Saturday, November 01, 2008

How I share my information

In the past few weeks, I have been having discussions with people about how to share information online so that their interesting projects can find an audience. In one of these discussions, most of the text of this post came out as an email. I have referred to it enough times that the idea needs its own web address.

For online, I like free. I also like instant availability and worldwide access. I aspire to travel, sometimes I actually do. One thing I hope is that people in other parts of the world will see some of my work and that of the people around me and be inspired to think about it and maybe even try something similar.


Posting photos is much more useful than leaving them on a hard drive. I am using flickr for my photos. For a pro account it's $25 a year for unlimited uploads and storage (yes I have tried to find the limit). I started using it because of the Make Flickr Pool. Happy ever since. I put everything up, and it is basically a second place to store it in case something tragic happens to my hard drive. Another nice thing about it is that if I recall a photo, I can get at it no matter where I am or who I am working with. Sometimes it comes in handy as a way of illustrating a point. Sometimes it allows me to do something creative on short notice. Sometimes I just need to use it to move a picture from one computer to another without a flash drive. If it goes into my Flickr account, it is retrievable.

Most digital cameras have video capability. many cellphones do as well. Since we have them with us most if not all the time, we should use them. Youtube is good as a place to put the videos, mostly because of the community and audience that it will reach. Vimeo has fewer ads, and the quality seems better. Flickr also has video, but it is new and the size and duration of the files is pretty limited.

There are many other ways of making a wiki, I use pbwiki for most of my daily online text posting. Mediawiki is more powerful, but more like driving a manual shift car. There are probably better solutions, but the markup is incredibly easy, and again, its free. When I start a new project, I just make a new wiki and add it to my little wiki farm. I have a few dozen at this point, and see no reason to stop there. Each wiki gets about 10 megabytes of file storage. Certainly it is enough for text files, code and things like that.

Text and office documents

Open office should be the standard for hard drive based office type tools. Why should anybody pay for the software to make a text document or spreadsheet? If your document needs to be opened ofn MS Office, save it into that format. Free, open source software will help individuals and institutions save money and have more options.

Google docs seems useful, I have made a few text documents and that kind of thing. It is also possible for people to collaborate on a single document. The power is there, but not many people get it yet. It definitely is a good way of posting your work, like slideshows or spreadsheet so that other people can view it. A student of mine posted his presentation on electric cars vs. gas powered cars. I thought it was a nice way of sharing the info. The calendar is also useful, and linkable, other people can import it into their calendars and stuff like that. The main problem with google docs is that nobody seems to be in the habit of using it. google code looks useful, though I have not really set to using it. Gmail works for me, and being able to search through the messages for the info helps.

Often a blog post will start as an email to a particular person and then get copied into the blog interface. Wordpress, Moveable Type and Blogger are the blogging tools that I have tried. Blogger is the one I use for It allows me to add some tracking code for Google Analytics, and I can change the css skin pretty easily. Everything lives on the server, no software on the hard drive. Web browser access means that you can update worldwide. It does take a bit of learning to get at what it can do, I am still trying to get better at it.

Cross publishing
Lately, I am trying to tie all of my media together. My facebook account seems to be the binder. I have it set so that it has plugins for twitter, youtube, delicous and flickr. Whenever I update one of those, it sends a message over to facebook, which adds it to my wall and alerts all my friends. It is also possible to post a link so when I make a new blog posting or find something good online, I can share it with people through my wall. I have been trying to assemble a good list of friends who are really interested in the same kinds of education and hacking projects that I am. I like the list so far, and each time I do a collaborative project I seem to find more clever people to add to the list.

Tags are essential in the modern web. By tagging EVERYTHING, I can find it myself, and so can the other people in the world. Search engines use tags to find what is out there on the web. If there is a project that is unique to me and the people I work with, I create a tag and start using it. duxtech is the handle that I use for my high school technology and engineering program. connors934 is the handle I use for most of my online presence. By searching for that, it will show many of my social media accounts. Through poking around in those and in the tags that I use on them, you can see what I am up to.

Hopefully you found this helpful. Each of these systems takes time and patience to figure out. Once you get into it, you will find that there are powerful things that can be done by sharing ideas online. By showing others what your projects and ideas are, you can help find and build community around the interesting work you do.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Idea Capture with Writing

One of the things that I do is to reflect on the things that I do and write them up. As I write, I get more questions, and more clarity. I consider you to be my collaborators in education at this point, and value your opinion. It may be that I raise questions and observations that you share as well. If that is the case, then it would be very helpful to have a dialogue.

In reading the grants that funded the program this year, I did see several references to growth of the program to other programs and other cities. If that is to happen, we must make a trail of information for future program leaders and participants to follow. If we are to recruit teachers and organizers into the fold, then we need to have something to point to so we can show them the way we think about teaching, learning, organizational structure and the topics we cover in the program. We cannot rely on oral history to spread the word of how the program works. At some point, there must be a manual of sorts written so that others can emulate the policies, techniques and community building that has gone on at SETC for so many years.

While it is very important for the youth leaders and participants to write about their techniques and experiences, it is also important and essential that the adult leaders find ways of writing accessibly about their beliefs and techniques of how these programs and systems work and don't. There really should be a place for the adult leaders and mentors to share their ideas, theories experiences and dreams about the programs. It could be a great benefit in ways that we can't quite see at this time. The writing does not have to be extensive, and can be pointers to the important work of others.

It is my belief that the more that is written, the better. The reasons for writing are several:

Writing helps you remember
If you write something in a trusted place where you know you can access it again, you can stop trying to remember it. Your system remembers it for you. You can use email conversations, which can be archived. You can put it online in a blog or wiki, and make sure that the account stays active for as long as you need it. You can write it in a notebook and hang on to the notebook for as long as you need it. You can use loose pieces of paper to write it on, and keep the paper as long as the information is valuable. Using the writing, you can come back to an idea hours, days months or even years later when you need the idea again.

Writing helps you think
As you write, new ideas and questions come to mind. These will give you a better understanding of the issues you face. It may be that the solution comes to you as you write, or you get a clearer view as you write about it. It may be that you come up with other parts of the issue show up in the form of questions to ask and find out about.

Writing saves you time
In the learning style we are advocating, participants get what they need when they need it. If somebody comes to you with a question and you have ten minutes, a half hour or an afternoon to answer it, then you do it right then. But what if people keep coming to you with the same question? It is better in that case for you to write it up and make it accessible. Then when people get in the habit of reading and researching in addition to speaking and using conversation to gather information, then they will come to you with better and more informed questions.

Writing can evolve as the ideas evolve
As people's beliefs, opinions and experience evolve with time, it is possible and advisable to go back and refine the written body of work. As ideas change, then they can be updated. If an idea becomes outdated, then it can be ignored and not read, or it can be rewritten to reflect the new thinking. Where the writing resides can make a difference to. It is possible to place greater or lesser prominence on it by showcasing it in various ways, like printing it out, putting it on the front page, quoting it in a blog entry and more.

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