CCK08: Asking for help on network analysis of a blogroom

Oh, I enjoyed Valdis Kreb`s presentation Emerging networks (there are .pdf slides) very much. Pretty new stuff for me. I would like very much to try this kind of analysis in my blogrooms. Let’s make an example to look for useful hints.

With blogroom I mean the subset of the blogosphere constituted by the blog of my students. The students have the option to use a blog or to follow the course in a conventional way. If they choose the blog they can use it exactly as one uses a new exercise book: when the course is finished they can continue to use it, they can keep it for record or throw it away. Some more details on the blogroom and on students opinions are in a previous post.

Here I focus on analysis of the results.

The example refers to the class of medicine, 220 students (19-20 year old), first year of curriculum, Spring 2008, three months course on computer literacy.

Distribution of activities:

  • 145 entered the blogroom
  • 30 studied contents and made a final multiple-choice test
  • 7 cooperated in an open educational resources project
  • 38 not yet finished

Total number of posts written during the three months: 2379

Total number of comments written during the three months: 1691

For each blog, I know how many posts have been written and how many comments have been received.

Distribution of posts written by the students
Distribution of posts written in each blog
Distribution of comments to posts of others
Distribution of comments received by each blog

I used RSSOwL to extract these data.

It would be interesting to apply the analysis presented in Emerging networks to these data.

Two questions (before trying to write some code):

  1. Is out there a tool to extract data from a given blog community (list of blog addresses)? For instance, extract, for each student, the number of comments written to a given other’s blog?
  2. Which would be the most appropriate open source tool to generate data of the kind shown in Emerging networks and in Introduction to social network methods ?

CCK08: We are not at school

If we stay in this course as we stayed at school  we will probably find ourselves out of the course. The same word course should be forgotten.


The course has assignments but this does not means that all the assignments have to be done. One should write when feeling to have something useful to offer or something to ask for help, not just to have an assignment done.

We have not to write for the teacher (or against the teacher …) but to give something  to others and, eventually, to receive something back.


Words are very important. Knowledge cannot be always stored in words but, at any rate, words are a very powerful instrument to transmit knowledge. All powerful instruments should be used with parsimony. The minimum possible number of words that preserves a message is also the optimal number to transmit it in its entirety. More words will obfuscate it. Too many words may even annoy the reader.

The course is huge: long posts have less probability to be read.


Perhaps it is not bad to recall the six writing rules suggested by George Orwell.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Moreover, this is an international course. For many of us, English is the second language and not all of us had an optimal English education. If native english speakers indulge in affectation some participants may be cut off.

The success of this course depends much on the yearning to share ideas and experiences, not on the desire to show its own smartness or, worse, its own pugnacious skills.

Let’s be aware of dichotomization (CCK08)

The tendency to dichotomize issues is always strong, mostly when the new is at stake.

The discussion in this (outstanding) course makes no exception, ranging from the thoughtful reflections of Lisa Lane to the maximalist tirades of Catherine Fitzpatrick.

However, dichotomizations are dangerous because one may easily miss the whole picture and its complexity.

A couple of examples.

  1. Scientific literature – network
    From an An Open Letter to the U.S. Congress Signed by 33 Nobel Prize Winners (pdf):
    For scientists working at the cutting edge of knowledge, it is essential that they have unhindered access to the world’s scientific literature.  Increasingly, scientists and researchers at all but the most well-financed universities are finding it difficult to pay the escalating costs of subscriptions to the journals that provide their life blood.  A major result of the NIH public access initiative is that increasing amounts of scientific knowledge are being made freely available to those who need to use it and through the internet the dissemination of that knowledge is now facile.

    The clientele for this knowledge are not just an esoteric group of university scientists and researchers who are pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge. Increasingly, high school students preparing for their science fairs need access to this material so that they too can feel the thrill of research.  Teachers preparing courses also need access to the most up-to-date science to augment the inevitably out-of-date textbooks.  Most importantly, the lay public wants to know about research findings that may be pertinent to their own health diagnoses and treatment modalities.

    The scientific literature is our communal heritage.  It has been assembled by the painstaking work of hundreds of thousands of research scientists and the results are essential to the pursuit of science.  The research breakthroughs that can lead to new treatments for disease, to better diagnostics or to innovative industrial applications depend completely on access not just to specialized literature, but rather to the complete published literature.  A small finding in one field combined with a second finding in some completely unrelated field often triggers that “Eureka” moment that leads to a groundbreaking scientific advance.  Public access makes this possible.

  2. Enterprise policy – network
    An article entitled “An open secret” in the Oct 20th 2005 Economist issue reported that IBM in 2004 earned 3,248 patents and pledged 500 software patents to the open source community (IBM invested $1 billion in Linux), to allow open source developers to use the innovations and without risk of infringement.

    When asked why would a firm that cares so much about intellectual property want to give it away, Mr Kelly, the head of the company’s intellectual-property division, answered “It isn’t because we are nice guys” and he explained that the reason was to fear that patent rights have swung so far towards protection that they risk undermining innovation.

The question is not about sticking to the good old or to be infatuated with the new, but to find a reasonable balance for any given context.

Let’s try to grow the AIMN09 blogroom (CCK08)

I’m familiar with very large and reach blogrooms were I teach computer literacy in an almost asinchronous way but these blogrooms were all started with a couple of conventional lectures. That is, I enter in a classroom and transform it in a blogroom, sometimes a set of classrooms in a blogroom.

In the AIMN09, an experimental course on WEB 2 at the italian Congress of Nuclear Medicine that will be held in Firenze in March 2009, is different because people are supposed to get involved directly from the Web starting with an email and not with a live discussion. Moreover, they are not students but professionals, so they have little time.  Moreover they are invited to begin the course 6 months before the congress.

Well, it is an experiment. The total community amounts to about 1200 pepople. The first email was sent at the beginning of September. We have 7 inscriptions, so far.

This post (and perhaps some next ones) is visible both to the CCK08 and the AIMN09 communities. This is an experiment too. In October a standard blogroom will join.

Thus, dear AIMN09 participants, I have just added a growing path (Il percorso in divenire) section in our wiki.

Please go to the first hint to grow your path …

CCK08: let’s go for a walk in a wood and relax …

It seems, perhaps not surprisingly, that many appear to be puzzled and sometimes annoyed by the chaotic structure of the course, even some of my italian classmates of the LTEver community.

Well, let’so go for a walk in a wood and relax …

What does it mean to know a wood?

  • to know its name?
  • to know the region where it is located?
  • to know all the paths in the wood so as to be able to find the way back from any place and in any condition?
  • to know the kinds of trees, plants and animals that are populating it?
  • to know it so that you can hunt wild animals there?
  • to know that in a certain place there is water flowing under the soil?
  • to know where and when one can find good mushrooms there?
  • to know a relevant historical fact that took place there?
  • to know that a famous poet found inspiration there?
  • to know it because you felt in love there?

Oh, there are so many ways to know that wood, some of them achieved in an entire life and some in very short times.

However, nobody would assume that in order to know that wood one has to know exactly every tree, one by one, its shape, age and location. Every plant. Every leave of every plant. Every animal and where every animal is and what every animal is doing at any instant. Every stone. Every particle.

Of course not! It is just too much and after all, would this kind of knowledge be desirable? No, this thorough and crazy knowledge appears to be less desirable than one of the previous ones.

No, what we need is to find our own way to know that wood. There are unlimited ways to now it and everyone has a different system (network?) of concepts to connect to it. Even the same person at different times has a different system of concepts to connect to it.

At any rate, which is the best way to achieve that peculiar knowledge? Just enjoing a walk in the wood, one, two, many times and go where you see something you like. With the passing of time you will know that wood in your own way.

So, let’s go far a walk in this course and relax …

CCK08: Does Learning Grow or Is it Built?

The vision proposed by Stephen Downes …

Hence, in connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge. Rather, the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways.

In What Connectivism Is

and by George Siemens

Connections create meaning

in What is connectivism

explain all my learning experience. Just an example.

As a students in Physics I got A in a course based on the Fourier Transform, a basic, wonderful and ubiquitous mathematical instrument.

Later on, when working on my thesis I was glad to see that the Fourier Transform was needed to work with digital medical images: “Finally, I can use something of that I have studied!” I thought.

It was a shock when I discovered that the (scholastic) knowledge of the theorems and the related demonstrations, of the Fourier Transform was almost useless: I missed completely the basic concept.

Successively, I realized that I missed a lot of connections and that without those connections the idea of Fourier Transform (together with the theorems and the demonstrations) was just an asteroid lost in the space of all the possibilities.

I missed even the more general concept of mathematical transformation.

I missed the essence of mathematics, despite my former good grades.

Probably, from my teachers point of view, knowledge of the Fourier Transform was successfully transferred in my mind but in my later experience I began to realize its essence and usefulness only when trying to find connections in a real context in order to solve a real problem that I strived to solve. I began to feel comprehension just waiting in face of my problem and letting connections come out, spontaneously. This part of my understanding was absolutely spontaneous, it had to grow. It took time.

Afterwards, I was able to look at this mathematical device as at a wonderful toy useful to describe an incredible number of phenomena. I was also able to see the beauty of symmetries and how the perception of such symmetries were useful to find other new connections.

The propositional knowledge of the Fourier Transform is partial and by no ways sufficient to use it in real life. A more effective knowledge, and a never thorough one, needs a system of connections with other concepts, some abstract and some real, and this system of connections can obly grow in your mind because you have to experience it.

CCK08: The Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course

With this post I introduce myself in the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge course.

I live in Firenze, Italy, where I teach mainly computer literacy in various curricula of the Medical School in the University of Florence.

Very interested in this course because I realized a posteriori that what I was trying to do with my students during the last years suits very well in the connectivistic thought. Really excited when I discovered it.

The existence of this course itself is a success, in my view, since I feel somewhat culturally sustained in my teaching experiments. Moreover, I already found useful readings for next teaching activities. It is a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas on similar experiments.

I would like to mix the participation to the connectivism course with my teaching activities.

Eight years ago I was put in face of 700 students per year, unequally spread in 2 semesters, about 25 classes in 6 different places within 100 Kilometers … they were of the first year of various curricula at the Medical School of Medicine, medicine, odontoiatry, nursing, physiotherapy and so on … I was supposed to teach basic informatics, computer literacy plus something else, more or less specific to the curricula …

First panic, then reflection, then a basic thought: if something appears to be very frightening may be it becomes a blessing when you change perspective … 700 girls and boys per year to talk to may represent a wonderful opportunity …

I started by using some Learning Management Systems to support a conventional series of lectures. Then, by means of successive innovations, now all my students are together in a blogroom, the chair is this blog (blog studenti), contents are coauthored in a wiki, the old rigid succession of lessons are now substituted by an initial lessons to introduce the method and by some very focused seminars, students are encouraged to seek what they need autonomously, to help each other, to connect with others in the blogroom and outside.

Since 2000, a student population of about 5000 students was involved. In the final surveys, the methodology received about 90% positive opinions. In the last semester, an average score of 3.3 (min 1, max 4) was obtained from 125 answers to the question “Do you like this learning method?” There is a page with some posts written by the students on their blogs about this experience, unfortunately in italian. Here you have some of these posts translated in English.

In the semester beginning in October there will be some 200 new students in this blogroom.

Now I’m involved in a new experimental course on WEB 2 at the italian Congress of Nuclear Medicine that will be held in Firenze in March 2009.

The idea is to attract professionals of Italian community of Nuclear Medicine in learning to use and using WEB 2.0 to cooperate, to search for Open Educational Resources and to discuss them. The experiment is amusing but it could be a failure because involving twenty year students or a community of professionals are different things. It is also difficult because it is not possible to use a first lecture to involve people. I tried to propose a half serious video to attract people. Here you have a subtitled version of this video …

Web 2.0 for the congress of Nuclear Medicine

Dear reader, this is a welcome post for potential students of the WEB 2.0 refresher course related to the Italian National Congress of Nuclear Medicine that will be held in Firenze in March 2009.

You are probably wondering why it is written in english. The reason is that I’ll try to participate to the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course and I would like to share this experience with my “classmates” and my facilitators, George Siemens and Stephen Downes.

Actually, I don’t know if I will be able to write the post both in english and in italian, we’ll see.

As far as your participation is concerned, well, go back to the wiki and go on on reading carefully.

For now, please notice that this post is placed in the category aimn09; in future all the posts related to this WEB 2.0 course will be in the aimn09 category. If you want to see only those posts, just click on the aimn09 link in the section Categorie of the column at the right. Just try …

Presenza in aula informatica in settembre

Purtroppo sono costretto a cambiare all’ultimo momento gli orari di presenza nell’aula informatica al CEP per fare esami e verbali. Come avevo scritto nel calendario dei miei impegni, disponibile nella pagina wiki, e come avevo risposto a tutti coloro che mi avevano chiesto qualcosa in proposito, mi ero impegnato ad essere presente in aula fra le 10 e le 14 di tutti i mercoledì di settembre: 3,10,17,24.

Ebbene, mercoledì 3 non posso perché sono impegnato negli esami di ammissione presso il Polo Universitario Penitenziario a Prato.

Per rimediare, parzialmente, sarò in aula informatica giovedì 4 dalle 10 alle 14. come potete verificare nel calendario aggiornato del mio wiki. Gli altri giorni restano invariati. Ricapitolando:

sarò in aula informatica dalle 10 alle 14 dei giorni giovedì 4, mercoledì 10, mercoledì 17, mercoledì 24.