Thursday, April 26, 2007

Another few sites added to the Utah Alliance

So, the Utah OCW Alliance is slowly growing. For those keeping track at home, USU, Weber State, and UVSC all have OCW sites up and running. WGU has also put some things online. We hope to have some Applied Technology courses up, as well as courses from the U. And by the end of the year, maybe all Utah universities and colleges will have some material up. A citizen of the state and in fact, any person with internet access, will eventually have access to hundreds of college courses.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I'm a celebrity, at least on a certain block...

About three weeks ago I spent two full days at an elementary school. I went to every class (except the kindergarten) and talked about my book. 40 minutes in each class. I told them how I wrote the book, how I got it published, I read to them from it, and then taught them a quick lesson on writing.

It was a lot of work, and I had the time of my life.

Usually I REALLY don't like dealing with my book. When I do a book signing I feel like an animal at the zoo, except for at the zoo, the people at least make eye contact with, and talk to, the animals. "Hello little monkey!" Nobody says "hello little author!" they simply walk around the author while looking the other way.

And when I talk about my book with people, I feel like an Amway salesman (not that there is anything wrong with that (ok, there is something wrong with that)). I find myself constantly telling people, "yeah, if you want to read the book, which you may not, and please don't feel obligated, because I won't feel bad if you don't, then go to your local library and check it out for free, or read the first chapter online and see if it's something you think you might like, which you may not, but I won't feel bad if you don't, because some people just don't like some kinds of books." Yes, I talk in run on sentences, and I use that many commas when I talk. You can see why I don't like talking about my book.

But, there was something about talking to the kids that made it a blast. It was out of control fun. The kids kept wanting to get out of control, and the teachers were trying to reign them in. And of course, I'm asking them questions, and giving them activities that will lead to more out of control activity. But the funny thing is that now I'm almost a celebrity at the school. I work about 60 feet from the elementary school in the education building on USU's campus. So when I walk to my car, I hear things like, "Hey! It's Mathew!", or "There's the author!"

5 minutes ago I was walking toward my building and a small boy was looking up at me with wonderment in his eye. He was walking with a lady who appeared to be his mom, and at the risk of looking like a child predator I said to the boy, "Hey there! How is it going?" He just grinned as he walked past, and then I heard his mom ask who that was. "That's Matthew Buckley!" He said it as if that was all the information she needed. "Oh, of course, that's Matthew Buckley."

So, I'm never going to reach celebrity status, nor do I want to, but I've got a taste of it here at Edith Bowen, and it's a little fun.

Friday, April 20, 2007

It's Arrived!

Discovered that my book has hit the shelves, at least the shelves at Seagull Book and Tape. Deseret Book didn't have it, but will probably have it soon.

The whole event actually turned out to be a bit of a let down. I was initially excited when I saw it sitting there on the shelf next to Chickens. But then I realized, "I already know how it ends." I couldn't take it home and read it. I mean I could but... I've already read it about 15 times now.

But still, fun times.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Web 2.0

Very interesting article over at Publishing 2.0 in regards to a New York Times article about a study carried out by Science Magazine. Ok, I promise, no more links.

The gist of the article is that Scott Karp says Web 2.0 does nothing more than allow us to find random junk quicker.

"All of a sudden it’s crystal clear what Web 2.0 really is — the greatest platform ever for harnessing randomly imitative social behavior. Before Web 2.0, achieving utterly arbitrary results took time and effort. Now, with platforms like Digg, we can get nowhere in a fraction of the time it used to take.

"Web 2.0 glorifies the “social,” but in an open system, social behavior becomes “monkey see, monkey do.”"

All three are very interesting reads, and touch upon some of the things I brought up in my post (ok, I lied about the 'no more links' bit) about groupthink and digg. If you remember, the post made it to the front page, and was immediately buried.

Anyway, all three articles bring up some good points, and could make for an interesting conversation around the water cooler.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Three weeks and counting...

Three weeks until my book comes out. I haven't got any book signings set up yet, but part of that is because I will be in Spain when my book is released. I'll be attending the OpenCourseWare Consortium conference, and it should be a lot of fun...

When I have signing dates, I'll post them here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Readability of Wikipedia

I wrote this little piece for another blog I write for, and thought I'd post it here as well...


I've long been tickled pink by the success of Wikipedia. A group of amateurs gathering together to craft articles that rival the articles found in Encyclopedia Britannica? How sweet is that!

But the issue of quality always rears its ugly head. Is the quality of a Wikipedia article going to be as high as the quality of an Encyclopedia Britannica article?

Measuring the quality of Wikipedia articles is a complex matter, mainly because quality is subjective. Is quality depth or breadth? Succinct or in depth? More information or less? Quality can't truly be measured because it means different things to different people.

One aspect of quality is the readability of an article. If you want to teach important concepts about the American Civil War to 4th graders, you're going to prepare a text differently than if you were teaching those same concepts to a group of American History post-graduate students. The 4th grade version would not be very long and would intentionally leave information out. The post-graduate level text would be much more detailed, and focus on much more information. All relevant information would be included, no matter how complex.

Several scales have been developed that measure the readability of a text. The output lets you know at what level your text can be understood. A quick and dirty test of five of the 'featured articles' in Wikipedia show that on a readability scale, they come out very high. In other words, these aren't just simple articles that could be written by any High School student; they are complex, in-depth, and informative.

Some might argue they are too complex. In a world where USA Today reads at a 10th grade level, could Wikipedia articles be more 'useful' if they were more readable?

The introduction to the Wikipedia article on President George Washington rates a 23 on the Gunning-Fog index – which puts the text on a post-graduate level. Although you could argue that the quality of the article is high, it is not useful for 4th graders.

What to do? Should we dumb down Wikipedia because the content is complex? Not at all. What I would like to see is the ability to take the text, make a copy, and make that version of the article more readable. By bringing down the readability level you are making the article accessible to a wider range of individuals. Content that was of use to one segment of the population now becomes useful for even more people, thus raising the quality of the article.

Visitors to Wikipedia could go to an article, and based on who the content is intended for, click on the more readable version. There are a number of volunteers working on Wikipedia, and now with more than 1.5 million articles, maybe it's time to look back at the 'finished' articles and see where improvements could be made.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Know a little about reuse?

Call for Papers

Open Education 2007: Localizing and Learning
Center for Open and Sustainable Learning at Utah State University
Conference dates are September 26-28, 2007

Submission deadline is May 18, 2007

Conference Themes
For the first several years our field focused on content production and content licensing. Today, there are thousands of full university courses and tens of thousands of learning modules available as open educational resources under open licenses like those offered by Creative Commons. However, our work isn't finished; we're simply nearing a checkpoint.

If our open education efforts aren't supporting learning, we're failing as a field. Period. And as we are beginning to understand how to produce and license content, we have to turn some of our attention to how this content is used by learners and teachers. How do they change, adapt, and localize it for their specific needs or the needs of their specific students? Do open educational resources support learning in ways different from non-open resources? In what concrete ways do open educational resources support learning?

OpenEd 2007 will focus on:
* Localizing open educational resources
* Learning from open educational resources

Acceptance announcements will be made by July 31, 2007. If your session was accepted for presentation, we strongly encourage you to submit a full paper for publication in the conference proceedings. Accepted full papers (5-10 pages) are due no later than August 17, 2007.
All submissions (short description, abstract and full papers) and presentations must be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (

For more info please see the conference website or
email conference at cosl dot usu dot edu.

Monday, April 09, 2007

World of Warcraft and the Future of Education

I’m getting old. For me, video games don’t hold the same excitement they did when I was younger. I’ve rescued the princess, I’ve conquered the huns, what else is there to do?

So it was some time before I got around to trying World of Warcraft (WoW). Sure, the game is popular, but could it really be good enough to warrant paying $15 a month?

Good enough, indeed.

But I’m not posting to heap praise on WoW, though it rightly deserves it, or give a review, since you can find them all over the net. I wanted to talk a little about the education and learning that happens while playing the game.

My profession as an instructional designer means I’m constantly looking at the world through an educator’s eyes. What makes something interesting? How do we learn? What is the best way to instruct?

WoW has a lot to teach us.

For those familiar with the game, stop and think about it; what do you have to know to succeed in the game? You can’t just buy a level 60 druid on ebay, there are simply too much information that must be learned. If you haven’t built your character from the ground up, you will be completely lost. You simply have to learn the ins and outs of the game. You must master the geography, logic skills, problem solving skills, free market economics, a bit of number crunching, and of course you have to work/play well with others or you’re hosed.

So how does one go about learning all of this? Don’t look for a local community class. There are no ‘professors’ of Warcraft that will take your money and lecture in a classroom on how to succeed in the game. There is what you might call a ‘textbook’, though relatively few people buy and refer to it. But the game does demand real knowledge and skill, and you won’t succeed if you don’t laern. So how do players learn without a teacher? Is that even possible?

The answer can be found in guilds.

A guild is a group of users who pool their knowledge and skills to help each other progress. There is a benefit to helping others because some quests or parts of the game just can’t be done on your own. If you have a group of friends who are at similar levels, you can all do better at the game. And if you help your buddy Jim when he needs it, there is a really good chance he will help you when it’s needed.

So information is shared, gold and items are given away, and events are scheduled so that all may benefit and increase in knowledge and skill.

In a traditional setting there is one expert who lectures, or writes a book, and then students sit as his/her feet and lap up what is given. It’s a traditional model, and one that has worked well for a long time. But who is to say a new model wouldn’t work just as well? You might be surprised at the level of expertise that a mob can offer. I don’t know everything there is about the American civil war, but I know a lot. And I can find out even more. If I combine that with what you know about the civil war, and what John and Sally, and 50 other people know, suddenly all of the pieces start to fall into place. Suddenly you have something like Wikipedia, that while may not be perfect, is pretty darn close.

I believe that the education of the future comes not in a classroom, listening to a professor, but with interacting with a whole lot of other people who are seeking the same information. There will always be a need for experts, and we will pull from them their knowledge, but we won’t necessarily need to interact with them. We won’t need to sit in their class, or ask them questions. We will refer to their work quite often, but we will do it while building our own knowledge with our friends.

I’d write more, but my character is almost to level 47, and the guild is waiting.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A bit about horses

Ok, so some people read my blog because they are interested in openness. Others read it because they might be interested in my writing. Still others because I write about collaborative composition. But today's topic is horses. Why? Because as long as your getting a pastiche, we may as well make it complete.

I did some service out to the American West Heritage Center. It was very fun, as usual, and today I was pretty much in charge of the pony rides. For 3 hours I hoisted kids onto ponies, walked in a circle, then dragged them off. Some cried when going on, other cried when coming off. Other parents stood there, holding up the entire line (waiting time: 70 minutes), while they tried to figure out how to take a picture with their phone.

But I digress. I wanted to talk about the horses. Horses are funny. They aren't stupid, but they're not exactly bright. We had mostly 12-14 year old girls leading the horses around the corral area. But when the horses got a little tired, they would stop and eat grass. The girls would gently coax them, talk to them, all to no avail. I've learned that that is not how you get a horse to do what you want.

If you want a horse to give a ride to a little kid, you have to make sure that it doesn't think of anything else. Since some of the girls were just too nice, I got the most ornery horses (usually the smallest ones, the same ones the parents wanted their kids to ride, because the big horses (who are by far the most gentle) looked to scary). To get a horse to obey you hold its head high so he's not tempted by the grass. If he begins to lower it, you have to jerk it back up. I'm sure the passers by, it probably looks like I'm being too rough, but if you aren't in complete control the entire time, the horse will fight you the entire time. Once you make sure it knows that you aren't going to put up with any nonsense, it backs down, and will be obedient for a long time. But every once in a while it will see if you can be a pushover, and if you don't reassert yourself, and do it quickly, you're in for a long fight.

Anyway, if you're in the area, come to the baby animal days festival, put your kid on a pony, and watch where you step.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


So, I'm moving to dangerous territory here. I'm discussing politics. Picture me, for a moment, as an ornery old man on a porch, swinging a cane.

All week as I've gone into work, there has been a few nice folks sitting at a table collecting signatures. While the folks are very nice, I don't think they realize they are being played. They are patsies for a cartel called the UEA.

The whole issue revolves around vouchers. The general idea is that if you don't want your kid in school, you can pull him out, and the state will give you a bit of cash to help pay for a private education. There has been many an argument put forth as to why vouchers are a bad idea, but after even a little bit of reasoning, you realize that every one of them is hollow. I've listened to these arguments as I've gone to work, and I'm almost ready to set up a table next to the signature collecting one so that people can hear the 'other side'.

I would ask a few questions. Why do we pour money into schools when test scores keep going down? If you get a fly in your soup every time you go to a restaurant, isn't there a point when you decide to eat somewhere else?

Why, after all the 'extra money', does the teacher/student ratio never seem to go down? We have highly paid administrators (who get paid more and more each year), and we over recent years we now have amassed a veritable army of 'other people' who have attached themselves to the public school system. We have reading specialists, speech specialists, reading aides, fluoride specialist, child psychologists, digestion monitors, spitting coaches, and flatulence police. The money is poured into other projects, and why? Because if we ever get the teacher/student ratio down to where it should, the legislature will stop giving the Utah Educators Association cartel money. If test scores ever go up, the money stops. So money is spent on other things, but the problems continues, and every year we see the UEA wring their hands, shed a few tears, and say, "This of the children."

I agree. Think of the children. Think of the children in one room schools who learned to read and write just fine. Think of the children who are home schooled, and learn just fine without eye patch specialists. Think of the cookie cutter mentality we have, no child left behind, but no child allowed to excel, either.

Vouchers scare the UEA cartel. If vouchers pass, then many parents will pull their kids out of school. Teacher/student ratio will drop, and The Cartel will have a harder time getting more money. Suddenly people will realize that private schools are doing better, with less, in a quicker amount of time. How will the The Cartel justify more money then?

UEA sees their sugar daddy suddenly eyeing another girl and they don't like it.

Education is important, too important to be left to an outdated, broken system. The people who work in public education are some of the best people on the planet, and they deserve to be given a system that works. The only way the system will work, is if parents have a choice.