Open Source/Open Notebook Science


Jean- Caude BradleyPeople are wondering in to the Open Source session, presented by Drexel educator, Jean-Claude Bradley, whom I met at NECC in Philadelphia a few years ago, and again, here in Chapel Hill, at the PodcasterCon conference. I’ve been lucky enough to site next to a middle school science teacher, who is interested in using blogs in her science classes.

The session has started, and Bradley is talking about Open Source Science. He prefers the term Open Notebook Science. Science is evolving from a state were humans are experimenting, to humans doing experiments and using technology is doing part of it, on to where humans are merely asking the questions, and the technology processes the data to answer them. Well, it is certainly not that simple, but this move will usher in a time of very rapid change.

How can machines know what is important?

As a Human!

From a teacher perspective, they tried using a blog as a notebook. There were problems, but it provided a useful way for assessment. They discovered that a wiki was a better way to have a social notebook. He is explaining why the wiki worked out better. One thing I gather is that wikis enable the students and teachers to create more complex publishing environments, where blogs are much more chronological. (He’s using WikiSpaces)

Aside: InChi is a way of describing a molecule without the typical notations. Google does an excellent job of indexing molecules by InChi. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds very useful.

They are also starting to do collaborations with other teachers. They have an English teachers who are using what his grad students are doing from a humanities point of view. I’d love to learn exactly how that works. Jean-Claude continues to use a blog to tie things together. It’s sort of a reporting tool — press releases of their project, so to speak!

He’s now showing us some blogs that report experiments, whether they were successful, and why they think the were or were not successful.

One of the concerns being expressed by the audience now is a fear that putting their data and work out on an open social environment invites others to take their ideas and scoop them in the journals. Someone with a Brit accent asks, “What are our opinions of those scientists.” The response to this idea that peer pressure will solve this problem, but he’s making a good case, that the morays of the science community will protect their desire to open up their work and collaborate.

Adventures in Science Blogging


Janet StemwedelThat last one got kinda long, so I’ve started a new post for the next session, presented by Janet Stemwedel. Janet has degrees in both science and philosophy. This is going to be fun. The first thing she did was to take a picture of the audience. Here blog is called Adventure in Ethics & Science.

She says that real communication is conversation. It should not result in what she calls the Spinach Dip Blowoff. Traditional science communication consists of peer reviewed literature, conference presentations, and press releases, all of which enjoy some back-and-forth. But it isn’t true conversation. Science is a process, not a product — and by necessity, it requires conversations between scientists.

So why would a blog be helpful to scientists. It’s usually a back-and-forth in a much shorter time-scale than with traditional publishing. It’s also less ephemeral than non-virtual conversations. They stay up there. You are using real words that stay there. The conversation is quick but it is also extended. Also, it become possible to involve people from many backgrounds and many places.

She suggests that much more scientific conversations are happening in the public today, though she’s not sure if it is because of the emerging blogosphere or the current political polarized climate of this day and time. An interesting question!

This is important. Its about professional conversations where professionals grow.

She also suggests, somewhat reluctantly, that blogging can be a way of holding what might be considers virtual meetings. Concerns include plagiarism of their work and other issues. She is now displaying a blog called, In the Pipeline, a blog written by a professional industry chemist. She suggests that any chemistry majors should be reading this blog.

She suggests that perhaps the most helpful type of blogging a scientist could engage in is conversations about the tribe, sharing what it is to be a scientist. How are things now. How might we change them. This is especially true among students — and she says that an extraordinarily high portion of science bloggers are women.

What makes blogging different?

  • ability to build a virtual community i
  • Audience of the willing
  • option to control disclosure of personal details. (not sure exactly what that means!)

The down side?

  • How do I deal with my “real” environment?
  • Who’ll read this? (echo chamber vs. pitched battle)
  • Who’s an authroity? ***
  • What if I get dooced? (you might get fired — some bloggers did not get tenure)

Hmmm! One member of the audience just confessed that she blogged anonymously as a grad student because she didn’t want her advisory to think that she was goofing off. Janet suggested that at least with tetris, you have a high school to show for it. She later says that it’s not goofing off. It’s engaging! It’s conversation!

A good session!

In closing she suggests that science teachers should have their students blog, that she sees this more in the humanities, but we need to see it in the sciences.

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NC Science Blogging Conference


The conference has begun. Unfortunately, I am not connected to the Internet. They double-checked my Mac number, reset it, and it still hasn’t taken effect. But so far, we’ve received a breakout of the attendees (see graph), and the general rule is golden, “Blog unto others as you would have them blog unto you.”

graphscibloggingHot dang! I’m online. My friend, Bora Zivkovic is talking about his new book, an anthology of the best science blogs in the past year — and interesting concept. Bora has also compiled a listing of science bloggers from North Carolina and other lists as part of the conference wiki. The page is Science Bloggers.

So how do science blogs differ? Well, they are expert blogs, slightly different from journalistic blogs, where people are reporting something that they have found or learned. Science bloggers are blogging from a sense of expertise in the area. Bora ZivkovicAnd there is a simple question that is a long-term ongoing concern of scientists. How can we more effectively and efficiently report to the public about the complex world of science? It’s one reason why so many scientists are here in this room.

Gnome scientists, Hunt Willard is talking about science. When I/we grew up, the space race was always on the television — but did people ever say, “This is science!” Only a fraction of people knew how we were going into space. People simply don’t spend a lot of time imagining what they can’t see — the moon, a single cell, and DNA. But is that important. It was important that people were talking about space exploration, even if they didn’t understand how a rocket works. Perhaps what we don’t need is the glazed eyes that result from our trying to explain how the gnome works. Willard is with the Duke Insitute for Genome Sciences & Policy, which researches but also tries to engage the public with some of the questions that are arising from what we are learning about our selves. These are issues that are going to impact on us, whether we understand the complexities or not.

Hunt WillardWe’ve found and sequenced the dna of the Neanderthal. Some people thought, “this is incredibly interesting, fascinating.” Another will say, “What an incredible waste of money!” Others are going to say, “This is a conspiracy, because Neanderthals never existed.”

Is no one going to want to clone a Neanderthal. Will it never happen? Do we not want to know what a Neanderthal is like? When we do, what are we going to do? After the experiment is over, what are we going to do with them, euthanasia as with dogs, zoo them like Chimps, or do we find ourselves with another legitimate human race? The are science questions that must engage the public, to support science.

Lesson one! Don’t explain too much. Use the mother rule. How would you explain the science to your mother. (well, my mother is pretty smart, but you get the point). Hunt’s group was the first to produce a completely artificial human chromosome. When it came out in the press, the whole story was about gene therapy – and the public picked that up, resulting in hundreds of letters from people around the world, who are looking for miracles to cure their loved ones. Science can be blown out of proportion.

Now he’s talking about something to do with X chromosomes that is simply to interesting to write about while he’s talking. 😉 Men and women are different. People paid attention. He told a number of other stories that indicated how unpredictable the public’s response to science reporting can be — and scientists like predictability. It is going to take a while for most scientists to get this. Blogging is antithetical to science. What’s critical is the data and interpretations — not the public’s opinion.

A member of the audience is now asking about opinion. Commenters say, “It’s my opinion. I have the same right to my opinion as anyone.” Question? Do people have a right to stupid opinions? Hunt is saying that the key is to create the context that is real and relevant. But sometimes with some people you just can get there (my words). This is a larger issue than science. Part of blogging — part of communication — is creating the context, the scene, the setting.

One of the issues that seems to be especially critical here is the availability of original texts and data. Much of what scientists generate is publicly funded, yet the data is not available to the public, the public is charged again for the data. We all got a T-shirt about it.

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Back in Chapel Hill for Another BloggerCon

Caribou Coffee, on Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.  The employees are talking about having lived in Canada, politics (Chapel Hill Style), New York Accents, and what makes people laugh.

I love coffee shops.  To be sure, I love coffee shops more than I love coffee.  The only reason that I spend so much time at the local Starbucks is that their WiFi is to expensive.  It provides a fitting buffer from e-mail and net surfing, so that I can get more serious writing done.  ..And I like coffee shops, especially independent ones — the way that this one acts. 

I’ve just found parking, arriving on the campus of UNC an hour early in order to have an easier time finding parking than I otherwise would.  With an hour to spend, I’ve located a coffee shop on Franklin street with free WiFi.

I’m here to attend the NC Science Blogging Conference.  It’s a bit of a mystery as to why I’m here, not being a scientist, science teacher, or science student.  I am an old-time science nerd.  But I’m here to look at things through another window.  My interest in blogging and other new web applications in schools is much broader than science.  But sometimes when you have an opportunity to look at a think through the eyes of somebody else, you’ll see things that do not normally show up through your own glasses.

I’ve been to a number of other blogger type events here: the Chapel Hill BloggerCon a few years ago, and the PodcastCon only one year ago, about this time.  Those who have seen me speak probably heard me talk about the PodcasterCon, a story that still amazes me in the levels through which information travels today, and the opportunities to latch those levels together for teaching and learning.

One other interesting thing, here, before I walk over to Murphey Hall.  I’m typing on a new computer.  Well, not new/new.  Its actually a rather old iBook, for whom AppleCare is a distant and veiled memory.  We bought my daughter a new MacBook before Christmas, handing here iBook G4 down to Brenda.  So the old, old iBook that Brenda has been using passed on into my hands, and I love it.  It’s rather slow, doesn’t have a DVD drive, and a tiny screen.  But it’s small and really light, and I think I’ll use it for my own personal on-the-road use.  When it’s time to start looking for a new computer for myself, I’ll have to as them to explain why I need a MacBook Pro, why not the lighter and far longer battery life of a MacBook.

What do you think?

To on to the NC Science Blogging Conference


Photo Uploaded by David Warlick
I’m down in the lobby early to guarantee a ride to the airport, and scanning through USAToday. This is a UMPC (UltraMobile PC) by OQO. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket and it runs Windows Vista. Just like the PERFECT computer bag, I am constantly on the lookout for the perfectly sized computer.

Also in USAToday, for the first time in years there are fewer foreign students in US colleges than last year — and the year before and the year before that. Is this good news or bad news?

Checking In

I had a wonderful day, yesterday, at the San Mateo county office of education, presenting to about 80 teachers and administrators from across this part of California.  Paul Larson also did an amazing presentation and demonstration of some of the work that his sixth-grade students are doing.  I was especially impress with the emphasis that he puts on communication in their work, rather than just the technology of it.

This is a picture of the gift shop in my hotel, where the shelving seems more important than what’s on them.  At least they had a couple of bags of M&Ms along with all of those gold wrapped dark chocolates.

It’s 3:39 AM, Pacific time, and I’ll be leaving for the airport in about two hours for my flights back to Raleigh, where it’s suppose to be snowing right now.  The conference sponsors put me up in this really Frenchie hotel.  I don’t mean that in any derogatory way.  It’s just an interesting place where all the employees have an accent, wear charcoal gray suits and purple shirts — and the accent is on style.  It’s just different from my usual Courtyard hotels.

Then I’m home for a few days, thanks to a cancellation in New York.  I’m glad to be home, but sympathetic to the predicament faced by my client in NY.  They had put forth a great deal of planning and effort to provide a productive conference for area educators, only to have such a small registration that they had to cancel.  My contact was very frustrated because, as he said, “If we had offered a conference about the dangers of social networking, then we would have been filled up!”

So many of us educators seem to be in a reactionary mode right now.  Irrational attacks from sectors who gain from attacking have put us here.  It will all change!

The up side is that I get to attend the Science Bloggers Conference in Chapel Hill on Saturday.  I’m not quite sure what to expect from a science bloggers conference.  Most of the attendees will be university level researchers and real scientists from across the country, though I understand that there will also be a good many K-12 science educators.  Again, I’m not sure what to expect, but coming at things from new directions do tend to give us insights about things that we might not usually get when we only look at them through our own lenses.  Should be fun!

For the bad news,  my daughter just turned 21.  Egads!

Not So Weird

Jennifer Cronk, of Computer Teachers, Teach Thy Self!,  was a bit bummed out the other day when I posted my podcast interview of my son while he was playing World of Warcraft.  She’d been planning to record a similar interview with some of her New York students in much the same fashion.  Sorry!

She went on to say, in Teen Gaming — for Profit:

You see one of my student has used WOW to make about $5,000. He is in 9th grade! The way he has done it was to spend several weeks developing certain characters and getting them desirable items to use (weapons, spells, armor). Once he has taken the character to a certain point he sells it on ebay.
This is the first time I’ve thought to actually look.  Here is a World of Warcraft account, up for bid on eBay.  The account provides three level 60 crusade-ready characters.  Level 60 is evidently the cat’s meow.  At least shipping is FREE.

I shared this story with the audience in my video games session yesterday, and as I told it, I thought to myself, and then commented, “This is just too weird!”  Heads nodded in unison.  And it does seem really weird, the idea of an economic community that exists virtually — and one that seems not to discriminate by age, education, credential, or in any other way.

However, this morning (when I should be sleeping), I got to thinking about the first slide in that presentation, where I distinguish between the time of my grand father, where most people’s focus was on agriculture, and my father and my time, when focus was on material goods, getting stuff, and my children’s time, where they focus more on the experiential.  They spend no time tending crops, less time playing with stuff, and more time playing with experiences. 

Should it seem so weird that they can build and sell experiences? 

Has it happened before?

A hundred years ago, did the idea of performing, recording, and selling music on a phono album seem just as weird?

Or go back a few more centuries.  Did it seem just as weird to take a story, set type and print that story, and then sell the story as a book?

Are we lucky to be living in a time that is characterized by the really weird?  Or are we unlucky.  What do you think?

Not being a Specificist!

I’m so out of practice with all of this that I didn’t even take any pictures of yesterday’s event in Menomonie, Wisconsin.  So here’s a picture out side my hotel room in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where, according to my handy weather widget, it’s 0ËšF.

Specificist? OK, it’s my blog.  So it’s my right to makeup words for my blog.  I could have easily said, I’m not an Evangelist, but that wouldn’t be quite so accurate.  My gig is almost never, one thing.  It’s not blogging, or podcasting, or video games, or literacy, or any of the other major focuses of education and education technology.  I suspect that this is largely due to the many formative years I’ve spent in ed tech, focused on so many different aspects of using technology for teaching and learning.  I’m mean, I’m still programming computers.

What’s wrong with all of this is that I talk about a lot of different stuff.  Take yesterday in Menomonie.  The school district hired me to keynote their staff development conference.  I talked about 21st century literacy.  However, I also talked in other sessions about blogging, podcasting, wikis, RSS, video games, ethics, and I spent time simply exploring the fundamentals of an information landscape that many of their children already call home.

It often worries me that I am throwing so many ingredients into the pot, that the stew I’m cooking will be so mixed and pureed that no one will walk away with any real guiding sense of where to take their technology and their teaching.

This is why I was so gratified to read library/media specialist Doug Hyde’s blog this morning.  He walked away with the key elements, the very simple but sturdy skeleton upon which all the rest of it can be worn.

Classroom In Your Pocket:

…It was good to hear someone affirm what I feel about education and technology. I have been concerned that there has been misplaced emphasis on the hardware, and not the attitudes, of people who use assorted technologies to acquire, analyze, and synthesize information…

What particularly impressed me was his 3-E’s: Exposing the information, Employing the information, and Expressing ideas compellingly. These are supported by the invisible ‘E,’ Ethical use of information. In short we need to encourage ourselves and students to look for the truth, find relevance, and create value for information; all the while keeping the information honest, unbiased, and personal by citing sources.

Not only am I gratified to hear from someone who got it, but I’ve also found a great blog about iPods in education… Hyde’s Classroom In Your Pocket.

Revisiting AUPs

A few minutes ago, UK Canadian educator Sharon Peters blogged (Web 2.0 Integration and New Issues with AUP) about a staff development that she delivered on Web 2.0 applications (podcasts, wikis, etc.), and how thrilled she was about the response from teachers, for whom this is all quite new.  She even has teachers wanting to try Moodle. A challenge that she sees, and one that I had already intended to write about this morning, is that most schools and districts are operating under Acceptable Use Policies that were written before there was a Read/Write Web.

Back in November, EdTech published an article of mine on managing edublogging from a school or district perspective.  The article was called, Blog Rules.  In it, I suggest that we “..shake out those old AUPs and re-dress them for the read/write Web.”  Here are three elements that I believe should be a part of any school or district AUP. 

  • Why — How do these technology applications help us do our jobs as teachers and learners.
  • What — What practices do we believe will result in our goals.
  • What Not — Here are the practices that we do not want to see.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a tech director asking if I knew of any published AUPs that are addressing Web 2.0 applications.  My answer was no, but I’d ask.  So here I am asking.

  • Is your district working on a new AUP to address new web applications?

  • Have you already completed one and have it available for viewing by other educators? 

If your answer to either of these questions is yes, please reply to this blog with any information that will be useful to others who are grappling with making the most of these brand new tools in ways that do not cause any harm to our children, to us, or to our cause.

Bound for the Frigid North

Photo Uploaded by David Warlick
I’m currently sitting in the Chicago airport, waiting for a crew to fly us on up to Minneapolis, from which I’ll drive a bit into Wisconsin. Calling for -1 degree in the morning — without wind chill. Glad I packed my mittens.

Tomorrow, I’ll speak at a district staff development conference — Menomonie School District. I work a lot of these, and it is an excellent service for teachers. A number of districts hold them in North Carolina. Along with venders, area tech folks, many local teachers, and an occassional paid consultant; ed tech follks from the NC Department of Public Instruction are always around sharing the latest in state resources and best practices.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about 21st century literacy skills, Web 2.0, video games, and ethics — a full day. Then it’s on to California.

Well enough of killing time. M

y thumbs are starting to spasm.