Blogs and Wikis and things

Somebody asked me the difference between a blog and wiki.

The idea of the wiki is credited to Ward Cunningham, who in 1994 released the WikiWikiWeb (see and blogs evolved from online diaries. Not much of a digital history. But what is the difference?

A wiki is a piece of paper that is written in pencil, you pass it round and people write on it, they can rub out what you or others have written, or edit it or just add a comment, they can if they wish write their name so everyone can see what they did. I guess someone could rub out the entire contents of the piece of paper – play a trick, not really in the spirit of collaboration, and I wonder if they’d leave their name!

A blog is another piece of paper, you write your message in INK, it is permanent, not to be tampered with, and then you pass the paper around, people can then write messages one after the other on what they think about your message – some complementary others no so! But they can’t change your message. Bloggers have something to say, or at least a desire to say it!

Both are public by nature or at least not fully private.

A single word processed file stored in solitary confinement on your USB stick, which you edit occasionally (your long awaited novel) is a very private wiki, and if you write a diary and never show anyone, it is a very private blog but with no comments.

I am always fascinated by claims that certain things are going to revolutionise the way we learn!

To use a wiki you need a desire to collaborate and help each other and actually contribute in a public space – that can’t be bad.

A blog again promotes a desire to explore and communicate ideas, your ideas – you tell the world, is this a bad thing? Getting other peoples opinions and seeing what people think are a great way to engage your brain.

Both are public so you are asking for comment, one in a collaborative sense to make something better and the other to engage in conversation.

Education is about deeply personal conversations: the first is with yourself, then there are conversations with your teacher and others with your peers. A key part of a conversation is that it is reflective and you have to listen, acknowledge the other. Blogs and Wikis are part of this conversation, they are personal – no bad thing I reckon.

Must you engage in outward conversations in class, why does someone have to answer a question – plenty of kids sit in class hating it when teachers ask them a question, not because they don’t know the answer, but because for some reason they don’t wish to answer in a public place. So, be careful, if someone does not want to engage the old fashioned way possibly they won’t want to in the digital era either. It is possible of course that the opposite could happen. I reckon tread softly and encourage exploration of your voice, we want to hear you and really it does not matter how we hear you!

Omm Qias

Travelled up by car via Irbid. Trip is simple and takes about 1.5 hours. Irbid is a ‘working’ town, plenty of activity, even though it was a Friday. Umm Qias is to the West and is the site of an Roman city destroyed in 747AD by earthquakes, a fate that befall many similar places across the Roman Empire at various times. It is similar in layout to Jerash and also Ephesus. When you arrive it is a little unclear where to go to get into the main entrance, drive a little past the first entrance which is populated by touts and look for the tourist buses. The ticket entrance is up on the right. The site is very easy to walk around and you will be struck by the Basalt columns and sandstone columns – I am told the first indicates volcanic activity, hence fertile soil, and the latter, indicates that the sea once covered the area! Looking out to the west you see the Yarmouk River and the Sea of Galliee, which is called Lake Tiberias these days! It is quite a drop down and the area below is obviously fertile with many farms and green olive groves and the like.

According to the Bible this was were Jesus caste the demons from two men into nearby pigs, thus curing them – what from I don’t know, nor is why he picked on the poor pigs, surely rocks would have been better! From the slides below you get a good idea of the ruins and the land forms, the Sea of Galliee can be seen in the distance in one.

The picture of the dryed thistle head is my favorite – there are over 50 species in Jordan and the baking sun dries their flow heads perfectly.

The drive back to Amman is via the Jordan Valley; the otherwise dry environment is provided water from the Jordan River by irrigation channels – water rights is a geo-political issue, which is a fancy way of saying, like many things, people in the area don’t share limited resources very well, not at all really if they can help it!

The Israel occupied Golan Heights can be seen in the distance – these were occupied during the 1967 war and rested from Syria, who want them back. One does not have to ponder long why accendency over the GH’s has been fought over often – as the French guide said to his group, who where hell bent on crowding around my table, which had the best view!!, all 20 of them: ‘domination and strategic…..’, say those words with a French accent.

Laptops in school

We tend to see things in terms of what we have experienced – I agree with Carr, it is something I have been aware of for some time. If this is true then it begs the obvious question – how can we see what we have not experienced without being shown it, or is it possible to either actively look for it, or stumble upon it and then how do we recognise it.

Consider the problem of people planning to use something, lets say X. They have no experience of X and how it fits what they have experienced. Even if they try X they fit it into their experiences and shape it to fit. How do they see new uses of X – possibly we might just dismiss difference or in fact, not even see the differences, let alone grasp their significance. Proponents of X’s tend to be sales oriented and/or self interested. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but where does the critical appraisal come from?

For example, take computer technology like a laptop + Internet in the hands of kids in the classroom. Clearly, this is an X.

Teachers have no prior experience, X was not around in their classrooms and not in most teacher training, even in the last 10 years, the people running the teacher training had no experience of X, and even if they positted on it they had no or little direct experience of X.

Gibson coined the term Cyberspace and more importantly said something along the lines that the street finds a use for things – I would add especially in the void of guidance. In the classroom over the last nearly 20 years we have let net enabled laptops into the classroom, in the absence of guidance the kids will find a use for it, but so what.

The brain can adapt but this does not mean that it is adapting in a thinking or evaluative way, bit of pardox really. The brain can adapt, but so what, it has no way of knowing if the adaption is worthwhile – this is the point that is Carr is making about moving from distraction to deep reading back to a distracting environment, the brain has handled each stage but again so what.

We need teachers to guide – but how do we deal with the X?

That is a serious question – how do we teach teachers about how to use and assess the worth of net enabled laptops in the classroom?

Where do the Gum trees come from?

Jordan is covered with Gum trees – EUCALYPTUS trees. This blog provides some info on how come they are here, clearly they like it here. There is one in the grounds of the River Jordan Foundation which is at least 80 years old.

One Internet source ( indicates that in 1884 the Mikveh Yisrael Agricultural School planned some, which indeed came from Australia and this began the process of swap clearing, which did not fully become complete until the period 1951 to 1958. Hula Lake near the sea of Gallee was a source of malaria and the draining was used to help eradicate the disease. During the British manate era gum trees were planted in other areas to drain swamps – the period is unclear but maybe from as early as the mid 1800s to the early part of last century at least.

The mandate would have included the now area of Jordan. The house used for the River Jordan Fountation dates from about 1936 and was used by the British Army and then went through a series of owners and was used for various purposes – all this time I would surmise the gum tree kept it shaded!

Further north gums were planted to help restore the famous ruins of Aanjar, sometime after Lebanon gained independence in 1943.

Interestingly there is a more modern connection via bee keeping! Jordan and Australia maintain what seems to be a close collaboration and Eucalyptus tree provide viable alternate pollen sources. And, the trees are used for the same purpose in nearby Israel.

There is a lot more, but you’ll have to wait for the book: ‘History of Eucalyptus trees in Jordan and the bee’ – should be a fun read, and remember without bees we would be no place!

Silence in a classroom

Seems odd to me that quietness in a classroom is now something that just does not happen: ever. I don’t mean quietness brought about by draconian means, I mean quietness impossed by the student themselves becasue they see it as and important aspect to learning.  To me a modern classroom must be a nightmare for those students who want some quiet time!

I remember being kicked out of class in 6th grade and being told to go to the library – I loved it, there was no body there (probably a librarian hiding from me) but a pile of books, I did my project (yep we had them in those days as well) on bees – I can still see the bees eye and the diagram I drew. The next lession I asked if I could go to the library again – alas I made stay in a class of 35 kids.

Distracted brain and deep thinking

Carr N, 2010 The Shallows: what the Internet is doing to my brain, W.W. Norton & Compnay, NY

Nicholas Carr’s recent book ‘The Shallows’ makes interesting reading – he asks is the Internet stopping him from thinking. In it he presents the case that our brains are able to respond to changing circumstances and are not fixed or grow more fixed as we age, more the rate of change is related to changes in out environment which is likely to impact the way the brain responds. In other words, if you tend to do the same thing each day your brain will remain fixed in the way it operates, but if it gets presented with a new environment it will change especially more towards processing distractions rather than direct focus on one activity e.g. book reading, which is truly a learned skill that has re-shaped the brain away from its favoured role of processing many inputs – like a neural-network warning system, obviously a useful thing to posses when you want to go to the toilet surrounded by hostiles, much better than being able to deeply understand the book you maybe reading whilst on the toilet.

 As educators we are all interested in and use the Internet, and many wonder if our book reading may be on the slide, and therefore is it possible to fully understand something using distracting media such as the web rather than a single focus on deep reading of books. Carr makes the point that in ancient times the facility of our brain to respond and process external stimuli i.e. multi-tasking small amounts of information in a small time frame was a powerful survival skill (see my toilet example above), but not necessarily one that allowed us to pull things to together via deep reflection to allow concept building and the like.

 He then talks about the impact of inserting spaces between words in sentences and the possible impact this had on how our brain functioned. At the start there were no spaces, the written word simply mirrored the spoken word as a flow of sound, silent reading was not done, all reading was aloud. This meant that the brain had to do a parsing translation first to recognise the start and end of a word, sound it out and then pass on without having a chance to grasp full meaning of the past sequence- at least it was a time consuming task that was, it is thought, a distraction from thinking & understanding. In some ways, I see him arguing that our reading was more like us acting as a tape player – the thinking would have been done by the listener not the reader. You did not have time as you were engaged in a two step process of mentally inserting spaces. Computer language compilers do there reverse when they compile, in lexical analysis all unwanted symbols are removed and the program is packed into a long set of symbols. This string is then checked to see that it obeys the syntax rules of the language and if so the program is executed. But at no stage does the computer understand what the symbols mean, AI has and is making huge steps but to say a computer might understand ‘the sky is blue’ as we might is still a little way of.

Consider reading a sentence like theskyisblue – when you read this you have to parse the line to pluck out the words, and then read them one at a time and consciously keep the past words in short term memory if we are to try and get meaning. When we read ‘the sky is blue’ I don’t think we do quite the same thing, the space is looked for and we tend to group the words and are not conscious of reading each individual word, we are looking for meaning, whereas in the other example we are looking for words and then attempting to derive meaning. It is an interesting idea. Possibly our brains have altered to do this, so Carr argues. Also, web addresses have a similar problem don’t they – can’t yet have spaces, this used to apply to Windows and there was a whole era of the use of _ or pseudo spaces, Unix still uses these to allow easy reading of names of things.

The invention of the space between words changed this process, and according to Carr would have lead to a change in the way the brain functions away from symbol processing to in depth understanding. The act of reading was hugely impacted by the space between words, it made silent reading possible and to be able to spend many hours focused on gaining full understanding without distraction – Carr’s argument is that the actual wiring or behaviour of the brain changed and we potentially became much worse at paying attention to distractions. The effectiveness of our survival mechanism was lessened at the expense of our ability to think deeply – again an interesting proposition.

With the advent of the web and other digital devices we are, he argues, returning to an early era where we are bombarded by distractions – much like we were in the forests of pre-man, and that we don’t have time to understand in a deep way the significance of what we encounter. The reason for this Carr argues is that we are constantly stopping to process things like what hypertext link to follow, a new text message, a new popup screen etc. the opportunity to read and fully comprehend is constantly interrupted, often in an imperceptible way.

Again an interesting idea I feel.

Possibly we need to look at the process of obtaining the information and then absorbing and understanding it as a distinctly two step thing. When I use the web I am very conscious of not attempting to understand what I find but to store it so that I can retrieve it latter in an attempt to understand it. I recognised early on that the web is a gathering medium rather than one that directly informs you without further analytic effort on your part. Lets consider some examples of questions we can ask using a web browser.

What is the temperature today – this we will get directly answered.

My partner is having a birthday what should I buy – of course some wag may have developed a website “” (see the word space problem) and this might flash up and then present a lot of options with pop up screens etc. You need to navigate through to find suitable things, but you make the decision – unless of course you enter a range of characteristics and the database pops up the end choice so that you don’t have to make it. The latter is the old idea of an expert system mirroring a humans thought-skill process – this is handing over control to HAL.

 The significance of global warming and the reliability of the simulations used by scientists – Yes, I’d like to know about that. The key question to me is if the web just allows you to access the information and then it is your responsibility to understand it, or does the web help in the understanding process, in other words the retrieval is more than just a technical issue, the act of retrieval carries with it some level of judgment as to what might be or might not be important, but how does the computer know what is or is not important? Page hits and the like make the assumption that your question can be classified based on what has been asked in the past. However, this does not take into account a persons motivations for asking the question in the first place, so I would think the responsibility still lies with us.

 If we teach web surfing as research with a distinct consolidation phase before analysis and interpretation and then essay or argument development it would seem to me a simple strategy that would enable us to develop both aspects of the brain – I am not sure that it is a dichotomy, it would seem to me to present the challenge of teaching traditional research processes which at some point requires a single in deepth effort to bring things together.

 There is also a romantic, rightly so, view of libraries. In the past 20 years I may have borrowed 100 books, but when I was in the library I am constantly processing distractions or evaluating and making intervening decisions about which book, which index to use, saying hi to friend, asking for help, using the photocopier – it never once occurred to me that my library use was other than a distinctly two step process. The first step is about gathering and dealing with distractions, the second is about synthesis – librarians know this. Seems to me the web promotes my model rather well, unless you are simply wanting the web to tell you the direct answer that you can cut and paste!

If the argument holds that technology can change the way the brain fires up, then we need to be asking ourselves some questions:

1. Is it possible to develop facility with the distracting environment of the web and also develop the ability to deeply understand things?

2. If we are able to use and enjoy the multi-distracting potential for interpreting what actions to take on the web does such interaction interfere with our capacity to deeply understand?

3. Is it possible to use the web and learn at the same time, if so, does this apply to deep learning type situations or is there need to structure our research into an obviously two staged process – one the hunter gather stage using and handing all the distraction to compile resources we think will be handy and then a quiet ‘reading’ phase away from the distractions in order to sequenctially  read to gain understanding, to enable use to compare and contrast etc. Answer seems simple enough to me.

Carr seems to be mostly worried, correctly in my view, that students will become expert users and gain a certain competency at living with the distracted environment. Things will be understood in bits and be accessed when needed – begs the question of when you will know it is the right time to ask though. However, this may come at the expense of gaining deep understanding or in developing skills in dealing with changes to the environment you live in.

For example, take the issue of global warming. If we live in the distracted world of the Internet how will this help us gain an understanding without at some point going deeper, or do we just accept the authority of our leaders, who I reckon often have less scientific training than a 12th grader! It seems to me that handing over our lives to live in the Internet world brings with it a responsibility to recognise that we still need to develop indeepth understanding and that is probably best done in quite and over a long period of time.

Group work in schools and at Uni has exploded over the past ten years, and there are good reasons for group work, as is the case for increased project work. But it is difficult to undertake both without at some stage students having quiet time to reflect and build indeepth personal understanding. Discussion is great, often only the loudest is heard, but it is not a substitute for sitting down and thinking and writing down logically what you wish to say, this requires analysis, drawing together threats from different sources and ethical committement – it is your work, you thought about it. I would love to hear kids say that ‘this is my work and I have thought about……a lot, and I still don’t know if I fully understand it’……Join the club mate.

Chess & Kisses gone home – I got bored!

Well Cath has returned home on the big bird, should be landed shortly into Melbourne.

I got a bit bored this morning, Saturday and here is the result.

For those that don’t know I am a great admirer of Bob Dylan.

One of the first songs I ever learned was from his first album – Bob Dylan – it is called Song to Woody (this is recorded using a standard inbuilt labtop mic, so I hope it is OK, and sorry no harmonica)

For the slightly impatient when you click the link you will go to another page, click the link again and wait a little while for the player to load depending on your browser – you can probably also right click the link and save it to your computer and play it from there. I’ll see if this can be done more easily in WordPress, which is what the Blog is written in.

songToWoody 10-2-2010_5;18;22_PM

The other is Girl From the North Country – I changed the last line!

Gnoth 10-2-2010_5;29;38_PM

To record I used Hi-Q Recorder, which is freely available from and the words etc from memory just to prove I can remember songs! I lie, I looked them up from

Maybe off to the football (Soccer) today to support my team – Al-Faisaly, I think that is what I agreed with my friend at school who is one of the bus drivers Danzier!

Off in a couple of weekends to tour up the North West, so there should be some more nice pics.

Bye to all.