CCK08: when students become frustrated …

(Translation in Italian Translation booking)

Egocentricamente commented on the assigment 2 post that she finds enormously easier excel than google spreadsheet but she acknowledges to get nervous when becoming frustrated. I like this sort of comments because they foster discussion.

It depends on what you want to do. It may be that google spreadsheet is not appropriate for what you are used to do with excel. I propose you write a post about the difficulties you have found in using google spreadsheet. Then, if other people turn out to have ideas about this issue, you could write a page in the wiki to specify the differences between the two tools or you could improve this page written by a student last year. It may also be that others are aware of other similar tools.

This course is not about learning some specific tools rather it is about getting accustomed to learn new things and to become flexible in using each tool when appropriate in that given context.

That said, let me list some of the features of internet spreadsheets and internet docs, mutatis mutandis:

  • internet docs can be shared and they are very good to cooperate
  • they cost nothing
  • they offer some 10% of the features some 90% people actually use, more or less
  • you can work from every place where is an online connection
  • software is always updated, no need to bother with versions -> further costs
  • forms associated to spreadsheets are extremely useful, I’ m using them very much for the administration of this course
  • documents can be exported n the most useful formats.

Anyone willing to contribute to pros and cons?

CCK08: assignment 2

(Translation in Italian)

Keep a diary of your activities.

  1. Go in Google Docs and create a new spreadsheet.
  2. Name it with your first and last name.
  3. Keep writing there your activities as I have shown in this example.
  4. Write there what you have done and the URL related to the activity: posts in your blog, contributions in the wiki, translations and so on.
  5. Evaluate your activity with a grade among 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  6. In a cell somewhere in the spreadsheet keep the average of your grades updated.
  7. Share your spreadsheet with me filling the Share with others form in the following way:

With this assignment we do a number of different things.

  1. I always claim to grade all your initiatives, particularly those aimed at cooperating and helping the others. However I may miss something. By writing a diary of your own activities you will help me in keeping trace of your work. This means I have less mindless work to do and more time to do useful (hopefully) things for you. It is a kind of work sharing.
  2. The request to grade its own work may sound strange. By grading it you are exhorted to reflect more on the value of your activity, since the most severe judge of your work should be yourself. With this grade you should declare how much are you satisfied with your work. If it turns out you are not satisfied, well, go back and revise it.
  3. You practice a bit with Internet software and this is good. For many of you this course has to do with digital literacy, after all.
  4. You practice a bit with spreadsheets. Sometimes, quite rarely, someone asks me: “I would like to learn Excel”. Well, begin by playing with Internet spreadsheet software … for instance by calculating the average of your grades 😉

CCK08: assignment 1

(Translation in Italian)

This is the first assignment for students of the Facoltà di Medicina and students of Teorie della comunicazione. The assignments for the two groups are different but, if you like, you can do both of them.

Students of Teorie della comunicazione

The recent bill (Legge 133) which establishes a substantial reduction to university funding, among other things, is a subject of vehement discussions here in Italy in these days.

However, I’m afraid there is little discussion on basic issues about the role of educators, the practice of teaching, the understanding of learning in a society which is extremely dynamic and so fast evolving.

Read this recent article of Prof. Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University and write a post about this subject in your blog.

Students of the Facoltà di Medicina

Reread the end of Let’s begin to work together and write a post on a subject that you are free to choose among the contents of the course. Try to make an argument or to tell a story of your life related to the use of technology; try to avoid plain descriptions or, even worse, trivial cut-and-paste from some text found in the Internet.

CCK08: useless computer rooms

(Translation in Italian)

The blogroom materializes in one of our classrooms when needs arise. Yesterday I was in Empoli to discuss with some students. The university centre is new there and it is outfitted with advanced facilities, such as a sparkling computer room, the Aula Multimediale. We met there of course, being digital literacy the subject of the course for these students.

Our computer room
Our computer room

However, we used the Aula Multimediale as a normal classroom because we needed to use Web 2.0 tools and they were all blocked. When I had to show a couple of things to the students we went outside where, just in front of the institute, there is a nice gazebo were the signal strength was sufficient for my modem.

When I went home and browsed the news I found one in Stephen‘s OLDaily about the practice to block Web 2.0 tools in schools! This note points to an interesting article by Suzie Boss where I learned that the problem is very common all over the world.

I would feel like a crook by ignoring the exploding Web 2.0 world in a digital literacy course. So, we base our  course on these tools and the results seems to be quite good.

As a matter of fact, I’m escaping from the university in the sense that I do not need (almost) anymore servers, technical people to maintain and manage them, I do not need (almost) anymore funds. Ah what a liberation, no more competition for funds! Very often we use the classrooms to make lectures and to talk together; then everybody goes home to work and we meet in the blogroom. Not so bad after all.

Unfortunately, there is a caveat there. The large majority has an online access at home but not everybody! There are many students that live just in a room because they come from other towns or from abroad. From another post pointed by Suzie Boss:

Sooner or later someone is going to expect my students to be able to quickly and effortlessly post to a blog, add to a wiki, or collaborate via some sort of social networking protocol. And once again, my school will have failed to prepare them for such a task.

I’m aware that this is the case for a part of my students and even if I try to find some remedies  the problem remains basically unsolved.

I think we should advocate for open access in educational institutions, otherwise computer rooms and similar facilities are almost useless with two serious drawbacks:

  1. waist of money
  2. lack of social justice.

Thanks to the students that allowed me to publish the picture 🙂

CCK08: How to write assigned posts

(Translation in Italian)

Dear students,

here you have the rules to write the assigned posts. Assignments will arrive later on.

Rules are useful to work and cooperate in the complexity of our world. However, the validity of rules depend on context and, since context may always change, it is good to be observant but it is even better to be also vigilant about context, at the same time. Sticking to a system of rules in presence of a significant change of context may be stupid, dangerous and even criminal in certain circumstances.

In this post I give the rules to write the assignments in the INF08 course even if I usually do not like to give rules. The first reason is because with a very large number of students we have to be careful to keep actions feasible. The second one is because with a cautious use of some rules, assignments may be made more thought-provoking.

First, a praise for clarity: keep it simple whenever possible. Let’s quote the six writing rules proposed by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language. Some may argue that since 1946, when Orwell wrote this essay, the context may be changed, however I believe these rules are still valuable.

  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 barbarous.

Second, a strict rule: limit the length of posts to 200 words. I give three reasons for this rule.

  1. In the last years I learned that, without limits on text length, many students write very long pieces and rather often these turn out to be messy. With such large classes, to read everything it may become a nightmare for the teacher and this is not useful.
  2. It is important to learn to communicate in a concise way. We all suffer from information overload nowadays. Your words have to find their way among a huge number of words in others mind. Very often your reader, or listener, has little time and little patience. It is crucial to be clear and concise when writing a nursing record, a medical record or a scientific project, for instance .
  3. With such a short limit, it is more difficult to make use of trivial cut-and-paste from whatever source. Thus, you are forced to give structure and this is good because it means to be forced to think.

Give structure in 200 words? Well, just try.

To play a bit, consider the structure of the orazione latina:

  • Exordium: here you have the chance to catch your reader, for instance with a kind of slogan
  • Narratio: expose the context
  • Argumentatio: take position, make your point
  • Peroratio: give your conclusion

Continuing to play … you write thousands of SMS, isn’t it? Well, one SMS is 160 characters and therefore 200 words are about 8 SMS. So you may have

  • Exordium: 1-2 SMS
  • Narratio: 2-3 SMS
  • Argumentatio: 2-3 SMS
  • Peroratio: 1-2 SMS

adjusted to get a total of 8 SMS …

Third, what about breaking the 200 word rule? Yes, you can break it but only if

  1. you have already written your 200 words piece
  2. and you are frustrated because you feel that relevant part of your message is missing and there is no way to squeeze in 200 words.

In this case you should do the following:

  1. Publish the 200 words post in your blog and put there also a link to a page to be created in the wiki
  2. Write your longer piece in that page.

However, do not forget to give structure to your article. There is an interesting post written by Stephen Downes about that: How to Write Articles and Essays Quickly and Expertly. It could be worthwhile to read it.

If you like to comment on all this and you write something following these same rules, your contribution will be included among the assignments.

24 ORE DI LEZIONE NON-STOP

L’Assemblea del Plesso occupato di Viale Morgagni, nell’ambito della
protesta contro la legge 133/08, invita gli studenti e la cittadinanza a
partecipare alla 24 ore di lezione NON-STOP al Centro Didattico Morgagni
40 in aula 001 fra le 8:30 di martedì 11  e le 8:30 di mercoledì 12 novembre.
Le lezioni saranno tenute da Professori e Ricercatori delle Facoltà di
INGEGNERIA, MEDICINA, SCIENZE e FARMACIA.

CAFFÈ A VOLONTÀ PER TUTTA LA NOTTE

24 ore di lezione non-stop
24 ore di lezione non-stop

CCK08 Short Paper 2: Changing roles of educators

(I must admit to be really surprised, here you have the translation in Italian but look at the history:
    November 4, 2008 at 2:44:43 am by michele
    November 4, 2008 at 2:41:15 am by michele
    November 4, 2008 at 2:29:18 am by Giulia
    November 3, 2008 at 10:53:45 pm by Andreas Formiconi
Do my students sleep sometimes 😉 ?)

I’d like to tell you the story of Don Milani. A priest active in Tuscany, next to Florence, in the sixties. He was in the church against the church, his basic point being: “We tell people that we want to explain them the Gospel but if people are illiterate they cannot grasp the meaning of what we are trying to say. Therefore, to begin with we must give them an education, and a lay education, not a religious one. If we don’t care about people’s lay education first, then we are hypocritical.”

Don Milani was sourly accused and prosecuted by the church. Therefore, he was placed in a very small village, Barbiana, at the top of a mountain (Monte Giovi), inhabited by a handful of peasants. He did not give up. He created the “school of Barbiana” were he taught the peasants’ kids. The school became incredibly famous. Teachers, professors, journalists, politicians, intellectuals form all Italy went to visit his school. Don Milani put all of them among their young students and all these relevant people were not allowed to talk from a cattedra (chair) as they were used to do but they could only participate in the lessons together with the students.

In order to understand the work of Don Milani it is worthwhile to have a look to a book written by eight students of him, Letter to a Teacher (pdf), which became very famous. Incidentally and interestingly, I found this English translation in an Indian site, called Shikshantar, The Peoples’ Institute for rethinking Education and Development, devoted to education and development in India. This book is a sharp accusation of a public compulsory school system conceived for rich people against poor people.

Don Milani’s school was an all-day school. The alternative for those poor young peasants would have been to work from dawn to sunset for almost nothing, just poverty for all their life. Don Milani’s school meant to strive for growth all day. To catch any possible hint to make sense of things. In Don Milani’s school to grow was hard but fun and extremely rewarding. Boundaries among school subjects were fuzzy. Focus was not on covering a given number of points in a set of subjects. Focus was on thoroughly experiencing facts relevant for those pupils life by traversing all subjects related to those facts in some way. You could begin by reading a poem, then focusing on a single word, analysing its meaning, etymology, its translation in some foreign languages; you could end to do something practical related to that word found in the poem, may be working a piece of wood with a lathe. Pupils could learn a lot of manual works in the school. They experienced collective writing, a kind of wiki ante litteram, by writing concepts on pieces of papers, grouping and ordering them, discarding the less relevant, regrouping and so on. Letter to a Teacher was written in this way. Nobody was left alone; as soon as someone learned something new he was supposed to help the others.

It was a great experience. Those pupils learnt French, English, German. They went abroad during the summer to work and learn. They became educated people. The conventional school would have condemned them to their historical role of poor people. Don Milani understood that the school system was unable to give “the word” to poor people. He emphasised the role of the school system as a power instrument of the establishment. What did change after this stunning experience? Almost nothing. The inertia of the school system is incredibly strong.


Nowadays the context is very different but the school system is equally unfit to answer basic social needs. Society is changing very fast, knowledge grows exponentially, schools of any degree struggle in giving people what they actually need. Basically, curricula and teaching methods assume a very simplified vision of the world. They completely miss the overwhelming complexity of a world composed of structures and networks, from the molecular level to the cultural one, as Fritjof Capra described nicely in the essay (pdf) we read last week.

It is imperative to change the role of educators. They should give up a lot of control and become much more sensitive to spontaneous growth but this requires an awareness that is still quite rare. Organizations are not naturally prone to innovation. Consolidated business models tend to persist. Feedbacks are difficult to evaluate in the field of education. It is much easier to get feedback from a software application: you run it and you correct bugs. But how to evaluate the outcome of a learning method? You should apply the new method on a large and representative population and at the same time you should apply an old reference method on a different but equally representative population. Then you should monitor the life of all these individuals and then compare the results … admittedly this is not very feasible … In absence of true feedback the evolution of the education system is driven by other forces. Look at what is going on here in Italy, Nature 455, 835-836 (16 October 2008).


Deschooling society could be the answer but how?

I believe that, at this stage, we can only foster grassroots movements based on hacking approaches. I see my own teaching activity as a hacking activity where all those classes have ben hacked to obtain a blogroom: a fuzzy place where different classrooms and other communities blend, where the teacher monitors activities related to a subject, where contents provided by the teacher and OER are simply available and used when the students need it for their learning activities. A place where the teacher is available when needed and if needed. A place where time is no more a constraint, a place where the constraint is a given minimum quantity of learning activities, a place were people are supposed to cooperate and not to compete.

How to create a grassroot movement:

  1. Every time that it is possible let us try to force the state of affairs by hacking our classes.
  2. Let us be careful to do this taking great care of the actual needs of our students. Not be afraid do teach something different if it is worthwhile.
  3. Let us exploit the Internet by sharing our practices and our results as much as we can.

Don Milani was a great hacker in the field of education but he was alone. The Internet allows people that otherwise would be alone to create a network and, as we are learning in this course, it is just from a network that we can expect the birth of something new.

CCK08: Let’s begin to work together …

(Versione in italiano)

About half of the expected final number of students have enrolled, that’s fine.

Now, in order to give substance to the blogroom you have to begin to use web feeds (in italiano … vista la differenza?) so that each of you can be aware of what others, included myself, have written in their own blogs.

First, you should subscribe to Google Reader. This is the feed reader (also called aggregator) provided by Google, among other web services. There are other feed readers in the internet or even applications you can download to run on your computer. Among the last ones I sometimes use RSSOwl which is an open source software. I do not care which reader you use and if you are already familiar with one of them (both standalone applications or web servers) you can go on with it. However, if you are totally new to feed readers then it is probably better if you begin with Google Reader in order to facilitate my task to help those that may have problems. You can always switch to other feed readers later on if you like it.

Once you have your feed reader ready for use try to upload the OPML file with the feeds of the blogroom blogs. An OPML file is a file written in XML to exchange collections of web feeds. I prepared this OPML file with the feeds of the blogs available in the blogroom so far. As new students will enroll I will update this OPML file.

Do not expect detailed instructions from me. You should try to find your own way at first. In the beginning it may be harder but in the following, as soon as you will begin to succeed you will feel not bad at all …

If you experience problems, go and ask fellows in your classrooms, ask friends, try together with them, play with them. As a last resort, ask me.

Once the list of feeds will be happily ready in your reader go and browse the other blogs. You belong to 18 different curricula and I have not grouped the feeds according the curricula 😉

So, you have to find your classmates within the blogroom. Once you have found your classmates you can group them by tagging them. What does this means? Well, go and learn what a tag is, for instance in the Google Reader help, or somewhere else. It may also be that you find something interesting in blogs of other curricula; you may also make new friends and this is a good thing!

It may happen that you go through this first step quite fast and you may wonder what will be the next one. In order to prepare yourselves for the next step you can go to browse the contents in the wiki. Then you may have a look at what the Open Educational Resources (OER in wiki content, OER Wikipedia) are and then you may try to look for some OER related to the contents available in the wiki. Do not attempt to read everything. It is not possible nor it is useful, probably. In real life you can never do everything, except in some trivial circumstances. You should just browse, read something here, just skim something there.

You should focus on the contents that may be somewhat related to your experiences or some expertise you already have. For instance, have you had a problem with a virus? Well, try to relate what you can find within the contents, or related OER, with your past experience.

Have a good time 🙂

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