The Tao of Posts

injured books and ribbons

I’ve been having quite a few conversations around student portfolios eportfolios online representations of their learning over time. These conversations have mostly centered on using WordPress and, almost inevitably, the first instinct is to create a series of pages that are aligned to either courses or assignments. Those pages usually contain a number of different pieces of content. That structure makes the most sense to people who are used to building websites in the Dreamweaver/static paradigm. I don’t think this is the right path in most cases. It’s easy in the short term but starts to limit you (absent lots of work) in the long run.

Strange that I don't really know what a web page is anymore. Individual tweet? Blog post? Flickr image? #vcuols

— Tom Woodward (@twoodwar) May 14, 2014

At the heart of this is the issue that “page” is hard to define. In the broadest sense anything I can address with a URL is a webpage. That’s a big bucket. WordPress makes things more complex by including a way to create pieces of content called “pages.” Pages are usually contrasted to posts. I usually described1 the page/post difference was that posts were pieces of content that flowed with the timeline (more ephemeral but archived) and pages were pieces of content you wanted to be more permanent/static. People also usually consider the post content to be “blog”2 related.

To complicate things (at least in my head), if I click on a category or tag I end up on a page (although not a WP defined page) and that page is composed of posts. Additionally, some themes have page templates that present posts. The more I think about it, the more potential for confusion I see. I can’t find it but there’s a twitter (page) out there somewhere with Alan saying blogs and posts are the same thing in the WordPress database.

It may appear that this is one of those irritating discussions that while true are only of interest to nerds and have little practical value.

Nothing3 could be further from the truth. The tao of posts is a way of life and the way you think about constructing a portfolio-ish thing matters quite a bit in terms of what you want to do and what you can do.

To begin with the “page” is much like the desktop folder of old, or old school browser bookmarks- it is directly hierarchical and content can only exist in one place at a time. This sucks. It is especially bad when you consider that the purpose of many portfolio-thingees is to try to get students to understand (and reflect on) the interrelationship of concepts and courses. Their content might be completed as part of a specific course but it’s also tied to a particular skill/understanding or many skills/understandings. That’s a good thing. It’s a blurry world. We want interdisciplinary, vertically aligned, transmedia, multi-whatever but when you build with pages you’re almost certainly making that kind of consideration antithetical to the way you’re organizing the content.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you are giving up the ability to tie content to particular courses (or any other concrete categories for that matter). You can still do that, you just do it through categories and/or tags. That’s going to allow the “learning artifact”4 to be associated with whatever concrete things you need. It is often handy to be able to associate content with courses but that association tends to be functional. It’ll help with grading or with creating lenses of focus etc. The aspirational/philosophical elements tend to evolve and overlap in ways that extend between and beyond courses. Now that assignment/work/product can be found via UNIV200, via “critical thinking”, and via “integrative thinking”. If you tried to do something similar with that piece of work in a page things would get ugly very quickly.

None of my thoughts are unique or groundbreaking but they’re often absent from these conversations. The very same forces that have driven users to adopt tagging in social bookmarking, smart/virtual folders, and search as an interface could provide not just solutions but actual advantages in considering presenting and interacting with student curated content. These dynamic aggregation opportunities have distinct advantages if they’re considered in light of learning goals and the way you’re going to encourage students to think and interact with their own work. It’d be difficult to say the same thing for the static presentation considerations forced through the typical page based construction.

1 Past tense

2 Cue the useless-Internet musical equivalent of Dueling Banjos- maybe the Nyan cat song. Pages are for the serious work. Posts are for your cat videos.

3 Well. Somethings could be. Probably many things.

4 It hurts to write that.

Movie Monster Pet Guide

After my dad sent me a link to this dinosaur pet guide, I thought it’d be nice to have one for movie monsters. I’m using it as an opportunity to practice drawing more in Illustrator and once I get it finished up it’ll make for a decent #ds106 assignment. I was thinking horror movie characters, cartoons, famous people1 Anyway, round one is below as sleep is needed.

I think most of them are pretty self explanatory. The triskaphobia2 Jaws one was a reach. It’s mocking Jaws 3-D which was a total flop and the shark should fear that number being brought up.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Tom Woodward

Minor Workflow Tip for Apple’s Preview

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.44.08 PM

I have a beautiful new laptop but I have yet to transfer over my actual drawing programs (Omnigraffle, Photoshop, Illustrator).

I had the need for a few icons for a website I’m working on and Keynote 6 is on this machine so I gave it a shot. I was very pleasantly surprised by the vector drawing tool. It’s different in a way that’s hard to articulate but I think people who are not familiar with vector drawing will really like it (and it probably won’t make the others too angry either).

One minor trick worth knowing is that if you copy items, vector items in this case, in Keynote (and other programs) and flip over to Preview, you can create a new image with just that selection by choosing File>New From Clipboard. That saves you a few steps and in this case gives you a nice PNG file with alpha transparencies with no effort.
Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.46.41 PM

The results look something like this. No muss, no fuss. The icons are on Flickr if there of any interest and if you choose the original size you’ll get the PNG files with transparency.
Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 10.46.54 PM

A Non-Definition of OER

THe following two photographs of slides are from David Wiley’s presentation on open education (which was awesome). I am playing against his definition for a variety of reasons which may become clear as I progress.


(1) Any kind of teaching materials- textbooks, syllabi, lesson plans, videos, readings, exams

“Teaching materials” are in the eye of the beholder but leading with this phrase puts people in a certain mindset around content and one that is actually harmful. People make fun of “educational” resources for good reason. A large part of what needs to be opened is our ideas around what content might be educational and how we might use that content.


(2) Free and unfettered access, and
(3) Free permission to engage in the “4R activities

I won’t argue much with #2, although I do realize I “pay” for access to some of this content when a 3rd party tracks me.

While I recognize the importance and goodness of #3, I hate to exclude all the content that falls outside that definition. I’d rather have a larger “house” of content and a few rooms that help people decide what they can do with it. I think it’s actually good that content might be ephemeral and might eventually go away. I am ok that I can’t remix certain things. I still find the content worth using. My goal is to first get people to open their eyes to the wealth of really engaging content around us and then the idea of remixing and making that content becomes both more likely and more interesting.

See Food!
I tend to see this as representative of most “teaching materials” only less exciting. The content is pre-chewed and equally unappetizing.

I’ll start with fairly normal media sources and drift outward towards stranger places and tools.

[Invitation to attend the execution of Tiburcio Vasquez]
The Flickr Commons has many good things (and a decent search interface), including this invitation to an execution that I found randomly as a result of subscribing to this RSS feed of the Commons’ photos. Since I knew Jim Groom was teaching a course on crime I passed it on and Jim did the rest. It’s also a decent example of the value of working in the open. If people know what you’re doing they may come bearing gifts. My favorites in Flickr are full of items waiting for uses.

This disturbing film records the successful experiments in the resuscitation of life to dead animals (dogs), as conducted by Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. Director: D.I. Yashin.

I found this very disturbing video on specifically wandering around the Prelinger archives which are full of all sorts of odd things. All this content is remixable and the potential is limited only by time and imagination.

XKCD's What if?
There is a cartoonist who specializes in romance, sarcasm, math, language and happens to answer hypothetical physics questions on a weekly basis. I find this interesting in a variety of ways- not the least of which is that there is an audience for this. There is even a Twitter account that documents all the interesting numbers found in the pursuit of these answers.

There are so many beautiful podcasts out there. This one is amazingly well done and a model for how we might teach history- 18th, 19th, and 20th century lenses on the same topic. They interview experts and provide resources that allow people to delve even deeper. This kind of thing starts to get at the idea of transmedia- different media paths with different depths driven, to some degree, by a narrative. The timely nature of the content is also quite useful- this Columbus episode for instance which would go nicely with this Oatmeal comic.1

There are so many things out there, it helps to have other people tell you about them. Eric Hoefler let me know about this one.

I do think it’s worth noting that I’m ok with degrees of “truth” from these sources. I want all information to be suspect.

There’s an endless additional supply of media but from here I’ll start to branch out into the idea that tools have as much or more value. A few of my favorites are below. I like them because they start with plenty of content and plenty of options but they also offer you the ability to fill them with your own data.

(Not sure why Gapminder doesn’t generate a screenshot via the WordPress Snap feature. . . it is a real place. You can click on the 404 image and go there.)

Google Earth/Google Maps- Short version – It’s full of stars.

Many Eyes

Under the tools category also falls all sorts of javascript libraries – Timeline JS, Simile Widgets, Dojo etc. etc.

And then there are people, so many people focused on finding interesting things in various areas of focus. A few content focused examples include2

Shorpy Fresh Photons It's OK to be Smart Literary Tattoos Literally Unbelievable

And what’s better than people? Communities. Legions of people working towards your goals is handy.

Like this reddit focused on colorizing historical photos.
Colorized History

1 and some fava beans

2 I would note that content focused blogs should be rounded out. It’s important to look outside education.

Is it a lie?

So I actually taught a 55 minute class Monday. I’d give myself a C- but I think the underlying concept and the examples are decent and worth sharing.

Here’s the idea. Essentially it’s easier and easier to tell convincing lies in a digital environment.

I’m stealing from Dan Meyer here. I asked the kids to tell me one thing they knew was true and then one thing they knew was false.  The next request was for a statement that was sort of true or sort of false.

Augmenting Reality

There are four photoshopped images from various ads.


So I start with the question “Are these pictures lies?” and then try to drill down to the various pieces and apply the idea of context, intent, and manipulation.

Essentially, maybe it doesn’t matter so much if Dana Carvey is airbrushed up.  He’s a comedian.  I don’t think anyone cares too much what he looks like.  He’s not selling anything to do with looks.

Does it matter more that they’re changing Beyonce’s skin color dramatically?  Why would they do that? Does it matter? Interestingly, the students seemed to feel that this was done with lighting and wasn’t a big deal.

With Demi Moore, I tried to add complication.  Would this be a lie if this picture was used to sell a beauty product?  That seemed to trigger something for the students and they stated that manipulation of the audience was what made these “augmentations” of reality acceptable or unacceptable.

A worker at Foxconn died after working a 34 hour shift image of Daisey speaking


Now I brought in Mike Daisey and his comments about Foxconn.  What was interesting to me was that most of his lies were simply adding himself into the story.  Matthew Baldwin illustrated that really well in this post. I tried to illustrate that by starting with the entry statement above (which is true) and then adding the lie portion in red (below). “It’s a lie but the important part is true. Does it matter?” The students seemed to feel that if he’d add himself to manipulate you that stripped him of any credibility.

It’s important to emphasize that he’s an entertainer.  That’s his excuse. It’s entertainment but the important parts are true.

Contrasting OJ Simpson covers on Newsweek and TimeSo now we have “real” news and they’re certainly altering things to make a more compelling story.  I didn’t seem to convince them that this mattered. The observation that the Newsweek title ought to have been on the Time magazine. The feeling was that the Time magazine looked like a movie poster.  I should have drilled down more on why the image was darkened. What is the purpose?

NYT's graph of the housing crash


Only the bottom $100,000 measure is showing initially.  I then ask them to guess how much the house would cost at the peak.  The red money markers appear sequentially and then we talk about how you might manipulate the axises to make graphs more dramatic and why you might want to do so.  I’ll stress again that this is accurate.  The question is then “Is this a lie?”

masterpiece quote



Now we get into quote mining or decontextualizing phrases. This was a quote used to promote the movie Se7en.1  The more complete quote is below and it turns out Owen was not very impressed by the movie.

So we got most2 of that done semi-decently in about 25 minutes.

I wrapped up with the idea that we were going to impugn the reputation of a historical or fictional hero.  The goal was to come up with two images- one that uses a partial quote from the character/person and then one that uses actual data in some way to discredit them.  My examples were from Star Wars.


I originally had Hitler stats in the chart. I replaced them with the Khmer Rouge. It is strange that one mass murderer feels more acceptable than another but it seems that’s the case.

Place I got media or information

Dana Carvey
Demi Moore
Ralph Lauren
Daisey quote
Daisey image
Foxconn death
OJ Simpson covers
NY Times graph
Comparison for the NYT graph
Se7en quote excerpt
Yoda image
Deathstar population
Civil War
Khmer Rouge
Cultural Revolution and Mao
Skywalker image

1 That’s for you Alan!

2 I skipped a few slides that I used but I’ll put all of the links to stuff below.

Random Thoughts and Examples of Student Dashboards

This collection of dashboards1 was brought on by a tweet2 from Dan Meyer but precipitated by the fact that I am struggling to figure out what matters in terms of a future LMS and how the data we present (or don’t present) to students and teachers impacts education as a whole.3

While we4 often say we5 want a balance between multiple choice assessment and other types of assessment, if the only data that teachers see and talk about is related to multiple choice we probably shouldn’t bother talking about other types of assessment. There’s also the idea that assessment data may just be the tip of the iceberg. I’m not sure what exactly would make a difference but there are lots of other things that ought to be looked at.

In the end I see the data displayed to students and teachers as being pretty important but it means nothing if it’s not set within the right context and used in the right way by both parties.

All that aside, let’s see what’s going on right now.

Delaware Insight Dashboards

Fairly traditional, I’m not sure these dashboards are even meant for student view but many of the systems I’ve seen lately just give students access to their own data with the same views they give teachers and call it a student dashboard. One of the things that concerns me here is the green/red binary system. There is no room for even a yellow in this world view? Even if your focus is purely on test scores, this kind of thought disregards the importance of scores that fall immediately below and above the cut score. Those scores can easily go either way so seeing green may lead to unfortunate degrees of over confidence.


Despite having one of the worst icons I have ever seen, EquipSchools has some interesting pieces to this dashboard.

Note the motivation/stress/energy/engagement/homework chart on the right. I’ve seen some people6 encouraging students to input those kind of data that through Twitter like status updates that use emoticons to indicate the emotional state but this is the first I’ve seen of something more sophisticated. It would be interesting to have those kind of data as a student and as a teacher but it seems like they have an awful lot of categories. I can’t think of a way to gather those data without it being either burdensome (and thus not done) or ineffective. Their method, multiple strand Likert scale ratings, seems to be presented in a way that ties it too loosely with time and too tightly with projects for it to be as useful as it could be.

I like the idea this seems to support. Students ought to set goals and the software ought to facilitate that as well as the tracking of progress towards those goals. While that’s a relatively obvious idea, it’s not often done. Most student data dashboards are purely passive visualizations of test data.7 If you’re lucky you might get a mouse over for more information or a dynamic chart.

Ten Marks

This is one of those dashboards that seems to creep up too often in education. It tries to make the data fun by letting you fill up these wacky body shapes with blood.8 It’s pretty much useless for student reflection and really only shows progression along a predetermined path.

You can also see some attempts at “gamification” going on in the sidebar. Apparently you can earn presents. This type of thing would prepare your children well to succeed in College Apprentice where they can accomplish feats and win awards by generating points by attending “events hosted and supported by College Apprentice.”

Read 180

Read 180 pulls out all the stops on the “gamification” bandwagon. I almost expect to get some virtual chickens for my virtual farm if I read enough. Personally, I don’t like this mentality. I fear it’s going to catch on and I imagine it motivates certain kids. I don’t think it does anything to help them learn or reflect on what they’re doing that might impact their learning. I don’t think it’s aiming too high to expect that.

1 A pretty imprecise word that appears to mean quite a few different things to different people.

2 I will never like that word.

3 Someplace I have an interesting way that someone was visualizing learning along five thematic branches (content, critical thinking, etc.) and displaying it as a star/pentagram in order to help reflect the idea of balance. For some reason I thought it was an NSF grant but I’m not finding it currently.

4 I have a frog in my pocket.

5 Yep, frog is still there.

6 I think it was eSparks but their website tells you nothing. I’m also pretty sure Dell’s new personalized learning environment does this as well but I can’t recall if they aggregate the results for student reflection.

7 CosmicMath seems to be a good example of that.

8 It’s bright red, apparently liquid, and in a body. What else could it be?

1 Story – 4 Icons

Assignment: Reduce a movie, story, or event into its basic elements, then take those visuals and reduce them further to simple icons.

That’s my attempt above. I tried to stick to a three color scheme. The first image is supposed to be a parking meter. My wife was unable to ID it. It needs work. Hopefully the other three are at least identifiable.

I don’t use vector drawing tools very often. I clearly need to spend some more time with them to get some skills but that was half the reason I attempted this. My learning is now public, fairly messy, but most of all not really what I want. That is ok. It’s fun. It isn’t a contest. I’m enjoying it. I do not fear Jim Groom’s red pen.

You might also notice that I’m doing assignments in and around the #ds106 course but not necessarily all the ones that are assigned, nor am I necessarily doing them in the order they are given. I’m doing extra “work” with the interest and energy moves me1. I may go back and do some. I may not.

I like the MOOC idea. I find it valuable to have a group of people moving through the roughly same ideas at roughly the same time. I like the freedom I find in the structure. What worries me is how just calling something a course seems to bring a ton of baggage with it. People worry about not completing every assignment, being compared to others/graded and, most depressingly, being found wanting. I’ve seen this in the blog posts of participants and the comments of people I know in “real life” who’ve opted not to participate.

I see this mentality as a direct result of our educational system – adults, scared to try new things, as a learned response. I don’t blame the people. I think I see how this point is reached systemically. It’s just a pretty depressing legacy for a system that claims to produce life-long learners. It’s going to take an enormous amount of time and work to fix something buried this deep.

So, I’m inviting you to take part. If you’ve wanted to play along but haven’t because of lingering fears or doubts, come on in. The water is fine. The people couldn’t be nicer2. Jim couldn’t grade you if he wanted to3. Hey, there’s even a rather bizarre participant-run and -created streaming internet radio station.

Inspired by Colt Rane who ought to be making a huge number of English teachers happy with this image. He’s got one for the Great Gatsby as well but I don’t remember the book well enough to know if it’s good or not.

1 Clearly animated gifs got under my skin for some reason.

2 Even an odd Nazi photoshopping (by a non-class member) incident seems to have been settled fairly amicably.

3 Grades are for paying customers. All you might get is helpful feedback or compliments.

First Blood Poster


This is an early iteration of a Rambo poster I’m working on. It was harder than I thought to find an iconic silhouette to represent a movie (at least a movie that I liked).

Things I like-

  • the knife- iconic enough to represent the movie (although it needs some polishing)
  • the idea of the Vietnam and American flag blending to parallel the forces in the plot
  • Rambo as blood on the tip of the knife. Where I doing this project in an English course, I could go into much more detail about how my choices reflect the movie.

Things that need work-

  • I think it’s too complex still. Rambo may need to be black and white.
  • I don’t like the font. I may write First Blood instead (also leads to a First Blood/Vampire movie mashup possibility down the road)
  • The dimensions are all wrong.

I’m putting the not quite right stuff out there so anyone who might be interested can see the process and the thoughts going on. I think that’s good. I also don’t want people worrying about only posting perfection. This course ought to be fun and should allow people to brainstorm on ways to improve product together and continuously.

Mega Shark Infographic

I don’t know what it is about posters lately but this is simply awesome. It’s from the movie Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus1.

Mega Shark Infographic
Mega Shark Infographic

Pitching this WCYDWT style would be awesome.

Any crazy physics teachers out there willing to give this a shot? I was utterly bored by physics both times2 I took it but I’d have spent a happy week trying to figure stuff like this out.

Found via the always awesome Super Punch

1 It’s now on my list to watch. I don’t know why Jim Groom hasn’t dedicated an entire blog to this yet.

2 I took it once in HS and once in college. I didn’t fail people. I only failed classes when I had personality conflicts with teachers.