Tag Archives: e-learning

Coding. Or not.

All the pieces fit together

OK. So the ‘thing’ for 2012 seems to be coding. Everybody is either doing it, or urging others to do it, or writing, blogging or tweeting about doing it.

Roy Tennant over at Digital Shift says all library professionals need to at least understand coding & urges us to try out Codeacademy’s Code Year initiative. I happen to agree – I find even my very basic understanding of HTML to be practical and useful (although at this point largely just for maintaining my blog), so I signed up and have been receiving my lessons weekly by email. I should point out here that I know absolutely nothing about coding. I am a complete novice with no experience with or exposure to coding before now (except that tiny bit of HTML I mostly learned mucking about in WordPress).

This has been a really smart initiative by Codeacademy, for lots of reasons, many of which you can read about here. There’s been an amazing takeup of the course, with tens of thousands signing up in the first few days of 2012.

Matthew Murray at ExtremeTech questions whether anyone can learn serious coding in this way and that it promotes a shallow view of the programming industry. Head on over there to read more of his opinion.  A couple of sentences in Murray’s piece rang true for me because you see, I haven’t enjoyed the CodeYear experience at all so far. Murray says

Just for kicks, I sat down with the opening lesson of Codecademy, just to see what it was like. It asked me to type in my name, then append it with “.length,” then type in a simple math equation. All of it was basic JavaScript, with no indication of what was happening or why.

I have just finished week 1 of the Code Year course. I struggled through it, partly because it’s so foreign to me and way outside my comfort zone. However, at least part of the problem lies in the way the course has been written (at least week 1). There’s no context, no goal setting, no outcomes, no sense at all of what comes next or where the piece you are copying and pasting fits into a bigger picture.

It’s early days yet. Much of what is written on the web about this so far is praising the initiative but there seems to be very little of substance about the content or the delivery. Over at Palely Loitering, Laura comments that she has managed to finish lesson 1, but she’s not really sure how much she learned about applying it in the real world. I hear her!

I have found the user forums that come as part of CodeAcademy to be both useful and frustrating. Useful because there are folks in there trying to help others and frustrating because everyone asking questions seems to have the same problems – lack of guidance in the ‘lessons’ and very little understanding of what is being asked of the ‘student’.

Checking the #codeyear hashtag on twitter brings up a lot of results, but scrolling through I think many of them are auto created by the program itself (for example, when you sign up you get the opportunity to send a pre written tweet that says

I’m learning to code with @Codecademy in 2012. Join me!http://codeyear.com/ #codeyear

Not helpful. I’m looking for critical comment, not more marketing.

I’ll go on to lesson 2 – I’m working on the theory that it may just all suddenly make sense or appear to be in context. I’ll keep you posted.



New shiny in the workplace

iCat not included with purchase of iPad from icanhazcheezeburger.com

We haz an iPad in our team and we are downloading your apps…

The Outreach teams at MPOW have been given an iPad to use in our work.  We have to share it, but it’s a pretty damn exciting piece of equipment to be allowed to play with, particularly as buying my own is not about to happen anytime soon.  It’s early days, no one has taken it out of the cupboard (except I suspect the team leaders have possibly been playing with it – just a bit) and while I’d love to make full use of it, I want my time with it to be productive and useful.

I can think of a dozen things straight away that I could use an iPad for in the workplace – but they mostly relate to the way I organise my day, do my job and communicate with people rather than the way the team might use it. The thing with an iPad or other mobile device is that they are designed to be personal – to provide you with access to the functionality you need to get on with the things you do. Figuring out how to share it and still have it be a productive and useful tool is important.

So, library peeps, I am crowdsourcing. Are you in an outreach/liaison position? It could be any type of library – doesn’t have to be an academic focus. Do you use an iPad as part of your work day? What apps do you find useful, what functionality is important, HOW do you use it in your work day?  Remembering that we can’t use it to keep track of email, tweet on the run or check the time of the next bus because we’re sharing it, what CAN we use it for?

Some of my ideas so far:

  • I do library tours with groups of international students – would be handy to have the iPad with me so I can also follow along with the virtual tour at the same time – point out that they can book rooms then show them immediately on the library website where they can book rooms
  • Collaborative work with another team member creating a document on the run in a meeting room or other space that is not our desktop
  • Note taking in a meeting with a School or academic
  • Access to cloud services such as dropbox when away from my desk
I’m sure there are lots of other things we could be doing with it – so far my list isn’t really anything I couldn’t do with a laptop – although taking a laptop on a library tour would be a bit tricky.
Any ideas shared in the comments would be gratefully accepted 🙂

Why I love microblogging

I thought about just writing

“Twitter. That is all. #microblog”

and leaving it at that. However, I’m going to assume that some people who read this post may not be twitter users and the aim of this post is not to a) spruik twitter or b) alienate anyone who doesn’t tweet.

Having said that, I will briefly digress into an explanation of the twitter hashtag system I have already used to those not in the know before I talk about microblogging in general.  Twitter isn’t easily searchable and its freeform, writing-on-the-fly format makes it almost impossible to categorise tweets in the same way as you might categorise your blog posts for example.  Hashtags are the twitter community’s way of keeping like posts together.  During the recent Australian federal elections the tag #ausvotes was used a lot and future social researchers will be able to search under that hashtag to find out what people thought at the time.  The important thing to realise is that hashtags are user created. Twitter users make them up, there’s no prescribed tags.  For example, a quick search on twitter reveals posts about the same election under #auselection.

Twitter is a major part of this post about microblogging but by no means the only part. Status updates on Facebook and MySpace, tumblr and photo sharing groups on sites such as flickr and picasa are also examples of microblogging.  Moving along, I’m sticking pretty much with Wikipedia’s definition of microblogging which says that:

Microblogging is a passive broadcast medium in the form of blogging. A microblog differs from a traditional blog in that its content is typically much smaller, in both actual size and aggregate file size.A microblog entry could consist of nothing but a short sentence fragment, an image or embedded video.

By way of a bit more history, in June I participated in #blogeverydayinjune which was a project among about 30 or so library folk to write a new post every day for a month. Word spread (mostly via twitter, hence the hashtag) and it was a fabulous networking and personal development exercise.  If you’re interested, you can find links to most of the participants here.

The blogging exercise was time consuming, but nonetheless the enthusiasm of a core group of 30-day bloggers and an interest in finding out more about flickr led to #1pic1thoughtinAug as a group microblogging exercise.  The idea behind this exercise was to post one picture a day to a flickr group set up for the purpose.  Gradually, over the month of August the number of pictures in the group grew to over 600 and most of them come with a few words, a sentence or a brief paragraph describing why that particular picture had been chosen.

Just as twitter enforces brevity by its 140 character limit, so too did this exercise – more by it’s ‘everydayness’ than anything else. Gradually, bit by bit, those in the group learned a little more about both flickr and each other as the photo stories unfolded.  Some photos were viewed by many but no comments were made, some were added to personal favourites, others inspired long ‘conversations’ in the comments.  So grows my (professional) personal learning network, (PLN) day by day.

This week my libraryland twitter group has started talking about something called 12 second tv.  I haven’t looked into this in much detail but the idea is to make a 12 second video, supported by the website that is then able to be used as video messaging and/or uploaded to twitter or facebook.

So, why do I love microblogging? After the very interesting but very time consuming #blogeverydayinjune (writing, reading and commenting on posts took a lot of time) I have found the microblogging of twitter and the flickr group a much easier way to keep up with professional colleagues.  On a personal note, I realised that I have microblogged for years using my Facebook account and that status updates from far flung friends and family are the single best reason to stay as a Facebook user (I just didn’t know it was microblogging!). In terms of developing and keeping networks, whether professional or personal, microblogging options are quick and easy.  The one-to-many nature of the tools makes keeping in touch with large networks easy.

My microblogging journey is only just beginning.  Of course, I’d like to thank my PLN for much of my introduction to this stuff and for the things I know I will continue to learn from you – mostly through microblogging interactions.  What do you use?

Miss, how do I cite a YouTube video?

I’m currently writing the Plagiarism and Referencing part of my online library modules for our Moodle here at MPOW.  Delivering information literacy instruction entirely online is a challenge, I would far rather be in front of the students talking to and working with them, particularly bearing in mind the ESL status of our students.  I am mindful of the need to keep my online lessons engaging and interesting so use a variey of learning objects to really mix up the delivery. I am grateful to Jo at Macaronic for introducing me to Xtranormal – a simple video making tool that allows me to introduce each new topic using the words that I want to use, delivered in a way that is slightly quirky and hopefully engaging for students.

Because of  limited resources and being reluctant to re-invent the wheel anyway, I went trawling through YouTube looking for a suitable video that someone else might have prepared earlier.  I admit to being  fairly critical of most of the videos I find – there’s usually something about most of them that are not quite right for my purposes.  Either they are too complex for my ESL students,too American, too institution specific or just plain old too long.  Too long is a real issue – not only are my students Gen Y 18-21 year olds with short attention spans and more mobile devices to distract them than the average modern tweeting librarian – but they are learning in their second (or third) language and a long video simply puts them off.  Australian content is also an issue.  I’m not an accent snob, I’m happy to use a US video if it is appropriate, but I would rather use one with Australian voices if possible, after all, our students have come here to learn both Accounting AND something about the Australian culture and way of life.

To cut an increasingly long story short, I found an appropriate video, used my newly found embedding-in-html-code skills to include it in my lesson and bob was theoretically my uncle.  Huzzah!  It then occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea how to correctly cite a video from YouTube in my references.  Nothing in my 9 year long undergraduate slog had prepared me for citing a video – I’d never used one in any sort of assignment or paper.  Google to the rescue!  I threw ‘citing youtube videos’ into search and of all things, up popped a post from our very own 30-day-blogger moonflowerdragon on this very topic.

Gotta love this online community.

image: 8.00am class by Robert S. Donovan via flickr

Not sure what iThink

News today from the Library Journal’s Digital Libraries blog predicting the ultimate death of Amazon’s Kindle, particularly given the successful introduction of the iPad world wide.  DL’s Roy Tennant argued in 2008 that he knows

“plenty of early adopters and none have confessed to having popped for something that simultaneously looks dorky and costs way more than an iPhone, which is arguably way more functional than a Kindle — including being able to read books.”

Some of this superior functionality is being taken up at academic institutions across the US, as faculty and libraries alike use the iPhone to help deliver lessons, materials and communications with students.  As a librarian, I kind of like the idea of the students being able to look up my really handy guides to referencing while they are out and about or finishing an assignment in the wee hours.  I just hope they’ve all got PDF converter apps on their smart phones so they can read said handy guides!

Now, I’m a newly converted iPhone fan, I held out for a long time, tutting that as I already had a mobile phone and an iPod I couldn’t possibly need an iPhone.  I admit to some 8 weeks later being unsure what I would do without it.  One of my colleagues came in to work on Monday this week with his brand new, shiny iPad and while I agree with fadgetry that yet again, Apple have managed to invent something nobody knew they needed until it came along, it’s not exactly handy, is it?  Have you seen one? They are enormous (relatively speaking of course).  I’ve seen smaller laptops and it certainly isn’t handbag friendly.  The beauty of my iPhone is the capacity to stick it in my pocket, listen to an audio book on the train and not miss any phone calls (I am notoriously bad for not hearing the phone ring if it is more than 3 inches from me, just ask my kids) or messages, because it’s all integrated.

I can see that the larger sized iPad would make reading and watching videos easier than doing that on say, the iPhone – but I figure that that’s what I have books and a DVD player for…..

image: green apple by Y via flickr

Getting paid to have fun

This past couple of weeks has seen me working on a website for the library, within the Google Aps domain that we hold at MPOW.  Google Sites is a wiki based ‘put the modules together’ platform and really easy to use (once you get the basics sorted out in your head!)  While there are all sorts of limitations with this structure, it has been an ideal solution for me – the library desperately needed a web presence and our resident IT support (yes, there’s only one of him) is run off his feet with day to day stuff.  With Google Sites, I have been able to construct a web site on my own that does the job and gets the information about the library services out there into the student’s preferred domain (and looks a bit snappy too).

Along the way, I have been able to play with lots of different learning objects – with varying forms of success.  I have used Jing to create short video screen captures of different Google search functions (namely Wonder Wheel and Timeline) and link to these from my web site.  In anticipation of a new intake of students in a few weeks, I have spent today putting together a short virtual library tour using Window’s Photo Story software (that I then uploaded to YouTube because Google sites has an automatic YouTube plug in and I don’t need to worry about html code embedding).  Photo Story is a really simple little piece of software I came across while doing my practicum at TAFE last year (I did a virtual tour of the library as one of my projects).  It doesn’t need any special equipment other than a camera and a microphone, so I whipped out the trusty iPhone, snapped a few pics of the library and surrounds, uploaded them to the computer, donned the headset/mic and away I went.  Photo Story strings your pictures together in a kind of power point display, adds your narration and some funky background music and you have  a little video without having worked with any kids or dogs.

While this ends up sounding like an infomercial for Google, the fact is that they are out there providing simple, low cost solutions to technology issues.  MPOW has limited budget and resources, Google Aps allows us significantly improved collaboration and the ability to provide services to our customers (both staff and students).

image from Flickr Creative Commons user dullhunk