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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.

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.

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.

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.

A curious case and science voodoo

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Posted on 24th February 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Learn nodes, Networks and Open Content

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My Point of View article just published by Educational Technology magazine explains the key to SeedMagazine’s lede article on That Voodoo that Scientists Do.

After describing a considerable flap that has been going on among neuroscientists about peer review sparked by the early release of a Perspectives article and the phrase “voodoo correlations” bouncing around online, Seed Magazine quotes Perspectives founding editor Ed Diener: “There are some very important questions that this raises for science. Most important, how can we guarantee quality in what is sent around?

“The internet is full of wonderful information — but it is also full of disinformation and errors. How can readers know whether what they are reading is solid information?”

My article addresses exactly that question, and begins to answer it with some new network analysis from the BarabasiLab. The Curious Case of the Polio Virus Learn Node is the tale of a quality node that found its way to prominence through nature’s network laws.

Download The Curious Case of the Polio Virus Learn Node

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.

How to get search engines put your stuff near the top


Posted on 19th October 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and SEO

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If you are an expert in an academic subject, the process the advertising world calls search engine optimization (SEO) is a way you can get what you know into online study and conversation. With SEO you can get your webpages to the top of the SERPS (search engine result pages).

The bare bones SEO are these two steps:

First, be sure meaningful keywords for your webpage appear in its URL, title, first few words of text, and the anchor text (which is made up of the words you highlight in your text to hyperlink to another page.)

The second aspect is to lure respected people in the subject your webpage is about to link to your page. Anyone who links to your webpage gives it what SEO folks call juice, and the more respected the linker is, the more juice is received by your webpage.

At’s sister blog, I am experimenting with creating small landing pages that are SEOed for academic subjects. The following is an example of how SEO and giving juice are actually quite effective and powerful.

Last week I created a blog post (a blog post is a webpage) titled Learn Node: How Fish Muscles Work. If you will click to this fish muscle learn node, you will see that the URL, title, first words of the text, and anchor text all repeat words that describe the subject of the landing page (this blog post). If someone lands on this page, they will find three excellent links highlighted to lead them to fish muscle knowledge.

Within 2 days after I published this blog post, search engine spiders had found it, it was evaluated at Google, and it showed up as #2 on Google when I searched for “how fish muscles work”.

Something else very interesting happened. One of the links I had featured in my learn node about fish muscles is a webpage from Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. The webpage is excellent science about Opsanus tau, a very ugly fish whose swim bladder muscles are the fastest twitching muscles in the vertebrate world. The Woods Hole page had no SEO. The title of the webpage (sounds like a cosmetics ad!) is “It’s Not Going to Win Any Beauty Contests But . . . “; the URL identifies it only as “labnotes/6.3/beauty”, there are few hints in the first paragraphs of the muscle information in the webpage, and there are no outgoing links with anchor text.

Nonetheless, when I included the Woods Hole webpage in my “How Fish Muscles Work” learn node that I SEOed — lo, the Woods Hole webpage appeared on Google’s first page of SERPS as #3 link! The image above shows that both the learnode I made and the Woods Hole page I linked to had enough SEO juice to jump to the top of the SERPS.

Silly as this language may seem, it is of fundamental importance for delivering knowledge to students and colleagues in our new connected age.

Experts teach by copywriting for search engines


Posted on 5th October 2008 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge and SEO

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A session in the “boot camp” for beginners at next week’s SMX Search Marketing Expo in New York City is titled Copywriting For Search Success. Because search engine optimization (SEO — the theme of the Expo) and the education establishment have barely engaged each other, experts who want to teach what they know have a powerful tool waiting for them to pick up and use. The promotional copy for the boot camp copywriting session puts it this way:

- It’s pretty simple. Want to be found for certain words? It helps to actually use those words in your web pages! This session covers the importance of textual content to search engines and how with some forethought, you can create HTML title tags and body copy that works to generate search traffic yet which also pleases your human visitors.

So if you are an expert in science, history, literature, or another “academic” area, how does this apply to you? You may have already created some webpages that present what you know. A powerful tool for getting your webpages into the global learning conversations online is to optimize them for search engines by using words the search engine spiders will pick up, and using them in the right places on your webpages. As the copy says above: It’s pretty simple.

Six ways that education will be revamped by the Internet


Posted on 3rd September 2008 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning

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Being an “old pol” who served long ago on two national staffs of Presidential campaigns and six statewide election efforts, I am having trouble staying away from spending just about all of my time reading the political blogs. The US Presidential election is fascinating, and the bloggers are delivering information in entirely new ways through their posts.

The blog is about the learning stuff (gold) in the swamp (the internet). What I am writing here picks up a format that has been popping up in the political blogs. The format could be called the “n things list”: n things that are happening, n reasons why, n things to look for. In that format, here are:

6 ways that education will be revamped by the internet in coming months:

1. The shift of primary creative development will be from tech to content. The progression of the most interesting challenges has been from creating the computers, to conceiving applications, to establishing networks — and now to manipulating the data and its meaning that lives in the new environment created by it all. The wildly popular new Apple App Store does not sell devices or connections, it sells content to be played with, used for information, and learned.

2. The understanding of the internet is deepening to studying the relationships [think hyperlinks] of its smallest pieces. The open connectivity of the pieces of cognitive gold within the internet swamp is the way that knowledge will emerge for students, mirroring the connectivity of their learning minds.

3. The cloud cometh – but SaaS (Software as a Service) is only the technical platform for the content the cloud contains and interfaces. When we are interacting with content in the cloud, our cognitive connectivity becomes global.

4. Learning content will be SEOed (optimized for search engines), revolutionizing its use as has happened already in e-commerce and the media.

5. Social networks — increasingly replacing textbooks — will become significant delivery mechanisms for connection to the knowledge students learn.

6. As mobiles increasingly deliver the Internet there will be no separate m-learning to create. Soon most digital learning content interaction will be mobile as these devices individually owned by students deliver the Internet. One Web will rule.

Importance in open educational resources OER of Chaos Theory in SEO


Posted on 16th May 2008 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge and Findability

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chaos.jpgThe Chaos Theory is featured in a newsletter this week by SEO marketing gurus at Bruce Clay Inc. The piece, honoring the passing of Edward Lorenz, explains for its search engine marketing clientele a principle that educators can use to great benefit. To use the SEO lingo, that edu principle is: academics who are expert on a subject can give juice to a webpage by linking to it and by commenting on excellent Net assets that they respect for their area of expertise. Here is why doing so nudges order from chaos, from the Bruce Clay SEO newsletter:

This idea [Chaos Theory] has been dubbed ‘The Butterfly Effect’, derived from Lorenz’ example that a butterfly’s wings flapping in one area can make changes in the atmosphere so strong that they could force a tornado to develop somewhere else. His ideas have altered the way that we look at most scientific fields, and we would be wise to understand its importance in our endeavors as well . . . .

As for chaos theory specifically, search engine optimization is also directly tied in with the observation and management of minute changes within the system. Tweaking is often the term used in this regard. These small changes, when applied correctly, can prove to have vast effects on the system as a whole.

For instance, depending on the status of the rest of the system, it is possible that if one were to do something as small and insignificant as adding a specific word to the title tag of one of their pages, a large effect on rankings for that term could occur. This would then have a huge effect on the system itself. Obviously, in order for one page to increase in rankings, it must displace a page above it. Let’s say that your page was before in 50th place, and has now displaced pages above it to become number eight. . . .

A hypothetical example of applying this to open educational resources: There are 20 webpages on hypothetical molecule OERX. Professor Smith, who is the world expert on OERX, comments in his blog about one of those 20 webpages, and hyperlinks in his post to that webpage. Within a week, the page he commented on moves to the first page of Google SERPs (search engine result pages). A laboratory chief where OERX molecules are studied reads Smith’s blog post, writes about it on his own blog and links to the page Smith liked. The next week that page is at the top of the Google SERPs. Particularly for an academic subject as small as a particular molecule, just 2 jolts like these of academic juice can dramatically affect SERPs ratings. In this example, teachers and students who searched for OERX would find a page at the top of their SERPs that is respected by 2 leading OERX experts.

The image above is from a work in progress on my website about how edu can use network tools to morph searching for learning into emergent findability. As educational resources are released into the open Net (as I have tried to suggest in the image), educators can ply to wonderful educational advantage, the SEO tools explained by Bruce Clay Inc. and other online marketing experts. The butterfly effect for academic experts can become to juice the emergence from the online chaos of the nodes that they respect.

Kids do not know SEO

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Posted on 31st January 2008 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning

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Yesterday I made a presentation to a group of about 30 gifted teenagers (15-19 year-olds) about opportunities blogging and the burgeoning search engine optimization (SEO) field offered them now and in the future. I explained how they could make money writing blog posts, and that doing so in high school and college was a very effective way to hone their writing talent and build a skill they could use in many ways throughout their lives.

To introduce the SEO discussion, I quoted an email I received this week from a colleague in the open education efforts: “I have been connecting with friends in Silicon Valley that have knowledge of SEO gurus. Given the enormous economic impact of an optimized site, hot SEO people are among the highest compensated folks in the web-industry these days.” The kids were amazed. Only a couple of them had heard of search engine optimization.

I had begun the talk by telling the group that the book in the picture I was projecting on the screen we were looking at was my textbook from 1958, the year I graduated from college. I explained that I have kept the book because in terms of what has happened in biology in the past 50 years, the book is now quite quaint: it does not mention DNA.

For the young people in my audience, SEO is apparently in the same state of obscurity as DNA was when I was their age. In 1958, Crick and Watson had discovered the double helix and the genetic coding method it held for replicating life. Biologists have worked through the half century since to understand the new science of genetics and to implement its powers. In 1958 the huge implications we now know of DNA were barely hinted.

Can it be that the network structures over which search is being optimized as the 21st century method of commerce and communication are discoveries as important as DNA was? I think they are. The challenge for educators is to understand the new network science and to implement its powers for learning.

Using SEO for education means optimizing open education resources (OER) so the search engines can find them when students look for what they want to learn. Just because kids are early adopters of computers, we cannot assume they should have to figure out SEO for learning resources. They don’t yet know what that is, best I can tell.