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Sunday, October 19, 2008

New and Notable: Custom Timelines, Interactive Mobile Polling, Search Engine for Social Networks

Remote interactive polling via mobile device, embedded and customizable interactive media-rich timelines, and a search engine for online communities and social networks enhance the experience of the e-learner, and provide the instructor and learning organization new strategies for having an effective learning experience.

Custom Interactive Timelines: is a website that allows visitors to view, create and compare timelines. These timelines can be illustrated with pictures, text, YouTube movies and MP3. On our website, you will find timelines about music, movies, history, politics, art et cetera. As the website is very educational, so our site is very popular among teachers and students. Next to this portal, we offer our software as a service to companies and institutions. Our timeline application can be fully integrated in the website of that company or institution, showing its own content via the TimeRime software. Educational publishers use this software as part of their history learning methods. As a result students are using in the classroom very frequently.

Mobile polling: Turning Technologies’ new ResponseWare is a web based polling system that allows users to gather participant feedback from classrooms, meetings, etc. instantly through mobile devices, smartphones, and laptops. ResponseWare Web allows participants to submit responses to interactive PowerPoint questions via Internet-connected devices including: Apple iPhone and BlackBerry smartphones, other cell phones and mobile devices, laptops, or a standard desktop computer through a web browser. The web application immediately transfers their responses to a TurningPoint interactive polling slide typically presented to the audience via an LCD projector. ResponseWare Web is certified on the AT&T wireless network.

Search Engine for Social Networks: is an alternative search engine that searches online forums and communities. The growth & significance of online communities/forums and the useful information contained in posts and threads is being acknowledged now more than ever before. Twing helps users find forum content that is not visible in conventional search engines like Google. They recently launched Saved Search & Buzz Graphs features that let users see the popularity of various terms, as well as refine terms by category and share the results with colleagues. is a great tool/source for research.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Web 3.0, Web 4.0 and Personal Agents: Will They Open or Restrict Choice?

With Web 4.0 and personal software agents that track and register your purchases, your movements, your professional, commercial and recreational activities the future seems to promise a truly brave new world of targeted and meaningful information. Your past behaviors and activities will be considered predictors of future behavior, and the information streamed to you will be based on patterns that you have established. In theory, the information will help you do a better job in whatever you want to do. However, will you be held hostage to your old patterns? Will the information actually restrict your options?

Some would argue that by anticipating and playing to your patterns, you are essentially held captive to the past. Sometimes the past is a predictor of the present and the future. However, human choice is not necessarily confined to such tight patterns. This is essentially the problem with an over-reliance on long-tail marketing. If you liked one book, does it always and necessarily follow that you'll like a book in the same genre or on the same pattern?

I am reading a recently released psycho-biography of Bill Clinton, written by a psychiatrist who is focusing on Clinton's family, his formative years, his family environment, and the presumption that Clinton has displayed hypomanic behavior essentially all his life. Does it follow that I would be interested in other biographies about Bill Clinton? Needless to say, has already recommended many to me. Amazon has already emailed me books that cover subcategories of hypomania, bipolar disorder, and other psychological disorders. All have left me cold. One book was enough. I am ready to move on. My next purchase was a collection of gothic tales by early Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell.

My reason for mentioning my resistance to purchasing more biographies on Bill Clinton or books on people exhibiting hypomania is point out that sometimes I don't necessarily want to follow the pattern. My behavior, as it manifests on the surface, is perhaps an outlier and a one-time event. I don't want to be influenced or swayed in subtle ways to constantly repeating the past. While I realize that patterns are a reality of all our lives, and that deeper correspondences happen after a few iterations of an algorithm a la neural networking, or a few derivations, I still like to think that there is the potential for random choice and activity.

Perhaps the idea of being able to deviate from a dull, predictable pattern was what was so appealing about the fractals and obsession with chaos theory and randomness that so characterized the 90s. Chaos theory was deeply liberating. Fuzzy logic seemed to give us ways to create algorithms to at least see how vagueness and approximations may manifest in everyday activities. The nice thing is that both chaos theory and fuzzy logic embraced a certain intellectual and ontological openness that would resist the notion of feeding our behaviors into a computer and spewing out predictive patterns and then, shaping our information flow so that we're consigned to repeat the past.

Will all of this change with Web 3.0 and Web 4.0? If what I'm reading about Web 4.0 is accurate, we are in for a very constricted future. Privacy issues aside, what does it mean when all our behaviors are harvested, classified, processed, and then spewed back to us? Will it be a situation where everything we are given is some sort of skewed echo of the past?

The thought leaders on Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 are not very comforting. Nova Spivack at Radar Technologies has mapped out what he views as the evolution of the Web (

We're at Web 2.0, he argues, with the "semantic web" just around the corner as Web 3.0. Some argue that Web 3.0 is already here, as new versions of browsers (Mozilla, Google Chrome, IE) allow one to type in search questions in the browser navigation bar. Further, the mashups that are supposed to characterize Web 3.0 are already here. It's quite easy to create your own mashup on your own start page, especially if it brings together Google Maps and something from a database (news archives, yahoo directories, etc.).

Unfortunately, Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 seem doggedly deterministic, and committed to mapping us and creating a full identity about who / what behaviors we exhibited -- as though they were all done as expressions of freedom of will and without influence of groups or friends (which are, despite the underlying and never quite articulated "friends-forever" wish underlying the collection of contact in a social network).

Granted, we're never quite liberated from our patterns. But -- why lock them down in tighter and tighter, ever narrowing circles?

I'm all for the promise of Web 3.0. Many aspects, such as mashups and social networking are here. For example, some social networking sites such as Bebo have made creating customized mashups quite easy, with copy and paste code that you can insert right into your site. Other Web 3.0 services and features include social media sharing, lightweight collaboration, and social networking. These, too, have expanded dramatically (see overview of listings below).

Web 4.0 will, in theory, include an array of sensors that will gather information from one's environment and use them to create a deep profile of your behaviors and activities. While this may seem convenient, and it makes our real world a virtual world -- we will be going in and out of virtual and "real" realities -- the implications are rather unnerving. Here's a rather satirical / tongue-in-cheek view (

How does this apply to e-learning? Clearly, the tendency in the future might be to simply repeat and reinforce what one already knows, with expansions, revisions, and tightening focus. The ability to branch out and think about obscure, unrelated, even random things can and will be seriously constricted in the world of Web 4.0 as envisioned now.

Since this will not be too appealing to many people (thought-leaders, programmers, innovators), Web 4.0 will probably be deconstructed, undermined, and subverted even as it evolves.

One can only hope...

Social Media Sharing Resources


* Blogs: Blogger, Livejournal, TypePad, Wordpress, Tripod
* Mobile blogging and alerting: Twitter
* Social networking: MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, Skyrock


* Wikis: Wikispaces (personal)
* Social bookmarking:, StumbleUpon
* Social News Sites: Digg, Mixx, Reddit
* Opinion sites: epinions, Yelp, CitySearch, CultureMob


* Photo sharing: Flickr, Photobucket, SmugMug
* Video sharing: YouTube, Google video
* Livecasting: Ustream,, Stickam
* Audio and Music Sharing: imeem, The Hype Machine,, ccMixter


* Virtual worlds: Second Life,
* Online gaming: World of Warcraft
* Game sharing:

Stephen Downes on "Why the Semantic Web Will Fail"

Strange Days (d. Katherine Bigelow, 1995)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Apocalypse Manana: Dealing with Intrusive Thoughts and Cognitive Interference

With headlines proclaiming the meltdown of civilization as we know it, and economic apocalypse around the corner, it's no wonder that e-learners may have difficulty with focus. Intrusive thoughts can cause cognitive interference, as can the emotional response that one naturally has to the idea that the world as we know it is coming to an end. Yet, when you wake up and find the world has not come to an end, how you deal with the consequences of the fact that you spent the last few days wondering how to squirrel away canned goods and grieving over the erosion of your life's savings, your 401-K? One quick approach is to postpone apocalypse -- let it occur manana -- and in the meantime, find ways to deal with intrusive thoughts and cognitive interference in order to get your life back on track. You can learn more about the effects of intrusive thoughts and cognitive interference on stress in the family environment and job performance with an online bachelors degree in social work. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts.

The first step is to recognize that you are having intrusive thoughts. Don't criticize yourself for it. It is natural. In fact, you may be dispositionally inclined to experience intrusive thoughts. According to research on intrusive thoughts and cognitive interference in students working in laboratory situations, researchers Sarason etal concluded that some individuals posssessed personality traits that predisposed them to have intrusive thoughts, which caused cognitive interference (Sarason, 1986).

Tending to have intrusive thoughts may be a part of one's disposition, and an aspect of one's personality which is not likely to change over time. However, having intrusive thoughts can be associated with depression or anxiety. The types of intrusive thoughts will vary. Researchers have found that if one is clinically depressed, the intrusive thoughts tend to be self-critical, and they tend to express the viewpoint that one is helpless and unable to influence one's situation (Sarason, 1986, p. 1017). For a depressed individual, apocalyptic and highly negative headlines will tend to trigger thoughts of helplessness, and lead to negative beliefs, leading to a tendency to withdraw and to stop working on projects.

In contrast, for individuals experiencing generalized anxiety, the intrusive thoughts may also be initially negative. However, the key difference is that with anxious individuals, the intrusive thoughts act as triggers, and they lead to a series of intrusive thoughts, which tend to go along established pathways of associations. The pathways and networks of associations are well-developed and well-traveled, which creates an almost predictable outcome.

Studies have shown that anxious individuals tend to have a bias toward threatening information (Sarason, 1986, p. 1017). In times of economic crisis and apocalyptic headlines, the anxious individual may find it almost impossible to block out or resist the attraction of the cues that trigger the thoughts.

While some intrusive thoughts are task-related, many will not be. Researchers have found that athletes as well as students have issues with cognitive interference. For example, in a study of golfers, researchers Thill and Curry (2000) found that certain self-regulation strategies worked quite well when golfers had intrusive thoughts such as worry about competition, other golfers, the environment, etc.

Social comparison intrusive thoughts were found to be more destructive than task-involvement, and learning and achievement thoughts (Thill & Curry, 2000, p. 104). Thus, the golfers were more successful when they were able to identify when intrusive thoughts were occurring and then to consciously turn the thoughts to those of task-accomplishment and process.

Task-accomplishment thoughts can be negative and destructive when they are associated with perfectionism (Flett & Madorsky, 2002). If the intrusive thoughts follow a pattern of making negative comparisons with others, or disparaging one's efforts because they do not achieve the highest ratings, there could be a problem of perfectionism. Flett and Madorsky found that perfectionistic thinkers who had intrusive thoughts tended to ruminate on the thoughts, repeating them to the point of being incapacitated. One strategy for stopping the rumination and going on to productive thoughts could involve setting easily achieved goals, and then rewarding oneself for reaching them. Have you logged into your course today? Pat yourself on the back. Did you interact on the discussion board? Another reward. Avoid creating a reward system that depends on the evaluations of others (grades from instructors, positive feedback from students, etc.). Keep the locus of control on yourself.

It is possible that intrusive thoughts are associated with other behaviors, such as rituals, magical thinking, hoarding, excessive ordering and arranging. While one should not jump to pathologize natural responses to difficult times, it is also important to recognize that there could be an underlying issue, such as obessive-compulsive disorder. Psychiatrists Merlo and Storch (2006) have discussed the connection between intrusive thoughts, cognitive interference, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The key is to be open-minded rather than self-condemning if you recognize behavior patterns that correspond with obsessive-compulsive disorder. There is nothing wrong with seeking support.

Strategies for Controlling Intrusive Thoughts and Minimizing Cognitive Interference

1. Listen to your thoughts. Find out when and how you respond to external news or triggers. If your thoughts tend to be about people, places, social comparisons, recognize that. Try to replace the thoughts with those that relate to your task: process, procedures, short-term goals.

2. If you find yourself feeling helpless and telling yourself that you are not able to do anything to protect yourself against change, reassure yourself that your feelings and thoughts are normal. However, there are ways to protect yourself. One is to study, and keep steady with your plans to improve your life and your future. Remind yourself that statistically speaking, education is the best approach.

3. If you find your thoughts and feelings racing ahead, and you find yourself predicting negative outcomes and doomsday scenarios, recognize that you may be feeling anxious. Racing thoughts and random, negative associations that respond to feelings of being threatened are very understandable given the situation. Reassure yourself that the racing thoughts are simply racing thoughts. You do not have to act or react to them.

4. Recognize that cognitive interference tends to occur in one or more spheres of cognition. There may be a visual trigger, which will trigger thoughts and emotions. One way to respond to the visual triggers switch learning strategies and move more toward alternative modes. For example, you may focus on audio and kinaesthetic, which can help you keep track. Write notes. Listen to lectures. Watch videos.

5. Do what you can to place yourself in a situation that minimizes interference. When the cognitive interference occurs, sort out the task-related thoughts and the non-task related thoughts. Set aside the non-task-related thoughts, and tell yourself you do not have to react to them.

6. Realize that some decisions are fear-based and some are not. Evaluate your actions or the thoughts about the actions you're thinking about taking. Are your thoughts racing? Are you telling yourself you need to change your major? Make a list of pro's and con's. Sleep on the decision.

7. Recognize when decisions need to be made quickly, and when they can be postponed. If you are studying for a test, you need to continue to study, even if your emotions are surging and you're feeling a fight-flight response. Channel the fight-flight into the fight at hand: the test. Use adrenaline to sharpen your focus on the task at hand rather than to let it distract you.

8. If your intrusive thoughts share characteristics of perfectionism, make sure that you recognize this, and the destructive nature of perfectionism. Develop a strategy for rewarding yourself for achieving small goals and milestones, and commend yourself for completing tasks, and avoid comparing your performance to others, or to a quality standard. Simply pat yourself on the back for showing up and doing it.

9. If you find you are engaging in behaviors that are ritualized and to the point of being incapacitating, it might be helpful to employ some of the strategies used by those with obsessive-compulsive disorder in order to liberate yourself from the tyranny of a compulsion, and to reintroduce choice into your life.

These are unsettling times. Yet, they do not have to be self-defeating times. You can use the challenges that you are feeling to gain self-awareness and to develop strategies that will help you be a more effective e-learner and a more self-confident global citizen, able to move forward with calm and compassion. Ultimately, the ability to develop self-regulation strategies and to weather storms of surging thoughts and feelings will make you a true leader.


Flett, Gordon L.; Madorsky, Dara; Hewitt, Paul L.; Heisel, Marnin J. (2002). Perfectionism Cognitions, Rumination, and Psychological Distress Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Spring 2002, Vol. 20 Issue: Number 1 p33-47.

Ladouceur, Robert; Freeston, Mark H.; Rhéaume, Josée; Dugas, Michel J.; Gagnon, Fabien; Thibodeau, Nicole; Fournier, Sarah (2000) Strategies used with intrusive thoughts: A comparison of OCD patients with anxious and community controls. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 109(2), May 2000. pp. 179-187.

Merlo, Lisa J.; Storch, Eric A. (2006) Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Tools for recognizing its many expressions. Journal of Family Practice, Mar2006, Vol. 55 Issue 3, p217-222.

Pierce, Gregory R.; Ptacek, J. T.; Taylor, Bruce; Yee, Penny L.; Henderson, Ciarda A.; Lauventi, Helene J.; Loffredo, Cynthia M. (1998) The role of dispositional and situational factors in cognitive interference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 75(4), Oct 1998. pp. 1016-1031.

Sarason, I. G., Sarason, B. R., Keefe, D. E., Hayes, B. E., & Shearin, E. N. (1986). Cognitive interference: Situational determinants and traitlike characteristics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 215-226.

Thill, Edgar E.; Cury, François. (2000). Learning to play golf under different goal conditions: their effects on irrelevant thoughts and on subsequent control strategies. European Journal of Social Psychology, Jan2000, Vol. 30 Issue 1, p101-122

Friday, October 03, 2008

Interview with Christopher Chang, LexDex - flash cards for cell phone or online

Welcome to an interview with a mobile learning innovator, Christopher Chang, cofounder of LexDex. LexDex ( has developed a new approach to flash card learning, which is ideal for mobile applications. We chose to focus on this application because new releases of cell phones and handheld devices mean that mobile learning will continue to move forward as applications are developed that work across platforms, devices, and interfaces.

1. What are LexDex's flash cards?
LexDex is a fresh take on the flash cards of generations past. We've taken those annoying and heavy stacks of easy to lose flash cards and turned them into digital flash cards that you can study online or on your phone. We cover many language subjects aside from Mandarin (Chinese), such as Spanish, French, Swahili, etc, but also others such as economics, art history, and anthropology. Our growing database has well over 500 textbooks. LexDex is in beta testing and is free to use.

2. How can they be downloaded on cell phones? What do you use? (flash? quicktime?)
They can be downloaded anywhere in the world through an sms link that we send to your cell phone or they can be downloaded to your desktop and transferred to your phone by USB.

3. Are they text only?
Currently we do not have sound or video in the flash cards application. The flash cards are primarily text, but are interactive. Users can flip and switch, shuffle, and even remove words when they've become confident with the stack.
4. One critique of flashcards is that they are not very effective if the instructional design of a program has not integrated them in a way that helps achieve the desired outcomes.

How does LexDex respond to that critique?
LexDex will not be limited to flash cards. Studying through applications on the cell phone is a new concept to grasp, and an introductory application like flash cards which has been around for ages makes it easier to understand and take in. Several other games and study tools to learn vocabulary have already been or are being developed as we speak.

Furthermore LexDex is not here to replace school textbooks. LexDex supplements students' study routines, adding convenience and ease of use. We have prepared study guides and vocabulary lists that can be learned through our flash card application or on through many soon to become educational, yet fun games.

To answer your question however, we believe flash cards work for all learning styles.

For the Visual, they are seeing the card. For the Verbal, they can read the cards out loud. The bodily/kinesthetic can use LexDex Mobile Flash Cards on their cell phones and move and walk as they read the cards. In the near future (next semester), users will be able to input their own cards. Musical/rhythmic learners can dance and sing the answers. If you don't like to study in noisy areas, then you read quietly and just hear your own voice in your head. Here is a website that goes into more detail.

5. What is the state of online education in China? Would you say that the Chinese private sector is active in developing elearning solutions that the world can use? Please list three or four examples.
LexDex, although based in Shanghai(China), is targeting college students in the United States in a range of subjects. The online education market is booming in China, however must of the players are foreign companies, such as Chinesepod, English First, and Mando Mandarin. All three design their own course content and private one and one web-tutoring. The private sector is not active in developing elearning solutions as far as I know. If you did not ask this question under the belief that we were developing for the Chinese market and would still like more info on this subject, then please let me know through email.
As far as LexDex is concerned, we are confident we can become big players in the elearning market because our known competitors are either strictly top down (tied to the institution) or bottom up (content generated by students). LexDex will connect the two together.

The problem with companies that implement the top down model is that the school and then the teachers have to approve it. This results in an experience for the student that is completely dependent upon that of the teacher. If there are study tools or services provided that the teacher does not like, then the students never have access to it. is an example of this. The content does not directly reach the students.

With the bottom up model, all the input is generated by users or students. and are examples of bottom up. The problem here is that students need to rely on other people's content to get good grades that may determine their future. They will have no idea if the content is correct or if it includes all the words in the chapter. Some of these companies create their own content, and this would require a demographic of procrastinators to go above and beyond to find content that is relevant to what they are studying. The ideal situation is to be tied to the institution but reach the students directly, and that is what LexDex does.

The future of LexDex is also very promising. Let's make a comparison to the Music industry and mp3s. They were all fragmented, having pockets of music here and there. Most users didn't want to go to the trouble of going to five or six different websites to DL a few songs. Then came iTunes along and standardized the price of each song and made it convenient for users to find all the songs the wanted in the same place.

It's a similar situation with education. You have individual publishers with websites or CDs made specifically for a textbook. These tools have lots of value and students who use them rate them as very useful, however, they don't want to go to several places to access these study tools for each book. LexDex wants to consolidate this market and bring everything under one roof. When this happens, the possibilities are endless.

Study groups, user-input, calendars, and many more functions can be designed.
a. links to lexdex and different views of the product
b. graphics illustrating lexdex - the bottom of the page has 4 screens - scroll over the questions and screen shots will pop out.
Interested in the archive for the Webinar that Ken Molay and Susan Nash held? Click here :)

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