To skim or not to skim

10 February 2009

Nicholas Carr, in his article Is Google Making Us Stupid?, quotes Bruce Friedman as saying “I can’t read War and Peace any more . . . Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

War and Peace may well be essential reading, and a touchstone for the modern novel, but it has 1296 densely packed pages and I’ve already read it once. I’m not a fast reader, I can’t skim a novel because I’ll miss something and lose track of what’s going on. 50 pages can easily take me an hour or more, so War and Peace would take me some 26 hours to read. I rarely read for more than an hour a day, often much less, so I’d need the best part of a month, or more likely two. It may be sad but I’m coming to the conclusion that I may well never re-read it.

I reach that conclusion because every day I am, consciously or not, making decisions about what I should do with my time. In fact you could see my life as an exercise in Time and Motion Studies, repeated day after day after day, morning, afternoon and evening. What shall I do today? Shall I read or watch TV? Shall I make music or dance, socialise or play sport? Talk to my family or slip away to my computer and edit photos or movies? Go for a walk or go to work? Even, maybe, write a blog post? And how long for? And with what level of concentration? Decisions, decisions.

I may well do several of these things on any one day, I may even on occasion multitask (though not often, and not for long), but given that I also have to cook, do housework, eat and sleep, I am unlikely to have time to do them all. So I have to adopt strategies that enable me to do enough of as many of the things I want to do to keep myself reasonably happy.

Skimming is a strategy we all use before embarking on any extensive act of reading, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If I am deciding whether to read War and Peace – or any other novel – I’ll look at the back cover to see if there’s a synopsis, or any quotes from reviews; I’ll look at the chapter headings, skim one or two chapters, flick through the book reading the first sentence or two of a paragraph here or there. I’ll also check how long it is. That’s quite clearly not ‘reading War and Peace’; it’s the process of deciding whether to read it.

I’ll do something similar with a non-fiction book, a newspaper, a magazine, or a blog post, or an online forum – any piece of more or less extensive writing. I do it all the time, and it’s very useful because at every step of the way it helps me decide how to spend my time.

What Friedman is describing is the process of deciding not to read a blog post. He, like the rest of us, probably only has 24 hours at his disposal in an average day, and probably wants to spend them in the best way he can. He shouldn’t feel guilty at not reading through to the end of every blog post he comes across. It’s normal.

I bet he doesn’t make it through to the end of this one.


Snowdrop or snowdrops?

6 February 2009

I have now read the article on Folksonomies: Tidying up tags by Marieke Guy and Emma Tonkin, one of the tasks in the Multiliteracies sessions (Electronic Village Online 2009). It has set me thinking about my own – limited and very basic – experiences with tagging. I have tried to tag blog posts in Blogger and WordPress, photos in Flickr, music in LastFm, and videos in YouTube, for different purposes and with varying success.

I have now put 144 posts up in my personal Micalet blog on Blogger, over a period of 22 months. I appear to have used 492 tags in all, giving an average of 3.4 tags per post. There are 239 different tags; the most used ones appear 29 and 28 times, only 9 reach double figures, and 178 of them have been used only once. This seems to confirm the pattern found by Guy and Tonkin – that’s a relief, at least I’m normal!

The most used tags are for the places I live in, and that I visit on holiday, and for ‘Music’ and ‘English music’ – all very general; amongst the once-only tags are many that are quite specific, such as names of musicians, or terms such as ‘spider’, ‘snowman’ or ‘wheel clamp’ – I hope I don’t have to use that one again! The pattern appears to be one or two general tags, plus one or two specific ones, per post. I don’t think this was a conscious strategy, it just seems to have evolved, but in the light of the article it appears to be a useful one.

According to Sitemeter, I have had 195 visits since I started counting in November; I haven’t checked where these have come from, but hardly any of them have left a trace, as there are very few comments on the posts. Whether the tags have contributed to the number of visits I have no idea, and I’m not sure if there’s any way of knowing.

So what use are tags in blog posts to me?

Well, I have come across one very useful function. Amongst the widgets I have set up is a tag list (this is where I got the data above from). If for any reason I wish to gather together posts relevant to a particular topic, I can click on that tag in the list, and Blogger composes, on the fly, a new page with only posts that include that tag. So, if by any chance you’d like to read what I’ve put up on English music, Blogger gives me the page: , and I can quote the url to you.

This has proved really useful with a Blogger site – San Miguel Bajo – which I set up to house materials for students who had difficulties accessing our University’s VLE. I just put things up as they come, and use tags for each course so that I can point students towards the material relevant to them. For instance, the course tag SP201 furnishes a page for my advanced class.

I have just over 1000 photos on Flickr, and according to my Flickr statistics, I appear to have tagged all bar a handful. My usual approach is to give all my photos ‘keywords’ (ie, tags) as soon as I put them into iPhoto; then when I upload them to Flickr, the tags are retained. Within Flickr I put most photos into Sets, and you can then easily edit the tags for all the photos in any given set.

Once again I have no idea how effective these tags have been. Over 60% of the photos have been viewed, that sounds a lot to me, but I don’t know what other people get; neither do I know what part tags played in attracting these visits. Mostly there are a handful of visits per day, occasionally up to 20 or so. Recently there have been a couple of exceptional days – 121 on Jan 26, and 192 on Jan 21 – I have no idea why, nor who, nor where from, nor if it’s in any way tag-related.

Very occasionally, I do get a message saying someone likes a photo, and would like to include it in a Flickr Group – which is what happened with the snowdrops, up there at the top of this post. The only way I can imagine they came across this picture is via the tag: snowdrops.

[As I write this, somebody I have never heard of has just added me as a contact in Flickr. This person already has 243 contacts, and subscribes to over 500 groups (I pasted the list into Excel to count!). Why did he pick on me? I think I’ll ask him – you never know, we may have something in common . . . ]

[5 minutes later: He’s beaten me to it – he’s asked to join the only Flickr Group I run, Dansez Français, which so far has only me and one other in it. We could do with a bit of a boost, so I’ll accept him . . . ]

I have managed to get LastFm to list most of the contents of my iTunes, and have tagged a fair proportion. This has to be done within LastFm, as iTunes – unlike iPhoto – has a very underdeveloped (ie, useless) tagging system. Here I come head on up against several of the issues described by Guy and Tonkin. You may have your own ideas on how to classify a particular artist, or piece of music, but LastFm has a well-developed folksonomic (?) system, and first offers you the tags that others have already used. These may differ slightly from yours, or be completely different. So do you use theirs, which you may not be quite comfortable with – they may miss an aspect you feel is significant – or do you insist on adding your own, which puts you in the field of unique tags again?

And how do you handle other people’s errors? Tagging something ‘flamenco’ when it comes from the Basque Country (oh-oh!). You know it’s wrong, but someone’s already done it, and others may have followed their classification, and the size of the offending tag grows and it becomes more prominent and hence ‘authoritative’. You can’t change other people’s tags, you can only add your own. The Folksonomy is supposed to exemplify the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. So what can you do about the ignorance of the crowd?

I have also tried to use the tagging system to create ‘radio stations’ of various descriptions, which I would like to contain just selections from my own music collection, which I can then offer to friends, or possibly students. However LastFm is a social network, and insists on being social and including tracks from elsewhere on the site. This puts my ‘station’ at the mercy of other people’s errors, as outlined above, as well as more fundamentally their classification boundaries, which may not coincide with mine, and their taste, which will certainly differ. I may like track A by a certain artist, but not track B – but I will be fed anything anyone has tagged with the same tag as I have used. I am thereby subjected to the tyranny of the crowd.

YouTube’s response to tags is a law unto itself. The last couple of videos I uploaded were films of different versions of the bourrée, a traditional dance from Central France, so I thought I’d try looking for ‘bourrée’ on YouTube, to see what else was there. You will already be anticipating some of the issues – tags (or titles, or descriptions – YouTube searches on them all) using a language other than English, words that use a diacritic (é in this case) – I was expecting these to cause problems, however they didn’t seem to bother YouTube. However I didn’t learn much about French dance from the first page of hits, using the ‘relevance’ filter – 19 of the 20 were classical music pieces, mostly movements or sections from Suites by JS Bach, plus a piece by Jethro Tull. Gorgeous music, for sure, but not what I was looking for. The only film purporting to be of the French dance was an excruciatingly poor example – I won’t go into why, just trust me on that.

So here are two more stumbling blocks: words used in more than one context, and content that doesn’t match up to the tag.

When I then changed the filter to ‘view count’, the surprise was even greater – 7 out of the 20 on page 1 are films of people in various states of inebriation – ‘bourré’ is also slang for ‘drunk’ in French. And not one single version of the dance.

However, when I start at one of my own films, YouTube seems to have a better idea of what I’m after, although it’s still not perfect. Try Bourrée à 4, à 2 temps, and check the Related Videos list on the right – the first 10 are spot on, after that it’s back to Jethro Tull and JS Bach.

So what’s happening? Maybe YouTube needs more information from me, given the obstacles it has to surmount. I could put a second tag in, but I would be second guessing how the original posters had tagged their uploads, and those that have used more than one tag are unlikely to coincide. And of course there will be some that haven’t tagged at all.

Judging by the number of people you see filming at workshops and festivals (I’m not the only one!), I would guess there are scores if not hundreds of bourrées out there. Somewhere.

Snowdrop or snowdrops?
Amongst the many issues raised by Guy and Tonkin is whether you should use the singular form or the plural in tags. As I understand it, librarians prefer the singular: all photos containing one or more snowdrops should be tagged ‘snowdrop’. My snowdrop set has 7 pictures, in one of which I somehow ended up with just one snowdrop – but I decided to tag them all with the plural form nevertheless, reasoning that if I were looking for pictures of snowdrops, that is what I’d search for: snowdrops. I’m not sure what difference that makes to Flickr, but I do know that you can now see 1866 photos of the little lovelies at the Ghiocei || Snowdrops Group Pool, contributed by over 300 people from many different countries. So despite its imperfections, the world of Folksonomies does have something going for it.

Cult or Culture?

5 February 2009

I’ve just caught up with some of the Multiliteracies tasks (Electronic Village Online 2009) from two weeks ago, including the debate between David Weinberger and Andrew Keen on Weinberger’s All Things are Miscellaneous. Here’s some first thoughts.

The Weinberger-Keen debate is a hoot. Weinberger of course (!) is right, more or less, and Keen is wrong, mostly; that much is easy. However the interesting thing is, why? The fundamental difference between their approaches is that Weinberger sees the changing structures in the new media environment as giving rise t0 changing roles and opportunities for all – readers, writers, consumers, producers – which in turn are helping to create a more participatory and democratic culture. Weinberger is enthusiastic about these developments – very enthusiastic.

Keen however sees in all this a collapse of cultural authority, with the arbiters of knowledge falling from their pedestals, and being replaced by a free-for-all where any Tom, Dick or Harry can have their say, and there’s no-one left to tell us what’s good and what’s bad, what’s right and what’s wrong.

He talks up the role of ‘traditional’ media in promoting cultural values, and claims that they have always allowed talent to rise to the surface. No-one, he says, has been prevented from having their work published just because they’re black, or female.

Well, where do you start? With generation after generation of black people deprived of liberty, education, economic independence, civic participation, perhaps? Something similar could be said for women, of whatever race, and in whatever part of the world.

Keen is trapped within an old-fashioned, restricted, patrician definition of culture, which is essentially conservative, despite his protestations, and never did adequately describe cultural processes anyway. What is glaringly absent from such a view is the question of social class, and its political ramifications – this is no surprise, as conservatives rarely recognise these issues. Our ‘traditional’ media cost a lot of money to run, and they have always been funded by the social, political and economic elites. They mostly represent the values and/or interests of those elites, whether the cultures they promote are considered ‘high’ or ‘low’. The new media gives the rest of us a chance to escape this stranglehold, and that is what makes conservatives nervous.

It’s great having the debate on video – the contrast between the confident, hyperactive, gabbling Weinberger and the nervous, defensive, hesitant Keen is telling, and the body language is fascinating. Keen clearly felt himself to be in the lion’s den, and some of the floor speakers seemed to relish their chance to play at being lions.

The debate is from June 2007, and 20 months is a long time in the new media world. I wondered how these two would approach these issues now. The change in title of Keen’s book, from one year to the next, gives an indication of the path he has taken:

2007: The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture

2008: The Cult of the Amateur: How Blogs, Myspace, YouTube, and the Rest of Today’s User-generated Media are Destroying Our Economy, Our Culture, and Our Values

I look forward to the follow-up: How YouTube caused the credit crunch (2009)

Some thoughts on Macbeth

22 January 2009

Virtual Macbeth in Second Life
These are assorted reflections on a guided tour to Macbeth my good friend Misha Writer went on with a group from the Virtual Worlds in Language Learning seminar. That’s him at the front, playing at being a mad Scot.

But as pictures
I can never remember all the keyboard combinations I need in SL, so I don’t use the SL snapshot camera, I just use the Mac’s Grab utility (Cmnd-Ctrl-4), which enables you to select any area of the screen, or SnapzPro, which can record movies of any screen activity. I wish I’d thought of recording a movie for this knife scene in Macbeth!

I sent 10 of these screenshots up to a new Set in Flickr, and set the picture above to link to this. In the previous post I embedded the Flickr Slideshow from this Set. I have also added the pictures to a couple of Flickr Groups: Virtual Worlds and Language Learning, and Virtual Macbeth.

Whilst I was Flickring, I tried to think of titles for the pictures – I don’t always bother, but I know I should – it helps people find them, and also gives an indication of what I think they’re about. A couple of the pictures include quotations from the play, and this led me to search out suitable quotations for all the others, in the hope that this would help draw viewers’ attention towards the original play as well as to an entertaining SL experience.

I thought I had a Collected Works of Shakespeare somewhere in my flat, but couldn’t find it. So I googled, and found The Tragedy of Macbeth, which has the entire text of the play on one web page – this would not normally be regarded as good web design, but in this instance it allows you to scroll quickly through the whole play, as you would flick through the pages of a book, and it also makes searching for specific words much easier.

The selfsame tune and words
I have neither seen nor read the play for over 30 years, but the search for suitable titles for my screenshots led me to skim through the whole of it. I was staggered how many expressions I came across that are still embedded in the English language, some 400 years later. In addition to those I used as titles, an unstructured browse brings up phrases like:

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

What bloody man is that?

If you can look into the seeds of time

Speak, I charge you.

nothing is
But what is not

Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.

nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it

yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness

Hie thee hither

Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters.

This castle hath a pleasant seat

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly

this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here

upon this bank and shoal of time

we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor

this even-handed justice

our poison’d chalice

Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself

We will proceed no further in this business

the ornament of life

live a coward in thine own esteem

If we should fail?

screw your courage to the sticking-place

False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

And that’s just from Act 1; there are four more to trawl through yet. Some of these are so familiar, and so rooted in the language, I have the sense I hear or read one or other of them – or adaptations of them – every few days.

So many thanks to Angela for giving us such a stimulating time in SL, and for reminding us of the lasting richness of the English language.


20 January 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Macbeth“, posted with vodpod

To see the captions you need a larger player, and it looks like full-screen doesn’t work from here. So go to the original Slideshow on Flickr, and do Show info (top right).

Exploring Web 2.0, and learning to SMiLE

4 July 2008

Social Media in Language Education

Michael Shade
School of Language, Literature and Communication, University of Brighton

In the course of academic year 2007-08 I embarked on a journey through the unexplored – by me at least – territory of Web 2.0, to see what it might be able to contribute to our students’ language learning experience. This is a brief report on that journey, through what turns out to be an ever-changing landscape; it’s a journey which we can be sure has some way to run. I hope you will find one or two things of relevance to your own interests and concerns.

VLE: Blackboard
For several years teachers on the SLLC’s Institution-wide Language Programme have been using the University’s Virtual Learning Environment, BlackboardStudentcentral in UoB parlance, or as Stan says, “Studentcentral when it works, Blackboard when it doesn’t” – in fairly limited and obvious ways: announcements, email contact; links to internal and external web resources; materials to consult and download; information, task outlines.

NB: I have not yet been able to discover how to open areas of Studentcentral to the outside world, so for the moment at least a few of the links offered here may bring you up against a brick wall if you are not a member of the University of Brighton. Apologies. If you’d like to see some of the material referred to here, please email me and I’ll see if we can arrange access on an individual basis.

Discovering Web 2.0
Following up a long-standing interest in the general area of eLearning, during the first part of 2007 I took part in a number of face-to-face and online groups and workshops:

UK HE Languages Subject Centre eLearning Conference
IATEFL Conference: Learning Technologies SIG
UoB eLearning Ginger Group – see Community@Brighton Group (UoB only)
Webheads in Action Online Convergence
The Future of Education (University of Manitoba)
eTrends (Australian Flexible Learning Framework)
ElggJam07 – on Community@Brighton (UoB only?)

– and the twin realisations dawned that:

– the emerging area of online social media has a huge potential for language learning
– much of it isn’t available within Blackboard

These ideas were reinforced during a 6-week session on Social Media in English Language Teaching – SMiELT – part of the TESOL Electronic Village Online earlier this year; what’s more, thanks for the acronym 🙂 !

Social Media platform: ELGG
At the same time the Learning Technologies team within the University were developing a pioneering implementation of the social media platform ELGG to complement the use of Blackboard, and provide some of the facilities they felt were lacking. In particular, I was advised that ELGG would provide a better and more flexible blogging tool than Blackboard.

In September 2007 the UoB ELGG platform – Community@Brighton – went live, with the intention of facilitating the establishment of communities of interest within the University. These communities can be open to any member of the University, and normally are, but it also allows us to set up restricted groups, and to import module groups directly from Studentcentral. This was of particular interest to us, as ELGG could thereby offer us a protected environment within which a tutor and a group of students could explore the possibilities the platform might hold for language learning.

Blog in ELGG
At the beginning of the year we set up a couple of Groups within Community@Brighton for specific modules: Spanish Intermediate (SP131) and Spanish Advanced 3 (SP201).

During the first semester I set the same weekly short writing tasks – in Spanish – as I have set in previous years, arising out of class activities. These tasks do not form part of the assessment programme for the module. Students were allowed to submit their work either hand-written or word-processed on paper, as before, or via the Group blog within Community@Brighton: Intermediate Group Blog, Advanced Group Blog.

– I deliberately left the choice of medium open to the student, as I was aware that with some students there would be obstacles to online participation. Every year there are some students who do not appear as registered for the appropriate module on Blackboard until some months into the academic year; consequently they are not included when the module group members are imported into C@B. Although C@B has a fairly simple procedure for an individual to apply directly to join a Group, I felt that for some students this could well be just one more gap to fall through.

– access to all posts and comments was restricted to Group members only; for the purposes of this report I am making some of them visible to the world outside UoB – you should be able to access them directly from the links above, without needing a log-in or password.

For each task, I started a new Post with an outline of the task; students then wrote their work as a response to the Post, either directly into the Comment area (which has a number of standard word-processing facilities), or by writing elsewhere and then Copying and Pasting it in. Each task then appears as a Post by the Tutor followed by a series of student Comments.

– I continued using Blackboard as before for these courses, placing material in Items and Folders in a Learning Material area: click – click – click – click – click – . . .  😦

First thoughts
As we began to use the blog format, a number of consequences soon became apparent.

On the plus side
1) Students could read each other’s work; what is more, they could read several pieces by different classmates on the same visit if they wished. This enables them to see – and hopefully learn from – how others may be using:

– different approaches to the task
– different ranges of vocabulary, structure and expression

2) A student’s own work could be read by others; this may inhibit some, or inspire more care – my impression is that there was a bit of both.

3) Students could return to their own published work and easily edit it online – add, subtract, alter – whenever they wanted to.

4) Although the work was public (to the group, at least) the teacher could offer feedback or corrections privately, either electronically or on paper. Either way involved a bit more work for the teacher:

– the electronic method I used was to Copy and Paste the student’s work into a Word document, then use Tools > Track Changes to indicate comments and corrections, and email the corrected piece back to the student;

– sometimes I printed the work out and corrected it using an even older technology – a red pen.

5) In the light of feedback from the tutor, students could return to their published work and make corrections if they wished.

On the not-so-plus side
1) Some students joined the C@B Group late, for reasons outlined above; a few never quite made it.

2) Some students did not contribute work online – through a degree of technophobia in some cases, maybe through techno-laziness in others.

3) Although instructions were clearly set out, clearly expressed, clearly signalled, and frequently repeated, some students managed to place their work in a variety of places where it didn’t belong. Very few of these managed to re-locate their work appropriately.

Digital natives, eh? 😉

4) Students did not comment on the contributions of others; it appears the Group blog format used here is not conducive to commenting on a post by a specific individual.

Walking on the Wiki side
For the second module, in Semester 2, I wanted more flexibility in the presentation of materials than appeared to be available through Blackboard. Since I was already using the Blog in ELGG, I enquired whether it also included a Wiki function; however this facility had been withdrawn for technical reasons. I was then pointed towards the Wiki within Blackboard, which is so well hidden that I had not discovered it in 5 years of Blackboarding!

Edit view > Select (drop-down menu) > Wiki

So for the second semester materials were presented within Blackboard’s Wiki, rather than through the Learning Material area: go to Spanish Intermediate, then follow Learning Material > Materiales para SP132: View

For my purposes, I found the Wiki to be quicker and easier to use, and more flexible, than the Learning Material area; it is for instance easy to create a set of linked pages, one for each topic within a module – a sort of mini website, which is more or less the functionality I had been looking for. You lose the ability to switch individual items on or off, but I have rarely used that anyway, and didn’t miss it.

Students were given writing access to the Wiki area; I suggested they might like to add in urls and comments about useful sites they’d come across, and I set up a text box with a distinguishing yellow background for them to write in. Very few did – and some of those misunderstood the instructions, and put work in that should have gone elsewhere.

Nevertheless the Wiki works reasonably well as a quick and not-too-dirty website – I know that’s not what the format was intended for, but it does more or less what I was looking for, and maybe I’ll find a way to exploit the collaborative function later.

Wiki Media
I needed to display images, Powerpoint presentations and movies, and I wanted them to appear within the content pages. The preferred solution would be for presentations and movies to be embedded alongside the text material that referred to them, rather than on separate pages.


As elsewhere in Blackboard, you can insert an image directly from your desktop:
– Image button > Browse and select > Upload > Insert


However, I couldn’t get a Powerpoint presentation (.pps) to show within the Wiki page – when I do:
– Upload File button > Browse and select > Upload > Insert
. . . it displays as a link, which then – on my Macs at least – downloads the file and opens Powerpoint as a separate application. Which is not what I wanted.
Not so great.


My first attempt to get round this was to convert the original .ppt file to a .mov QuickTime movie:
– File > Save As > Format: Powerpoint Movie (QT Format)
This was then uploaded and inserted as before, and the resulting link displayed the movie in a new page, still within Blackboard.

(See Spanish Intermediate, then follow Learning Material > Materiales para SP132: View, and follow the link to ¿Quién es esta mujer? > Presentación)

So far so good – except that the movie plays straight through as if it were a movie (?), but of course it’s not intended to be a movie. It’s a presentation. I wanted the student to have to move it forward through all the animations and individual slides. They’re there for a reason.

Back to ELGG
No advance on Blackboard – the link downloads the file and opens it up in Powerpoint.


Breaking Out
At this point I decided to Break Out, and see what the world outside Blackboard and ELGG had to offer. I trawled the world of Web 2.0, and came up with:

The Presentation Two-step Solution
Step 1: upload the file to a presentation sharing site, such as SlideShare or my preference SlideBoom. Unfortunately there is a lot of extraneous material on the presentation pages on these sites, and I wanted a cleaner display without distractions that could sit within my Blackboard module pages. The solution I found is to embed the slide player in a site of your own whose appearance you can control: so, on the SlideBoom page for your presentation, Copy the .html code they offer you to ‘Embed into your blog’, and then go to:

Step 2: set up a Blog on eg Blogger or WordPress, start a new Post, switch to hmtl view in the Editor, and Paste in the embedding code you copied from SlideBoom. Start a fresh Post for each new embed.

Step 3: in the Blackboard Wiki, write a Link to the page for your Blog Post; your Powerpoint > SlideBoom > Blogger > Blackboard presentation now displays where you wanted it in the first place, with full viewer control over animations and slide progression. And the SlideBoom viewer at least allows you to view the presentation full-screen (click rectangular button).

(See Spanish Intermediate, then follow Learning Material > Materiales para SP132: View, and follow the link to Granada > Presentación)

Sorted. 🙂

Well, sort of. I didn’t mention the bit about having to re-size the slide player so it fits into the Blog frame – otherwise you lose one edge of the slides; to do this you have to find the size parameters in the embedding html, and change them by hand until they fit. 😦

It would be great if Blackboard (and ELGG) could convert Powerpoint to a format that would play on the web, retaining user-control over animations and slide progression, and  if they could embed a presentation/flash player into a normal page. But I haven’t been able to find a way to do it, and although this solution sounds a bit complicated and takes more time than you’d like, once I’d got used to the procedure I was glad to have a way of displaying presentations where, and more or less how, I wanted them.

Something similar will work for embedding movies, eg from YouTube or TeacherTube; Blackboard at least does accept an uploaded file, such as a .mov, although it displays in a new frame rather than embedding within the current one (see above).

And needless to say, SlideShare, SlideBoom, Blogger and WordPress, YouTube and TeacherTube are all free to use in the way described. This is Web 2.0, after all. The downside is that your material is now hosted on the World Wide Web, and can therefore in theory be seen by anyone, anywhere, including Google. In practice, though, people are unlikely to stumble across it by chance; and you can decrease the possibility even further if you avoid placing links to it on the open Web.

Speaking Out
In the course of my Web 2.0 wanderings I came across VoiceThread, which enables you to upload a picture and record a verbal comment to accompany it; visitors – eg students – can then view and listen, and record their own comments. You can also post text comments. I displayed it in the same way as the presentations discussed above, by embedding it into the external blog and calling it up within Blackboard.

This is another technology that seems to have great potential for language learning; it worked fine but only a couple of students used it to record.

Workshops and Wikis
SMiLEing together

In March we initiated a series of weekly workshop sessions to offer SLLC staff an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the world of SMiLE, and a small but enthusiastic group has been getting together more or less every week since then. In these workshops we’ve had a look at how Language Teachers around the world have been trying out these new media, and begun getting to grips with some of them for ourselves.

Participants have started up their first blogs, inserted pictures, created links, and commented on each other’s posts. We’ve looked at Flickr for photos, YouTube for videos, for music – including our own Spanish music channel, Twitter for short messages, and embedding widgets to display these in our blogs. We’ve also taken photos on our mobile phones and posted them directly and immediately to Flickr and blogs. And of course we’ve been discussing what part each of these media could play in language learning.

SMiLE in a Wiki
We have set up a SMiLE Wiki to keep track of what we are doing; so far it has general descriptions of various types of social media platform, guidelines on how to use them, and links to examples of good practice. It is intended to be a working wiki, and could serve as a basis for future workshops within the SLLC and also more widely within UoB and elsewhere.

This Wiki is also a Break-Out – I’ve hosted it on pbwiki, which I find easier to use, smarter to look at, and more fully-featured than the Blackboard Wiki. It also has the added advantage of being easy to open to visitors and contributors from outside the University. In particular I am intending to invite the Webheads group (language teachers from around the world) to look at what we’re doing and let us know what they think.

Keep SMiLEing
We are now looking at how we can integrate some of these platforms into our teaching for the coming academic year. In particular we would like to

– set up Community@Brighton Group Blogs, as described above, for other modules
– further adapt and develop the activities outlined here
– expand our own in-house audio and video recorded material
– make a wider range of materials available to students online, along with suitable activities
– encourage students – and colleagues – to make greater use of these online platforms

That should keep us occupied for a bit. 🙂

An ethnomusicological conference

7 April 2008


I recently attended the conference of the Spanish Society of Ethnomusicologists (SIBE – don’t ask me what it stands for) at the Music Conservatory in Salamanca, Spain, where I gave a comunicación on ‘Issues of Identity in Spanish Popular Music’. This is a theme I’ve been inching towards at hispanists’ conferences over the past few years, but it was the first time I’ve attempted it at anything musicological, let alone ethno. A fascinating experience. When I got there, I found that the anglophone participation was less than I had been expecting, so I decided to do the talk in Spanish – so, as you can see, the presentation ended up in Spanish as well.

If you want to see what I got up to, I’ve put a report up on my personal blog Micalet. It’s a bit multimedia, and comes in several chunks – here are the links:

1) impressions of the conference – in fairly general and personal terms

2) a version of the presentation, complete with music and video clips, as used in my talk

3) photos of a concert at the Conservatory by what I’m calling a ‘kitchen percussion’ group, Mayalde, and others of what the Spanish call a jam session (NB not una sesión de mermelada – why not?) at a local club with multi-wind instrumentalist Javier Paxariño, which I also tried recording; I also put together a couple of videos with the photos and music clips from these two sessions: Paxariño, Mayalde

4) the (few) photos I took in the conference itself are on Picasa, as is the ‘official’ album for the conference

5) finally, some impressions of the city of Salamanca

6) and a Salamanca quiz, for the keen of eye

I’ll comment later on some of the issues encountered in putting the multimedia bits together, for anyone who’s interested.

A couple of weeks later I was off to another conference, in foreign parts again (Liverpool and Bangor), on Issues of Identity in Galicia (NW Spain), where I did a spot on ‘Identity in Galician Popular Music’, this time in English. I’ll put that presentation up shortly.

Versión en español de este informe.

A couple of recent eLearning events

7 February 2008

Jon’s dream

I recently attended a couple of one-day events on eLearning – here’s a brief report and a few links and photos:

1) The E-learning symposium held by the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (UK Higher Ed) focused on the possibilities for Language Teaching and Learning of the ‘Web 2.0’ technologies – wikis, blogs, and tools such as Facebook, MySpace, Elgg (the platform behind Community@Brighton, the University of Brighton’s social network) and Second Life. Some of the contributions were video-recorded and are available online along with the presenters’ slides, including the keynote by Jon Dron on the different levels and types of control afforded to teacher and learner by different learning environments. Jon looks in particular at the potential of feeds and tagging, and draws a contrast between the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and the ‘stupidity of the mob’, which he illustrates with chocolate raisins. I kid you not.

What made the day especially interesting – apart from the chocolate – was the fact that most of the contributors were not from the areas covered by the Subject Centre – it was useful to engage with other perspectives, and to think through the correspondences with our own disciplines.

2) Sharing interesting practice in eLearning, held at the UoB’s wonderful Creativity Centre a few days later. In the morning there were half-a-dozen brief accounts of some of the ways eLearning is being incorporated into teaching and learning across the university.

Of particular interest for colleagues in the School of LLC is that the Learning Technologies Group has a limited number of small solid-state audio recorders that staff can use to record material, in order to make it available to students via for instance Studentcentral (the UoB’s Blackboard environment), or as podcasts – both are really easy to do, as Joyce and Les demonstrated. Ask Les for a gizmo.

The afternoon was an informal ‘show and tell’ session, in which we all wandered round, seeing and discussing what others were doing. Katie flew around the UoB’s brand-new Second Life island, parachuted down here and there, had a couple of beers, gyrated a bit on the dance floor, and generally hung out; I attempted to demonstrate a number of SL educational developments, with less success as apparently we were operating under bandwidth restrictions, and in the more built-up areas in SL everything was slow and dark. See the web-pages Educational Uses of Second Life and Theatron 3, a project of the English and Dance, Drama and Music Subject Centres – there’s some fascinating things going on, and if you have SL you can teleport in to some of the locations. We did manage to get to Theatron 3’s Theatre of Ancient Pompeii – an impressive build, and there’s several others under development.

The day ended with an overview by who else but Jon Dron, who reckons we’re just about at Education 1.5b, and that it’s not a bad place to be.

The whole day was filmed, and videos, slides and photos should be available before too long on the UoB eLearning Community blog – I’m not sure if this will be open to folks outside the university, I hope it will. In the meantime, here’s some of my photos, which show what a high-powered, academic event it was.

This post has been written with several audiences in mind – colleagues in the UoB School of Language, Literature and Communication, members of the UoB eLearning Community Group, colleagues at the Subject Centre symposium, and fellow-participants from around the world in the Electronic Village Online workshops ‘blogging4educators‘ and ‘Social Media in English Language Teaching‘ – highly recommended to anyone wishing to get to grips with the potential of these media for language teaching and learning. So please excuse if some of the comments seem aimed elsewhere.

Privacy and/or accessibility: I’ve posted this to my Daily Post blog so all the above groups can access it; likewise I’ve put the photos in a gallery of my own – but not on Flickr because I wanted to keep them within these groups as far as possible, and with Flickr your photos are either completely open or ‘members only’ – too much hassle!

Stan, Alison: any specific tags for your events?


30 January 2008

This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

It’s Exam time again!

24 January 2008

Exam time

On Wednesday my Advanced Spanish class had their Presentation exam – a 15 minute talk on a topic of their choice. One of them had chosen to talk about “The marriage of wine and food”, and provided us with a selection of tapas, and a glass of Fino (dry sherry) and one of a very smart red Rioja (Gran Reserva 2000, no less). Ah, the sacrifices one has to make in the cause of Education! She passed, needless to say.

More pics in my Gallery.

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