a MOOC on Open Educational Resources

I recently signed up to take a MOOC — Massively Open Online Course — from Open SUNY called “Locating, Creating, Licensing, and Utilizing Open Educational Resources“. This will be my first experience with a MOOC, and one I hope to document on this blog.

MOOCs seem to be the newest and most novel thing in higher education these days, and I (for one) am extremely interested to find out where this movement goes. I can start by experiencing one myself and seeing where that experience takes me.

At the very first glance, registering for this course was extremely simple. I gave them some basic information — not even as much as it takes to sign up for a free e-mail address — and logged in, and suddenly I had access to the course. You can even log in with Facebook if you want, although I chose not to.

The course promises to reward badges that can be tracked and used as credentials. The badge system (explained by Mozilla) is intended to be a sort of digital CV, where your learning and development activities online can be tracked in a Badge Backpack. (This is a more elegant solution to documenting one’s digital training and learning experiences than, say, printing out certificates of completion.) Badges are awarded by institutions (e.g. SUNY) or people with particular power, and badges are intended to be a sort of visual showcase of your abilities. I heard about this type of system at a couple of conferences recently (most notably Meaningful Play 2012), where the reaction to it was mixed. (Hopefully more on that in a future blog post!)

If you want to read more about Open SUNY’s course, I recommend my colleague Bill’s post here. (Bill’s blog is brand new and will be of interest to technologically-minded linguistics types, so definitely check it out!)

Stay tuned for more on my experiences with the MOOC, and a few more content posts than I’ve been making lately. 😉


InfoSocial 2012

First thing’s first — wow! What an experience at InfoSocial 2012, a graduate student conference hosted by the Media, Technology, and Society program and Northwestern University. Even though I missed the first part of the conference due to travel delays, I feel like I learned so much by listening to papers and projects from all the interdisciplinary scholars at this conference. From a historical view of the erasure of GeoCities to parent-child usage of Facebook to an analysis of social factors in usage of the Wii Fit system, and even our poster on authorship and attribution in retweeting, it was a whirlwind of different approaches and methods. The students who put on the conference did a wonderful job of feeding us and arranging the whole event, and everybody was remarkably friendly. 

I think the highlight for me, personally, was the chance to play with Omnipedia. Omnipedia is a tool that searches Wikipedia in all languages based around a search term, and shows keywords and concepts related to that search term. The cool thing is that it shows you concepts that appear in each language, including those that only appear in one particular language, and those that happen in language clusters. It also translates this for you! For example, we searched for “beauty”, and the concept “facial symmetry” appeared only in the English version and not in any other languages. For the search term “conspiracy theory”, the keyword “Microsoft Windows” appears in the Hebrew version of Wikipedia. We had a lot of fun putting in the names of our hometowns, famous people in the field, and other culture-based words like “masculinity”. Omnipedia seems like a really fascinating tool for doing analyses, and makes the language barrier much less of an issue. I can’t wait to see what comes out of this tool at the Collablab at Northwestern. 

Livemocha mini-tour

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been using Livemocha to learn basic French. I’m pretty pleased with it so far, especially since it’s free , and so I decided to do a little mini-tour of the basic language lesson setup for my readers.

Livemocha is basically a language-learning social networking style site. You take free courses (they have paid ones too) in your language, and you can review submissions by other users who are learning your native language. You can add friends, chat, send messages, share pictures, and create flashcard sets to share with others. There is also a games component, although that’s largely a non-free aspect of the site.

Click the cut to get a virtual tour, with pictures!

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One of the pieces of advice given to aspiring writers is “write every day”. I think most serious writers do this — they take it as their job, and sit down and write each and every day whether they feel like writing or not. Many of us who don’t find work as writers feel that writing must be the product of a strike of inspiration… which isn’t the case at all. Writing is just language, put down on paper, and the Internet gives us a larger array of contexts to use our written language, including casual settings. Writing can be a gateway into a stream of consciousness, allowing us to form scattered thoughts into a coherent idea.

Think about it — with all of the writing you do on Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, chat, Instant Messenger, how many words do you write per day? We do a lot of writing nowadays, moreso than people ever have.

The problem is that our writing is fragmented, in pieces, scattered across mediums. It’s not focused, and a lot of us have trouble getting a coherent thought out of our many mediums. (I know that I, personally, struggle with this issue.) To this end, I discovered — with the help of some folks on Twitter — 750words.com. The point of this site is to give people a space to write every day, and to keep track of these writings. It’s different from a blog, even one like LiveJournal which can be protected, in that the writing is visible only to you. The site archives all of your past writing, and you can even look at statistics about your writing. Beyond looking at your average word count, or the number of days that you have met the goal of 750 words, the site also uses the Regressive Imagery Dictionary to analyze the emotions present in your words. You can see whether you are happy, sad, distressed, or affectionate, and the site can judge your overall “maturity” level based on factors like swearing, sexual content, and violence. It also analyzes content, topics, and outlook using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count text analysis system.

All of these text analysis options are really interesting, but for me, the draw of the site is the running count at the top of how many days in a row I have hit my 750 word goal. I’m currently at 15, because I missed one day two weeks ago. It gives me a goal, and a recurring one, and I get a nice gratification with a popup window when I reach 750 words every day. The analytics are nice to play around with (especially when they tell me I’m more mature than most of the users), and I am sure they can be an interesting tool for people to gain a greater understanding of their concerns and preoccupations in life.

For students and academics, this site is a great resource for getting your thoughts in order on your research or whatever paper you’re currently working on. I’ve used it to start a flow of ideas on my second qualifying paper every day, which provides a nice frame for the writing that I need to do that day or the analyses I am performing on my data. I highly recommend it for all academics, just to get in the practice of writing. Especially as graduate students, we don’t get in the habit of writing often — we spend a lot more time reading and discussing, and not writing down the things that we think. This site is a great tool for getting used to putting our scholarly thoughts into words, and provides a canvas for experimenting with ideas.