The New Hitchhikr

Hitchhikr Screen ShotIt’s sure been nice to be at home for the past week.  With only a few virtual events on my calendar last week, I’ve been retiring to and rising from my own bed for the past seven days — and this trend will continue, as May is always a slow month for travel.

I have spent a good part of the past week recoding much of Hitchhikr, my conference aggregator.  The main part of the upgrade has been inserting the features of Hitchhikr into a WordPress theme, and  it has worked out very well.  In the process I’ve fixed a few things, added a few things, and just spruced it up a bit.

One substancial change that I made is the ability to add your own conference tags.  These are not blogging tags, which are specific to a given event, but more general tags that describe the conference (i.e., education, technology, media).  Registered users (free) can also add tags to their profile, and Hitchhikr will list all of the conferences that have similar tag descriptors.

As with the old Hitchhikr, a list of blogs is generated from tag- and string-searches.  The default is a Google Blog Search, but you can click into a Technorati search or a Bloglines listing.  Flickr photos tagged for the event, are also displayed.  I installed the FancyZoom javascript so that photos can be clicked out into enlarged versions.  I love this tool.

For ed tech’ers who are interested in NECC events, NECC08 and the EduBloggerCon have just been registered.  You can visit their Hitchhikr page at:

Happy hitching!

Be a ThinkQuest Judge

For those who are not aware, ThinkQuest is part competition, part instructional project, part mob-sourcing, and entirely one of the most exciting things for teachers and learners on the Internet — for the past 10+ years.  Originally the brainchild of Advanced Network & Services president, Al Weis, and now run by the Oracle Education Foundation, ThinkQuest asks students to work in teams and create web sites that are designed to help other students learn something

ThinkQuest inspires students to think, connect, create, and share. Students work in teams to build innovative and educational websites to share with the world. Along the way, they learn research, writing, teamwork, and technology skills and compete for exciting prizes. ((“Home Page.” ThinkQuest. Oracle Education Foundation. 1 May 2008 http://thinkquest.org/.))

I was involved in this project during its earliest years, and what I learned from that experience did much to form many of the education philosophies that I have today.  It is about empowering learners.

The student web site entries are due in tomorrow (April 2) for the 2008 competition, and ThinkQuest needs people to judge these entries.  To be a judge, you must be employed as a teacher or have a minimum of five years experience in the field of education; be proficient in the English language; and be able to, and have the time to evaluate and score websites based on the provided criteria.

The judging criteria include:

  • Content
  • Writing & Organization
  • Originality
  • Educational Relevance
  • Global Impact
  • Citations
  • Collaboration
  • Team Diversity
  • Website Structure, Appearance and Function
  • Media Use

To learn more about being a ThinkQuest judge, listen to my April 13 podcast interview with master judge, Bill McGrath.  If the intrinsic joy of judging the work of students around the world is not enough, Judges who score a minimum of fifteen sites will qualify for a drawing to receive an iPhone.  The top-performing judge will go to the ThinkQuest Live event, held each year in San Francisco.

This PDF file will help you learn more about being a ThinkQuest Judge and you can submit an application here.

Want to know what Google Platonic Distance is?

Picture of the Web Site
Screen shot of Measuring Informational Distance
I’m not sure what value it would be to your daily classroom or school management task.  The term, Google Platonic Distance, is an invention of a Barcelona group called bestiario.  They use a combination of art, design, and scientific computation to generate useful visualizations of vast information sets and complex systems. 

I learned about this example of their work from a Smart Mobs article ((Breck, Judy. “Smart Mobs Measure Informational Distance.” [Weblog SmartMobs] 29 Apr 2008. 1 May 2008 http://www.smartmobs.com/2008/04/29/smart-mobs-measure-informational-distance/.)) by Judy Breck.  The site measures and illustrates the information distance between cities, the apparent degree to which major cities are linked through the World Wide Web.  They calculate the informational distance by comparing the number of web pages that include the names of two cities close to each other, to the number of pages that include only one of the city names (gracias a Google).  The result is called the “Google Proximity,” and this number is divided by the geographic distance between the cities.  There is a much more detailed explanation on the web page.

Again, I’m not sure of the practical applications of this kind of visualization, except that it is another, among many examples of how today’s globally networked and digital information landscape can be “worked.”  This particular visualization strikes in my brain a sense that the world is not so much becoming smaller as it is becoming twisted and puckered, like a potato that’s gone bad.  Parts of the planet have come closer together informationally and culturally (Europe, North America, Southern Asia, and an incredibly conversational Australia), while informational distances in other parts of the inhabited world remain vast (South America and Africa).

Instructionally, I believe that it is important to show students this sort of thing — and often.  It can give them a sense that the networked, digital, and overwhelming content around us is workable in ways that produces value.  It is literacy (skills involved in using information to accomplish goals) as well.  The visualization of global connections is one more illustration of how arithmetic is no longer simply the ability to process numbers on a piece of paper — that it is a range of skills involved in employing information — working the binary numbers that define nearly all content today — to answer questions, solve problems, and accomplish goals.

Now this does not mean that every student (or teacher) should know how to produce this type of visualization.  But I think that a literate person today should be confident that if he or she need to be able to produce this kind of visualization, then we could use our learning-literacy skills to teach ourselves how to do it.

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