Tag Archives: facebook

“Privacy”

fingerprint copyFingerprint (not mine – combination of this image and this image)

Maybe you’ve noticed that Facebook is separating its messenger application from its mobile application. “That’s strange,” you think, “I like things the way they are. They’re integrated, which works well. Why would they change that?” Good question. According to Facebook, there are lots of reasons that your new experience will be richer and better.

But, according to this article on the Huffington Post, users who download the Messenger app agree to terms of service that are “unprecedented and, quite frankly, frightening.” For example, by installing it, you agree that the Facebook Messenger app can:

  • call phone numbers and send text messages without your intervention
  • record audio, take pictures, and take video at any time without your confirmation
  • share data about your contacts,
  • share your phone’s profile information including the phone number, device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number you are connected to
  • access a log of your incoming and outgoing calls, emails, and other communication

Some of these are a bit scary — recording me without my confirmation? who are you, the NSA? But maybe you’re not surprised that Facebook is collecting and sharing your information because users get the app for “free,” which basically means you pay for it by giving over your data. And anyone who agrees to those terms and conditions gets what they signed up for, right? Well what if something similar was happening on the World Wide Web? Spoiler alert: it is.

Think turning off cookies keeps websites from tracking you? Take a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Panopticlick. Even if you don’t let websites store cookies — small files that websites use to track you — on your machine, it’s likely that the combination of your operating system, browser version, browser plugins, time zone, screen size, fonts downloaded, and a few other configurations are as unique as a fingerprint. And websites recognize you by your device’s fingerprint every time you visit.

In fact, your browser history alone is another giveaway. Think about how links to sites you have visited are purple while links you haven’t are blue, then consider this thought experiment: If a website picked a handful of websites and linked to them on its webpage, it would learn about you when you visited based on your combination of blue and purple links. As the number of links grows, there would be a greater and greater chance that your specific combination would be unique. And, based on your combination of blue and purple, and the demographics of visitors to those sites, some information about you could be predicted. For example, if you have visited Martha Stewart’s website on your computer and I’ve visited Hot Rod Magazine’s website on mine, a website could predict a few ways in which we are different. And, again, the longer the list of links, the more accurate the prediction becomes.

All of this information isn’t intended to cause a panic, but rather to raise awareness. Before you bust out your tinfoil hat, consider other alternatives that are more likely to keep you safe online: Check your browser’s security settings, keep your operating system up to date, and look into antivirus and anti-malware tools. And, be aware that what you are doing online is likely trackable and traceable, so be thoughtful of where you go and what you do there. As a friend of mine recently observed in response to all of this, “It’s a scary world. But also a great one.” Be careful out there.

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21st Century Newspapers

rolled up newspapers

A long, long time ago (maybe 6 or 7 years now) I taught an elective ESL class centered around a student newspaper.  We tried various formats including weekly, monthly, and quarterly editions, which ranged from 2 to 32 pages.  We also experimented with various online editions, but at the time that mostly consisted of cutting and pasting the documents into HTML pages.

Fast-forward to 2011 and look how online publishing has changed.  Blogs are ubiquitous, if not approaching passé.  Everyone but my Mom has a Facebook page.  (Don’t worry, my aunts fill her in).  And many people get news, sports scores, Twitter posts, friends’ Facebook updates, and other information of interest pushed directly to their smartphones.

It’s no surprise, then, that a website like paper.li has found its niche.  The slogan for paper.li is Create your newspaper.  Today.  Essentially, paper.li is an RSS aggregator in the form of a newspaper.  RSS aggregators are nothing new (see iGoogle, My Yahoo!, etc.).  As the name implies, the user selects a variety of different feeds from favorite blogs, people on Twitter, Facebook friends, etc. and aggregates the updates onto one page.

The twist with with paper.li is that the aggregated page looks very much like a newspaper — at least a newspaper’s website.  For people not on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, paper.li might feel much more comfortable.  Also, publicizing one’s pages seems to be built right in to paper.li’s sourcecode.  I say that because I first learned of paper.li when I read a tweet that said a new edition of that person’s paper was out featuring me.  How flattering!  Of course, I had to take a look.

Would paper.li be a good platform to relaunch a student newspaper?  It might.  If students have multiple blogs, paper.li could certainly aggregate the most recent posts into one convenient location.  Other feeds could also be easily incorporated as well.  (Think of this as akin to your local community newspaper printing stories from the Associated Press.)  The most recent news stories about your city or region, updates from your institution’s website, and photos posted to Flickr tagged with your city or school name could each be a column in your paper.li paper right beside the articles crafted by the students themselves.  You could even include updates from other paper.li papers.

To see examples of paper.li papers, visit the paper.li website.  (And note that .li is the website suffix — no need to type .com no matter how automatically your fingers try to do so.)  You can search paper.li for existing papers to see what is possible.  A search for ESL, for example, brought up 5 pages of examples, some with hundreds of followers.  Take a look.  You might just get an idea for your own paper.li.

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Feeding the Extracurricular

facebook cupcakes

I’m a big proponent of extracurricular activities, particularly in an intensive ESL program.  Of course, the curriculum must be good — that’s a given — but the extra curricular activities play an extremely important role in students’ learning by immersing students in English through trips, activities, and connections to other speakers of English.

Like many intensive ESL programs, we offer a wide range of activities to students: field trips, conversation partners, movies, lectures, and more.  We have also started a Facebook page as a way to publicize our activities and to build community around these activities.  We have also embraced an online course management system (CMS) which we use to interact with and disseminate curricular information to students.  But, is there a way to integrate the two?

There is.  I have recently created a widget for our CMS that instructors can add to their course pages in order to put extracurricular info in front of students on a regular basis.  To do this, I took the feed from our Facebook page (originally I planned to use the RSS feed, but the atom feed displayed better on our pages) and fed it into feed2js.org to get javascript that I could configure to display the most recent items posted to our Facebook page.  (Feed2js also allows various combinations of colors, fonts and sizes via cascading style sheets, but unfortunately CSS are not compatible with our particular CMS.)

The result is a list of 5  extracurricular (or other) announcements and reminders that students can click on to see more information on our Facebook page.  As a bonus, the Facebook RSS feed only includes items posted by our page administrators.  So, even if students post messages on our wall, which we encourage, they will not be able to send messages out to all of our course pages.  And because our Facebook page is public, students don’t need to be logged in to Facebook to read these messages.

Does it work?  We’re still rolling it out, so it’s too early to call it a success.  But I think integrating our Facebook page into our course management system makes a lot of sense because it multiplies the usefulness and reach of our online presence.

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Facebook for Books

friendwheel diagram from Facebook

I’ve been using Facebook for a while, primarily as a way to share news and photos from our program with students.  We had tried doing this with a Moodle, but could never get enough momentum behind it for it to become popular enough to work.  Many, if not most, of our students are on Facebook, however, which has made it easier to build an online community.

But should we connect with our students in their space?  I have a colleague who uses Facebook in place of our institutional course management system.  This is not unprecedented.  On the other hand, the argument has been made that teachers should not invade students’ personal spaces online because they would prefer to separate their personal interactions from academic ones.  I agree to the extent that I have trouble with requiring students to use their personal Facebook accounts to interact with teachers, but I think these new technologies inherently bring interactions of all kinds together — personal, academic, professional — for better and worse.

So what else can be done with Facebook?  I like what we’re doing in our program, but I’m always looking for opportunities to try out  technologies in other ways.  I recently happened upon the perfect opportunity to deploy Facebook: The Buckeye Book Community (BBC).  Every year, first year students at Ohio State are given a book during orientation and asked to read it before they return for classes in the fall.  The book is then used first-year orientation seminar courses and across campus via different programs and activities.  This common reading experience is not unique to Ohio State (Google it to see others), but what got my attention was the opportunity to have our ESL students read the book and then interact with the native speakers in the community (by hosting a discussion between one of our classes and one of the first-year seminar classes, for example.)

no impact man book coverThis year’s book is No Impact Man by Colin Beavan in which the author, a self described guilty liberal, tries to live with self-imposed rules that reduce his environmental impact to zero.  Clearly this is not the easiest thing to do in New York City, though urban life does offer some advantages.  After reading it, I was struck by his transition (and his family’s transition) to the culture of environmentalism and, even more so, his transition back to his native culture after his experiment is finished — an experience ESL students can surely relate to when they travel to an English-speaking country to study and then return home.

So where does Facebook come in?  Well, I’ve become involved in the activities planning committee and come to the conclusion that a Facebook page would be the perfect supplement to this community.  Participants can post comments, feedback, photos, videos, etc., etc. as they read the book and participate in the programs.  If / when they participate in No Impact Week (a challenge which condenses the author’s experience into seven days) they can discuss what challenges they faced.  I’m hoping our ESL students will be able to participate in this community as well as a meaningful and engaging way to practice English.

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary use of Facebook.  In fact, it was designed around facilitating these kinds of experiences.  But, I’m looking forward to being a part of this community to see how it works on a much larger, campus-wide scale, as opposed to just within our own program.  If you have thoughts, suggestions, and ideas for facilitating online communities, I’d love to hear them.

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Top 5 Technologies I Should Be Using

2 kids wearing 3D glasses.

Last week, I listed the top 5 technologies that you should be using if you are an ESL teacher in 2010.  Today, I present the list of the next 5 technologies I need to explore and possibly add to my bag of tricks.  If you have experience with them, leave your opinions, suggestions, and tips in the comments.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the (near) future:

1. Google Wave – Occasionally billed as the Future Of Email, Wave combines email, IM, and the collaborative parts of Google Docs.  Watch the full Google demo video or the lower resolution abridged version to get the idea.  This is one of those really cool technologies that leaves you asking, “So what do I do with it?”  I hope to have answers to that question soon.

2. Zorap – Like Wave, Zorap combines several disparate elements into one collaborative space.  From what I’ve seen, a space can be set up for many users quickly and easily.  That space can then be used for audio, video, and text conversations and files and documents can be shared to the group.  See the demo for more.  For a free application, it integrates a surprising number of interesting options for remote learning.

3. Ning – A social network akin to Facebook, but it’s not Facebook.  There are many existing nings for topic areas such as The English Companion Ning (“Where English teachers go to help each other”) and Classroom 2.0 (“the social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and Social Media in education”).  Plus, you can create a Ning for a topic that you like or a specific group of people, like the students in your class.  Because it’s a closed system, Ning may be more useful to anyone who can’t (or doesn’t want to) use Facebook or other social networks with their students.

4. Screenr – A free, web-based screen recorder.  Just drag a frame over the part of your screen you want to capture and Screenr will record a video of what happens inside that frame until you tell it to stop.  Great for creating demonstration videos or capturing a presentation.

5. Prezi – When I first saw Prezi, I thought it was just another slide sharing application.  Since then, I’ve seen some slick, remotely controlled presentations that use Prezi to great effect.  One of the best features is the ability to smoothly zoom in and out on portions of the presentation.  One large document can contain everything from headings to footnotes with each part zooming and snapping into place on the screen as it is selected.  This works equally well if the presenter is guiding the presentation or if an individual wants to explore it on his own.  For example, take a look at this Grammar Review Prezi.  You can use the arrows to go forward and back within the presentation, but you can also take control by zooming in and out, dragging the page around, and clicking on the text to zoom to a specific point.  Once you get used to this style of navigation (or, rather, every style of navigation simultaneously) many interesting ways to structure and organize information become possible.

Bonus: Sikuli – I’ve used applications with macros before, but Sikuli’s approach is unique because it can create a macro for any application using your computers GUI.  Think that sounds geeky?  Then the demonstration video might also be a little intimidating.  The gist of it is, you can automate almost any multi-step task on your computer, just by writing a simple script for Sikuli to follow.  While I can’t think of any tasks that are repetitive enough that I’d actually save time by learning how to use Sikuli (and, frankly, I’d rather play Bejeweled myself, thank you very much), the potential of this application is intriguing.

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Top 5 Technologies You Should Already Be Using

apple cassette tape

You don't miss these, do you?

I realize that in the world of technology there are early and late adopters.  I’m not the earliest of bleeding-edge early adopters, but I do like to try out new technology and incorporate it into my teaching.  This list is a handful of tried and true technologies that are established enough to not be too buggy and problematic, user-friendly enough that just about anyone can start using them quickly, and useful enough that you’ll soon wonder how you got along without them.  In short, this is a list of tech that just about everyone can (and maybe even should) be using in 2010.

1. Social Bookmarking – Don’t let the “social” part fool you.  Delicious, Diigo and others offer a way to move your bookmarks to the cloud, meaning they are no longer saved only on one computer.  You can also: tag bookmarks with keywords to make them more searchable, get a URL to all the bookmarks tagged with the same term (for example, all of the sites I bookmarked for my presentation at the recent DMSW conference: http://delicious.com/eslchill/dmsw10), and search other people’s bookmarks to find out what people think is worth bookmarking on a given topic  (for example search for “ESL” on Delicious and you can see how many people have bookmarked each ESL site).  But wait, there’s more!  Diigo allows you to highlight and comment on webpages and then share them.  For example, take a look at my About Me page with some highlighting and sticky notes.  This can be a great tool for collaborating and compiling research.

2. Social media – Ok, here’s where the social part kicks in because Facebook and Twitter are just for fun, right?  Well, I’ve found a lot of great resources via Twitter (try a search for #iwb if you want to find resources people are posting for use with Interactive Whiteboards, for example.) And more and more people are joining Facebook making it a great resource for networking with colleagues.  Don’t want to expose your students to Facebook?  You can build your own social network using Ning!

3. URL Shorteners – These may not be necessary, but they are very handy.  Copy your long URL (the Google Map directions to your house, for example) and paste it into Tiny URL, Tr.im or a handful of others.  They give you a much shorter link that is easier to Tweet.  Not on Twitter?  They can still be useful.  Consider the website for the Unconference I’m planning for this May.  Is it easier to share tr.im/eltu2 or https://carmenwiki.osu.edu/display/eltu/?  Both take you to the same place, but I can memorized the first one.  This technology is so handy, it’s even built in to other sites, like the link provided by Diigo to my annotated About Me page that I shared in #1: http://www.diigo.com/09je0.

4. Wikipedia – Although it has become popular (but not necessary) to question it’s accuracy, Wikipedia has become the defacto knowledge bank on the internet.  Once we are clear on what it is (a secondary source: a compilation of all referenced knowledge) many of its criticisms fall down.  Access to all of this information means a reorganization of learning.  Memorizing becomes virtually unnecessary while the ability to find and retrieve relevant information becomes essential.  More importantly, at least with factual questions, we no longer have to sit and wonder anymore.  What are the lyrics to Carmen Ohio? Just get on the internet and find out!

5. Google – No, I don’t just mean search, but all the other stuff: maps, docs, calendar, etc.  It’s never been so easy to collaborate with other people.  I created a Google Maps / YouTube mashup (student created videos from around Ohio State mapped to where they were recorded) a couple of years ago, back when it involved coding every individual coordinate for every pin placed on the map as well as the contents of every bubble that popped up.  But now, just create your account and you can drag and drop most of the information where you need it — even invite people to work on the same map.  Plus, you can get a sneak peak at what the next big thing might be by checking out Google Labs.  Who wouldn’t like a pair of Google Goggles?

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Professional Development 2.0

A network is all about making connections.

A network is all about making connections.

I’ve had a presentation called Professional Development 2.0 accepted to Ohio TESOL 2009.

The goal of my presentation is going to be highlight Web 2.0 technologies that can expose teachers to new resources and other people in the field.  I’ve posted before about the networked student, so why not the networked professional?

I’m going to focus on Twitter, because following the right people can set you up with a constant stream of great ideas and resources, blogs, which do the same but in long form, and RSS feed readers and other applications that can help organize all of these streams.  I’d also like to include Facebook, Linked In, Nings, and other social media, but I don’t have as much experience using them in the same way.

Among my own favorites are @LarryFerlazzo (and his blog), @TeachPaperless, @McLeod (and his blog), as well as blogs such as Six Things, Abject Learning, DigitaLang, and the others I have listed in my Blog Roll at right.

The purpose of this post, however, is to solicit other suggestions from you, the reader.  Is there someone you find especially useful to follow on Twitter?  Do you read any blogs that always inspire you?  Do you have a Facebook group that other ESL professionals should join?  Leave a comment below and share it with the world.

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