PLN Day 101: Where I Speculate Wildly on the Implications of Blog Stats

13 04 2010

As my PLN reaches 100 days old, I’ve been reflecting on what this process has meant to me and to my students.  With that in mind, I asked my students to analyze the people and resources they found as they built their PLN, and specifically to analyze their blogs, self-assessing the quality and consistency of their posts, and to analyze the conversations they’ve engaged in as they have undergone this process.

One trend I notice is that my students who have not been in conversation with other blogs or who have not been creating or adding to Ning threads, who have not been commenting on other blogs, or who have not ventured into the wide world of blogs and Nings and forums of all sorts, and who do not initiate conversations with fellow professionals do not themselves get visited all that much (several have less than 100 views per semester).  The ones that do all these things generate massive amounts of traffic.

Sometimes creating a single thread on the English Companion Ning can be a notable success, as it was with Amanda Shaw’s blog.  She commented eleven times, posted to the PICCLE forum, and this creates a baseline that benefits her blog, and, by extension, her whole personal learning network.  Amber Henry’s blog generated quite a lot of traffic without actively seeking conversations, which is a bit of a phenomenon.  Perhaps her blog simply attracts people, or maybe she is well networked socially to begin with.  Who knows what other factors account for Amber’s blog, which is relatively popular but makes little effort to promote itself — possibly the quality of her posts is a factor, or perhaps she generates enticing titles — i.e.  “An Ethical Dilemma” is her most successful post.   But maybe not.  “Another day of PLN-ing” is her second most successful post.   Brianna Rafferty got involved in several conversations on the E.C. Ning, but rarely commented on other blogs, and that probably depressed her stats, though I thought her analysis of the PLN was very thoughtful, and this reminds me that a benefit of the PLN  is that the experience of creating a learning network provides fodder for reflection, and having hard data, like the stats page, helps people count instances and extrapolate from that data.  Brittany McHale generated numerous comments from her peers, and has several hundred visits to her blog, and she became highly involved with the E.C. Ning.  She joined groups, made friends with people outside of the Penn State community, and she established a successful thread about Shakespeare. She was also extremely consistent, posting 21 times.

Let me take a generous sip of hot coffee.  Caitlin Mulroy’s blog got visited 5461 times.  Spffffff-wuh????? How did she do it?  Caitlin writes:  “The reason for this is simple. My post on February 25, entitled “I Read the News Today, Oh Boy”; A New Audience and Technology in Education was about three different newspaper articles that involved technology. Originally I found the articles in the The New York Times, but the articles were also online, and so I provided links so that people could read them if they were interested. Obviously I wasn’t going to include the entire article in my post, I just offered my commentary about how technology is being integrated into society. These links are what caused the spike in my views for that day.”  Her blog generated massive amounts of readers besides that, though.  She has a handful of posts that received more than a dozen visits, and she’s been everywhere, and writing interesting, thoughtful, high-quality posts.  She is conversation with me, with Laura Young, and with Richard Byrne’s blog Free Technology for Teachers.  She has this to say about the process: “I have learned more than I could have imagined, and I have made reflections that I never would have made if it weren’t for this PLN. Above all else, I think that I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone, and that was a huge step for me. When it comes down to it, this blog is more about personal gain than a grade, and I am satisfied with how I have developed personally and professionally through this Personal Learning Network.”

In her blog, Chelsea Sandone got some conversations going on Classroom 2.0, commenting about technology in the classroom.  She also used the E.C. Ning.  She put effort into her posts, but she posted only a half dozen times and this kept her number of visits comparably low.  In her blog, Diane Mowery writes of how she enthusiastically embraced the E.C. Ning, calling it her “new obsession.” She had numerous visits to certain of her posts, but rarely commented on other’s blogs; however, the quality of her posts and my mention of her blog helped her generate reasonable traffic.

Eric Yingling writes in his blog:  “I’ll admit that I was very skeptical of blogging and the idea of a PLN in general.  I am so accustomed to traditional learning practices that it just seemed unnecessary.  I was sticking to the old saying: “If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it”.  However, I think it has proven to help with my education way more than I ever thought it would.  I have been able to explore websites that I have never heard of and discuss education issues with people I have never met.  That has been a pretty neat experience.  These resources have proven valuable for researching education issues in all of my current course work.  For example, I am currently writing a paper which discusses the helpfulness of writing in science classrooms.  I have been able to synthesize the information I have gathered with my PLN (Ning discussions, blog posts, resource suggestions, my own writing, etc.) to help formulate opinions and find sources.  In essence, I have learned how to utilize my PLN.”  He had quite a lot of steady traffic, was viewed 280 times.  He makes the following observation about his classmates:  Having looked at many different blogs . . . of my classmates, I see three types of blogs.  Some people have gone way above and beyond what I would consider an ‘A’ PLN.  They post VERY often and comment on almost everything they see.  They also demonstrate a mastery of how to use networking sites that others don’t demonstrate.  The second tier of PLNs are those who blog regularly and add to discussions every now and then.  I would consider myself in this group.  I don’t slack, however there is definite room for improvement (as highlighted above).  Finally, I have seen some PLNs that have only a few posts.  These people are also completely mute as far as participating in discussions goes.”

Jaymee Frankel is just beginning to get into the conversation, and traffic to her blog languished because for weeks her classmates and I had the address of her previous blog on blogspot.  Jesse North’s blog was very consistent, and she posted about every week on average.  She read her classmates’ blogs regularly, but she almost never left comments, and thus her numbers are lower than they might have been had she been generating pingbacks and conversations with them.  Sometimes I think that we are all getting used to the read/write web, and the old model of just reading content produced by experts (usually who could write code for their websites) is a hard habit to break.  With blogs, it’s a two way street, and so many conversations are available to us that weren’t in the passive web 1.0/ passive-consumer-of-content model, but many students still find it hard to add something in that comment box, even though they almost always find that the conversations that ensue are rewarding and inspiring learning experiences in their own right.

Kim Cuppett has posted twenty five times in her blog, has close to a thousand visits, and has generated 57 comments from her peers.  Her whole PLN is linked together to provide a certain synergy — Twitter, the E.C. Ning, her RSS feeds, the Wikispaces project, Netvibes, youtube, teachertube taken together are greater than the sum of their parts.   She writes, “I used my classmates’ blogs to come up with ideas for my posts, and in return, I had fellow classmates fertilize ideas from reading my posts.  Like Jessie’s blog about “Entering the Conversation,” I feel I’ve done a decent job of entering various conversations and adding to them.”  That said, she wishes there had been more concrete parameters to the assignment, and she wanted to know how it was being graded.  I love clear procedures, but there is a certain magic to trying something out and not having any clear idea of what attainment looks like, even though everyone finds that to be frustrating at times.  I have been allowing this class to have considerable input into their grades.  Sometimes I’m not even sure if detailed descriptions of assignments and their rubrics do help.  Is Kim’s (or anyone’s) PLN better or worse than it would have been had I specified parameters?  Did I unwittingly get a more authentic effort? Was she intrinsically motivated as never before? Or was she aware of a certain distribution within her class and, based on that, make an effort to be near the top of her class?  Do my students value the process or the results, or something in between?  I keep telling myself that I see MUCH more intrinsic motivation out of this group, but everything eventually boils down to a grade, so maybe I’m fooling myself.  If I had said, this is a truly optional assignment, what exactly would happen?  If I said, this is an optional class, only come if you want, would they attend?  My stated goal at the beginning of every course is that I want my class to be so meaningful and worthwhile that you would rather be there during that time that doing something else.   I try to make good on that promise.

Laura Young’s blog has over five hundred visits.  She writes, “[Jason Whitney] gave me the initiative to first create this blog commented on one of my earliest posts, that blogging could be “the ideal creative vehicle” for me. And honestly, blogging has become this for me. Blogging has allowed me to combine my love for research with my love for writing and creative ideas, and gather the information I learn and enjoy in an organized fashion. I’ve learned a great deal through the writing and research that I’ve done specifically for this blog – along with constantly learning from other’s blogs and from the comments and conversations I’ve had from my blogs (and theirs).  As much as I’ve been keeping up with my blog because I knew my professor and fellow classmates would be reading it, I’ve also  (and mostly) been keeping up with it out of my own desire to research, learn, gather, organize and write about the topics that interest me. And this enjoyment and excitement that I would say I find in blogging is one of the main factors that allows me to give myself an A in my overall assessment of my own blog.  However, this is my one bit of a disclaimer before entering into my self-assessment: I invested the time I did into my blog for myself, my own enjoyment and my own creative interests, far more than I did for any external forces or reasons (professors, class mates, grades etc).”

Both Laura and Lisa Angelucci have been very helpful in terms of finding resources about blogging and other aspects of the PLN.  Lisa writes in her blog, “Food for thought: in most internet communities, approximately 90 percent of the members are lurkers. Nine percent of members are occasional participants, and the remaining one percent is active participants. It’s very, very difficult to convert a lurker into a participant. I tend to be a lurker, and I would guess that many of my classmates more or less the same. I give us all credit for pushing beyond our natural tendencies to observe and entering the conversation, even if we’ve done so reluctantly. (There is some variation to these numbers, but lurkers are always the largest percentage. See here or here for more info. The same breakdown tends to apply to engagement within other communities, including workplaces and offline organizations.)”  And regarding her motivation to blog, check out how writing for a grade eventually translated into intrinsic motivation:  “I don’t like blogging for a grade, so I’m going to stop short giving myself a grade for this project (though I would never have started blogging if I weren’t being graded for it). I plan to continue blogging after the semester comes to an end, because I’ve found great personal benefit in this project. It’s something I enjoy, when I finally force myself to sit down and write and gives me an outlet for the questions I have about teaching and learning. For me, this reflection is about deciding whether I am committed to this blog or not. I choose to commit. There have been times this semester when I’ve put my best effort into this blog, and times when I’ve only gone halfway. For April and beyond, my goal is to convert this blog from something that I do just because I must to a place I am fully proud of.”

Meghan Shanley writes about her PLN in her blog (115 views) that “I feel only somewhat satisfied with my progress in creating and using my PLN and what it has to offer; I’m made significant progress in my opinion, especially considering my reluctance in January. I began with much skepticism and annoyance. I had just added hours to the amount of time I needed to be on my computer for school even though I had planned to spend fewer hours in front of the screen that I have in the past.  But since then I have been able to embrace the resources to which I have been introduced. I appreciate resources like the English Companion Ning, the NCTE blog, Wikispaces, Classroom 2.0, subscriptions to blogs, and surprisingly Facebook (yes, I’ve been able to view Facebook as a resource and not just to talk to friends who are hundreds of miles away).

Nicole Dado (146 views) comments on her blog that she would like to comment more on her classmates’ blogs and offers the following reflection:  “First of all, I have to say that I have appreciated the experience of creating this blog.  I enjoy hitting the ‘publish’ button and then seeing my finished post appear on my page.  It’s nice to have a place where I can write whatever I want, with no length requirements or headings at the top of each entry.  That format of writing gets old really quickly, and I value the freedom in blogs.  That being said, this blog is something that is a lot more time consuming than I realized it would be.  I would love to be able to get on here and comment on all of these cool things we are doing in our LLED block classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I simply don’t have the time.  Instead, I have tried to focus on one or two main things in each of my posts.  I think that this way, I won’t feel overwhelmed when I sit down to write an entry.  I can clearly state what I want to say without going off on tangents, which would be easy to do.”

Elizabeth Bartels (96 views) writes in her blog:  “I’ve struggled a lot with this project because I didn’t know how it was going to be evaluated and thus didn’t know how hard I needed to work on it. Now I have a better picture.”

Rachel Dabiero writes in her blog, “It has been two months since I first began my Personal Learning Network journey. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing and was annoyed with the project. I explained my technological incompetency, which had led to an aversion to technology. Looking back now, I see how much I have learned and how much I have explored in the realms of online networking and even just basic computer skills.”

I like Rachel’s breakdown at the end:

“How I have improved:

-Became more comfortable with computers and technology
-Expanded my online network
-Discovered helpful resources (English Companion Ning, National Writing Project, Read, Write, Think, Teachers Teaching Teachers, NCTE)
-Learned methods for implementing technology into my future classroom
-Shared ideas with my classmates
-Explored my own beliefs and ideas

Where I can Improve:

-Post blogs of higher quality
-Engage in more conversations
-Continue to explore and research online resources
-Network more (LinkedIn, participate more on English Companion Ning)”

In her blog, Rae Thiesen has posted 38 times and received forty comments.  She has a PLN that has many working parts that seem to complement one another, and she writes about blogging:  “I’m very into making things my own and creating something that represents who I am. I also don’t like things to be ugly so I decorated my blog with widgets that I felt were necessary and uploaded my own background picture. Since I discuss (for the most part) professional, educational, and English topics I feel like it’s okay to have a blog that is “me.” I also hope to use this blog for my own purposes after LLED 420 has ended. I like writing and I like using it as a tool to figure stuff out. That’s another reason I chose to create categories for my blogs. If a visitor views my homepage and the most recent post’s topic is something silly or unrelated to education or English, they can click on the categories in order to find a post that they are interested in reading. I also developed a blog roll for other blogs or sites I felt were important and directly related to my blog. I thought I’d make it easier for people to access some sites by being able to just click on them from my site.  In addition to creating a blog, I comment on my classmate’s blogs a couple of times a week…”  Read her blog if you want to see what a functioning, mature PLN looks like, and she writes about feeling satisfied with the experience:  “I think I fulfilled the PLN assignment. I don’t like to toot my own horn very much, but I think I even went above and beyond. My blogging is consistent; I blog about significant topics (for the most part); I connected through the Ning network, starting some discussions and creating a group; I’ve used Wikispaces for more than the assignment in LLED 420; I created a LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and have those resources as potential connectors; I use PICCLE and connect to my peers in the PDS program; I made each of my pages and profiles my own; and I genuinely enjoyed this process. I learned to connect to the educational community. I became more tech-savvy. I found an outlet to express myself. My knowledge has increased. I’d honestly have to give myself an A on this assignment and not only for what I’ve done, but for what I plan to do. I don’t foresee myself abandoning “Connectivism.” I think I’ll stick to it.”

Ben Craig wondered in his blog about how his approach to cover music and video games and the things that were going on around him this semester and how he might have gotten more conversations going with the rest of his class.

Colin Hill writes in his blog that “The PLN, at first, was entirely neglected by me (pardon the passive voice in that sentence). It was hard to keep track of, and the guidelines were so vague that I hard time working up the motivation, and had trouble figuring out what was expected me.  This project, I have to request, could seriously use more guidelines next semester. I found it difficult to do the project, because all I really knew about was the blogs. The internet is so vast that it’s really difficult to just feel your way around, figuring things out as you go. Now that the PLN project has been more flushed-out, it’d be useful to set stricter guidelines for future students.  Like I said, around the beginning I didn’t keep up with my blog at all. I had a Google reader, and used my delicious account, but it was hard to really work beyond that. The English Comp. Ning was something I occasionally browsed, but beyond that I didn’t do much.  But as the semester went on I began to get more and more into the project. I took time at the end of each day to sort through my new RSS stories, and even shared a few with the class.  I consulted the E.C.Ning frequently to get ideas for things to talk about during my LL ED classes. It really helped me spark thoughtful discussion, and was a really reliable go-to resource for my little English questions.”

Jessie Bindrim writes in her blog, which had over five hundred views, “Overall I think my PLN has developed nicely and I put in effort above and beyond what was expected of us at first. I have learned loads and came up with my own ways to implement different technology we haven’t been taught about into the classroom, such as Stumble and The Sims. I have used my resources to make connections and stir up questions and concerns I have with teaching and Education. I have a solid foundation of a PLN that will contribute greatly when it comes down to teaching and even student teaching. . . Though I have had solid conversations, like I said in the beginning, we’re entering a conversation that has been going on for years and is going to continue beyond our years so there really is never “enough” discussion.”

And what of my own blog (which I have started and kept alongside my students, part of my whole philosophy of co-learning along with my students, and of modeling the practices that I ask of my students)?  I have 1850 views so far, 60 comments, and I am in conversation with all 21 of my students plus another twenty blogs regularly.  The E.C. Ning has been a huge resource, as has PICCLE.  I leave comments all over the place, and I will go into detail about what the PLN has meant for my own personal growth in a future post — suffice it to say that this has been a period in which I invested a lot of energy into my own personal and professional development, and there is evidence of the fruits of that labor all around me.  This class has been great for me, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my class for doing so much of the legwork.  As my learning network expands, so does their’s, and vice-versa, since we are all connected.


PLN Day 87: Scott McDonald and Cole Camplese’s Disruptive Technologies

30 03 2010

At this weekends’ TLT (Teaching With Technology) Symposium at the Penn Stater, I had occasion to attend some terrific workshops, but the session that had me shouting (OK, whispering) “Yes!” and “hallelujah!” like a member of a gospel preacher’s congregation was Scott McDonald and Cole Camplese‘s presentation on disruptive technologies.  I had written about my respect for Scott McDonald’s research and thinking in a previous post.  Camplese is no less than the Director of Education Technology Services at Penn State.  I was struck immediately by the similarities and differences between their course and my own.  They report having achieved something extraordinary, and they were able to produce a lot of concrete examples of their students learning processes, and they describe some challenges and frustrations they have encountered along the way, and they explained how they improved the course the second time around .

Initially, I overhauled my course after having read connectivist manifestos and after watching YouTube videos and reading blogs about PLNs, while McDonald and Camplese began with a different theoretical basis altogether.  They followed Wenger’s Communities of Practice and Clayton M. Christensen’s idea of Disruptive Technologies:  the revolutionary book that will change the way you do business, a term he introduced in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave, which he co-wrote with Joseph Bower.  Christensen followed up with The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) and The Innovator’s Solution (thanks Wikipedia).

I have Wikipedia to thank for the following definition:  “Disruptive technology and disruptive innovation are terms used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers.

“In contrast to “disruptive innovation”, a “sustaining” innovation does not have an effect on existing markets. Sustaining innovations may be either “discontinuous” (i.e. “revolutionary”) or “continuous” (i.e. “evolutionary”). Revolutionary innovations are not always disruptive. Although the automobile was a revolutionary innovation, it is not a disruptive innovation, because early automobiles were expensive luxury items that did not disrupt the market for horse-drawn vehicles. The market remained intact until the debut of the lower priced Ford Model T in 1908. . .

“Christensen distinguishes between “low-end disruption” which targets customers who do not need the full performance valued by customers at the high end of the market and “new-market disruption” which targets customers who have needs that were previously unserved by existing incumbents.

“Low-end disruption” occurs when the rate at which products improve exceeds the rate at which customers can adopt the new performance. Therefore, at some point the performance of the product overshoots the needs of certain customer segments. At this point, a disruptive technology may enter the market and provide a product which has lower performance than the incumbent but which exceeds the requirements of certain segments, thereby gaining a foothold in the market.

“In low-end disruption, the disruptor is focused initially on serving the least profitable customer, who is happy with a good enough product. This type of customer is not willing to pay premium for enhancements in product functionality. Once the disruptor has gained foot hold in this customer segment, it seeks to improve its profit margin. To get higher profit margins, the disruptor needs to enter the segment where the customer is willing to pay a little more for higher quality. To ensure this quality in its product, the disruptor needs to innovate. The incumbent will not do much to retain its share in a not so profitable segment, and will move up-market and focus on its more attractive customers. After a number of such encounters, the incumbent is squeezed into smaller markets than it was previously serving. And then finally the disruptive technology meets the demands of the most profitable segment and drives the established company out of the market.

“New market disruption” occurs when a product fits a new or emerging market segment that is not being served by existing incumbents in the industry.”

I see why this theoretical framework could be helpful to describe how technological innovations may be disruptive to teaching methods. If I substitute educational technology  as a disruptive technology and myself as the market for that technology, the results are interesting.

Perhaps educational technology is a classic case of “low-end disruption”:  The rate at which (educational technology) products improves exceeds the rate at which customers (teachers ) can adopt the new performance. At this point, a disruptive technology may enter the market and provide a product which has lower performance than the incumbent but which exceeds the requirements in certain segments, thereby gaining a foothold in the market. (For example, before Web 2.0 made it easier for everybody, I thought some of the tools were pretty clunky, like my students first website and online portfolio projects, which required a lot of tech savvy from me and my students both, but I soldiered on because I liked to see them produce something that would provide me some measure of their progress).  And does technology overshoot the needs of various customer segments?  Probably, because teachers have to examine their own teaching and become aware of the disruptive technology to even consider employing it, and as of now have little incentive or time to do so, since in many cases a teacher must overhaul a course to a considerable extent.

The disruptor (say, a teaching practice that avails itself of advances of technology) is initially focused on the least profitable customer, who is happy with a good enough product.  This type of customer (the teacher who is teaching a highly-rated course for the tenth semester in a row, for instance) is not willing to pay premium for enhancements in product functionality (with educational technology:  investing in software, learning how to use it, setting up multiple accounts, developing workable assessment models, keeping up with students’ blogs and wikis, perhaps emotional premiums, such as weathering complaints from students, growing disoriented, updating a syllabus, and so on).  The disruptor needs to enter the segment where the customer is willing to pay a little more for higher quality (in this case, Web 2.0 tools finally were easy enough for a total amateur to get going rather quickly.  I found it simple to create a good blog and a workable wiki, to set up Ning accounts, to navigate around social networking accounts, and their features enabled me to implement a course of substantially higher quality than the previous semester).

Now here’s the interesting part:  the incumbent (the aggregate of teachers who nay-say, or pronounce technology as a gimmick, and stand fast to standard, business-as-usual teaching) will not do much to retain its share in a not so profitable segment.  This suggests that  innovators should expect to be ignored by “incumbent” practitioners until such time as they feel squeezed into smaller and smaller markets, where all around them teachers’ students begin to demonstrate higher-quality learning and enhanced capabilities as a result of the disruptive technologies, which finally meets the demands of the most profitable segment (the late-adopter) and drives the established company out of the market (when teachers drop the aspects of teaching that aren’t as effective, perhaps surrendering their transmission models, their teacher-centered content delivery approaches, their drill and kill, teach-to-the-test approaches because evidence of the superiority of employing the disruptive technology are widely in evidence at last).

So what are students doing in Scott McDonald’s class?:  They engaged with social theory, they read professional articles, and each student kept a blog.  They are using multiple Web 2.0 tools, but to everyone’s surprise, the class chose Twitter as its go-to tool.  At first, it seemed like “the old social practice of passing notes”, but they found that Twitter became “substantive to the course content.”   In the presentation at TLT, they detailed many of the way they overhauled the course based on feedback and their observations, making significant changes to the course the second time around.  The second time they did not require individual blogs of everyone, for instance.  They discovered that the most exciting work was happening as groups of students used a wiki to formulate blog posts.  In fact, McDonald and Camplese found that the pages of  material in these wiki discussions often proved far more complex and useful than the posts themselves.  You can see these results, plus many more here.

I love the front matter when you click through to the class page:  “With all that in mind, this is a course.  That means we will work together to arrive at goals along the way.  That also means we hope that you realize this isn’t about working to a single endpoint.  We will be doing things that build upon the past and invent new thoughts related to the work we are doing.  Our goals for those participating are to gain a deep appreciation for building learning communities that foster social connections and open knowledge sharing.  Additionally we hope you will work to understand how emergent technologies can be explored, and ultimately exploited, to support new forms of pedagogy.  Through our readings, writing, conversations, and activities we hope you will arrive at our milestones with us.”

Just as in this semesters’ LLED 420 course, we have to work together with my class “to arrive at goals along the way”.  LLED 420 “will not culminate in a single endpoint” either.  Our class is also “focused on building learning communities and open knowledge sharing.”  This sounds a lot like our goal to expand our network of resources and people and to report on our understandings along the way as a part of a connected learning community.

McDonald and Camplese’s course and my LLED 420 right down the hall are really rather similar, even though we were not aware of each other’s methods.  Their theoretical entry point is different, their subject area is different (they are science/education, we are English/education), our starting competencies differ (Scott is a highly early-adopter of technology, I am a late-comer).  Even so, we report similar projects, plenty of exciting results, and we all struggle to fine tune these courses, identify and respond to glitches, and to provide decent assessment models for our students’ progress.   How valuable is this PLN to my own teaching and learning?  Here, just as I’m desperate for some expert feedback, I identified the precise people and resources that I need in order to achieve success.  Scott is meeting with me next Tuesday, as a matter-of-fact.  In my case, I know this course is flying, but I haven’t figured out how to put this bird down without crashing.  Who better than Scott and Cole to mentor me along this journey?

PLN Day 64: LLED 420 Blog Digest

18 03 2010

I have had my LLED 420 class blog all semester long, and I subscribe to all 21 on Google Reader. Their task is to develop their PLNs by finding resources and people to support their learning, and to use the blog to report back and share their emerging understandings while providing useful resources to their classmates and a larger audience.  They are free to blog about virtually anything, though chiefly the emphasis has to do with their course of study.  Thus it is typical to see posts where students reflect about things that are going on in class, and they most commonly write on the subjects of English education, literature, literacy, educational technology, personal learning networks, and pedagogy. I started off without giving many guidelines at all.  Then I provided some in a post “PLN Day 34:  My Definition of a Good Blog/ Blogpost.”

A few other pieces to consider:  Their blogs are being graded, and I acknowledge that many of them would not blog at all if there were no grade attached to it.  Some have overcome their reluctance and have found an authentic interest in blogging.  Perhaps a few started off liking it, and then their interest levels dropped.  They encompass a wide range: some show a very slight investment in time, others have the potential to go pro.

I am continuously surprised with the resources they find and the conversations they create. This post is meant as a digest of recent blog posts by my students, to show what I see from my Instructor’s vantage point two months into the course.  Also, I wrote a synopsis of each to try to interest my students  in one another’s blogs, and to possibly help their blogs find outside readers who are interested in clicking through.

Elizabeth Bartel returned from Spring Break to give updates about her life in her blog. She will be student-teaching in Pittsburgh.  She read Wilhelm and Smagorinsky, was inspired by Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and is psyched by The English Companion Ning and the potential of networking.

Amanda Shaw wrote in her blog about being placed in Philadelphia.  In addition, while doing research on her reading wiki, she got interested in the topic of how to identify a weak reader, and on English Companion Ning, she explored the efficacy (or lack of efficacy) of remedial reading programs.

Nicole Dado writes in her blog about her experiences using iMovie, wikispaces, and explores the spontaneous video chat our class had with a class of students in Sweden.  One of the funnier things she found a few weeks ago was a video about a freestyle rap battle with the sound replaced by extremely vanilla commentary.

Rachel Dabiero writes in her blog about The National Writing Project.  This is welcome.  I was a fellow and consultant at the South Coast Writing Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2004.  Much of my wife’s research pertains to the Writing Project.  I would attribute much of my success as a teacher to my experiences in the Summer Institute, and I would say that there is virtually nothing more life-changing to a teacher than to have the opportunity to get involved with such an inspirational group of fellow teachers.  Her previous post “Missions, The Homeless, Writing Centers and the Importance of Literacy” explored her reflections about tutoring English language learners at Penn State and the homeless population she encountered on a service trip to Miami.

In her blog, Amber Henry returned from Spring Break in North Carolina to work on her reading wiki and got interested in issues pertaining to discipline in the classroom, and she found some helpful suggestions for substitute teachers about how to minimize disruption.  Planning, preparation, minimizing downtime during transitions, and keeping students busy more or less sums up the advice she was given.

Bri Rafferty wrote in her blog about flash drives and cloud storage.  She also learned a crucial lesson about backing up her materials, since her computer crashed, and then was restored.  She is also using Evernote, and she describes the program’s assets and limitations.

Brittany McHale posted three times in recent weeks to her blog.  In her first post, she wrote about Mr. Holland’s Opus.  She found the film inspiring.  In her second post, Brittany wrote about running into Penn State alums at a play, including another English Education major, and described how they became fast friends.  Her best blog post yet, signaling a personal best for her, is entitled ‘Observing at Chartiers Valley over Spring Break.”  She spent her break in the classroom and listed some things that surprised her.  Brittany noticed that students weren’t doing the reading, that they thought over ten pages of reading was an unfair assignment, that students loved working on photo projects, and that they loaded their projects onto their class wiki on Wikispaces.  She wrote, ‘Yes, I said it, they have a class Wiki!!! So, technology really is being used in the classrooms everyday.”  She also noticed how the school uses and and vowed to become familiar with those apps.  She observed that teachers choose the reading list in the following way:  they have to choose three books off a list and then they enjoy considerable discretion as to the rest.  They prepare for PSSAs by going to Study Island and taking practice tests  that are scored instantly.  Also, students were allowed to eat and drink beverages in class.

In her blog, Chelsea Sandone was working on her reading wiki and had difficulty finding information about two of her questions, so she posted them to the English Companion Ning, and she received multiple responses, and people were enthusiastic and even wanted to see her Wiki.  She also had a bit of a gut check about her comfort levels surrounding privacy, remarking that she feels uninhibited on Facebook but more reserved on English Education and professional sites.

Diane Mowery writes in her blog about a conversation she had with her family, comprised overwhelmingly of  teachers.  They had some conversations about technology and teaching, and some said they taught in schools that severely restricted technology.  Another said he taught in a school that lacked the funds to provide laptops.  This was discouraging to her, considering the heavy emphasis on technology in her classes.  But then she found that Smartboards were present in most classrooms.  Read her post “SMART board technology in the classroom:   What is it and how can I use it?” if you want to get an overview of Smartboards.  She details some of its features, posted some videos, and found related resources about using the Smartboard in your teaching (and some were English specific).  Thanks Diane for a very welcome post for a resource that is becoming increasingly common in classrooms across the country.

Eric Yingling returned to Penn State after a period of substitute teaching.  He writes in his blog about how he subbed over Spring Break, covering a Physical Science class.  He used a Writing Across the Curriculum approach and had his students write their critical thinking essays, and encountered some resistance, which is also the title of his latest blog post “This Ain’t English Class.” His prior post was about self-efficacy, in which he considered how important it was to a reader to think that he is a good reader.

I had thought that Jaymee Frankel last posted January 26th, seven weeks ago.  Then she informed me that for the last seven weeks she has been posting to a WordPress blog here.  She writes about technology, the novel Feed, her alter-ego as a performer (she has been featured in music videos), and about her bad luck with crashing computers.

In her blog, Jesse North wrote about digital media, and she posts videos that explore if, how, and to what extent shorthand texts such as OMG, LOL, etc. are transforming the English language.  Her previous blog post was about the fictitious nature of teacher movies and the distortions present in the image of teachers represented there.  Prior to that, she reflected on our video conference with the class from Sweden and compared the structured American school system with the more freeform Swedish high school culture.

Kim Cuppett posted about Teacher Tube in her blog.  She’s found a way to integrate her wiki with a post on the English Companion Ning.  Her blog epitomizes the surprising benefits of creating a PLN, and in addition to exploring resources in her blog, she very often finds ways to connect with people directly.  In addition, she writes about working with students with low socio-economic status.  She is also great at finding resources, and frequently she finds clever ways to integrate technology.  In a previous post, she shared a variety of web-based tools to aid in concept mapping.  Her blog is in communication with other blogs as well.  She comments on other blogs frequently, and they comment on hers.

Laura Young’s latest post “Writing Out of the Blog Rut” I found mind-blowing.  This is a post that could be helpful not just to me, but the sort of post that could serve as a profound resource for bloggers anywhere, in which she offers helpful suggestions to folks that are feeling blocked when it comes to blogging.  Her previous post “The Arts in Educa(r)tion” is this extremely impressive overview of the issues facing art education in the current academic environment.  Her post before that, “Listen deeply; tell digital stories” creates an overview of the value of digital storytelling, posted some videos and related resources, and even provides guidelines for how to set up digital storytelling projects in the classroom.

In her blog, Lisa Angelucci has been putting together her materials to find work after graduation, and she writes about preparing to work as a substitute, and she passes along some advice to write lesson ideas on a notecard, so they are not forgotten.  Her previous post was about the assumptions that people have about making a beginning with technology, and how people should allow themselves and others to begin their learning process with a certain measure of grace.  Recent blog posts have explored teaching English as a second language and exploring the benefits and pitfalls of rubrics.

Meghan Shanley writes in her latest blog post “One-to-One Computing?  Necessary?” about laptop programs and privacy.  She asks about whether students should be able to take notebook computers home.  She asks, “What really works when it comes to computers and schools?”  She raises some issues surrounding various initiatives across the country to have one-to-one computing.  In her previous post, she wrote about the benefits of becoming a fan of Penn State College of Education on Facebook, and shared some resources and discusses her experiences with using digital textbooks.  He post before that discussed ways of re-energizing interest in reading.

Rae Thiesen tends to follow good blogging practices.  She posts regularly, for starters.  She writes about creating a group in The Educator’s PLN that has six members.  In her post “The PLN” she posted videos about why we connect and a video about using Twitter in the classroom.  She reflects in another post how she feels guilty taking a vacation and wonders how she became so wedded to constant productivity.  She is interviewing to teach in South Dakota.  She also posted about homeschooling and some controversy surrounding such practices in America and abroad.  She also did research on her wikis and explored SAGrader (follow-up note.  I once wrote of SA grader that though I try to keep an attitude of contempt prior to investigation, I find SAGrader to be one of those really terrifying things that emerge in education that is such a bad idea, such an evil idea, such a teacher-hating idea, that it will be probably be implemented across the country by the end of the year.   A computer that grades essays with “standards-based” accuracy.  I mean holy crap.   To me, that’s akin to saying, “an oven that roasts your children in half the time.”  Since speaking with SA a representative of SA grader, I was impressed by his professionalism and candor.  Mr. Foster wrote, “If you have some time, I would love to chat with you and get your perspective on SAGrader and other tools like it. We ultimately would like to create something that is useful and valuable to students and not ‘roast them in half the time.'”  So I made a decision to be a little more fair to this company.  I wrote to Wade Foster, saying “I read through the website, and I do agree that having students craft writing is superior to multiple choice tests in large lecture classes, and you may be providing a valuable service in that context.  Plus, you emphasize revision, which is sound practice as far as writing is concerned.  I’m obviously disappointed when universities offer large lecture classes, especially classes that  are primarily based on a transmission model where students memorize and retain information in order to perform well on tests, but that’s not your fault, though I sense that you are enabling the large lecture format.  Whether you intend it or not, this software seems to be a means of assessing writing, which is often GA work that they count on to further their educations — basically, the best reason for your clients to use the software is because your clients are understaffed.  Maybe your software comes with a certain moral hazard there.  Do not tell me your software can be as responsive as a human being with something as nuanced and complicated as writing and expression.  Your testimonials speak mostly to students’ happiness at having retained (memorized) more content than they might have otherwise.”  He replied conceded that they are filling a need in precisely the area I mentioned, and that indeed it may displace GAs, and that my points were legitimate.  Placated a little, I  suddenly I felt reluctant to waste their time writing an investigative journalism piece about SA Grader.  I had meant to test the software and write about my findings, but I suddenly lost my enthusiasm for windmill-tilting.  I find that I sometimes become a little too excited and distracted by the conversations that come from this PLN,  simply because it is a conversation, and I thank Rae for starting this one. )

In his latest blog post “‘The Professor Burns Vegas'”, dated February 15 (all Ben’s posts are song titles), Ben Craig considers video games as potentially viable and highly sophisticated texts in their own right.

Caitlin Mulroy writes in her blog about the difference between “trying harder” and “trying different” and looks into Google Reader, Wikispaces, and WordPress.  Her previous blog post was a sort of digest of her fellow students posts, and then she initiated a think piece about students and how tethered they are to technology.  She has been steadily developing her blog, and she frequently puts a great deal of effort into her posts.

In his latest blog post  “PLNS:  Not Good-for-Nothing, but Hardly Good-for-Everything”, Colin Hill produced a very thoughtful dissenting opinion about PLNs and lists a handful of very valid reasons why he is not enthusiastically adopting a PLN.

Jessie Bindrim’s blog (in response to my blog post about playing Halo and Call of Duty with middle schoolers)  has been exploring the world of the Sims that she has been part of for years.  She shows how Romeo and Juliet can be enacted in the Veronaville community, and included some humorous videos.  But then she tied it back to Wilhelm and found that there are ways to incorporate video games.  For example, she found resources that discussed using the Sims in the ESL classroom.  Her previous post some follow-up and individualized learning plans, was excellent.  She was discussing the “wikiality” of things — a term she borrowed from Stephen Colbert, and she found a resource that spoke of students specifying an individual learning plan, providing their teacher with all sorts of information about their learning processes.   She tends to post very regularly, as well, which is a real plus.  Her post ‘Learning, Learning, Learning” was funny, and she “stumbled” upon a very humorous video that compares how Google tracks your information with someone rummaging through your toilet.

Together, these blogs represent to me the type of inquisitive and reflective practices that are of critical importance to the developing teacher.  They have developed networks and discovered resources, and they have been in communication with one another and a larger audience.  For students at this early stage in the SecEd English/ Communications program, they have a surprisingly keen connection to fellow professionals and the sorts of resources that are available to support teachers, such as the English Companion Ning.   I’m proud of this group, and I find that they have risen to the challenge in all sorts of unexpected ways.

PLN Day 63: The maturing Reading Wikis of LLED 420

16 03 2010

Today I checked on the five groups that are working on Reading Wikis on Wikispaces.

All five groups have functional wikis, but because of recent efforts, two have matured into some very impressive projects:

Chelsea Sandone, Diane Mowery,Kim Cuppett ad Cailin Mulroy’s Wiki is extremely well-organized and represents a very strong effort. With the addition of tabs to aid in navigation and many hours of collective effort have made this into a very user-friendly and worthwhile place to visit.  Also, it is very easy to follow what is going  on, and there is evidence of some rather dogged sleuthing.  I love how thy posted to the Ning and received replies, which tends to reinforce the PLN’s purpose — to put the learner in contact with other learners and resources and to continuously expand and refine one’s knowledge.

Laura Young, Amber Henry, Brianna Rafferty, Brittany McHale, and Rae Thiesen’s Wiki introduces lots of additional questions.  I’m impressed with the quality of the information that they located, and their wiki has tabs to aid in navigation and is very easy to access the information and helps orient the reader.  This Blog clearly shows a group that has found time to develop the Wiki into a valuable resource, and they clearly take pride in their work.

My hope is that when this information from all five groups is synthesized, the class will begin to sift through an abundance of resources.  Then they can evaluate these resources and begin the process of constructing their evolving understandings of reading. This could easily be put into one Wiki, which could serve as an online textbook that could be helpful for this class and future classes.  Another thought that I’m having is that students will leave breadcrumbs of sorts and leave my next LLED 420 class with a series of additional questions.  Perhaps I could have future classes expand into other areas of inquiry, depending on the thrust of a particular course.   Then, once this new class explores the previous class’ resources and adds their efforts, than this textbook will evolve over time into a giant English Education resource that is custom-made and highly specific to the precise learning needs of my students.  Ideally, I’d like to see a generation of Penn State students (and whoever wants to get aboard with our PLNS) in communication with one another deep into their careers.  Recently, I’ve been very pleased with the communication between students in the regular blocks with those in the PDS (Professional Development School).    I went full hog for technology and its implications are profound and far-reaching, and there is no doubt in my mind that this group of teachers is at an advantage to the teachers who entered the field before Internet 2.0.

PLN Day 44: Call of Duty, Halo, and partying with middle-schoolers

25 02 2010

My good buddy’s middle-school aged son plays multiplayer video games a lot.  I’m going to disguise his name, because it’s a small world.

It’s been a source of tension in the household, actually, with K— sneaking out and partying with his friends online in the middle of the night.  That lead to his video games being removed from his bedroom and put in his basement.  I said I’d never played video games like this socially, and would love to try it out.

K— was amped.  He actually seemed like he’d been waiting for some sort of adult validation in this.  It was like he was saying, I thought you’d never ask.  Once upon a time, I taught him how to throw a lacrosse ball, and last Friday night he invited me to his friends XBox party — actually “party” is a mode on the XBox — and we put on the headsets and I heard six of his best middle school buddies talking, really, about all kinds of things, about which games were cool, who was “such a fag,” their teacher who “is having her period all the time,” and then K— introduced me to his friend B——, who greeted me by asking, “are you the predator?”

I thought, that’s pretty good awareness.  You hear a 37-year-old’s voice, you run for the hills.  I turned to K—, said, “Predator? Does he think I’m a child molester?”

But no, K— says, he’s gaming on who-knows-what game and some avatar (holding a Predator missile, or riding a Predator, I don’t know what) is hunting him.  He wants to know if that’s me.  I, meanwhile, am playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare, and I’m getting killed in twisting Rio de Janiero Favelas, on San Francisco bridges, in God-forsaken Balkan wheatfields.  For forty-five minutes, I do so much killing, but even more dying.  It’s immediately obvious that I’m a liability, a weight he has to drag around.  His avatar is literally running over and reviving me constantly.  I die so easily Kyle gets frustrated.  Tellingly, he pops out the disk and says, “let’s play Halo, it’s easier.”

He spends ten minutes letting my robot avatar kill him five different ways, and then we enter this world and run full speed at all the enemy avatars, getting killed, getting my first kill, and then we decide to get all six of us together and organize a team that will play against the public at large.  His friend with a pottymouth has an avatar called “ChinkNigga” — in fact “nigga” is one of the most common words online, followed closely by “fag.”

[Everything about their sense of humor is crude, but casual and ironic, a la South Park. In fact, players frequently choose South Park-themed icons to go with their avatars playernames.  They are actually  more tolerant than kids were twenty years ago, but act the opposite.  They sound much more racist, and their level of discourse is about as bad as any discourse you can find anywhere.  They are innocent, inasmuch as one can be who has spent their entire life in a childhood in which adults write ironic comedy for them, who have participated in virtual violence as a matter of course, like breathing, and they are all probably exposed to endless internet trash and pornography.  But they are all relatively compliant and structured, and even this gaming is a much anticipated “party” because no parent seems to be allowing these games on school nights.  But the jokes are all goofball and irreverent, and probably something that sounds toxic to me, when translated through four layers of irony, is probably slightly less so.]

The computer searches the world for our enemies.  In fact, the XBox shows a map that depicts who in the world is playing.  The coasts of the U.S. are lit up with millions of gamers, as are Western Europe and Israel.  Asia is lit up like a ring of fire.  Millions upon millions of players, mostly male.  Then the teams are set.

Then K— says, “Sweet, we have A—— on our team.  He’s all MLG.”

MLG, or major league gaming, is a tournament league where exceptional gamers earn invitations to compete for prizes worth a thousand dollars or more.  This kid is the best gamer at his school.  The game begins, and K— says, “there he is.”  We see this MLG kid run by, and his avatar is freakishly athletic.  He hurtles past me and kills everything in sight, and disappears as quickly as he came.  But he leaves behind a grenade, and when the enemy team appears,  it is his grenade, and his foresight in placing it, that kills them all.  I said, “thanks, man.  That was awesome.”

K— introduces me and praises this MLG kid.  But all is not happy in gameland.  “ChinkNigga” says, “Hey Jason, in real life he’s fat as shit.”  Another kid says, completely matter of fact, “Yeah, he’s really disgusting to look at.”  And the kid says nothing at all.  What private tragedies occur in these cyber-bullying moments are not at all unlike the moments of face-to-face or telephone bullying when I was their age, only that they are all safely at home, and sober as judges, running around one virtual world or another.

K— introduces me to “ChinkNigga”, rags on his friend’s avatar’s armor (he has pointy shoulder pads).  Then he very courteously introduces us face to face, and “ChinkNiggas” avatar shoots me, steps over to where I’m standing and clubs me to death with his robot arm.  K—‘s Avatar goes running after him, shouting “Don’t kill my friend, fucker.”  And this kid is running off laughing like crazy .  When he kills another one of us, the XBox itself pauses the game and asks if we’d like to boot him.   We do.  But he’s still there, laughing.  He shows up, later,  in the middle of a tense firefight riding a four-wheeler around in circles and laughing like a maniac, but that’s the last I see of him.  For another hour we play Call of Duty, and the party is playing some other game, though we can hear their conversation in the background and I learn to tune it out.

My friend comes downstairs.

K— says, “He’s way better than you, Dad.  He killed five people his first time on Halo.  You just stood there and didn’t even know how to look around.”

My friend shrugs, gives me this look that says, “kids.”  Or maybe it says, “You’ll see when your daughter gets to this age.”

For the past few days, I’ve been considering the implications of my night partying with middle-schoolers.  I sense that any educator of today’s kids would gain from a similar experience.  I learned more about kids by spending two hours in their world than I have learned in recent years by reading about their processes.  This is a snapshot of what’s going on in countless homes around the developed world, and certainly any discussion of middle-school boys would be suspect to me if the person claimed proudly to have never played a video game, or who had never seen them play one, and had no interest in doing so either.  I can’t imagine how anyone would manage  to reach these kids without knowledge of this world.  The ignorance the teacher would be displaying about such a large portion of their life (not to mention the teacher’s invalidation of their greatest areas of competency) would place that teacher at a decided disadvantage regardless of their methods in every other respect.

PLN Day 42.5: Papers: “We are all librarians now.”

23 02 2010

This week Scott McDonald, one of Curriculum and Instruction’s superstar Professors, gave a talk to the faculty about RSS feeds and Papers.

For research, he uses Google Reader to update him about any changes to the search terms he gave various search engines.  When a new article comes out on some search terms, say, “The Science of a Perfect Tamale” (not his, really — I’m just hungry for good Mexican) he’s covered. My own wife, among the most graceful learners I have ever seen, has been using Google Reader and search terms for years.

Papers ($42 30-day trial period), is a way of indexing, spotlighting and organizing PDFs.

I suppose its main use is as a file management system, though I currently have found it to be a dandy way to browse and acquire journal articles.  When you have hundreds of PDFs on various subjects floating around your hard drive, then you can import them into Papers.  Once they appear, it matches them to the bibilographic information, or you spend an hour manually entering the ones that don’t match right away.

But then, once you use JSTOR or Google Scholar, enter in the search terms, it comes up with all sorts of lists, all beautifully indexed.  I don’t know why, but I have always hated going and finding professional journal articles, but yesterday in fifteen minutes I loaded up on dozens of really interesting articles, not only for myself, but for the students at the PDS.  This makes my computer a beautiful, custom-made library of hundreds of scholarly articles pertaining to my interests.  Even better, I can find said article in ten seconds or less, and since I am frequently in the business of playing intellectual concierge to my students as they negotiate whatever inquiry they happen to be into at given moment, this is a serious plus.

Did I mention?  Scott’s a Science-Education guy.  The stuff I’ve been doing for forty-two days, he’s been doing at least forty-two months.  His very good Blog McEducation is compulsively readable.  By any measure, statistical, rumor, what have you, he’s among the best teachers in town, in a town full of teachers.  If he were an English/Education guy, he’d be perfect.

PLN Day 42: An impressive week in Blogtown?

23 02 2010

For various reasons, my LLED 420 class came through with some amazing Blog posts this week.  Check out Lisa Angelucci’s post “what to do about the rubric?” in which she analyzes her assessment options.  Jessie Bindrim busted out “Stumble, RSS Feeds and classroom use”, in which she analyzes the EtherPad, some Nings, and stumble — she stumbled upon one of the great raging debates in education — if you started out as Snow White and read all 600 comments, you would come out a cynical, hard-drinking, battle scarred veteran of the Education Wars.  Kim Cuppett came out with her post on “Writing Across the Curriculum,” in which she analyzed Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), Writing in the Disciplines (WTD) and Writing to Learn (WTL).  More encouraging still  is that Kim’s post that came out of Diane Mowery’s “My Experiences with English Companion Ning.”  Laura Young blogged about digital storytelling in her post “Listen deeply; tell digital stories.”  Caitlin Mulroy went philosophical with her post “The Omnicompetent Individual- Widespread Knowledge Within Education.” Nicole Dado posted often and well; her post entitled “More PLN” was really interesting.  Plenty of other Blogs have been stepping it up, recently, and there were quite a few worthy of mention, but keep it up, and you’ll get your recognition.  My students are working hard, but they are learning and actively in conversation with one another and their field, and more than ever before I sense that this preparation and this citizenship in the profession matter greatly.

So here I am, at day 42 of the PLN, and I am amazed at the growth I see all around me, and the growth I see in myself.  I’m proud of my students’ progress, and I feel that my teaching is re-energized.  There seems to be no limit, no final culmination.  I am really excited to see where this goes by the end of the semester, and beyond — when my students go into pre-service teaching, student teaching, and into a classroom all their own.

My own Blog is sagging though.   Check out these impressive Stats.  It’s steep and down, and probably ski-able.

Check out the number of visits when things began, and a peak of 124 views in one day, and now way way down.  I have to learn something from this.  Perhaps I need to post more, and more regularly.  I am in regular conversation with two dozen Blogs and PICCLE, but I haven’t been in conversation with many Nings lately, and I haven’t been Twittering much either.  I think that I will actively post links and see if that doesn’t generate visits.  It attests somewhat to the strength (or weakness) of my PLN, about how you have to keep feeding it.  It’s been eight days, and clearly the Blogosphere is saying, yeah, but what have you done for me lately?