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A Mixed Bag of Trainees

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You know what they say about assuming things. I’ve learned that it is never a good idea to assume that just because someone wants to learn some particular kind of software does not mean that they in fact are proficient with basic computer skills. It is difficult to train a group of people with a wide spectrum of computer skills. I think I may have mentioned before that our university is in the midst of a migration from one learning management system to another. Part of my job is to train faculty and staff on the new system. These workshops are always interesting and sometimes frustrating due to the mix of levels that faculty has.

On one side of the room is the Computer Science professor. This individual understands everything quickly, finishes the work lickety-split and forges ahead. On the other side of the room are the folks that have trouble browsing to a file, minimizing screens and even typing a URL. I always wonder how they managed to get their work done and teach in an online environment.

Our center’s strategy that works fairly well so far is to have roving assistants. That way, the “trainer” can keep the flow going, demonstrate and answer general questions. Those that have trouble minimizing windows and opening folders can raise their hand and get some help from the roving assistants. Usually this works, but Friday’s workshop seemed to have a lot of folks that struggled with basic computer skills. We were lucky to finish only a few minutes over. This was further compounded by the fact that several of the folks who struggled also seem to want to sit in the back and some of them were quite late.

As a trainer, I think it is important to demonstrate even the most basic of techniques. I try to remember to not just demonstrate something, but also say what it is that I’m doing. “Now, I’m going to go back to my home page. I’m going to click on the tool. I want to upload a document, so I’m going to click “upload” and browse to my folder on the desktop.” The other strategy is to provide supporting documents and tutorials. Then, hopefully, the less skilled participants can review the material later at a more leisurely pace. That is the hope anyway. In the end, you can only do the best that you can.

Learning by Failing

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I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. –Thomas Edison

There are a lot of great quotes about failing. The University of South Alabama’s still new football team lost to Kent State this weekend. This is their second loss ever. The final score was 33-25. The score does not really tell the whole story, Kent State took an early lead for most of the game. USA came back with a vengeance but ran out of time.

I wish they could have won, but I’m not disappointed in the team. They are still finding their way. This is the first season for away games, and to play bigger and more established teams. I guess the main thing is that we will see what they learn from this. Learning by failing is a tried and true technique. Learning by failing is important because failing shows you what you don’t know. Many things that are now considered normal and acceptable were once considered impossible. What if Wilbur and Orville Wright had given up on flying after their first couple of attempts didn’t work out?

It seems to me that how you fail can tell a lot about how you will succeed. If something doesn’t work, do you still keep trying it the same way, or do you try to innovate? Do you dig in or give up? Failure can be a very frustrating experience, but if you keep on trying and finally achieve success it is a great feeling. Sometimes you never succeed, but you may have learned about related things that help you with something else. No matter what, it seems to me that it is better not to view failure as a curse but more as an opportunity.

Sakai Training

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Sakai Training

Today I conducted a short training on setting up WebDAV for Sakai today. This is part of a great number of courses that we are conducting for the migration from our current LMS (Learning Management System) to the Sakai CLE.  We did not have a large turn out unfortunately, but I think the people that came to the training left with some useful knowledge.  The participants actually work at our university’s computing center so there is a good chance that they would have a chance to pass this knowledge on to others as well.

Like everyone who does training, you want it to count for something. You want to feel like people are gaining information that is useful to them.  I asked the participants why they thought that the turn out was low and one of them had a very good answer. Essentially, she said that people attend events based on what value they think they will get out of it but they are also considering what they could be doing if they did not attend.  Will the gains offset what they could have been doing if they weren’t attending?  So the best thing to do is always make sure you offer quality events that, most of all, are relevant to the needs of your audience.

I think what she said is very true.  It is important to always consider what is important to your audience.  For this seminar, I think the value and relevance is there, but the new LMS is still unfamiliar.  Our audience hasn’t had a chance to even know if something is relevant.  We have a group of early adopters and part of their role is to lead the way and show people that learning how to use Sakai is relevant and important to their jobs.  Time will tell!


What is Palm Oil Doing in My Peanut Brittle?

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I stopped by for my weekly examination of food at The Fresh Market here in Mobile.  My goal is to be able to get out there without buying something, but alas, that does not happen very often.  The bakery/sweets department had some delicious looking nut brittles displayed.  They had peanut, almond and granola brittle.  The lady behind the counter said the almond brittle was her fave.  She most kindly offered me samples. (score!)

The granola brittle had pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, oatmeal and a bunch of other stuff. I liked the chewy dried fruit bits.  The peanut brittle was great but the almond brittle didn’t do much for me.  I happened to gaze at the ingredient list and was quite surprised to see palm oil as a major ingredient. Why  is there palm oil in my damn brittle?

Palm oil is used a lot in place of hydrogenated oil which have artery clogging trans fats.  So palm oil is not bad for you, but it is bad for the environment.  It is not a sustainable product.  Vast tracts of forests are being destroyed for palm oil production in Indonesia and other countries.  The clearing of rain forests is the single largest factor for the endangerment of orangutans and other creatures.  Many companies choose to destroy a forest for palm oil production instead of creating a plantation. This way they get immediate cash instead of having to way a few years for production to be viable.  Interesting blog on this here.

A couple of girl scouts/activists brought a lot of attention to the use of palm oil in commercial baked goods and that only a very small percentage of palm oil production is sustainable.  My impression is that Girl Scout cookie bakers are still using palm oil.  Meanwhile these young activists have stopped selling girl scout cookies or consuming any things with palm oil in it.  I bing-searched girl scouts and palm oil and got a ton of stuff. Click here to see my search!

Back to the original question of the purpose of the palm oil in the nut brittle.  I believe it is a preservative.  The store makes a butt load of peanut or almond or whatever nut brittle and wants it to stick around for awhile.  Grandma’s peanut brittle did not have any oil in it.  We didn’t have to preserve it because we ate it up.  I will not be buying The Fresh Market’s brittles.

In the meantime, here is my grandmother’s peanut brittle recipe.  I have never made it myself but it doesn’t look too hard. Note the lack of palm oil.

2 cups raw peanuts
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup white corn syrup
1/4 cup boiling water
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
 Be sure to have soda and greased cookie sheet ready before you begin cooking candy.
Mix sugar, corn  syrup, and hot water in heavy 4-qt boiler.  Bring to boil, stirring to  completely dissolve sugar.   Then pour in two cups raw peanuts, stir constantly and cook until syrup is very light amber, or until peanuts almost completely quit popping.  Add baking soda and stir rapidly.  Remove from heat immediately and pour on to buttered cookie sheet placed on a hot pad.  Do not spread with spoon.

MOOCs are like Chinese Buffets

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I liken MOOCs to the Chinese buffet that our family enjoys.  There are dozens of various dishes, and many that I want to eat a lot of.  So I developed a strategy.  First I just get vegetables that are not fried or coated in sauces.  Hot and sour soup is a must.  Next is an eggroll and those dumpling things, etc…This way, at least I can try to claim some healthiness and I don’t feel like a glutton.

Of course, Chinese buffets are great for people watching!  I live in the lard belt and there are a lot of very overweight people here in L.A. (lower Alabama) and South Mississippi.  I see many people that have just one plate that is just piled with food. Sometimes the food is layered on top of other food!    How can they eat all of that food? Don’t they know they can just eat a few things and then go back for something else?  Some of them DO GO BACK and then I wonder how they move for the rest of the day and if they eat dinner.

I took to heart the orientation material from week 1 and decided what I wanted to get out of this course.  At least I tentatively decided 😉  Now that we are in the throes of the course, I think that some things are becoming obvious.  MOOCs are good for self-directed learners and people who are motivated and interested in the topics.  I wish I could sample everything but I can’t put that much on my plate, so I won’t.  If you see me and think I need to try something, just let me know and I’ll go check it out!

Review of Ben & Jerry’s Shweddy Balls Ice Cream

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I enjoyed my roasted beet and pickled okra salad for lunch, but I must admit the entire time I was thinking about getting my mouth around some Shweddy Balls ice cream. Here I offer my humble review.

The ice cream does not lack balls for sure.  I got balls in every spoonful.  However, my first mouthful of Shweddy Balls was a little disappointing. I expected a slightly salty flavor.  Some lightly salted roasted nuts would have been good.  The malted milk balls did add a satisfying crunch.  You want a good crunch when you bite into a ball.  The package says “Vanilla Ice Cream with a hint of rum and loaded with fudge covered rum and malt balls.”  There is no “hint of rum.”  The taste of rum is overpowering.  Maybe it is the combination of the rum in the ice cream and rum in the balls. The rum flavor just doesn’t work here for me.   Shweddy Balls is certainly edible and I’m glad I got some.  However, I don’t see myself biting into these balls again anytime soon.

My Goals for

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I’ve been thinking very hard how I want to benefit from this course.  Of course I want to increase my understanding of educational technology and see how others are using it.  More than anything, I want to try out these new ideas.  I’ll share my trials and tribulations with you on this blog, twitter, facebook and google plus.  I’ll comment on what you do and I hope that some of you will comment on what I do!

I’m a graduate student and I work primarily training faculty for LMS migration to Sakai.  Knowing more about educational technology will be a huge help for me.   I’ve been reading facebook posts in Change11 for the past few days, as well as twitter feeds and fellow participants’ blog posts.  I can definitely see that everyone has a wealth of information to offer each other.  This will surely develop into a great experience!

I Barely Escaped!

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Chocolate espresso breakfast buns with caramel icing, almond flower croissants, very berry deep dish pie….I’m lucky I got out of the Fresh Market this morning without weighing an additional 20 lbs.  I escaped with some delicious looking plums, beets and almond butter.  I’m going to just eat the plum out of hand, but I’m roasting the beets for a late lunch.  I  can eat the almond butter on toast for breakfast.  Mmmmmmm.

To Do List

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Must get a decent picture for my header. 

Think of a recipe to post

Study study study


Why Did I Wait So Long to Blog?

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The main reason I finally started a blog is that I have enrolled in my first ever MOOC.   What is that? Well a MOOC could be a lot of things.  I used an acronym generator and it came up with “Morbid Oddity, Oblivious to Crapulence,” and a different one displayed “Maroon Oath Orgasm Counter.”  Those are pretty good phrases, but in this case, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.  Essentially, it is an online course that is free and open to anyone.  You can participate however you like.  The purpose, as I understand it, from watching the videos of the course facilitators, is to build network connections from engaging with fellow participants.  We are building our own knowledge base.

I watched Harvey Reingold’s interview of George Siemens and I was struck by several things.  I like the notion of the learning experience continuing after the course is over.  I am fortunate in that I work in a great learning environment and I am learning all of the time with my co-workers/fellow graduate students.  Hopefully I will forge new connections with people from all over the world who are interested in education.

This will be the first time I have participated in a non linear course.  I think it will be a good test.  I have never thought of myself as a control freak but I do like to manage things.  So here is a course that will have so much content that I won’t be able to consume it.  I appreciate the warning from the course facilitators.

Mostly I like the idea of taking charge of my own learning.  I think this is an important idea.  I get to pick and choose what I want to get out of it.  Maybe this is the ultimate control?

Lastly, I’m interested in connectivism as a learning theory.  I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure as to its status. Is it a learning theory? Is it a knowledge management system? Is it a pedagogical approach?  I’m sure I’ll gain new understanding on this and many other things.  Here I go!


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