Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-08-08

  • Designing for Social Norms (or How Not to Create Angry Mobs) http://ow.ly/1vmJzH #
  • @alisa_williams Do u think it’s because no1 has shown them the value of collaboration? The system expects and rewards individual performance #
  • Anatomy of an incident: Helicopter crash at UCT http://ow.ly/1vmlK3. Interesting analysis of how the info spread #
  • Tell me again what you did? http://ow.ly/1viz3M. Useful framework for writing and brief insight into a no online learning community #
  • It’s easy criticise….and fun too (apparently) http://ow.ly/1viyT1. Writing papers is hard enough without nasty reviewer comments #
  • British man survives artificial heart transplant http://ow.ly/1viyNA #
  • elearnspace › 5 ways tech startups can disrupt education http://bit.ly/pxMWHf #
  • @RonaldArendse Been thinking about how much disruption can really happen in the institutional context. Can we disrupt at all? #
  • If you could throw everything out and start again, what would your classroom look like? Would you have a classroom? #
  • Visions of Students Today http://bit.ly/nIbERY. Another video by Michael Wesch #
  • Create a Research Space | Learning Journey http://bit.ly/nVyPhF. Great tips on using a framework for writing #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-04-18

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-21

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-22

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An anthropological introduction to YouTube

I recently watched “An anthropological introduction to YouTube“, a 56 minute long insight into some of the amazing stories being told through the social video site.  While there are many great ideas, these quotes caught my attention:

  • YouTube is about new forms of expression, new forms of community and new forms of identity
  • It is a celebration of new forms of empowerment…a celebration of new and unimaginable possibilities
  • “Media” mediates human relations…when media change, relations change

If you’re interested in the changing nature of communication and identity that the internet is facilitating, this is a great way to spend an hour.

Digital course readers

When I took over the modules I currently teach, I inherited several folders containing the course readers for each subject, which had been “developed” over many years. They consisted mainly of a selection of photocopied or typed pages, loosely related, inconsistently formatted, poorly referenced, often duplicated and impossible to search. When students needed to find a paragraph or definition, it was a case of trying to remember if it was more towards the beginning, middle or end of the reader, opening it up and flicking through it page by page until they found what they were looking for. This clearly wouldn’t do.

The readers had to be converted into a digital format. Some of the more obvious advantages of digital text over printed text are highlighted in the introduction of Michael Wesch‘s video titled “The machine is us/ing us“. While the video is actually about the semantic web and how we’re creating meaningful relationships between content through our actions (clicking links), it does illustrate that the starting point is digital text.

I’ve spent a lot of my free time over the past year or so typing, collating, editing, formatting, referencing and indexing all of the original content from those course readers, as well as adding images, and links to videos (mainly YouTube) and open access research articles (like PubMed Central, BioMed Central and IJAHSP). It’s now possible to auto-generate a table of contents, which eliminates searching in the printed version, and regularly updating the reader to better reflect the latest evidence is trivial. I’ve added self-study questions related to additional reading after each section, as well as empty space for guided reflection on the topic just covered. The text is consistently formatted, as are the headings and references, which provide a framework for an easier understanding of the work.

I’ve also provided the digital version of each course reader to the students, so that they can update it as they see fit. I hope that as they develop as physiotherapists, their digital readers might be upgraded often and possibly converted to other formats. I’ve had one student ask about installing a wiki locally on his machine and moving the content into it. Finally, I removed the generic copyright notice on the cover and added a Creative Commons license.

The next logical step is to move the “official” course reader into a shared wiki and encouraging students to make changes there. If this were to be integrated with social bookmarking and blogs, it might facilitate real engagement with the subject, which I think might be a good thing.

Lyx: separating content and style through document processing

It’s been a while since I posted anything here, mainly because I haven’t read anything interesting in that time, which is mainly because we’ve spent the past month or so gearing up for undergraduate exams.  Now that exams are effectively over, we’re marking…sigh.  Together with the exams, our department is on a writing workshop in the hope that by the end of the year we’ll each have a peer-reviewed article ready for publication.  While this is a great way to bite the bullet and get something out, it does take away time from the more interesting task of finding and blogging about cool stuff.

So it’s the weekend, I have a huge pile of scripts to mark and an article to complete for review on Monday…and here I am, working on this post.  But it’s work-related, so I don’t feel bad.  The reason it’s work-related is because I’ve recently started using a document processor for writing articles, called LyX.  A document processor differs from a word processor (like OpenOffice) in that it attempts to separate the process of writing from the process of typesetting, or formatting.

This separation of content and style is hardly a new concept but has been increasingly evident in the whole Web 2.0 hype that makes use of the idea that content wrapped in meaningful XML tags can be syndicated in almost any form and presented in almost any format.  In the early days of the web, it was also being addressed in the argument against HTML tags that described the formattin of content, rather than it’s structure.  CSS is what allowed that separation to take place, but not to the degree that XML does.  While this isn’t really the place for that discussion, I just wanted to highlight the point that the separation of content and formatting has been an issue since we started using computers to write documents (here’s a great video by Michael Wesch that demonstrates this idea really well).

The earliest word processors gave everyone the power to format content, which could be argued is a good thing because choice is important, right?  While the ability to decide text colour, font size, page margins and the thousand other options present in a word processor may be great for that letter to your mom, it’s almost meaningless when it comes to academic writing, the formatting of which is already determined by either your institution or publisher.  So when I write, why should I have to bother with formatting?

This is where LyX comes in.  By separating the writing process from the typesetting process, Lyx gives the writer the ability to concentrate on writing, rather than mucking about with trying to figure out how to insert and keep track of in-text citations and all the other soul-destroying aspects of computer-based academic writing.  It also allows you to output your document in any of the major formats you require.  For example, my institution uses the APA style of document formatting, so when I’m done writing, I literally press a button that outputs my work to a PDF document, already formatted for publication.

This post has gotten incredibly long, so I’ll end with a few links to more information if you’re interested in checking it out.  A word of warning though, if you’re not used to the idea that content and style are fundamentally different, there’s a steep learning curve when switching to something like Lyx.