Sunday, July 05, 2009

Am I a SWAG Hag?

Definition: SWAG hag - a person that only goes to the vendors to get SWAG ("Stuff We All Get").

Picture Credit: The MiScope by NUMBER ONE piece of SWAG and the coooooooolest product demo ever.

Visiting the vendors at NECC was lots of fun. The nerd inside actually went through the program in advance and marked off vendors that had goods that I am interested in learning more about (clickers, wireless, etc.). Since I am always on the hunt for cool things for the faculty and students at Hotchkiss, I expand my search to things for science, math, and other disciplines.

So, what about SWAG? I have to admit...I LOVE SWAG! It might just be a function of having a 6 and 7 year old that love little trinkets. might be that our suitcase ripped and all of Dave's shirts got milkshake spilled on them, so earning tee shirts was a solution to a potentially expensive problem.

But, does SWAG make me think better about a company?

The reasonable girl in me says that if a company is sporting expensive SWAG, they have to jack up the prices of their products to cover the costs of the SWAG. Little staplers can not possibly be cheap.

But, as Elvis dazzled me and I had a shiny new iPod shuffle in my pocket, I wondered how much of a SWAG hag I really was...and if my inner Hag would win over the practical girl we all know and (hopefully) love.

I have about 4 bags full of SWAG. To help Dave out, I sat through 5 presentations to get him tee shirts, but, ethically, I would only sit through presentations of products I was interested in learning about (clickers, mostly). We have one set of Turning Point clickers, but I wanted to learn more about them and their competitors. Since I am a SMART fan (LOVE LOVE LOVE their products), I did get myself a SMART shirt so people would know my genius before speaking to me (har). Office Depot (Tech Depot) will be remembered because they gave out those little extender USB thingers that I desperately needed for my Mac. Aruba Networks sent me a little coin in advance of the conference, and when I turned it in with the card, I received an iPod Shuffle. Now, I had no idea what Aruba did, but I am much more likely to remember that they can provide a wireless solution to Hotchkiss because our car rides are now quiet as my son listens to his favorite tunes on his little Shuffle. And, I am eager to pass along their information to our IT department because they made such an effort to contact me. The SWAG I loved most was from Zarbeco. They gave out these little bugs in plastic that can be used with these UBER COOL hand held microscopes. Honestly, I am buying one just for myself because they are so uber cool. And, truly, I probably would not have stopped at this little vendor if I had not spotted the little bug thingies. After chatting for a half hour and playing with these mics, I am totally recommending that our science department buy them. So, in this case, yet again, SWAG brought me in...and SWAG helped me to see something I wouldn't have seen.

In other cases, it just wouldn't matter what they gave out. For example, I am a Google fan, so it doesn't matter that they handed out uber cool slinkies. They were great hits with my kids, but I would still love Google anyway. And, while I wanted a coveted SMART shirt, I love their stuff regardless of the tee shirt. PBS Kids, too, had great SWAG. They gave out little notebooks that I am using for Geocaching. But, again, I am already a fan of all of their work. Scholastic also had great prizes, and I won a Clifford the Dog USB. But, I loved them, too, without the little prize.

So, am I SWAG hag? Probably.

Even though it isn't important in the end, clever SWAG will get me to stop at your stand. Things like sticky pads and pens just won't do have to sport little staplers, plastic buggies, or USB port thingers. If you are going to bother to do SWAG, make sure it is cool and different. But, don't worry, in the end, it is your product, not the SWAG, that will get my endorsement :-)


Friday, July 03, 2009

NECC Reflections: The Good, The Bad, and The Untouchables

I just returned from the best conference I have ever attended (and I have been to a LOT of really great conferences!). ISTE's NECC conference is, by far, the best out there. I learned so much, and was able to meet some of the coolest people EVER - Mitchel Reznek from MIT and Alice Christie of Geocaching fame (to name just a few). I also had the chance to meet some buddies from Second Life!

But, I am an uber nerd, so I wanted to use my time to learn about concepts that would be useful to the teachers and students here at Hotchkiss. And, as much as I would have LOVED to play with SL in the SL lounge, I never actually made it there! I was off learning about how to use NASA's tools and MIT's Scratch Ed and the Library of Congress and US National Archives and these cool funky microscopes that are TOTALLY rockin. I spent some time at the vendors, but didn't even get 1/3 of the way through the 5 football fields worth of them. I listened to my favorite speaker in all of Christendom (well one of them), Alan November, while volunteering as a NECC "Ask Me" person.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED the poster sessions the most. I learned all sorts of things and gathered ideas to share with my colleagues at Hotchkiss. The student presentations were just fabulous, and it was great to see teenagers all engaged by teaching drooling adults! I did a poster session for the first time, too, and OMG, they are a bit harder than straight presentations! They are longer, for one, and my booth was busy from start to finish. This very sweet woman came to meet me, and she says she follows the blog, and it was such an honor to meet her and to hear how much she appreciates the work we do at Literature Alive! Truly, Eloise and I don't get a paycheck from our work with Lit Alive! so it always helps to know that people appreciate the work we do in SL. It was just so great to meet her!

There wasn't much I didn't like about the conference itself; it is REALLY well organized. The conference committee needs a totally huge medal and fully stocked bar, as they did a tremendous job putting it all together. The convention center in DC is nice, but the food was expensive and crappy.

There was only one thing that really put me off, though, and it has little to do with the conference itself. I have heard echoes of this in other blogs about how the "in crowd" is really kinda snooty. There is a group of EduTechPeeps (for lack of a better label), that think that their words, their blogs, their "projects", are the best out there, and they spend all their time talking about how great they are and how important they are, and they don't spend any time listening to other really great (but unknown) peeps, and they certainly don't pause for 12 seconds to offer friendly advice or mentoring. Sadly, I saw it over and over as people tried to introduce themselves to the self-appointed "Masters" and were given the cold shoulder-nod thing. PUHHHHHLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZE. Rebel me...I didn't even bother. I have read their blogs and tweets, and, trust me, they are only interested in hearing themselves pontificate. They couldn't hear you if you were playing a bass drum AND a stand of pipes. They can only hear the clamour of their puffed up egos.

The bottom line is students. Period. If there is too much ME ME ME going on, no one is worrying about what the students are learning. I simply walk away and find the people who are saying THEM THEM THEM. Take up your hiking stick, and join the trek!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Visit Rime of the Ancient Mariner!

Need something fun to do today? Head over to Literature Alive's Rime of the Ancient Mariner build at Drexel Island!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Literature Alive! and the Conference Circuit

Working on the builds for Literature Alive! is only half of the work Eloise and I do in Second Life. Eloise has her own thriving business as a goddess scripter/builder and RL educator, and, of course, I have my own RL educator work at Hotchkiss. On the side, I do a lot of presentations, workshops, and faculty development projects including trainings, conferences, and workshops.

Conferences are energizing, and I truly love participating in them. Of the conferences I love most, NMC's conferences top the list. They really select top speakers/presenters, and I always learn the newest and most cutting edge stuff. Their energy is amazing, and Larry Pixel (RL Larry Johnson) and CDB Barkley (RL Alan Levine) and really great guys.

The NMC Symposium on New Media and Learning opened today, and I am presenting on Google in Second Life on Thursday. If you have teh chance, PLEASE go register! It is well worth the money spent, and it is all online, so you can stay in your jammies!

If you don't have spare cash, check out the Best Practices in Education conference happening this weekend in Second Life. The schedule was a bit hard to find, but here it is.

So, to see if anyone actually reads this blog; what do you think of Desi with short hair? T'is a little poll ;p

Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or The Albatross Returns

Now that House of Usher is done, we are moving on over to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner build. I love Samuel Taylor Coleridge's wicked sense of doom and gloom. We have all felt the weight of that albatross from time to time.

In my renaissance, I have been connecting with old friends in SL. Many of them are wearing the weight of those virtual albatrosses (albatrossi?). As budgets get cut, monies for virtual education are slim to none, and it gets hard to make a case for supporting virtual worlds when supporting the real world is hard enough. It is challenging to see value when the fog is thick and the seamates are dropping like flies all around you; it is easier to just to jump ship and swim to a safe shore where the birds are cute and don't smell like dead penguins.

However, there is hope. There is ground under that fog; there is light. The Mariner came back to tell his story. There was no dead yucky bird grossing out the bridal party; no - he lived to tell the tale.

We are all in a storm right now. But, there is hope, and we have a tale to tell. Our students need us to be creative all of the time. If we give up during the worst of times, our hope for the best of times is slighted. We need science folks to keep thinking about ways to cure the ills of the world; we need engineers to think up better and stronger bridges; we need people to find better and useful ways to communicate. It is only through the storms that we generate the best tales.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Virtual Edgar Allan Poe Classroom ReBorn!

Eloise and I worked all day and night on recreating the Edgar Allan Poe Classroom (AKA "The House of Usher Classroom). Eloise whipped up a snappy drawbridge, and you can read or listen to several Poe texts before "trying" to gain entry to the House to find text-related artifacts. Stop in at

Near the Poe Classroom, you will find a brief little exhibit called "Virtual Rhetoric." Complete with tank, the lesson address visual rhetoric in virtual worlds. Stop by at

MANY MANY MANY thanks to Jean-Claude Bradley at Drexel for providing land sponsorship to Literature Alive!!!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Heroic Journey

Among the builds that Literature Alive! still operates, the Archetypal Cave is among the list of the living. Visitors can learn about archetypal literary theory and the quest of the hero. In a classroom, it is an engaging and interactive lab full of hunts and student-created content. Alone, however, it is a pretty dish with stale candy....pretty to look at, but a little dusty.

In Second Life, this seems to be the norm. There are lots of pretty dishes. There are lots of fabulous places that are chalk full of content but are empty, abandoned, and, well, virtually dusty. Even my most favorite builds are empty when I take people to visit them...they have, somehow, lost their magic, their wonder, their passion...

Right now, Eloise and I are finishing a how-to chapter on building a viable workspace. This comes at a time when we have lost more than 50% of our donated land because the owners have given up. What can I possibly tell businesses about Second Life when we are holding on to Literature Alive! by a simple thread? Should we pack it in? The thought has occurred to me on more than a few occasions.

But then I think about those wandering avatars. The ones that get tired of the hair of the week hunts and lucky chairs and type "Poe" into the search box. They will find the Literature Alive! Edgar Allan Poe House of Usher plot hosted by AJ Kelton and Montclair State University. Or, if they type "literature" they will find the Literature Alive! group that was formed for 3 people and now is home to a few hundred. They can find Dante's Inferno in a simple search and learn about Italian and literary history. These are the reasons why packing it in is not an option. As a teaching professor, the mission was always to get students to love literature. The goal wasn't to be the most popular professor, but to be the professor that sparked interest and cultivated a little flame

The virtual dream was the same. I started Literature Alive! alone as an alternative to the crappy content that can be found in SL. Literature Alive! would have died without the scripting genius of Eloise Pasteur, and since she came on board, we have celebrated all sorts of successes for over 2 years now. The students that have gone through, most notably Daliah Carter, have become proficient communicators. Daliah is such a success adult learner gone from sewing factory worker to newspaper editor. She never planned to be a writer., but Second Life gave her a chance to write publicly. It is for the the Daliahs of the world that we need to keep on track.

That said, we do need some fresh air; we to open the windows in our virtual world and kick out the rugs. Once the light cracks through the dust, we can see what it is that makes us love virtual worlds. Eloise and I have been kicking up the rugs, and underneath the dust, we are finding the gems that have made us strong. The content, the builds, and the documentation have all been strong since the first prim was raised in the name of Literature Alive! While things might be dusty, the is solid. There is no structural damage. There has been no weathering.

Jean-Claude Bradley (SL Horace Moody) is donating some of the land at Drexel Island to Literature Alive! In real life, Jean-Claude is one of the most inspirational people I know, but he has now become that open window of fresh air for my virtual life. Literature Alive! is organic, much like the chemistry he teaches, and it relies on constant care, examination, and experimentation. Alone, the structures are just molecules, but adding the chemistry of intellect and passion will be the air that is much needed for us to stay successful in SL. What makes SL the tool of choice is its ability to connect people together - the collaboration of many for the sole purpose of educating others.

OK, so we have let ourselves get dusty. There are always Pledge and Old English. We need to grab our rags and polish and get to work. It is time for Spring Cleaning!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Where Have I Been???

Lordie! It seems that I have been away from this blog FOREVER, and then I checked the date, and, d'oh! - t'is true!

Life, as is usually does, got in the way of composing witty posts for all y'all. Most specifically, my mother's terminal illness raised its bar on Christmas Day, and it has been an all consuming journey. She is stable for the moment, and I can breathe once again.

Sooo....I'm back!

My Second Life is a little smaller now, as I have packed up a number of our builds. Sadly, the economy is hurting everyone, and my generous donors are giving up property left and right. One day, Literature Alive! might have its own island to call home, but, for now, all of the builds are available on request with a few stable properties left standing. It is sad to watch SL shrinking. It is a great tool for educational collaboration, and I hope that, one day, the powers that now rule LL will see the educational value of programs like Literature Alive! - the ones that serve the community as a whole and not a specific college or university. But, then again, they are a business, and money is usually the bottom line, so I guess we will just keep on trucking with what we have out there.

It feels good to be back :-)