Monday, January 23, 2006

Tidbits –

Let me start with some more nuts and bolts. I did the first aggregating of student submitted spreadsheets over the weekend. Some of them changed the file name when they submitted their work. So I had to change it back. Certainly annoying, but that seems like a correctable problem. When they did the Greetings survey, some of them were exuberant and wrote a lot – beyond the size of the cell, this is the sort of problem instructors want to have. But from a technical view, all the text didn’t show up, because it didn’t have a place to display. As I learned from the survey on their computer use, they all are PC users. (Incidentally, the results may be a little surprising to some, although with such a small class it is perhaps not significant statistically.) Too bad I didn’t know that in advance. I could have used Active Text Boxes for their content and then it would have been scrollable. But I made it so it was Mac compatible. Consequently, I then had to reformat my aggregator sheet to accommodate this larger volume of text.

The aggregation otherwise worked nicely except for one thing, a “feature” of Excel, which makes this approach a tad more problematic. It turns out that if the source file (the file the student submits) has the worksheet with the student content protected, which is how I had it set up, then although the cells where the student content resides are unlocked, the linked cell in the aggregator workbook only receives the first 255 characters and lops off the rest. Aarrgghh! I didn’t know that beforehand (and it took me a while to figure out what was going on). So I had to go back and unprotect each of the submissions. That will teach me. In the future, content surveys where the students write paragraphs need to be unprotected. Surveys where they only do short answers or analytic exercises where formulas should be hidden from students need to be protected.

One other issue I encountered is perhaps a little more disturbing because it will likely affect many others aside from myself. One of the reasons to use Xythos instead of the LMS is that I had hoped I could “podcast” course content via the course blog and then a Feedburner feed generated from that. So yesterday I downloaded Doppler on my home computer, in anticipation of giving my students a demo of how to set it up for the course podcast. But it didn’t work. There were no enclosures. After figuring out that the problem wasn’t Doppler (it grabbed enclosures from other feeds) I started to wonder if there was a problem with Feedburner. This morning I verified with my colleague, Burks Oakley, that Feedburner wasn’t the problem either and indeed the issue was with our Xythos server or with my folder on it in that it wasn’t putting out the right type of Mime type information for Feedburner to identify links as enclosures. It had worked ok when I tested this in October, but more recently I had to restore my account from backup because there were some problems with files being deleted inadvertently. Perhaps that restore caused the problem. Double Aarrgghh!!

Now that I’m at least partially understanding the problem, I’m hopeful that I can fix it, but I haven’t done that yet. In the meantime, I’m wondering about whether sending every instructor and student off to podcast this way is such a good idea.

Now I’m going to switch gears. Last night after the kids went to bed I watched the second half of the movie, “A Passage to India.” I had seen it before some time ago and read the book afterwards. I’ve not read other things by E.M. Foster, his other themes are not quite so gripping for me, but this one seems so perfect in its way of capturing the tension between the English imperialists and the native Indians where in the main there is mistrust and contempt but where for a few enlightened individuals who can respect others across culture and behave with an appropriate sensitivity there can be valued cross cultural relationships that provide deep meaning for those involved.

Both the book and movie are worth considering along several dimensions. The British, in the main, are depicted as pompous and boorish, with a complete lack of understanding of India, imposing their own norms yet in a sub-tropical climate thousands of miles away from England. I think there are lessons here for Americans today and Forster is so good at guiding us toward the possibility of following the uplifting path while making it quite clear the negative consequences from playing the role of insular imperialist.

Forster, in his understated way, also is very good at exploring the race issues and how even well meaning people can go astray when circumstances become harder to understand and when explanations according to racial stereotype provide a ready alternative. His characterization is excellent.

I bring this up because I believe there are some parallels to the world of edu-blogging. For example, consider the blog roll on Glenda Morgan’s Accidental Pedagogy site. I haven’t done a complete look through of that list, but if you did I think you’d find that nearly all the bloggers are “western,” meaning they are from Canada, the UK, the US, and, in my classification, Australia or New Zealand. There are few if any of these edu blogs from “eastern” countries – India, China, Korea, etc., where the absence of representatives from India is the most surprising given that the language issue is not as acute.

I will go even further and observe that on my own blog I do track via Sitemeter where visitors are coming from. There are some from the “east” with Hong Kong and Singapore (not so surprising to me) and Indonesia (quite surprising to me) being the source of the biggest number of hits. I wonder if this is the same experience that other edu-bloggers are having and indeed whether there not be more exchange of ideas with educators in India or China should be a cause for concern.

I could readily see blogs and particularly the informality in communication with people who hardly know each other otherwise could be difficult in some cultures, where circumspection is the first instinct and a more light hearted open approach needs to be earned over time. But I also note that most of these foreign visitors to my site get there originally via Google, using a keyword or short expression search. What are we to infer given that?

In any event, I’d like to see posts from others about whom they believe is their community of readers and if the international distribution of those is indeed biased against the east. A few more data points would be useful before drawing too rash a conclusion.

No comments: