Sunday, November 23, 2008
This time around, my post is about a type of learning other than that which is conducted online. Today, I wish to share with you the story or rather the history of a fig tree of a very special type. There is nothing unusual about this fig tree except for the fact that it started producing its first fruit one month and eighteen days after I had planted it. When I planted it, it was nothing more than a small branch of about 40 centimeters of length and a girth of about an adult’s finger. Being the son of a farmer myself, I can only say of myself that I am an amateur gardener at best. I dug a hole of a possibly 50 centimeters in depth; it had already rained five days earlier, so at the time I planted it, I didn’t even have to water it. I planted this branch in the garden of my home in the suburbs of Sfax City, Tunisia. I am not an expert in soil composition either, but the area on which I built my home was agricultural land.
Here is summary information on the fig tree:
1. Date the branch was picked from the original tree: October 2, 2008.
2. Date the branch was planted: around October 5, 2008.
3. Area from which the branch was picked: between Souk El-Kallel and the Maknassy-Sidi Bouzid Road, Governorate of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia
4. Place in which picture was taken: Sfax, Airport Road, Tunisia.
5. Date I noticed the first fruit: November 23, 2008.
6. Color and size of the fruit: green, about the size of a chick pea
7. Length of stem above the ground: about 6 centimeters
8. There are two small leaves growing below and around the fruit
I have never seen anything like this before. I find it intriguing that plants can reproduce themselves in such a short time, and that it takes but little time for a branch without roots to turn into something like a tree in infancy, or possibly babyhood.
We may find it strange that a tree starts producing raw fruit in the first seven weeks of its life, but this is not a plant. It is a tree. I understand for example that it usually takes an olive tree about three years before you see it bear the first scattered crop of olives. This may be proportional to longevity of a fig tree compared let’s say to an olive tree. Olive trees can live for as long as one thousand years, with the oldest and still healthy olive tree now three thousand years of age(1). I am not sure exactly what the lifespan of a fig tree is, but I believe it is much, much shorter than that of the olive tree. Forty years is my own approximation.
I now look forward to seeing how this fig tree will develop.
(1) Wikipedia. The Olive Tree of Vouves. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_tree_of_Vouves
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Well, this time, it’s a different kind of learning, the kind of learning that happens in an unplanned fashion, and where learning takes place, the hard way.
***THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY
I was out of town for a few days, wanting to forget all about internet, email, books, and long sits in front of the computer screen. All was well until I received a phone call from someone doing research with me;
‘Hey, where are you? I'm worried about you! We want to help! Where are you?’.
‘What’s the matter?’, said I?
‘We just received a message from you’, was the answer, ‘You’re in Lagos, Nigeria, stranded, and some people have stolen all your money. How can we send you money to come home? My husband and I have been thinking about you all morning. We're making the necessary arrangements to send the money, but we just wanted to check the whole thing.’
I’m right in the area, not of out of Tunisia, visiting family’. I answered.
‘Wow, the person who wrote to us in your name wanted us to send 1650 dollars’, they answered
‘I’m mighty glad you asked, I’m safe and sound, and haven’t left the country.’, said I.
You think this happens only to other people? We have all received messages from the four corners of the earth with people promising fabulous sums of money, if we just sent some details about identity. Gladly, most of us know this is common occurrence. The day someone hijacks your ID and password and starts writing emails is not far off. In this case, this charlatan just used my standing and reputation to take advantage of my friends and associates. I’m not the kind of person to ask for money from anyone, period, o, wait, except possibly very close family members, and in circumstances that’s only in extremely exceptional circumstances, and I grant you, it hasn’t happened in the last thirteen years. I have a good working relationship with many people in many parts of the world. When one of them is led to believe I am struggling in a foreign country, they would likely want to honor that request when it bears my digital prints. And you tend to appreciate the trust, that the moment some people realized the mess you were in, they would rush to help. That’s a great measure of trust, mutual trust, and under all circumstances, one should appreciate that. Little do these people know that there is always someone watching. Hackers, some of whom are said to be good people, with associations and help-desks for their own kin, are always on the lookout for soft targets. Only this time, they’re not simply hackers; they’re down right criminals, impersonators, impostors, highwaymen of sorts, preying on people who sing and sleep the internet, the joys of open communication, and the promises of an unbounded world.
The lessons to be drawn from this are possibly many. I will leave them out for my next post.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
LEARNING ENVIRONMENT OPTIMIZATION SERIES - RECONFIGURING THE SFAX UNIVERSITY LEARNER PROFILE – PART TWO
The goal of this learning environment optimization series has been to identify in broad outline the totality of factors that contribute to making of Sfax University an environment where learners are optimally equipped with the tools and attitudes of success in the modern, networked, knowledge-driven and globalized society. In part one of this series (Asdaa Al-Jamiaa, Issue 1, 2008), I looked at the requirements for participating in the knowledge-making society and argued basically that a difference in attitude has to be fostered among Sfax University students whereby they should not be at the receiving end of products, but that they should rather be in position to contribute to the design, creation, upgrading, and marketing of products. The purpose of the second series is to look more deeply into the learner profile characteristics.
It seems to me that there are a number of abilities, competencies, skills, and attitudes that our students have to develop if they are going to actively partake in the running and shaping of the knowledge-making society. For now, I tend to see this configuration as inclusive of three central elements: communication, specialization and attitudes.
By way of prelude to this analytical exercise, I hurry to say that these elements are not necessarily totally new or unheard of. For example, our previous and current educational systems have always had an eye on the ability for our graduates to communicate with ease and clarity. The only thing is that there was a prevailing attitude on the part of some students to see communication and languages in general as not being a priority for them, on grounds of their being into a different area of specialization than language and communication. Likewise, our educational system has always made it a point to focus student learning on a clearly-determined area of specialization, but there is now more to specialization than many would have thought in the past.
Let me start with a very common occurrence among our colleagues in the social and hard sciences. I personally know this to be fact, as do many of my colleagues in the English departments that we are often requested by high-ranking teachers and professors to do translation or editing work for them, in English, of abstracts of papers they wish to publish or present at international conferences. For all students, regardless of major, the need to be able to communicate their knowledge, ideas and findings has never been more acute. There was a time when it was felt that knowledge of languages was for the Letters and Humanities students, and that students in engineering, chemistry, and other scientific specializations did not need to be so much versed in languages.
This change of course is taking place at the level of the curriculum; the ongoing higher education reform, LMD, places a premium on communication. All students are henceforth required to upgrade their skills in the national language, Arabic, in Tunisia’s second language, French, and more and more in English. Secondary schools and universities are at the vanguard of a movement to open up our language curricula to an array of other foreign languages. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, more language choices will be made available, in addition to Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian, to include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Bahasa, Hindi/Urdu, Persian, Swahili, etc.
And as I pointed out in the first part of this series, learning to communicate is not solely a function of knowledge of languages. Our students need to be given a fair chance of practicing with the channels in which communication is being transacted. We are fast moving into paperless communication, and thus a strong component of ICT has been put in place. Back in the 90s, creating a web site was all a person/company aspired to. Nowadays, much communication takes place via radio and television, land and mobile telephony, text messages, emails, web sites, chatting, voice over IP (VOIP), wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, and what have you. The ICT component can no longer be safely fixed for more than a period of one or two years maximum. Changes that are sweeping the scene have to be reflected in the ICT curriculum, until such a time as all types of modern communication become evenly and widely available for all students in their educational institutions, homes, halls of residence, local public libraries, and other access points.
There is no doubt that any higher-education program of study, by dint of its very label, carries a strong component of specialization. In this sense, students who study law or medicine will have been presented with materials and attitudes that provide them with the specific knowledge necessary for making them experts at their levels in their chosen area of specialization. As a result, students are normally able to read, understand, explain, and produce text that is cognizant of the depth and breadth of issues in their fields. They should also be able to act and display the attitudes and skills of an expert at their level of graduation. The LMD system recognizes the value of specialization, but, in recognition of the dangers ensuing from too much specialization, from pursuing a one-eyed view of expert knowledge, LMD has deemed necessary to enlarge the students’ purviews through the introduction of so called ‘unités transversales’, which are subjects to be studied across and regardless of discipline or area of specialization. For the moment, these include human rights, ICT, and entrepreneurship. I have come across people who argue for the addition of such subjects as mathematics or philosophy, or even agriculture. It is certainly the case that a received understanding of the major/minor distinction can be expanded to allow students to take on subjects totally outside their immediate areas of specialization. In this sense, for a student in biotechnology to take an ethics course, or for a student of French to take a math course should not sound like a wild course of action.
Attitudes are a set of mental dispositions or acquisitions that students should be led to develop in the totality of the courses that they take. It may equally be a good idea that an attitude-centered course be designed which fosters in students certain abilities, mindsets, approaches, and understandings to impart certain thinking traits.
One key attitude that can serve as umbrella for many others is adaptability. The sum-total of the knowledge and skills each of us now possesses can be safely said to be appropriate for this time, for this moment, the time at which we live. Short of learning to be adaptable, there is a strong possibility that much of what carry by way of competencies and know-how may turn out to be antiquated and obsolete by the time we wish to impart it to others as valuable knowledge. Now, more than ever, a degree is no longer enough to be a knower. You don’t gain the knower status once and for all; you need to constantly brush up your knowledge, upgrade your skills, and maintain an attitude of readiness to catch up, to learn, to be ahead of the game, in all manner of things. Thus, lifelong learning is not just a banner that we carry from our heritage or from the buzzwords that permeate this era; it is a true imperative that we have to live up to, as students, teachers, parents, administrators, and citizens of the global village.
Needless to say, in addition to adaptability, lifelong learning, communication, specialization, depth of knowledge and breadth of view, students need to develop the tools for confronting an ever-changing world. A world changing without a map is likely to produce some promises but also many critical moments. It is the ability to devise solutions at these critical moments that will determine whether our graduates and our enterprises sink or swim in the tumult of change. Being a critical thinker and a problem solver both require a deep understanding of the mechanisms of change, and the ability to invent and create innovative solutions that are cognizant of local and national needs as well as of international regulations governing the concept and practical implications of global citizenship.
Perhaps, of all the constants we have learned about in our lifetimes, the only certainty is change. Our curricula as well as our program designers need to be attuned and sensitive to this change and to the need to prepare our students for living in and being able to manage change.
Raddaoui, A. H. Learner Profile Optimization Series: Reconfiguring the Sfax University Learner Profile, Part One. Asdaa Al-Jamiaa. Issue 1, 2008.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The learning environment optimization series is an exercise in optimization applied to educational engineering. Originally referring to mathematical techniques employed to make a system or design perform at the highest level possible (Answers.com), the optimization exercise I am into seeks to optimize the totality of the features of the instructional system with the goal of bringing them as close as possible to what is believed to be an ideal system of education. The totality of resources the system makes available should be tweaked in such a manner as to yield a learner profile that best matches the requirements of the environment in which the learner will successfully deploy the knowledge, skills, competencies and attitudes that the instructional system will have equipped them with.
A multi-dimensional view of optimization applied to instruction means that a number of areas have to be examined so we can identify the elements to be optimized and determine a performance value for each of these elements. These areas include, but are not limited to, academic curricula, student services, university governance, instructor profiles, and certainly learner profiles.
There is no doubt in my mind that such an exercise represents a foray into what is imaginable but optimization studies are also cognizant of what is permissible and feasible. They look to improve the end results of the educational design to the greatest extent possible while not taxing or stretching the system resources to breaking point.
WHAT ARE THE GOALPOSTS?
Educational planning, including learner profile engineering, has to start with a description of the society in which the learner is destined to operate and the values upon which a premium is placed. For now, it will suffice to refer to this as the knowledge or information society. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) occupies pride of place in this society with technology being more and more the medium and object of communication. The major of feature of ICT is that it is perennially changing, which means that successful individuals’ work skills have to be to be constantly updated in order to fit the production requirements. Whereas products had a relatively extended longevity in industrial societies, the ‘life expectancy’ of a product Alpha is currently so short that you have to come up with an improved Beta version much sooner than you otherwise would when the production cycle was easy going. Given this state of affairs, product makers have to uphold the notion that there is no such thing as a finished product. Products should be an addition to and an improvement upon what has already been accomplished.
In educational terms, pre-knowledge society learners often did things, made presentations, wrote essays and answered exam questions. Their work would be reviewed, assigned a grade, and then transferred to the archives to gather dust. The tendency now, in educational environments and elsewhere is to make products. This adds the commercial, business, aspect to what we do, the idea that the product has to have value, has to be marketable, and has to envisage a target much wider audience than the teacher who will mark it. Most products are thus destined for public consumption. And in order to quality amid the plethora of products competing for attention and subject to uncontrolled user reviews, those who design products have to keep in mind from the very beginning, the value of ‘productizing’. (Kelly-Walker: 207).
Now, what productizing involves is a mindset whereby much of what we produce in the knowledge society is produced in confluence, which signifies that a product is arrived at through blending or combining two or more products into one (Wordwebonline Dictionary). A product is thus the end result of work conducted by different contributors who choose to work together to produce a common product. The notion of confluence refers to the participatory nature of today’s production process. Ability to work in confluence, as part of a team, using communication networks and what is commonly referred to as social software is a prerequisite of membership in today’s workforce.
Finally, because many of today’s products are collectively created by individuals and groups through ‘participatory media’, as expounded by Rheingold (2008), the latter enables ‘young people to create as well as consume media’. In this sense, the knowledge society that we wish to be active members of requires a new attitude to knowledge which is that individuals not only participate as passive readers, viewers and consumers of products, but also as knowledge makers and creators. Thus, the phrase ‘knowledge society’ only captures part of the prospect; ideally, our educational programs have to graduate people who belong to the ‘knowledge-making society’. The term ‘prosumer’, a combination of (producer + consumer), which was coined by Robbins (2007), is adequate to represent the profile of the knowledge-making society member.
The starting point for this series has been that there is a need for applying optimization procedures on the current resources available for the Sfax University education system. Keeping in mind the features of the target knowledge society, it is conceivable that the resources can be made to produce a graduate profile that is more adequately prepared to actively participate in knowledge making.
In part two of this series, I hope to be able to outline the broad characteristics of this very graduate in terms of the skills, competencies and attitudes that the system should impart to them if they are to adhere to the requirements of the global knowledge-making society.
Answers.com. Optimization. http://www.answers.com/topic/optimization?cat=technology
Rheingold, Howard. “Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement." Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. Edited by W. Lance Bennett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 97–118. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262524827.097.
Robins, S.M. Virtual Worlds as Web 2.0 Learning Spaces. Educause. February 05, 2008. Podcast retrieved from the World Wide Web, February 06, 2008: http://connect.educause.edu/blog/gbayne/elipodcastvirtualworldsas/46116
Walker, K. et al. ‘The uPortal Project’. Educause. November 7, 2007. Podcast retrieved from the World Wide Web, February 6, 2008: http://connect.educause.edu/blog/kellywalker/e07podcasttheuportalproje/45525
Wordweb Online Dictionary. http://www.wordwebonline.com
Monday, March 3, 2008
Saturday, January 19, 2008
The first impetus for getting published is simply the sheer joy of it. Here, I wish to share a personal story. 1999 marked the first time at which I sought to publish poetry online. I came across a site maintained by a young man where he published his poetry and invited other people to publish theirs. I can’t recall the title or the URL, but you can be sure that the first time ever in my life I saw one of my poems published on www, I was more than excited. I probably congratulated myself a number of times! I frequently shared musings over the guy’s poetry on the site, and he too was keen on commenting on my and other people’s poetry. Back then, that was very exciting. Even now, as I publish on Blogger, I find it extremely rewarding and no less exciting. The knowledge that you are (or will be) reaching out to people all over the world still has something of a magic touch to it: you are not writing to some professor who will be assigning a grade on a commentary whose life ends the moment the grade is assigned. Unlike essays, poems or thoughts you that wrote on scraps paper which were condemned to the dustbin every time you moved house or cleaned your office, what you write on the net is for the most part kept in active memory, and can be easily retrieved once it’s archived.
The importance of being earnest, to use Oscar Wilde’s acclaimed title, and the importance of being taken earnestly by the other are additional motivations to get published. In effect, what this is saying is that I think I got something worthy of sharing. This is a process of enrichment for the originator and equally for the target recipient or participant, as we now wish to refer to the audience. I will speak in my next post about the theoretical and mental values of composing, but for the moment, the point I am making is that writing assumes a meeting of minds, an encroachment in the sense these are two worlds, the originator’s and the target participant’s, both coming together for a while, a collision, an encounter, a mental handshake if you prefer a voguish term. I am rather fond of images, so I will say that the originator, though publishing stuff on the internet, and through being read, viewed or heard, has given themselves the chance to emerge, much like a plane emerges on a radar screen, on the mental or representational theater of a reader/participant.
As a result of this process, the originator will have been recognized, at least for a while, and will have been given a name. The originator is thus no longer Mr./Ms. Incognito, but is an identifiable person with a name, a face, and a story. Simply put, when you publish and get noticed, you are nudging your CV one point upward. This doesn’t mean that the originator has become a full-fledged expert all of a sudden. Nobody can claim expertise on the strength of one or many encounters. This is a process, but this encounter is a step in the direction of developing a respectable say in the matters under consideration. And it feels good to develop a profile of a knower or an authority in one field of another.
There are other reasons why a person should want to get published. One of these is that getting published is a way of sharing one’s representation of reality, and I mean this is a very serious sense. What does it mean that a person is giving expression to one’s view of the world? This will bring me back to two views of reality in epistemological discourse (see Crotty, 1998). There is one view of reality as something that has always existed, independently of the viewer, of experience, and the knower. In this sense, reality antedates the person; it exists in an objective world, quite apart from our individual or social awareness of lack of awareness of its existence. The example I like to borrow from Crotty is that trees, mountains, forests and the universe exist quite apart from our awareness of their existence. Against this essentialist definition of reality is another definition which carries a more human touch. This is the view that reality is what a person, any person experiences. Thus, we needn’t require that researchers hide behind an experimental toolset to conclude that today’s weather for instance is not convenient for fishing. It will be left to the senser themselves, the person, the experiencer, with their knowledge and intuition, to categorize reality as they see it. This specific understanding is one of the directions I am trying to convey as one reason for wanting to get published. When you get published, in any form, visual, audio, video, graphological, what you’re doing is to offer your perception of the world around you to exist side by side with other perceptions. Which perception will make it into textbooks and will acquire for itself the knowledge tag, I don’t know, but what is important is through a certain process of creation, you will have contributed to human knowledge and to the documentation of that knowledge. Unlike the limited volume of a paper journal where people fight for space, the internet has enough room to accommodate everyone. In this understanding, everyone is a knower, and as such, they are entitled to publicizing their own versions of reality.
The other aspect that is closely related to this notion of representation of the world is what I would like to call self-representation. This only slightly differs from the point above by making what amounts to a statement of the obvious. Okay, well, listen to this tautology: no person is in better position to represent him/herself than the person him/herself. I hope that upon examining this somewhat vacuous statement, we will find that it isn’t totally devoid of substance. There is the traditional Arabian adage, that only (s)he/who treads on an amber will be able to feel its heat. Fair enough. Now, supposing that I had strong views about a particular topic, for example, the need to reconsider the curriculum in light of Information and Communications Technology developments, and supposing that I didn’t take the initiative of publishing those views anywhere, I would imagine it relatively difficult for someone else to translate and convey the ideas I had about this issue in the manner I personally perceive them. In other words, and without wanting to contribute another empty statement, not even the most sophisticated machine or person will be able to scan my brain to faithfully render, reflect or account for the dimensions of the issue under consideration. It is in this sense that engaging in the act of self-expression and self-represenation is a salutary exercise.
Remaining on the sidelines and failing to engage in the act of publishing means that somewhere or other, there is a vacuum, a vacuum of expression, meaning that there was an issue that one should have written about but fell short of doing. A natural law is for vacuum to get filled. Someone else would thus take charge of representing my case. There is a strong chance that the representation made by the second party of my own case will not square well with how I personally envision the matter. Even if that person were to be actuated with the best intentions, it will be likely that the person concerned whose case is being debated comes out dissatisfied, because the author, the writer, the expresser will have presented the issue from an angle of view that does not do justice to the person on whose behalf this representation is being made. My provisional working assumption here is that the writer or representer is not embarking on misrepresentation in the first place. When that assumption is wrong, when the person who has taken initiative to represent someone else who shuns the act of writing is a person whose business it is to misrepresent that person, the result is going to pretty grim. The fact of the matter is that the moment a person fails to represent themselves before the world, they will have to live with the consequences of being ‘unrepresented’, ‘under-represented’ or misrepresented.
I think I am going to leave off it here for today. Let me just summarize. I began this story by sharing ten ways to get published on the internet. What this means is that it getting published on the newfound space of the internet is easy and not taxing, averaging a computer and an internet connection. Getting published is not a random or erratic act. What I did in this specific post was to talk about some of the reasons for wanting to get published. I mentioned in particular the gains to be made on a personal level as a result of this process. I also spoke of the social value of sharing, in a world where the term ‘sharing’ has become more like an auxiliary or a helping verb. I alluded to the goal of contributing to knowledge making as additional motivation for publishing. Finally, I tried to explain the representational and self-representational values of any acts of publishing. In my next blog post, I wish to address myself to the kinds of gains the writer is likely to make at the level of mental representation, a sort of a theory of writing or publishing. Stay tuned.
Ali H. Raddaoui, University of Sfax, Tunisia
Crotty, M. 1998. The Foundations of Social Research. Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process. Sage Publications.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
I guess the most important message to take home from Part One of this blog is that getting published has never been easier. Whereas in the past, before web 1.0 and before there was any web at all, disseminating any kind of work was limited to those who followed stringent writing standards that antedated them, with so-called web 2.0, being read, viewed or heard has become something within the reach of almost anyone with a computer and an internet connection. There is no unattainable technical knowledge to speak of that could stand in the way of communicating or transmitting content of any type. In a way, there were all those watchdogs, panels, editors, gatekeepers, who had for themselves a say on what was to make it to print and what was to be ditched. And you couldn’t do much about that either.
NOW, IT'S EASY TO GET PUBLISHED.
At this juncture, you are your own arbiter, to a very comfortable extent. It’s up to you to decide what you want to publish, when you want to publish and how you want to word, or, if you prefer a more general term, how you want to package what you want to publish. At a bare minimum, we can all do chatting. You might want to call that an informal, standard, and unmarked way of getting published. Then we can also comment on someone else’s writing, write a blog, make a podcast, or upload a video. You don’t need a cutting-edge digital camera to do that. Your regular webcam can do the job. Barring that, you can shoot video with your or your child’s mobile phone camera.
In this wide and easy sense, getting published means leaving a visible or audible footprint or mark on the web as digital global theater. And instead of submitting your content to editorial filterers, you now have a community of intelligent and informed consumers to prop you, to give you feedback, to offer you alternative views, and to engage with you, albeit negatively. Actually, the term ‘consumers’ is not a correct characterization of today’s readers and viewers. As Dan Gillmor aptly remarks, the term ‘audience’ has now given way to ‘participants’, in the sense that the relationship obtaining between you as content producer and the viewer/reader is no longer one where viewers are passively watching or listening. They too, are actively involved in interpreting what they come across, and you are very likely to see them respond to your input.
Nor is internet space to host your production at a premium either. In the early days of the web, one needed to get webmaster certification to start your one's own website and many tutorial hours on how to use html, how to upload pictures, how to tweak the margins, how to pad cells, how to upload files into an FTP, etc. Now, you really can do without much of this stuff. Space is free for those who want free space. Otherwise, it’s no longer prohibitive. Ready-made, free and open-source templates are available, big time. We can all become citizens of the web, or as Peter Coffee puts it, ‘webizens’.
There are other signs of ease, averaging an internet-rich environment. The fact of the matter is, these days, all opinions count. You needn’t be versed in esoteric theory to publish. There is like an unwritten rule which says that when you publish on the web, you are indeed publishing to communicate. Your target is to touch Mr. and Ms. everyday person in the street, in the field, in the locale, and anywhere people walk or talk. Actually, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you decided to speak ‘above people’s heads’, if you pardon the expression. In the new medium, you publish to be read, to be heard, to be viewed. Also, anything counts. Your opinion is as good as anybody else’s. Your views matter. They may not matter to everyone who comes across them, but they will matter to some people, those that are interested in the issues of concern to you, and there should be no dearth of them, planet-wide. Seeing eye to eye on these issues isn't a precondition for communication either; in fact, quite the reverse is very often also true.
Before I’m done for this post, I must stress that the web, as is, may be furnished with possibly 85% of stuff English. But whoever said you can only publish in English, or only in the major languages of the world, those that boast more than 100 millions speakers. The web is decidedly multilingual, and thankfully so. There are translation and localization engines all over the place, and interesting content will make its way to those who find it interesting across languages and despite language barriers.
Ultimately, the object of this blog is to tackle the question of why one should wish to get published at all. I think I will leave this for Part Three. Subsequently, I hope to look into the implications of this irreversible trend for communication and curriculum.
KEYWORDS: Web 1.0; Web 2.0
Dan Gillmor. We the Media. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, January 2, 2008: http://www.authorama.com/we-the-media-3.html
Peter Coffee. Webizens of All Ages. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on January 4, 2008:http://blog.sforce.com/sforce/2007/06/webizens-of-all.html.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
The central idea for this blog post comes from a podcast where a gentleman from the Buckinghamshire educational district in England made a point about the new-found freedom the world wide web has given people to publish their views and ideas without intermediaries. In traditional academe, publishing was the monopoly of refereed or peer-reviewed journals entry to whose clubs was highly filtered. In the world of mass communication, getting published even in a local daily newspaper was a big deal. I remember the first time I had one of my poems published by a Riyadh newspaper. That was a grand moment. To be invited on a radio or television talk show is not given to everyone; you had to be a recognized expert of some level of renown. With the internet revolution, getting oneself published has become an unmarked, regular event that everyone and his sister could do without pain or fatigue.
I would like to elaborate on this issue of empowerment through offering concrete examples drawn from my personal experience for the most part. Below is a list of internet means and spaces where virtually anyone with an idea can virtually see themselves published. What is important to highlight is that this idea does not have to be at any level of maturity, sophistication, and 'far-fetchedness' if you will. It does not have to go through the filter of a jury or an editorial board to be given the seal of approval. In a globalized and wired world, it is never a question of one's ideas being simple, naïve, banal, immature or irrelevant. There is thankfully plenty of room for all, and all of our thoughts are always at some level of elaboration. The point is that it's through interaction, tossing around of ideas, getting feedback on those ideas from circles and persons that you least expect to be interested in the issues raised that ideas change, grow, gather moss, and see the light. I guess I am addressing myself basically here to those that never tried the following avenues for speaking their minds out. The list I produce is certainly not an exhaustive one, but it's a place to begin the sharing journey.
1. Make a youtube video
I begin with www.youtube.com because of the ease with which anyone, techie or not, is capable of airing video material for the world to see. You needn't be a member of any association, nor do you need green light from anyone. A fair representation of youtube is that it is, like many other spaces that do the same function, an open space for use by the most erudite, the shrewdest, and most sophisticated people as well as for anyone that has anything to share, be it even a view of the city or country where they live, a show of talent they possess, a news story they have witnessed, a drive or walk through an island, or a novel trend or a fad, or a parody or whatever. All you need is a sequence of video of your own making, or for which you have right to publish, and there, in just a few minutes, you can share it with the rest of the world.
2. Start your own web site
This may be a little bit more demanding, but given that there are more web hosts that allow you to build your own site than I know of or care to name, it is tempting for anyone to try and make a representation for themselves, without having to go through third parties. Of course, if you'd rather give the contents of your web site to a company that specializes in building web sites, that's fine, but otherwise, you can go it alone. There is normally plenty of online support to guide you through the process, and with some dedication, it is normally possible for anyone to have a working web site of their own possibly within minutes. For a free web site, try 0catch: http://signup.0catch.com/signup?p=0catch , or try the more popular geocities, also for free: http://geocities.yahoo.com/
3. Make your own blog
Blogging as a way of networking and communicating with a wide audience on specific or general areas of interest for the blogger has been gaining popularity for at least the past three to four years. You can make your blog as high-tech or academic and high-brow as you like, but that is not the intention at all. If the content you wish to publish in your blog is in the form of a rigorously composed research piece with a systematic review of the literature and a principled section on data collection method, and so on, then a traditional journal article will be a better venue. If, however, you mean to communicate informally or semi-formally, and wish to share your ideas in a more personalized way than is usually permissible in the world of academic publishing, starting your own blog is the answer. There is no dearth of free blog hosts but here are two, just for the record. The first is where you are reading this very posting: https://www.blogger.com/start . Another celebrated space is: http://wordpress.com/signup/. Try them out. They will give you a voice that would have cost dearly only a few years ago. Now, they are free, and free for all.
4. Create a podcast
Podcasts are similar to blogs except for one difference. Whereas blogs are pieces of writing for the most part, podcasts are defined as: 'a n audio broadcast that has been converted to an MP3 file or other audio file format for playback in a digital music player or computer. Basically, all you need is a microphone connected to a computer, and a sound-recording software available by default in all versions of MS Windows or Linux. For MS Windows, simply do the following: START>PROGRAMS>ACCESSORIES>ENTERTAINMENT>SOUND RECORDING. Click the recording button, improvise or read out what you wish to say, save it, and find a podcast host for it. There are many such services available for free. I am certainly not here into the business of recommending any particular podcast host, but following is the URL for one that I have used, which requires very little technical knowledge: http://www.ziddu.com/register.php. For the price of entering your contact information, you get to publish your podcast, and you may even get paid for that if you wish.
5. Contribute an audio podcast of material written by someone else before 1923.
This is a variation of creating your own podcast. Whereas in 4 above, you go ahead with authoring the very words of your own podcast and express your own point of view, what you are invited to do here is to read out excerpts or full chapters of books that are considered to be part of the public domain and for which copyright laws are no longer applicable. In your own voice, you can read and store for public use sections of ancient and pre-1923 poets, philosophers, thinkers, novelists, mathematicians and whomever you think should be introduced to the wide world. Take for instance Open Culture as a repository of educational and cultural podcasts, Make your voice heard by choosing an author of your choice and be part of an international community of readers that is intent upon making classic books and writings available on a wide basis. The address to contribute is: http://www.oculture.com/2006/10/audio_book_podc.html.
6. React to other people's writing
This actually can take many forms. Look for example at the bottom of this blog, and you will find a comment's button. As you read this blog, there may be ideas that pop into your mind by way of endorsing or questioning what I am saying here. The privilege will be all yours to just air your views in writing, and sometimes in video, as you now can, after watching a youtube video. The only rules to follow when responding to whatever is being posted is that you should avoid offensive language, and using other people's ideas or words without acknowledging the source. Otherwise, you will be free to leave a trace of your take on what you read, and this is precisely what the author wants you to do. I had a chance to react to tips sports people gave on how to stay healthy. While this is only a response to what someone has written, you may actually develop your response to be a full entry in its own right. You can use a nickname or your real name, and voila, your are getting published, and are sharing your views with the Smiths, Saeeds and Su Chis of the world.
Virtual learning environments, also called learning management systems (LMS) are the catchphrase in the corporate circles as well as in primary, secondary and tertiary education environments. These represent the perfect place for any teacher or trainer to host their material and make it available for their students or trainees. You won’t need to know too much about how to furnish these learning spaces. And if you do need to, there are communities of users who will provide plenty of explanation for you to start your first steps in making use of web-based instruction. Nor do you need to pay fees. Many high quality VLEs are free, open source platforms, Your school, university or company administrator may install the platform for you, and you will be able to author your course. For those who are still technophobic, you can try the user friendly Internet Classroom Assistant (ICA) called Nicenet at www.nicenet.org. Within a few clicks, you will find yourself in an environment that is intuitive and self-explanatory. You can make a difference in the lives of learners who may not have the time to travel all the way to the training or study site. For others who are ready to explore a bit before populating the platform, there is a most celebrated learning platform called Moodle. Just visit www.moodle.org. Install a local version on your PC and familiarize yourself with this promising space.
10. Contribute an article to an online journal
This is not a challenge by any stretch of imagination. The grip print journals once had on what is considered publication-grade is weakening. Internet readership seems to require a different level of writing with a less dense style. E-zines and e-journals are proliferating by the day. Even print-based journals are shifting to having electronic versions of their journals, and sometimes electronic only. To be sure, online refereed journals do have their own standards and follow recognized, if still negotiable formats, but they represent a real chance for young researchers to publish their work and get read by a wider audience than they were capable of, say ten years ago. The Reading Matrix, http://www.readingmatrix.com/ is one such journal that you can try for your next article or paper in the area of second language acquisition and more generally in applied linguistics. You can also try the Internet TESL journal http://iteslj.org/ and send research articles, lesson plans, book reviews, and activities for students of English.
Interview with Ian Usher, E-Learning Co-ordinator for Buckinghamshire County Council's School Improvement Service about 'The use of Moodle authority wide’. Conducted by Leon Cych. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at: www.l4l.co.uk/mp3/L4L003.mp3
Phillipson, R. Personal Communication. May 12, 2003.