Sunday, December 30, 2007

Navigator bites the dust

Web icon set to be discontinued: "The browser that helped kick-start the commercial web is to cease development because of lack of users.

Netscape Navigator, now owned by AOL, will no longer be supported after 1 February 2008, the company has said.

In the mid-1990s the browser was used by more than 90% of the web population, but numbers have slipped to just 0.6%."
Not really that sorry to say goodbye to something which kind of got its legs tangled in the web of the late 1990s and never quite moved on... but it was the first browser I used and was my first experience of the web. I definitely don't use the web in the same way I did back when Navigator effectively was the web for many people (I no longer have to go make a cuppa cha and pile my way through other work while a 1 meg file downloads for a start!) and it's interesting to think how rapidly and how far it's come. And how relatively easily a hu-u-u-u-uge name can become a blast from the past. And no-one even really notices it's gone.

The web's a strange old place, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Power of Facebook affects law

Much to the surprise of sceptics who paint government as unable or unwilling to listen to public concerns, those voices had an immediate impact. Ten days after the Facebook group's launch, Jim Prentice delayed introducing the new copyright reforms, seemingly struck by the rapid formation of concerned citizens who were writing letters and raising awareness.

Not only had tools like Facebook had an immediate effect on the government's legislative agenda, but the community that developed around the group also led to a "crowdsourcing" of knowledge. Canadians from coast to coast shared information, posed questions, posted their letters to politicians, and started a national conversation on copyright law in Canada.
BBC NEWS | Technology | Power of Facebook affects law

Interesting example of how potentially powerful Facebook can be.  You definitely have to pick the right topic to get people interested (obviously!), but there's an additional factor as well.  Grabbing a little piece of zeitgeist and getting in with the 'right' people early.  The article also has some useful clues as to why this group had the impact it did.  Sowing the seed of awareness is important and making links to appropriate places too.  I guess some of this treatment of a political issue can be translated into an educational context.  If you want students to adopt a tool for their learning, you either have to give them ownership and let them run with it or tap into something they can run with.  Facebook groups aren't challenging to belong to.  There's very little barrier to entry once you've got a Facebook account.  Search for a particular topic of interest, and join in.

The potential of this stuff is pretty huge - but it does seem to be that things are 'hot or not' in very brief spans of time and I wonder if the lumbering beast that is education can move quick enough to keep up...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ten years of blogs...

Weblogs rack up a decade of posts

The word "weblog" celebrates the 10th anniversary of it being coined on 17 December 1997.
BBC NEWS | Technology | Weblogs rack up a decade of posts

Happy Geeky Birthday, Blog!

Makes you wonder though...  ten years of blogs but mention them to many internet users and the word 'geek' is never far from their lips.  Do blogs have a bad press?  After ten years will they ever be more than a minority tool?  Or is currently that the nature of things anyway?

I wonder if blogs will be having the same 'death knell' comments that e-mail receives these days in another ten years' time.  Either way, ten years is an awful long time in IT... so Happy Birthday blog!

Words not to like

The system will centre around authored articles created with a tool Google has dubbed "knol" - the word denotes a unit of knowledge - that will make webpages with a distinctive livery to identify them as authoritative.
BBC NEWS | Technology | Google debuts knowledge project

Urgh!  New made up word 'a knol'.  How on earth can you have a unit of knowledge which is quantifiable and measurable in any truly meaningful way?  Not only are Google jumping on the Wikipedia bandwagon a few years too late, now they're inventing words like some third-rate web 2.0 company.  Think I'll be keeping my 'knols' to myself unless Google manages to put out something pretty special...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shock at $85k mobile phone bill

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Shock at $85k mobile phone bill: "Shock at $85k mobile phone bill Mobile phones - file photo Many new mobile phones can connect to the internet A Canadian man has been shocked to receive a mobile phone bill for nearly $85,000 (£41,000). Piotr Staniaszek thought he could use his new phone as a modem for his computer under his $10 unlimited mobile browser plan from Bell Mobility."

Ouch!!! That's gotta put a dent in your Christmas spirit, hasn't it?!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Two weeks

Two weeks is clearly a long time in RSS world.  I've over 1000 feeds to read!!!  So I'm not going to.  As far as I'm concerned, the last two weeks never happened.


Problem solved.

This online life malarky is dead easy, huh?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Poor neglected blog

Dear blog

Sorry I have been neglecting you lately.  It's not you.  It's me.  I'm on holiday, traipsing round the South Eastern bit of Australia and I feel sure some space will do us good.

Will see you soon.


Sarah  :o)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Weakest links

TinyURL Outage Illustrates the Service's Risks: "The link shortening and redirection service TinyURL went down apparently for hours last night (it's still down, in fact), rendering countless links broken across the web. Complaints have been particularly loud on Twitter, where long links are automatically turned to TinyURLs and complaining is easy to do, but the service is widely used in emails and web pages as well. The site claims to service 1.6 billion hits each month."

Funnily enough, this is one of the things we tell students on T183 (Design and the Web) could be useful for them to shorten the URLs they use as part of referencing internet sources. And yet - it goes down and there is absolutely nothing the OU can do about it. It could be said to be an example of where a VLE might be better. Or is it just that because the VLE doesn't offer that service, we are left with no choice but to go to an external source? The article makes a critical point to conclude, "There ought not be one single point of failure that can so easily break such a big part of the web". True. There ought not to be. But how to build that in without taking away flexibility from those who want it? Control from those who need to implement it? Where does the middle ground lie?

Ways to communicate

Every so often in my inbox arrives an e-mail saying 'you haven't replied to my e-mail, did you get it...' which prompts me to go 'whoops, I read it and forgot to reply'. I keep reading articles which predict the "Death of E-Mail" and "Kids say e-mail is like sooooo dead" and a large part of me feels that there's something in the water where that particular charge is concerned. It set me thinking about the ways in which I communicate these days...

1. Face-to-face
2. Facebook to Facebook
3. Forums
4. Blogs
5. Skype
6. Phone
7. E-mail
8. A.n.other way!

Sometimes I communicate by not communicating myself - I subscribe to a fair few RSS feeds and have them drifting quietly into Google Reader as they are released onto the internet. I read blogs - read, not necessarily always comment. I communicate and don't expect a reply - I may post a link to, a picture to Flickr, a link to a Facebook group. Yes, I check my e-mail every day, but I've got into the habit of not replying immediately and my lack of filing moves their priority further down the list than they used to be. I can't quite pin down why that is. Maybe it feels clunky? Maybe it's just not addictive in the way some social networking sites can be? Maybe there are other ways to communicate which provide other services and are better integrated into your consciousness?

It struck me how much I've learned by using various web 2.0 technologies. I've done a lot more written reflection since keeping various blogs. I've touched base with a load more of my 'friends' (friends in the 'there's no other category to describe the multitude of relationships you have with people' kinda way). I've read more. Thought more. Connected more. And e-mail seems stuck in a period before that. Spam swarms into my mailbox. Viruses abound. You can filter. You can file. But still the onslaught continues...

Maybe it's just Mark Anderson's 'long tail' at work? So many ways of communicating that every niche is catered for. E-mail is stuck in the head? Doing what it does (mainly alerting me to what's happening elsewhere!), but if you're looking for a particular way of keeping in touch, then you just toddle down the long tail to find it? It doesn't mean what it once did to me anyway... but what was that... and what is it now?! Have things changed... or is it one of those weird breakups which start 'it's not you, it's me'...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

VLE theory doesn't match reality?

Random musing time...

I think there's a real risk that when a course team is designing into their offering the means by which students are 'allowed' to communicate with others, that they risk (unintentionally?) showing students the virtual door.  There's an interesting perspective which seems to say 'pedagogically this is the best thing, so it's what we'll do'... but forgets that more often than not these are the result of finger in the wind musings and that other, equally valid, needs and thoughts may be ignored as a result.  It smacks of a patriarchal stance which doesn't seem to tie in with constructivist thinking or even just the fact that students want to meet others... or not.  It all depends!  There is no 'one size fits all' model.

Here's an example.  One of the OU's postgraduate education courses has no course-wide forum, only regional offerings.  A request for an informal, OU-hosted but OUSA run one is turned down.  No reason given.  Fine - but how do I communicate with others on my course?  How do I know who else is studying it other than the very limited pool of people I'm being 'allowed' to connect with?  How do I maximise the possibility that out there are interesting, engaging people to talk to and exchange ideas with if I'm only being revealed a restricted hand?  VLEs have lots of plus points - but this idea of 'we know best' in dictating what services are or aren't offered is a serious drawback.  You want to control the students' experience of their learning environment?  VLE!  You want to control the students' experience of their learning environment but don't end up giving them what they want / need?  Off into the big wide virtual world they go to find what might actually meet their needs.  Bye bye virtual campus.  Hello Facebook?

I can't help but wonder, are VLEs really a supportive environment?  Does it become institution = them.  Students = us?  Are institutions scurrying after the students they themselves drove away?  They can come trampling into Facebook or MySpace etc... saying... 'Sorry... didn't mean to drive you out of our systems... we're here now.  Everything's okay!'  Why not be flexible in implementation?  Be responsive rather than dictating?  Or is this an inherent drawback with VLEs?  They become a lumbering beast which is all about design and control... and casts their users as subservient and unquestioning?  Doing 'what's best' for them rather than what's really best for their users...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chocs away ... the confectionery-fuelled expedition to Africa

Chocs away ... the confectionery-fuelled expedition to Africa: "Misshapen walnut whips, crumbled flakes and jerry-cans of other chocolate waste are about to power a British expedition's lorry more than 4,500 miles across the Sahara to Timbuktu. The carbon-saving truck is designed to test biodiesel distilled from reject sweets and other byproducts of British confectionery factories."

In honour of this brave and interesting expedition... I intend to dedicate the next year to fuelling myself by the power of chocolate as much as I'm able.

See my dedication to exploring new technologies? I think the Nobel Prize could be mine for the taking... :o)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lots of little Davids trump a single Goliath?

Virtual Learning » Downside of the small pieces model: "Of course institutional sites go down too - but it’s our business to keep them working and at least if services are hosted in-house we can pull out all the stops to ensure they’re fully functional" (Niall Sclater, Director, OU VLE Programme)

Would that be why some of the OU's systems have been down for most of the last 24 hours with no messages communicated about why there's any extended delay? Too busy pulling out all the stops to communicate with the 1000s of students and staff who depend on their services to get their work done?

Funnily enough, if Blogger is down for the day... I can still use my e-mail. I can still use social networking sites. I can still access the internet in general. I can still take notes online. I can use online referencing tools. I can still access my RSS feeds.

If the VLE is down for the day. Bye bye work.

Maybe using lots of web 2.0 tools is a bit too free range and disorganised. Maybe it invites in difficulties regarding privacy and identity when institutions and individuals come together... but oh the redundancy which gets built in to your online experience when you don't put all of your eggs in a single VLE basket.

Yes... I can see the benefit of a single institution beavering away to keep the systems up and running... ermmm...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Zotero - The Next-Generation Research Tool

Zotero - The Next-Generation Research Tool: "Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources. It lives right where you do your work — in the web browser itself."

It's been a while since I used it - but I'd forgotten how useful this free little tool is if you're using Firefox or Flock as your main browser. If you're not sure if it's something you might like - take a look at the Demo and see the stuff it can do. Very cool! Obviously, that's 'geekily cool'... but still...

Oh, and relating this to VLEs and all that good stuff for a second - if the VLE Wizard is taking requests today - please could you integrate a referencing tool into it which could be used in a similar way to Zotero? No? A list of reasons why it's not possible or desirable? Ho hum... back to my normal pick an' mix of the best tools the web can offer, rather than your typical 'basic, bodged together, bunged out there' style VLE...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Becoming Net Savvy

Becoming Net Savvy: Author(s):Diana G. Oblinger (EDUCAUSE)

"All of us bear responsibility for learning to be net savvy and supporting the members of our campus communities in the same lifelong process"

Oblinger's article is a much more eloquent version of my spouting about the need for everyone to become more privacy / e-literate aware - her concluding sentence is spot on, "Being net savvy is no longer an option - it is an imperative in the age of information and a responsibility we must all share" (Oblinger, 2007). No opt out. No passing the blame. No them and us. Just accept it and move forward.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Whose privacy issues are they anyway?

The fame generation needs to learn the value of privacy: "When we live in a society where reactionary bedroom poets are found guilty under terrorism laws, it makes you wonder whether their rather more seasoned and significantly more brilliant predecessors such as Swift wouldn't, in a similar climate, have realised the folly of bunging their every move on Facebook, and made alternative arrangements."

I totally agree with this. There are some distinct new digital communication skills which need to be acquired and acquired rapidly. Millions may be on Facebook, but I'll bet you any money that they're not all aware of the privacy settings required to keep even a modicum of modesty where sharing or not sharing data is concerned. Funny thing is though that it works both ways. It's not just about younger people, students, school kids - whatever 'other than me' category these people fall into. It's everyone. Hyde says in her article that "Gradually, older generations are having to adjust to the notion that not only do younger people not really care about privacy; they often don't even comprehend the idea of it" but I don't believe this to be the case. I don't think that the any generation seriously doesn't really care about privacy, I just don't think that many people are aware of the long term implications of publishing the various aspects of themselves to an unchecked and unknown audience.

Student to student. Colleague to colleague. Friend to friend. Sharing information in a knowing what between those various combinations is fairly straightforward. But what about when those relationships get tangled online? What about the damage caused by the party animal you like to reveal to your 'real' friends being shared with students you've befriended (in that loose 'I know you, but there's no other category so 'friend' will have to do even though you're not actually a friend but... ermmm' kinda way). Aren't they supposed to have at least a little something to respect? Instead, they're either watching the drunken antics of someone who should know better or watching them moan to their 'real' friends about how they really view their job / life / other thing best kept to oneself. It's damaging for a good while longer if your employer / potential employer sees a facet of your character you really didn't want them to. Privacy issues affect everyone.

A blurred, modern, networked life is an interesting concept, but no-one is immune from effects of online indiscretion. Just as students aren't seemingly aware of privacy issues, the universities merrily jumping onto the bandwagon could do with a refresher too before an institution-level gaffe is made.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Get out of MySpace!

Students tell universities: Get out of MySpace!: "Universities are heading in a different direction. E-learning gurus want to exploit their students' passion for the new generation of interactive online communication tools - collectively known as web 2.0 - to deliver academic content. Not content with podcasting mini-lectures to students' mobile phones and i-Pods, they are hijacking the internet telephone system, Skype, and invading FaceBook.

But a research exercise carried out by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc), called the Learner Experience Project, has just revealed, amazingly, that students want to be left alone. Their message to the trendy academics is: 'Get out of MySpace!'

Online spaces are blurring, as universities that podcast and text their students have shown. The Jisc project manager, Lawrie Phipps, explains how the battle lines are being drawn: 'Students really do want to keep their lives separate. They don't want to be always available to their lecturers or bombarded with academic information.' Based on qualitative research - one-to-one interviews with students conducted over two years - Jisc has built up a picture of how students are using IT to manage their social lives. Most are confident and competent IT users, but they are too often unaware of how they could apply their skills to enhance their studies."

Really interesting article from The Guardian about the use of social networking sites by Universities and the feelings students have about that 'intrusion'. Although the idea of life-long learning is a laudable one, we all have different versions of ourselves which we reveal or hide according to our own choices. Sometimes we want to learn in public... sometimes we want to learn in private. It's up to us to invite people in to those private spaces - if we choose to. I'm not sure if there's an issue of respect for boundaries here or of complex power relationships which also need to be respected - but just saying 'because students like using this, they'll like using it to learn' doesn't logically follow. I'd love for their enthusiasm for 'poking' or playing online games to be harnessed into something educational, but who's to say that those activities aren't educational in other ways?

I think that ownership and control over environment are important and there's something mildly uncomfortable about 'friends' from one context being introduced to 'friends' in another. Like an awkward online party where the host can't ever feel quite at ease because their embarrassing uncle has shown up. We use lines of communication because we want to use them. We communicate with the people we want to communicate with. Just because you can get an unofficial invite to the party doesn't mean you should attend.

These are early days and it'll be interesting to keep an eye on the changes. I sense that social networking could be a seriously powerful tool for bringing people together in multiple contexts, but there needs to be an increasing degree of contextual sensitivity by users and a subtlety in their development / use before they become really effective. Martin Weller has been blogging about the demise of the VLE recently and he makes some interesting points... but although I'm not keen on VLEs which are a bit Jack of all trades and master of none, at least they can provide a distinct learning space which is knowingly entered into by all participants.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Children bond with their robot playmates

Children bond with their robot playmates | Technology | The Guardian: "It may not be able to read an encyclopedia in seconds like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, or have the emotional neuroses of C-3PO from Star Wars but a new robot may be able to teach children about social interaction, according to US scientists. The childlike automatons could become a feature in nursery schools after researchers found that toddlers soon learn to regard them as human. It is thought the robots could enrich the classroom environment by demonstrating social skills and good behaviour. Scientists studied how children aged between 10 months and two years played with the 'social robot' when left in the same room."


There's something very wrong about the above. Have we really got to the stage where it's too inconvenient just to have children around real people and they must be taught how to be human by something that's not human?? I'm all for the appropriate use of technology in education - but this is a step wa-a-a-a-a-a-ay too far.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Productivity and the RSS journey

10 Steps to More Productive Feed Reading | GearFire Student Productivity: "10 Steps to More Productive Feed Reading 28 Feb, 2007 Organization, Productivity Like it or not, RSS is now very popular across the internet, and it is widely believed to be the most productive way of staying updated on your favourite blogs and sites. The ease and efficiency of RSS feeds vs. visiting the actual web page has allowed people to subscribe to many more sites than they would regularly have time to read. Unfortunately, as your feeds pile up, you are forced to spend more and more time on your feed reader. Here are ten steps to (hopefully) help you streamline your feeds, and reduce the time you spend on your feeds each day."

The above is a handy little guide to making better use of RSS feeds. After my Google Reader meltdown the other day I've given my feeds a prune, become more ruthless with marking as read and use the share facility to produce a single source of useful stuff, abandoning the rest by not displaying unread stories.

The RSS journey...
First, you don't know what RSS feeds are.
Then you discover what they are.
Then you discover how useful they are.
Then you find an aggregator / reader and subscribe to a few
Then you subscribe to a few more
Then some more
Then... more
And more
Then, you realise that it's taking you an hour to read the blasted things and RSS is no longer the time saving 'bring it all to you' genius idea you thought it was... so you have to act
So you do
So you cull
So you skim
So you learn the time-saving facilities within your Reader
So you make it useful again and remind yourself that from time to time, marking everything as read and starting afresh is perfectly okay

The CommonCraft "RSS in Plain English" guide starts by saying that "there are two types of internet users. Those that use RSS and those who don't"

I'd go further than that... there are three types. Those that use RSS. Those that don't. Those who use it effectively.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

United Nations - FreeRice

FreeRice: "1 word = 10 grains 5 words = 50 grains Play and feed hungry people"

Simple idea, mildly addictive, good cause. What more could you ask? :o)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mark as read

My Google Reader has got the better of me.  A few days without reading the various feeds and they've built up to avalanche proportions and I risk drowning in the little blighters if I attempt even the most basic skim read.  So... I marked them all as read.  How liberating!!  The thought occured to me - wouldn't it be lovely if we could just mark life as read when it got on top of us?  Right now, my life is chaotic to say the least.  Just loads to do and feeling like there's not even a sniff of a chance of getting on top of it, or at least that's how it feels.

I wonder though, how much of life could be like a subscription service.  Normally, we're subscribed and we're busy keeping on top of it... but, you know what... when it does all get too much, it's okay to step out and 'mark it as read'.  You don't actually miss that much, and something will come along which fills you in on the main events.  So, my new mission.  To find out what can be marked as read a little more often, and read the things I really need to.

Here endeth my musings... 

Saturday, October 27, 2007

When Web 2.0 = Web 0.0

There seems to be an assumption that Web 2.0 is a type of connective utopia.  That anything can be done using Web 2.0 services and facilities.  But, there's a fundamental flaw in all of this.  What happens when nothing happens?  When the connection is down?  Working online is flexible, accessible, adaptable... when you can be online, but when you can't... *poof!*... it's all gone.  Yes, there are steps towards bridging the online-offline divide, but they're an afterthought rather than having been a contingency from the start.  I think it's something which is imortant to remember.  While you're sitting at home / work with a comfortable, fat broadband connection serving up helpings of web goodness, a dicey sometimes on, sometimes off, sometimes not at all internet existence seems miles away.  But for many, it's a reality they have to cope with when trying to access many of the services people now take for granted.

Oh, and why is this all of a sudden relevant?  Because I've been head down getting myself deep into spreading my work onto the web, connecting, sharing and all that good stuff... but now I have a dicky connection which can disappear with a bolt of lightening or with an interrupted signal.  This is a bit of a 'note to self' I suppose.  Plan for what people can access... and plan for when they can't.  Though one scenario is the ideal, the other is the situation they have to manage.  The beauty of online education is that it can be accessed from anywhere - and that access should cope with times which are online and times which aren't equally well otherwise we're doing learners a disservice.

Friday, October 26, 2007

August is the cruelest month - how summer babies suffer in 'birth draw'

August is the cruelest month - how summer babies suffer in 'birth draw' | News crumb | "The research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that children born in August do worse in school tests, are more likely to struggle with reading and writing and then drop out when they reach 16. The study, based on records for every child in the state school system, concludes that August-born children - particularly girls - are penalised by an 'unlucky birth draw' which in extreme cases is leading to children being mistakenly labelled as having special educational needs."

Ah, this explains so much - by that bit of research I wonder why I'm not perched on top of the academic rubbish pile as we speak. It's mildly interesting but I think it sort of misses the point really. Why start them at four or five at all? Why not start children when they're six or seven and the age difference is proportionately less? A five year old has been around for an additional quarter of a four year old's life - that's a huge difference.

I sometimes wonder if research studies like this which examine things at a micro level aren't skirting around the real, meaty issues. Why start all children so young? What's wrong with the educational system that it isn't flexible enough to cope? Is school the right option for all at that age? Are we really doing it the 'right' way at all? I suppose this article caught my eye because I am one of those August-born girls. In fact, I was born right at the end of August so I was the youngest in my year at school. However, I didn't end up on the educational scrapheap. I finished secondary school by the time I was 17. Graduated with my first degree from University by the time I was 20. Am currently finishing off my third and fourth degrees. Never felt it was that big a deal other than when I initially started school and was arbitrarily held back a year at that point because of my age and forced not to read or do maths even though I could because I was officially 'too young'. Good education accommodates individuals' needs. Age is just one factor. A lack of responsive, contextual flexibility is much more important at any point in someone's learning experience. It's important to remember that whatever age of person you're dealing with.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Things I learned today...

If you buy herbs in a pot... you don't eat the compost. Every day's a learning day... :o)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogging pause

No more blogging for a week or so... well... probably not. We're in the process of moving house and the likelihood of me having even half a brain cell spare to write anything coherent is slim to non-existent. Here's an example - I'm watching rubbish morning telly as we speak and have just seen a feature in which the brainless blonde TV presenter is off to Africa to meet the child, Neema, she's been sponsoring for the last three years. The feature? "Finding Neema". URGH! All I want to do is rant about that twaddle! So, blog to one side while we move and I'll try to think up something worthwhile to say which doesn't involve trashy TV!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Students using laptops risk 'persistent' pain

Students using laptops risk 'persistent' pain | Students | "Students who regularly use laptops are putting themselves in danger of persistent neck, back, shoulder and wrist pain, and they are often unaware of the risks they are taking until it is too late, according to new research. Surveys carried out by ergonomist Rachel Benedyk and her team at University College London's Interaction Centre found that 57% of respondents had experienced aches and pains as a result of their laptop use, with 7% having pain a lot of the time. The survey involved 649 undergraduate and postgraduate students of a range of nationalities, and the majority said they had never encountered ergonomic guidance on laptop use."

Advice worth noting. I do love my laptop as everything is a bit chaotic at the moment as we're moving house and all that good stuff... but I'm also aware that my typing position isn't great when I'm using my laptop and a gentle nudge to think about some better strategies for using it is timely.

Mind you, this sort of thing is exactly the kind of argument which comes up when it is suggested that computerisation of certain tasks might be beneficial - 'what about health and safety', 'it'll give me RSI', 'I can't work for long periods at a screen'. Thing is, a bit of helpful advice now and again counters most of that stuff, but they can be mightily persuasive anti-ICT arguments without a bit of balance.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Facebook musings

One of the things which really interests me in education is what works and what doesn't work in terms of participation, particularly in an online context. As such, watching the things on Facebook which take off vs. the things which don't is fascinating. It seems that one of the things people like is 'fun' stuff which isn't particularly technically challenging but which allows them to break out of their adult selves for a little while. Things which don't require much commitment of the self are also used a lot - browsing profiles or looking at photos:

Graphic of how Facebook users spend their time


Serious discussions tend to be limited although people do like to join groups - the act of joining and being seen to be a member seemingly more important than what is derived through active contribution. Those which appear with a funny statement for a title get joined... then forgotten. Those which relate to a current course of study tend to be more actively used. Those which relate to a particular programme of study (i.e. a specific degree) aren't used as much because the day-to-day work goes on elsewhere. General support, i.e. 'this is the type of person I am' is popular even if the engagement isn't particularly deep - the group I set up called 'OU Mums' has had over 200 members join in its first couple of months and the most common type of wall posting is 'it's so good to find other people like me'. Again, the act of making contact is what's important. Knowing the safety net is there should you want it. Viral distribution of groups is also a key means of publicity. Get the 'right' people to join who have anything other than a very small network of contacts, and the marketing begins.

Facebook's applications also encourage a type of viral distribution by advertising themselves amongst groups of friends, but this doesn't necessarily mean that their use will be anything more than for curiosity's sake. Engagement is definitely of the short and sweet variety. Take for example the 'My Questions' application. It's been interesting to see how that's been used amongst my own group of friends - not least since it requires some level of thoughtful participation by people who engage with it. A question with humour seems to work better than something 'worthy'. A question which isn't too intrusive or personally revealing is also good. Things which don't seem to work so well are banal 'standard' questions offered up by the application or those which are a little too detailed to cope with the superficial level of use of the typical Facebook encounter. Too inane, too geeky, too dull - also all a no -no. I guess a lot of this is applicable to icebreaker activities whether online or face-to-face. Knowing what works and what doesn't is a lot like the questions on Facebook. Let people show their best side but don't make it threatening.

Long ramble about Facebook - phewie! It's been an interesting few months using it and it's useful to stop every so often and think about what is or isn't useful and / or applicable to elearning. I love the fact that people are willing to give up their own time without being prompted. Learn a new system. Input loads of different details. Get to grips with different applications. Find their own way of using it. Yes, maybe it isn't used in a desperately serious way (can't really see that enjoying playing Scrabble with your Facebook friends counts as serious, nor is the virtual 'throwing a sheep' massively grown up!)... but it is used. Boy oh boy is it used! It puts to shame so many of the rather dull and worthy elearning applications out there, and the level of voluntary participation is something I'd love to tap into.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

MyStuff-Space-Thing update

Just had an e-mail plop its way into my student mailbox and apparently all the information I lovingly and reflectively placed into ePortaro (okay, rammed, shoved, cursed and wedged into that odious system) will magically whizz its way into MyStuffSpace. Hooray! Well, not so hooray for anyone who hasn't spent an entire 30 points' worth of higher degree-level study battling with eportfolios and finally understands their relevance and role in learning... but was left like a limp lettuce leaf after the sheer effort of doing so. I still can't help wondering if students on other courses will independently think 'this is a good idea' and get stuck in with it.  In my experience, unless it's a) going to be assessed or b) going to be assessed and then going to be assessed some more... it's re-e-e-e-e-e-e-eally difficult to convince people of the inherent worth of doing anything in additional to the things that they perceive 'count'.

So - good 'stuff' - not having to re-input a whole load of documents etc.  Bad 'stuff' - it's still going into MyStuffSpace and if I hadn't had the ePotato experience before then I doubt I could muster the enthusiasm to do all that hurdle jumping off my own back.

I do want to like these things, but a combination of free online tools such as Google Notebook, bookmarking from, a spot of blogging from Blogger and mind mapping from MindMeister... and my own humble computer filing system... I can't see quite where MyStuffSpace fits in.  It'd have to be fairly heftily OU-directed for students to really use it in anything other than a superficial way and I really don't know how it would cope with people who have multiple roles at the OU and hence multiple IDs.

Monday, October 8, 2007

65+ Online Calendars and Calendar Tools

Time management-tastic list from Mashable:

65+ Online Calendars and Calendar Tools: "Many of us prefer to manage our appointments, social events, and to-do lists with online calendars. The list below contains over 65 calendars, tools & resources, which should be a good starting point for all your online calendar needs."

Have to admit I do just use the Google Calendar as it's simple, portable, accessible and share-able. But since my time management leaves a lot to be desired, keeping these for future reference can't be a bad thing! Especially when it comes to New Year's resolutions and the eternal desire to see if I can't do things just a little bit more efficiently.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Childhood dreams

This video is of an inspirational talk as part of the Journeys Lectures by Professor Randy Pausch, from Carnegie Mellon. He talks about his childhood dreams and how he achieved them... and it's his last talk as he's in the final countdown of terminal pancreatic cancer. Funny, thought-provoking, poignant, engaging, interesting... it's an hour and a half, but worth dipping into and you may well want to stick with it if you've got the time (his talk starts from 8 or so minutes in)...

Exactly how to say goodbye.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Today I am mostly being irritated by...

Tiscali and their 'unlimited' broadband connection which prevents me from getting on with my work using FirstClass for the majority of the day by blocking the port it uses.

I could write something about wondering whether students are being affected by this lack of access and the issues third party suppliers bring to the use of technology in education if they aren't able to provide the services needed. But actually all I want to do is say 'AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!!'. Give me back my access!! GIVE IT BACK!!!

Sounds of Sarah stamping her feet while typing angrily...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism

Interesting article on Social Networking and connectivity... one to reflect on and come back to...

The New Atlantis - Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism - Christine Rosen: "Today, our self-portraits are democratic and digital; they are crafted from pixels rather than paints. On social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook, our modern self-portraits feature background music, carefully manipulated photographs, stream-of-consciousness musings, and lists of our hobbies and friends. They are interactive, inviting viewers not merely to look at, but also to respond to, the life portrayed online. We create them to find friendship, love, and that ambiguous modern thing called connection. Like painters constantly retouching their work, we alter, update, and tweak our online self-portraits; but as digital objects they are far more ephemeral than oil on canvas. Vital statistics, glimpses of bare flesh, lists of favorite bands and favorite poems all clamor for our attention—and it is the timeless human desire for attention that emerges as the dominant theme of these vast virtual galleries.

Although social networking sites are in their infancy, we are seeing their impact culturally: in language (where to friend is now a verb), in politics (where it is de rigueur for presidential aspirants to catalogue their virtues on MySpace), and on college campuses (where not using Facebook can be a social handicap). But we are only beginning to come to grips with the consequences of our use of these sites"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

ePortfolios and life being too short

Sooooo... I've just had a look at the OU's ePortfolio system 'MyStuff' (so tempted to write 'MySpace' there, but hit the backspace key in time...)

Pause whilst I am suitably underwhelmed

Another pause

Further pause for effect...

... and deep sigh.  Is that it?  Really?  On first look although it's an OU-provided facility it seems to float on its own in cyberspace.  Where are the automatic links to the courses already taken which could be filled in?  I've done a dozen or so OU courses over the years, am I really expected to fill in 19 or so boxes per course to make it useful??  "Thinking or cognitive skills", "Practical or professional skills" - these are supposedly taken direct from the standard set of learning outcomes issued with every course.  Why can't these appear automatically?  Does someone somewhere really think that people are going to use up their precious spare time filling in 100s of boxes to populate this with worthwhile information?

The other thing that's niggling me about it all is the over-friendliness of it.  Isn't that a daft thing to be irritated by?  Even so, references to 'buddies', 'MyStuff bites' and everything being 'stuff' just seems to annoy.  This is a system which is aimed at everyone from the OU's youngest students to ones who are well past retirement.  Why not go for an even informal tone throughout rather than some 'al-wight mate geezer-speak' which might serve to put people's backs up?  Even the name is reminscent of one of the web's biggest teen hang-outs - MySpace.  MyStuff seems to suffer from identity confusion and it's not well enough integrated into courses / the OU's systems to be a genuine learning and evolving tool.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of eportfolios.  I battled with them throughout H808 and finally, grudgingly, got to grips with it and found a benefit to it overall.  They have the potential to be a great tool for reflection, personal development, online resources storage etc... but MyStuff seems to aim for the fluffy end of things and it wouldn't surprise me if it ended up gathering dust.  I've filled in a couple of pages and filled up with apathy.  Hmmm...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Google docs in Plain English

Useful little video from CommonCraft which not only explains the whole Google docs process in a simple, visual style... but also further explains some of the benefits of using web 2.0 facilities for collaborative working.  Who wants to e-mail umpteen copies of the same thing to various recipients when Google docs (or other online office suites... or wikis etc) could do the job much better.  Yes, there are limits as to some of the technical features these things can offer, but if you want to work collaboratively, these services are a much better place to start than lonely Word documents.  Wonder what Microsoft will offer to compete on this score?? 

Anyway... here's the video.  Definitely one to stash as a good resource!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Education's Fear of Web 2.0?

Thought provoking article from Read/Write Web about the fear of Web 2.0 in business which links nicely to my last blog post about VLEs and 'tweakability'. It links to a research report produced by Forrester Research on 'Web 2.0 Social Computing Dresses Up For Business' and this is a useful summary of its content. There's a definite fear of letting go in a business context, but I'd also say it exists in education too. The thought of allowing people to mess about in order to explore the environment to find what works for them, rather than what the institution wants them to do means that things are unnecessarily limited and may be perceived as not being attractive for student use. Anyway... here's the link to the article and a snippet of what it contains...
Fear of Web 2.0: "Enterprises continue to adopt web technologies and 'web 2.0' trends, but there are two common threads to this adoption. One is that web technologies are step-by-step being adopted by enterprises, but they aren't yet ready to usurp many desktop software apps. The Google Apps vs Microsoft Office debate currently raging is proof of that. The second thread is that enterprises have a fear of web 2.0 tools being mis-used by their employees."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tweakability and VLEs

I've just been playing about with Pageflakes and having also messed around with Google's version - iGoogle - I have to say that for me Pageflakes wins out.  Why?  It's simple but flexible.  Doesn't look ugly (yes, I know aesthetics shouldn't matter that much... but Google's version is seriously horrible looking, even after you've customised it a bit)... and isn't a basic page which hangs off a search engine a la iGoogle.  It made me think though about how petty some of my choices were for selecting a start page and then again about what I wanted on it and where.  What hope for institutions coming up with a VLE all students will like and adopt if they can't have some ownership over the petty things?  Tweaking a font here or there.  Taking things off that they don't want.  Adding in extra features if they're feeling a a bit adventurous.  Linking to resources outside the course or replacing standard features such as blogs or wikis with version they used beyond the course. 

Can VLEs cope with today's niche world?  I'm reminded of Chris Anderson's 'The Long Tail' and wondering whether a trick isn't being missed here?  Can VLEs cope with all that people want of them or do they end up doing a lumpen 'Jack of all trades' version and making no-one really enthuse about them other than systems administrators?  If it's desirable for students to use resources beyond what they absolutely have to in order to pass their course, then doesn't someone somewhere have to let go a tiny bit and allow them to 'play' just a wee bit?  Look at things like MySpace and Facebook - currently under fire because employees waste too much time using them.  But... but... they *want* to waste time using them!  The precious spare time people have.  The time when they're under pressure at work.  They want to use these things.  Look at most student forums for OU courses and unless there's some sort of prescribed activity going on the only thing you're likely to see is tumbleweed.  Look at the blogs - dead.  Wikis - superficial engagement at best unless a project is underway.  How is it that the thing we can mess around with and feel like we control and own can't be replicated within education if the end result is that overall students feel more part of what they're learning and learn more as a result?  It doesn't have to be a waste of time if there's some sort of overall umbrella of learning.  Oh, I don't know.  There has to be some way to tap into the current social networking phenomenon and inject some of that independent desire to write, reflect, create and share into online education...

Friday, September 14, 2007

The backdoor way in...

Warnings over future supply of PhD graduates | Higher | "Warnings over future supply of PhD graduates

British PhD graduates are more employable than those with first or masters degrees, but there is a danger the supply of doctoral students may dry up, a new study has warned."

Hooray... if there's a shortage... then perhaps they'll start looking at the dregs of the academic world to fill their places and the time will be right for me to strike!!!

Seriously though, when you look at the rewards (financially speaking) of having pursued a higher degree you have to question your sanity. At least in the UK you do. I often wonder what motivates people to go for a PhD when they haven't got funding and they'll end up selling an arm, a leg, half a kidney and their best china to pay for it. I know the drive to study is something that extends beyond the fiscal for many people... but it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that there are issues over finding students when it's simply not affordable in either the short or long term.

Lifelong learning? What's that??

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Universities attack minister for cutting degree funding

... and so the issue of whether or not second degrees will have funding cut goes rumbling on...  from today's Education Guardian...

Universities attack minister for cutting degree funding

Read John Denham's letter to the funding council

Vice-chancellors today attacked the universities secretary, John Denham, over plans to cut funding for second degrees as he gave his first major speech to the higher education sector.But Mr Denham defended the cuts and hit back at the "social bias" of elite universities, which he said were failing to recruit students from across a broad spectrum.Last week, Mr Denham's Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills announced the withdrawal of funding for students who study for a second degree at the same level as their first, a move that enraged university heads, who see it as being "sprung" on them and in direct conflict with the government's own skills agenda.
Universities attack minister for cutting degree funding | Special Reports |

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Students get OU satisfaction = tutors being binned anyway

... and yet... that support system which is praised... is going to be binned in favour of some sort of call centre system. "Bye, bye tutors. Thanks for putting us up there in the ratings, but we're so fantastic we never really needed you anyway..."

Students get OU satisfaction | Students | "Students studying at the Open University are the most satisfied in the UK, according to the results of the national student survey released today. The results of the survey, which will be available on the new, revamped Unistats website, put the OU at the top of a league table of universities for overall student satisfaction for the third consecutive year. Close to 95% of the university's students said they were satisfied or very satisfied, which puts it one percentage point ahead of the institution ranked second - despite the fact teaching is delivered online and through distance-learning."

... a rating which should stick in the throat of all the OU's Associate Lecturers who've worked above and beyond what their unrealistic pay packet allows for... and who will be made redundant in their droves under the Student Support Review proposals.

The wait is over!

Am more gobsmacked than a gobsmacked thing... but...

Excuse the self-indulgent gloating... but my second degree is finished and I'm soooooooooo relieved it's untrue... and I also didn't even know you *could* get distinctions for this course so even more cloud 9-ish today!

Facebook up, MySpace down

From the Guardian...
Facebook up, MySpace down | Technology | Guardian Unlimited:

"Compete has just published some statistics comparing Facebook with MySpace, saying: 'Facebook has grown not only in member base, but also in member engagement, while MySpace has fallen dramatically on these same measures.' That's true, of course: the red numbers show MySpace is not doing as well as it was. However, it's also true that MySpace is still miles ahead in terms of visitors, page views, and average stay. MySpace's lead in terms of 'attention' is almost embarrassing: it scores 10.79% against Facebook's 1.67%. How long that will last is another matter. Social networking sites tend to rise and fall at some speed...."

... and what was it I was saying only yesterday about the 'Facebook distraction' news being non-news? The last line of the above quote says it all...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Course result torment

Don't you just hate this bit of the whole studying process? The night before the night before your result comes out. Might it come out a day early? Can you talk your brain out of thinking that you've failed, scraped a pass, done okay, done better than okay? How come before you realise it's imminent you can happily forget it - but the closer the date comes, the longer the time seems to drag. Exams may be nature's laxative... but results time sure does get your stomach flipping too!

Okay. I will stop thinking about it... and go back to marking. Why oh why is it that my job won't allow me to forget the axe that's hanging over my student-y head?! Torture!

Humble pie...

Tum te tum. Just realised what I did with my mysteriously vanished blog entry. I pressed 'cancel' instead of publish.

Do be dooo... shuffles off looking at feet and ignoring the burning red heat coming from her embarrassed face...

Blog rage!

I just typed a whole entry... and because I'm trying out Flock as a web 2.0 sorta browser, I thought I'd use that... and... it ate it. Give it me back you rat-infested browser!! It was my blog entry and I want it back! Okay, I can't be bothered to retype. The gist is... media - stop reporting twaddle about Facebook. So people waste time online using it? Well, they'd probably just be texting their mates anyway. Either accept it's here and people are in the middle of 'oooooh, new toy!' novelty factor or bash out the same old rubbish and never learn anything about how these technologies are / can be used. I don't get why people get so riled about this sort of thing. Why not attempt to harness the enthusiasm people have for mobiles, e-mail, the web, social networking, blogging - whatever the latest 'thing' to do is - and find out how to turn it into something productive? The same goes for education. These tools seem to get people excited, so why not try to use them appropriately?

Well, there were other bits and links to the BBC and The Guardian's sites where they've currently got 'Facebook is wasting employer's money' and 'you can't make more friends using Facebook-type sites' scaremongering going on. But, I've given up the will to blog and may (note the irony!) get back to doing some real work. Wasting time blogging about people wasting time online instead of working, while I should be marking. Let's just say this was a moment of reflection which will build my professional approach to education in the long run. Or something along those lines...

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

Seconds out for second chance degrees

Students face higher fees to study for second degree | higher news | "Students wishing to study for a second undergraduate degree could face higher course fees, following funding cuts announced by the government today. From next year, government grants given to universities to fund students studying for a second degree or lower qualifications will be reduced by around £100m a year."

One of those moments where you were glad you finished your second undergraduate degree the year before the cuts hit?

Seriously, a sad day for any graduate who finds that the degree they did when barely an adult and hardly able to know what they wanted to do, doesn't cut the mustard and a decade or so later they need to retrain. Make a mistake first time out... and that's you done. Maybe the idea that a degree isn't a specific training qualification and should equip for you the skills of learning which will fit you for anything... but my experience says that's not always the case. I just wasn't up to making the most of higher education the first time out. Second time around it opened doors I never even knew existed. Will those opportunities now disappear?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

10 Future Web Trends

I just love articles like from Read/Write Web this for the 'look back and laugh' or 'oooooh they were right' value!

10 Future Web Trends: "10 Future Web Trends"

Let's give it a year... and see... right or wrong, it's interesting food for thought (and they even managed to write a whole article with only one mention of 'Web 3.0' - hooray for looking beyond the utterly obvious!)

Facing a lack of online privacy...

Facebook changes raise privacy concerns | | Guardian Unlimited Business: "Facebook is opening up its website so that member profiles can be discovered through online search engines such as Google and Yahoo!, as the social networking site looks to boost user numbers. But the move will spark further concerns about privacy as users have to opt out of the service, rather than opt in, meaning that all 39 million profiles could be viewable when the service goes live."

Mildly scary news in The Guardian about Facebook which risks trampling on people's privacy. Just as it snuggles into the online lives of millions of users, it takes that information and throws it out into the wilds. I wonder how many people have been savvy enough to restrict access to their profile already? I'm guessing it's fairly minimal and that this may mean a field day for those who are into identity theft...

Sunday, September 2, 2007

10 bits of Firefox goodness

Having just set up my new laptop (finally - why does it always take me so long?!), I thought I'd make a note of all my favourite Firefox add-ons.  I always try to do a cull and review of everything I've got set up whenever I change computer and although I invariably end up with lots of twaddle installed, these are my top 10 add-ons which always make it through the cut...

1.   Scrapbook - absolutely love it!  If you want to take an entire offline copy of a website, then this is the add-on you need.  So many educational websites expire after you've completed the course and leave you with happy memories but nothing which is the equivalent of the course texts you might get in traditional environments - this way, you get to take your books home!  Definitely recommended and the search facility is brilliant too.

2.   Web Developer - if you do any kind of web development at all, then this is a really handy one to have.  You can check for broken links, page dimensions, mess about with the CSS... cookies... lots of HTML goodness!

3.   IE Tab - some websites don't like Firefox - shame on them!  Well, if you want to get round that while still using your favourite web browser, then the IE Tab add-on lets you do just that while convincing the site you're looking at that it's snuggled up in Internet Explorer and everything's dandy.

4.    Foxmarks Bookmark synchronizer - use more than one computer regularly... and you enter 'where are my bookmarks' hell.  Foxmarks does an excellent job of synchronizing your bookmarks so that you barely even notice you've changed PC.

5.    Adblock Plus - bye bye to annoying adverts which blink and distract when you're trying to read the content of a page!  Sorry about the whole lost revenues thing... but I really don't care that much...

6.   404: File is not found? - this one is great if you're doing some research and the link you've got is out of date or duff or has been moved or... well... it's just gone awol.  If the Internet Archive managed to get a copy of it before that happened, then this little Add-on takes you straight to its previous location with no faffing.

7.    Download Statusbar - if there's one thing that niggles me in Firefox, it's the annoying window that pops up by default when you're downloading something.  The Download Statusbar gets rid of that and tidies everything up for you.

8.    Google Notebook - it's my favourite way of taking notes when I'm working online... and this add-on integrates the whole thing neatly into Firefox so taking notes on any page is only ever a right click away.

9. bookmarks - I do like a good bit of, and having a nice little button to press whenever something catches my eye and I want to plonk it into appeals to my lazy side.

10.   Google Reader Watcher - I admit it... I am a bit of a Google-a-phile... and I do like a good RSS feed served up by good ol' Google Reader.  However, I am also extraordinarily lazy and having even to traipse off to check for new stuff doesn't appeal... so this little widget checking in the background is right up my street!

Oh, and the ones which didn't make the cut this time around?  Clipmarks - too messy and complicated for a simple note-taking tool)... Google Browser Sync - clunky and urgh... BlogRovr - never understood it... ScribeFire - should've made blogging nice an' easy, but it had some quirks when using it with Blogger which drove me potty.

I do also use the Google Firefox toolbar and the Facebook one... but browser life would still tick along happily even if I didn't have 'em... so they're not quite top ten material.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Socialistics - the nuts and bolts of your friendships?

Socialistics Helps You Understand Your Social Network: "Socialistics Ever wanted to have an in-depth analysis of the people in your Facebook network? Now you can. A Facebook app called Socialistics gives you more data about your online friends than you can shake a stick at: clouds, statistics, graphs - it’s all there. And it’s not just the basics: Socialistics scratches quite deep beneath the surface. You can, for example, see the political views or religious beliefs of the people in your network; you can get stats for friends of your friends (extended network); or you can see all of your friends’ images in a big picture wall. There’s also a couple of upcoming features, like something called Socialysis, that aren’t yet ready for the public."

Have to say that this sort of tool is probably more toy than tool at the moment... but it's one of those Facebook apps that might actually be pretty useful in terms of using social networks such as this in education. It gives you an insight into your own connections with other people and looking at my own set of stats it's fascinating, confirming and interesting all in one.

I know the novelty will wear off, but I'm sure there's a 'real' use in there somewhere...

Who's the digital native now?

Poetry, politics and old people's homes: the likes and dislikes of a 95-year-old blogger | Technology | The Guardian: "She is billed as the world's oldest blogger. At 95 years old and with a worldwide following that has seen more than 340,000 hits on her blog, Spaniard María Amelia López has achieved the kind of status that millions of younger internet chroniclers can only dream of."

Digital divide... what digital divide? Love it!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

1.4m dollar IBM server falls off fork-lift

Shouldn't laugh but... in this week's Telegraph blog...

"'An IBM server worth $1.4 million was wrecked after it fell off a forklift during shipping. Now the customer is suing -- claiming that the computer maker failed to properly package the high-end business system,' reports Information Week."


Rubbish road signs... number 1...

"A Welsh council has put up a sign warning truck drivers to ignore their satellite navigation systems after faulty routing directions caused traffic chaos in Wales."

Come on... if you were driving along the road... would you really go... 'oh, they mean that my sat nav system is to be ignored because the directions it gives at this point are faulty'. It looks like lorries shouldn't be driving down the road because they're going to be attacked from outer space. Whoever designed the sign... a communications genius!

Andrew Keen’s Best Case

Memex 1.1 » Blog Archive » Andrew Keen’s Best Case: "Andrew Keen’s Best Case David Weinberger has done something really interesting. He’s taken Andrew Keen’s book, The Cult of the Amateur and extracted from it the gist of the case that Keen is trying to make — and then discusses it critically but fairly. This is an interesting departure from the usual mode of public argument — in which people build straw men from wilful misrepresentations of other people’s arguments, and then proceed to destroy their creations. There’s also a rather good debate between Andrew Keen and the Guardian’s Emily Bell — which Keen graciously concedes that Emily won."

Having read "The Cult of the Amateur" and being in turn disappointed and frustrated by it, I've been following Andrew Keen stuff to see what others make of it too. The above is a handy blog entry from John Naughton in which he brings together some links about the debate which do what I'd love to be able to do... pick the Keen book to bits and understand what he's getting at without the trashy hyperbole which clouds his argument. If you're interested in the 'is web 2.0 good or bad' debate, then this'll make for interesting reading. If you're not interested, then... ermmm... have a nice day? :o)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Less is more for online marking

BBC NEWS | Education | Less is more for online marking: "Less is more for online marking Exam candidate Students are being told to write concisely A-level geography students whose papers are marked online have been advised to keep their answers to length. Sceptics fear the move is technology driven and may not be a fair way of testing students' ability."

This is the sort of story people who are a bit anti-technology in education absolutely lap up. Surely there has to be some sort of compromise when it comes to designing testing / work for students which involves any type of technology. Whether the technology in question is a computer or just using the alphabet. Doesn't it have to be appropriate and fit for purpose? Why would you attempt to shoehorn a method of appraising work which worked in one context into another where it just won't fit? If students have to write concisely and writing concisely is one of the skills you want to foster... then... ermmm... isn't that a good outcome of using a technology-based system?

I've experienced systems in the past which have been negatively affected by technology. I remember doing a course where everyone lost marks on a certain question because we were told the 'system' had been set up to accept an incorrect answer as being correct and that that there was nothing that could be done about it. But... though it was frustrating in the extreme, things have moved on and using technology in assessment is a lot more flexible than it used to be and if we don't learn from mistakes and issues, then what's the point at all?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Company names you should've thought twice about...

Freebase Launches Public Beta for Growing User-Submitted Database: "Freebase, the user-contributed database, has launched its public beta. We reviewed the site here, while it was still in its private alpha test phase."

Why would you call your company 'Freebase'?? Is this the final confirmation that database bods really aren't with it? Or did someone just have a no brain day at the office?!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

World gone mad...

Pupils face tracking bugs in school blazers | News crumb | "A school uniform maker said yesterday it was 'seriously considering' adding tracking devices to its clothes after a survey found many parents would be interested in knowing where their offspring were. Trutex would not say whether it was studying a spy in the waistband or a bug in the blazer but admitted teenagers were less keen than younger children on the 'big brother' idea."

Bugs in blazers? Good grief, the world really has gone insane. How about... and this is a radical idea... we... you may need to be seated at this point... we start trusting that our children will be okay? That we've equipped them with enough skills for them to trust us and to cope with being out in the big bad world. That maybe they deserve some privacy and that they need to learn to deal with having that privacy.

What's the betting that miraculously clothes will be torn at the place where the tracking device has been inserted and that, sadly, the device will disappear fairly rapidly...

Who thinks up this tosh? Technology for technology's sake - no. Technology to help perpetuate a myth that society is so very dangerous - no. Technology which infringes on young people's privacy when there really is no need - no.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Old tech...

Telegraph Blogs : Technology : Ian Douglas : August 2007: "How long have you had an iPod? Have you listened to music on a CD since you got it? Doesn’t the whole process of going to the shelf, choosing a disk, putting it in the machine and pressing play seem a bit archaic now? A bit Nineties?"

So... my answers to those questions... 'no', 'yes, because I haven't got one' and 'no, I like the process of chosing a disk, putting it in the machine and pressing play - it's hardly a chore'...

Why are we in such a rush to bin 'old' technologies? What's wrong with appreciating a method of doing something for the act itself? I rather like CDs. I like their rainbow shininess. I like their uniformity and control of choice. I like holding the music 'in my hand' as it were. I know I must sound like a Luddite, but there's something nice about the smell of vinyl. Something pretty about the colours on the CD. A satisfaction in turning the crisp new page of a book. Scribbling a note on a piece of paper. Holding a photo in your hand and putting it in your wallet to look at later. Connecting with your material in whatever way you want. Something more than the sterility of digital information?

Does the 'best' way always have to be the most efficient?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Life's consistencies...

'Golden age' of English exam literacy is just fiction | Schools special reports | "Examiners have strongly criticised the 'abuse of punctuation' and 'absence of respect for written language' found in candidates' English papers - in a report from 1952. The familiar complaints as students collect their A-level results were going strong in the so-called golden age of the 1950s, when only a small proportion of the school population ever sat the exam, said Kathleen Tattersall, chair of the Institute of Educational Assessors, which represents examiners. She quoted from a 1952 JMB O-level English language examiners' report: 'There was ... much inferior work arising, it would seem, not only from incompetence but from an absence of respect for written language. 'Colloquialisms, on occasion, enliven narrative but their frequent use and crude forms, noted by all examiners, reflect poor quality of mind and of taste ... The abuse of punctuation suggests that most candidates are ignorant of its function in determining structure and meaning, or are not impressed by its importance.' Two years later the Times Educational Supplement was thundering about 'illiteracy' among English A-level candidates: 'It must be held disquieting that all eight examiners, independently, reported that a very high proportion presented the fruits of their study"
Nothing changes, huh? There will be laments today about the falling standards in schools, literacy dropping, exams being easier... but no matter what changes there may appear to be, one thing is certain... examiners will always complain about the use of language.

There's comfort in the consistencies of life... :o)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Email stress - the new office workers' plague | Technology | The Observer

Email stress - the new office workers' plague | Technology | The Observer: "Workers are suffering from the growing problem of 'email stress' as they struggle to cope with an unending tide of messages, new research reveals. Employees are becoming tired, frustrated and unproductive after constantly monitoring the electronic messages that keep interrupting them as they try to concentrate at work."

This is me with Google Reader! I love the fact that I have an interesting source of information easily on tap... but oh to turn the tap off every so often. Are RSS feeds the new e-mail? Will people be getting stressed about those as they become more mainstream??

Where Wikipedia works

Where Wikipedia works | Technology | Guardian Unlimited: "One of the areas where it stands out is in providing episode guides to popular TV series such as Friends, House and The Simpsons. How many encyclopedias have a 1,400 word entry devoted to Homer's Duff Beer? When it's a labour of love, it gets done."

A good article about Wikipedia, written in a 'this is what it's useful for, non-hysterical' sorta way... but blimey, that closing paragraph doesn't half pain the picture of a trivial geeks' paradise! Personally, I think Wikipedia is good for getting a flavour of a subject, but if one of the areas where it really stands out is for episode guides then the alarm bells ring loud an' clear about how far its information can be trusted and how much faith we have to put in the benevolent nerds (sorry any non-nerdy Wikipedians... but... really... the sun is shining, you're not getting paid for it... ermmm... it is a smidge nerdy) who compile and tussle over its minutiae. Experts on trivia do not experts make overall. Good, bad, accurate, inaccurate. Wikipedia is a zeitgeist taster of knowledge, but for academic purposes should it really ever be treated a definitive source if it's simply not meant to be definitive??

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Vague error messages

Vague error message image
From Facebook's Visual Bookshelf application...

'Something went wrong'. Ahhhh. Excellent. Somebody will be looking into something, sometime or other. Efficiency prevails... :-)

Old web pages

Aaaaaargh!  I hate reading old web sites.  I've been looking at some sites from 1996 - 2001 and they are dreadful to read.  For example, Shaping and Being Shaped is an interesting article on attitudes towards technology... but blimey it's hard work to navigate.  You have no idea where you are, no idea how much there is still to read, no easy way of taking notes on it online as it's not a single document.  It does raise an interesting question about technology and the way in which it's used though.  If I experienced those sites as being typical of documents on the web I'd question whether or not the web itself would be suitable for use as a learning medium.  But... if I experience content delivered well via the net then the question doesn't even enter my head.  I don't actually even notice the medium, it just 'is'.  I wonder if the position of utopia or dystopia when it comes to technology isn't really about the technology but about the way the implementation of a technology has coloured a person's viewpoint?  Context is king?  Don't know, but the love or hate of technology is a blurry concept at best.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Video: Social Bookmarking in Plain English

Video: Social Bookmarking in Plain English | Common Craft - Video Production and Consulting: "Video: Social Bookmarking in Plain English"

Useful little resource on using social bookmarking sites courtesy of the Common Craft peeps. Nicely done and not too geeky... oh to have organised my bookmarks in a way that would make them really useful from the outset. Sadly, I was lazy and they're a mess. Tagging = good. Bad tagging = dreadful!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Directory firm wants ex-workers' Facebook page shut down | Technology | The Guardian

Directory firm wants ex-workers' Facebook page shut down | Technology | The Guardian: "The social networking website, which has mushroomed to 30 million users worldwide, is being asked to close down the Survivors of 118 118 page because of its high level of abuse."

If ever there was a message that was going to send you scurrying off to Facebook to see out a particular group...

Mind you, it does make you wonder exactly how much influence any company can really have on what is or isn't on Facebook. Does a company own you and your opinions about them forever??

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Information overload

My rampant enthusiasm for various websites means that I'm overloaded and then some with stuff bimbling its way into Google Reader.  I love having the news brought to my virtual door... but blimey, some days I wish I could nail the letterbox shut and switch off the constant flow headed towards me.  How do you stay up to date without starting to drown?  There has to be a better way...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

elearnspace: World Almanac of Educational Technologies

elearnspace: World Almanac of Educational Technologies: "World Almanac of Educational Technologies"

... that'd be 'world' in the sense of a handful of countries and no mention of the UK then...

Ah, the world is a small place... and growing dramatically smaller all the time... :o)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why do we have to die in games?

Why do we have to die in games? | Technology | Guardian Unlimited Technology: "Dying in real life is - religious beliefs aside - the end, the last event you'll take part in. Not so in computer games, where it's never worse than briefly infuriating. In World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) that 8.5 million people play every day, your death just means you have to spend several minutes trekking back to the point at which you died. And your avatar is temporarily weakened. It's an inconvenience.

But why is in-game 'dying' necessary at all? Alternatively, why isn't dying in a game as final as it is in real life? In MMORPGs, the latter is in part at least simply answered: it's economics. From Blizzard's point of view, if in-game death were final, people would stop coughing up their monthly subscription. And the vibrant in-game economy depends to a certain extent on death and regeneration: when your avatar comes back to life, your weapons are damaged and need repairing - for which you pay a fee."

Interesting little article about 'dying' in games. It strikes me that death in games is the equivalent of a toddler's interpretation of what death is all about. Gone today, here tomorrow. Death is just a word to a little one and fairly meaningless at that. But it also occurs to me that there's nothing really new as far as computer games are concerned. What about traditional games. Chess? Don't you 'kill' the other player's pieces? Or hangman. The poor guy dies if you're not successful! Maybe the answer isn't too deep at all? We die in a game because it's easier to make a symbolic clean break so we can start afresh? We die in a game because it's make believe and games are about invention and imagination.

By the way... can you die in Second Life? Or is a 'real' computer game death too unpalatable?

Chris Jordan's photos of disturbing consumer stats: interview

Boing Boing: Chris Jordan's photos of disturbing consumer stats: interview: "Chris Jordan renders American consumer statistics as art. For instance: above, 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day."
I find this figure absolutely shocking for so many reasons. Multiply it out a bit and you have...

12,780,000 per month (for an average 30 day month)
155,490,000 per year

Isn't that just the slightest bit depressing?? 155.5 million phones thrown away every year... just in the US. Not even worldwide. What on earth is happening to the world when a simple communication device becomes as disposable as scribbling a note on a piece of scrap paper? I sometimes wonder whether the world has gone mad. Some days a statistic pops up which confirms that it actually has.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Long Tail antidote

If you've read 'The Cult of the Amateur' by Andrew Keen and need a bit of balance... 'The Long Tail' by Chris Anderson gives a much more balanced and thought-provoking view of the current state of the internet.  It probably appeals to the inner Economist in me as well, but it's a good consideration of what's happening to a supply and demand world where the potential for both is becoming unlimited.  I question whether it is in fact unlimited right now since there will always be physical or financial constraints which present fairly immovable barriers (the world will never be 100% digital nor will it be 100% free), but it's a fascinating concept and a gentle meander through what can at times feel like a bewildering fast set of changes in the online world.

Definitely recommended. 

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sticky wikis?

A quick thought about wikis and whether or not they're ever going to be successful in education in the same way that they are in the sense of Wikipedia.  I have a feeling that it's more about the drive to make content than the nature of the format.  In other words, wikis may be easy to use, easy to publish, easy to edit etc... but if there's no passion from the people making content then they'll remain as static as any other more traditional written exercise.  It strikes me that asking people to compile resources just because it's a useful thing to do in a readily collaborative environment is an idea which works on paper, but if you're asking people to eat into their limited free time to do so or asking them to keep on nibbling at an activity you've set up in order to make it dynamic... it's unlikely to happen if they really don't care that much about it.  In some ways, that doesn't make sense.  Why wouldn't a student be passionate about the subject they've chosen to study?  Well the reality is that there are lots and lots and lots of reasons!  Life intervenes.  It's a means to an end.  It's dull.  It's 'just' a course.  The list could go on and on.

I don't know what I'm really trying to say.  I suppose in focusing on the benefits of using technologies such as wikis, people are often taken aback that they don't seem to fly in the manner of the most successful implementations.  If web 2.0 technologies are about user generated content, then we need to understand what motivates, interests and enthuses learners.  Just because a technology can do something doesn't mean that learners will want to do it.  The killer app is ultimately people.

Friday, July 20, 2007

NZ may offer courses in prostitution

NZ may offer courses in prostitution | The Australian: "FUNDING for tertiary courses in prostitution could be considered under changes aimed at boosting quality and relevance in the sector, New Zealand education officials say.
But MPs on parliament's education and science select committee were told today that although courses in the world's oldest profession might be considered if providers put them forward, they would still have to meet tight criteria to get funding."

A course that definitely couldn't be studied via elearning?! Or is this where SecondLife might come in?? That aside, the overwhelming mental image is that of a scene from 'The Meaning of Life' where John Cleese is teaching a group of boys sex ed...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's a Facebook Life

Just idly browsing round Facebook while I had a mo and a thought occurred to me... the vast majority of people who've posted a picture on their profile have put online a smiley one.  If you walk round the streets of most large towns and cities, you won't see those same smiley faces.  Why is it that the image we want to project is the smiley one... but the image we really project is far more complex and smiley is only a small part of it.  If you were to believe in the Facebook person, you'd think everyone was laughing, chatting, happy and contented, wouldn't you?  Almost everyone wants to present their best self, rather than their real self. 

Your Facebook identity is a strange old mix, really.  Are you a different person when speaking to your colleagues?  Do you project a work image?  A social life image?  A family image?  Do they blend together seamlessly, or do certain networks feel more 'you'?  When you put online your status - who are you talking to?  Would it matter if you said 'Sarah is... hating her dog' if your dog (miraculously!) were able to read it too?  How honest can we really be if by putting online our thoughts we don't take on board how much we're compromising our expressive privacy?

Is it a smiley world... or is it just the homogenized, safe one we need it to be to protect ourselves and our futures?

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