Tuesday, November 20, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Campaign

For those of you who've heard of the OLPC campaign ("one laptop per child"), you might be interested to know that you can purchase/donate one until Dec. 31. For those who aren't familiar with OLPC, MIT developed a purported $100 laptop that is equipped with wireless capabilities and designed for children of developing countries. Though they claimed that these machines would only be available for the global market in regards to this mission, they have recently released them for sale to the general public for $200, with a donation of $200. So, for only $400 you get your hands on one of these nifty machines (the idea here is for teachers and parents to use them with children) plus you donate, ostensibly, one laptop to a child in a developing country. I've posted more information on the OLPC mission on my course blog.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Words & Web Charity: A new slant on the power of the word...

In case you're always looking for the perfect, not-too-consuming online procrastination tool and scrabulous has left you feeling less than fabulous (come on...xi!? a word? even for word junkies like myself it's a bit much at times), check out freerice.com. The makers of this site have designed a word game that tests your vocabulary in which each correct guess adds ten grains of rice to your donation pile. While I'm not entirely convinced as of yet that each grain of my hard-earned rice actually makes it to the mouths of those who need it, and I am slightly unsure of how I feel about the "making a game of charity" thing, I do advocate any opportunity to combine two great things. In a way, it's an example of the best of what web 2.0 has to offer: web-charity-as-business-model or, better yet, business-model-as-web-charity. Or something like that.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Goodreads: addressing the "what do I read" problem

At the close of each semester, I inevitably have a handful of students who ask me for a suggested reading list--you know, the "what should I read" or "what should I read that is like..." questions. I'm always struck with what great questions these are, yet, time and time again, I forget to think about them myself until the end of the term. In the past, I've asked students to bring at least one suggested book to last day of class. Each student then has the opportunity to share their selection and explain how it has impacted them. Typically, though, only a few students jot down titles or authors based on the recommendation of their peers. Short of generating tedious amounts of book lists, how else might we address this need on the part of students (or the general public of readers)?

I recently came across a great alternative to this method with the site goodreads (notice my widget on the left side). Goodreads' similarity to social applications like Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster makes it an especially appealing interface to students. I'm told there are many sites like this--community-based, social networking sites that allow you to see what your friends are reading and what reviews they've given the books. As such, applications like goodreads are perfect for demystifying the "book selection" process. In my mind, this is one of the biggest barriers not only to students, but to readers everywhere, leaving bestseller lists, "classics" shelves in bookstores, and mildly-questionable-celebrity-run book clubs to the job of--dare I say?--contemporary canonization. And, for those of us who are already book-obsessed, there's no more entertaining way to add even more titles to the already overwhelmingly, sometimes frighteningly large "to read" lists.

Teaching with blogs

I've used two different approaches to teaching with blogs: the first uses one blog for the entire class in which all students are authors and tag their entries according to texts and topics; the second allows each student to keep his or her own blog related to the course. With this second version, because I was restricted by a particular blogging application that didn't allow for a blog roll, the students connected to one another by a post called "Class Blog List."

So far, the benefits as I see them to using a shared class blog are:
1. Creating a sense of class community
2. Convenience for reading and creating blog posts
3. More instructional control (i.e. you know everyone is regularly referencing the same page)

On the flip side, I've found individual blogs allow:
1. More personal freedom and sense of ownership over the material for students
2. A more "realistic" approach to blogging; i.e. one blog=one blogger
3. As a result of the sense of ownership over the site, students might have more comfort with their relationship to the writing process

I'm still in search of more ways to integrate the blogs themselves into the classroom. I've used a "blog of the day" model where I ask students to share some aspects of their post (especially for students less inclined to participate, this has been a great way to validate their voices and ideas). I've also posted YouTube videos or links to other sites as the reading assignment. We've talked as a class about the way the blog fulfills a kind of "journal" role, demystifying the writing process and allowing for more time (and space) to think through ideas from class or from the readings. However, I'm eager to hear how others have used blogs--particularly in larger classes (my classes have less than 20 students).