahead-then-no-child.html

1. All teams must advance to the Sweet 16, and all will win
the championship. If a team does not win the championship,
they will be on probation until they are the champions, and
coaches will be held accountable.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same basketball
skills at the same time and in the same conditions. No
exceptions will be made for interest in basketball, a
desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or

3. Talented players will be asked to practice on their own,
without instruction. This is because the coaches will be
using all their instructional time with the athletes who
aren't interested in basketball, have limited athletic
ability or whose parents don't like basketball.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will
only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.

5. This will create a New Age of sports where every school
is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams
will reach the same minimal goals. If no child gets ahead,
then no child will be left behind.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

How much emotional space do you really need?

Have you ever noticed that some people are much more emotionally needy than others? They need to share everything with you. All the stuff you really can't do anything about. But it's more than a need to share. The way I think of it is that these folks take up more emotional space.

The way I see it, there is only so much space out there. Eventually people start to bump into each other. That is when there are problems.

I want to teach at a university. So I have to go to school. Lots of school. I am around PhD people and wannabe PhD people. Some of these folks take up a lot of emotional space. Egos, stress, jealousy, and more egos. And it's not like personal space. Most folks will leave you with at least a few inches of that. But I've been in classrooms with zero emotional space. Zip. Nada. It's like the place is vacuum sealed.

If you are someone who takes up a lot of unnecessary emotional space, there is one cure for this problem. But I'll warn you, it's rather extreme. Have kids. It's like emotional space liposuction. I can guarantee that you will no longer feel like the center of the universe once you have children to occupy that space for you. But then you'll be where I am. Suffocating in everyone else's emotions.

So here's my plea: If you are taking up more emotional space than you really need, try to voluntarily cut back. There are those of us out there who don't need much of this type of space, and we try not to impose on others. But we still need to breathe.