lørdag, februar 23, 2008

online readability

I have been an avid newspaper buff since my early teens. My parents subscribed to Aftenposten and the local newspaper, and in my early years I read both tabloids VG and Dagbladet, as well as the montly popular science mag Illustrert Vitenskap. An naturally, as this is back in the modern stone age in terms of digital media I stuck to paper. I still read a lot of newspaper in print, I subscribe to Dagsavisen, a Norwegian Oslo-based newspaper, as well as buying the Friday edition of Aftenposten.

There has been a lot of talk and discussion on the "paper-less society" after the year 2000, and we still read paper-based media. But changes are often slow, and especially people's habits - like newspaper reading. Encyclopedias are contemplating ending issuing paper edition and only be available online like the mammoth German encyclopedia Brockhaus. The neverending debate over wether Wikipedia is less reliable than Brittanica continues. And this has been the case for news in print vs. news online. News in print are more reliable than news online... But is this the case though?

With possibilities to keep updated on current events and breaking news online newsrooms always have an edge on the newspapers in print. And there are no reason for them to nullify each other. In many instances news corporations master to utilize the best of their printed newspaper in therms of analysis, in-depth interviews and commentary as well as a great display of photographs while their online version stays on top of things with news in brief live and with the hypertextuality of links and reader's comments and debates.

Personally I have realized how important font is to my reading eye. Font and my screen's capabilities are essential for a pleasant reading experience. In Norwegian language I find tabloids like VG and Dagbladet horrendous to read, it's too noisy and therefore I skim and hardly ever read. Dagsavisen has revamped their site into close to perfection with a lot of "white space" and a readable font. Morgenbladet is not far behind, but has still potential to be better. Aftenposten has lost me in both their printed edition and online - it's messy, cluttered and close to unreadable. Even though the content is of high quality it suffers in form.

Of international media I've grown fond of sites like New York Times, BBC World News and The Guardian - they all have great readability, are extensive and use fonts, "white space", photos and links in a formative way.

torsdag, februar 21, 2008

the homework myth

In these times of grading fixation in education it is interesting to come across the outspoken critic and author Alfie Kohn. Mr. Kohn has written a number of books on the negative effects of rewards and punishments of grading. He is also skeptical of the traditional system of homework. In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (2006) he questions the need and positive effects of homework. He believes that the school and its environment is the main focal point for learning and work.

Winterlong

The debate is timely in Norway too as I encounter parents who feel overwhelmed by their kids' homework, especially as they advance to higher levels. Every week they are given a homework plan with assignments in the main subjects. The assignments vary from reading, task solving, math calculus or research for a project or paper. Most parents feel that their kids should have homework as they did when they attended school. The problem for many families are time. The nuclear family is a minority in the Norwegian society (and other societies in the West) and a lot of time and organizational evolves around transport and logistics. How to make the proper priorities, and how to make homework meaningful?

I try to evaluate the way I give homework to my students, I try to reinvent, evolve and be original. It's not always easy, but I think Mr. Kohn has an interesting point when he questions the benefits of homework. It does not necessarily take up much time of the kids' sparetime, but could we try to break out of this and try to think in new ways about homework?

Double bill

At an end note I'd like to recommend a riveting comment from a Norwegian girl who's a high school student. She criticizes all the bad karma around the Norwegian school debates these days in the aftermath and hangover of the PISA-tests. She says Norwegians hate not to be on top in international rankings and that our politicians tend to panic. These tests are important, but they only measure a fraction of what schools teach their students. What about social and moral behavior, ethical values like respect, debating skills and skills to question - in essence - how to become decent people. Ms. Tømte writes:

Den norske skolen har altså utviklet seg fra å være en autoritær institusjon til å bli et lærested der voksne og barn snakker samme språk og har det samme fokus: Å gjøre folk av oss.


Thus has the Norwegian school developed from being an authoritarian institution to become a place of learning where adults and children speak the same language and have the same focus: To make us into decent people. (My translation).


And this relationship requires mutual respect - and authoritarian teachers don't easily acquire this in Norwegian schools, but teacher who do earn their students' respect have moral authority based upon a wide and substantial knowledge base.

tirsdag, februar 19, 2008

staying organized

A common New Years resolution is getting better organized, and I've been looking for many ways to keep my act together as a teacher and in private. But, in spite of all the calendars on my mobile, on my Macs and my physical organizers like my Teacher's organizer, I still find it hard to stay on top of things. The biggest problem is accessibility and usability.

In a perfect world I would come across an environment where all my jotting-downs of appointments, details, to-do-lists and deadlines could be easy to access and easy to alter if there are changes. It wouldn't matter if I was online/offline or home or at work. Previously, and particularly when traveling and living abroad I've had diaries and a numerous amount of notebooks and scrapbooks for notetaking on the run. Nowadays I try to use my mobile, but it still doesn't excel the notebook and it definitely does not work to its full potential like synching to my Macs, one laptop and a Mac Mini stationary.


So how to go about this? I tend to use iCal on my Macs with varied luck. It's neat and tidy, but it does not sync with my Sony Ericsson K810i (No, I do not have an iPhone...) and neither my Teacher's organizer book. I do use Google Calendar though, and I do import my iCal calendars into Google Calendar for easier access from work. I do sync my iCal calendars with my .Mac-account, but for convenience sake it's easier to use Google's alternative since I prefer using Gmail, Google Docs and Google-owned and compatible Blogger to my Mac-mail.

I crave simplicity. I started playing around with Tumblr, a simple utility to collect feeds from different social networks. In my case I collect Flickr- and Blogger-postings as well as my own videos form You Tube. They call it a lifestream and I like the idea. I like the idea to collect my online activities in one place in a simple way. Could this be done for my organizing needs as well?

I use Netvibes as well, and that's a tremendously simple starting page for online surfing. I know I could embed my calendar there, but it still has proved rather troublesome to have access and be able to change it quickly on the spot. I guess the key to this is mobility, and I got mobility in my hands - my mobile phone (be it an iPhone or a Sony Ericsson...). I came across GooSync - an app to sync my Google Calendar with my mobile, but I haven't made it work satisfactory yet, but it's a start.

Lars is doing his master on human interaction with machines and computers, and he had a project last semester where he had to find the best system for a family to use a planning utility on iPhones (the omnipresent...). Again, Lars argued for simplicity, usability, safety and omnipresent accessibility. A planning system for a family has to be simple or else it wouldn't be used by its members. But perhaps, we as humans would continue being disorganized and messy regardless of the means to help us to improve the clutter of loose papers and half-finished entries into our online and offline calendars. I'm still searching for a better way.

fredag, februar 15, 2008

bildschöne bücher

Journeys

Monocle has an interesting look at a different approach to book publishing this month on their stylish and informative online magazine. Instead of going large like Barnes & Noble, Amazon and the other giants the proprietor Bodo von Hodenberg has opened a book store in Berlin based upon the highly successful website 25books.com. The idea is that they want to publish beautiful books on photography, art and design - at least 25 copies. As Eric Idle would have said: "That's neat."

pangea day

The great thing about social networks is participation and interaction with other people's projects and initiatives. About twice a month or so I get contacted through Flickr because of someone who has taken interest in one of my photos. It ranges from a Hungarian coffee table book on tea (sic) and a Chinese travel book on the Middle East to an online Oslo guide and a Mexican sci-fi movie. Tonight I got a mail from a person making a film petitioning for taking part in Pangea Day who wanted to use this picture in an opening sequence of a film. Pangea Day is a great initiative to give the voice to people all over the world through the power of images, still and moving.



The documentary filmmaker and TED prize winner Jehane Noujaim is part of the initiative and the people behind the Pangea Day hopes to bring together millions of people from all over the world in a unique shared experience, use the power of film to create a better understanding of one another, and form a global community striving for a better future.

Quite impressive. It all happens on May 10th, 2008. Submissions closed on February 15th though...

parental guidance

Net safety, netiquette, online safety, websmartness etc. It has many names, but they all attempt to describe one thing: rules to go by when navigating the information highway (an ancient pre-2000 description of the internet..?). As I work in a school and work with kids a striking reality hits me when asked questions from the kids like: "Did you have a radio when you were young?" or "Is it true that you didn't have a mobile phone when you were at school?"

This generation grew up with the web around them, most of their parents didn't. Most of their parents use the web to check the tabloids, real estate prices and perhaps book a plane ticket, while a selected few use the web in a more extensive way, either through work or by personal interest.

This week we invited all parents to come to a information meeting on net safety run by Redd Barna, a Norwegian interest group working for children's rights. The meeting would address the concerns regarding children and net use as well as help the parents to gain a larger understanding of what their kids do online.

Out of 400 parents 8 showed up.

This is part of the problem. Generally parents tend to think they have control over what their kids do online. Kids and their parents have rules they say. Truth is that rules made by children and grown-ups together might not apply when peer pressure and friends' loyalty becomes more important. A great responsibility lies with both the school and with the parents. We have to acknowledge that children grow up with an unparalleled parallel world, sort of speak, to the physical one, namely the digital world. And as one parent put it:

"When I send my kids out to play I worry. I worry about wether they'll fall on the ice, wether they get run over by a car, get kidnapped, raped or if they get in a fight with friends or if they have had enough to eat. But I cannot worry about all these things, I have to pick my worries and prioritize them. Accordingly I feel good about sending them out because they get fresh air, they socialize and learn new things about the world."

The same thing could be said about children online. They play online games, they chat, they post pictures and videos and they do schoolwork. All of these activities have positive effects for the child's upbringing. Nevertheless, there are many dangers, as there are in the physical world. What we as parents and teachers need to do is to acknowledge our responsibility and dare to be advisors to our kids. We have to get engaged in our children's activities. It should become innate to ask our children over dinner how things went online today in the same way as we ask about their school day and their training.


We have to get engaged in order to see the dangers, but also the immense possibilities. We have to teach them that all actions have consequences, as they do in the physical world. Furthermore, we have to walk the walk and not only talk the talk. If we post pictures of friends and foes on Facebook without permission then we cannot expect our children to not do the same.

onsdag, februar 13, 2008

workflow

Lately I have found myself moving my workflow increasingly from my desktop to the web. I find Google Docs very handy. I work in two places, one of them has wireless internet access while the other one does not. At the latter I find it hard to do word processing like creating weekly plans, homework assignments and other necessary digital related work. Earlier I would make the weekly plans at home and then print it out. This year I am challenged with acquiring information from several subject teachers, usually Tuesday night. This does not always happen, and it needs to get done at school on Wednesday when plans have to go out.

Enter Google Docs: I have a weekly plan template online which I use a copy of for every week. This way I create an accessible library of weekly plans for future reference and an instant access to my work wherever I am. Coming to school on Wednesday I get the info I need from colleagues and put it into the document I prepared the night before at home online in the computer lab (without the wireless access). This makes the hassle of handwritten jumble on neat weekly plans unnecessary and my workflow easier.

When a colleague in the administration saw this he asked if this would be possible for the whole staff to create a pool of templates, forms, plans and other useful documents for everyone to edit, copy, paste and access. Now that would help everyone's workflow if people were keen on participating and sharing. I wonder.

Google Apps Team Edition aims to facilitate this. Questions do remain though, and a returning one from co-workers in particular, boils down to this: Is it safe? And how much do I want to be on Google's servers..?

mandag, februar 11, 2008

war stories



My grandfather sat in a work Nazi camp during World War II, and during that time he kept a diary. His widow kept all the correspondence, censored letters and then of course the diary.

My uncle has tried to transcribe it, but never completed it. I'm not quite sure if it was illegibility or lack of time, but it never came to be a closure to the endeavor. A year back I asked my grandmother to have a go, and as of now I have it in my possession. I have tried to transcribe it, and I've come a fair bit into it. Severe damage to the book (originally a calendar) caused by humidity and time makes it a time-consuming undertaking, and the problem is time. It's fascinating reading and in particular a strong feeling of time travel back to my grandfather's experiences and hardships during this time. I feel that I know so little.

I have an ambition to complete the transcription and hopefully publish it for family, perhaps even online and make it digitally accessible for interested. It would be quite a place for future generations to have a digital searchable database with diaries, letters, documents and photographs from World War II.

A connection between now and history in order for us to fight ignorance. I hope to do my bit.

digitally able

Last semester I experimented with digital learning tools in my Norwegian lessons and made some interesting discoveries. I set out to spur a greater initiative in the students' writing abilities and I sought out Blogger for this purpose. As of 2007 Kunnskapsløftet, a recent school reform (one of many in recent decades I might add...), five basic skills are embodied within all subjects. Writing, reading, listening, speaking are all obvious ones, but two new skills for the 21st century have been added: mathematical skills (in all subjects) and digital.

Being able to use digital tools in the Norwegian subject curriculum is necessary to master new text forms and ways of expressing oneself. This opens up new learning arenas and allows new possibilities in teaching reading and writing, as well as the production, composition and editing of texts. In this context it is vital to develop the ability to critically assess and use sources. Using digital tools may support and develop the pupils' communication and presentation skills.


Kunnskapsløftet, Norwegian curriculum

Most of the students thrived in the blogging environment, or web-publishing. Within a secured and closed network we opened for creative writing in a totally new and interactive way. And it gave me, as a teacher, a genuine access to their writing process and development of their writing skills. And not to forget, the students acquired new digital skills in simple html and blog editing through links and photo publishing.

Enter January and I embarked upon yet a digital challenge. By the means of digital cameras, multi-purpose mobile phones, Macs and PCs alike, iMovie and Movie Maker, Bluetooth and a small amount of paper and scissors the students made their own commercials. What the students ended up making was quite impressive. Through the process they had to learn one of the many unused programs on their shiny Macs like simple iMovie in the iLife suite and also use the curricular knowledge of denotations and connotations in order to explain their train of thought when planning an advertisement campaign.

With the kind permission from two of the students I have posted one of the commercials for Coca Cola Zero.

video

For Norwegian readers, or any possible readers at all, I'd like to recommend the eminent blog tenketing.net on interaction, peer-powered content, design and technology.

søndag, februar 10, 2008

swansong


Swansong
Originally uploaded by mortsan.

A friend of mine once said that one day there will be no need for men because women will be able to reproduce without us. A-magasinet had a feature article this weekend on how Norwegian men's sperm has an increasingly difficulty to deliver the goods sort of speak. It's sad, but true. Evolution is slowly wiping us out.

Let's enjoy the last years, boys.

sigh



Why do they close the neighborhood's nicest, most pleasant pub with a vast collection of vinyls from the seventees, cold beer, atmospheric fireplace and a general great vibe and then some schmuck decides to rent the localities to open yet a f#%king solarium joint?

Sigh.

fredag, februar 08, 2008

let love in

Time is up, it's a wrap, party's over. On Wednesday this week our exhibition came to a close. It was three weeks in the modest limelight - and a great experience.

I've made a short video on the exhibition, the setting up and the vernissage. Again, thanks a lot to David Shanks and other supporting friends who came by the vernissage and that later has stopped by Bakklandet Skydsstasjon to take a closer look. Even though the exhibition is over, please stop by the beautiful café to sample their excellent Jons Fiskesuppe.

onsdag, februar 06, 2008

bakhodet revisited

"Jeg har vært på kurs!", sier de. Lo alltid litt av disse typene som til stadighet dro på kurs. Men her er jeg altså full av verdifull kunnskap om konflikthåndtering, samhandling og kommunikasjon. En god del karamellpudding og litt smådvassen krepsehaleforrett ble meg til dels også. Som tillitsvalg-to-be går jeg gradene i Utdanningsforbundets kursrekke og var nå kommet til tredje stadium VOKS - videregående opplæroing i kommunikasjon og samhandling. Her var det forelesninger, gruppearbeid, dialoger og monologer samt vinneren rollespill.

Jaggu fikk jeg ikke bakhodet mitt på nett også (se bilde - meg til høyre). Det er jo en aldri så liten homage til første gangen undertegnede var på trykk i avisen - heimbygdas Gjengangeren - da jeg overvar et litt forvirrende dukketeater på Gannestad. Da fikk jeg bakhodet og en del av høyrearmen til seksåringen på trykk. Klart det var stas. Klart det var stas.

Min gode våpendrager, Jørn Lund, derimot har bedre grunner til å komme både på trykk og på nett etter sin innsats i NM i badminton. For en helt!