Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The PLE Conference 2012: one week later

I have yet to write a post on the conference itself; there's just too much to process, but in the meantime I wanted to aggregate some of the posts that have been inspired by it. I know I will be checking those in the future, so maybe someone will find it useful as well. For now, these are some of the links (will update as required), and a nice picture of Aveiro ;)
  • José Mota's post on the 2nd day unkeynote and his answers to our questions
  • José Mota's wrap-up on the conference
  • Grainne Conole's post on preparing the unkeynote and a summary of the content and discussion
  • Steve Wheeler's reflection on the 2nd day unkeynote
  • Mark Smithers' reflection on the conference
  • Frances Bell's post
  • Malinka Ivanova's post
  • The Sapo Campus-based site for the conference
  • The official site for PLEConf (note that there are individual pages for most of the sessions, with additional references and resources - thanks to Linda for the reminder!)
  • The ScoopIt! site curated by Gemma (thanks!) that collects blogposts by unkeynote speakers and PLEConf site
  • My own post asking participants for their input and comments on the 4 questions we proposed and used as the starting point for our unkeynote
  • Discussion posted on Cloudworks, with several contributions
  • The YouTube playlist with videos contributed by colleagues/researchers/friends (thanks again to everyone!)
  • Find the conversation on Twitter around the hashtag #PLEConf
  • Pictures on Flickr that were tagged with #PLEConf
  • Linda Castañeda's pictures
More to come, most likely!

Cais dos Botirões, Aveiro by torresk
Cais dos Botirões, Aveiro, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Crowdsourcing the (un)keynote

"The Fellowship of the PLE"...this is what Linda calls the bunch of us; I'm not sure whether she came up with the idea or is someone else's, but I'm guessing it was hers, so she takes credit for it. First time I heard her using it was last year, while we were planning our session for TIES2012; there, we ran a symposium on PLEs, together with Jordi Adell, Oskar Casquero and Ismael Peña López.

It came to mind because next week we will be meeting in Aveiro (and Melbourne, although not both, sadly), for the third edition of The PLE Conference ( and, @PLEConf  and #PLEConf on Twitter). There's a lot of innovation this year: the two venues, the badges and the 2nd day keynotes;  an exercise in crowdsourcing, the two keynote speakers for the second day of the conference were chosen by the "Fellowship"

Honestly, it was a shock to learn that I was one of the keynote speakers for this year's conference, together with Grainne Conole: a double honor, to be chosen by my peers and to be sharing the stage with Grainne! I hope we'll do it justice. We have been busy thinking and planning, but the conference is getting closer and closer and I have to confess I'm getting quite anxious about the whole thing.

No spoilers here, but we have been thinking about three main topics: the 'VLE vs PLE' debate, 'going back to basics' and the evolution of PLEs. So now we are crowdsourcing the keynote itself, calling for participation and ideas. A couple of days ago I 'ran' into Alec Couros on Twitter, doing the same thing for his keynote in Melbourne;  together with Graham Attwell, they followed that approach (with huge success) to prepare their keynote at The PLE Conference 2010 in Barcelona (for which I was local organiser, and which was then called PLE_BCN).  So, if you are interested (Yes, you are. And no, these are not the droids you're looking for), drop us a line, create a short video, or comment on this post and help us with these:

  1. What is your personal digital learning environment and how do you use it?
  2. What are the main obstacles for building and maintaining a Personal Digital Learning Environment?
  3. How has your use of technologies changed in the last five years? 
  4. What are your views on the PLE vs VLE debate? is the VLE really dead?
It would be great to have your input about these topics! So, who's first???

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I'm back...

Well, it's been a little over a month since I last posted. The usual excuses apply, but this has really been a hectic month: end of semester and Masters programmes, what looks like the last session for our project (at least under that name), The PLE Conference next week and, well, life. I even stopped posting 1picxday photos for something like 5 days, which had not happened before.

 July promises to be a quieter month, so I can try and relax a bit, catch up with stuff and continue writing my PhD dissertation. I have been learning how to say 'no' and I plan on not being available for anything between July 16th and 28th, at least. Let's see how that goes!

 Just a short update for now; will start my PLEConf-themed post now, and hopefully get it published tomorrow!

Monday, 28 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012, May 26th: Swiss chard rainbow

Swiss chard rainbow by torresk
Swiss chard rainbow, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

When we bought the seeds we were indeed promised a marvelous display of colored stalks. But this is way more impressive than I expected. There were white, red, yellow and even some orange ones. Hope they are as tasty as they look; they will be sautéed in a few minutes!

Friday, 25 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012, May 25th: Towel Day

Towel Day by torresk
Towel Day, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

This one requires a bit of an explanation, if you're not a Hitchhiker's fan. A Towel is, according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or HHGG, the most useful thing interstellar travelers can carry with them. HHGG is perhaps the best-known book by Douglas Adams, and there have been radio series, a TV series and a movie based on it. One of my favorite books by DNA is Last Chance to See, about endangered species. A must-read!

The date was picked by fans two weeks after Douglas Adams died, May 11th 2001, and has been observed ever since. I became a fan a few years before he passed away; it's too bad we won't get any more genius works by him. Even The Salmon of Doubt, posthumously published, is brilliant, although it's unfinished and doesn't make a great deal of sense.

I'm not saying that the rest does, either. But it is absolute genius!

1 pic a day 2012, May 24th: Easter Cactus

Easter Cactus by torresk
Easter Cactus, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding Easter and Christmas cacti, apparently. If I understand correctly, Christmas cacti are Schlumbergera while Easter cacti are Hatiora. Mr. Subjunctive has a great profile on Schlumbergeras.

I'm pretty sure this is an Easter cactus; the timing is right, and the shape of the flowers matches what I have read. These have radial symmetry, as opposed to Christmas cacti, which show bilateral symmetry.

Anyway, the flowers are gorgeous. You can see the similarity with "traditional" cacti; I posted a picture of Mammillaria a few days ago, and the flowers look almost the same, except for the size.

1 pic a day 2012, May 23rd: Sprouts!

Sprouts! by torresk
Sprouts!, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

These are healthy AND look really nice! I like the color (and taste) combination ;)

Green ones are mustard, purple ones are cabbage. Have been sprouting these at home for a few years now, and we recently started saving the water from the daily rinses and also from the final rinse, just before eating them. Not rinsing properly and often can lead to bacteria growth and all sorts of unpleasant situations.

The problem is that this is a lot of water; saving it and using it to water the plants is working great. The plants love it, and we do our bit for the environment. Win-win!

Next batch will probably be watercress and mungo beans. Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012, May 22nd: Vintage-y

Vintage-y by torresk
Vintage-y, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

I went for an old look with this one. I pass by this building at least a couple of days a week, on my way to/from classes. It had never occurred to me to find out what is in there.

Yesterday I took this picture, and after posting, decided to look it up. It turns out it is now a Clinic (Clínica Creu Blanca), but couldn't find further information about its history.

But still, it is a nice building!

1 pic a day 2012, May 21st: Clouds over Barcelona

Clouds over Barcelona by torresk
Clouds over Barcelona, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

Lately, the posts have become all about flowers and skies. But seriously, isn't this amazing?

It's the season, so I guess I'll roll with it. Maybe tomorrow we will have something different? ;)

1 pic a day 2012, May 20th: "Cappuccino"

Cappuccino by torresk
Cappuccino, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

As in flowers, not coffee. More specifically, Petunias.

I had vowed not to buy any more Petunias, as they are taking over the balconies, but I saw these and couldn't resist. I mean, WHAT color is THIS?

Apparently, it's Cappuccino.

I couldn't describe this color to my mother; the best I could do was compare it to a car we used to own (yes, I know). Weird color for both a car and a flower, but it worked/works somehow. What do you think?

1 pic a day 2012, May 19th: Gazania

Gazania by torresk
Gazania, a photo by torresk on Flickr.

These were inherited from a friend that recently moved to Germany. For a long time I thought I disliked Gazanias. Yellow flowers, black rings, greyish leaves left me cold. Until I saw this one, that is.

Friday, 18 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012, May 18th: Pink Crown

Pink Crown by torresk
Pink Crown, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
I discovered this one yesterday. Was facing the street, so I hadn't noticed the flowers. This cactus has never failed to bloom every spring for the last 5 years or so. According to Google Images, this is a Mammillaria zeilmanniana, but it has so many synonyms that maybe I didn't choose the most common one. Everything fits the description and pictures, so let's say it is.

I just noticed that this one already has a fruit, bottom/center of the picture, just above the Asparagus that is growing there. It looks like it's trying to take over the balcony, this one. I removed at least 7 yesterday alone. It's not that we don't like it, but one is more than enough. They tend to "eat" the soil and at least on one occasion one of them has broken the pot. So they have to be kept under control!

1 pic a day 2012, May 17th: In the sun

In the sun by torresk
In the sun, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
Sofía again. I went to the kitchen to make some tea, and saw her soaking up the sun. In the afternoon, is the only spot where you get direct sun, which she needs to recharge her feline batteries. I think.

Her expression is priceless!

1 pic a day 2012, May 16th: Pink Quill

Pink Quill by torresk
Pink Quill, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
This is technically known as a Tillandsia cyanea. But Pink Quill is a fancier name, apparently.

We got this one as a gift for a friend we hadn't seen for at least a year and a half, which is a shame, as we live in the same city. But you know how it is.

The plant flowered the next day; I wasn't expecting it, and for a few seconds couldn't figure out what was that thing on the plant. Further inspection revealed a nice purple flower (which here shows as blue-ish, for some reason. I guess CCD sensitivity to blue or something techy).

Today I discovered a second flower; supposedly they last a long time, and we should expect more where these came from. Apparently, bromeliads die after blooming, after having produced pups to perpetuate the species, but I have found several sources that say otherwise. In particular, Mr. Subjunctive says that this is not always the case, and I trust what he says. (He writes an amazingly entertaining blog, where I have learned lots about houseplants). So I will keep you posted on any further developments.

1 pic a day 2012, May 15th: Arctic White

Arctic White by torresk
Arctic White, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
This is supposedly an Arctic White Hippeastrum. At least that's what the label said. I bought it because it was a new color for me, and so far we have three: red, red+white and salmon. So white was novel if maybe a bit boring.

Boy, were we in for a surprise.

The label showed the usual (for me) six-petal flower, so that was what I was expecting. Not THIS show. I didn't think that white-on-white was going to work, but this must be my favourite flower-themed picture so far (and you know there are a lot of those!).

Sadly, it seems the season is over; I haven't been able to find other colors, but if things work as planned, these bulbs should put on quite a show again next year!

1 pic a day 2012, May 14th: Allium

Allium by torresk
Allium, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
A bit behind with the "daily" posts. Won't even try to make good excuses: work, work and more work. Anyway. I don't know what variety this is, but it is an Allium; so basically an ornamental onion :P

I love the geometry here; the flowers are perfect six-point stars, so the whole thing screams of hexagons. I suspect that a fuller flower (we weren't that lucky, or maybe this is the best this variety does) would resemble a geodesic dome.

I know; I'm a geek.

Monday, 14 May 2012

1pic a day 2012, May 13th - Shapes & Light

Shapes & Light by torresk
Shapes & Light, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
At Sant Pere de Ribes; a nice day, spent with friends over amazing food, good wine and nice conversation. This is what Sundays are for. After that we took a walk around and these clouds caught my eye.

1 pic a day 2012, May 12th - Parsley

Parsley by torresk
Parsley, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
Huge plant, did not expect it to grow this much. Have started to cut it down a bit, so it doesn't take over the whole pot. It is supposed to be sharing it with Lemon cucumber, Swiss chard, coriander, dill and catnip. We'll see who survives.

1 pic a day 2012, May 11th - Down

Down by torresk
Down, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
Waiting for some friends by the elevator, I decided to look down the staircase; something I never do, on account of being afraid of heights. Played a bit with B&W and grain, turned out OK, I think!

1 pic a day 2012, May 10th - Food Porn: Paella!

Food Porn by torresk
Food Porn, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
Great food, great company for that day.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Aloe vera

I was having a conversation with some friends the other day, when I mentioned Aloe vera flowers; they gave me this baffled look: apparently, they had never seen those before. I guess I take it for granted, as we have had flowering Aloe vera in our balcony for several years now. The one that is currently in bloom has actually not one, but two flower stalks:

I'm not sure how common this is. Back in Paraguaná, where I used to live, this plant was all over the place, and now that I think about it, I don't recall seeing a lot of flowers. Maybe it's the age of the plant; this one is 3rd or 4th generation from the one we originally had and had to give away on account it didn't fit on the balcony anymore. This one is a bit smaller, but still impressive: roughly 110 cm in diameter, and the flower stalk is about 115 cm long!

Anyway. Went to the balcony to get a few more pictures for the post. The flowers are actually quite nice:

And then I noticed the floor was all sticky; further examination revealed there was syrup-like stuff all over the leaves - nectar leaking from the flowers:

So, of course, I had to try it. Extremely sweet stuff! Google did not reveal any information on whether this is actually used for sweetening food or something (probably not practical), but I did learn that hummingbirds dig it. Since I am most certainly not one, I have no idea what effect it could have on me. I know that ingesting some parts of the leaf is not recommended, so maybe this could be my last post :P 

I should have learned my lesson a few years ago when I spotted a new plant growing in one of our pots, saw some black fruits, and decided to try one. It was Solanum nigrum, also known as Hierba Mora or the more descriptive Tomatillo del Diablo: definitely poisonous, as I learned from Google AFTER having tried one. Nothing happened, of course, but I was quite worried for a few minutes.

At least this time I Googled first. But seriously, it is sweet and it comes from a plant. That should mean it's safe, shouldn't it? Supposedly all the other stuff that one is not supposed to try smells bad, is bitter or something. I think. Oh well.

1 pic a day 2012, May 9th: Snow-like

Snow-like by torresk
Snow-like, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
The ground was completely covered with white flowers -no idea what kind- and the sun made it look like snow. Right after a session with a group of teachers, where we discussed potential applications of board-like tools, such as Pinterest, Sworly and The New Hive, which we are testing. These are very rewarding sessions; they have been working with us for almost three years, so they are more friends than colleagues at this point, and are such a creative and inspiring bunch, that you wished you could always work with groups like this!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012, May 8th: Langoustines - 129/366

Langoustines by torresk
Langoustines, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
...or "Cigalas" as we call them in Spain. Went to this place for dinner with friends last night. It's set up as a fish/seafood market stall; you choose whatever you want, pay by weight, then it's sent to the kitchen and they will call you to pick it up when is prepared. Cool concept, great food!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The PLE Conference

I had promised to write a blogpost on The PLE Conference, but as usual couldn't find the time to do it. So, finally, here it goes.

The PLE Conference first became an idea back in 2009. A bunch of us got together for another conference, and at some point got fed up with it: same traditional format, people doing their thing and then disappearing (I know, we kind of did the same), the audience being basically the presenters themselves, no networking spaces, spotty WiFi and so on. It was not the only conference I had been to with those characteristics; 2009 was a very busy year for me in terms of conferences and events participation, and most of them failed to live up to my expectations.

Anyway; here we were, Graham, Cristina, Maria, Tobias and I. We also managed to kidnap Andrea, whom we had met after his presentation. We went to the seaside and a couple of drinks later, started talking about why conferences should be so, well, boring.

And then someone said "we should host our own conference".

After a couple of minutes of silence, everyone started talking at the same time, with lots of ideas and suggestions. Eventually, we settled on PLEs as the focus of the conference: that was the reason we first got together as a team, and a couple of searches on Google showed there had been no face-to-face conferences on that topic yet. The only reference we could find was a virtual event.

After this, it was a question of deciding where to host it. (This is where I got tricked). Everyone said "Barcelona, of course!". Called one of my supervisors at the time, who assured us we would have 100% support from the foundation (Citilab, where I worked between 2008 and 2011), and that was it. Barcelona would host The PLE Conference 2010.

What I didn't realise then was that of course I was also automatically being appointed local organiser. If I had known the implications! (well, to be honest, if I had known, I would still have done it).

A couple of months later, we met again, at (surprise) another conference. By this time we have had a few emails and Skype meetings, and were ready to start working. Ilona became part of the team, as well as Linda and Rafa. And the hard work began. It was a lot of work: issuing the call, having weekly meetings, deciding on budget, trying to find sponsors, simultaneous interpretation, keynotes, accommodation, getting the venue sorted out, WiFi, setting up social networks presence and disseminating the info, getting papers, finding reviewers, deciding the final programme, sending papers back for corrections and revision, logo, banner, programme, finding "volunteers" (some of my students: Aleksandra, Andrew, Alex, ChengMarinaMartin), catering, setting up a space for the posters session, for the wine & tapas, lunch... It is amazing what happens behind the scenes, and you learn to have some respect for the people that organise this things. I can understand why some of them just go for the tried and proved template: thinking outside the box and trying to be innovative is risky and creates even more work.

You cannot do it alone. Yes, I was in Barcelona and had to deal with a lot of things other members of the team simply could not do. I had a lot of help from Citilab and many of my colleagues there worked really hard on this. i2Cat were also very supportive and sponsored the interpretation and part of the keynotes accommodation expenses. Some of the teachers that were participating in the HortDigital project also helped and María José even offered to host Joyce! The organising committee did an outstanding job, and we had several people helping just because they wanted to. My only regret is that I couldn't participate in all the sessions, and that I had to completely miss some of them, as most of the time I was running up and down the building sorting things out.

For the second PLE Conference, I was still part of the organising committee, but with way less pressure; we had new members, and a great local team. Southampton was amazing, and kept the spirit alive. This year it has been harder for me to participate actively: lots of changes, both personal and professional, mean less time, but I have tried to keep the Twitter conversation going on, made it to a couple of meetings, did my reviews. I'm sure this year's conference will be great, and I know that both the Aveiro and Melbourne teams are working hard on it, day and night.

BUT. It is worth the effort. Gemma has already written about this, so I won't go over it again, but the unKeynotes, the backchannel, the networking, the participation... all this has made The PLE Conference an event that is fixed in my calendar. Even if I don't attend any other event, this is the one I won't miss. How long will it keep running? I don't know. Would the name still be appropriate in 3 or 5 years? Probably not. And that's actually a good thing, in my opinion. But if something will remain, it will be the spirit, the inspiration, the camaraderie. I am extremely proud of being a part of all this, and hope I can continue helping and participating for many more years.

Why are you still reading? Go mark July 11th to 13th in your calendar right now! You won't regret it ;)

1 pic a day 2012, May 7th - 128/366

Wow by torresk
Wow, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
No idea what hybrid this is. Got it as a gift two years ago and it has never failed to bloom. Known as Amaryllis, but technically an Hippeastrum; it looks like "Desire", but it could be anything, seriously. From what I have seen online, the differences between some of them are so subtle that sometimes I don't know why they have different names. But it's pretty, so I don't complain!

Monday, 7 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012, May 6th: (Canadian) Swiss Chard - 127/366

127/366 by torresk
127/366, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
First harvest of the spring... some seeds we brought from Canada, that promised nice, bright colors... and they delivered! This one was as tasty as nice to look at!

1 pic a day 2012, May 5th - 126/366

Nice Day! by torresk
Nice Day!, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
The sculptures, the reflection of the water, the (ugh) pigeons, the trail in the sky (what's the proper name for that?): it made for a nice composition. This was taken right before a great lunch with friends. Nice way to spend a Saturday!

1 pic a day, May 4th: Star Wars Day - 125/366

May the Fourth be with you and all that. Posting this a few days later, but I was celebrating, so that's my excuse. The caption for this one was "I have a bad feeling about this". And if you make fun of the action figure/puzzle, be afraid, be very afraid: there's more where these came from.

Friday, 4 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012, May 3rd - 124/366, Watercolors

Watercolors by torresk
Watercolors, a photo by torresk on Flickr.
I pass by this square almost every morning on my way to work. On Thursdays, it's even earlier, as I have a 8:00 class. Around that time, they usually have the sprinklers on with -I guess- the intention of watering the grass. What actually happens, the way the sprinklers are set, is that a small stream is created and it runs down the street. This particular morning it was very bright, and that red patch really got my attention. It was the roof of a nearby building, but the reflection on the water is so colorful that it looks as if it was burning. decided to crop it so the buildings and tress don't show. I like it better this way.

By the way, I'm trying the direct connection from Flickr to Blogger. It works OK, although I don't think I get a lot to say on the post layout; maybe I need to explore a bit more. And then I have to log in to Blogger anyway if I want to add labels and such. Will try it for a few days and see whether I like it.

I also started to try the Pinterest function, which is pretty good. Managed to Pin all my 1picxday images to boards organised by month.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012: May 2nd - 123/366

Today's picture almost didn't happen. Had a hectic day, as usual, and there was not much that caught my eye during the day. But when I was walking home, there was something in the way the light hit this building that made me stop.
   I was in a hurry, so I just took a picture and run to my next (and final) meeting of the day. It was afterwards that I realised the contrast was all wrong and had to play with filters to get some of the details back. Thus the weird glow on the top left corner. It had some nice comments on Facebook anyway, so I can't complain!

I guessed this must had been listed somewhere, so after a bit of Googling found out it is called Cases Salvador Andreu; apparently, the style is more Eclectic than Modernist. More information on it may be found here.
Clicking on it will open the original on a separate window, in case you want to see more detail.

This led me to this other site, where 115 works (or 116, the site doesn't seem to make up its mind about it) are listed and together create the Modernisme Route. After reading it, I realised there are several buildings and places around Barcelona named after Salvador Andreu, and two clicks later I learned he is the guy behind the cough drops I took the last time I had the flu. Which proves that everything is connected and that it is very easy to get lost on the Internet and forget what you were doing in the first place. So that's it for today.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

1 pic a day 2012: May 1st

Well, May starts and with it a new approach: to try to write a daily post for each picture that's part of the #1picxday2012 group. I'm not really sure I will be able to keep up with it but it doesn't hurt to try. I never thought I would get this far with the 1 pic a day challenge, and here we are entering month 5!

Today's picture is a snapdragon (Antirrhinum) that bloomed last week in our balcony. It's growing in the same pot as the Araucaria (which is featured in the April 1picxday pictures, post coming soon), and that I have always known by the name "Perritos" (little dogs). I don't really remember how they got there, but they are thriving and producing blooms left and right, so I guess they like it here.

Clicking on it will open the original on a separate window, in case you want to see more detail. It has gorgeous colors, so it's worth it!

As the work that was being done in the balconies has finally been finished, we could move the plants outside again. We have 138 plants! Actually, 137, as one of them was accidentally crushed to pieces a few minutes ago. A curved support and a square rail don't match. The poor thing was featured as 52/366 on February 21st, so its legacy will live on. Plus we still have hope that it will survive.

Monday, 16 April 2012

1 pic a day 2012: March

Another month, another batch of pictures: 31, in this case. It's spring now in Barcelona, which shows; there are more pictures of flowers and plants this time around, most of them from our balcony. Mediterranean weather is great!

There is #foodporn, of course, and several pictures from around the neighbourhood. We are relatively new to this area of Barcelona, and the 1 pic a day challenge has forced me to keep my eyes open and look around, which is good. For March 14th, or 3.14, PI day, I ended up posting concentric circles instead of the pie (well, cake) I baked for my Maths class that day. It's actually a ceramic piece shoot from above; it was created by a renowned artist from Paraguaná, where I lived between 1991 and 1995. I had several of his pieces, but my cats at that time, Tonto and Negro, managed to break them all. This one was a gift from my mother.

I particularly like March 16th, 76/366; the reflection of the wine on the tablecloth is amazing! And the #foodporn that day was out of this world. All in all, there are five pictures whose subject is reflections or tricks of light: 64/366 (solar halo), 76/366 (wine magic), 82/366 (a square after the rain), 83/366 (liquid Sagrada Familia) and 88/366 (rainbow on the stairsteps); again, because of the sunny weather and the scattered rains.

My cats don't show up in March, although we do have a feline guest appearance on 90/366, March 30th. The last picture is a tulip from the balcony, a nice surprise since I didn't remember planting those bulbs!

Although many times it's just a question of "Ok, I HAVE to post something today", most of the time there's a lot of thinking behind the pictures that end up here; in fact, I am creating a folder of "almost-made-it" pictures (probably to be featured on their own post). So I was thinking that I could manage to do more frequent posts if I do them around the pictures. That would mean that any post not related to #1picxday would be lost among all the picture-related ones; but I think I'm going to try it anyway. I'm nowhere near the point of needing two (or more) blogs and I seriously doubt there's a big enough audience for one, let alone two. We'll see.

Monday, 26 March 2012

#Twitter in the #classroom?

A month ago or so, I was asked to provide a chapter proposal for a book on some applications of Twitter in education. I was thinking on writing a draft for it, and it kind of made sense to write a post about it first. After all, what are blogs for? ;)

I have been using Twitter since 2008. According to When Did You Join Twitter?, I created my account on July 31st 2008. Which makes sense; if I'm not mistaken, this was during my first stay at Leicester, working with the BDRA team and discovering Web 2.0 and PLEs.

I started using Twitter with my students in October 2008, as part of the PELICANS project, a collaboration with BDRA, for which I was running the pilot in Barcelona. This became one of the case studies for my PhD dissertation.

What we did in the context of that project (actually, its first iteration), was show Twitter to the group and propose to try it for communication regarding the course. Students adopted it pretty fast, and in a couple of weeks it became the main channel for communications, not only academic, but also for personal messages. We then added more tools and students gradually built their PLEs.

In 2009, I started a project called Hort Digital (loosely translated as Digital Orchard), inspired by BDRA's Media Zoo but aimed at secondary school teachers. The project was supported by Citilab, where the sessions took place; the project is now in its third year, and we have worked with approximately 120 teachers, of both primary and secondary school level. Several of these teachers had their first experience with Twitter in the context of that project, and have adopted it as one of their main sources of information. One of them, in particular, wrote a very interesting blog post that you can read here (in Catalan).

One of the tools I discovered when I started working with Web 2.0 tools was I got hooked, as it combines music -something I love- with microblogging. It was very useful to help introduce my students to the concept of microblogging, and the proper use of @ and #; it also features badges, so it was very easy to design activities and contests around them. I'm using the past tense here not because the tools has disappeared, but because for a while now it hasn't been working as smoothly as before. The badges are not being awarded, which of course annoys those people that make an effort to earn them. I know they had some kind of problem with streaming songs, copyright and availability of some tracks, but it doesn't look like this is going to be solved anytime soon. I have tried to contact them both through email and on Twitter, but to no avail; in the past, they usually answered pretty quickly. It gives the impression that, sadly, they are going to close the site.

Last year, I was asked to participate in the Madhouse of Ideas project, which in turn was based on the Bazar de los Locos project. Bazar de los Locos is an initiative by @eraser and @FrancescLlorens, and has now been edited as a book. I also got invited to participate there, but as I have problems finding inspiration and actually writing in Spanish, I passed. When @lindacq led the English version, I did submit a post, which you can read here.

The post was based on an idea I had (and have also seen developed a couple of times by other bloggers), about how Twitter changes the way we communicate and how some people deal with these changes. I was thinking on the 5 stages of grief model, and how it is usually related to major changes in our lives.

Since last year, I have been working on an activity based around Twitter, for a module I teach at a Business Management Masters; the students choose some companies from the Forbes 2000 list, and try to interact with them through Twitter. The idea is to see how some of the most successful companies in the world have adopted (or not) this new channel to get in touch with their customers. Although the contacts have not always been successful, I think the activity has, in the sense that the students (most of them, anyway) try the application and actually see the point in using it.

So, what are your experiences with Twitter in the classroom? Any tips, ideas, suggestions?

Friday, 9 March 2012

1 pic a day 2012: February

Well, the good news is that I have managed to keep up with the challenge and post one picture a day during February too! This has originated a set of questions, though: where should I store/organise them? What app is better for taking the pictures and editing them? And, most importantly, will I be able to keep doing this throughout 2012? (it seems so; I've managed March so far).

Let's look at the pictures first, before attempting to answer any of these questions. This time, they are in chronological order. (Thumbnails link to the Flickr set)

There's a lot of yellow here, something I hadn't noticed. Blue, as usual, and some grey on account, I guess, of it being winter. Managed to keep flowers & plants, and food, under control.

The black picture on the right doesn't look like much but I'm pretty proud/happy with it. It shows Jupiter, Venus and the Moon almost aligned. Didn't think my iPhone was up to it, but it turned out alright!

That picture is the last one in a series that started on the 19th and continued until the 24th: I got the flu, and it hit me pretty hard. So much, in fact, that for the first time in years I cancelled all my classes and stayed home for the whole week. Mostly in bed, which explains the rest of the pictures that week: the lamp on the ceiling of the bedroom, the plant we have on top of the fridge, my "comfy paws", the drapes and finally the alignment of celestial objects, taken from the window (I was feeling better).

Flowers will probably start to show up more and more; spring is almost here, and we have some serious (balcony) gardening work ahead of us. One of the advantages of Mediterranean weather!

Now for the questions; I started saving the pictures on Flickr. As I mentioned in a previous post, I started doing this following Cristina's invitation to join a group there. I also started posting on Facebook too, but I forgot I intended to start using Twitter for this. Will try and start this month. Anyway, Flickr informed me yesterday that I'm about to reach a 200-pictures limit, and that would be a marvelous idea if I were to purchase a Pro plan. The price is not that much, really, so that's not an issue; but I haven't made up my mind yet. I like Flickr a lot. Have been using it with my students for several years, and I think its social elements are much better than some of the other options available. We'll see.

I have been using my iPhone to take the pictures; it's always with me, it's convenient, and the quality is pretty good. I just downloaded Camera Awesome, and will give it a try, but I mostly use the iPhone camera app and SnapSeed for editing. It has a nice range of effects and tools; I haven't really tried Instagram yet. Downloaded, created an account, but that's pretty much it. Will try it for some of the March pictures.

The last question will have to answer itself, later this year. I'll keep doing my best!

Anyone else trying this? It would be good to know of your experience, and whether you follow a theme, have some kind of "requirement" for the pictures you post, what device do you use and what are your thoughts on editing pictures before posting.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

PLEs and Information Systems: an epiphany.

I have had an epiphany. A very late one. Something that must have been screaming at me from the back of my brain for at least 3 years, but for some reason I had chosen not to listen. Here it goes:

PLEs are Information Systems.

Don't give me THAT look. I didn't say it was a huge breakthrough. But this, for me, is A Big Deal. Let's go back a few years.

In 2003 I was offered a job as a teacher in a Business Administration programme. They needed someone to teach e-Business, and I was a professor, could sort of speak English and was a geeky fellow, being a student in a Multimedia Engineering PhD programme. So it kinda made sense. For the next five years, I taught not only that, but also Mathematics, Calculus, Introduction to Information Systems, Business Information Systems, e-Learning systems, and a few other subjects. Someone recommended me to another Uni, and by 2008 I was teaching 20+ hours a week. A bit too much, as the Universe would promptly made clear, by having me faint midway through a lunch with my parents and partner. It was time to cut back on the hours.

Which I did almost immediately, mainly for other reasons that are the subject of a different post. So let's just say that I went from 22 to 6 hours a week. The mathematically inclined will immediately spot a hole in my finances. The Universe managed to fix this by having another job be offered to me right away. It was a challenge, so I took it. It involved heading the e-learning research department for a foundation.

All this happened just before the summer; a summer that I spent in the UK, working with a research group, and which made me, in the end, change my dissertation topic. I had discovered the wonderful world of learning technologies and PLEs. Again, another post.

So when I started my job at the foundation as e-learning projects coordinator, the first project I came up with was based on PLEs and secondary school teachers. And for the next 3 years, I would focus mostly on that project, a few bids, some collaborations, a lot of conferences and events, and PLEs. With some teaching on the side. I did manage to combine my teaching with my research, and had a couple of groups that were very interested in learning about PLEs and Web 2.0. They helped me a lot with my research, and I will be forever thankful to them. But I digress.

The point is, if there is one constant through my teaching post-2003 (before that, the constant was Chemistry) is Information Systems. I have discussed them with my students a million times, tried to come up with our own definitions, talked about computer-based IS as opposed to any IS, and so on.

Research-wise, I had been working on a proposed framework for building PLEs based on Web 2.0 tools in Higher Education, adapting that for secondary school teachers, then for entrepeneurs, and in the end designing training modules that would help anyone put together a PLE by actually learning and choosing the tools. In the meantime, I would get together from time to time with an ever-growing network of colleagues and friends, and discuss PLEs approaches and definitions until the cows came home.

I hope you can see where I'm going with this.

I clearly remember this one time, when Graham Attwell asked a bunch of us, wide-eyed, innocent researchers-to-be, what was a definition of PLE. All I could produce was: "it empowers the learner". Which is clearly NOT a definition. Graham didn't think so, I can tell you that.

The following year, I helped organise the first face-to-face PLE conference, which we appropriately and originally named "The PLE Conference", and one of the sessions was devoted to trying to come up with a definition of PLEs. I can't tell you what happened, on account of having spent most of those 3 days running up and down the building making sure everything was working as expected, but I'm told no working definition came out of it.

Gear by mag3737
Gear, a photo by mag3737 on Flickr.
  And now I've realised that, even though it is not THE definition, that is what a PLE is: an Information System. Or, if you prefer, an information system.

So now I'm thinking I could have said, "An information system that helps empower the learner". That sounds much better. Oh, well. It took me just 3 years.

I'll finish this here (because if not I could continue rambling for ages), with the definition of IS we use in one of my classes. It says:

"Information Systems are the means by which people interact with hardware and software in order to process data that is important to them." (Not really sure what's the exact source. Will try and find it, if there actually is one.)
And, more specifically:
"An information system is a work system whose internal functions are limited to  processing information by performing six types of operations: capturing, transmitting, storing, retrieving, manipulating, and displaying information." (A general, yet useful theory of Information Systems, S. Alter, 1999)

Sort of what we do with a PLE ;)

I have seen PLEs and Open Information Systems mentioned together, but I have never read anything that proposes that a PLE is actually an Information System, using those words. Of course, I may have missed it, or it might be out there and I haven't read it yet, but just wanted to get this off my chest. Done.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Connected Educator: a review

Here we go. As I mentioned in my first post, I had agreed to review a book, "The Connected Educator", by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (@snbeach) and Lani Ritter Hall (@lanihall). Sheryl was kind enough to send me a copy, which I have really enjoyed reading. I wanted to do the book justice, so I took my time.

  The thing is, though, that you do not just read it and are done with it. Oh no. Sheryl and Lani will ask you at several points to actually DO something. For example, add yourself to The Connected Educator map (the Map Yourself! activity), which I promptly did. Or create an account on Diigo; something I didn't do, seeing as I already have a delicious account (now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I must have one anyway, created during my 2008 discovery of Web 2.0 apps while in Leicester. But that's another story/post). Or start a blog. ;)

And so it goes, covering this or that topic, asking you to go ahead and try something, making yourself stop and reflect. It is not a manual, in the sense that following all the steps won't magically transform you into a connected educator, but it will challenge you, question you, open your eyes for new ways of doing things, trying new tools, and generally helping you change or improve your approach to teaching and learning.
Is this a book for everyone? I'm sure some of my colleagues will take a look at it and say that they don't need it - been there, done that. And that's probably true. But sadly, they/we are still a minority. Most educators WILL benefit from reading this book. If they are already on their way to being "connected educators", this book will help them fill in some gaps. If they are new to this world, they will have a great time - probably the key to this: if you don't enjoy it, chances are you won't try it.

I have been teaching for 16 years, and have been interested in learning technologies for almost as long, even before realising there was such as a concept as Learning Technologists. Some of the concepts were familiar to me, and even some of the authors that are referenced throughout the book. I have been lucky enough to have met Alec Couros, Cristina Costa, Grainne Conole, George Couros, Gabriela Grosseck, Carmen Holotescu, Malinka Ivanova, Yong Zhao and George Siemens, during the four or so years I have been doing research on learning technologies.

In most cases, I had met them virtually before actually having the opportunity to have a face to face conversation with them. And that is just one example of how technologies allow us to develop strong communities and networks, even if we never actually meet some of the colleagues that are part of them.

Something else I liked about the book, and that resonates with the way my team and I approach helping teachers embed ICTs in their practice, is the fact that tools DO NOT take center stage. They are presented as that, tools, in a very matter-of-factly way: "This is X, it works this way, why don't you try it? What other uses can you think of? How would you use with your students?". There are many examples and testimonials throughout the book, something that conveys the right message: until you actually try these applications, don't dismiss them as just another gimmick or gadget; see for yourself whether they are actually any good.

Is this a perfect book? Maybe not - there are always things that can be improved, and as it is usually the case with printed works, some of the things that are mentioned in it will change, disappear or something new will take their place; this is particularly true in the case of tools and applications. Many of us still remember the "will they close it, will they not" scare with delicious, courtesy of Yahoo. But that's how the Internet is,  and I think we need to learn to live with it.

I would have used QR codes for some of the URLs, figures or tables, not just for convenience, but also to show these tools by example. But this is just my personal opinion, and in no way a shortcoming of the book. One more thing that is very interesting is the fact that you can subscribe to The Connected Educator self-paced eCourse, and you will receive a newsletter that will guide you as you read the book and help you put it into practice.

Something did surprise me: I found no specific mention of Personal Learning Environments. Should they have been mentioned, though? This is an issue that in some way or another we have been debating for the last three years, in the context of The PLE Conference. Is the PLE a part of the Personal Learning Network? is it the other way around? are they the same thing? and so on. Other related concepts are indeed discussed in the book, such as Communities of Practice and Personal Learning Networks and, in my opinion, anyone that manages to create a PLN is at the same time developing a PLE.

I see myself re-reading this book, discovering new things, and using it for my work with teachers and educators. A great resource, and definitely recommended!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

1 pic a day 2012: January

I confess I was intrigued by the "1 pic a day" challenge: I had seen it on Facebook/Twitter and had wondered what was the point of the whole thing. It seemed like a major commitment with no audience at all, so all in all, a bit pointless. But when my friend Cristina proposed that we tried the challenge this year, I immediately said yes. Cristina has a way of convincing people to do stuff, so I couldn't say no. Plus, I enjoy a challenge; I have, after all, changed my thesis topic after several years into my Ph. D. (don't try this at home, kids).

So, Cris set up a closed  group on Flickr, and I joined her, IleneDawn, Mrs. Maccas and Wollepb in this adventure. So far we have 92 pictures (as of today), which means not everyone has managed to keep up with it. That's fine, as I don't think this should become a burden, and everyone should do this at their own pace. And there's the question of, you know, life. And family, and jobs, and, well, stuff.

After 39 days, and as many pictures, I have to admit I'm hooked. Even if I don't get a comment on Flickr or Facebook, it is an interesting exercise. (I'm posting to both and making my pictures public and visible outside the closed group - I haven't done it on Twitter, and now I'm wondering why, as I'm a self-confessed Twitteradict). It keeps my eyes open for new things, makes me look at the same old streets in a different way, thinking about this or that frame, or how things would look with a different light, at some other time of the day, in a different season, and so on. I spent a whole afternoon with CosmoCat, aka Chahira, taking pictures and having lots of fun, just to get the one image I posted that day.

These are the 31 pictures that I took in January (not in order):

So, no portraits or people, except for that one pic of my parents' wedding. I couldn't say why, but I think I'm gonna keep this trend. I do take photographs of friends and family and post to Flickr, Facebook or Twitter, but somehow I subconsciously  decided not to include those.
My cats are there, though: Sebastian (full name Jonathan Sebastian III) was January 1st, and Sophie (aka Sofia Cristina) was January 3rd. There's four flowers/plants, which is not a lot, considering I spend a lot of time around those. Let's see what happens in the spring.
There's also food, of course. I'm a foodie. There's tea and coffee, plus Japanese and Colombian. My Thesis is there, my ex-workplace, assorted buildings (I can't help it, I live in Barcelona), a gift from the lovely Berenice and her crazy/adorable daughter, Bea; one from the Wikipedia blackout #fail, my CD collection, my aunt's emergency pill kit, and some random pics that I never thought would end up here.

I intend to keep this up, so at least once a month I'll post about the pics I'm taking. And the possibilities for next year are endless: follow a theme each month or do a theme according to numbers, so all pics from the 1st day of the month are about the same subject, same with the second and so on; or just do numbers, and try and get 1 to 365 in pictures. We'll see. for now, I'm enjoying this exercise, and as with so many things, what I enjoy the most is being able to share it.

Hello world...

Well, this seems to be it. After years of thinking that I should have a blog, I'm finally starting one. I can't promise I will post every week (which is my intention for now - this is most definitely not a daily blog), but I will try to keep this alive. There have been many events that led to this, but the most recent ones were Cristina (Costa, @cristinacost) inviting me to join the "1 pic a day" challenge, and me agreeing to review a book, "The Connected Educator", by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (@snbeach) and Lani Ritter Hall (@lanihall). One of the upcoming posts is in fact that review (I promise, Sheryl!).
For now I will be writing as a reflection exercise, and mostly for myself: I am not delusional nor is my intention to have a massive audience. But I think I should practice what I preach, and this is one piece of my digital identity that has been missing for a long time. So, here we go!