Topoi Pageflake

CIT has a personalised startpage called Nexus. This is by no means unique. There are many startpages such as iGoogle, My Yahoo!, Pageflakes, Netvibes... the list goes on.

What is unique about Nexus - which has been positioned as a Personal Learning Environment - is that you can see your IVLE modules, NUS email and a few other NUS-only services, right from a single customisable page.

An aside about PLE: It is not so much a particular product or software as much as it is a concept about people taking charge of their learning through various connective online software and tools. I suppose a startpage could function as a PLE, but that would not be my preference.

Back to Nexus. The trouble with this positioning is that the "make of it what you will" approach leaves too much wiggle room. As much as you don't want to restrict people's creativity, giving them a blank slate and telling them that you can do anything with it most often results in them doing absolutely nothing with it.

(The same issue with the 'infinite possibilities' tack plagues wiki adoption.)

Can a startpage be used for learning then?

The answer, according to Mark Marino from the University of Southern California, is a definite yes.

He has created a course page on Pageflakes which has various widgets which his students can use in their own startpages. In effect, he has created content in different formats, which some would call learning objects, for his students to grab and paste into their own startpages.

I'm not sure I explained that clearly, so it's best to read Mark's post about the Topoi Pageflake.

So, Nexus can be used in a similar manner. A course tab can be created and shared with students. On the tab, the teacher can pull in various resources related to the course - RSS feeds, relevant videos, bookmark lists, etc. These individual widgets can be copied by students to their own Nexus account for their reference.

Hat tip to Wired Campus for highlighting Mark's use of Pageflakes.

As a community in a school of higher learning, we should be interested in the world around us. Right now, the biggest news is the financial crisis, but another major and on-going news story is the United States Presidential election.

Arguably, this is the one overseas election that matters the most to everyone in the world.

The thing is that election systems differ greatly across countries, and the US is no different. So, let the Lee LeFever of the CommonCraft show explain how the US President is elected in plain English.

Bloom's Taxonomy

I was reading a post on Michelle Martin's Bamboo Project blog which highlighted her readers' responses to learning through blogging.

There were many positive responses which reinforced my own thoughts about learning and blogging. I like what Catherine Lombardozzi said:

The act of writing has a way of crystallizing your thinking on a topic.  As I have worked on this blog - and other journals more private than this one - over the last year or so, I have come to appreciate how much clearer my thinking becomes as I try to put my musings into sentences and paragraphs.... I have found that writing forces me to coral nebulous thoughts into something coherent, to name and own what I really think on a subject, to bring together ideas from several sources, and to consider how a potential audience might react.

Having made a commitment to posting here on the Learning Journal blog at least once a week, I also notice that when something piques my interest, I store it away as a potential topic for an entry.  Knowing I may want to write about an idea causes me to mull things over that may - in the past - have come and gone in my head without ever finding a place to settle.  Even if I don’t actually write about something in the end, I find myself thinking about these interesting ideas more thoroughly.

The other thing that caught my eye was the mention of Bloom's Taxonomy.

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I know I've come across this before. It turns out that my friend, who is a secondary school teacher, has mentioned this. According to her, teachers have to indicate which of the six categories each learning activity aims to achieve.

Looking at the diagram (you can click the one above for a bigger version, the original can be found here), I thought that it should be more of a pyramid, similar to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In Maslow's hierarchy, lower order needs must be fulfilled before progressing on to the next level of needs. Similarly in Bloom's Taxonomy, you need to have knowledge before comprehending, comprehend before applying and so forth.

Later, I realised that there is a spiral in the middle of the diagram which represents this flow. Seen three-dimensionally, it should be an continuous upward spiral, implying that the final stage - evaluation - necessarily creates new knowledge. Then the whole process repeats itself. This is very much the story of learning, in a macro sense, throughout human history.

And that's what I learnt from looking at the diagram.

Oh yes, if you are interested in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), Michelle's Bamboo Project blog is the one to follow.

Bloom's Taxonomy - Learning in Action graphic
by K. Aainsqatsi
published under CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported license


Searching for images to use, particularly to liven up presentations and blog posts, can be a turn-off because of copyright restrictions.

Of course, there are ways to find photos that can be used for free. My personal favourite is to look though Creative Commons-licensed photos at photo sharing site, Flickr. They have a Creative Commons page which explains the different licenses. You can also restrict Flickr's advanced search to only include Creative Commons-licensed photos (scroll to the bottom of the search page to see this option).

Searching for images to use for free on the internet only begins from there. If you want to know more, there is a very thorough online tutorial called Internet for Image Searching.

The tour section of the tutorial has a useful list of sites where you can get images. However, I suggest that you do the entire tutorial so that you get a complete picture about the issues involved in finding and using images on the internet.

Wikipedia in the classroom

Wikipedia is usually a dirty word in educational circles. While some educators realize the value of Wikipedia as a starting point for research, others uphold a blanket ban - Wikipedia articles should not be cited - which results in Wikipedia being ignored despite useful references in the more robust articles and the possibility of using it as part of an assignment being discounted.

The latter idea holds many possibilities. A few educators at the University of British Columbia have set Wikipedia assignments for their students. This involves students editing articles in their subject area to improve the quality of the article. The improvements, in several cases, were dramatic:

Remarkably, at the end of the project, Beasley-Murray’s students ended up producing eight “good” articles and three “featured” articles, whose designations recognize them to be the most unbiased, well-written, and accurately cited entries on the site. Before receiving the elusive “featured” title (less than 0.1% of all Wikipedia articles obtain this designation), one of the entries had undergone over 1200 revisions - a number significantly higher than what an average academic article typically receives.

You can read more about the UBC experiences with Wikipedia assignments. Wikipedia also has a page dedicated to school and university projects and a list of suggested projects.