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!
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