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New book by Steven Brill describes how schools do not work


Posted on 20th August 2011 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, SEO and Schools We Have Now

Schools simply do not work as a way of teaching many individual children up to their potential. Schools do not work in teaching groups of children so that every child in a group has equal knowledge. Schools do not work so that a student in a failing inner city school has the same opportunity to learn as a student in affluent districts.

I have been reading Steven Brill’s new book Class Warfare. After a few chapters it hits you in the face: schools cannot be fixed. Brill describes a variety of wonderful people who have realized how schools are failing kids, thrown themselves at the problem, and failed. This has been going on for decades. Why? Because of unions, bad teachers, poverty, race, wrong theories, not caring about children. Well, no. They fail because it is impossible to put a couple of dozen same-age children in a room all day, and day after day, and thereby produce 24 youngsters who know the same thing at the same time. Think about how just plain silly trying to do that is.

Schools we have now in the United States were created in the 19th and 20th centuries. Back then, building schools gave children a place to go to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and subjects such as history, science, and languages. Except for rich kids whose parents hired tutors to teach them at home, school was about the only place a child could get this knowledge.

By the time we arrived in the closing decades of the 20th century, schools were dominating the lives of youngsters from late toddling until late teens. [Then, convention demands, on to college for more of the same.] Brill does a great job of describing the true disasters schools have become. He quotes Joel Klein, who attempted reform as New York City schools chancellor, as frequently observing: “You just can’t make this s**t up.” Having coordinated a major Mentor project in the New York City schools (1982-1992), and coached and judged high school debaters in the New York city schools (1993-2009), I can tell you Mr. Klein is correct. Schools are seldom much of a place to go to learn very much reading, writing, arithmetic, and subjects such as history, science, and languages.

But lo, in the 21st century there is another place a student can go to learn those things: the web.

The student can now have the web in his pocket or under her arm on a mobile smart phone or tablet. Every kid who has a mobile browser has access to what is known that is equal to the access of every other kid that has such a device. And the device has no idea how rich its owner is, whether it is a boy or girl, and what the kid’s age, nationality, or race are. The device has no expectation of what the kid can learn and it offers equal knowledge to all.

The primary location of knowledge is now the web — certainly much more than the dribs and drabs in textbooks that weigh down school backpacks. Why the heck are we expecting to teach knowledge to our children by dumbing subjects down and filtering them through places where “You just can’t make this s**t up” — in places called schools, where so many incredibly talented and determined people have failed to make things better?

If we make sure all the kids have their own web access to knowledge, schools can be made to work as places to meet with teachers, do discourse, arts, and sports. They will be community centers and socialization places, and of course babysitters for working parents.

Suggestion: Let’s take a break from throwing gifted people, billions of dollars, and yet another generation of children into schools, expecting somehow the kids will learn, and learn equally. Let’s get back to that after we take these steps:

  • See to it every kid has his or her own web browser with wireless access.
  • Make sure the kids know how to find knowledge to learn on the web.
  • Put some real effort into optimizing online knowledge for search engines and natural vetting.

Every child will not emerge from this new approach with the same cookie cutter education. But each child will experience equal access, opportunity, and expectations from the bountiful new virtual knowledge online commons offered freely to all on the web.

BTW: I recommend Class Warfare, based on Brill’s forthright portrayal of the New York City public schools, Teach for America, and other aspects of the education debacle with which I have personal experience. For one thing, it is hard to read this book and continue to think we can “fix the schools.” The great blessing is that the internet and individual access devices have arrived, giving us a new way to put knowledge that is untethered to schools into the hands of any and every child.

Five Star OER: Scientists explain their major new discovery about Walking Tetrapods

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Posted on 7th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Open Content, Paleontology and SEO

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NatureNews reported yesterday that the clock for four-legged creatures has been turned back 18 million years. Anyone connected to the internet can learn this new information from the scientists who made the discovery. The video above is narrated by one of these paleontologists and the report from NatureNews sketches the facts.

As OER (open educational resources) these materials are the footprints of the future. Previous educational resources, especially printed ones like textbooks, are now obsolete on the dating of walking tetrapods. They will continue to place walking tetrapods 18 million years later than they should be on their timelines — for months or years until they can be updated and reprinted.

scientistThe NatureNews report and video are Five Star OER because they can be used as a direct interface to students from big science in almost real time. In his narration of the video, Dr. Ahlberg says: “I have been working personally in this field since the mid-1980s. I have had over 20 publications in Nature. And this is the most important paper that I have ever worked on.”

Watch the video and I think you will agree that the learning experience is worth making sure paleontology students see it. I was only #352 to watch it on YouTube. What can educators do to make sure Walking with Tetrapods gets into the learning mainstream? There is a lot we can do by optimizing the video for learning networks and linking to it robustly. Educators can fundamentally upgrade global learning by concentration on Five Star OER, and letting go of analog resources with less learning star power.

Musings on how online networking knowledge mirrors our learning brain


Posted on 29th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Networks, Open Content and SEO

museBrainNetworkOur brain is a network. The illustration of the brain here is from Mapping the Structural Core of Human Cerebral Cortex. The Author Summary of the article begins: “In the human brain, neural activation patterns are shaped by the underlying structural connections that form a dense network of fiber pathways linking all regions of the cerebral cortex.”

museBrainNetworkThe knowledge that our brain takes in as we learn is also a network. The networking of knowledge — study subjects that form what is known by humankind –  is illustrated in the images here from the Los Alamos Map of Science. As we use the internet to learn, we can observe and learn the patterns that emerge from knowledge networking online. The internet is the first mirror medium of the networking of ideas we have ever had. It promises a global golden age of learning. We should be using it more in education and working to stimulate its cognitive networking.

museBooksBefore the internet mirrored the networking of ideas, the main way students had for locating nodes of stuff to learn by connecting ideas is illustrated here: We would get them one-by-one out of books and then make the network of their relationships in our minds.

museCMSSince the internet came along, educators have used content management systems, curricula, and the like to harvest learning stuff nodes from the internet and organize the nodes into patterns to convey to students’ minds. This approach should be understood and developed so as to include in the harvest the naturally networking patterns of the open internet.

Educational nodes need to signal like our bacteria do

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Posted on 25th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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bodyPoliticSince the late 1990s, when I was working with education study subjects that were then pouring in to the internet, I have been convinced that what is known by humankind would form a “grand idea” online. By that, I have meant a large network, fully interconnected, of all the subjects we know — what we call academic subjects, the stuff we learn in school. That grand idea network would not and is not something that has grown from the top down. It begins as nodes that signal and connect to each other based on their meaning — the cognitive content they have that is learnable by us humans.

Can it be that the grand idea is like a superorganism, as described in a fascinating article in SEED magazine on this topic: “Our bodies harbor 100 trillion bacterial cells, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one. It’s easy to ignore this astonishing fact. Bacteria are tiny in comparison to human cells; they contribute just a few pounds to our weight and remain invisible to us.” The following are some excerpts from the article [with some comments by me] that suggest similarities between the communication among our bacteria and the behavior of knowledge online. The fundamental reason they are alike is that bacteria and bits of learnable knowledge are small pieces that communicate in network patterns.

Indeed, several scientists have begun to refer to the human body as a “superorganism” whose complexity extends far beyond what is encoded in a single genome.

The physiology of a superorganism would likely look very different from traditional human physiology. [Learning resources in libraries look very different from what is online.] There has been a great deal of research into the dynamics of communities among plants, insect colonies, and even in human society. What new insights could we gain by applying some of that knowledge to the workings of communities in our own bodies? [to the workings of knowledge when it gets online] . . . .

Even confined in their designated body parts, microbes exert their effects by churning out chemical signals for our cells to receive. [Yesterday I posted about signaling by cells and signaling by learning nodes.] Jeremy Nicholson, a chemist at Imperial College of London, has become a champion of the idea that the extent of this microbial signaling goes vastly underappreciated. Nicholson had been looking at the metabolites in human blood and urine with the hope of developing personalized drugs when he found that our bodily fluids are filled with metabolites produced by our intestinal bacteria. He now believes that the influence of gut microbes ranges from the ways in which we metabolize drugs and food to the subtle workings of our brain chemistry. [The influence is a form of connectivity.]

Scientists originally expected that the communication between animals and their symbiotic bacteria would form its own molecular language. But McFall-Ngai, an expert on animal-microbe symbiosis, says that she and other scientists have instead found beneficial relationships involving some of the same chemical messages [again: signaling connects] that had been discovered previously in pathogens. Many bacterial products that had been termed “virulence factors” or “toxins” turn out to not be inherently offensive signals; they are just part of the conversation between microbe and host. [Open educational resources (OER) often are, and need to be, able to converse (signal) each other.]

Signaling cells show education how to use online resources


Posted on 24th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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Placing OER (open educational resources) online without optimizing their components to signal is like expecting a single cell or group of cells to perform their role in isolation. Yet educators and subject experts put non-signaling lesson plans, courses, and curricula into the internet all the time. This was not surprising in the early days of the internet: educators were used to analog materials like textbooks, lesson plans, and and the separation of experts by geography. But the best knowledge for learning is now online, and education is far overdue in utilizing the cognitive connectivity of the internet.

What the e-Commerce world calls SEO (search engine optimization) is one way to give resources signals they can use to reach out to related stuff online. For OER, SEO is vital, but just a first step in the creation of signaling pathways. There are other very effective signal methods inherent in learning resources including: experts linking to (creating a network with) other OER they respect, landing pages that point (signal toward) excellent OER, and RSS-type signals that roll out expertise as it is published.

So would this signaling stuff work in a real network? Yes, and molecular biology is a very compelling model. The Wikipedia article on Cell Signaling (from which the above illustration is taken) explains:

Traditional work in biology has focused on studying individual parts of cell signaling pathways. Systems biology research helps us to understand the underlying structure of cell signaling networks and how changes in these networks may affect the transmission and flow of information. Such networks are complex systems in their organization and may exhibit a number of emergent properties . . . .

nihNetThe following excerpt is from a current article in Molecular Systems Biology. Click on the small illustration from the article at the right to see a chart of network relationships — which are the real world way in which life itself works. Instead of bundling a course or textbook in a pdf and tossing it online, how can we instead optimize the knowledge within the OER with some of these principles in the excerpt that follows by which our cells keep us alive and keep us thinking?

Despite their value in aggregating diverse and scattered information, protein networks inferred purely from data and those assembled from the literature suffer from significant and complementary weaknesses: reverse-engineered networks ignore a wealth of existing mechanistic information about individual proteins and reaction intermediates, whereas literature-based networks are too disconnected from functional data to encode input–output relationships. Thus, even the most comprehensive interactomes do not capture the logic of cellular biochemistry and—critically—cannot predict the responses of cells to specific biological stimuli. Two nodes in a node–edge graph might have a positive effect on a downstream node, but a graph alone cannot specify whether the target is active when only one upstream node is active or whether both must be on.

Network laws emerge the true and unbiased as peer review falters


Posted on 18th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

Open online science emerges to make prominent the links loved by experts and inquirers. This new selection process is a gift of the internet that is fundamentally superior to peer review by a selected few of articles before they are published. To illustrate how network laws affect online study subjects, I keep posting the Los Alamos Map of Science, as I have above, because it is an image of actual network emergence online. It illustrates the citations experts in their fields have made to articles that augment or enforce their work.

Setting aside our own views on global warming, it is instructive to compare network emergence to peer review, as it is critiqued by Martin Kozlowski’s illustration inserted in the image above. In the future will selected scientists continue “write the book” by judging their peers? Or will every shade of opinion compete in the open network where the most respected ideas will rise to prominence? I think the latter.

Here is a pertinent bit from today’s Wall Street Journal opinion piece where I found the Kozlowski drawing:

But there’s something much, much worse going on—a silencing of climate scientists, akin to filtering what goes in the bible, that will have consequences for public policy, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent categorization of carbon dioxide as a “pollutant.”

The bible I’m referring to, of course, is the refereed scientific literature. It’s our canon, and it’s all we have really had to go on in climate science (until the Internet has so rudely interrupted). When scientists make putative compendia of that literature, such as is done by the U.N. climate change panel every six years, the writers assume that the peer-reviewed literature is a true and unbiased sample of the state of climate science.
[emphasis mine]

The time is long overdue for scientists and experts in all academic fields to no longer turn their backs on the network laws that have made peer review obsolete.

Education is overdue dealing with the data deluge


Posted on 16th December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Golden Age of Learning, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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It is unacceptable to teach standardized dabs of school subjects to youngsters who will be confronted in their careers by the data deluge described in Science Times this week:

In a speech given just a few weeks before he was lost at sea off the California coast in January 2007, Jim Gray, a database software pioneer and a Microsoft researcher, sketched out an argument that computing was fundamentally transforming the practice of science.

Dr. Gray called the shift a “fourth paradigm.” The first three paradigms were experimental, theoretical and, more recently, computational science. He explained this paradigm as an evolving era in which an “exaflood” of observational data was threatening to overwhelm scientists. The only way to cope with it, he argued, was a new generation of scientific computing tools to manage, visualize and analyze the data flood.

In essence, computational power created computational science, which produced the overwhelming flow of data, which now requires a computing change. It is a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing landscape.

The image posted above is from a screenshot of how Google’s “Wonder wheel” search feature offers related subjects for a search for “Organelles of the Eukaryotic Cell.” The search returned about 518,000 data links for organelles.

The education establishment has dealt with the abundance of data Jim Gray described primarily by screening and choosing for students. The practice has been to deliver pre-selected knowledge items via standards, textbooks, curricula, and courses — all of which are creatures of the analog age now almost over. Education has yet to embrace the reality that computing is fundamentally transforming the practice of engaging knowledge.

Education as the selective gatekeeper to learning inevitably will be swept away by the deluge of data available in the hands and pockets of essentially all students within a handful of years. Education must, as science must, give learners access to: a positive feedback loop in which the data stream becomes the data flood and sculptures a new computing education landscape.

A major step toward a more positive feedback to education is making resources findable at the node level at the time experts put their subject knowledge online. The effect of that is to open the gates of knowledge, connecting those who know the most to those who would learn their subjects.

Network laws and the transparency of emergence


Posted on 3rd December 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and SEO

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Control of what is known is being pushed from the top downward by the network laws that operate in the open internet. The result is a refreshing new kind of transparency.  Two article sources quoted below from this week give examples. Roger Simon describes a cracking of elite control of climate science. Mark Zuckerberg tells Facebook folk that he is putting control of what others learn about them in each of their hands.

Any time an elite group controls information published for a subject, at least some transparency is lost in what is excluded by the elite. The hope of peer review is that only the lesser stuff is excluded (made opaque). In complete contrast, network emergence is broadly transparent. The search engine principle invented at Google sends to the top of its search results the nodes visited by the most users, with known experts given more weight. The results are a long tail, where even the least of the nodes still appear somewhere down the list.

Education has not yet let the transparency of emergence operate for its online materials much at all. Most digital learning stuff is still controlled by businesses that pay elites to structure it by grade, standard, curricula and that keep it behind pay-for-it walls. For the most part, open educational materials (OER) are repositioned structured bundles (curricula, courses, lesson plans) that do not allow nodes to emerge from within very much.

It occurred to me when I read the following articles today that this breathtakingly simple principle is at work in both: In an open network emergent patterns are transparent. When small pieces (nodes) of an open network determine what connects to what online, what emerges and its long tail of related information are all transparent. The elites then have to complete like everyone else to give weight to the nodes causing those nodes and the patterns they make to become what is most used used. In the new Facebook system, the individual can decide what nodes to open into this emergent transparency.

Roger Simon: “Climategate is about a lot more than climate. It’s about science and its relationship to politics and profit, the academy, the state and, perhaps most importantly, information control. The manner through which we learn (or thought we did) important knowledge about key aspects of our existence, the way things are hidden, has been exposed in this one instance like the Wizard of Oz.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote this week in “An Open Letter” to members that Facebook’s regional networks are “no longer the best way to control your privacy . . . . The plan we’ve come up with is to remove regional networks completely and create a simpler model for privacy control where you can set content to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone. We’re adding something that many of you have asked for — the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload. In addition, we’ll also be fulfilling a request made by many of you to make the privacy settings page simpler by combining some settings. . . .”

How OER can burst on to the learning scene


Posted on 13th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Open Content and SEO

David Wiley and Stephen Downes spent three and half hours the other day talking about OER (open educational resources). These are the links I have scanned from which I gather that OER is not having its best days:

Downes, Downes, Wiley

For the record, I think a lot of OER is something academics do to reposition their pedagogy from the analog education era. OER tends to be bundled in courses and curricula and further boxed up into PDFs. The content of OER is seldom really open — urls for interesting content are not online and if they are, not tagged for search engine spiders. The content in OER that most students and teachers would like to use is the many nodes of stuff to learn within the bundles. To fix this disconnect the bundles do not even have to be disturbed. Just put a second version of them online and SEO the nodes within. OER needs SEO (search engine optimization).

To my point, there is a recent PLoS (Public Library of Science)  article about why they are providing a new metric for assessing citations of articles instead of journals (that is nodes instead of bundles).

Grist to chew on in future OER discussions . . . .

Ants, brain neurons, and finding things online


Posted on 24th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability and SEO

ants_320x198Search engine optimization (SEO) is a cousin, if not a twin, of the way ant colonies and neurons make decisions. A new article in SEED Magazine suggests how this can be true. The article is called Insect colonies offer insight into the mysterious conversations of neurons, illuminating how billions of individual brain cells work in concert to make a single decision.

Search engine spiders collect information about activity related to zillions of internet ants (keywords, etc.) and about what synapses (webpage links) are doing. Based on the concert of this activity search engines make decisions on ranking a webpage. I suggest that if you are interested in how emergent complexity creates findability on the internet, reading the SEED article will loosen up your synapses for pondering this fascinating topic. Here is a sample from SEED:

Choosing a new home, or house hunting, is the most complicated decision an ant colony makes. When an ant nest is overcrowded or damaged, scout ants begin searching for a new building site by making independent evaluations of different spots and reporting back to the colony. A decision is made when a “quorum” is reached, when a certain number of ants agree on a location.

This same process occurs among neurons in a monkey’s visual cortex when the animal performs a visual discrimination task. In the task, a monkey is flashed an image of dots moving in different directions and must decide which way the majority of them are going. When the image appears, neurons in the monkey’s visual cortex gather bits of information from the monkey’s eyes, much like ants evaluating a nest site. As more data is gathered, the neurons with the correct answer gradually increase their firing rate. When their activity reaches a certain threshold level, the monkey makes a decision.

Thus, decisions in both brains and ant colonies are based on thresholds that can be adjusted for either speed or accuracy. Understanding how these mechanisms work “will not only advance our understanding of collective decision making by social insects and individual decision making by vertebrates, but could potentially give us ways to design machines for tackling these kinds of problems,” [researcher James] Marshall says.

One of “these kinds of problems” is adjusting the thresholds of link placement on search engine results pages. Millions of people (think ants) at any moment in time are making decisions on which webpage to open and/or link to (think neuron). It is the collectivity of these decisions that determines online findability.

Picturing connections happening in life and online


Posted on 19th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability, Networks and SEO

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The mechanisms inside of a living cell and inside the materials we read and see on the internet are remarkably similar. Both emerge and network from the complexity of many, many little pieces that somehow find each other and connect meaningfully. The gorgeous video embedded in this post is an animation of what happens inside of a cell.

As you watch this amazing BioVisions – The Inner Life of the Cell video, imagine that the pieces are webpages connecting and forming patterns. Think of, for example, information about the astronauts who are working far above the Earth this week making repairs and alterations to the International Space Station. Linking online is going on profusely within a cluster of NASA personnel managing the event, reporters researching it and writing about it, the public following the astronauts activities online, etc. You could also think of what you watch on the video as the activity of all the people on the planet who are currently using the internet for travel information: booking tickets, following flights, trying to find lost luggage, controlling traffic from towers, etc. Zillions of little pieces find each other, connect, form patterns, roll into clusters, dissipate — all of it creating and carrying meaning. It seems to me, that is exactly like what is going on in managing life with the cell.

And how do the pieces find each other? How do they know at what point on another piece to connect? At least for the internet we are understanding these answers more and more. Actually, makers of webpages have powerful control over the process. A major means of this control is search engine optimization (SEO). As I have written here often before, educators can use SEO to greatly enhance learning. To see what I mean, try watching the video again, thinking of the connecting stuff as molecules of knowledge for physics, or French history, or Native American linguistics, or the ecology of Australia — or anything else you would like to teach or learn. All of those subjects and everything else humankind knows is becoming virtually and dynamically interconnected in the great online global knowledge commons. The inner workings of this commons, at least metaphorically, are remarkably similar to those of the living cell.

Educators need to switch from focusing on searching among junk — and learn how to fine tune the good stuff causing it to emerge to become findable.

Interacting web patterns, link love, and the literati


Posted on 10th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Findability, Networks and SEO

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The internet is a swamp full of gold. It is the patterns of connections among the bits of gold that cause dross to float away and allow us to connect to refined and authenticated meaning. As I wrote in my last post: The fabulous adventures ahead for educators are to understand and make findable what Stuart Kauffman calls the “ceaselessly, co-constructing creativity” that describes the emergence.

The image above is derived from the actual internet swamp; it shows only a tiny portion of its complexity. To make the image I took a 400 pixel square from the Los Alamos Map of Science, a 400 pixel square from a Berkman Center mapping of Iran’s public blogs — and superimposed these two bits of networks. The science map depicts ideas interconnecting and the Iran map depicts points of persons connecting to the internet. (The Iran map does not depict the interconnections among the blogs, which are profuse in reality.)

A crucial key for educators to master and employ into the future is that the two kinds of swamp stuff these maps focus on interact to select and vet what forms the emergent patterns. If the blogging depicted were among chemists and their pattern of interaction included linking to some of the chemistry webpages in the science map, those webpages would get “link love” and get boosted on the findable scale for search engines.

Education is arriving late on the scene for appreciating the tools of online emergence. Suddenly now, the politicians are all over it. I wrote this post after reading Micah Sifry’s post today at Personal Democracy Forum titled Needed: Better Tools and Data for Understanding Social Media’s Role in #IranElection.

As chemists and historians and linguists and other literati twitter, blog, and link among themselves and with content pages they respect, they too cause useful, meaningful, golden patterns to emerge in the internet swamp.

Online Educational Resources Are the SEO Sleeping Giant


Posted on 4th April 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability and SEO

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An article I wrote about SEO for online educational resources appeared this month in SES Magazine. The publication with the article was distributed to those attending the Search Engines Strategies SES conference held at the New York City Hilton March 24-27. My theme is how education—now the sleeping SEO giant—will be a major player in search engine optimization over the next months and years. My piece from SES Magazine is archived in the “Articles” section of the sidebar on the right side of the GoldenSwamp blog.

If you have placed learning material online, have you optimized it so teachers and students can find it? If not, you need to SEO your content — optimize it for search engines.

Library of Congress Flickr model key for education


Posted on 12th January 2009 by Judy Breck in Findability, Open Content and SEO

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When I look at the photo with this post, I can probably tell you things about it that you would not know, because we have different expertise. I remember New Mexico of the 1940s, where this photo was taken. As a child I rode several time in the back of a truck that looked just like the one in the picture. (It was really fun!) I also have a memory of a gas station, much like this one. We bought RC Cola there.

Folks who are experts can pass on what they know by linking to and tagging the webpages they respect. This sort of thing has happened spontaneously from the beginning of the internet. A couple of bright guys saw it happening and invented Google. Doing it in a thoroughgoing manner by academic experts is overdue. The answer to complaints that it is hard to find the right webpages to study are best resolved when experts who know subjects to link to those pages and tag them with keywords from their expertise.

The following is from the new report by the Library of Congress of their Photos on Flick project. What follows from the report of this project describes challenges the academic world has not yet met. Opening educational resources online is vital. Experts need also “to give them love” as the search engine optimization experts say, by optimizing them in ways we can all find them.

The Library of Congress, like many cultural heritage organizations, faces a number of challenges as it seeks to increase discovery and use of its collections. A major concern is making historical and special format materials easier to find in order to be useful for educational and other pursuits. At the same time, resources are limited to provide detailed descriptions and historical context for the many thousands of items in research collections. The Library also faces competition for the attention of an online community that has ever-expanding choices of where to pursue its interests.

One solution worth exploring is to participate directly in existing Web 2.0 communities that offer social networking functionality. Reaching out to unknown as well as known audiences can attract more people to comment, share, and interact with libraries. Taking collections to where people are already engaged in community conversations might also encourage visits to a library’s Web site where the full wealth of resources are available.

Hammering the SEO about Oranges and Sardines: Amy Sillman

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Posted on 20th November 2008 by Judy Breck in Findability and SEO

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UPDATE: Note that the comment to this post by Keri Morgret corrects me on the importance of keywords, and explains both how the museum content attracts search engines and how a redirect the museum could do would be helpful. My thanks to Keri!

With apologies to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art, for picking on your gorgeous new Web site, here is a constructive suggestion: do some SEO (search engine optimization). As The Wired Campus reports the Hammer Museum has raised the bar for museum offerings:

On Monday, though, the museum surpassed itself — and every other museum I can think of, either on a campus or off — by unveiling a new Web site that all but vibrates with podcasts, videorecordings of presentations, blog posts, slide shows, and more. Many museums offer images of works in their collections or in special exhibitions, along with calendar listings, directions, and hours, but usually that’s about it. At the Hammer site, so much is available online that even those of us several time zones away have plenty to enjoy and learn from.

Yet the new Web site misses significant SEO opportunities that would bring the virtual public in as visitors. As the images from the exhibition Oranges and Sardines: Conversations on Abstract Painting illustrate, there are no keywords in the html for the individual pages. (To see this, enlarge the above image by clicking it.) This means someone looking for “Oranges and Sardines” will not be directed to the exhibit by search engine spiders who would have found the exhibit and given it juice at their search engine homes.

The urls of the pages are only identified by numbers. How is a spider to know that Hammer is exhibiting the gorgeous painting by Amy Sillman, U.S. of Alice the Goon, 2008? Those spiders are more likely to find the Sillman painting at Hammer from the post you are reading because I have put her name in my title, and thus this post’s url. Since the  individual pages are in Flash, so they cannot be given urls, at least the Oranges and Sardines exhibit could have its name instead of “142″ in its url. To see the Sillman painting, click on the sixth thumbnail under the painting on the Hammer exhibit page.

Certainly the fact that the text of Hammer’s beautiful Web site contains painters’ names and names of paintings is bringing traffic to the Web site. There is, though, potential for much more by SEOing the inside pages that have individual exhibits and works of art. We will open vast and wonderful educational and cultural resources to the global online audience by optimizing them for search engines. I can’t resist saying that too many fabulous educational resources are stuck inside of unopened cans, like sardines.