Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow law like a snow law

It's interesting that within a few weeks of each other, two cities within a few miles of each other both discussed making it "unlawful for any person to push, plow, or otherwise deposit snow from private property into the public street."

Smithfield passed it, whereas North Logan rejected it.

It makes one wonder if somebody is going around pushing all the city councils to adopt the same ordinance. I don't know if Smithfield and North Logan use their own crews or contract out with Logan or the county, but I'd guess the same group takes care of plowing if they both discussed this issue at the same time.

Logan City, where I live, has their own snow removal crews and already has an ordinance that prohibits leaving water, wood, rocks, snow, ice, vehicles, etc. in the road in such a way that they block travel or endanger people. Logan's ordinance is worded in a way that mostly makes sense, although it does make me wonder if the puddle my sprinklers leave in the gutter would be considered a stagnant pool and leave me technically in violation.

photo by mvhargan

I'd be interested to see the wording of the proposed ordinances, but the stories linked above were a little sparse on the details. The main detail that seems clear is that they don't want residents pushing snow into the street and leaving tracks that freeze into bumps that can cause the snowplows to bounce around when they hit them; you know, a miniature version of the wall of snow the plows push into the end of your driveway right after you finish shoveling? So why don't they just make an ordinance saying that? "Don't create snow or ice piles that interfere with snowplows."

On a side note, you'd think someone could invent a snowplow with some type of guard on the right side that could be enabled by the driver passing a driveway or intersection, which would temporarily stop the snow from flowing freely off to the side and when disengaged would release any accumulated snow. It wouldn't have to hold much for very long. But I digress.

From the discussion in the articles, if it just prohibits pushing snow from private property into a public street, then what happens if you push that big pile from the snowplow back into the street? If it's technically snow from the public street, not from your private property, is there a repercussion? North Logan did the right thing and rejected it, since they agreed that it would simply be unenforceable.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Friend Lists

Is anyone out there using friend lists on FB? Are they being used "correctly"? I haven't set any up yet, since I have yet to see a point. I just don't trust that FB can get it right and that something I post for one group of people I know won't end up being displayed to the wrong people.

I generally like most Google products, although they admittedly have had some failures. That is great, though, because it means they're not afraid to try new things and pull the plug on what doesn't work. Their failure with Google Wave may end up working out well for the few people who actually used it, since they open sourced the project, and the Apache group has picked it up.

Google has yet to really hit it big in the social media market, other than perhaps their acquisition of Blogger several years ago. I don't include Gmail or Google Talk as social media, because email and IM are private communication tools, not social media. Android is great, but it's an operating system.

I don't care if Google's Orkut hits it big here in the states. I'm fine if FB keeps its stranglehold on the market. I do hope that Orkut can be used to push FB to innovate in a direction that's useful to users. Several months ago, a new version of Orkut was launched, which has something FB really needs: real separation of friend networks.

We see the friend list arrive on FB, presumably because of the new Orkut feature. The problem is that they need a whole FAQ page to explain how to use it, because it's hidden several clicks into a submenu where few venture. So like most privacy settings in FB, it's hard to find if you even know it's there. Given their history, what happens when FB decides to change their privacy settings and everything you posted for one group of friends suddenly becomes public to all (either accidentally or on purpose)?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

We can do this the easy way or the hard way

There's an obscure change that was made in Office 2007, which I only noticed because of a chance experience. They changed the terminology from labeling the X and Y axes of a chart to labeling the horizontal and vertical axes. What's the difference, you might ask? The horizontal axis is the X axis, so who cares?

I'll get to that, but first how I even became aware of this issue. I happened to be helping a student who wanted help getting ready for a retake of a test on Excel. She missed part of the chart, because she mixed up the X and Y axis labels. As we were looking at what she had done, it was very obvious that the labels did not match. I don't remember the exact topic, but it would have been analogous to having a label that said "States" next to the axis with a range of numbers and a label that said "Population" next to the axis with the names of several states. You look at it and have to wonder if something is messed up, but then again, I have written before about how students will consciously choose to answer a question incorrectly with the idea in their heads that our tests were constructed by idiots and therefore the wrong answer will likely be scored as correct.

I showed her how the labels obviously didn't match, and I opened her spreadsheet file, and showed her how the box labeled X-axis had the text she was supposed to put in the Y-axis box and vice versa. The problem? I have to admit there was some logic to her decision to switch them, albeit based on a possible problem in our educational system, which is where I'm headed with this.

Among the various chart types in Excel are the bar chart and the column chart. I don't want to get into the difference between the types of charts, where you'd use a histogram vs a bar chart vs a line chart, etc. Perhaps another post. Suffice it to say that Excel doesn't really do a histogram without a lot of work on your part, and it's beyond the scope of this post.

So a column chart and a bar chart in Excel are actually both bar charts, with Excel's bar chart rotated 90 degrees. What ends up as the vertical axis, since it is rotated, is actually the X-axis. The reason it is the X-axis is because it is the independent variable. The dependent variable is the Y. I still remember in middle school missing a quiz question, because I hadn't read the chapter for that day and had to guess whether it was the X or Y that was vertical and horizontal. It turns out, that while convention does generally put the X horizontally, it doesn't have to be that way. There is a greater law. Unfortunately, we are taught the simplistic version of the law. If we were to take the advice of some and teach more statistics rather than calculus in school, perhaps there would be some importance of knowing the difference between a dependent and independent variable and thus we might be taught the greater law.

So, what the girl had done based on this "fact" that had been so ingrained in her throughout years of math classes was specifically decide to put the labels in the wrong boxes just so the X label would be on the horizontal axis, even if that meant having the X label in the properties box labeled Y and next to data that didn't make sense. After mistakes like this and others by a multitude of students, I started putting notes like "if something looks wrong, it probably is" on most test versions that I would write.

Apparently, Microsoft must have gotten some feedback from other people getting confused, and so rather than leave it as technically correct but difficult to understand, they punted. They just changed the labels to be called the horizontal and vertical axis labels in Office 2007. Now there is no question. And the three people per year that had a problem with this now don't learn anything, because it never comes up. In case you're wondering, OpenOffice still labels the vertical axis on the bar chart as the X-axis, because that's what it is.

So at what point do we switch from teaching the easy rule to teaching the more complicated but correct rule? Is there ever a reason to teach the easy rule? Wouldn't we perhaps see fewer line charts that should actually be histograms, etc. if we taught people assuming they were capable of understanding an advanced concept? Is this an advanced concept?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The acronym TMI is often used as a way of expressing that someone just shared too much information with you, generally something embarrassing or private or that they just don't care about. I believe some of this comes because of an overload of information always flowing around us through computers and mobile devices, so we lose the ability to filter out extraneous or private information from that which should be communicated.

Given the large amounts of information that is put out there, since people do seem to just braindump it all onto various social media sites (or vetted news sites) in a way that's easily accessible by others, those who learn to actually mine the vast data fields will do very well for themselves in our information-based society.

While some people see these vast data fields as a wasteland, like the Abominable Snowman in Monsters, Inc., I would say, "I think you mean wonderland!" We should be able to take the plethora of information created by others and turn it into something useful. There should be no such thing as TMI, because the more data out there, the better we can harness it for the good of ourselves or others.

I'm occasionally made fun of for looking up information on my phone or a computer. Someone asks a question or wants a clarification about a statement made by someone else, and everyone just sits there thinking, yeah, someone should find that out. Then the conversation goes a different direction and everyone forgets there was something they wanted to know. So I look it up before forgetting what the question was. And I get strange looks for providing the answer. I'm the smarty pants because I googled it, when half the room could have also pulled out their iPhone or Droid and looked it up themselves. They're using their phones to text, so it's not like they're put away to be polite to the present company.

Isn't that why we have smartphones? I mean, it's cool that you can use your iPhone as a digital rattle to keep your kids occupied, but isn't access to Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo Answers, Twitter, etc. the best reason to have a smartphone? Nielsen claims that 25% of smartphone users don't even access any data on their phones and that 6% of users consume over half the mobile phone data. The rest of us are on that logarithmic continuum somewhere.

What other information is out there that we aren't using? If you have a blog (or any website for that matter), do you use Google Analytics to see who is coming to your site, from where, and for what? How long do they stay, what do they do while visiting, and do they actually find what they were looking for? Is that just another type of TMI that you don't care about?

Over the past 2-3 years, my two most consistently popular posts are on Pedagogy vs Andragogy and Surf the Channel. Coming in a distant third place is a post related to Cognitive Load Theory.

It's interesting, since I spent a lot more time writing the cognitive load post than I did the other two. Maybe the third place post was too long or too academic or too focused on the specific situation in which I was using it. Something I have been able to figure out, though, is that if you can find something that is an interesting or upcoming topic that not many people are blogging about, you'll get a lot of hits. That may seem obvious, but I only figured it out because I had data that told me. If you think I should have known that already, guess which of your blog posts are the most popular and then turn on Google Analytics and tell me how close you were after a month or two of collecting data.

I've been thinking for awhile now that I need to write another post on Andragogy, because I'm afraid that the one that several hundred people a month find just wasn't all that well written or informative. It was just a quick recap of an experience I had and a few comments on some of the basics of that area. I know a lot more about the topic now and knowing people are looking for that information and having a hard time finding it, I feel it my duty to help others make some sense of it.

They could find academic articles on it or take a class on the subject. They could go to conferences and talk to people using techniques based on these principles. But they don't. At least they're googling it, which many don't even have the motivation to do like I already talked about. So if that many people come asking the question, how many more are out there who don't even ask, because they can't be bothered? There's probably not much I can do to reach out to them, since I can't force my blog down everyone's throats. I should at least try to answer the question people who do find my site are asking.

So what does Google Analytics tell you? And what are you going to do about it?

Saturday, November 27, 2010


I don't have quite the audience or flare of Ron Paul, but I had a thought regarding the recent complaints over enhanced search techniques by the TSA. My last flights were right before the new regulations went live, so I haven't been through any of this myself. I did have one packet each of mayo and mustard make it through four security screenings in October without being caught. I also had a TSA agent tell me to throw out my toothpaste, even though it was only 3 ounces and fit fine in my ziploc bag. I told her about three times that it was under the size limit before she finally made the connection, let it through, and said something about how it was nice having passengers that know the rules.

The basic problem I see, besides the inconsistent training, is that the TSA wants to live on both sides of the government/private enterprise line. As a government entity, their employees are shielded from prosecution for actions in the line of duty. A wave of their hand and they can call a cop over to arrest you for the most minor thing, yet however egregious their offenses, they have a shield that protects them.

This is where it gets muddy, though. They can search you with or without cause. They can hold you for as long as they feel like with no explanation. A cop can't do either of those things. A TSA agent can provoke you until you crack and then have a cop cart you off. That's entrapment in the legal world, but they want to be treated like a private enterprise all of a sudden and not be subject to the constitutional protections against government abuses. They require you to stand where they tell you and for how long and have you arrested if you give up and decide you no longer want to be their customer after entering the secure area.

Oh, well the airlines are a private enterprise, and there's no constitutional right to fly, so if you don't like it, you don't have to fly. Of course. If I don't like the color shirt the local grocery store makes its baggers wear, I don't have to shop there. If I believe soft drink companies are poisoning us, I don't have to consume their products. If I don't want to be mugged, I avoid certain streets in certain cities. Many stores have signs saying they can refuse service to anyone or that customers must wear shoes and a shirt to be served. Those are all simple enough and deal with private enterprise. There are varying levels of governmental involvement in all of the above situations, but when it comes down to it, I generally have pretty decent alternatives. If I need to get from one side of the country to the other reasonably quickly and safely, I have not as many choices. The airlines, while they are private, are highly regulated and propped up by government subsidies, since it is a national security issue in many ways.

So which is it? Is the TSA a government agency that is subject to constitutional protection against illegal searches or are they acting on behalf of their clients, the airlines, in a civil/private matter like security guards in a sports arena? Is the TSA a private organization that can make a customer wait hours while providing lousy customer service or are they a law enforcement agency that can only detain you for cause?

There is a tension here that cannot last. Perhaps we can get the Tea Partiers to take up this issue and do something useful with their powerful masses.

More Hiring Fun

I haven't blogged a whole lot about my change of employment that happened this summer. I'm sure at some point I'll let loose about it, but for now I'm still drinking it all in. However, I do have some fun stuff left over from working at USU related to job applications. I've written about other strange interviews and bad resumes before, and while I hesitate to talk about hiring issues a ton, since an offhand comment about someone you didn't hire can become a major lawsuit issue, I've also heard from a reader or two that those kinds of stories are some of their favorites. So I'll try to balance things as well as I can.

The first is from an interview within the past year. It was going reasonably well until I talked about what is expected while working in the computer lab, making a half-question-half-statement about not being on Facebook all the time while working. It turned into a kind of awkward moment when she pretty much told me she probably would be on Facebook a lot. Kudos for honesty? Or recommendation for a psychologist to help with your addiction? Or just end the interview as soon as possible, because we're not hiring you?

Just as I was leaving, while they were in the middle of hiring my replacement, we also had quite a bit of staffing to take care of, since several people had graduated or had other personal things come up that they weren't coming back in the Fall. I was hoping my replacement would do all the hiring, but when the timeline got tight, I had to review the resumes we had received.

I had received about 250 emails about student jobs in the lab. In 2 hours, I made my way through all 250 emails, whittling the list down to 20 potential hires which I passed along to my just barely hired replacement to make the final decision. Whew, that was fun! I did have the sense to copy out a few gems from the cover letters and resumes I received. Some of the best:

Lagoon (Seasonal) Managed a group of 6-8 employees, keeping them in line and on task

I knew it was important to keep customers in lines, but I didn't realize they had lines for employees, too.

I'm interest in working in the CIL Lab. What is required for?

English proficiency, maybe for?

Working knowledge of all Windows and Apple based software.


Child Care, Many repeat requests

So you babysat your neighbor's kids every weekend?

I would be willing to work before, after or when I have breaks in between classes.

Being a campus job, I can't require students work during classes, but yes, before, between, or after classes are pretty much the times I make everyone work.

Rapport Leadership International

This is one I was pretty sure I didn't want to even touch. Just from the name of it, you can guess what kind of place it is. I did take a minute to google it, and yes, it's one of those training courses where they humiliate you and rip you down to nothing before building you up into a machine that rips down your friends and loved ones, for only thousands of dollars a month. I don't know or care the details of RLI, Impact, or the other similar programs; I just know enough to know I don't want anything to do with them. If you want real leadership training, ask me about Wood Badge.

Proficient in Word, Excel, Power Point, The Internet and Dental Software

Ooh, proficient in both the internet AND dental software?

Sandwich Artist

Look, I know that's the title Subway gives the people who work there, but you're not an artist, and what you're making barely resembles a sandwich.

2.81 gpa

Just leave it off if it's under 3.0. If I ask for GPA, you're hosed, but if I happen to not ask for it, you might be able to slip in unnoticed. I have had people with bad GPAs be good employees and vice versa, but with the sheer numbers, any bad info you give me will be used against you. Of course, the question may arise whether 2.81 is a bad GPA. It's basically a B- average, so perhaps not all that bad. Consider, however, that to get a GPA in that range, you have to balance out every A you receive with a D in another class. Grade inflation itself is an entirely different conversation, but within the current system, more than a handful of Ds (or worse) means there's something wrong. On the other hand, the perennial 4.0 student can be suspect as well. I just added that, because I want to make sure I offend everyone equally. There's a lot more I could say, but I'm going to save it for another post.

I really would like a job.

Oh, well, yeah, that makes sense. Just come on in.

Roller Coaster Aficionado

Actually, I was intrigued by this one, but not enough to keep him or her, given the tight timeline.

That's all the quotes. There were a few other items that helped me in my filtering. One person submitted a 2 MB attachment; if it was a whole artistic portfolio, I'd understand, but we're talking a resume and cover letter that should come in under a couple hundred K. I received one resume in MS Works format. I could have converted it somehow and figured out a way to read it...but I didn't. Another interesting one was a duplicate resume that I recognize having received several months earlier; the thing that made it stand out so much was the same mistakes that made me toss it the first time still weren't corrected. As always, I received several resumes with a completely blank page appended to the end, since they didn't double check to delete the extra whitespace.

I did have a girl earlier this year apply; if I recall correctly, she was referred by someone else who had been working for me. Her resume was actually bad enough that I emailed her back with some tips to help her improve the resume before submitting elsewhere. I didn't have the time to send back constructive criticism on all these beauties, though.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More On TwHistory and Social Networking

I recently posted about the top 10 things I'd learned from TwHistory, a project I've been helping with to teach history using social media. I was at a conference recently where one of the papers presented was about how social networking doesn't create learning communities or communities of practice. I'm going to do a more full analysis of it at some point, but for now, I'd like to point out that TwHistory has shown to some extent that the supposition of the paper is false or at least not completely true. I don't know if I even want to touch on their premise that you need more control than social media tools allow to facilitate a constructivist learning environment.

Social media/networking tools are just that, tools. A classroom is a tool in a manner of speaking. Blackboard, let's see if I can say this with a straight face, is a tool. (Blackboard's "designers" are tools also, if you know what I mean.)

Of course just using Twitter won't magically build a community, just as throwing a prominent researcher into a classroom won't make him or her an effective teacher and dropping a class into Blackboard won't stimulate discussion.

A couple guys who had worked together on some previous software projects to create tools for building communities around openly licensed educational materials came up with the idea. I was involved in the first reenactment on TwHistory because of something one of them posted on Facebook. An awesome high school history teacher has enhanced her method of teaching history because of that Twitter reenactment. A grant from Talis funded a sweet new twhistory.org website that will allow anyone to build and share their own reenactments because it was shown that it could be useful in the classroom. People are starting to use the new site on their own now.

A community is being built using various online tools. A common reaction from many people who hear about this community is that they are now interested in using some of these social media tools that they were never interested in before, because they see it can be useful for something more than just wasting time. They want to join in, because there is a community pulling them in.

There's more to come on this topic, but that's enough for now. If you've made it this far, here's a bonus 5 more things I've learned from TwHistory.

  • To reduce the amount of complaining you have to listen to, appoint a murmurer for the group - if anyone wants to murmur, they have to get his or her permission first.
  • Expect to be "taught a lesson" if you fall sleep while on guard.
  • Assign a few select hunters, because if everyone in camp goes, you'll scare off all the game.
  • If your ramrod gets stuck in the barrel right in the middle of battle, just shoot it out at someone and pick up someone else's gun.
  • You can tell the tribe an indian is from by the shape of the moccasin print.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Travel Dichotomy

I traveled to a conference in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago. It was interesting to reflect on the atmosphere in my hometown vs. that of the conference venue. Isn't it great how even though it's annoying to stand in security lines at the airport, modern technology lets us go to such extremes as these within the course of one day:

Leaving in this morning, this was the view.

This was the view mid-afternoon.

And then that evening.

This guy was pretty good with the spray paint.

Above Fremont Street, just outside the hotel I was staying at, they have a TV that spans four blocks, with music videos and other stuff playing throughout the night. (Fast forward to 1:40 for Break on Through.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Top 10 Things I Learned from TwHistory

I've had the opportunity to work on the TwHistory project over the past year and a half. It's been really fun and interesting. I've never been much of a history connoisseur myself, but it's turned me around.

I've surely learned more than 10 things from TwHistory research, but these are a few that come to mind:
  • There was a girl who really would stand at the bow of the Titanic after her nightly escapades.
  • Fort Bridger was just a couple small log cabins.
  • No one really won the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • Never leave the percussion cap on the hammer of your rifle.
  • If you don't burn towns as you march through them, the ladies treat you nicely.
  • Don't tie up the prophet's horse within rope's distance of a sinkhole.
  • If you're considering deserting the army, be prepared to dig your own grave and then be shot in it.
  • Only 3 of the 4 smokestacks on the Titanic were real; the last one was decoration.
  • The best time to raid the enemy's camp is just when they're sitting down to dinner.
  • History can be fun and interesting.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The First Cut is the Deepest

I grew up generally interested in sports, although I never played on an organized team. My brother played baseball for several years, and a major portion of my inlaws' lives as they grew up revolved around organized sports (some of them still do). I collected baseball cards, played a little baseball in the backyard with my brother, played basketball fairly regularly at Scouts (but never enjoyed it that much), and went to a few Yankees games, even though I was a Mets fan. The Yankees fan in the family was a lot more vocal than I was. I still remember the day I became a Mets fan. It was pretty anticlimactic. Sitting in Mrs. Sullivan's fourth grade class, probably working on our latch hook pillows, Ralph Aiello asked me who my favorite team was. I told him the Mets and the Yankees, since living in North Jersey, those were the teams you heard most about. He told me I couldn't like both of them. So I picked the Mets. That was it.

Over the next few years, I didn't think much about playing organized sports until shop class at Eisenhower Middle School. We would be working on our pointless projects (no, really, even more pointless than most junior high shop classes; my brother at least got to make a grappling hook) and the guys would be talking about their football and baseball teams they played on. It kind of hit me. I thought, hey, I'd like to play something. I realized, though, by that point, I knew little enough about most of the sports that I'd probably make a fool of myself if I actually tried out for anything, since I hadn't been playing since I was 5 like they all had.

When I was 15, I worked a summer at the baseball fields. I was ahead of my time and unwittingly broke a gender barrier; apparently boys are supposed to work as umpires, and girls work in the snack bar. I got a job at the snack bar...with 11 girls. I'd figured out something all the umpires hadn't: girls, shade, and candy were better than angry parents, hot sun, and no candy.

In high school, my friends and I started playing volleyball regularly, slowly figuring out the rules and techniques (which was a lot harder in the pre-internet days). We played a lot, and once or twice we even challenged random people at the big volleyball pits in West Bountiful, but still nothing organized. My sisters got me into racquetball when I started college, and in my time at USU, I took classes in racquetball, volleyball, billiards, and golf. Over the next decade or so, I played each of those sports sporadically. I had a pretty regular volleyball schedule going a couple years ago, but it fizzled out. I've also been picking up the Triathlon bug as well, but that's another post.

So about a year and a half ago, I taught a couple guys that worked for me to play racquetball. We started playing a couple days a week when we needed to get away from the office for a little bit. In a completely unrelated move, I had joined Facebook a few months before, and was kind of figuring it out, not sure how much I liked it or not. (I'm still not sure.) Like a good Seinfeld episode, but less funny, the two stories came together when Tom Caswell, a fellow PhD student, posted something on Facebook about how the best part of his PhD program was playing racquetball. I followed up, started playing with him and a group of other guys, and over a year later, generally playing 2 or 3 mornings a week, here I am pretty decent at racquetball.

So a couple nights ago, the racquetball team, officially a campus club, held tryouts. I was pretty sure I didn't have the time to actually join the team, but curiosity got the best of me. Could I compete? Could I make the team?

I showed up 5 minutes early, and it was a pretty packed house. I was by far the oldest person there. I figured I'd get toasted and head home, coming away with a good story about how woefully inadequate I am, while maybe learning a move or two to show the guys the next morning.

We started late, and there were way too many guys there for the number of courts they had available, especially since for some reason the team president thought it was important to play singles, not doubles or cutthroat, which left a handful of us standing around talking about how nice it would be to get to play. Someone finally convinced el presidente to let us play cutthroat and/or doubles and we were all in. They watched from up above, occasionally asking questions like our names and how many years of school we had left. I did pretty well, serving quite a few aces and some very wicked kill shots from all the way in the back court. I was on fire and started thinking, hey, maybe I can do this. After about half an hour of playing (and half an hour of not playing), they called us all together to make the first cut. I didn't make it.

They called around 8 to 10 names and asked those guys to come outside to talk about what was next, since they would be having another round of cuts at some point. I biked home, shrugging off what might have been, knowing I probably wasn't going to have even joined the team had I made it.

Just as I got home, I got a phone call from the team president. Apparently he'd written my name down but accidentally called someone else's name instead of mine. He wanted me to come back. So I drove back to the gym to find out the details on when they would be having us come back for the final round of cuts.

Oh. They were doing it right then. I hadn't brought my stuff back, since I didn't think we were playing anymore that night. I didn't have my glove, racquet, goggles, or headband. I borrowed a racquet that I wasn't used to playing with, sweat running unimpeded down my face, and afraid of getting hit in the eye. Still, I played well. I destroyed a couple guys when I know they were watching from above. I also was destroyed by one guy that was pretty awesome. It was humbling to be in the same court as one so great. I was pretty evenly matched with a couple other guys. So you do the math: if they're going to take 5 or 6 guys, and there was only one guy who could really slaughter me, I had to be in. Maybe I will be on the team. Maybe I will get to go to all these cool tournaments. Maybe I'll go to nationals.

And I was cut. For the first time in my life I didn't make the team (except the other time about an hour before, when I was accidentally cut but then reinstated).

And just like that, I'm back in dissertation land.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Addicted or just that busy?

How busy or addicted to your mobile device do you have to be that you can't set your phone down for five minutes while you take pictures for your business card?

Here's more info if you're extra excited about having someone this busy as your realtor. And yes, there is a picture of him talking on a different phone.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What is Instructional Design?

I'm working on a project designing an M.Ed. program. There is one course in Instructional Design. It's kind of interesting having taken many courses and done quite a bit of research on this topic, it's hard to nail things down to what you'd cover in just one class.

If you're looking for core principles for this field, it seems to me that there are three general levels of abstraction. At least, this is what I came up with.

The first layer is what I'll call the Process layer. This is ADDIE, the Dick & Carey Model, or Rapid Prototyping, meaning the overall process of determining stakeholder needs, implementing something to meet those needs, and evaluating how well needs were met. These models are generally ongoing cycles.

The second layer is what I'll call the Architectural layer. This is Merrill's First Principles of Instruction or Gagné's 9 Events of Instruction. In order to get to this layer, you have to be (or should be) going through a design process, and you decide the types of problems students will have to solve and the ways in which students will be motivated to learn. This is the core of designing how the course will function, how and when learning materials will be accessed by students, and making sure on a macro level that the course will be effective.

The third layer is what I'll call the Turbidity layer. This is Sweller's Cognitive Load Theory or Clark & Mayer's Multimedia Principles. Once the first two layers are set and the overall framework has been laid out, the outline is filled in with details. These specifics can either add to or detract from the planning in the first two phases. Maybe you've got awesome videos with no pause buttons. Maybe course materials are scattered around on half a dozen websites, each with their own username and password to access. Given two great textbooks, which do you choose? Every choice you make, no matter how small, can make your instruction more or less clear. On a micro level, ensure your course materials are effective.

How many of these layers can you integrate into one instructional design course and in what order?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Energy Independency

We are an unstoppable oil dependency breaking machine. Unfortunately the machine runs on oil.

Thank you Jon Stewart.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blogging Class

This week I'm teaching a fun blogging class to students from the Summer Citizens program at Utah State. It should be a lot of fun helping them learn this technology.

Friday, May 28, 2010

786,432 points of light

A great video from a couple years ago that points out some of the disconnect between teachers and students:

See further discussion of the video by the professor involved in its creation.

I wonder how some of these statistics have changed since the original video was made. The point is just as valid.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Twitter: Lame or Misunderstood?

Last month, I mentioned an idea to use Twitter to let students communicate with the teacher and others live in a classroom. It turns out there is a professor in Texas doing this in her history class. Students tweet during class as well as when they're not in the classroom. Students can text in their tweets, use their laptops, or write a note and hand it to the TA to tweet for them. Interesting.

The question, though, is whether this will really connect to younger students. According to a few studies I've seen, younger students aren't interested in Twitter. They do text a lot, and they use Facebook. You'd think that anyone who liked texting would like Twitter, but apparently that's not the case. You could use Facebook to facilitate this same in-class communication just as well as Twitter. In the end, the tool itself probably doesn't matter that much, so long as you find something to open up the lines of communication with your students.

It would be nice if people would learn the various tools, the etiquette to using each, and the strengths and weaknesses of each, before making a judgment as to how lame or like totally awesome a given technology is.

We recently had an earthquake a few hundred miles away from our town, and one guy I talked to said the first place he thought to look was Facebook, to figure out what happened. The first place I thought to look was Twitter. On Twitter, I was instantly connected to hundreds of other people who I don't know discussing the earthquake. On Facebook, there were less than half a dozen people that I know who mentioned something about it. I really didn't gain any information from Facebook.

There are problems with Twitter. There are problems with Facebook. Both have benefits. Choose to participate or not in either or both. However you do or don't participate, there are conversations happening. Will you be part of those conversations? Will you start a conversation?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cell Phones in the Classroom

I spent a little time yesterday reading about using cell phones in the classroom. I'll do a more thorough write-up of this later, but I think one of the most interesting potential applications is using cell phones as an iClicker replacement. Sure there is an extra layer of complexity there in getting SMS responses in quickly especially if you're in the basement of a building with low signal strength and the question of how to deal with the less than 1% of students who don't have cell phones, but at the same time, you have a pervasive technology that students already use on a daily basis.

To loosen it up from the more formal polling of just certain questions, what about live tweeting in a classroom? You can use twitter from your cell phone or from a laptop. There are many conferences that provide a hash tag for that conference so everyone can follow what everyone else at the conference is tweeting about. So how about the professor set up a hash tag for their class and run a live feed either just to their monitor to see what students are or aren't understanding, or if they're feeling really adventurous, run the feed to the projector so the whole class can see. You could minimize purposefully distracting tweets by having students register their twitter account beforehand, so if someone puts something dumb up on the screen, you'd know who it was.

Of course, the type of professor who would kick someone out of class for participating in a discussion would retire before allowing something like this in their classroom, but they're not really the market for something like this anyway. It needs to be professors who actually want feedback from their students.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Internet Explorer has stopped working

Yes, thank you, Windows Vista, for that great error message. I think I already know what made it stop working, though. It probably has something to do with the fact that I clicked the red X thingy in the corner to close it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Food Revolution

Awhile back, I mentioned a McDonald's commercial where a team loses the soccer championship, and we find out it's because they eat Happy Meals after their games. Here's the video that hadn't been posted at the time:

With the Olympics going on currently, we're inundated with more McDonald's commercials telling us how much the athletes eat it all the time. I suppose it is possible that it's not all a big lie and that these commercials are not outright fraud. Yes, these athletes work hard to fine tune their bodies to do amazing things, and it seems that fast food wouldn't fit in there. However, it is plausible that McDonald's is an integral part of these athletes' diets. Considering that Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day to keep up with his training demands, it is possible he loads up on a few Mighty Kids Meals at 800 calories and 1400 mg of sodium per meal as an efficient way of piling on the raw energy his body needs. That doesn't mean it's good for the rest of us. Exercise like Phelps and you can eat whatever you want.

So do we add a sin tax to bad food or threaten kids with cancer or diabetes to fix the problem?

Jamie Oliver may have it right with his goal to educate people about food so they have the tools to make good choices for themselves. He says:

I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.

Hopefully his Food Revolution works. Is there anything else that can?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

One Way Street

I'm often impressed by some of the things Seth Godin has to say, and I've linked to a few of his blog posts here in the past. One of the things I'm less than impressed with is the fact that there's not a way to post comments on his blog.

I've had both Scott Adams and Mark Cuban respond to things I've written in the comments on their blogs. If that doesn't show off the power of the Internet, I don't know what does. The great equalizer of the Internet puts us all on the same level.

It doesn't work that way for Seth, though. He recently posted about an app he'd like to have. He called for someone to develop a non-linear presentation application that would run on the iPad, although it would work as well on any PC.

The funny thing is, what he's looking for pretty much exists already in Prezi. Now, Prezi doesn't exactly match what he describes, as he's still thinking in terms of slides and Prezi has gone to a slideless presentation design. Well, they claim it's slideless, although, you could possibly call it a one huge slide with everything on it presentation design, but it's nonlinear, nonetheless.

Maybe Seth has seen Prezi. Maybe he hasn't. With any other person that throws out an idea like this, I'd just make a comment on the blog post and point them to this existing product that closely matches what is being called for. Seth could then comment back that he's seen it, but it doesn't work for him. Or he might exclaim that he's going to go buy a bunch of stock in Prezi. Instead, he locks himself off from feedback, in spite of his persistent call to listen to one's customers.

To take it a step further, in his call to develop this killer app that he wants to buy, he set up a wiki for people to go collaborate and work out the design for the app. That's cool, until you see that he set up the wiki, and right at the top explains that he just set it up for everyone else to use to collaborate on, but he's not going to come back and check on the process or participate at all. He just wants to buy it when it hits the iTunes store.

Welcome to 1995, Seth.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wireless Electricity

How soon will this be available for my Wii remotes?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Big Issues

After last year's successful legislative session, Utah lawmakers are ready to debate another set of very important issues. Bills to watch include:

banning endangered wolves from entering the state
getting rid of 12th grade

I'm all for tossing around interesting ideas, but these ideas should have been presented in some unknown committee or sitting around the dinner table at home and then never made public to anyone, let alone actually debating them on the hill while the per diem clock is ticking.

The budget is always a big deal. Hopefully they keep the reduced tax on groceries steady and make cuts elsewhere. I bought some ice cream last week for $2.06. Imagine the mobs who would form to protest if that same ice cream suddenly cost $2.13. Sure it was full of both fudge ribbons and E.L. Fudge cookies, but come on, we're talking over 3% here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

english bad

How did the arguably greatest country in the world end up with one of the arguably worst languages in the world? And how did that terrible language end up as the de facto language of international business?

Why does English have so many silent letters? Why are there so many ways to pronounce every letter? The rules in Spanish are more complicated than some languages, but definitely more intelligible than English. You can always tell how to say a word based on how it is spelled. The imperfection with Spanish comes into play where there are multiple ways of spelling a word based on how it is pronounced.

Even if we could get pronunciation down, English is still missing more advanced features of other languages. What happened to the second person (as if that were advanced)? Why are we stuck with forming new words like y'all to reduce the confusion of having no difference between singular and plural you (as if that were advanced)?

If you really want advanced, take a look at Guaraní, the native language of Paraguay, which enjoys co-official language status along with Spanish. It is enjoying a resurgence and is actually taught in schools again after the efforts of some to hide their native tongue. Even this little-known language has something most languages don't: clusivity. A language like Guaraní with clusivity gives the speaker an 'inclusive we' and an 'exclusive we' so the listener knows whether or not he or she is included.
Jim: We're going to the store.
Tom: Great, I'll get my coat.
Jim: No, I mean Amber and I are going to the store. You're not invited, Tom.

Awkward, I know. Not in Guaraní. If Jim had said ñandé instead of we, Tom would know he was invited to go with Jim and Amber. In the above case, however, Jim would have used oré to signal to Tom up front that 'Amber and I' are going to the store.

Perhaps the language reform question will become moot as texting and Twitter have their way with us, but in the mean time, there ought to be something we can do to fix our language. I'm not suggesting we go as far as the nooalf guy, but the first reform I have adopted has to do with quotation marks. If a sentence ends with a word or words in quotation marks, I put the final punctuation outside the quotation marks. I just like it better that way, even though it's "wrong". It's at least a place for ñandé to start.