Weakly Post #13

A collection of things I have read this week, and some tools for tech and/or learning new stuff, especially languages. Your first comment is checked, after that you are free to comment.

Learning: Laura Ritchie writes about making web pages and online courses. Matching the message to the audience is the key. Or maybe finding an audience for your message. Reminds me of the definition of a politician, one who gets in front of a line and makes noise. But this is different.

Language: Research papers often have impenetrable jargon-laden language with obtuse grammatical structures. Read about the movement to write in simpler language. I really like MIT Media Lab because they already make at least a version of much of their research in language comprehensible to the layman. A good example is one I am using next semester in my class, to teach about reading research papers. The ideas are all there, but the language is easier to understand. This one is about children learning from robots.

Tech: Inspiration for when I retire in a few years. An 83-year-old becomes a game developer. Gets well enough known that Tim Cook from Apple met her. Right here in Japan, too. (CNN)

Politics: Sad, sad story from Myanmar and China. Kachin (NE Myanmar) women sold into sexual slavery to Chinese men because there is a shortage of women in China because of the one-child policy years ago. Once the Kachin women have a kid, they can return home, but without the kid. (Guardian)

Research: I just finished an article where I had an embarrassingly rich amount of data, and a great way to analyze it, but could not find any significant relations among groups. Maybe that was not so bad. Researchers are taking a look at what really is statistical significance. (Vox)


Materials for becoming a responsible digital citizen ($40).

Watch a series of videos about how conservatives (and extremists) think in the US. Good balanced approach (BoingBoing). Much like the one from Jennifer Lawrence (YouTube).

A really good list of things to do to increase your privacy online. Get Firefox, install some extensions, use StartPage as your search engine, use DNS Start form the first one and work your way up. But don’t wait.

Weakly Post #12

Open Learning is on the table and in a MOOC for the next three weeks. Perfect timing as we had graduation yesterday and will have Entrance Ceremony in early April.

Economics are much more important than we give them credit for. The interface with politics is especially fraught, especially these days. But the quest for Economic Dignity is something we all need to consider. My father taught economics in high school and a big supporter of unions. I remember his strike as a small child. Now my daughter is considering whether to strike as a grad student. Seems it happens more often than most think. (Democracy Journal)

Neat study on how kids interact with robots for learning. (MIT). Also neat is that the article is in plain English, making it great content for my classes. The author even makes a Spearman’S Correlation understandable. Spoiler: The more the kids related to the robots socially, the more they learned.

We have a new project in my zemi next year, and I am getting cranked. Raspberry Pi (appropriate for just after pi day), is a small computer that costs about $40. Our zemi has book money every year, but last year I spent it on 4 of those, with kits to build lots of different stuff. I have never tried it before with students, but last year the 3D printer was a success, so onward and upward. Sony also uses these little computers to help around the factory. Pretty good recommendation. (Forbes)

Interactive Fiction took a great leap forward with Bandersnatch on Netflix. The multiple-path (Choose-your-own-adventure) story took a few experiments they did with short animations last year, to a whole new level. And now they seem to be doubling down on that commitment. Can’t wait. I will be using a tool for writing IF called Twine, the same tool they used before they developed a new tool that works with video. (Variety)

All you Talking Heads fans out there, this is a must listen from a musician from Benin. Great adaptation of Once in a lifetime, by Kidjo. She does the whole album if you like that one. Check out her rendition of Summertime. (BoingBoing). Speaking of music, I knew that Shazam will find a song playing on the speakers, but I discovered that

As the police killed Eric Garner in Staten Island for selling cigarettes, they did not consider people filming them, as they were the early days of citizen surveillance. But beware. There are consequences. Read about Ramsey Orta. Most whistleblowers end up regretting it, so we have to celebrate their courage. (Watch these movies). Also, being on a jury can have some long-term consequences when the system is screwed up. You can’t fix the conviction, even after the broken law has been turned over. Long read at Slate. Guilty.

My brain goes too fast sometimes. To slow it down I watch some Netflix and play spider solitaire at the same time. I read a lot of Ian Bogost  (pretty much everything with games in the title, starting with his best and most theoretical, Persuasive Games). He created a game called Cow Clicker as a joke. All you do is click on cows. Turns out, it has become popular. Kind of like my solution for a slower brain. Anyway, get the skinny on these kind of worthless attention-sucking games. (AVClub). Do you dare click the cookie?

Beware, the internet knows more about you than your spouse. Take it seriously, this is Scientific American. Here is another one more specifically about Google. (Axios). Check out what happens in 1 minute on the Internet..

A list of tools for “instructional coaches” (I think she means teacher trainers, but with tech thrown in.) Here is some good presentation software that goes beyond powerpoint. The blog is rich with this kind of post; laden with jargon, lots of tools, and connections to sponsored content. Some posts are better than others. (Class Tech Tips).

Google Docs are becoming a standard part of education in the US. Here are 7 ways to use it for writing for bilingual students. The teacher also talks about RSS feeds as sources for writing prompts. On the other hand, I guess Google Docs are becoming popular in grade school classrooms as a way to pass notes. Rock on for all except control freaks.

Over at Moodle I am helping (a little, with feedback) on a new social network for teachers. It is a federated network (kind of like franchising for restaurants) so there is no central computer where all the data is kept. The first I heard of this was a Twitter replacement I have been using for a couple of years, Mastodon. Here is how to get started on Mastodon. I will let you know when Moodle.net is ready.

Any developers out there might be interested in a great tool, recommended by Nik Peachey. Raptivity. Especially good for language teaching as it focuses on interactions.

A look at teaching and using data to make the classroom culture more focused on learning than grades. Two parts.

Another conference this summer, which might combine well with EuroCall in Belgium, is the Conference on Games.

Read about professional development in CALL. Daniel Mills is in there.

Open Learning

I was reading Stephen Downes’ RSS feed (oldaily) when I came across another cMOOC. His last one was so good I cannot pass up the opportunity to try another one. (Even though I have contributed to many, starting with CCK08).

Now that I am on “spring break” with graduation tomorrow and the party on St. Pat’s, I will have time to devote to this curious idea that has become a lot more relevant lately. Namely, Open Pedagogy. Looking forward to it.

Weakly Post #11

I have been wailing away on research about extensive reading. I was able to collect data from 232 students over the course of a year. Because they used a software platform (Xreading) to access their books, I was able to get very specific data such as how many words they read, reading speed, the level of difficulty of the books, even when they logged in to read. But trying to see if there is any relationship between that and a measure of general language (TOEIC) is difficult. Almost nothing is significant, lots of noise. My main problem is the TOEIC scores, which vary widely among the 3 times students took it that year, especially the reading portion. It’s like trying to hit a moving target.

But I have discovered a great new way to analyze the stats. JASP is open-source software that allows you to look at many different relations, from correlations to regression all the way back to simple descriptive statistics. The only word that comes to mind is flexible, you can use the data in so many different ways, so easily, and then port the results into already formatted tables in your article. It is light years better than using SPSS or Statistica. Try it out.

The Proceedings of that great conference I went to at MIT last August is now out. The Connected Learning Summit brought together groups in education, technology and gaming. I keep remembering the presentations I went to. Now I can refer back to their specific content.

Another conference I just got back from was Moodle Moot Japan (a moot has something to do with a meeting in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, I think). But here it is an annual conference. This year founder Martin Dougimas spoke and it blew me away. I have been using Moodle for about 20 years, and it keeps improving. This year he showed new directions for Moodle Workplace (adapting to corporate learning) and use in NGOs across the world, from Germany to Cambodia. It is a great example of open-source software and the people helping to make it better. Certification is coming soon for training. I am considering doing the courses to become a trainer as a way to keep my hand in after I retire in a few years. I am also helping in a small way with feedback their new Moodle.net social application where teachers, admins, users can get together online. Think of it as Facebook for Moodle, but in a much better light.

Reading list for the week

It pays to read the fine print. One woman did and discovered that she had won $10,000 (NPR). Light bulbs have gotten a lot more efficient, and you can see how much (NYTimes), unlike leaf blowers, whose 2-stroke engines continue to pollute the air and with noise. James Fallows shows through local political work, the gas versions can be banned, better to use the electric versions (Atlantic). Good in-depth coverage of Huawei and why it is such an important company. The scientific paper is obsolete (Atlantic), use online notebooks instead, like Jupyter, an open-source alternative to Github. Opinion in the NYTimes about the oppression of the supermajority in the US. Government is broken. Wait a minute..Walmart and socialism? Will one lead to the other? A book, on my reading list (BoingBoing). Praxis, kind of like curiosity in your professional field. Never stop learning (blog).

Google slides is great for more than just making presentations. You can make a choose-your-own-adventure story or make a jeopardy game. Learning vocabulary is easier with a system. Here is one. I think it needs an extra step at the beginning where you decide whether the word is worth learning (Ferlazzo). Measuring motivation: Use this manual (pdf)as a basis. There are ones specific to language learning, but this you can apply in more areas. A good resource on how students search for information online, important for Connectivism. Another about Connectivism applied to EFLĀ (pdf) (English as a Foreign Language) in Iran.

Weakly Post #10

This should have gone out yesterday, but the weather was so nice, a bike ride along the river and a visit to sister-in-law pushed this back. Maki’s sister is going to take care of the cat while we drive out to Nagoya and get their mother ready for moving out of her home to a nursing home near our house here in Tokyo. We will drive up to the countryside in Gifu so she can sell her family house, bought many years ago for about $100,000, and now worth $15,000 (mostly for the land, the neighbors will rase the house and grow vegetables). Another indication on the hollowing out of rural Japan as it empties into the Tokyo basin called Kanto, now with almost a third of the entire population.

Maki and I were also watching the 30th anniversary of the ascension of the Emperor when we both realized that we got married six weeks later. So now I in the market for a nice 30th wedding anniversary present for April 15. Suggestions welcome.

Reading list for the week
Reading list for the week

News: People in the US, most notably in Fountain Colorado, near Colorado Springs, are seeing some really nasty chemicals in their drinking water. Turns out that the military (which has 3 bases in the area) are the source. The military does not seem too concerned about rising cancer rates in the area, minimizing the problem. Unfortunately, this has historical antecedents. Kodak, in Rochester New York, in 1945, noticed that their x-ray film was fogged. They discovered it was run-off from military nuclear testing. So the military quietly told Kodak the days when the water they let out was “hot”. Nobody notified the public. When will people learn never to trust their government? (Popular Mechanics)

Media: Is there any way to monetize (make a buck off of) digital media? People keep trying and failing. This time, Buzzfeed, following AOL, Yahoo and Huffpost. (NYTimes)

Media: Joi Ito from MIT’s Media Lab (I saw him at a Media Lab conference last summer) has just proposed a way to solve the expensive journal article problem in science. Keep your eyes peeled for PubPub and Underlay. (Blog)

Media: Netflix is making the world more international. Really. It makes a lot of business sense, but is also good for the world. Surprisingly. Farhad Manjoo. (NYTimes)

Media: Favorite headline for the week, but also on how to manipulate media for political purposes, this one about privatizing the internet. Blockbuster Gizmodo investigation reveals probable masterminds of the massive anti-Net Neutrality identity theft/astroturf campaign. Includes bots and dead people. Another one about the same topic, this time the government lying with statistics in manufacturing. (Mother Jones)

Communication: Scientists figure that only a small percentage of a verbal message is contained in the selection of words. Use this to explore the 24 sounds humans use to communicate. All those sighs, grunts and moans. Captivating. (Discover Magazine).

Tech: Read these 6 stories about rewriting your program online. A good idea? Depends. EdTech: Training your customers (support)? Use some ideas from online education. This will probably be the direction I go when I retire from the uni in a few years. I have a feeling I am leaving academia at just the right time. Expecting my retirement to be exciting. Download the 48-page report Shift Happens 2 to find out why it is a good idea to be looking at other avenues if you are teaching at a university. Stephen Downes thought this was an unusual EdTech “device”: bring a baby to class and have students watch to practice empathy. Seems to work, though. With Facebook and Instagram and other social media getting toxic, it is worth a look at how Forums work online (by Howard Rheingold). Toxic is right, with China forcing DNA tests on the Uighur minority. (NYTimes) Online Petitions don’t work. Just ask the people behind #FuckFuckJerry. (Atlantic)

Productivity: Stephen Wolfram is productive. He talks about the many ways and tools he uses. (Blog). There are a lot of ways to measure success, once you become productive. Try some Effective Altruism to make your life better as well as the lives of others. (Forbes)

Politics. Steve Salita got fired from his university lecture position for tweeting about Palestine. He is now a bus driver. He writes about how things have changed and how they haven’t. I just wish society would be consistent in prosecution by tweet.

Learning: Valuable new look at learning in this book review and interview of How Humans Learn. Is teaching an art or a science?

Free Podcasts for learning English. I have not listened to any of these, so if you have an opinion, please comment. Thanks. Watch this Video about Questions from the Right Question Institute. It works. I have tried it, and use it regularly in class. Adapted of course. Buy the book. Or take the $200 grad school course from Harvard. TechTool: Keep your blog syndication simple (use RSS!) (CogDog)

And finally, a concert with the boys. A colleague pointed us to a group coming to Tokyo in June. I have been a fan of Susan Tedeschi, but lost track of her about a decade ago. Now I see she is singing with her husband and one-time Allman Brothers Band member Derek Truck. Great blues.