Newsletter

The ACT newsletter (News Round-Up) is published on a monthly basis through the Active Campaign software, and distributed to nearly 8,000 people on the list. About the newsletter:

  • Distribution increased from quarterly to monthly delivery
  • Includes community events and news, solicited through monthly email request and through community postings already on the ACT website.
  • Upgraded to include logos, icons and images, to improve the look, and to reinforce branding of ACT services and collaborations.
  • New sections include: “Autism in the News”, new listings of autism professionals, and seasonally interesting items from ACT’s curated database of autism resources.
  • To increase reach, the News Round-Up is repurposed as a “News Item” on the website, and as a link on the ACT Facebook page. Individual sections of the News Round-Up are republished as individual News Items, so that the organizational news feed is refreshed regularly.

My father wants an eReader

I’ve discussed with my sister the idea of getting our father an eReader. He’s interested in one, and I get it. He can download books from the library, it takes up very little space in comparison, it’s lighter… and what else? I don’t know. I’m a confessed book snob. I like my wrinkled Rushdie book that I bought in India, or the book of Leonard Cohen poetry that an old boyfriend bought and inscribed for me. I like moving back and forth in the book, pausing to consider Alice Munro’s marvelous turn of phrase, with my finger keeping my space between the pages. I always look to see what people are reading on the bus – much more difficult on an eReader.

So yes, I agree with Sara Barbour in her June 17th opinion piece. It’s an emotional kick for me, my attachment to books.

However.

I remember first year university: the massive biology textbook, the stack of books for my women in literature course, the mammoth introduction to English text that had poetry by Eliot, prose by Chaucer and short stories by… several authors. It’s a doorstopper that you see in many second-hand bookstores or parental basements. In addition to the sheer weight of these books, there is a culture of lineups at the bookstore, lugging heavy backpacks of books for your reference paper, selling the books at the end of the semester, and deciding how much to mark up the text books (highlighting can help you study, but diminishes the re-sale value). eReaders and eBooks could revolutionize academic textbooks.

Electronic textbooks could be cheaper, cutting out printing and shipping costs to start. Errors or updates could be easily implemented, downloaded from the Internet. The electronic textbooks could be more interactive, with quizzes at the end of chapters, or the ability to share notes or questions as a class. They could include multimedia. For the sciences, this could be a 3D image of DNA, a video of cell division, or an animation to demonstrate the physics of acceleration. For the arts, it could be a video of a First Nations potlach, and audio recording of a poem, or and animation of sequencing of behaviours. Perhaps it could make texts more accessible for students for whom English is not their first language (with links to dictionary definitions), for those with visual impairments (screen readers or bigger fonts), or for those with mobility challenges (less to carry, easier to navigate).

I say “could” alot. It depends on publishers being willing to change their practices, re-evaluation of digital rights management. It depends on accessibility and technical support for students and faculty members. Lots of maybes and questions that are still unanswered, but there are opportunities here.

But I’m still buying paperbacks for myself and others. That won’t stop.

Writing Community Guidelines

As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the process of developing, building, and soon to be nurturing an online community.

This week I’m thinking about who our users are (personas), privacy issues, and writing community guidelines.

I’m a generally positive person, and I like to believe that all will be sunshine and butterflies. And it won’t, but I don’t want the fear or worry to prevents us from building the community, or worse (?) creating one that is so rigid and fierce with rules that it sucks all the fun out of it. Since you know, the goal is a community, not enforced participation like in the prison yard at lunch (er, for example).

Question #1: is it pessimistic that I’m thinking about this before someone even posts?
Question #2: I’d love to have the community collaborate on these guidelines, but the members will come and go, and besides, as above, it’s not open yet!

So do some research
I’ve started by looking at some examples. One was short and sweet:
“We love hearing from ya. We try to keep it light & fun (it’s only decorating), so we’ll nix comments that are snarky/spammy (our moms are reading). If you don’t see your comment it’s because they’re manually approved (it should pop up soon-ish). Occasionally our spam filter eats one. Boo spam filter.” from <a href="www.younghouselove.com"Young House Love, a recommendation from a colleague.

Another colleague suggested that I look at the Guardian Newspapers standards and participation guidelines. I particularly love the last entry, that reminds us that the conversation belongs to everyone (I may steal this for mine). Overall however, it was a bit strident perhaps (and given that their commenters by nature have strong opinions about divisive topics such as politics, perhaps necessary). Do like their inclusion of a section on Moderator Approach (will steal this, too), and their final summary “In Short:”

Then I asked Twitter, and boom, received two suggestions to look at Flickrs Community Guidelines. And I like these ones. They start with the Do’s, not the Don’ts, and they’re knowing in their admonitions: “Don’t be creepy. You know that guy. Don’t be that guy.”

So after this day, my conclusions are:
I’m going to have a Please Do, Please Don’t and Moderator responsibility sections. Start with the good! Tell people where to do with concerns! I’m going to talk about copyright and linking (don’t cut and paste), and I’ll have to bring up how to disagree responsibly. I hadn’t considered that people may try to sell or solicit on the forums. I’ll have to consider how people looking for contractors or people looking for contracts might be able to connect. It’s not our responsibility, and we can’t vet contractors, but….

I think that this is a good thing to do. What I learned in post-secondary was that it was when you didn’t have the classroom guidelines that things went bad. It gives other community members something to point to (“hey, read this”), and shows the community members that we are committed to respectful and productive conversation.

So now I guess it’s time to start drafting something up.

Creating user profiles

I’ve discovered that in Moodle, I can modify the user profile to add custom fields. So in addition to having the option of city/town, photo and general description, I can add new sections to the profile.

Which sent me on a whirlwind through what’s in a profile anyway? There is a good chapter in the book Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web, raising additional questions of community reputation.

So what kind of information are people willing or able to share. The purpose of these field is what?
– to help people find others they’d be connected with
– to encourage people to share what they think is important, resulting in a better sense of community (?)
– to describe to the user the purpose or focus of the community

This is the beginning of quite a bit of thinking and decision making for me. What fields matter and add meaning?

When is it too much instruction?

Today on Twitter I asked: “If I don’t offer detailed instruction, & assume that people will rise to the occasion, do you think they will? Does instruction = laziness?”

And the reason I ask is that some of these online, EdTech, Social Media technologies are kind of self-evident on a basic level. And I want my users to join a community I’m developing at a basic level. No video editing, RSS parsing, database tinkering required. Just login, post stuff, read stuff, share stories. I want the sharing stories to be the most important thing. So if I create a handout with step-by-step instructions am I assuming a lack of self-reliance? Do I encourage rote step-by-step following instead of exploration?

Do my users want to explore, though? Does that get in the way of the participation?

I’m going to join CPSquare, and hope that I can discuss these questions and more with them.

Map making

I follow many people on twitter: people in the field of educational technology, user design and more. And someone posted a link to a shared map in Google Spaces, asking people to add their location to the map. First of all, hooray for this medium allowing people over the world to quickly play with a new toy in a low-stake environment.

User generated maps are pretty interesting – if you were teaching an international class, either online or face to face, you could ask students to add their birthplace or last vacation to jump start a conversation, and get that community started. You could use it to track the incidents of mass deaths of birds, track the geographic location of oil spills, annotate the historical immigration of Europeans to North America or track epidemics at a local or international level.

Creating the map results in a visual representation of what may have been a series of abstract numbers, locations or dates. It can heighten awareness (increasing affective learning), develop technological skills (psychomotor) and create new connections between the data and how it’s represented or how we interpret it (cognitive).

On a personal note, as an avid reader of novels, I geek out when a novel has a map in it. I enjoy plotting the quest, or noting the geographic locations of rival factions (Lord of the Rings and it’s map of Middle Earth is probably the most well-known example). I’ve also searched out (and contributed to) a google map of Harry Bosch’s Los Angeles (Harry Bosch is the detective in a series written by Micheal Connelly and a map of the Central Valley Greenway bike route in Vancouver.

There is also Google maps available for map-making, and I’m sure others that I have not explored. There must also be ways of automatically feeding GPS data in to maps as well? Many more opportunities out there.

Useful framework for designing wiki instruction

In doing research for a faculty project, I came across a useful tool for thinking through wiki assignments.

Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom, a collection of essays about designing wiki writing assignment includes a chapter on using wikis to build learning communities. This chapter is useful because of the “snakes-and-ladders” framework the authors (from Stanford) have crafted for helping wiki developers think through the steps of how to implement a successful wiki project.