Web 2.0

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While listening to NPR the other day, my ears perked up to a story from On the Media called “The Pleasure Principle.” In it, Ethan Zuckerman (blogger and internet theorist) described a condition called homophily, and its potential danger while using the internet.

In short, homophily describes how we tend to flock together, seeking out ‘birds of a feather’. Perhaps Aaron Retica (NY Times) describes it best as “…our inexorable tendency to link up with one another in ways that confirm rather than test our core beliefs”.

Online, this tendency can be amplified. Ironically, with a wealth of diverse voices available to challenge our own ideas, we tend to use the internet to reinforce what we already believe – like an electronic pat on the back.

Thus, Zuckerman warns that homophily threatens to make us stupid. If we only seek out things with which we agree, then are we really using the internet as a tool to expand our own humanity?

This has obvious implications for anyone who has built up a social network like Twitter. I’ll be the first to admit that most of the tweets I harvest are from professionals involved in science or education (or both). And I can also see how easily homophily can infect my RSS reader too, as I direct it to intentionally pull out only RSS feeds that I want to read.

As I get the majority of my news from Google Reader, I have to wonder if my feeds are too homogenized and narrow-minded. I also have to wonder if my Twitter friends allow me to accept my own perspectives on life without confrontation or question. Are these tools just amplifying my own stupidity?

Of course, I am painting a fairly grim picture. Of course there are many benefits in developing social networks with kindred spirits; if anything, the internet is quite a useful tool in fostering this type of kinship. The danger lies in blocking out things that we need to see – diverse ideas, differing opinions and news from around the world.

Zuckerman suggests visiting sites like Digg, Reddit and StumbledUpon – sites that collect interesting stories and allow us to discover the world in its serendipity. I’d also suggest broadening your news feeds to include international news originating from different countries. Broaden your social network to include people from different professions and cultures. Allow yourself to be challenged by different opinions when people comment on your posts.

Why might we be concerned about homophily as educators? Think about it this way – you may seek out online diversity to become a better person, and in doing so, become a better teacher that is open minded, compassionate and has an abundant collection of fresh ideas. While you may not actually unearth a ready-to-go lesson plan, you may actually be able to share something about life that cannot be assessed on a standardized test.

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The Library of Congress has recently made a huge step in embracing such Web 2.0 concepts such as creativity, collaboration and sharing between users.

In an effort to provide better access to their collections, while symbiotically harvesting more information about those collections, the Library of Congress has created a Flickr page to host copyright-free pictures:

Out of some 14 million prints, photographs and other visual materials at the Library of Congress, more than 3,000 photos from two of our most popular collections are being made available on our new Flickr page, to include only images for which no copyright restrictions are known to exist…

…We want people to tag, comment and make notes on the images, just like any other Flickr photo, which will benefit not only the community but also the collections themselves.

More information is available on the Library’s Web site here and on the FAQ page here. You can read Flickr’s take here.

-from the Library of Congress Blog

While this is a tremendous offer, don’t forget about the slew of resources already available from the Library of Congress (including a section for teachers). Check them out for your classes and for yourself.

And there is also an underlying motive here. To help the Library on this project, Flickr has even created a new publication model for public collections called The Commons. Both the LOC and Flickr are hoping to encourage other public institutions to follow their lead. (In fact, the National Library of Australia is already doing a similar project with Picture Australia).

But of course, making these collections easily available has tremendous implications in education. This is a perfect way to teach about tagging and sharing in the classroom, while using historically important content without the worry of students accessing inappropriate content. And these pictures have no copyright restrictions, so they can easily be used by students and teachers in endless and creative ways in many classes. Too bad Flickr is blocked by Websense in my district.

What could you do with these pictures?

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Jeffrey Branzburg recently wrote an article for Technology and Learning (techLEARNING.com) entitled “You Can Take it With You” (How to integrate video segments in curriculum – without worry). To summarize, Branzburg is teaching us how to download video clips from YouTube, Google Video, etc (as they might blocked through many school districts).

Here are his suggestions for showing ‘blocked’ videos in class:

  1. Link to the video or embed the video code in a blog or website
  2. Video Downloader 2.0 (http://javimoya.com/blog/youtube_en.php)
  3. Vixy.net (www.vixy.net)
  4. Zamzar (www.zamzar.com)

But the question still remains – even if we can download these internet videos – should we?Some of the content on these sites is illegally posted, so by showing this content in class, you could be violating copyright laws.

Ok – so avoid downloading episodes or clips from major networks. What about content that’s NOT stolen from network and cable television? Here’s the legalese – the YouTube Terms of Use (section 6 part C) allows its users to “…use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such User Submissions as permitted through the functionality of the Website and under these Terms of Service.” The catch here is “through the functionality of the Website”.So by downloading content outside of the website, you are technically violating the agreement.

Thus, legally – it is ok to link to and embed code from YouTube and Google Video. But be careful when you bypass their user agreements to download their content.

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In anticipating the release of Google Presentation, The Official Google Blog recently released a neat little video describing the power and utility of Google Documents. The video speaks for itself and is worth watching:

My biggest problem is that our district has blocked Google Docs via Websense for fear that students might use it to chat (in a quite convoluted way) and import inappropriate content from outside of their safe little fortress of an intranet. This same mentality has them blocking flickr and slideshare.

And this is also why the district blocks YouTube (I might remind you that Google owns them). But stupefying as it may seem, Google Video is open!

When I question these practices, I usually get this response: “what happens if a student imports porn this way?” To which I mentally reply “yeah, that is a LOT easier that plugging in a USB drive full of porn into any district computer.”

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For those of you following Dale Basler’s blog, you’ll remember that he recently posted about Mark Frauenfelder’s book Rule the Web (how to do anything and everything on the internet, better, faster and easier).

While I realize that some of you still open books and read them cover to cover, Mark has created a blog for his book that caters to some of us who like to get information in short, abridged segments.

Most of these episodes are actually short audio segments, and you can easily listen to them with the embedded Pickle Player. Here are a few of the latest ones:

You’ll note that these episodes are fairly new, so this is your chance to get on board with a new resource from its beginnings!

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I stumbled across NoteSake from a recent LifeHacker post. This little gem seems like a great idea – take notes and tag ’em, send/share them, and organize them. So I tried it out.

The editor takes a little getting used to, but seems like it has quite a few features. For instance, I can do superscripts and formulas, which is definitely important to me as a science teacher. I realized that it isn’t very easy to paste old notes (taken from MS Word) into the editor, but when you are done, you can easily export the notes out as a Word document or a pdf.


Perhaps the neatest functions of NoteSake lie in the ability to tag your notes and to share them with others. Imagine being in a class where all students took notes with NoteSake, and were able to collaborate their notes together in a group.

However, this is an ideal tool that is not realistic for most public high schools. Most kids do not have laptops or even computers in their classroom, and may have limited internet access. In order for this to be effective, students would have to transfer their notes (which is not that easy) into NoteSake instead of taking them on-the-fly.

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