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The long tail graph can be both the students and their subject


Posted on 23rd February 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Networks

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longtailgraph.jpgGerrit Visser has posted a comment on Smart Mobs titled Approximating the Community Structure of the Long Tail. The post points to an analysis by Akshay Java on ebiquity which is the source of the graph shown above. The discussion in both posts looks at communities. Java explains:

Social Networks and Web graphs exhibit certain typical properties. The classic work by Barabási–Albert showed how nodes in such network link preferentially — popular nodes often gain disproportionately larger share of the links. This is also known in other fields as the 80/20 rule or simply the “rich get richer phenomenon“. Another early work by Steve Borgatti studied social networks and found that they exhibit a core-periphery property. A small set of (popular) nodes form the core and the rest comprise of the peripheral nodes.

A HUGE KEY to the new education of our connected world is that networks express long tails of BOTH students AND what they are learning! The community long tail is what the chart copied here from the ebiquity post is supposed to illustrate. The same chart illustrates the learning subject content long tail with equal veracity.

The content side of network behavior is at least as exciting for education as the community side. Something almost magical happens when an open network becomes the structure into which cognitive stuff is imbedded: the ideas act just like the communities of the students who seek to learn them. The idea content goes into 20/80 formations and exhibits the long tail—yeah, like the students do.

Just as there are some 20% of the students who learn 80% of the ideas, 20% of the ideas are about all that 80% of the students learn about a subject. Most kids studying American history learn about Washington, Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin—but only a scattered number have access to Paine, Knox, Sam Adams and Greene.longtailgraphrev.jpg

Here is a dirty big secret we are just beginning to understand: Education has been institutionally cutting off the long tail of content for decades. Standards are satisfied when students score well on 20% of ideas in a subject; the other 80% are not even included in standards. Textbooks do not have room for more than about the 20% of the main subject material. As students move through grades, they get to learn a higher percentage of their subjects, but the tail just gets a little longer each year.

Because content for learning that is open online is imbedded into a network, the ideas that form the content can and do interconnect cognitively and in context. A student can follow the network from George Washington to his generals Knox and Greene. The long tail of learning content is not cut off.

Carnival of the Mobilists #111


Posted on 19th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Carnival of the Mobilists

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Featuring insights and information from last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, this week’s Carnival at Vision Mobile includes the recent GoldenSwamp post on putting knowledge on mobiles as key for new generations.

Putting knowledge on mobiles is key for new generations


Posted on 17th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning

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From a New York Times article today full of lament about the frustrations of the young Middle Eastern generation, there are hints in these excerpts about something that can help:

Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood. . . . With 60 percent of the region’s population under the age of 25, this youthful religious fervor has enormous implications for the Middle East.

Other major markers of this youthful generation are:

  • their world has always had the Internet,
  • most of the youth have mobile phones — even the grade school age youngsters do.

Certainly in the next handful of years the phones Middle Eastern kids carry will have access to the Internet that is comparable to or superior to what is now available on desktop devices.

The global commons of information into which the new generation of all countries and cultures is rapidly getting connected brings a fundamental new frustration for all types of tyrants of the mind. Educators can help the intellectual liberation of the commons by seeing to it that a kid in any culture who has a mobile can use that device to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and the subjects once limited to academic institutions. Mobiles can deliver much that a youngster needs to know in order to match his or her abilities and aspirations. Making that delivery happen quickly across the planet is key to their future and ours of the older generations.

Harvard Crimson describes green light for academic publishing


Posted on 14th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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A story this week in The Harvard Crimson is headlined: Motion To Allow Free Online Access To All Harvard Articles details the move:

While its ways are sometimes criticized as opaque, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences took a big step towards openness yesterday, passing a motion that will allow Harvard to freely distribute scholarly articles produced by FAS professors.

The motion, which passed easily at yesterday’s Faculty meeting, grants Harvard a non-exclusive copyright over all articles produced by any current Faculty member, allowing for the creation of an online repository that would be “available to other services such as web harvesters, Google Scholar, and the like.”

Professors can still submit a written request to waive the application of the policy and maintain control of their copyright even if the policy is applied, allowing them to have the articles published in scholarly journals.

Robert Darnton ’60, director of the University library, emphasized the motion’s importance in opening up Harvard’s resources.

In a Crimson article last October 31st announcing Darton’s appointment as the new library director, he was quoted as wanting to “move into the world of digitized information” and to “shape the scholarly landscape in flux, and make it happen for the public good.” He emphasized at that time that “libraries are not ‘warehouses of printed paper,’ but ‘dynamic cultural centers.’” This article in the New York Times anticipated the vote.

NASA uses tagcloud format for popular content navigation


Posted on 13th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression

nasapop.jpgA redirect link called “Visit the NASA Portal” on one of NASA’s galaxy of webpages sent me to the url The page is worth a semester’s study in a web design class. There are many, many features ranging from old school nav bars top and bottom to the usual gorgeous photos and an interactive poll. You can read it in two languages, but when you switch to Espanol most of the cool stuff turns to plain text.

The feature most at the edge of the web space horizon is the “Popular Content” feature illustrated with this post. Interestingly, clicking on one of the topics in the cloud just takes you to a text list like the Spanish language content. NASA has only displayed the surface so far with this idea, but the tag cloud format of the illustrated panel is, for sure, far out stuff.

Why? The tag cloud breaks away from the hierarchical relationship among the topics. Any of the topics in the panel can be associated with any of the others, depending on what the visitor has in mind. Each text item is a node that can be linked to any other. Venus, jupiter, saturn, pluto and mars can be linked to each other as planets and/or singly or together to the planets topic. The International Space Station can belong with mars when it is taking pictures of the red planet. Etc. etc.

We are only beginning to see the organizational muscle of tags for the content of the Internet. NASA is on to something with its tag cloud navigation. Educators should pay close attention to the principles in the tag cloud. They illustrate something basic about how we think and learn. Why not use tag cloud mechanisms instead of hierarchies for lesson plans and lock-stepping through grades and standards. The NASA panel is, quite directly, connecting ideas, which is a very fine definition of learning and teaching.

PLOS toasts with Bartering Chimps and Banqueting Mice


Posted on 10th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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library_vert.jpgThe blog of the PLOS (Public Library of Science) has just celebrated a landmark: the publication of the 1,500th paper since they launched in December 2006. The blog post describing their remarkable progress is called Bartering Chimps and Banqueting Mice, based on the titles of two of 39 papers published in January 2008.

While speculation percolates on about open scientific publication, the PLOS has moved from pioneer to prover of the pudding.

Words of wisdom found in the GoldenSwamp


Posted on 7th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning

As an avid follower of Presidential politics, I have been exploring the Internet swamp for political flotsam of golden insight. My looking around has, of course, led me into blogs of diverse opinions. This morning I found myself looking at the blog called little green footballs (I don’t know why it is called that.). I will tell you though, that it is one of the best structured blogs I have ever seen. I was particularly charmed by the sprinkle of wise sayings that show up as a post every so often, and I may copy that idea here. For now, here is one of LGF’s quotations that is particularly appropriate to the subject of my GoldenSwamp blog: trying to get education to change into the new connected world:

The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. — Daniel J. Boorstin

What open educational resources can learn from the Microsoft Yahoo deal


Posted on 3rd February 2008 by Judy Breck in Networks

A fundamental opportunity to elevate learning on every scale, from local to global, is to make educational resources highly networked. The first step that could make this possible had to be making these materials open online, and much of that is happening. The crucial next step is the linking among the materials and among the learners. What will emerge from doing that is a global commons of cognitive information that is open, virtual, interactive, interlinked, self-updating, and vetted by several levels of authority. Doing this holds the potential for the torrid growth of the global cognitive commons using the power of networking to reconfigure learning to our connecting world.

How could such forces be set in motion? They are ubiquitous in the online environment because it is a network. There is no better example than the highly networked business of Google that has caused Microsoft to bid $44.6 billion to acquire Yahoo to compete with that networking. An article in the New York Times the day of the announcement of the Microsoft move to enfold Yahoo explains the deal in network terms:

Microsoft, analysts say, finds itself in a battle where improving its search algorithms and online ad software is not going to be enough. Google has impressive technology, to be sure, but it also enjoys the torrid growth that falls to the leader in highly networked businesses like Internet search and ads.

Google’s edge in search traffic then attracts more advertisers and Web publishers, so there are more ads in Google’s auctions, which makes them more efficient. Each advantage reinforces the other, in what economists call “network effects.”

One measure of the network advantage, analysts estimate, is that Google collects 40 percent to 100 percent more revenue per search than either Yahoo or Microsoft.

Microsoft, of course, is no stranger to the power of network effects. It was the master of that strategy in the personal computer era. Its early lead in PC operating systems, and its efforts to encourage independent software developers to write applications for Windows, paved the way for Microsoft’s dominance.

More programs ran on Windows than on any other operating system, so more users bought PCs running Windows. Apple, by contrast, never built up the developer network as Microsoft did.

In the Internet era, network effects are working against Microsoft as it battles Google.

We should be using network effects to deliver learning resources to the new generations. We should be doing that delivery through the Internet to desktops, laptops and mobile phones.