November 2007

When Marianne Lenox offered to give a WebJunction Learning Webinar on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), I had to go research what she was talking about.

I learned that the term applies to a variety of systems that help learners creatively manage their own learning. There are as many variations on the environment as there are tools and learners. As one blogger said, “a PLE is as much a state of mind as anything else.”

Marianne is one of those trainers who overflows with innovative ideas, so I am really looking forward to getting the lowdown from her on setting up my own PLE. If you want a front row seat for her Start You Up! webinar next week (Dec 5th), you can either register for the event or just show up by following these instructions.

If you can’t make it, I will share what I learn in a future post here on the Buzz.


Sometimes when I teach Information Literacy, I try to come up with unique ideas to teach how to verify information on the web. What I have found to be fun as well as informative is using strange news to achieve this. Some examples include:

  • In November, Britain’s new weather-themed Cool Cash lottery game was canceled after one day because too many players failed to understand the rules. Each card had a visible temperature and a temperature to be scratched off, and the purchaser would win if the scratched-off temperature was “lower” than the visible one. Officials said they had received “dozens” of complaints from players who could not understand why, for example, minus-5 is not a lower temperature than minus-6.
  • Belleville, Ill., psychiatrist Ajit Trikha pleaded guilty in June to defrauding Medicare and Medicaid of at least $1.85 million, including invoices claiming he worked more than 24 hours a day on 76 different occasions (40 hours on one day and treating 83 patients in 2 1/2 hours on another). He also claimed to treat patients 1,267 times in Belleville while he was traveling in Europe.
  • A fiery auto crash in July near Augusta, Ga., had killed the driver and would likely kill the passenger, too, if the fire were not immediately smothered. Firefighters were still minutes away, but passing by was a pump truck from a local plumbing company, whose quick-thinking driver extinguished the flames with 1,500 gallons of raw sewage from a septic tank-cleaning job he had just finished.

These three stories come from News of the Weird. There is a great and simple lesson plan on this site, which has the students break into groups and try to verify the information using a variety of reputable news sources including Lexis-Nexis.  What types of stories or sources do you use to teach verifying information on the web?

Familiar with alternate reality games?  Basically, players interactively participate in an in-depth story that is revealed as a series of puzzles in the real world.  ARGs are usually open-ended as the players create the content and influence the development of the story arc.  One person or a small group serve as the puppet masters who steer the game that other players happen into through the rabbit hole – the game’s conceit.  Read a whitepaper on ARGs here and even check out one of the best “serious gaming” ARGs, World Without Oil, here. 

Alternate reality games, in my opinion, are the natural evolution of simulations, which have proven invaluable in learning environments.  We know that simulations provide learners safe contexts in which to practice real-world skills.  Now imagine the level of immersion we could provide our learners if they were involved in a larger story, while simultaneously learning and developing those new skills.   

Recently, I experimented with alternate reality gaming here at the library using one of our bi-monthly Quality Book Discussions as fodder.  Here is the situation: 

Thirty staff members signed up to discuss the book, “Branded Customer Service: The New Competitive Edge.”  The staff members were expecting the same let’s-gather-together-in-a-circle-and-discuss-the-book format, but what do you really take away from that kind of discussion?  Nothing.  Instead, I, acting as the puppet master, sent all 30 participants an encrypted email message from the character I would portray in the game, Dr. X.  Over the next few days, the staff members deciphered the code, which ultimately sent them to a hidden discussion board inside our intranet, Sharepoint.  During the course of a week, participants (now dubbed “field agents”) gave themselves silly pseudonyms and contributed to discussion questions I rolled out every other day. 

When the actual face-to-face discussion occurred a week later, Dr. X met with the field agents and instead of me leading an unguided discussion about “Branded Customer Service,” I had the participants complete a series of creative exercises to stimulate further discussion and to maximize transfer. 

I had two-fold learning objectives for this ARG: to have staff members demonstrate on-brand customer service behaviors at several touch points in our branches and to have staff members utilize the web parts of Sharepoint 2007, which we just implemented about two months ago.  While I have not formally assessed the learning goals, the early signs seem promising for this pilot project. 

Trainers, like comedians, are great at borrowing material and making it their own. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of material, a copious urge to share, and the cyber-spatial means to do it. It’s not so much about avoidance of “reinventing the wheel” (why not?); it’s about envisioning new wheels built from found parts.

1. Some additions to the already robust CEBuzz blogroll:

Learning 2.1
The sequel to the world-famous Learning 2.0 program from PLCMC, this blog extends the discovery and play—“mashing up 21st century skills with lifelong learning.” I got my Meez (at right) through a link on this blog. (My apologies for being too cheap to purchase a more sophisticated gesture.)

Presentation Zen

It’s a bit heavy on the promotion of their upcoming book at the moment, but generally a trove of all things presentation, like where to get good images or Yoda v. Darth Vader.


A longtime favorite of mine for Will Richardson’s perspective on integrating cool tech tools into K-12 education, “working with kids every day helping them (I hope) become literate navigators of this increasingly challenging world,” and dealing with innovation overload.

2. A newsletter:
New Neat Stuff

I’ve subscribed to this newsletter for nearly five years and I continue to be amazed at Marylaine Block’s ability at resource discovery, like Wikivid, free video tutorials for course creation, and the Video Toolbox, links to video how-to’s, editors, converters, hosting, and more.

3. A resource list:
Stephanie Gerding’s Training Resources

I have described Stephanie as a super model of library training and an inspiring train-the-trainer. She’s generous about sharing her expertise and great at finding free resources.

4. And one example of information organization that is so comprehensive and elegantly organized as to make Edward Tufte drool:
Periodic Table of Visualization Methods