Monday, April 30, 2007

Cognitive maps of searches

Thanks to Kevin Honeycutt I discovered Kartoo today. Kartoo is a search engine that creates a visual map of how your search topic is related to other things. It also generates a list of related search terms if you want to refine your results even more. This is very much in the theme of making implicit connections explicit, but it also starts to give some insight into how the engine searches for results. It also gives a representation of what is linked to what, and a list of alternative search terms. All vital tools that our students need.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Random thoughts

Lately in my computer literacy class, I've been sharing some of the things that come up, that may be of interest to my students.

Today are two things that I am going to share with the students today. One is an email that I received from my mother. It was about the dangers of plastics and the fact that dangerous chemicals can be released when they are frozen or microvaved. A quick trip to Snopes revealed that this was a hoax. Is this something that computer literate students should know? Definitely. Is in the curriculum. No.

The second is a really well done representation of what RSS feeds are and how they work.
There are two types of Internet users, those that use RSS and those that don't. This video is for the people who could save time using RSS, but don't know where to start.

This too is something that is not explicitly in the curriculum, but it is something that computer literate students should be able to know and do.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Facebook posting

Over the weekend, I was exploring facebook. (I know I am late to the web 2.0 party). I started to explore a bit around schools that I went to, and schools that I worked at. I came across this group page (registration required) published by last year's grads of the school I worked at last year. The page describes all sorts of parties and all sorts of rules that they had broken over the course of their time at the school. It also takes a nasty turn and singles out particular staff members for ridicule and abuse.

I did 2 things, I brought this page to attention of the administrators at the school. They basically shrugged it off as not being within their realm. I also brought it up for discussion with my computer literacy class. They too believed that the school should do nothing.

I am still not convinced. It seems to me that we as a school did not do a good job of preparing these grads, especially one in particular for ethical use of new technologies. It also seems that if the poster is still in the country, he could be called in and basically shamed into modifying the comments. I believe that if you post things in a public space, you should be prepared to stand by them, and you should not post things about other people that you would not want them to read.

On the other hand, these comments represent immediate feedback about the experience that these students had at the school. Certain teachers did have a reputation for not being effective in the classroom. Certain secretaries were unpleasant to deal with. The school policy was to delete email accounts in the fall following graduation. I can't help but thinking however that to air this on facebook is inappropriate. There are alternative methods to get one's message across, and ones that are not as hurtful. What do you think? Should the school intervene in this case?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Knowledge Representation

Conrad Barski has written an excellent piece on how knowledge is represented to the computer. Beyond the content, is the way the argument is developed. Instead of a standard adversarial piece presenting two opposing positions, He's developed a really good model of how three poles can have interplay between each of the three dichotomies, with the ultimate goal being the centre between all three. Excellent visual imagery and very effective metaphor.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Standardized Testing

Had an interesting experience today with contrasting two types of testing. Our elementary students are engaged in using the NWEA's Measure of Academic Progress. This is an adaptive test that is standards based. For the students, it means they keep on getting harder questions until they start getting wrong answers. Once they are getting about half of the questions right, the system is able to establish a level for them. Every student gets a unique test that is tailor made for them. Tests are untimed and students have as much time as they desire. Results are available in about 24 hours.

In contrast, this afternoon I proctored an ITBS test. This is the same old format as when we were all in school. Test book, fill in the bubbles. Limited time.

Both of these modes of operation are unusual for me. Seeing kids working quietly and individually is not what I'm used to. I'm used to a lot more chatter between students, and a lot more working with students to help them master materials and concepts. How can collaborative skills be measured? How often are students going to be asked to rely on what they've learned? I wonder if it is possible to create a standardized test where one gives a group of students an entirely new task and ask them to come up with a solution. In some way measuring their ability to learn within certain constraints. That seems like a better measure of the skills they'll need.