Thursday, July 31, 2008

Who gets the lion's share? Does it really matter?

Twitter Versus Plurk: The UI Advantage - ReadWriteWeb: "That said, the problem Plurk faces is the exact same problem that Mixx faces. Though the site has a better service, they can't match the same number of registrations or activity as market leaders simply because of the first mover advantage. People either find it too complicated (it's not) or are too lazy (they definitely are) to transfer their entire network over to a new service. The problem is that no one wants to move to a new site unless their entire network of friends moves too. This means unless there is a mass migration, a majority of the people (though they are definitely testing it) won't stay with the service in the long term.

In fact, even though I really like Plurk, I don't use it as frequently as Twitter simply because all my friends are using Twitter more frequently."

Mmmm - I get where they're coming from with the above quote. I guess with all these things that a service can be as pretty as it wants (Apple)... as reliable as it wants (Linux)... as connected as it wants (Flock)... but it's never going to necessarily be the dominant player simply by virtue of its technical / aesthetic advantages if it didn't get there first or make the most noise when it arrived. Apathy, it turns out, could well be *the* killer app. Literally. If you and those around you just can't be bothered to make the switch, then all these 'next best things' will stay in the future and never really become 'now'. Apathy can kill of adoption... in theory.

I suppose in a way this is a little like the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) vs. PLE (Personalized Learning Environment) debate. Institution vs. the individual. If everyone around you is using a particular system and it integrates nicely with everything else (or at least, it approximately ticks the right boxes), then there will always be a struggle to give alternative approaches an appropriate level of validity. Isn't this a form of the 'Long Tail' in terms of adoption? Niche upon niche of 'this suits my needs best' isn't a bad thing and it doesn't mean that the smaller players haven't 'won' in some sense of the word. So, while institutions are trying to create a VLE that works and is robust, they're missing a trick. They're ruling out all the other bits of personalized advantage people can find for themselves in creating their own PLEs. So what if an institution can't actively support a student's own PLE? Why not just open the door a wee smidge so that it's at least seen as okay and offer support that helps these things be used to their best advantage? I guess I always have this nagging doubt about things being a bit 'Emporer's New Clothes'. Everyone saying something is marvellous and wonderful when they're just being dragged along by a strange concensus. You can miss a trick and then some if you don't keep an ear to the ground and listen out for bits of educational coolness...

Wonder where this blog posting is going? Not sure really! To bed will be my first move... and an additional think about it all in the morning will be the next one! :o)

Facebook facelift

OooOOOooooh! Facebook got a facelift!! There's a new swanky version kicking around and it actually gives users a bit more control over what they do and don't want to see. You get to set preferences for the type of news stories / people you're interested in and it looks familiar enough to be instantly usable, and it's much easier to comment on little bits which interest you, rather than having to wade around finding points at which to make comment (that last bit'll make sense if you take a look at 'new' Facebook).

Easier to publish stuff, easier to read stuff, easier to customize it... looks good on first glance. Just gotta block those annoying ads on the right hand side... and I'm sorted. :o)

Now then... when's this sort of flexibility going to built into institutional VLEs... hmmm?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Last Lecturer

Obituary: Randy Pausch | Science | The Guardian: "Randy Pausch

The academic whose Last Lecture became an inspirational internet phenomenon"

Saw Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" some time ago and found it to be one of the most inspiring things I've seen in a long time. Strangely sad to hear that he's passed away when I never knew him or had any other connection with him other than that one short online video. If you didn't see it when it first came out, watch it. He's left an amazing legacy - a creative educator who reached out and touch many lives... and showed that even when there doesn't seem to be any hope left, there is always hope left.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Twitter and Tumblr and Plurk... oh my!

Good grief... how's a girl supposed to follow which one of these 'follow me' type services to sign up to and follow? And what identity to use? And what distinguishes one from the other? And how can I can make for an easy life and use a single way to update all of these various services??

Twitter - like using Twhirl to update it, but forget to load the client as it can be a memory hog
Tumblr - kinda looks pretty, but not sure where it fits in between blogging and micro-blogging
Plurk - just not sure about it generally. Looks pretty... but... is pretty enough?

So many services... so little time...

Wonder when the microblogging bubble will burst?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Simple color blind web page filter

Colorblind Web Page Filter: "Colorblind Web Page Filter"

Simple idea... but very very useful for anyone designing any type of web content and making proper consideration of some key accessibility issues.

I do love good simple ideas!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The weirdness of the world...

Just realised that someone I 'know' on one system... is someone I 'know' on another... but I'd never realised they were the same person.

Every so often I'm reminded what a weird little world the online one can be!  How could you know two people in 'real' life and not twig they were one and the same?  Multiple-online identity confusion.  Very strange.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I have an OU Moodle-based blog for my student account...

... but no-one actually told me, I just spotted a link to it, tucked away under Tools...

Just looked again at "MyStuff" - still a baffling bunch of fields, forms, tick boxes, features that have no apparent affordances... and the word 'stuff' appearing all over the place.  "Stuff" being a useful shorthand for 'really not sure what people are supposed to be putting in here'

Notice that some kind of hints and tips section is routinely titled "MyStuff bites".  Yes.  It does.

Don't mean to post a stream of negativity, but there's a constant clash of 'shiny new technology' vs. 'meaningful implementation' which I can't make sense of.  When are the disconnections going to be connected?
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Content control

Have just been looking at the new Open University Student Home Page. It's had a 'fresh, clean' redesign and kindly they've "placed the information most important to you in prominent places".

Here's an idea though...

How do 'they' know what's most important to me??

Why can't I move any of the items around? PageFlakes, iGoogle, Facebook and the like... they're all big enough to let me choose my own content on my portal page... why can't the university do that? Here's an example... their messages are placed in the central column of the page. They take up far more width than any other section. My course websites, e-mail and links to useful documents etc... they're all squashed to the side. Apparently, the boring admin / advertorial style messages which I normally happily ignore (and having been an OU student for 9 or so years I haven't fallen into any kind of educational abyss by doing so)... are now in my face. Every... time... I... go... to... the... page. The stuff, as a student, I use all the time - my e-mail, my course conferences and websites. They're not as important according to whoever designed the site. And more importantly... I can't make them more important. The age of Web 2.0 and users having a voice in what they want to see is STILL a long way off.

Is that the sound of someone taking one step forwards and two steps back?

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Always something there to remind you

Been framed
Originally uploaded by Maddy Lou
Here's my cheesy link to this image... there's always something new lurking beyond the thing that's old and crumbling.

I just watched, belatedly, a video put together by Tony Hirst and it struck me what a cool world we live in right now. Sure, there's stuff that's bad. Stuff that's complicated. Stuff that feels like it's going to drown you. But... isn't it just the most interesting time? Old ways of 'doing' do seem to be crumbling (saw a story only today which said that students' most important possessions were a laptop and a mobile phone - books not up there then!) and new ways seem to rush towards us all the time.

Another thing from today... I've been trying to reflect on my role in a certain project... the example I thought of happened just about a year ago... and it's amazing to think how much my thinking has evolved since then. Swoosh and a whole load more technologies have appeared, but it's the way in which I look at the slightly older ones and think about integrating things that's most exciting. I have so many more experiences and understandings to draw on now. It's not that I wouldn't make the same mistakes again, but that they weren't really mistakes... just part of a journey.

The adoption of technology seems to come in three phases. First phase - oooooooh! LOOK at that!!! I could really get some use out of that!!! Second phase - hmmmm... how could I use it properly... the first way I tried didn't work out exactly as I thought it would. Third phase - cool... I don't even notice I'm using it now! Okay, so maybe stage three is a bit of fantasy, but I remember struggling to find my blogging 'voice' a few years ago... tried a few ways of blogging... didn't succeed... found the way that suited me... now don't even really think about issues of 'style', just write. In lots of ways I can't wait for so many things to be at that 'natural use' stage.

One of my favourite quotes is "Technology, a sage once observed, is stuff that doesn't work yet"... I love it when technology ceases to be technology and it just starts being part of what it means for me to get things done.

Small talk leads to big things?

BBC NEWS | Magazine | 'Nice day today, isn't it?': "The weather is a good ice-breaker because in the UK it's so unpredictable and it's common to all of us, says Ros Taylor, who works with companies to encourage people to talk to each other. If you're stuck, look around you - if you're in a queue then talk about queues.

'We often imagine that conversations have to be clever and witty and shattering in their perceptiveness but all we want to do is bond and have a chat and make the time pass more quickly.'"

Hmmmm... interesting stuff! Well, interesting in a 'yeah, I knew that... but it's nice to hear someone else say that' kinda way.

Was just thinking about how this relates to education in general. I think so often that people worry about the academic worth of things and the need to say the right thing at the right time etc... but I also think that if you don't give people the chance to just start talking, then you're never going to be able to move into those deeper areas of discussion. I suppose this is why things like Twitter and other services like that have value. They allow you to have a presence without needing to make your presence felt (if that makes sense). If you've never publicly shared any piece of writing, telling someone they need to participate in a group wiki or post reflective blog entries is a massive barrier to engagement... and I think that sometimes we concentrate too much on the possible benefits once people are on board and forget about how to get them there in the first place.

Here's an example: I read a newsletter today on the progress of an institutional VLE... and the only mention of any real use by end users, i.e. students and tutors came in a short section on the back page. It's as if we've forgotten that it's wonderful to have all of these opportunities available, but unless we open the door properly to let people use them (and understand their use) then they're just trinkets behind a glass window. Lovely to look at, but never touched. Lots and lots of talk about the possibilities for collaboration, the offline and online capabilities, the new opportunity for the other, the this... the that. But... where's the voice of the users?? Hardly the stuff of Wisdom of Crowds if we're only ever listening to the exerts and don't hear a diversity of opinions.

Now, I know this was an in-house newsletter... but if I'm A.N.Other Tutor sitting at home thinking 'VLE? Who cares? I just want to get on with my teaching'... this sort of thing seems no more than a meaningless technological pat on the back. Where are the case studies? Where's the information which guides people to effective practice? Where's the evidence of real, tangible benefit other than administrative monitoring capacity?

Opening the conversation small can lead to big things. Start with big messages about all the capabilities, capacities and affordances a system can have... and the small, but vitally important, voices will be lost.

Here endeth the rambles of the 'should be doing something else' mind... :o)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Twitter is Not a Micro-Blogging Tool

If anything, as a blogger I find it insulting that Twitter is even considered to be in the same field as blogs or even micro-blogs. The idea that someone can send a 140 character twitpitch or let the world know where about in some city street they are is considered to be blogging is stupid and devalues the hard work that most bloggers do everyday.
Twitter is Not a Micro-Blogging Tool

Wonder why this guy is so angry or making such sweeping generalisations?  "hard work that most bloggers do everyday"???  What's that about?  Every so often I have a random wander through the Blogger blogs that live near mine - and I tell you what, there really aren't that many who would fit into his description of blogging.  They can be trivial, they can be dusty and abandoned, they can be personal, they can be... they can be anything, to be honest.  Yes, some are of a journalistic quality or serve to link colleagues / create communities - but there really isn't some benchmark that blogs attain which something like Twitter can't.  So, people use Twitter for some stuff which has a fairly low level of academic quality / worth... so what?  One could argue that it's about building community and securing a place in an online world just as blogs or social networking can afford that possibility etc.

I know I've been really dismissive of Twitter in the past, but it's strange to hear people applying quality standards to the thing they like (blogging) and dismissing as worthless the thing they don't.  Andrew Keen's "Cult of the Amateur" springs to mind on reading this article...

PS  Have now signed up for Tumblr as a result of reading this article.  Wonder what use I'll find for it...
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Friday, July 18, 2008

The happy hypocrite...


PS  I hate it when people make up words like this.

PPS  Tum te tum te tum  ;o)
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Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”
Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Not really much to comment on with this article... more a 'note to self' to read it when I've got time.  I do have to say that I don't really relate to the above.  Only the other day I wrote about the joy of reading books and the lack of the 'distractability factor'... however, my experience seems to be the opposite of the one above.  Internet - yes... much more of a 'staccato quality'.  But books have their place and I adore reading them and allowing myself to be immersed in them.  Is the above a bit of a knee-jerk reaction?  Is it what happens if we let ourselves become overwhelmed by a changing world and consider it to be 'all or nothing'?

Right - off to skim read my head off for a bit.  All hard copy stuff and no change because of the internet... time pressures dictate that all I can do is skim, so rather than wringing my hands and worrying about whether I've lost the ability to 'deep read'... I'm just using a particular set of tools in a way that fits the circumstances.  Or something along those lines.  :o)
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Online, offline... clashes and complements

"Students believe that Bebo is our site, our space to do what we wish to do, and they see commercial companies accessing Bebo as being invaded. It is an arena of contest."Universities are keen to use social networking sites as a means of marketing their university and connecting with students, but many academics think this may be playing with fire."Of course the state, universities and commercial organisation, are using social networking sites to access young people and of course social networking sites are actually run by commercial companies and are a commercial space, which has been colonised by students," said Atton. "They should understand it cuts both ways and they should see the small print that the outside world peers inside the subculture to observe what they're doing. They are open to surveillance. Then there is also the question about the free expression of the academy. As Noam Chomsky said, 'you can't just be in favour of free speech for the ideas that you like.'
When are online student comments free expression, and when are they harassment? | Students |

Interesting article... and something I've been mulling over for a while, both on an institutional and personal level.  I am always really careful about what I say online - I am aware of the little trail of electronic footprints which can be connected back to me at any point and I think it does affect the amount of thought I give to whatever I write.  I still have questions in my mind about the appropriateness of universities linking themselves to their students via social networking / other web 2.0 sites.  I wonder that even if the links are only invited inwards, i.e. please feel free to connect to our central hub to form your own personal learning environment... there are significant issues about boundaries and privacy of which both parties need a greater awareness.

Do we encourage the formation of online communities amongst educators and students, likening it to the equivalent of the staff room / student union... then pull the rug by going 'actually, we can hear you so you can't say that'?  I still feel that we're thinking in terms of old norms and conventions and the one can't be likened to the other in any meaningful way.  Digital literacy is not literacy literacy.  It's complex, it leaves great big marks everywhere you go... and until there's a global unsend feature, you put your online foot in it once, and it can haunt you for a hugely long time and on a scale you never imagined.
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Thursday, July 17, 2008


Links for 2008-07-15 []

Posted: 16 Jul 2008 12:00 AM CDT

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Selective engagement and the switch-off factor

Have been having a mull about online tools  and connections for a while... and I'm going to try to get some of the thoughts that are trapped out onto virtual paper.

First - I finally saw the use of Twitter!  Okay, so it wasn't a lightbulb moment, but a creeping realisation that it did have some worth.  I've heard it being described as being like a virtual water cooler and to an extent I guess it is... but it's more (and less!) than that all at once.  You can opt out of it 100% and y'know, it doesn't seem to matter one tiny bit... then... when you have time, you can opt back in and the general flow of online activity bubbles around you as if nothing happened.  For me, it's been useful for finding online resources (Tony Hirst, it turns out, is uber-guru at knowing everything about everything... and being able to find it within seconds - THANK YOU!), hearing that there is life beyond these four walls (kinda important when you're working from home and fighting for head space from general domestic chaos) and a level of support equivalent to the smaller bits of day-to-day communication we use but which doesn't require the 'normal' conventions of phone calls / letters / e-mail.  There's beauty in the concise!

So... second realisation... there's a joy in feeling information sloshing around you.  RSS feeds delivering online interest.  Social networking sites making or confirming connections.  But, as with Twitter... it's an opt out world.  For the past few months life has been wa-a-a-ay too busy and generally 'interesting' (for interesting read: the equivalent of drowning in a bucket of treacle) and I just haven't time to check through feeds.  Check on the various sites and e-mail accounts I seem to have acquired.  Web 2.0 requires a fair bit of time investment and although one of the oft cited benefits is their collaboration and community-building nature... if you haven't got the time to engage with that and make a commitment to being part of that community... then... you might as well be Web 0.0.  Switching off completely is easier than frantically paddling in order to keep up.  For me, Second Life falls into that category.  I get why some people enjoy using it and find it a really valid tool... but bumping around in a slightly surreal fashion in a digital environment which eats into time I have to engage with 'real life', just doesn't work for me.  The time-investment factor is too great.

Final realisation.  It can be a lot easier to switch off than switch on when it comes to Web 2.0 and the use of technology in education.  If it's not a feature in your life anyway (think Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants and all that good stuff) then when other commitments become more pressing it can be easily side-lined and it really doesn't seem to matter that much.  When will technology in education become anything more than a bolt-on?  How can you bridge the gap?  Should it be bridged?  I tend to find that you get the most out of things when you engage with them as fully as you can.  But... sometimes you just can't... so what then?  Is time a big factor in terms of online exclusion and a reason why online communities don't always work when face-to-face communities would find a way of doing so?

Mull, mull, ponder, ponder...

PS  Isn't it always funny how I find time to write reflective stuff when I'm in the middle of writing an assignment?  :o)

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Monday, July 14, 2008


Why is it that so much of course material from the Open University is delivered online... but that as soon as students have submitted their assignments the people marking the work get buried under paperwork???

I've got about five different systems to deal with for marking.  Paperwork explaining the marking guide.  Paperwork to be completed for each student.  Software to be installed to assist with marking.  Website to be referred to to double check course concepts are being applied etc.  Online forums where I can discuss marking issues.

Flip, flip, flippety flip...

I want a marking system, the equivalent of a VLE, where everything lives under a nice little roof and I don't have to faff and flip between system.  Here endeth today's moaning.  :o)
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Random confused musing about elearning

I've just been reading "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell and a thought struck me about the nature of innovation and education. I was looking at the Social:Learn project stuff the other day and aside from me going 'rats, I was thinking that… I just didn't look at your stuff along the way' it has made me wonder if so much of the time we're headed in the wrong direction with elearning. We're tapping into technologies that so called 'Digital Natives' (Prensky, 2001) are already using and going 'oooooooh, a new technology… how could that be used in education'… but the links aren't right. We're attempting to take the technologies to students that students are already using. We're looking like old duffers who are going 'hey hip cats, look at this groovy new technolololology I just found' and all the while the native group are rolling their eyes and going 'yeah, yeah… whatever'. We're teaching our grandkids to suck eggs when they been there, done that all of their own accord…

So, if we're to tap into people who can bring these technologies into the educational mainstream then we need to look not just at how we can use them in education, but how students are already using them. Find the innovators from outside… and feed their discoveries inwards. However, it's all very well finding innovators, but there still remains a chasm which needs to be crossed. Not from us (educators) to them (students)… but from 'us' to the sub-groups within 'us' who don't get this stuff and who don't think it has any real worth. If we don't educate the educators and find ways to create an educational tipping point (*there's* the link to the start of this random musing you were waiting for!) for elearning, then we'll continue to reach feebly outwards with no real conviction… and fail to convince anyone to engage with these technologies and break free from constrained thinking.

There's got to be a point at which we stop feeling like immigrants and start acting like natives who have the confidence just to use these things. How can you get students to use blogs, wikis, microblogging, mobile technologies etc in an educationally sound, purposeful way if you shy away from them yourself? When are we going to stop worrying about how students will get on with learning to use them and start learning to really use them ourselves? I can't even get into double digits if I were to count the number of tutors on the course 'T175 - Networked Living' who actively blog or use other web 2.0 technologies… and that's a course which teaches students about web 2.0. If we're not using them and I mean really and truly using them rather than dabbling… then we'll continue to follow and never get to a point where we're properly conversing with our students. I wonder how we can really get to the point where Social:Learn will create a 'new, dynamic and engaging learning environment for tomorrow's students' (Walton et al, 2008) if we're only ever playing lip service to it. It's all very well the innovators happily 'Twittering', blogging and having a jolly old web 2.0 time of it all. It doesn't seem to mean a great deal to a large number of educators 'out there'. How to e-educate the educated?

The Distractability Factor and the joy of m-learning

Well, very low tech m-learning that is.

Our books (and the rest of our possessions) have just arrived back from Australia and oh boy how much I LOVE having them back!  There really is nothing quite so beautifully portable as a book.  It's light.  It's accessible.  It's portable.  It's user-friendly.  It's joyous!

I must admit that I do scurry between book and computer as I note down quotes or ideas which emerge from reading, but oh how I love having my beloved books back!

Current reads are going to sound very dull ('The Tipping Point' by Malcolm Gladwell and re-reading 'The Long Tail' by Chris Anderson), but my head is far more full of ideas than it has been for a long time and part of that is in no small part down to the diminished distractability factor.  With a book you engage with the book.  You don't go 'ooooh, there's another book over there, I'll just go investigate that and be back to this in a bit'.  It's you and the page.  The words don't link anywhere.  Don't animate.  Don't do anything fancy.  Don't overheat and shut down at inappropriate moments (glares pointedly at laptop).  But I'm struck by how much we push forwards with new technologies and leave behind technologies which are perfectly adequate, beautiful in their simplicity and may well do an even better job at helping you make mental connections.

Simplicity of material delivery up = Distractability factor down?

So... given the irony that I put down my book, came to the computer, wrote a blog entry and stopped reading to communicate this thought to anyone other than the inside of my skull... I return to my book with pleasure!

PS  I've also just started to get back into film photography alongside digital - I could eulogize about that too.  But I'll save that for another day.  :o)
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Friday, July 11, 2008

Serendipity and the art of being unoriginal

serendipity/serrndippiti/ • noun the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
AskOxford: serendipity

I'm busy trying to write an assignment.  I come up with what I think is an idea that might work.  I spend ages researching it and finding a justification for what I've been thinking.  Looked into the pedagogy.  Tried to understand the situation from multiple perspectives.  Finally start to shape my ideas into something meaningful.

Then... I get told by someone that what my idea is occurring elsewhere and is "almost exactly as you are describing!"... and my brain goes 'flurp'.  I read a paper on it and there it is.  Exactly what I'd been proposing.  But better.  If only I'd had my head out of the packing boxes for the past couple of months and been paying proper attention I'd have known it.  But I didn't.  And now my head's feeling marginally more empty than a biography of a glamour model.

So - hello SocialLearn (who, it turned out were thinking what I was thinking, only better) and thank you for my moment of serendipity when I realised that a) I wasn't coming up with something totally stupid and b) that I'm so far off writing this stuff properly that I've still more than loads to learn about the basics of this whole elearning malarky.

Deadline's today and it's back to the drawing board for me.  At least I know now that I've really got to nail down my thinking and stay more abreast of current developments than I have been doing of late.  Moment's of serendipity.  Gotta love 'em.
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