Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nurses and Second Life

I was invited to a meeting of nurse educators in Wellington on Friday. They were from a number of New Zealand educational institutions and were very interested in the potential of Second Life for nurse education. Needless to say, they were especially interested in hearing about the Second Life Education New Zealand project and in particular the virtual birthing unit.

Nursing and medical resources in Second Life
There are few avenues these days for educational funding in New Zealand so these nurses are going to have to think about how they can utilize resources that are already available in Second Life. So the first step in their collaborative project is to review how nurses and health professionals are using SL.
My advice
My advice to nurse educators looking at Second Life is to:
  • find a SL mentor and learn as much as you can about how SL works;
  • network with other nurse and health professionals using SL using online communication tools such as blogs, YouTube, Slideshare and of course, Second Life;
  • develop learning activities in SL that require little or no development to keep things as cheap and easy as possible;
  • work alongside your educational institution to ensure you have full access to SL;
  • collaborate with each other using virtual tools such as wiki, Google Docs, Skype and SL.
I would love to hear from you if you are involved in nurse education and Second Life - what do you teach in SL? How effective have you found it? What would you advise nurse educators starting out in SL?

Facilitating a forum for indigenous aged care workers, November 2009

I feel very honored to have been asked to help facilitate a forum for aboriginal and Torres Strait aged care staff in Cairns, later in November. This forum is the last element of the eMentoring project I developed for Aged Care Queensland.

What mentoring support aged care staff require
Whilst the eMentoring project was aimed at indigenous aged care staff, very few people volunteered to take part. It goes without saying that we should have consulted more thoroughly with indigenous workers before we even started the project, so we're doing things back to front. Nevertheless, what we would like to know is:
  • what mentoring support do indigenous aged care staff want and need?
  • how can Aged Care Queensland facilitate mentoring support, if it is required?
  • how would staff prefer to receive mentoring support - face-to-face, electronic or a mix?
  • what are the barriers to eMentoring?
  • how can Aged Care Queensland break down the barriers to eMentoring?
Plan for the forum
We are developing an agenda for the forum with indigenous advisers. Our plan is for an informal discussion, focus group approach to seeking information. The other part of the forum is to run a computer skills workshop.

Seeking ideas and advice
I have not worked with aboriginal and Torres Strait people before. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone or go about things in an inappropriate way. In particular, I hope to make the computer workshop as user-friendly as possible. So I would especially appreciate any ideas or advice about how to approach the computer skills workshop.

Image: 'Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Australia' The Lightworks

The future of Second Life and education

I have been thinking about where I stand in relation to Second Life now the virtual birthing unit project has more or less come to an end. If I want to continue to develop the birthing unit and become involved in more SL projects, I need to develop my SL skills. At the same time, I am not sure if the future in education for SL merits the time it will take me to upgrade my skills. And the contradictory opinion about SL of education experts doesn't help me in my decision-making.

The problems with Second Life
Clearly there are barriers to the use of Second Life in education, especially in New Zealand. Lack of Internet access, inadequate computer technology, institutional firewalls and policies can make it difficult for students and teachers to engage with SL. And the time it takes to learn SL skills can be prohibitive. Stephen Blythe is one of my students in the online course Facilitating Online - his story is a typical one.

Dr Alan Cann, a lecturer at the University of Leicester feels very strongly that SL is expensive, cumbersome, poorly designed and time-consuming. He says:

There is, above all else, one thing that Second Life is unsurpassed for. If you need to generate a large amount of cash from a naive grant-awarding body over-eager to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, offer to build, for a preposterous amount of cash, a virtual representation of something that already exists in the real world but that no-one will ever use in SL. Something like, say, Belgium. You'll be quids in. Careers have been built on it.

Second Life and Gen Y
I was talking to Dr Erika Pearson this week about how young people use the Internet. Erika is a media studies lecturer at the University of Otago. She believes Second Life will not become main stream with Gen Y students because they are only interested in communication tools that are cheap, quick and easy to use like Facebook and cell phone text.

The future of education lies in virtual reality
Nevertheless, there are educators who believe the opposite - that students do better learning skills in Second Life than those who do not use SL. John Waugh, of the Second Life Education New Zealand project says it is vital that educators become familiar with Second Life and other virtual worlds and realities - educators who ignore virtual reality do so at their peril and will be left behind in the very near future. Whilst SL may not be the preferred virtual world of the future, skills learned in SL will be transferable.

My love-hate relationship with Second Life
If the interest and enthusiasm by New Zealand educators is anything to go by, I cannot ignore Second Life. So whilst I continue to have a love-hate relationship with SL, it's clear I need to develop my skills so that I can continue research on the virtual birthing unit and evaluate learning outcomes, and become a resource for educators wishing to explore virtual worlds.

Image: jokaydiaunconf-SLENZ_001

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can someone lend me their garden please?

Every spring my hubby and I have the same argument about the garden. I want to have a go at growing vegetables but the truth of the matter is we just don't have enough room. I grow a few tomatoes, but I'd really like to have a decent allotment or something like that.

I understand there are a couple of community gardens in Dunedin, but I'm not too sure what they entail, and I'm too selfish to want to grow a lot of veggies that then get pinched by the 'community'. I also know that Horty Kim is running a permaculture garden at Otago Polytechnic, so I need to go and have a look there.

But what I would really like is for someone to 'lend' me a patch of their garden that I can turn into a veggie patch. If you have a garden that you're not using and would be happy to let me potter around in it, please let me know as soon as possible.

Sad news for Dunedin

Just as I got back to Dunedin I was very sad to hear that Otago Polytechnic is closing one of the community learning centers and loosing a number of staff from them. These learning centres have been a fabulous resource for the Dunedin community, offering free computer courses that range from how to use Trademe to national computing certificates. My understanding is that these centers have always been well utilised by the local community over the years.

I must admit I don't know all the ins and outs but I believe that government funding for free courses has been cut, so Otago Polytechnic cannot afford to fund the learning centers from it's own budget.

What a shame we are using such a valuable community service in Dunedin. But never mind.....we've got the new stadium to look forward to.

Having a moan about Dunedin's bus service

Those of you who follow my blog know I have just got back from working in Australia for nine months and now have a two month contract as education programmer and facilitator at Otago Polytechnic, which is eight minutes car drive from my house.

In an effect to reduce my carbon footprint, I've decided to use the bus to get to and from work. I am very lucky...there is a bus stop right outside my house. So I can get from door step to door step, although I do have to swap buses in the center of town, and it takes 30 - 40 minutes, depending on connections. But the time isn't so much of an issue because I like to read the newspaper on the bus and watch the world go by.

What has shocked me is the price of the bus fare. A return journey is $9 ... and that includes a discount! So even allowing $5 for parking, it is cheaper to drive to work. Apparently, what stuffs me up is the fact I have to catch two buses so I get charged two bus fares, instead of being charged one amount for the whole journey.

Not a great incentive to stop driving my car! And goodness knows how people on social benefit etc can afford $45 per week it's going to cost me on bus fares.

PS: In Brisbane, my bus journey to work cost me $6 return (which was about an hour long and took two buses) and in Darwin cost $4 return (40 minutes long).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Loving Dunedin

We have had old friends from England visit us this weekend, so we have been out and about the Dunedin area playing tourist.

I have been away from Dunedin for nearly a year and seduced by the wonderful places I have been to, especially Darwin. So it has been great to get home and reconnect to Dunedin, reminding myself of why we love it here. And what has helped has been that we've had the most beautiful weather this weekend.

We had a fabulous walk on Allen's Beach and saw a number of New Zealand Hooker sea lions, watched albatross soar over the cliffs of Taiaroa Head and chased Hector's dolphins on The Monarch.

The icing on the cake was a fabulous evening at Carisbrook where we saw Otago win the last match of the Air New Zealand Cup. Hypothermia is an occupational hazard when you go to watch rugby at Carisbrook, so it was a delight to be able to sit on The Terraces stripped down to tee-shorts.

As I always say.....there's no place on earth like Dunedin on a beautiful day........the trouble is, we only have about five days like it in a year!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Completing my Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching

This is the last piece of work I have to submit for my Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching delivered by Otago Polytechnic. This assessment is part of the requirements for the course Learner Centered Learning and is a reflection on a teaching session I carried out a couple of days ago.

Critical review of teaching practice

The teaching session I carried out was an introduction to Second Life as part of the Facilitating Online course I am currently facilitating. The session was held on Thursday 14th at 8pm. Five students attended. The session was planned for one hour but we were together for an hour and 40 minutes.

We started off in Elluminate where I outlined the aim of the session; provided reference materials that the students could use after the session; outlined a back-up plan if the SL technology didn't work; briefly described what Second Life was and how it could be used to develop an online community. I also provided a link to an online survey that allowed students to give me feedback about the session.

What happened when we got to Second Life
Three students managed to find their way to Second Life and meet me. One student took about 30 minutes to reach us and I lost the last student completely (I did eventually catch up with the student and offered to do some one-to-one work with her at a later stage). I attempted to show students how to use IM and voice, move backwards and forward, sit down, add friends, teleport, make landmarks and find them in the inventory. We got through these things but it took a lot of time because of various technical problems. In the end, we only had time to visit Koru and the SLENZ - we didn't make it to JoKaydia. This was disappointing because it is there that I think students would have got a sense of community in SL. The other element of the lesson plan we did not achieve was learning how to change one's appearance but that isn't as important as learning to communicate.

My facilitation approach
I believe the best way for students to learn skills in Second Life is to be with them, to guide and demonstrate, be on hand to answer questions but also give them time to practice by themselves (Learning for Life, 2005). I attempted to do that but as we ran out of time I rushed the students through the last couple of activities. However, the students do have a resource that described all the skills we went through so they can go back into SL and practice as and when they like. I have also made it quite clear I am happy to meet students again in SL if they need further help.

Students and technology
Working in complex technical environments such as SL is a challenge, to say the least (Carr, Oliver & Burn, 2008). The main considerations for teachers is the level of students' technical abilities and their access to the technology.

I was mindful that there was different level of technical ability amongst the students so had to cater for students at the lowest level. But I was also concerned about how to deal with the students who were very capable and likely to get bored as I focused on students who needed help. I didn't really have an answer to that one.

Usually when I am working with a group of people in SL I prefer to have someone helping me...someone who can deal with individual issues as I work with the whole class. The two people I had lined up to do that were unable to attend so I was stuck trying to meet everyone's needs. I don't feel that went as well because I tried to achieve too much. At the same time, I think I am being hard on myself...we achieved quite a lot considering at least one student had technical issues. And it is difficult to separate out SL skills because one skill often depends on several others so you have to teach them all together.

What I did well:
  • prepared for the session doing things like making sure I had added everyone into my contact list beforehand;
  • developed a supporting resource that students can continue to work with;
  • presented the session with humor and patience, and was approachable.
What I would do differently next time:
  • reduce the content of the session - reduce the time I spent with my introduction in Elluminate - or make it into a two hour session;
  • arrange to meet other people in SL so students would see the social/community aspect of SL as opposed to just focusing on skills.
Observer’s feedback
Here is the feedback I received from the evaluation survey. And here is the feedback I received by email.
- learning by doing is important: so you showed how to cope when things went bit haywire ... taking a light hearted approach is good
- really SL is much about escapism as serious stuff
- finding out about communication in SL was really important, including adding friends, etc... very important foundation to make sense of space, and we covered this well - the introduction was in Elluminate was a tad too long
- I'm not sure if everyone would have finished with a sense of accomplishment (Mertle seemed to be struggling with movement)
- I reckon it would be useful to have a checklist of what we were going to cover - including why this is important (ie building blocks) - then at the end show what we've actually covered. This could also form a checklist of what to cover next if the list was not completed in an initial meeting, or practice.

- it would have been useful to address ways you can 'protect' yourself if you're intimidated by any strangers (without this I'm not sure if others would feel okay about going back independently or perhaps it's a non issue)

- as a teacher or facilitator in this environment, a lot of it is obviously about familiarising people with how to do things. You covered this well, but I don't a sense of what online community actually looks like... probably a second session.

Response to feedback
The feedback has reflected my feelings about this session - too much attempted in too short a time, and not enough focus on the social/community aspects of SL.
  • The checklist was developed in the resource I told students about at the beginning of the session. I needed to remind the students about it at the end of the session and conclude the session more effectively. But because we ran so late, we all disappeared off without a proper conclusion and summary of what we had achieved.
  • Teaching students how to deal with unpleasant behavior in SL is a very important. Next time I can make sure that information is included in the resource I give students, especially if I do not have time to talk to them about it.
I am left with a feeling that we need another session in SL to bring all the skills together in a learning activity or experience in which students can make sense of what they learned on Thursday (Gagnon & Collay, no date). Responding to student needs is a vital part of providing learner centered learning. A flexible approach to content delivery including online technologies allows me to offer another session in SL in the next couple of weeks to consolidate what students learned and deal with ongoing issues.

Australian Flexible Learning Framework. (2008). Designing elearning. Retrieved 17 October, 2009, from

Carr, D., Oliver, M., & Burn, A. (2008). Learning to teach in Second Life.

Gagnon, G., & Collay, M. (no date). Constructivist Learning Design. Retrieved 17 October, 2009, from

Learning for Life. (2005). How to teach a skill. Retrieved 17 October, 2009, from

Quietly impressed with DimDim

Just over a year ago I wrote about DimDim, which is a free web conferencing tool. I wasn't very impressed and never looked at it again. But over the last couple of days I have re-visited DimDim with a few friends and have become quietly impressed with it.

What I liked about DimDim
  • It's FREE - hosts up to 20 people.
  • It was easy to access with broadband Internet.
  • It has great file-sharing abilities - we loaded up files and had no problems seeing them.
  • Also has a quick and easy tool for looking at websites as well as interactive white board.
  • Able to record sessions - audio playback was excellent quality. I also liked the way a transcript of the chat is provided.
What wasn't so hot
  • Had quite a bit of delay at times which made conversations difficult. This problem seemed to diminish when there was only a couple of us in the room.
  • Advertising the meeting takes several steps and confused me - I would like to see that stream-lined.
  • Sharing the mike is clunky - only the meeting organiser can hand out the mic (3 people can speak at a time). This is time-consuming and breaks the flow of conversation. At the same time, it is manageable as long as you have patience with the process.
Overall, I think DimDim is great for presentations or teaching sessions but may not be so good if you are wanting discussions or debates. It is fabulous if you do not have access to commercial tools like Elluminate. I don't know how people with dial-up Internet connection would get on but I really like the fact you do not have to download anything onto your computer.

I'm really keen to try it out in a more formal way - if you have an idea for a presentation or meeting I could run via DimDim, please let me know.

How have you got on with DimDim? What other free web conferencing tools would you recommend?

Image: 'untitled' beedieu

How to use social media as a healthcare consultant

Over the last few weeks I have spoken to a number of nurses, midwives and occupational therapists setting up healthcare consultancy businesses. One of the questions I have been asked is how to use the Internet and social media to get their name known. One person asked:

I have been thinking for too long about the need to have a basic website but am now wondering whether a wikispace (which I am able to develop/change myself) is an alternative.

I am not an expert on this by a long chalk, but here’s a few thoughts from my own experience and observations.

Setting up your web page
You can spend lots of money and get someone to set up a flash web page but I think you're better off using one of the many free online applications around. Personally, I would start off with a blog and make that the hub of your online presence, in the same way I have used it to be the centre of my personal learning environment. A blog is totally under your control, and you can use it to interact with people as well as disseminate information.

An excellent example of this is the blog of Jo Kay who is an education consultant - she uses "Wordpress" for her website. I think "Blogger" is an easier blogging platform to work with but it is a little trickier to get the tabbed portfolio effect of Wordpress although Leigh Blackall has achieved the effect with his blog.

What about a wiki?
You can also choose a wiki as your personal web page - I have used Wikispaces for my ePortfolio. I do think it is worth paying to have the adverts removed that many of the wiki have in their basic format - it looks a lot more professional without them. Here's another example of a very professional looking wiki set up by Jo Kay. Just be mindful that a wiki could be altered by other people so make sure you set it up so that doesn't happen, unless you want to use it as a collaborative tool.

Getting out and about
I wouldn't restrict yourself to one form of communication - I suggest you get out and about and network as much as you can, using as many communication tools as possible including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Slideshare. It takes time and effort to network in this way, but in the long run I feel it is worth it because you'll make contact with all sorts of people who will support and mentor you. And you may get business from this...who knows.

Online identity
This then brings up the questions of online identity and brand. A brand isn't just about name, it is also about who you are online - what your online identity is. If you want to be known as a professional person, then you have to act professionally online and be consistent in your behaviour. Having a professional looking blog and then acting like an idiot on Facebook gives out conflicting messages that may not go down well with potential clients.

Taking time
I don't think that having a blog or Facebook account is going to make your name or instantly find you a job. Yes, I've heard the stories about people finding incredible jobs through their LinkedIn account or Twitter post. But let's get real - in the health industry the majority of potential employers or clients have barely got used to email, let alone Twitter etc.

I would say that it is how you use these tools that makes your name, rather than the tools themselves - it's the online networking, sharing, collaborating, helping and mentoring that you do that will get you known.

What do the experts say?
There is reams and reams of information about the use of social media and developing a business and personal brand on the Internet. So what I would do is have a thorough search and find out what the experts say about this. Here are a couple of examples of people or web sites that address this issue.
What advice or tips would you give people about using social media to network and spread their name?

Image: '50mm HBW'

Are we making breast feeding too complicated?

In August I did some rural midwifery locum for a month - this is after a break from clinical practice of nearly three years. It seemed to me that at every post natal visit I did, mothers complained of a breastfeeding problem - baby was crying too much, baby wasn't crying enough, baby was too thin, baby was too fat. The trendy breastfeeding 'problem' these days appears to be milk allergies - every time a baby cries it's because it has a milk allergy. So we get onto a roundabout of special diets, herbal teas, medications and so on and so forth.

I know breastfeeding has its challenges and I do not wish to denigrate the problems that women have. But what happened to sticking the baby on the boob, feeding when she wants and for as long as she wants, accepting that babies need a lot of attention for weeks and even months and just getting on with it?

Image: 'Yummy milk' PhylB

Working as an e-learning design consultant

I have just got back to Dunedin after four weeks away in Darwin working with Associate Professor Helen Wozniak and her team in the Teaching and Learning department of Charles Darwin University. My role at CDU was learning design consultant, working with the school of business to move their MBA from face-to-face to online delivery. My two main jobs was to develop eLearning guidelines and a template for the BlackBoard courses with Ass. Professor Tony Gilding.

eLearning guidelines
The eLearning guidelines we developed were based around the seven principles of effective eLearning and Gilly Salmon's e-moderation model. Another resource I found to be very useful was the University of Colorado Denver Online Handbook - How to teach online.

The key eLearning issues that I think teachers need to address when designing online courses are:
  • learning online is socially constructed so teachers need to carefully think about how they facilitate online communication and the development of a learning community;
  • learning activities and assessment should be aligned with learning outcomes;
  • learning activities and assessment should be scaffolded throughout the course;
  • activities and technology is kept as simple as possible, keeping the learner firmly in the centre of design;
  • feedback is embedded throughout the course, whether it be student to teacher, teacher to student, peer feedback or self-reflection.
What do you think are the key issues for eLearning design?

BlackBoard template
The other part of my job was to design a template for a course delivered on BlackBoard. It's been a little while since I have worked with BlackBoard, but it didn't take long for me to remember why I dislike BlackBoard so much, both in terms on the technology and the idea of a learning management system. In other words, it's as clunky and restrictive now as it was 18 months ago when I last worked with it. I also had concerns that a rigid template would stifle innovation by individual teachers. Having said that, a template is a useful tool for guiding teachers who are unused to eLearning and providing consistency when you have a wide range of content providers.

Template framework
The main thrust of the template was to provide a welcoming, social learning environment and learning based on authentic activities. Each module was framed like this:
  • learning outcome
  • resources
  • activity
  • assessment of learning which may range from self-reflection, peer feedback, informal lecturer feedback, summative assessment

What I learned from the job
This short term contract has been another step in my journey as I travel away from midwifery education to consultancy/project manager/research roles. What it has done is confirm that I have been on the right track in terms of my eLearning teaching practice. The role of design consultant has required me to articulate the knowledge that I have gained by practical experience. This hasn't been easy at times so what I need to improve is how I communicate teaching design and practice to others. I need to become far more cognizant of education theory and research because in effect I am learning a new profession.

Where to from here
In the long term I am not sure where I am heading. I hope to continue working on Second Life projects and it's clear that I am moving away from midwifery clinical practice and more into educational support and consultancy. I plan to set up a consultancy company in the next few months, aiming my services to educational institutions and healthcare companies in both New Zealand and Australia, looking at how I can support them to develop eLearning and social media resources, professional development and mentoring programs.

In the short term I will be working with Otago Polytechnic in the Education Development Centre. My role there will be to support lecturers as they move to eLearning delivery. This is a wonderful opportunity for me because I'll be doing what I really enjoy - working with people as they explore online technology.

And my family are pleased because I'll be home for the first time in nearly a year. How long it takes before we all get on each others' nerves remains to be seen!

What I hope to learn and achieve in my new job
My contract is only for two months so my goals for this time will be short terms ones.
  • Catch up with what's been happening in Otago Polytechnic and network on a wider scale than I did when I was working in the school of midwifery.
  • Connect with Wayne Macintosh who is heading up the Open Education Resource Foundation which is hosted at OP.
  • Become more familiar with Moodle, which is the favored LMS at Otago Polytechnic.
  • Connect with the wider Dunedin community, especially people using social media eg the people I have been talking to for the last few months on Twitter.
So if you live or work in Dunedin, give me a shout and let's meet up - I'm really keen to catch up with as many people as I can over the next few weeks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Resources for my teaching session: Learning about Second Life

Tonight I am teaching the "Facilitating Online" students about Second Life. Here are a few resources I'm going to be sharing with them.

Second Life:

Using Second Life. A guide for beginners:

How to:
Interesting places to visit:
Koru. Home of New Zealand educators:

Second Life Education New Zealand project:

Interesting people to meet in Second Life:
  • Students of Facilitating Online 2009: Course Participants
  • Sarah Stewart - SL: Petal Stransky
  • Leigh Blackall - SL: Leroy Goalpost
  • Clare Atkins (SLENZ project leader) - SL: Arwenna Stardust
  • Terry Neal (Joint SLENZ leader) - SL: Tere Tinkel
  • Jo Kay (owner of Jokaydia) - SL: Jokay Wollongong
  • Deborah Davis (SL education researcher) - SL: Aastra Apfelbaum
  • Carolyn McIntosh (founder of SL NZ midwives) - SL: Dacary Dumpling
Interesting groups to join

Kiwi Educators - for people interested in Second Life and education in New Zealand

ISTE - The International Society for Technology in Education

Can anyone recommend places or people in Second Life with not-for-profit connections in the New Zealand or Australia context. I know lots of people using SL in education but not the not-for-profit sector.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

5 top things to do in Darwin

I've just finished living and working in Darwin on a four week short term contract. Before I went back to New Zealand, I did a little sight-seeing and came to the conclusion that Darwin must be one of the the world's best kept secrets - the weather is fascinating, the scenery is awe-inspiring and incredibly varied, and the wild life abundant. Here is five things that I recommend you should do if ever you are in Darwin and that area.

Kakadu Park. This has got to be my number one place to go. You can either go on a tour or make your own way around. I went on a tour and visited the rock art at Nourlangie and did a boat trip at the Yellow Water Billabong. What made this trip so special was the variety of animals and birds we saw as well as the diversity of scenery - wetlands one minute....towering escarpment the next. What I would like to do in the future is visit in The Wet to see how everything changes when the rain comes.

Deckchair cinema. One of the pleasures about living in Darwin is that you can do things outside in the evenings...unlike Dunedin!...although I must qualify this and say that this is during The Dry. The only snag is the deckchairs are a little uncomfortable so you need to take a cushion with you.

Darwin Wharf Precinct, Stokes Hill Wharf. My other favorite place in the evening is Stokes Hill Wharf which has a row of outside eating places that specialize in sea food. You can have a very nice plate of fish and chips for only $7.50, and then feed the fish in the sea with the chips you don't eat.

Darwin Museum and Art Gallery. One of the things I try to do when I visit a new place is visit the local museum and/or art gallery. That usually give me a real sense of the area, both in historical and physical terms. Darwin Museum may not be the biggest museum in the world but it is very well presented and gives the visitor a real sense of the area. In particular, I found the exhibit on Cyclone Tracey to be really informative - I hadn't realized that Darwin had been wiped out by the Cyclone back in the early 1970s. The other exhibit I really enjoyed was about the original landowners. I love the way the Aboriginals use story telling to explain nature, creation and life - fascinating to compare with biblical stories. And the Aboriginal art work is stunning.

Mindil Beach Market. The other thing I did on a regular basis while I was in Darwin was go down to the beach market on a Thursday and Sunday evening. I would have a mooch around, buy a takeaway meal, then go and eat on the beach and watch the sun go down - no better way to relax and let the world go by.

Darwin has become one of my all-time favorite places to visit and my dream has now become to go over for a much longer time, take a car or van and travel around the whole Northern Territories. What is the place you would really like to visit one day?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Teaching, Learning and Twitter

A couple of days ago I was asked by an educator in the course Facilitating Online (that I am facilitating) about how Twitter can be used in education. Herve asked

"Could you please enlight me about the use of Twitter in education? I am not a user as I am failing to see the point of it."

Here’s a few ideas about how Twitter can be used for both personal learning and as a teaching tool.

Making sense of Twitter
Suffice to say, you need to make sense of Twitter before you can understand how to use it as a teaching and learning resource.

Twitter is a synchronous communication tool. It allows you to send instant messages to more than one person, using no more than 140 characters in a message. Following Twitter via the Twitter web page is clunky and give you no real appreciation what you can achieve. The best way to receive and send message is through one of the numerous tools that allows you to read messages as soon as they are posted. This gives an immediacy to interactions – you get instant help, advice and information.

How to follow Twitter
I use TwitterFox (now Echofon) which is an add-on that is embedded into Firefox, which is an Internet browser. Every time a message is posted, I see it as a pop-up. The other popular tool for monitoring Twitter is Tweetdeck. This is a tool that is downloaded onto your computer. Not only can you read tweets as they are posted, you can also group and categorize them so that you follow a particular topic. Here's information about the numerous Twitter tools that are available. The best thing I can suggest is to have a play and experiment to see what suits you and your students best, keeping in mind that educational institutions will block access to some tools.

Twitter and cell phones
One of the advantages Twitter has over other instant messaging services is that it can be used on your cell phone. This is a particular advantage when you are working with students who do not have regular access to the Internet. I'm not the person to ask about this because I do not use Twitter via cell phone but if you have a look on the Internet you will see plenty of people talking about how to do it.

How you can use Twitter for personal learning
Twitter is an incredibly powerful tool for making connections with people who then become part of your personal learning network. Thus, Twitter can used for:
  • sharing information and resources
  • mentoring, advice and support
  • brainstorming and feedback
  • immediate help
Using Twitter as a teaching tool
I have to admit I haven't used Twitter very much in my role as teacher but here are a few ideas I have seen other people play with.
  • Twitter allows you to connect with people of consequence in an immediate and more personal way, compared to asynchronous media such blogs and newspapers. Imagine the power of following the prime ministers of New Zealand or Australia if you are teaching students about modern day politics.
  • Organise synchronous events.
  • Provides opportunities for back chat at face-to-face events such as lectures and conferences.
  • Disseminate information about your class, course or institution.
  • Facilitates immediate help and support.
  • Allows you to keep up to date with national and international news.
    For an example, have a look at the effect Twitter had on the last Iran elections.
  • Follow what people are saying about a particular topic or event.
  • Become involved with online campaigns such as the Blackout Campaign which protested about the Internet copyright laws that the New Zealand government enacted earlier in 2009.
Some more ideas
Here are a few places to go for more information about Twitter and how to use it in education.
How do you use Twitter for personal learning and teaching? What tips would you pass on to teachers who are trying to get their head around Twitter?

Image: Twitter icon for a fluid app mfilej

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Using Second Life to develop interview skills

I haven't said anything about the sister project to the virtual birth unit under the SLENZ umbrella. It is a resource (The Hyperdome) that students can use to develop their interview skills, as part of their preparation to get a job. Here is the video that explains the project.

If you'd like to know more, please contact the project's lead educator: Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How do you know who to follow on Twitter?

I was talking the other day to someone who was trying to get her head around Twitter. She asked me how you know who to follow on Twitter. Here are a few tips from my experience.

Twitter introduction
The first thing I would do is to find someone you know and trust on Twitter or a key person in their field, and have a look at the people they are following. It is highly likely that they will be following people who are enjoyable and worth following.

Another strategy is to ask a Twitter user to introduce you to their network. Hopefully, some people will follow you and you can start to build your Twitter network from there.

You can also start by looking at the many articles on the Internet about this topic such as this one: "Deciding who to follow" on Twitter by Wesley Fryer.

And there are many lists of top people to follow like these made up by Mashable. There's the top 100 100 health experts........ top 100 best Twitter feeds for nurses (I'm on that list...yey!) and so on. These lists are subjective to the author but they are a good place to start.

Follow Friday
Follow Friday is an activity whereby people make recommendations about who to follow every Friday. To find out more and see people's recommendations, either follow 'Follow Friday' or search Twitter for the Follow Friday tweets (#followfriday).

Meeting people in other environments
Another way I find people is through other online environments or platforms like Facebook or blogs. For example if I enjoy reading a blog, I will follow the blogger on Twitter. Keep an eye out for a 'follow me' sign that many bloggers have on the side of their blog, such as the one I have on the right of this post.

Finding people using search tools
There are a number of search tools you can use to find people on Twitter. It's becoming easier and easier to find people using Google, and of course Twitter has it's own 'find people' facility but I have found that to be temperamental at times. I prefer to use a Google custom Twitter search. Here's a list of 10 tools you can use to search for people on Twitter.

Following conversations
I often find people to follow through conversations on Twitter. It's like a ripple effect. You can follow conversations in real time using tools like Twitterfox or Tweetdeck. When people follow a thread, they usually add a hash tag (#) to their tweet. So if you are interested in following people who talk about knitting, put #knitting into a Twitter search engine or Google, and you'll find heaps of people who have the same interest as you.

I don't think I've done a very good job of explaining what a hash tag is, so if you're still unclear have a look at this explanation at Mashable.

Why people are tweeting
One thing to think about is why people are tweeting. If you want to build up a network of people who like to share information, then you shouldn't follow people who just use Twitter to market a product. If you want to connect with people who will talk to you, then you would be advised not to follow people who have huge followings and never have personal conversations on an individual level. I refuse to follow anyone who says they are a coach, mentor or inspirational speaker. The 'how to be a happy, kind person' tweets they are always posting make me want to put my fingers down my throat and be sick.

There are exceptions to the rule. I follow Stephen Fry (@stephenfry). He follows thousands and thousands of people so I know when I tweet him, he'll never reply to me. However, I continue to follow him because I love his humour and comments. A commercial account I follow is Air New Zealand grabaseat (@grabaseat) in the vain hope I'll pick up a cheap flight one day.

What people tweet about
If you're not sure whether to follow someone or not, have a look at their profile page and see what they talk about. Have a look to see if they respond to people and share information you will be interested in. I never follow people who are always other words, pass on other people's words/tweets. To me, this indicates a lack of originality and personal interaction.

People I do NOT follow on Twitter
I do not follow:
  • people with dodgy or ridiculous names like @fairypixiedust or @I'vegotbigbreasts (apologies if you have that particular Twitter name). Having said that, I have been caught out once or twice and realised that although a person had a silly and irrelevant name, they were a person worth following;
  • people who do not give any information about themselves in their profile - I need to know who a person is before I follow them;
  • people who have thousands of followers - I cannot see how they can usefully interact with that number of followers. The exception to the rule are people/companies who tweet valuable information that I am interested in such as Pete Cashmore aka @mashable;
  • people who have no followers, because they are most likely to marketers or spammers;
  • people who do not tweet - again, likely to be marketer or spammers;
  • people who ask me to follow them but lock their accounts - pl...eee...sss...eee! What is the point of asking me to follow you if you make it impossible for me to see who you are and what you talk about!
There's a few you have any other ideas or tips about finding people to follow on Twitter?

Image: Follow me on Twitter! badge szlea