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...
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