Friday, January 30, 2009

Tractable Notepad

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allTractable Notepad
Notepad, a simple text editor, has been released with all versions of MS Windows since 1985. I've been giving it a bit of airing recently. It’s one of those little apps that seem to have countless uses, simple as well as complex.

Easy and simple html:

Late last century, in my sojourn with html, I learnt that web builders often used Notepad directly to build web pages. This intrigued me. I’d realised that a file-extension had a function, and that in some files the extension could be changed without the screen exploding.

Someone who is well familiar with the ins-and-outs of html can open a Notepad file and type in text, adding their own html code to put in the formatting, such as font, colour, text-size etc. Of course, the code remains visible as code when the Notepad file is saved.

Notepad Showing Text
But by altering the file-extension (.txt) to .html, the file takes on a new function as web page, that’s recognised by the computer.

Useful elearning:

I’ve found this use of Notepad to be a valuable one-off measure for sending onto students active links to videos on the Internet. You can try this for yourself.

Browse to your favourite YouTube video. Copy the embed code that permits you to share the video. Open a Notepad file and paste in the embed code. It's also easy to add a caption or notes.

When you name and save the file, add the extension .html in place of the usual .txt . If you then examine the file, you’ll notice that it will be saved as a web page, as shown by its icon and file-extension .html .

Double clicking the new file opens it, but the code that was pasted in will not be displayed. Instead you will see the familiar start menu for your chosen video. Altering the file extension to .txt permits editing.

Html File from Notepad

The html file made this way can be sent as an email attachment, making it easy for the recipient to open and view the video contents immediately, provided there’s a connection to the Internet.

Obstinate files and Notepad:

Occasionally, Windows Explorer’s indexing prohibits a file from being deleted until the next time the system is started up. This can be frustrating, but you can often use Notepad to help you delete the file. Here’s how:

  1. Open Notepad and select File > Open

  2. check that Files of Type: is set to All Files,
    not Text Documents (*.txt)

  3. navigate to the location of the file to be deleted

  4. right-click on the file and choose Delete and follow through to delete the file

  5. empty the Recycle Bin.

Not a criticism of Notepad:

Something I learnt recently is that some people don’t like using Notepad. Perhaps it has earned this reputation from its peculiarities. Here’s an old one that I’ve only just come across.

Apparently there is a bug in the application that can be made evident by saving a Notepad file containing 2 three-letter words, 1 four-letter word and 1 five-letter word, in any order with single spaces in between. Example lines that do this when saved as the only data in the file are:

this app can break
edit the end error
Nero hid the facts

Choose your own four-letter name instead of Nero in the last example.
Provided the Enter key isn’t used at any time when entering any one of the text lines shown above, the text becomes invisible when the file is saved and is then re-opened. Not all words trigger the fault.

One line that I tried that didn’t disappear was: Good for USA Obama

I don’t think it’s a political plot. Check out

Thought for the week:

If odd bugs are to be found in Microsoft Windows' simplest application, perhaps it’s best to take all the automatic updates!

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Monday, January 26, 2009

May It Be A Lofty Mountain

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allA Peak near the Shore of Lake Wakatipu - photo Ken AllanA peak near the shore of Lake Wakatipu
Whāia te iti kahurangi, ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei.
Pursue the treasures you hold most dearly – should you stumble, let it be against a lofty mountain. – Māori proverb

I’ve just dropped in on Andrea Hernandez’s latest post, Getting (and staying) focused. She summarises her goals for the year but goes further, speaking of the self, the inner being, its place and relationship with the rest of the universe, and the need for avoiding overstretching. She has started what she set out to do by giving her blog a new look.

I said in my heart,
“I am sick of four walls and a ceiling.
I have need of the sky.
I have business with the grass.” – Richard Hovey

Andrea also reflects on her resolve to blog this year. I recommend you take a look at her post. It made me think about how I do things and how I go about them.

Praxis through observation:

I’m a great believer in ‘practice through observation’. Yes, you may have to read these last 3 words again. This may be a strange concept to some, but it’s one I’ve been aware of for a while. I call it mind praxis.

I first discovered how it worked for me about 30 years ago, when I had to hang a new door while renovating my living room. The plan was simple. I knew what to purchase. I had the tools and got all the required materials. I’d just never hung a door before.

I had watched my father do this task when he did renovations at home. And I’d watched him perform similar jobs with his chisels, many times, for I loved to watch my father at work in his joinery workshop. Through the practice of observing, and only observing, I’d learnt a lot.

I pencil-marked the positions of the hinges. When it came to the chop and I had to lift the chisel and mallet to chip away the recess for the first hinge, I knew how to hold the tools. It was awkward at first, but the memory of watching my father showed me how to present the chisel to the timber, how to tap with the mallet, lightly at first, to mark the wood. How to take care not to tap too heavily, working delicately close to the pencilled line, clearing away waste timber from the recess as I went.

I’ve also experienced this learning when watching technique in playing a musical instrument. Studying a master musician can lead to learning by proxy, if it’s done vigilantly and often enough, making it so much easier to accomplish when the technique is attempted by oneself.

I’m not saying that all can be learnt this way. There comes a point when what’s perused has to be put to practice. But if one is familiar with related skills, putting a new technique into action isn’t as traumatic as it may first seem.

If I don’t manage to fly, someone else will. The spirit wants only that there be flying. – Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s the same with blogging. Skellie’s advice is to study other expert bloggers. Just do it, and don’t think about the subject of the posts you’re studying. When the desire to write is there, the key is to start. If you have no past experience, pull on what you’ve learnt form your observation of others. For most bloggers just starting off, this will be all the experience they have had.

Richness in variety:

My involvement in the Comment Challenge in May last year was so very helpful to me, and for a number of reasons. One of the most helpful things was the sheer variety of tasks we were given to perform. And every new task held something different from the last. Michele Martin and her team of masters, recognised the need for the learner to keep shifting place while learning.

There is a need for learners to provide this variety for themselves, to try things new. Even if it’s only a bit removed from what was done before, the difference is important. Sooner or later, the learner will see opportunities to put what’s learnt or observed into practice.

Always keep moving
Move to the open space
Be ready for the open pass Lino Di Lullo

Trying something completely new with technology is sometimes traumatic for me. This is part of how I am, and it takes a lot of effort on my part to make the leap. I don’t think this idiosyncrasy I have is entirely my own genius, for I’m sure many others have the same or similar hang-ups.

But often I find that by trying something new, I’m taken down pathways that can be so intriguing, and worth exploring, that I inevitably find many new things to learn.

There is a bevy of questions that I ask myself, always to do with relevance, as I take stock of what I'm learning, and it’s sometimes difficult to avoid the old cognitive overload that Andrea refers to in her post. It just takes time when there’s a lot to look at and learn, and I have to counsel myself to remember this.

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. – André Gide

Andrea mentions the need for her to share and to trust in this sharing – with her students, with her work mates, with her colleagues in the blogosphere. Through these developments, the individual can discover new learning pastures and help others to do the same.

It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone. But the goal thus reached is not worth reaching. – Theodore Roosevelt

Having read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers twice now, I have twice confirmed my suspicions about the attributes of purpose, resolve and perseverance being so important to gaining expertise.

Andrea has made a decision to push herself to improve in the way she shares her development and learning with others. Her words are resolute. They define exactly what it is she has chosen to do.

Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful (people) with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
Calvin Coolidge

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Plimsoll Line On The Good Ship Blogger - artist ken allanPlimsoll Line on the Good Ship Blogger
Several miles inland, on the estuary of the English River Avon, is Bristol City, one of the oldest seaports in the world. It has been in use for over a thousand years. A consequence of Bristol’s geographical location is that it experiences extremely variable tidal flows. Water levels vary as much as 10 metres between tides.

Ships anchored at Bristol were stranded on the mud at low tide. Since they were beached twice a day, they needed to be built robustly to avoid damage. As well, cargo had to be securely stowed to prevent it being ruined by the severe movement incurred when a ship was repeatedly beached and then set afloat with the cycle of the tides.

It is believed that the term 'ship-shape and Bristol fashion' originated because of the critical specifications that ships had to meet before entering Bristol Harbour. Everything on board had to be secure, neat and orderly. In 1805, a floating harbour was built that prevented ships from being beached at low tide.

Ship-shape and Bristol fashion:

I was reminded of this phrase when I read Sue Waters’ advice to bloggers on not using MS Word when writing blog posts. The introduction of messy coding that’s often not seen by the writer, through the practice of copying from Word into the writer’s blog post, can cause problems.

It happens because of the presence of what’s known as html. It is carried across with the text when copying from Word. Sue rightly recommends ‘stripping’ the html by pasting the copied text into a Notepad file, and then copying the ‘cleaned’ text from there into the post. In this way, the html, that may well have been invisible to the unsuspecting writer, is left behind.

So what is html?

HyperText Markup Language sounds a bit of a mouthful. Its initialism, html, is far easier to remember. Html is a code that was developed in the early 1980s to permit the formatting of text for use in web pages. The so-called tags, marked by the < > signs, and code-words written in text form, permit size, colour, and font to be defined for a line of text.

While the actual text is easily recognised in html, the tags and other code-words tend to make it look like gobbledygook. When that’s carried across and pasted with the text into a blog post, it is sometimes displayed as gobbledygook. Not what a blogger wants to see in a newly published post!

Notepad - the html scrubber:

So why does Notepad not permit the html to be carried across? Notepad is really a very simple digital tool. A component of Microsoft Windows, it is the so-called ‘plain text editor’. Because it is so simple, it acts as a filter, so that only the text in a portion of copied data is recognised and accepted into the Notepad file. Presto! Anything that is then copied from the Notepad file will be just text.

The other splendid thing about Notepad is that it is a true WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get). So if there’s something in the text in Notepad that shouldn’t be there, you will see it. Not so with the hidden code in a Word file or text that you copy from a web page.

So why does web page text have code?

A web page invariably uses html for formatting its text. That’s what html is for after all. You can inspect this in a web page by right clicking on the text and selecting View Page Source. Try it on this page. Gobbledygook, right? Copying text from a web page can carry some of that gobbledygook across with the text and it can be pasted, with the entire messy html that you don’t want.

Text that’s copied from a web page can be cleaned of html by pasting into a Notepad file first. So, lesson well learnt. No more messy html.

From now on, we will have the content of our blog posts all ship-shape and Bristol fashion.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Friday, January 23, 2009

On Weapons of Mass Destruction

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allThree Medieval Shields
There have been 7 enemy assaults since mid-November 2008. Three intrusions in the last few days were from different locations. The latest sorties brought activity within local boundaries to a near halt. Strong garrison defended the battlements and three prisoners were detained - origin unknown. Following a perfunctory hearing, they were summarily executed and their remains destroyed.

It’s not clear the extent of local injury sustained by the attack. Collateral damage is still being assessed and there’s a likelihood of some loss of life.

Fortunately, alerts aroused the attention of the home guard, prompting immediate vigilance within the resident defense systems.

The most recent attacks showed how important it is to ensure strong garrison is put in place, to
provide frequent updates, and to be vigilant so that defense systems are kept on the alert at all times.

Here’s my list of enemy attacks to date:

Virus History Table
The SbCtri.exe, alias W32.Spybot.worm, is particularly nasty. It was buried in the Registry of my computer spitting out clones of itself, which, fortunately, WinPatrol and Spybot-Search And Destroy were able to detect and eliminate.

I had downloaded updates from Symantec just the day before, for I’d already been alerted to the presence of the worm. It was only when I received the latest update from Symantec the following day, that I was able to destroy the intruder SbCtri.exe, together with a couple of resident Trojan horses.

My total defense system consists of the following:

BlackICE PC Protection (firewall)
Symantec Antivirus (virus checker)
Spybot-Search And Destroy (spyware detector and destroyer)
WinPatrol (spyware detector)

I perform frequent updates to my security system and spyware detectors. I take automatic updates from Windows. I also run Ad-AwareAE by LAVASOFT quite frequently.

A few years ago I used to do weekly updates to the virus checker.
Now I do it daily, sometimes twice a day. It’s a bit of a worry.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blogging, When A Thing Is Worth Doing Badly

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allCat Sleeping Badly - photo Ken Allan"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly!"
G K Chesterton - What's Wrong with the World

Manny Charlton, once asked if he could come over to my place and watch colour TV. He wanted to see the launch of The Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles’ first TV film. Colour TV was new technology then, and Charlton’s black and white TV couldn't do justice to the production.

A few days after watching the film, I met up with Charlton. He was still dazed. He idolised The Beatles, along with Jimmy Hendrix and other pop icons who were around then.

“I’ve put my guitar in the cupboard,” he said when I asked him what he’d been up to. “There's no way I can follow that!” was his explanation.


Of course, he got over the trauma of seeing his idols in action. Charlton may be a humble Spaniard, but he is no mean guitarist. Even at that time, he enjoyed local fame as a member of the local pop band. Charlton had quite a following in his hometown, Dunfermline, and in the surrounding Fife district.


I coached road running while teaching at Rongotai College in the 70s. The head gym teacher, Sid Turnbull, organised sponsored hundred miler team events, to raise funds for the school’s new gym extension.

Every boy in the school participated. The teams had 10 members who each ran a 10-mile course round Miramar Peninsula. Points were awarded to the teams according to a scale for times taken to complete the circuit.

One of the team runners, Peter, had congenital deformity in both feet. His doctor recommended walking and running to assist normal growth development following corrective surgery.

Peter did not find running easy, but he trained for the event with the others in his team. He clocked a slower circuit time in training for the hundred miler than anyone else in the school. But his coach supported him, and so did his team mates, despite the obvious points disadvantage that would have to be sustained by his team.

Little did Peter’s team know that Sid had already made adjustments to the rules for awarding points to physically disabled runners! Peter’s team went on to win an honourable place in the competition.

The Soldier’s Joy:

In the 70’s, I was introduced to a sheep-shearer, Davey. Davey was interested in folk music and he admired my fiddle playing when he’d hear me playing at festivals. He was well known for his enthusiasm and his hopeless musicianship.

Davey had two passions: going to music clubs, and playing music. At that time he was learning to play the guitar. He approached me at a folk music festival and told me he’d just bought himself a fiddle.

He asked me if I could help him with a tune he was learning to play on his new fiddle and I offered to assist. When he played the tune, I told him that I’d never heard it before. He smiled and said, “You play that tune. It’s the Soldier’s Joy.”

I was so taken aback, it was hard to keep face, for his fiddle playing was so terrible that I honestly could not recognise the tune he had played. I asked him to play it again and I was no further towards identifying the tune.

I liked Davey. His enthusiasm was something I really admired, and me being a teacher, I appreciated his dogged persistence. Fifteen years later I was elected the Performers Officer for the Wellington Folk Centre. A year or so on, I held that responsibility, at the same time accepting the office of President.

It was then that a friend told me about how Davey was very active in the country music scene in Wellington. The suggestion was that I should listen to what he was doing with his music.


I went along to a concert where Davey had been asked to play as a warm-up artist and I was astonished at his ability to play and sing with feeling. He played several different instruments, including the fiddle, very well. In particular, he had a way of gathering together other musicians who played good music with him.

I approached him after the concert and asked if he’d like to do a gig at the Folk Centre sometime. He was visibly humbled, but he accepted the invitation to give a concert.

Of course, I had to publish the program in the newsletter. When some of the committee members learnt that I’d booked Davey to do a concert, they were quite shocked that I’d been so stupid as to ask someone who they said had obviously no talent for music. In fact, they said that I’d spoil the reputation the Folk Centre had established in providing good quality entertainment.

I ignored their harsh words and suggested that maybe they should come along and hear for themselves. None of Davey’s critics turned up for his concert, needless to say.

But on the night of the concert, the auditorium was packed. Most of the audience was from the country clubs, but there was some from the membership of the Folk Centre too.

Davey’s concert was splendid. He sang and played no less than five different instruments that evening, including his fiddle. As well, he embellished what he offered by inviting several of his musician friends, on separate spots, to accompany him on the stage. I thoroughly enjoyed Davey’s concert and so did the packed audience.

What’s this got to do with blogging?

When I’m plodding my way through blogging, I sometimes wonder if I should bother. I feel this particularly at times when I read through some of the fabulous posts of other bloggers. I came across a great post today that was posted only two days ago - 49 comments - several links to the post from other blogs – wham! I start thinking:

“Why am I blogging?”

Then I remember Davey, and how his enthusiasm for his hopeless musicianship served him well to become an appreciated artist. I recall how young Peter ran his way to victory, and won a position for his team mates by his dogged persistence, and competing the way he did.

I think of my friend, Manny Charlton, who wanted to put his guitar in the cupboard after he’d heard The Beatles play on TV. I recall how he went on to become a rock star, as lead guitarist in the group, Nazareth.

The names Davey and Peter, used in this post, are aliases.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Candles In The Dark

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allA Candle In The Dark

I’ve just re-read Kim Thomas’ article of her interview with Donald Clark. The Last Siege Tower Is Education was posted in December 2007.

It gives Clark’s opinion of how governments have administered to teachers and the classroom model of education. Clark explained how this has not worked, in spite of the huge cost in the attempt. Much of what he has shared on his blog since the interview has not moved a smidgen from the opinion he is quoted as saying.

A quote from Clark caught my attention. “I think the day Vygotsky got introduced into pedagogic theory was the beginning of the end”. I agree with him.

Learning through collaboration:

The assumption is based on a belief that useful learning can take place in collaborative groups. It is thought that this needs guidance, but requires little significant content input from a teacher.

How does a group of children assist each other to develop the numeracy that they need? How does such a group help one another to improve their reading abilities? How can a group of young learners teach each other about Science or History or learn a second language?

A mother and child model:

Most of Vygotsky’s studies were directed at the collaboration between mother and child and the development in the child that occurred through this. I doubt the notion is sound that Vygotsky’s conclusions can be extended to any useful learning that might take place when young children share what they know in a group. Never mind the analogous learning that might come about in older groups through the same process.

The idea becomes even more tenuous when extended to learning that may come about in online groups, as has been suggested by some educators.

Out of the mouths of little children:

When my older daughter, Hannah, was being taught in year 8, she became disillusioned with Science at school. I knew Hannah had a real ability to understand things to do with Science. When I discussed the matter with her she said, “I don’t think what we’re taught is Science”.

A brief chat with Hannah’s teacher at a parent evening confirmed my suspicion. “My pupils bring all they need to know to the Science table”, she said. “We discuss what they know and they learn from each other”. I thought, “This is Science?”

Even when she was in year 8, Hannah new that this wasn’t Science. She went on to a traditional high school where her interest, skills and knowledge in Science blossomed. She was awarded an excellence National Certificate of Educational Achievement in year 11. The chief contributions to that qualification were her successes in Art and in Science.

This post is beginning to sound as if I’m giving myself a big pat on the back. I’m not. In fact, I admit that I did very little to assist Hannah with her Science study, or her Art for that matter. What I did do was to provide a supportive environment for her at home. The important factor in her interest and achievement in Science, was just good teaching, not collaboration in groups with her peers.

No need for reinvention:

Technology, Clark says, can remove the need to reinvent lessons covering the same ground and that are given by teachers to learners throughout a region. He is optimistic that technology can provide better, quicker and cheaper answers to ways and means of providing education in basic skills.

This was the promise to education seen through the design and the making of digital learning resources and related technologies at the beginning of this century. That promise has never been met. Indeed the recognition of this delusion has come at an unbelievable cost – the cost of digital resources that have been made but are not used.

What's in it for education?

So what does all this mean for learning in 2009?

Clearly, education is in a bind. This year’s predictions tend to favour elearning as being cost effective, with some reservations. I have reservations too, and not just some.

The economic situation that affects all countries will make it unlikely that significant funds will be released for the development and use of learning resources and related technologies as has happened in the past. If there is any possibility that a solution will be found and implemented in 2009, it will not be achieved by technology alone.

There is to be a significant shift. And it will be left up to teachers to make this shift. But without technological resources and the skills to use them effectively, teachers will just be holding candles in the dark.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Symbol of Peace

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Day In A Sentence IconThis has been a week much in need of peace. Our contributors have done well to embrace their thoughts on this theme in a sentence.

I put their words in a Wordle blimp.
It didn't quite come out looking like a dove of peace. Perhaps nearer to the shape of a dove's egg - some nice word-combinations hatching.

Wordle Peace Blimp
Karen whispered...
Peace: a feeling, a statement, a goal.

Murcha murmured...
Peace is a word that has been on my mind lately - world peace that is - as I am about to go to Qatar with three students from my school to look at some of the issues we face as a globe, and as our globe 'flattens', how we can work together to achieve and maintain world peace.

Paul breathed...
Peace is enjoying an 'Alberta Clipper' sprinkle an additional five centimeters of snow on twenty.

Eric murmured...
Reminding myself to breath and listen this week has provided glimpses of peace.

Karen S whispered...
Peace is one child helping another, a smile of friendship, a sparkle of understanding and relationships that are the foundation of learning and living.

Ken sighed...
A blackbird’s unforgettable chronicle graced our garden today, but the gentle bird-song they heard in Gaza will not be remembered.

Kevin breathed...
It was a peaceful, easy feeling that came over me this afternoon as I realized that I was going away on a four day weekend to a warmer environment with only my wife (kids, left behind).

Diane whispered...
I am at peace with myself, no matter the tempest that at times surrounds me.

Mathew sighed...
Wishing peace for the world and the probationary teachers in my district who may be losing their jobs.

Amy rippled...
Falling snow is always peaceful to me no matter how much my friends complain about the driving and the shoveling.

Shaun murmured...
Letting go of old things has allowed a sense of peace to seep into me this week.

Cynthia sighed...
Tramping through the woods in front of my house this afternoon, avoiding the limbs and briars that reached out to stop me, I finally found the bed of native daffodils that always bring me hope and peace.

Gail murmured (after the second Wordle blimp was cast)...
I'm watching a beautiful sunrise here in the Sierra foothills - and hoping to hang on to this peaceful moment as I return to work next week and learn how California's budget woes will play out in my district.

Paige sighed...
The rain falls steadily from the dark sky in shades of grey; drinking coffee and gazing through the window, I am at peace.

And Bonnie breathed (out two contributions)...
Peace for this week is peace of mind as I immerse myself in learning for my digital creation. And by Monday I will be on the road to Washington with warm clothes, to celebrate a hope for peace beyond myself.

( 4 ) ( 3 ) << - related post - >> ( 1 )

Rangimarie - Peace in Harmony

Friday, January 16, 2009

Refinding The Index

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Refinding The Index
There has been doubt hung on the worth of past learning over the years. Recently, Bill Farren put into question the value to young students of what has been learnt by ‘old’ teachers. There has been much new debate about the efficacy of content, which presumably is a record of past learning. Out of a plethora of bellicose discussion came the notion that the use of textbooks, whether paper or digital, is now past its use-by-date.

A million hits:

How much of this has come about without real thought being given to the usefulness of past learning? Perhaps it is motivated by other factors not at all related to the worth of what has been learnt.

Could it be that the huge amount of content, the ease that this can be displayed through in-your-face millions of hits on Google, has driven our pedagogues to a state of desperation? Has the burgeoning quantity of data forced teachers, and teaching authorities, to swing the pendulum away from teaching content, in a bid that’s really centred on self-protection, albeit perhaps unintentional?

What’s on the cutting room floor?

It’s known that copious decision-making tires the mind, causing wrong decisions to be made, often at times when the correct choice is crucial. But when teachers have to select a useful curriculum from the great unwashed heap of knowledge, the decision-making that has to take place is profuse.

Perhaps the use of Occam’s Razor in education is becoming commonplace, so that all problematic issues, including content, finish on the cutting room floor. It certainly seems to be the growing practice when the challenging issue is student behaviour. Perhaps it’s not the content that’s the problem, but the way it’s being selected for learners.

Access to content:

Textbooks have been subject to makeovers for decades. Broad indicators of the changes can be examined without any real understanding of the knowledge the books contain. Indexing, as one specific indicator, has undergone dramatic change in the last 50 years, from the algebraic nightmare of numerically indexed paragraphs within chapters, to the complete absence of an index.

Mid-twentieth century textbooks had contents pages, traditionally near the beginning of the book, and often had an index at the rear. Latterly, the style and format used for the layout of content pages and index pages were at the whim of the publisher. Many formats were designed for looks rather than utility.

Whose responsibility?

It was not uncommon for a textbook to have an index that learners couldn’t or wouldn’t use. A textbook with such an index is as useful as one with no index at all. I recall having several textbooks like that in the 70s. They were good resources for what they contained. Their indexing was so bad, however, that I had to develop my own system for refinding the information. I’m still doing that with ebooks today.

Apparently, the onus to take charge of indexing, as well as the refind that Tony Karrer talks about, is being placed firmly on the learner. There’s no doubt that being responsible for refind is becoming a learning necessity - almost an indispensable learning skill for those who have accumulated the so-called 21st century skills.

Though I don’t doubt the usefulness of the skills, I wonder how much the need for some of them is being impelled by a move away from traditional indexing in learning resources, both digital and printed, that are being built for use in schools and tertiary institutions.

related posts - >> ( 1 )

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This Is Not An Advert - It's A Rant

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
I’ve just read Dick Carlson's How to create amazing technical learning. It’s an ebook that contains a lot of down-to-earth common-sense advice. It’s a good read and hilariously funny, lightening what could otherwise be a rather boring topic.

Carlson gives some grunty tips on preparing and delivering training as well as pointers on how to handle a few aspects of a training company. It’s in a 72 page portable document format (pdf). Check out the link at the base of this post[1].

Techos hate them!

I like pdfs, and was surprised to learn that techos hate them. A couple of years ago, I had a really useful discussion with my son, Jack, who explained what it was about pdf files that irked the pants off techos.

I remonstrated at the time. On reflection, I now have to agree with Jack.

Some pdfs look good, smell good, feel good, but when you get down to using them as resources, they are inordinately difficult, if not near impossible to use. And there’s no excuse for this.

Hundreds of pages!

There are pdf resource ebooks that run to hundreds of pages but have no linked index or bookmarks to assist you to navigate the content.
I get lost and I’d give up on a lot of those if it weren’t for my dogged determination to learn the good stuff in them.

When I open an ebook, the first thing that hits me, even with some of the best, is the stunning quality of the huge images, the copious intros, and the trailing contents in the first, several pages. These are all very good for letting me know what’s in the book: I just get tired getting to the stuff.

As I scroll through the contents, I recollect the original intention of the pdf. It was to provide a way of sending a formatted electronic text that could be printed without problems to do with the exactness of how the printed end product looked.

Keeping up with the technology:

Since last century, Adobe has built some very useful and wonderful features into Acrobat. I won’t bore you with the details, but nearly all of those features come into their own when the pdf containing them is viewed from the screen.

These days, most pdfs are viewed from the screen, but they’re not made to be used that way. They’re designed as if they should be printed and read from the sheets. The problem is that the use of the technology has just not moved with the technology available.

Neither are resource ebooks meant to be read from start to finish. When I find a resource ebook that’s really useful, I have to open it in Acrobat and put in links, as well as bookmarks, to prevent me having cerebral blowout when I try to find things that are useful.

Content? Link it!

Even with a large ebook, it doesn’t take me longer than half an hour to put the links in. But it’s easier to do when the pdf is first made, and of course, I’ve no control over that decision. Content links, as well as bookmarks that can be opened from the left margin, can be planned when the text file is first created, and before the pdf is made.

Check out the links and bookmarks in this Content Developer’s Bulletin by Becta. It’s only an 8 page pdf. But it’s written for people who haven’t a lot of time to scroll through even 8 pages looking for the good stuff.

Wonderful resources:

There are links to these wonderfully information packed resources that are hard to navigate at the base of this post[1 - 3]. Check them out too. They all have great, useful information in them. It’s a pity it’s so difficult to find. There’s one that’s admittedly a report[2] and not really an ebook – but it has over 270 pages!

The writers of The eLearning Guild post some splendid ebooks on all aspects of elearning. They are truly wonderful and I recommend them to anyone interested in learning some good tips and skills. One of their books has 834 tips for successful online instruction[3]. It runs to 71 pages. I’ve used it a lot, and I kept going back to it, but only after I’d thrown it into Acrobat and bookmarked the sections.

I’m all for moving with the technology. Let’s use ebooks, yes, but let’s also have them made using the up-to-date features available with today’s technology, so that the functionality of the product is also up-to-date.

  1. Creating Amazing Technical Learning - Dick Carlson
  2. Enhancing Child Safety & Online Technologies - The Berkman Center For Internet & Society, Harvard University
  3. 834 Tips for Successful Online Instruction - The eLearning Guild

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Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Peace in a Sentence

Day in a Sentence IconKia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
Kevin Hodgson (aka Dogtrax) is an amazing teacher, blogger and friend who continues to impress me with his energy, enthusiasm and inventive ideas that are put into action; this man walks the talk.

He was the first person ever to post a comment on my blog. He reads 500 blogs a day on his RSS Reader. I awarded him the Fantastic Commenter Award during my first month of blogging because of the ubiquitous way he permeated the blogosphere posting relevant comments everywhere I looked.

He involves his students in some of the most remarkably innovative activities and he and his students are well known for their claymation movies.

He started his own published
cartoon series, Boolean Squared. He has also been running a blog activity called Day In A Sentence for years and it gives me a lot of real pleasure to host Kevin’s ‘Day In A Sentence’.

This week’s challenge, true to Kevin’s principles, is to use the theme peace in your day/week in a sentence.


So get your thinking furnace roaring, forge your sentence, and post your words in a comment here. Your innovative product will be posted
E O T W.
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Rangimarie - Peace and Harmony

Indexing Blogger in Middle-earth

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
Link to Index Page
Reading through Tony Karrer's recent post Better Memory, reminded me of the importance of cataloguing information so that it can be easily found again. The recent revision of his First Time Visitor Guide also got me thinking about the importance of indexing.

Since I published my 100th post, I've found it more and more difficult to keep track of what's on my own blog. Things are becoming more difficult to find there for I forget when and where I wrote things and sifting through my archived posts has become too cumbersome (I also recalled what Sue Waters said about a blog archive taking up valuable space on the side-bar, so I might relocate mine yet).

I know from my own experience how difficult it is to find topics posted on other blogs and I'm often gobsmacked when I discover some archived gem on a blog that I thought I knew well.

So I'm
taking a few tips from Tony Karrer. I'm experimenting with an Index Page for Blogger in Middle-earth. Check it out and help me improve it.

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Haere rā – Farewell

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Do You Do With A Fan Of Links?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
A fan of post links
Have you ever thought of how you go about reading links in a blog-post or a web-page? A recent posting on Sue Waters' enviably informative site impresses me by advising bloggers to cite relevant information using links (hyperlinks), as long as it doesn’t mean going hyper with a fan of links. I go along with her reasoning. I also find comfort that she (a scientist after all!) is as fond of a fan of links in a post as I am.

Links in a post can be extremely useful. They can put you in touch with people you didn't know existed. They can also keep you up to date with things perhaps you should know about.

Most recently, there seems to have been an increase in the attention given to the ‘cognitive overload’ that accompanies sifting through burgeoning masses of information online – the dizzy headaches the hazy eyes – the lack of concentration the spinning head.

These symptoms are exactly what I experience when I visit a fan of links, one after the other, while also trying to follow the highbrow train of thought of the blogger who posted them.
Following up a fan of links baffles me! Link becomes a four-letter word.

Decision making can be exhausting:

Making decisions can tire the brain, apparently. But making decisions is exactly what you have to do while sweeping through a bevy of links, skimming through the accompanying articles as you go. When I do this, my brain constantly
has to come up with yes/no answers to a fan of questions:
  • Is this information going to be any use to me?
  • Should I know this?
  • Is it going to be any use to someone else?
  • Could this be useful for my students, say?
  • Should they know this?
  • Is what I’m reading important enough to come back to?
  • What’s it got to do with what the writer’s saying anyway?
I get up to about link 5, and recognising that I’m on the verge of blowing a gasket, I break - for a coffee. It's probably the best thing I could do.

One method I’ve used is to ignore the links altogether, at least in the first read. I bash on with what’s in the post or article to try and make some sense of it. This sometimes works.

But if there’s essential information cited through links, especially early in the text, and I know nothing about that stuff, I’m sunk. My brain runs out of steam when following the rest of what's there to read. My understanding wobbles. I effectively go nowhere when I try to continue reading.

I’ve then got to stop, retrace, and do some homework on the content in the links. This procedure is irksome, frustrating in the extreme, probably because by that time, I’ve got the old cognitive overload syndrome. Again. My head starts spinning.

There have been several postings recently on writing for skimming, notably Tony Karrer's, and there is certainly room for improvement in the way material is presented to reader/learners. But the need for the reader/learner to improve skills and strategies for coping with floods of new information is also becoming a major priority in the workplace.

But what's the best way of tackling a fan of links? If you have any thoughts on this, strategies or practices that you could share, please let me know. My head hurts.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Saturday, January 10, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Different . . .

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
The little hunted boar
Last week, being in the middle of New Zealand’s summer holidays,
I looked for something out of the ordinary. Whatever I was in search of, it had to take me and my kids away from the melee of technological society - away from TV, play-stations, mobile phones, blogging, elearning. You name it: I wanted to be away from it!

A front-page article in Wellington’s daily, splashed a picture of an activity I thought might just do the trick. So early next day, Catriona and I hurriedly bundled ourselves into the car with a lunch hamper, and off we set.

An early start:

At that time on a Saturday morning, it was only half an hour’s drive away. We arrived at Harcourt Park, early enough to stroll round and breathe in much of what we would experience while the day matured.

The natural beauty of surrounding bush, pristine sweetness of the air, simplicity of being on foot, softness of cropped grass, gentle medieval music tinkling up from the valley, brought us into another age and atmosphere.

Medieval Tents in Harcourt Park
This is 2009! On these hallowed grounds, there are to be duels fought - and battles! There are to be archery competitions, mounted skill-at-arms contests, and the pageantry of jousting!

Callum Forbes and The Order of the Boar Jousting Club, the network of medieval clubs from all over New Zealand including
The Company of the Dragon, and the welcomed participation by jousters from, Sweden, Belgium, USA, Canada, Australia and Holland, are set to make this a day to remember.

The Upper Hutt City Council is the sponsor of a two day World Invitational Jousting Tournament.

The Company of the Dragon
The parade of the participants is colourful and it is splendidly different.

If it weren’t for the digital cameras poking eagerly from the appreciative crowd, and the quality Tannoy commentary, I’d believe that the twenty-first century is a memory of things past!
All this is happening - with today’s technology – now!

The most skillful jousters, riding the bravest steeds, are wearing the finest suits of armour at the tournament.

The Black Knight
But warm up contests are necessary to whet the skills of horse and rider. Armour is not required. Besides, carrying 40 or 50 kilograms of extra steel must not tire a trusty steed too early in the day.

Hitting the Target
There are archery competitions to watch and siege engine displays to see. Activities of foot combat and swashbuckler combat rouse the interest of all, anticipating the main event, the jousting.

Swashbuckling Duel
Round one, of three, begins at noon. The day is a sizzling pizza, warming in summer’s oven.

Let the pageant commence.

With such splendid displays of sport and ridership, it was difficult to cope with the connotative action from the Tannoy when its music started up. We were pulled sharply
back into the twenty-first century.

As the last jousting run of round 3 came to a close, the sizzling pizza, hot from the oven of summer’s kitchen, cooled in a humid afternoon.

Bronze Shield on Oak Door
Haere rā – Farewell