May 25, 2007

Switching from my old hipster PDA

After reading David Allen's Getting Things Done, I quickly moved to his system. For archiving and for "live" projects, the A4-sized file folders were great. But not for the stuff I wanted to lug around and "read and review". So I liked the hipster PDA idea (and a variant here).

But it looked tatty, and I was always rooting around in my bag for the stack (or "ring") of cards I needed.

Then I discovered PoIC. It doesn't mesh exactly with GTD or hipster PDA, but I like it. One thing I like about it is its analog (versus digital) style. I came across it when I had a bad cold, a cold which affected my eyes and made me physically ill just looking at a computer screen. I felt I had reached a limit of my online, screen-staring activities.

(Photos here. Article on how index cards lead to increased creativity here).

A new record system

I'm developing a record system, cobbled from bits and pieces garnered here and there. I use manila file folders for each class (from David Allen's excellent GTD). This holds every thing I need for today's class, plus the previous class (e.g. homework I collected, handouts I used, plus the 1-page record sheet I use). Everything prior to 2 sessions ago goes in a larger, heavier 32-ring file.

All this is heavy to carry around, so I'm experimenting with a different system using 3x5 index cards, called Pile of Index Cards (or PoIC) by hawkexpress, who's done an amazing job with his bilingual wiki. This is much more than a class record system, but I'm tweaking it for my own purposes. The index cards are much lighter, and I can just about fit a 90-minute class record onto 1 side of 1 card (and if it won't fit, I splurge and use 2 cards). Plus, they're fun to use.

May 17, 2007

Google can read your mind

Just had an odd experience using Gmail. I wrote my email then clicked "send". A window popped up saying "It appears you wanted to send an attachment with this email. Do you want to go ahead and send it anyway?"

gulp! How dit doo dat?

I did use the word "attachment" in the email, so perhaps Google is just reading my email, not my mind.

But I still feel nervous...

May 12, 2007

How aggregate displays change user behavior

Here's something that I thought might have valuable implications for teaching, particularly teaching using web2.0 tools (and particularly after reading Dan's post about being engaging).

Aggregate displays are everywhere, from the book ratings at to the most-emailed articles at the New York Times to the number of diggs at They’re a primary element of social design. They not only let people know how their actions relate to others, but they also alter the behavior of those who view them.

In other words, it was found that posting the ratings or download figures alongside the songs, influenced people in their choice of song rating or download.

Well, duh! you might say (or you might say bandwagon effect). Still, when I read this, I started thinking of possible ways to use the info to persuade students to make more use of their blogs or other social software/web2.0 tools that I'm waving in front of them (that's a figure of speech). Haven't worked out the details yet. I'm thinking, not of trying to sell music to students, but of possibly posting the visit counter numbers of my students' blogs, or perhaps the "highest number of hits this week" kind of popularity contest. To make things more fun.

Anyone already using this kind of info with students?

(The original article, by sociology professor Duncan Watts of Columbia Uni, is over here: despite the title, the article is not about Justin Timberlake, in fact he's not even mentioned. Go figure.) And the experiment's website is here.

The article also refers to another article which examines the Columbia experiment, and comes to a more cycnical conclusion. Scott Karp on Publishing 2.0 writes:
All of a sudden it’s crystal clear what Web 2.0 really is — the greatest platform ever for harnessing randomly imitative social behavior. Before Web 2.0, achieving utterly arbitrary results took time and effort. Now, with platforms like Digg, we can get nowhere in a fraction of the time it used to take.

WOW — I am humbled and awestru by the power of technology, and the power of randomly socialized human beings to snuff out each others’ critical faculties and personal tastes.

This reminds me of another article I read about Andrew Keen, bemoaning the "cacophony" the internet has spawned. That article (you'll need to register with the Guardian to read it) and Scott Karp's article are missing something: web2.0 is not a project designed to produce great art or great writing necessarily, but to break the idea that only a few elites can (and should) decide for the rest of us what we should read, listen to, watch and think; that a few should decide what is valuable and what is not. Of course there is a lot of dross out there, but there is also some excellent stuff, that would not exist if we had to wait for some "expert" to find it and tell us about it.

Update: I see , has a similar view.

May 09, 2007

10 uses for cassette tapes

If you're "of a certain age" as the French say, you'll probably have fond memories of cassette tapes, like this BBC journalist, who writes about what to do with these, now outdated, sound storage devices.

Can you think of any ideas to add?

Upcoming conferences in Tokyo

For the EFL teachers in Japan, there are a couple of conferences coming up in Tokyo that I am interested in. I don't think I can attend both, unfortunately.

1) ECAP 2007. I've heard Charles Browne present on vocab acquisition. He knows his stuff and is an engaging and relaxed presenter to boot. He helped created VCHECK.

2) Jaltcall 2007, in Waseda Uni, Tokyo. Scrolling thru the list of abstracts, I came across this one, to which my response was "been there, got the T-shirt."

Too early to Moodle?

Since April 2006, the presenter has used Moodle for six courses, mostly as a redundant resource rather than as a required CMS program. He did not force his students to use Moodle—except on the rare occasions when he made them take quizzes—but simply encouraged them to use it by creating forums and chat rooms, posting information, making available images, articles, audio-visual clips, RSS feeds, and various data files. Overall, the participation of students in Moodle activities was far less forthcoming than the presenter had expected. In brief, not many logged in, and even those who did, only did the most basic or required activities.
In this presentation, the presenter hopes to examine this issue of students’ lack of interest in Moodle, and to identify the causes and possible solutions—based on his interviews with students and their Moodle activities. In brief, the causes seem to relate to the Japanese curriculum, student’s PC-incompetence, student’s attitudes, etc.; the solutions may lie in initiating students in Moodle, making more Moodle activities compulsory, etc. Some solutions, however, raise difficult questions like, “Should CALL/Moodle be forcibly integrated into the syllabus/curriculum?” and “Is voluntary use of CALL/Moodle too much to expect from Japanese students?”