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Blended Learning Panel

York University’s Institute for Research on Learning Technologies is sponsoring a panel discussion on blended learning:

“A recent workplace survey reported by Brandon Hall Publishing (2008) indicates that employing a mix of web-technologies with face-to-face learning is more effective than either e-learning or face-to-face instructional approaches alone. To explore the use and potential of “blended learning” further, please join us for a panel discussion featuring experts from various fields …”

This event has been re-scheduled for April 2, 2009 at 12:15 pm in TEL 1009 at York’s Keele Campus. I anticipate a lively and interesting discussion!

(Please check the IRLT Web site for the latest updates on the event.)

Injury Time: Remembrance of Things Just Passed …

What happened?

I strained my lower back. Badly. It was the result of two careless acts: 
  1. Lifting a heavy prop awkwardly at our annual Mardi Gras event. I felt a twinge of pain, and suspect that this predisposed my back towards injury.
  2. Attempting to leave a leg-press machine before completely releasing the 220 lbs of weight that I, back included, was still supporting. 
The pivotal incident (involving the leg-press machine) happened last Wednesday at the University’s athletic complex. Of course, I finished my hamstring curls and rowed for 20 minutes before calling it a day. Doh! 
And yes, I knew then that I was in deep trouble. 
Contrary to my spouse’s advice, I hauled my sorry self off to the University the next day, because I had things that must be done. Doh! With a notable, curvaceous list (upwards to the left), and walking speed 10-20% my normal, I can honestly state that I got a deeper appreciation of what it means to be differently abled. People rushing past me, icy walkways, plus doors stiff to open, were all-of-a-sudden on my radar. 
I barely made it through that Thursday.
I started my formal convalescence (aka. sensible acknowledgement of my predicament) on Friday morning. 

What did I do?
I convalesced. At this point, I had no choice! I took muscle relaxant and installed myself upon a heating pad. Save for attending to primal bodily functions, and attempting to do a few exercises I learned in physio that last time I strained my lower back, I remained in a sub-horizontal state through the entire weekend. I had to pass on a friend’s birthday party and a ski day 😦  
But, I:

I fretted. About work – not being there, work piling up, etc. And about my exercise routine – that picked me up, and then knocked me down! I communed with my family – when they weren’t making up for my shortfalls – and with our pets (three cats and an obnoxiously vocal husky).


What did I learn?
How good people are to me. From walking the dog to driving Miss Daisy (our teenage princess to/from dance/work/friends/etc.) to countless other things I normally do, my family filled the gaps and still had some energy left over for me in my supine state. When I did hobble into the office, I received all kinds of moral and physical support from my co-workers.
In addition to valuing my health, which I’ve been consistently better at for about the past seven months, I need to be careful – especially during acts of weekend heroism (aka. attempts at being handy) and/or exercise (technique and form do matter – ouch!).
I need to allocate more time for reading. All kinds of reading. Because I really don’t watch TV, except for NFL football, there’s nothing I can do there. Reducing the amount of time I spend handling email is about the only place I believe I can claw back from. In the 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss presents some provocative suggestions on this front; I’d better re-read that! 
The BlackBerry is a wonderfully powerful platform that suits me when I am highly mobile, but also when I’m highly immobile – like flat on my back, literally! It’s also the only device my back can actually handle me moving around with at the moment – my laptop in an over-the-shoulder case is a non-starter for me in my current condition.

Why did I share this?
So that I have something to refer back to (sorry), when I’m getting careless!  

Introducing InstallationWiki.org

From a recent Packt Publishing press release:

Following on from the success of Wikipedia, which counts itself as one of the top ten most viewed websites on the Internet, InstallationWiki.org will provide its users with a continually updated resource, written by experts, that will help solve any software installation problem.

InstallationWiki.org has been developed using the open source MediaWiki software package and is supported by UK publisher Packt. The website has initially been populated using installation chapters from Packt books.

The aim is for InstallationWiki.org to become a one-stop source of information for installing software.

With users generating the majority of the content, the aim is for the site to grow into an exhaustive library of installation guides, covering everything from setting up a social networking platform to installing an open source Voice over IP (VoIP) system.

Although this may sound unreasonably ambitious, consider:

  1. The resounding success of Wikipedia
  2. That Packt is seeding InstallationWiki.Org with content from its own titles

That’s a great start for a great idea!

Also consider that embellishments will be provided by the community that develops around InstallationWiki.Org. As Wikipedia has demonstrated, that can be a much more sustainable and scalable model than that of traditional authorship.

There’s already some excellent content available for installation prosumers!

My Next-Gen Mobile Platform: A Plain Old Cell Phone Plus Jott Plus flipMail?

In April, I stated that my next-gen mobile platform could just be a Plain Old Cell Phone (POCP) with Jott’s solution for “Mobile Note Taking and Hands-Free Messaging”.

In so suggesting, I thumbed my nose at the BlackBerry (my existing mobile platform) and the highly anticipated iPhone.

I’m not down on the BlackBerry or the iPhone, I’m just impressed by the Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) effect of the POCP when combined with Jott. (Please see the Aside below for more on this LCD effect.)

Even though it’s only been a few months, my next-gen mobile platform has just improved significantly – and I haven’t lifted a finger or spent a $!

Enter flipMail from TeleFlip:

The Teleflip beta story At Teleflip, we love creating exciting and innovative services for our customers. Three years ago we introduced our original service that allowed you to send an email to a cell phone as a text message. That service is now called flipOut. Since we first introduced the service, millions of flipOuts have been sent.

We’re very excited to launch our new service called flipMail beta. flipMail allows you to get your email on your cell phone for free.* No new software, no downloads, no new phone necessary. It’s that simple. Because we’re in beta, we invite you to share your ideas, suggestions, and feedback about how we can make this new service even better.

* SMS charges may apply – this, of course, depends on your plan.

This means I have email on my POCP. It could even be a Jott-generated email!

Because this is an SMS-based offering on the POCP, SMS-based limitations do apply:

What is a fliplette?A fliplette is a text version of your email that we flip to your phone. fliplettes are limited to 120 characters each. When an email is longer than 120 characters, you receive a series of fliplettes.

On my BlackBerry, I have the native BlackBerry email client. In my case, this client is integrated with The University’s enterprise messaging platform (IBM LotusNotes). I also have a native client for GMail on my BlackBerry.

So, even on my BlackBerry, I can see the value in making use of flipMail for email services that are not available natively for the BlackBerry.

Aside on the LCD Effect

Nicholas Negroponte’s USD 100 laptop is an excellent example of an attempt to raise the bar of the LCD in developing countries.

Whereas this laptop is intended to “… revolutionize how we educate the world’s children …”, the POCP plus Jott and flipMail embraces and extends the connectivity possibilities for those that already have cell phones:

The international implications for the service are even more impactful, as Teleflip solves a significant issue by providing e-mail access to millions of cell phone users in emerging e-mail-developing countries. As many as 70 percent of the world’s current 2.5+ billion mobile phone users do not have access to the Internet or e-mail. By establishing a flipMail account through Teleflip, this large population will now have instant access to send and receive worldwide e-mails on their regular cell phones, and again, without any new software downloads, special mobile Internet plans, or any new hardware or devices. So their existing cell phone number will be their onramp to the worldwide e-mail network.

While such a platform could have an impact in developing nations, where cell-phone usage often eclipses land-line usage, the POCP++ platform may have a broader global impact.

And although the USD 100 laptop has WiFi (including wireless mesh) capabilities, it may also benefit from cellular-based connectivity. Such a possibility could be enabled by, for example, adding a Bluetooth capability to the laptop’s already impressive array of technical specifications. In other words, with Bluetooth on both the laptop and cell phone, there exists an alternate vehicle for minimizing the connectivity gap.

Negroponte’s vision for the USD 100 laptop is compelling.

POCP++ could be a part of it – or some other humanitarian effort.

wikiyork: Academic Social Networking via a Wiki

I spent two days earlier this week participating in the TEL(Technology Enhanced Learning)@York 2007 event.

This year, the conference theme was “Partnerships to Enhance Student Engagement“.

Arguably, Rene Suarez’ wikiyork contribution was the most-provocative demonstration of a partnership to enhance student engagement.

wikiyork is:

  • a place to share notes, reading summaries, exam reviews, tests, assignments, opinions, etc…
  • open-source, editable by anyone, viewable by anyone
  • student-controlled (not really…everyone has equal control; everyone is a student and a teacher)
  • free (non-profit and ad-free)

In discussing wikiyork as an enabling platform for peer collaboration in an undergraduate academic setting, one of the concerns raised was the unearned benefit of such ventures to social loafers. In addressing this concern, it may benefit the wikiyork team to reflect upon the basic elements of cooperative teams:

  • Positive interdependence
  • Individual accountability
  • Face-to-face promotive interaction
  • Interpersonal and small group skills
  • Group processing

By recontextualizing these elements for wikiyork, it may be possible to (over time) turn social loafers into social contributors.

I’m not sure if wikiyork is the first of its kind. Regardless, I applaud the efforts of Rene Suarez and his collaborators, as I believe they’re on to something potentially compelling with wikiyork.

On the Use of Informal Ontologies in the Delivery of Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs)

In Service-Oriented Architecture: Concepts, Technology and Design, author Thomas Erl frames ontologies (section 10.2) in a top-down strategy for the delivery of a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) .

As the first step, in a multistep process, what starts with ontologies ultimately results in a Contemporary SOA (Erl, section 3.2.20):

Contemporary SOA represents an open, extensible, federated, composable architecture that promotes service-orientation and is comprised of autonomous, QoS-capable, vendor diverse, interoperable, discoverable, and potentially reuable services, implemented as Web services.

SOA can establish an abstraction of business logic and technology, resulting in a loose coupling between these domains.

SOA is an evolution of past platforms, preserving successful characteristics of traditional architectures, and bringing with it distinct principles that foster service-orientation in support of a service-oriented enterprise.

SOA is ideally standardized throughout an enterprise, but achieving this state requires a planned transition and the support of a still evolving technology set.

In the same chapter, Erl also provides an abridged Contemporary SOA definition:

SOA is a form of technology architecture that adheres to the principles of service-orientation. When realized through the Web services technology platform, SOA establishes the potential to support and promote these principles throughout the business process and automation domains of an enterprise.

In other words, buying into the top-down strategy can ultimately result in a Contemporary SOA and this is a big deal.

Erl also discusses the bottom-up strategy for delivering a SOA (section 10.2).

In striking contrast to the top-down strategy, and as Erl describes it, the bottom-up strategy does not incorporate ontologies. Despite the fact that “… the majority of organizations that are currently building Web services apply the bottom-up approach …” (Erl, pg. 368):

The bottom-up strategy is really not a strategy at all. Nor is it a valid approach to achieving a contemporary SOA. This is a realization that will hit many organizations as they begin to take service-orientation, as an architectural model, more seriously. Although the bottom-up design allows for the creation of Web services as required by applications, implementing an SOA at a later point can result in a great deal of retro-fitting and even the introduction of new standardized service layers positioned over the top of the non-standardized services produced by this approach.

After reading this chapter, one is left with the impression that Erl favors the agile strategy (Erl, section 10.4) as it attempts “… to find an acceptable balance between incorporating service-oriented design principles into business analysis environments without having to wait before introducing Web services technologies into technical environments.”

I would be willing to accept all of this on spec if it weren’t for the fact that it’s possible to create informal ontologies, in non-SOA contexts, during bottom-up processes.

And if this is possible in non-SOA contexts, then it’s reasonable that informal ontologies could be incorporated into the bottom-up strategy for SOA delivery.

I believe this is worth exploring because use of informal ontologies in a bottom-up strategy for SOA delivery may improve the potential for ultimately achieving a Contemporary SOA. (An outcome, you’ll recall from above, Erl stated wasn’t otherwise acheiveable.)

I also believe this is worth exploring as, as Erl states, most organizations are attempting to gravitate towards SOAs from the bottom up.

Because the agile strategy (ideally) combines the best of both the top-down and bottom-up approaches, I also believe it’s worth exploring the potential for informal ontologies in this case as well.

Although further research is required, the figure below extends Erl’s Figure 10.3 (pg. 367) with a first-blush suggestion of how informal ontologies might be incorporated into the bottom-up strategy for SOA delivery.

informal_ontology_soa_delivery

It’s important to note that Erl’s original figure illustrates a five-step process that culminates with “Deploy services”.

Based on work I’ve done elsewhere, in this first-blush depiction, I believe the steps required to make use of informal ontologies would need to include:

  • “Extract service relationships” – In the work I’ve done elsewhere, this extraction has been achieved by Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL). GRDDL extracts relationships and represents them in RDF from XML via XSLT.
  • “Generate informal ontology” – These days, ontologies are often expressed in the Web Ontology Language (OWL). OWL is a semantically richer and more-expressive variation of XML than is XML. Much like the previous step, the generated informal ontology is expressed in OWL via processing that would likely make use of XSLT. This step might also involve the need to incorporate annotations.
  • “Integrate informal ontologies” – Because each act of modeling through deploying application services will result in an informal ontology, there will eventually be a pressing need a integrate these informal ontologies. This ontology integration, which may also involve top-down or formal ontologies, will provide the best possibilities for ultimately realizing a Contemporary SOA.

Even at this early stage, the use of informal ontologies in the delivery of a SOA appears promising and worth investigating.

Oblique Strategies: A Great Way for Getting Unstuck

I’ve been reading Curt Cloninger’s Hot-Wiring Your Creative Process for the past few days.

Although there’s so much that could be blogged about, I can’t resist sharing my introduction to Oblique Strategies via this book earlier this evening. Very briefly, this is a creative technique for getting unstuck. It originated with musician/producer Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt.

For a more-complete overview, you can have a look at: