CCK08: a little learning experience

(For students: Translation in Italian)

To learn means different things. Generally speaking, actual learning implies a change of the state of mind. It may imply a different mood that allows you to do something unexpected. I learned a lot of things in this course. Among these there is a fancy one, for me. Software coding was a relevant part of my former researcher activity but since I was charged with teaching in the medical school I forgot about coding. Wandering in this course and browsing Stephen Downes gRSShopper, all of a sudden I realized that with some small  pieces of code I could facilitate my work in many instances.

You see, my past work involved assembly languages, a lot of FORTRAN and mathematical scripting languages, some C. The scenario my mind inherited from such activities did not allow me to grasp how many layers of functionalities are available out there nowadays, despite the fact that the virtues of the open source model are very recurrent in my talks.

Hanging around for a while in that part of the CCK08 forest that gRSShopper is, I realized, in a very tangible way, that a great deal of available software could help me in a number of tasks and that with languages such as perl or ruby it is extremely easy to integrate that software. Thus I began to play writing some code in perl and ruby. Yes, no doubt that I got distracted from a number of CCK08 activities but this is part of the game and I’m really happy with these new possibilities.

For instance, I let the students enroll by means of a Google form where they have to specify their blog addresses and as new data arrive I put the blog addresses in a feed aggregator.  I did it by hand because I felt to have too little time to face the issue in some other ways. Now, I have written a small script in ruby by means of which the creation of an OPML file with feeds derived from the blog addresses stored in a Google spreadsheet is a push-button operation.

I put here the code just to show how easy it is for those that may be interested or those that could give me some advices.

Note of November, 21: now the opml file is directly upoaded into the wiki where the students can download it.


# url2opml.rb

# This very simple script allows one to retrieve a column of a Google spreadsheet containing a
# series of blog addresses and to produce an opml file to be uploaded to a feed reader.

# It is very rough … just to show how this task can be done very easily
# Spreadsheet address and data location in it are hard-coded just to have a handy
# push-button procedure

# Required packages

# RubyGems is the Ruby standard for publishing and managing third party libraries:

require “rubygems”

# roo is a package to access content of Open-office spreadsheets (.ods),
# Excel spreadsheets (.xls), Google (online) spreadsheets, Excel’s new file format .xlsx:
#  … very nice!

require “roo”

# Retrieves the spreadsheet, the first argument is the “key” of the spreadsheet that can
# be extracted from the spreadsheet address. For instance, the address of the
# spreadsheet I’m using is
# The key is pZzXgwUua-JPX2YdQbK1nRg
# The second and third arguments are gmail address and password, respectively

oo =“pZzXgwUua-JPX2YdQbK1nRg”, “”, “mypassword”)

oo.default_sheet = oo.sheets.first    # sets the default sheet to work with

lines =    # creates an array to store the column element

# Copies the cell contents of column “G” in the array “lines”

first_useful_row = 3
first_useful_row.upto(oo.last_row) do |i|
lines[i-first_useful_row] = oo.cell(i,“G”)

folder_name = “INF08”    # I want that in the feed reader these feeds will be in folder INF08

folder_name.chomp!    # throw away the final newline character …

file_out = “INF08_fall.opml” # sets the name of the output opml file

outfile =, “w”)        # creates that file …

# and now write there the first group of lines, such as header and stuff like that

outfile.write “<?xml version=\”1.0\” encoding=\”UTF-8\”?>\n”
outfile.write “<opml version=\”1.1\”>\n”
outfile.write “<head>\n”;
outfile.write “<title>Studenti “ + folder_name + “</title>\n”
outfile.write “</head>\n”
outfile.write “<body>\n”
outfile.write “<outline title=\”” + folder_name + “\” text=\”” + folder_name + “\”>\n”

# Now for each line …

lines.each do
# skip void lines
if ind =~ /./
# add leading http:// if it is not there
if ind !~ /http:\/\//
ind = http://&#8221; + ind
# generates feeds for wordpress posts and comments, line finishing with …
if ind =~ /\//
f = ind + “feed/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
f = ind + “comments/feed/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
# generates feeds for wordpress posts and comments, line finishing with …
elsif ind =~ /
f = ind + “/feed/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
f = ind + “/comments/feed/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
# generates feeds for blogspot posts and comments, line finishing with …
elsif ind =~ /\//
f = ind + “feeds/posts/default/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
f = ind + “feeds/comments/default/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
# generates feeds for blogspot posts and comments, line finishing with …
elsif ind =~ /
f = ind + “/feeds/posts/default/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
f = ind + “/feeds/comments/default/”
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + f + “\”  />\n”
# other blogs, just put htere blog address and be confident in reader …
outfile.write “<outline xmlUrl=\”” + ind + “\”  />\n”

# writing closing lines of opml file

outfile.write “</outline>\n”
outfile.write “</body>\n”
outfile.write “</opml>\n”

outfile.close    # close opml file

# (November, 21) and now upload the file into the wiki …

system “curl -F \”someFile=@INF08_fall.opml\” -Fop=PutFile -Fadmin_key=mykey”

CCK08: learning lines

(For students: Translation in Italian, please book yourself before beginning the translation)

Yesterday in a classroom I was trying to explain the rationale of our courses and it happened to me to sketch some sort of learning lines. The sketches seemed to be of some use.

Here you have a somewhat refined versions.


In conventional classroom work, activities are time constrained. There is a tight schedule and a sort of photo finish with final ranking. Time constraining prepares the students for modern hectic life, this is true, however the learning process is vastly sup-optimal.

I could have written Learning on the ordinate but the term is abused. I prefer Familiarity with the subject of the course, it’s more akin to what I have in mind.


The idea here is to forget about time and focus on a sort of quality constrain.  Students wander through the topics/activities suggested by the teacher who is available to help and give advices.

Of course, everyone starts from its own preexisting Familiarity with the subject but everybody will finish around the given mininum familiarity, with a certain margin to do better if they like. That is, the teacher informs a student, when asked: “You are at C, if you want to improve your grade, you can work further”. It is the student who determines the end of the course.

What about time?

learning3Everyone has its own time, that’s why I’ve dropped the time constrain. If you require more time to achieve the minimum required familiarity with the subject, it does not means that you are worse than others, it simply means that this is the time you need given all the other activities and problems (may be headache …?) you may have in your life. These contingecies should not hamper the quality of your learning.

CCK08: assignment 3

(Translation in Italian)

Here you have another assignment for students of the Facoltà di Medicina (INF08) and students of Teorie della comunicazione (TCO08). The attribution for the two groups are just an indication, all of you can choose one of the variants or do both of them.

Students of Teorie della comunicazione (TCO08)

Last monday in classroom we tried to focus on what’s really new in the internet hype. Among other things, we talked about the open source movement and the openness, sharing, peering and global action that characterize the behaviour of an increasing number of companies and organizations in the world. A very important aspect in this context is the evolution of the idea of intellectual property.

Let us try to  deepen this idea by reading Bound by Law, a comics created by two lawyers and a cartoonist. It can be downloaded and there is also a template to provide a translation in other languages …

Write your impressions in a post.

Students of the Facoltà di Medicina (INF08)

Well, read the same comics. By the way, you can download it as a pdf file.

Why the pdf exists? Where is it appropriate to use it? Are you already using pdf? In which ways?

  1. Write a post describing one specific feature or use of the pdf format.
  2. Transcribe it in this wiki page. Sign your transcription with a link to your blog post.

Before writing the post go to see in the wiki page what others have written in the meanwhile, so as to avoid duplications.

Use the contents in the wiki as well as any other source in the internet. Quote the sources you used.

Remember that, if they like, INF08 students can do the assignment for TCO08 students and viceversa, or  both the assignments.

The second part of the INF08 assignment can be seen as a little experiment about collaborative writing of a sort of manual. The TCO08 students could study it as an online communication experiment …

Last, remember there is a limit for the post length, let us declare it in binaryland language:

11001000 words!

Lettera aperta alla Facoltà di Medicina

Uno studente mi ha chiesto di leggere questa lettera. Io condivido completamente le sue riflessioni e quindi la diffondo molto volentieri.


“Negli atenei si insegna troppo la tecnica e poco l’umanità. Il medico deve imparare a pensare come un malato. Bisogna avere l’umiltà di imparare da chi soffre. Date a un malato la possibilità di sentirsi vivo, di uscire dalla gabbia del dolore. E ascoltate i suoi sogni; ce ne sono di incredibili.” 1

Cari Amici,

sono davvero stanco di “fare” lo studente.

Da tre anni sono iscritto al corso di Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia e cosa posso dire di aver imparato?Ho imparato a sedermi sulle tuberosità ischiatiche del bacino, ho imparato ad acquisire un metodo di studio più adatto per riuscire a memorizzare la grande quantità di informazioni che ogni esame comporta e ho imparato che lo sforzo isometrico dei muscoli estrinseci dell’occhio è una delle maggiori cause della mia miopia.

Ma io non voglio fare lo studente né vorrò fare il laureato. Io voglio essere medico.

Noi studenti di medicina, e così anche i nostri amici delle altre facoltà, cerchiamo di conoscere e imparare con gli stessi insufficienti strumenti (penne, matite, libri, quaderni, diapositive, voce del professore….) e in questo modo diventiamo solo compagni della sedia, ognuno simile all’altro per sventura. Studiare non può essere, come lo è ora, l’accesso esclusivo alla verità perché la conoscenza va vissuta in toto per essere appresa.

Mi si contesterà che nel piano di studi sia previsto il tirocinio ma io credo che sia molto ritardato e già molto settorializzato per rispondere alla mia ansia di conoscenza globale.

Se non erro i libri di anatomia si scrivono consquenzialmente alle pratiche dissettorie, quelli di fisiologia riportano fedelmente esperimenti di laboratorio e così via per le altre materie, allora, come si può pretendere di capire esaustivamente qualcosa se non lo si vive in tutti i suoi aspetti, come si può riuscire a rendere quel qualcosa parte del nostro bagaglio culturale in modo tale da non essere utilizzato solo per il fine ultimo dell’esame, ma per tutta la vita, se lo si studia esclusivamente da un libro?

Per quanto riguarda la comprensione dell’anatomia umana, penso che l’esperienza di una dissezione, di una autopsia, di una operazione chirurgica siano indispensabili per apprendere secondo le esigenze del metodo scientifico e che il libro sia necessario per acquisire il gergo anatomico opportuno e le convenzioni universalmente determinate ma, se lo studio dal trattato di anatomia si rivela in termini esperienziali come una qualsiasi lettura, la pratiche suddette si rivelerebbero diversamente come occasioni di partecipazione ad una esperienza di vita più ampia, occasioni per relazionarsi agli altri, per dare vita al rapporto fra studenti e docenti e per familiarizzare con i futuri ambienti di lavoro.

Assumerebbero pertanto maggior valore nella vita di uno studente di medicina.

L’esempio riguardante l’anatomia può essere esteso a tutte le altre materie.
Lo scorso anno ad esempio ho scelto di frequentare per alcuni giorni il pronto soccorso.

Questa scelta è stata giudicata sbagliata dal medico che mi seguiva perché “non avevo ancora le basi” e non potevo capire il suo lavoro. Il caso ha però voluto che un giorno capitasse in pronto soccorso una signora che a causa di un TIA (attacco ischemico cerebrale transitorio) era afasica. Quella stessa mattina la Professoressa Tesi nelle sue lezioni di neurofisiologia aveva spiegato i deficit della corteccia associativa e così meravigliosamente ho potuto parlare delle afasie al figlio della signora ammalata consigliandogli di far cantare sua madre per provare a farla esprimere ed in questo modo la donna è riuscita a comunicare.

Una lezione non può insegnarti la sofferenza di un afasico, puoi provare la sua impotenza solo vivendola assieme a lui non di certo studiando le afasie da un trattato, quindi l’oggetto di studio della medicina non può essere solo l’organismo con le sue anomalie ma dovrebbe diventare l’ammalato.

In quei giorni al pronto soccorso, contrariamente alle premesse, ho imparato quanto sia difficile gestire un qualsiasi reparto ospedaliero; ho imparato come i medici comunichino fra di loro attraverso telefono, computer e come questo poi influenzi il loro rapporto con gli ammalati; ho imparato ad essere discreto nei confronti di quelle persone che, oltre a sentire il disagio della loro malattia, vivevano con imbarazzo il fatto di essere l’obiettivo di troppi sguardi curiosi; ho imparato che il platino usato in chemioterapia può avere ripercussioni sulla circolazione cerebrale e causare, ad esempio, afasie: ho appreso, quindi, molte cose principalmente vivendole.

Credo quindi che la formazione del medico vada ripensata principalmente per due motivi: per le esigenze tecniche del metodo scientifico e per gli ammalati, nei confronti dei quali pesa la nostra scelta e la nostra volontà di cura.

Questa necessità di cambiamento è confermata ad esempio da una notizia del 24 ottobre 2006 secondo la quale per errori medici, quindi incompetenza tecnico-scientifica, morirebbero novanta persone al giorno e credo ne sia la causa principale il fatto che ci si laurei sui libri e non attraverso l’esperienza.2

Ritengo inoltre che uno spirito di condivisione e partecipazione esperienziale nel cammino formativo oltre a sviluppare negli studenti un forte senso critico necessario alle evoluzioni della medicina, possa addirittura fondare le basi per una spontanea riumanizzazione della stessa, oggi così agognata.

In sostanza la mia proposta è questa:
incontrarci in più assemblee aperte e prendendo atto dei doveri economici e legali della facoltà, discutere su come si potrebbero instaurare delle modifiche condivise alla didattica in modo da far prevalere le attività partecipate a discapito delle lezioni ex cathedra, ad esempio: dissezioni, autopsie, esperimenti di laboratorio, operazioni chirurgiche, analisi microbiologiche, visite guidate in centri ospedalieri di eccellenza e specializzati, e tutto quello che ci verrà in mente soprattutto grazie ai ricordi saggi di coloro che hanno già una laurea in medicina e in quanto sono convinto che queste eventuali modifiche siano soprattutto una questione di volontà.
Questa naturalmente è la mia visione delle cose e la mia terapia.

Grazie per avermi letto, Raffaele.

1 Gianni Bonadonna, oncologo illustre, sofferente da alcuni anni a causa di un ictus (ospitato dall’università nel giugno 2008) – dal suo ultimo libro “Medici umani, pazienti guerrieri”


1)P.S.:Il mio personale pensiero è che la scienza si sia appropriata di ogni aspetto del mondo e questa mia lettera è un invito a riconsiderarla come un mezzo per il bene dell’umanità altrimenti si finirà per sedersi al letto degli ammalati solo dopo aver conosciuto l’ultima proteina scoperta.

2)P.S.:Qual è il valore aggiunto di una lezione ex cathedra tenuta da un docente che esordisce dicendo: “quello che dirò lo trovate sul tale libro?”

3)P.S.:Non chiedo l’umanizzazione del medico,fattore auspicabile, ma l’umanizzazione dell’università.

N.B.:Ad oggi giudico quindi molto positivamente l’inserimento del tirocinio al primo anno, molte delle A.D.E. proposte, le Attività Formative Professionalizzanti a scelta presenti sul sito

( ed i laboratori che si accompagnano alle lezioni.

PER COMMENTI E PER TESTIMONIANZE SULL’ATTIVITÀ DI TIROCINIO (negli anni in cui si svolge) E SULL’ERASMUS (in questo caso precisare le differenze didattiche) SCRIVETE PURE A sentimentalanarchy AT hotmail . it

CCK08: my assignments are optional …

(Translation in Italian Translation booking)

Are my assignments mandatory? It depends.

There are students that overreact by doing a lot of things. Good. For these students my assignments are optional: do them only if you like to contribute on the subject I’m proposing.

Assignments are mandatory for those students who don’t know what to do. In the following, if you are going to warm up, assignments may become optional …

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.