This page was changed below the line placed on the page at the break time noted below. I saw that Bee had made no updates by then but she might have taken this off on a flash drive and worked offline ...
I am posting all metachat in the discussion area of this page .(Bee) so as not to get this messy.

Lecture 2: Web 2.0 and Social Networking: What you need to know about these concepts to get your students collaborating online, using tags, rss, and aggregation

150 word abstract - L2 and L1 writing courses increasingly incorporate Internet and on line learning activities as part of the syllabus and teaching materials. How does this change our teaching practices, and which free and collaborative online tools can be most appropriately applied in online and blended-learning courses? Here I will focus on freely available Web 2.0 tools and how they can promote collaboration in the context of social networking. In general we will cover the key concepts of RSS, tagging, and aggregation. More specifically we will see how Web 2.0 tools and applications such as blogs, podcasts, photo repositories, and a variety of other tools capable of creating artifacts on the Internet can be aggregated and harvested as learning objects that promote and augment communication and collaboration online, and promote writing through giving students interesting and meaningful ideas to write about, as well as providing them with audiences for their ideas


Resource There is more information about RSS and Aggregation here: http://www.geocities.com/vance_stevens/rss_edu.htm/

When I talk about writing on the Internet, what do I mean? It used to be that writing on the Internet meant sending an email or putting up a web page, but these techniques are rooted in Web 1.0 and we have seen that Web 2.0 not only gives scope for but requires interaction, conversation, commenting, collaborating. (do not fall into the commercial WEb 2.0 X 1.0 rethoric - check what Tim Berners- Lee says about it: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/berners-lee_disses_web20.php) It is not unusual for someone to put up a blog post and get a response right away from someone in another part of the world, and someone in yet another quarter to respond to the comment, perhaps with a counter-essay, and for me to hear on a podcast I'm listening to, a conversation responding to transactions that took place in that conversation only a day or two ago. The podcast might be recorded from a skypecast so that there might be multiple conversants present, and if I had been listening live I could have gone on and talked myself. Participants in such a conversation would likely be bloggers, so if the topic warranted it, I might find something that I said, or heard said, appearing in someone's blog very shortly.

This is how writing works in the blogosphere. It is uncontrolled by the forces to whom we have traditionally ceded control over what we read and write in the world of print. Since the invention of the printing press, this control has been largely top down. That is, there are publishers who are presumed to be experts in their field who have become arbiters of that process, and though they might be influenced by profit or by politics, when we walk into a bookstore and pay for our reading matter we are comfortable with the notion that we are purchasing quality. The i's have been dotted, all the t's have been crossed, and the prose has been distilled through a series of editors so that the hight level of quality of what we are about to read is maintained. And the ideas themselves have gone through a process that is designed to sell books, to ensure that quality, and to spare us from having to read something far afield from what we bargained for. I'm going to take this book home and read it before bedtime. I want to be reasonably sure that I'm getting what I paid for, that my money doesn't support causes much more radical than I am (or heaven forbid, radical on the opposite wing!), and that I will augment the part of my knowledge base that I anticipated needs augmenting, which is why I bought this book.

The trouble is, there are other people in the bookstore, and the books there must compete for their custom too, and it turns out that this has a narrowing effect on what gets published depending on what publishers are willing to risk in their business. There are many in what is known as the long tail who deal in niche areas where there is need for expertise but little profit because that niche is too specialized to attract many with money (or other forms of power). The traditional publishing world was not catering effectively to many of these people, and it turns out that, whereas we all have in common a mutual interest in many centrist issues, most of us also inhabit many of these niche areas where previously our voices and those of our closest colleagues in these niches were not being heard, if indeed we were able to find one another at all.

This is where you come in, You as in Time's person of the year. Now, in the read-write 21st century (Tim Berners Lee, Weaving the Web, 1999) if you have something to say you can publish it online, and quite likely it will be found and attended too. You can create a blog. You can start a wiki. You can post photos on Flickr, you can create freely accessible and creative online presentations with those photos or with your PowerPoint slides. You can support your points with charts made in Gliffy or other concept mapping tools, or with real maps from Google earth. You can collaborate on spreadsheets to manipulate data necessary to your work, you can talk with collaborators in real time, not just text chat, and you can record your conversations using free tools (like audacity, and virtual audio cables which you need to get both sides of a skype conversation) or manipulate recordings that others have made and shared via creative commons, non-commercial, share and share alike, license (another significant break from traditional publishing). Basically you can collaborate. And you can publish what you produce, free, online, in text, video, or audio, or in any other kind of digital medium, and share it, and use what other people have produced on the same basis.

And what do you lose? Quality? That's what a lot of people seem most concerned about before they have gained much experience with the system. When you buy that book you can rest assured that there is quality inside. It's been through a quality control process. True. It's also been through a filtering process, a process perhaps bordering on censorship, or that will introduce some other form of bias. But granted, it will be hard to avoid bias in anything you read (though it's somewhat galling to have to pay for bias), so perhaps people are concerned more about quality here. But let's talk about both, in balance. http://dig.csail.mit.edu/breadcrumbs/blog/4

One classic debate on this issue is whether tis better to consult a published Encyclopedia or Wikipedia, and let's leave cost out of it. Wikipedia for obvious reasons carries more current articles - the new Pope was named in Wikipedia the moment the smoke left the chimney (according to Stephen Downes, who himself had tried to be first), and you'll never find many of the terms or programs I've mentioned in these lectures in a printed encyclopedia, but you can look up anything I say here in Wikipedia. So currency is better with Wikipedia, and also scope. I'll find data giving how many articles there are in Wikipedia or number of words. Also those words are machine-searchable in Wikipedia, not so in any printed work, where we must rely on a relatively crude index. So on four counts (cost, currency, retrieval, and scope) Wikipedia seems preferable, and the what remains is the integrity and bias of that information, are there serious compromises to that that would compromise the validity of what you find in Wikipedia? Considering that some colleges have banned their students from citing Wikipedia articles in reports, there would appear to be some concern (or are they just trying to force the students to use something besides Wikipedia as a definitive reference on every question?)

I guess it depends on which nano-second you looked. There is a complaint that with wikibooks used in classrooms, teachers would have to have a locked down copy of what they saw one day and intended to show to students the next (or risk big surprises in class). There is no way to lock-down Wikipedia. Articles can change one moment to the next. But in general changes tend to be well mediated. In practice the wisdom of crowds prevails (it's only on the streets that riots break out; and even in abarent cases of cyber-bullying and flame wars, a community tends toward the middle). What we see with Wikipedia is that strong biases tend to be expunged, and people are i as a result careful with what they write in order to avoid attracting modification. Even cases of vandalism or spam tend to be dealt with quickly, either by humans or bots that continually troll Wikipedia.

You're probably wondering if I'm talking about reading or writing here, and you might be surprised when I say, but you might agree with me, that reading are writing are two sides of the same coin, utilizing in many cases the same cognitive and mental processes. Bill Grabe writes nicely about reading being a conversation with a text. There is much written on the processes of reading and writing resembling conversations with text, with thought, with wording, playing with words, and -- bringing it back to writing -- with anticipating an audience reaction, a real or imaginary one.

When we talk about people making changes in Wikipedia we are talking about a constant play with words, a constant interaction between readers and writers, and in the case of Wikipedia, but crucially NOT with a printed encyclopdeia, where the roles of readers and writers are completely distinct, anyone can take the role of reader or writer at any time. This is a huge breakthrough for consumers and creators of text. It is a role afforded particularly in wikis, and is a near-perfect match for the conversational nature of the read-write web; where the conversations envisaged in the Cluetrain manifesto play themselves out in schools and in other places on and offline where people interact.

The distinction between readers and writers is less well maintained in blogs. In blogs there is generally an author whose point of view predominates, though others have a chance to 'comment' - normally in a lesser capacity. Conversations can be sustained in this way, though few would take a comment in a blog ceriously enough to cite it or try to link directly to it in their own postings. For a comment on a blog posting to take the same stature as the original posting, that comment would have to be made as a posting in its own right in the commenters's blog. The second party in the conversation would then link to the original posting.

But this would be a one-way link. Readers of the second posting would see the link and click to the posting that started the conversation. But, how would readers of the first posting be aware of the second? Or if there was a third comment made in yet another blog post somewhere relating to the first two, how would the original posters be made aware that the conversation was continuing in some other corner of the blogoverse? Or set in a more specific context, how would the students and teacher in one class of writers know when students in another class, or readers anywhere in the world for that matter, had found something worth noting in their blog postings and blogged about it themselves?

This is where Web 2.0 gets interesting. There are many ways to find and filter content in the blogosphere. We'll go over these in some detail in the last lecture. After the last lecture I would like to feel that attendees had aquired not only an awareness, but a working knowledge of various aggregation techniques, and perhaps even new aggregation skills.

We'll start by listing the skills (videos here, the what is web 2.0, and what is RSS)

What is a blog? I would say that blogs have several characteristics, such as reverse chronological listing of postings, ability for readers to comment, ability to tag entries, and so on ... but in particular, blogs generate RSS feeds. This is very important, and a crucial aspect of blogs. We use these feeds to efficiently locate each other's blog posts.

What is RSS? RSS is a script that describes content. When you add a posting to a blog, the script, or 'feed' from your blog is updated. If I SUBSCRIBE to your RSS feed then I can know when you update your blog.

The following content changed or added 13:00 GMT June 9



To subscribe to your feed I must locate its URL. This is usually associated with an obvious graphic on your blog site. When I enter (paste) that URL into my aggregator, such as Bloglines, it will tell me (by displaying the link to your blog in bold) that there is something I haven't seen yet at your blog. Since yours is just one of many blogs I follow (you could be one of my many students in my many classes) I only need to check your blog when I see that its entry is bold in my aggregator.

Using a feed reader, you can subscribe to any content that generates an RSS feed. Nowadays you can find RSS or XML icons on any number of sites where content is frequently updated. Examples of such sites include output from content creation or forums of content management systems such as Moodle or Drupal, discussion postings in YahooGroups (where discussion on those lists has been made public), output from other aggregators themselves such as Stephen Downes's Edu_Rss or mashups of aggregated content possible with PageFlakes or MySyndicaat. Feeds can be set up to PULL content toward you on demand using a range of sophisticated filters and other techniques that Robin Good calls newsmastering.

PULL is a mindset requiring a mental mindset paradigm shift that is part and parcel of the shift required to transition from print literacy to multiliteracy. In the read-only century information was distributed top down utilizing PUSH technologies. The worst impact most of us suffer from having stuff pushed at us all the time is spam in our email inboxes, but if you look at how most offices are managed it also means that there is over-reliance for information distribution on email attachments to the point that to find the document everyone else seems to be referring to, each node has to develop its own unique and redundant information management system to cope with the deluge. If the office is re-envisaged, then documents are stored in one place and the master updated as required, but not only that, if I update the master, I don't send you an email and maybe PUSH that email out to a hundred people who don't care if the document is updated or not thereby increasing the deluge in their inboxes .. noooo ... in the office I have in mind we have a system whereby when that document is updated, those who are interested will have subscribed to the feed that alerts them that an update is available. The unique management system that each person has to master then is to be subscribed to the correct feeds. This system is a lot more streamlined and efficient than the one where we PUSH everything out to everybody and then wonder later why some people are working off out of date versions of our documents.

When I say "office" I mean here any setting where information has to be managed. An office could be a classroom of students. If I teach my students, through my example and through having them manage classroom information flow in the way that I do, then I expect that when they go to real world offices some of what they have learned will translate into the way that they manage projects they have been assigned. So I'm talking here about project management, and the projects I have in mind can be patterned on office organization, but they would also apply to management of information flow in a classroom (tracking of ongoing work and submission of final assignments), in a professional development group, or in any community of practice or collaboration project, including ones in which the teacher's purpose is to hook up writers in order to broaden the scope and enhance chances for meaningful feedback on students' writing.

The downside to this system, as was alluded to above, the one thing that people have to manage in order for the system to function, is that they have to be aware of the location of relevant content in the form of blogs or document repositories that they want or need to follow, and be subscribed to those feeds. This can be simple in case a task is well defined, but given the reality of the chaotic nature of content creation on the Web, it isn't really (or shouldn't be, in case we want to take advantage of the truly transformational power of the read-write web).

Let's take the case where I create a post and someone who follows my blog reads it and links back to me. Now in the system just outlined, I might follow my colleague's postings through his or her RSS feed, and I'll become aware of the link-back almost as soon as it's made as long as I'm checking my aggregator. But meanwhile a third person unknown to us has come on our postings and made a related posting on his or her blog we really should know about. How can we find that posting out of the thousands created in the last few seconds.

We might be able to unearth it through a normal search engine, or you could use http://blogsearch.google.com/ or http://technorati.com/ to search topics on listed blogs. There are other specialized services such as http://www.blog-search.com/ which lets you "Search for a blog, add your own blog or grab an RSS feed on the blog topic of your choice." The significance of the latter should be now be apparent if it wasn't already. Having an RSS feed of an aggregation of a specified topic is useful in that it keeps feeding results of constant updates on topic searches to your Bloglines or other aggregator. And if you want to construct your own specialized search as opposed to just "grabbing" one, and feed the results of that search via its own RSS link into your bloglines where you can monitor it at your leisure, this is also possible with PageFlakes and MySyndicaat.

However, we are still operating at the level of text found in blog postings themselves. There is a deeper layer, a meta-layer, of information that blog posts can, and should always, contain. These are called most generically TAGS but they also might be known as 'labels' or 'categories' in different Web 2.0 applications. Tags are difficult to describe to the uninitiated. They comprise an organization system known as folksonomy. A folksonomy is a system of classification created on the fly by users of that system. A folksonomy is to blogs and wikis and other tagged artifacts created as Web 2.0 learning objects as the Dewey Decimal System is to the Library of Congress. The latter is a hierarchical system ordained top-down in client-server fashion over a structured information dissemination network. Tags on the other hand are created ad hoc by users of information dissemination networks in peer to peer relationship to one another from the bottom up.
There is much written on folksonomies in copious Web 2.0 literatures (and probably not that much yet in traditional print literatures) giving the relative merits of the top-down client-server (precise, predictable, yet inflexible) vs. bottom-up P2P (sloppy, unpredictable, yet creatively comprehensive and adaptable) ways of classification. For our purposes, we can say that tagging is the key to collaboration for many purposes over the Internet as it has evolved to date, including that of bringing strudents together in writing projects.

There are two major systems for getting at information distributed over the Internet and classified by means of tags, and these are Technorati http://technorati.com and Del.icio.us http://del.icio.us. Whereas both base their power on tagging, the two operate in distinctly different ways. Technorati scans the blogosphere for tags that appear in blog posting, which were put there by the person who created the post. Del.icio.us on the other hand allows users of blog posts and all other web artifacts assigned their own URL to be classified according to the whims of the users of those artifacts.

Let's take these one by one. Technorati is the world's foremost authority on blogs. It constantly trolls the blogosphere and gathers statistics from the blogs it knows about. It knows about blogs that it can ping, or that ping technorati. Ping means that one server sends a data packet to the other and registers a response, thus verifying the existence of that server. In order for your blog (or your students' blogs) to be found by Technorati, either you have to have your blog ping Technorati manually, or you have to be using a blogging server that Technorati knows about so Technorati will simply go there and check for new blogs. If you use such a system then your blog must be made 'public' on that system in order that it will accept and respond to pings from Technorati.

If all is in order then you should be able to use Technorati to search for and find your students blogs based either on text strings that appear in the blog postings themselves (Technorati's default search mode) or on the tags your students have used (which is one of the options in Technorati's advanced search mode). If you use the latter mode, the system reports a few of the most recent postings tagged with the term you are searching, and you have to expend an extra click to see ALL of the postings on that term, but it is energy well spent, because at that point you will find a Subscribe button at the top of the full list. This is the RSS feed for the content you have just aggregated and if you copy its link location to your Bloglines or feed aggregator of choice then you will be able to monitor postings with that tag as they are harvested by Technorati.

Here is something I'm wondering about. I think we have discovered how to harvest tagged blog posts through Technorati. What if we want to add flickr photos to the mix. What do we have to do? Go to the Flickr site and find the RSS for the desired tag there and then put its link into a site that aggregates feed such as pageflakes or mysyndiaat? Thinking aloud, Vance

This is a powerful and productive way of collaborating with students and colleagues from around the world, who don't necessarily know of each other's existence at the time a project or blog posting was conceived. This system has been used to aggregate blog postings at numerous international conferences. Participants in these conferences are asked in advance to tag consistently with one another. For example, participants in the recent Webheads in Action Online Convergence http://wiaoc.org were asked to tag using wiaoc2007, and blog postings with that tag can now be aggregated using all of the techniques mentioned so far (and wiaoc is also a productive tag; try it). Accordingly the Future of Education conference that just ended, organized by George Siemens, also requested participants to use a pre-assigned tag FOE2007, and content associated with that tag is being aggregated at: http://www.pageflakes.com/ltc/10987119

To prepare for my course in Spain this summer, I instigated a project called Writingmatrix where a group of 4 teachers engaged their students in writing using blogs, and all had the students use the term writingmatrix. We then set about tutoring each other and the students in turn how to use tagging and rss to aggregate each other's blog posts. The project, still ongoing as long as there are students who wish to try it out and respond to one another's postings, worked remarkably well, as can be seen from some of the many artifacts which the Writingmatrix project left online:
  • The Writingmatrix collaborative wiki: http://writingmatrix.wikispaces.com
  • A workshop (2 hours) by Vance Stevens on-site at the TESOL Arabia Abu Dhabi chapter Tactile Tasks and Technical Tips conference, and Rita Zeinstejer online from Argentina, on April 21, 2007 on Writing in a flat world: better blogging through social networking. The recording is here: and the slides here.
  • An online presentation on May 18, 2007 at the WiAOC online conference by Vance Stevens, Nelba Quintana, Rita Zeinstejer, Sasha Sirk, and Doris Molero - Writingmatrix: CONNECTing students with blogs, tags, and social networking - links to recording and slides: http://webheadsinaction.org/node/174

The next step for the Writingmatrix project, and for this paper as well, is to describe how del.icio.us is used to help us organize content on the web according to folksonomies.

I am also waiting for Barbara Dieu to comment on these issue from her own perspective as authority on this topic, having applied these techniques to her http://www.dekita.org project (e.g. aggregation of content at http://www.dekita.org/orchard ... how is that done Bee?)

Finally, I might make a comment on http://me.dium.com which was pointed out to me recently by Lesley Shield.

Right now I'm taking a break, 13:00 GMT, Sat. June 9 - Vance