Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Good and Bad

Sarah Claus's "Good and Bad" Christmas list


Flickr - just love it! People's creativity and willingness to share / connect with others continues to amaze me
Twitter - chat-worthy, news-worthy, people-worthy... service flaky, but hey... nothing's perfect
Blogger - nothing like having somewhere to plop the entire contents of your brain every so often
Google Reader - fantastic RSS goodness, nice little improvements throughout the year - what's not to like?
Google Scholar - the nerdy version of Google search - makes academic searching a joined up process - hooray!
Google - okay, most stuff Google has continued to be pretty groovy. Google Calendar, GMail, Google Notebook, iGoogle... I'm a Google trollop, it's true. Yes, they do look like they're going to swallow up the world on occasion... but what's a little world-swallowing between friends?
Delicious - social bookmarking - why bookmark locally? Share the love!
Online document editing - Zoho, Google Docs... loving your portable office-style goodness. Making your working world portable is easier than ever. An internet connection and you're away.
Netbooks - I love my little Asus Eee pc. My days of trying to get a laptop to act like a desktop are done. A netbook bridges the gap without pretending to be something it's not. Rocking!
iPods - mobile learning-tastic! I've moved about a fair bit this year whilst finishing off my Masters degrees... and being able to put audio /video materials on my iPod has been superb

Your stockings will be bulging with well-deserved loveliness


SecondLife - I know, I know... I know it has lots of merits... but it failed, again, to win me over. It doesn't win over the media, it doesn't win over the majority, it doesn't win over me.
Microsoft - okay, not exactly bad... but haven't set the web 2.0 world on fire this year either. I even opted for Linux instead of Windows on my netbook - and the world didn't cave in either.
VLEs - Blackboard, Moodle, WebCT and the like... enjoy the burning embers that were the educational fire you failed to set alight. "Jack of all trades, master of none" isn't a great place to position yourself... will be interested to see how the monolithic VLE copes with 2009.
iPhones - expensive and still needs to prove that it's more than hype and hysteria. Not getting the iPhone frenzy... but then... *whisper*... I'm not really a big mobile phone fan either.
iTunes - yes, I love my iPod, but I don't like iTunes. I hate that feeling of being sucked into the big Apple machine when I connect my iPod to my computer. Not rational, but I don't care... Who said Christmas lists needed to be rational? :o)
Usernames and passwords - OpenID. 'Kay? Let's just accept that I cannot possibly remember all of my username and passwords, pop them in the bin and go for the OpenID approach. I'd really like that, y'know.

A lump of coal will await you all tomorrow morning. Let's start afresh next year, huh?

Stuff hovering between lists

Facebook - definitely not as 'hot' as it was for those of us who like bright shiny things, but has settled into an everyday use... which is a plus point
Linux - I want to embrace your open source goodness, honestly I do... but the geek-factor is still a little overwhelming even if you and I co-exist happily on a daily basis via my Asus Eee pc
Beta services - please stop enticing me to sign up and then disappearing into the ether. You and I both know I'm addicted to new sparkly stuff... give me at least a little chance to enjoy your offerings. Please?

For you, I give the gift of an e-mailed gift voucher. The gift that says, 'yeah, I remembered, but I didn't remember in time or care enough to think deeply about your present'. Set my world alight a little more next year and we'll review the gift-giving where you're concerned.

Long tails and music sales

Most music didn't sell a single copy in 2008 | Music | "According to a new study, of the 13m songs available for sale on the internet last year, more than 10m failed to find a single buyer.

The research, conducted by the MCPS-PRS's Will Page and Andrew Bud, brings us that much closer to proving Sturgeon's Law – that 90% of everything is crap. It also provides evidence for the famous old rock critic adage – your favourite band sucks.

More importantly, these findings challenge the 'long tail' theory that diverse, specialised items – though individually less popular - will together outsell mainstream 'hits'.

Page is the chief economist at the MCPS-PRS Alliance, a not-for-profit royalty collection agency. According to his and Bud's research, 80% of all revenue came from about 52,000 tracks – the 'hits' that powered the music industry. Broken down by album, only 173,000 of the 1.23m available albums were ever purchased – leaving 85% without a single copy sold.

'I think people believed in a fat, fertile long tail because they wanted it to be true,' Mr Bud told the Times. 'The statistical theories used to justify that theory were intelligent and plausible. But they turned out to be wrong.'

'The relative size of the dormant 'zero sellers' tail was truly jaw-dropping,' Page emphasised."

Interesting! Will have to have a re-read of my copy of "The Long Tail" to see what I think about the above comment properly. I'd also like to see the figures in slightly more depth to give them a bit more context. One to mull over... in between getting ready for Christmas and all that good stuff! :o)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Netbytes: Small talk is the next big thing for the twittering classes | Technology | "When a plane slid off the runway in Denver on Sunday, Twitter users were among the first to hear about it, because someone who was on the plane sent a tweet – a Twitter message – that said: 'Holy fucking shit I was just in a plane crash!'

Twitter users were also among the first to hear about terrorist attacks in Mumbai, earthquakes in California, and Heath Ledger's death. And as more people sign up, there will more likely be Twitter users around whenever something newsworthy happens. It's like having a wire service with millions of reporters.

Twitter is a 'micro-blogging' service, but it's a more like a combination of instant messaging, social networking and SMS on steroids. You send messages with up to 140-characters, from either a PC or a mobile phone. But instead of going to a single person, they go to anyone who wants to listen: your followers. You, in turn, receive the messages sent by all the people you follow. The result is a stream of messages that you can dip into whenever you like."

Reasons why Twitter 'works'... even though at first glance you think it shouldn't.

PS No, I'm not going to predict that 2009 is going to be the year of Twitter. It may be, it may not be... but whatever happens, it's got some groovy uses and users... and it'll be interesting to see what gap next year's 'next big thing' tries to fill. Twitter does a good line in maintaining communication without making hard work of conversation when you're short of time. It taps into succinct ideas and is a near instant means of exploring an idea with your colleagues - no matter where your colleagues may be. It can range between a brief, thought-provoking discussion to being the text-based equivalent of a 'hi... you alright' nod to a friend. It spreads thoughts in a flash and it's damned useful, all things considered!

Twitter. It shouldn't work. But it does.

State of the Blogosphere reveals state of the Technosphere

Technorati: State of the Blogosphere 2008: "Global Snapshot of Bloggers
Global Snapshot of Bloggers
Demographics U.S. Bloggers (N=550) European Bloggers (N=350) Asian Bloggers (N=173)
Male 57% 73% 73%

Taken from the "State of the Blogosphere" report now available from Technorati. Have to admit to feeling marginally annoyed at them deciding to have a 'male' category at the top of the demographics section with no female group. Why? Why just male? What a strange choice to make. Or is it just indicative of the 'State of the Technosphere'? Would never think to have a category labelled 'female' and ignore the males... oh no...

Is it any wonder IT and the tech world is so male dominated when a major report on the blogosphere manages to leave off over half the world's population in terms of demographic analysis? Relegated to the 'gender' section goes any consideration of women's role in all this. Nice work, Technorati. *sigh*

Reflection is not just for Christmas

Why is it that only during the last couple of weeks of December any reflection takes place?  Summaries of the year.  Reviews of the last 12 months.  Predictions and comparisons.  That and stories about how to survive the Christmas season... because despite the fact that this time, every year, they publish the same stuff... we've all forgotten that there is no cure for a hangover, wrapping presents is a nightmare and if you didn't put your sprouts on to boil in August, there's really no hope for your Christmas day menu.

Seriously though, why don't we publicly reflect a little more?  How come it's only at this time of year that someone stopped the world and allowed us to have a think about the past 12 months? And how come it's felt that every 12 months is appropriate anyway?  Oh, questions, questions...

It appears that we're all about the 'big' reflection which takes place in December and then because we've reviewed the year, we feel happy to ignore it until... well... the next year when we put on our 'let's look back over the last 12 months' heads on again.  It's hard to reflect regularly and build that into what we do.  Why not try it though?  Seemingly now is a time of reviews and fresh starts - although that's half the problem - we attempt to start fresh rather than build on what's gone before.  So, reflect and continue reflecting throughout the year.  Reflection's not just for Christmas, y'know.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Open plan learning

I work in an open-plan office... and for the most part, it works absolutely fine. I have my colleagues nearby if I want to chat about a particular issue and there's a buzz of general activity which is kinda nice. Unplanned opportunities to share things in an informal way are readily available and it can be really productive...


And you knew there was a but...

When I need to really concentrate. To shut everything out, get my head down and do some writing or research, then the bubble of activity around me is horribly distracting. It's a struggle to be productive when I just think quietly about something. My only means of shutting it out is to go find a quiet space to work in, or plug myself into iPod land.

I wonder to myself if the collaborative, constructive spaces in which we increasingly expect students to learn don't offer enough of those quiet places to work. Sometimes the buzz which is all around is hard to shut out and though it's really important to be able to tune in, it's also really important to tune out occasionally. It's one of the reasons I like Twitter, I think. I love that it's there if I need it... but that it doesn't matter if I don't use it for a little bit because it's a kind of involvement without attachment.

I guess that we live in an open plan world these days. We're potentially connected every second of every day. Quiet spaces are still necessary though. Here's to switching off, guilt-free. Here's to people designing courses and recognising the value of not always 'doing'. Here's to a little time and space, once in a while.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Flexibility in education... as in traditional media

The Medium - Content and Its Discontents - "People who work in traditional media and entertainment ought either to concentrate on the antiquarian quality of their work, cultivating the exclusive audience of TV viewers or magazine readers that might pay for craftsmanship. Or they should imagine that they are 19 again: spending a day on Twitter or following a recipe from a Mark Bittman video played on a refrigerator that automatically senses what ingredients are missing and texts an order to the grocery store (it will soon exist!). Then they should think about what content suits these new modes of distribution and could evolve in tandem with them. For old-media types, mental flexibility could be the No. 1 happiness secret we have been missing."
Substitute 'media' for 'education'... and this article is a thought-provoking one when it comes to thinking about educational change. At a conference a few weeks ago I heard someone arguing that we shouldn't be lead by students' preferences... if traditional lectures were good enough for us, they should be good enough for them. There was a definite sense of 'we know bestness' about it and, y'know what... it didn't rest particularly easy with me. A tendency to deride or refuse to accommodate other perspectives and views isn't the behaviour of the educated... is it? Shouldn't we allow ourselves to open up to new challenge and new ways of doing things? If the goal is that education helps us become creative, critical, curious, independent, knowledgeable, capable individuals... why is it that the means of getting there should be fixed? There is still value in chalk and talk in certain circumstances - but surely it's the evaluation of those circumstances and contexts which makes for good delivery choices. One size fits all vs. a range of sizes which fit most?

Anyway, an interesting article about an area which is seeing massive change at the mo. Worth a wander.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


BBC NEWS | Education | Pupils can beat safe net filters: "Pupils are using special websites to hack out of their school computer network while in the classroom. They then access social networking sites and even hardcore pornography.

On one school's computer it was enough to type the word 'naughty' into the internet browser and hit return."

Another shock horror... no great surprise, story from the BBC News Education pages. There seems to be an attitude that if you block something that a) you are then safe and need not worry and b) no-one would ever think to try to break out of that environment. I remember hearing Randy Pausch's last lecture just over a year ago and the following quote stuck in my head:

"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!"

It's a fabulous quote to remind us that blocking something is sometimes what motivates those with creativity and resourcefulness. Blocked sites in China and people seek out how to circumvent those blocks. A whole country seeking to implement a filter on certain 'harmful' sites and I bet you that it'll be broken within hours (minutes?) of being put in place. People restricted from putting content on official sites from educational institutions instead seek to innovate elsewhere. VLEs exchanged for personal learning environments in the name of choice and flexibility.

Why do we persist to think that the answer is always in more and more control? Clamp down and that's it. Problem solved.

Brick walls are a challenge. A wonderful, juicy challenge. The bigger the wall, the better the challenge.

Necessity is the mother of circumvention.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The triumph of the ridiculous

Charlie Brooker: 'Community payback' bibs? That's rubbish. At least come up with something catchy, like 'scum slave' | Comment is free | The Guardian: "* Comment is free

'Community payback' bibs? That's rubbish. At least come up with something catchy, like 'scum slave'
It shouldn't be a jacket. It should be a green leotard - and the typeface should light up like a Vegas casino hoarding

Petty criminals of Britain! Stop breaking into that shop for a moment and bloody well pay attention. As of today, those of you doing community service are required to wear a new uniform. It's a high-visibility orange bib with the words COMMUNITY PAYBACK printed across the back in bold, black type. How'd you like them apples? Not so carefree now, are we? Consider yourselves well and truly shamed."

Okay - absolutely nothing about e-learning, technology, education in general... but... I loved this article about which deservedly ridiculed the stupidly stupid policy which has come into force in the UK today of getting those doing community service to wear orange bibs with 'Community Payback' on them. It's the equivalent of getting someone to wear a dunce's cap and stand in the corner while everyone looks at him / her. I love the idea that it will help show that justice is occurring:

"For one thing, even though it's clearly designed to demean the rapscallion wearing it, the government's "respect tsar", whose real name is Louise Casey, says it isn't. "The point of the orange jackets is not to humiliate people but to make the punishment visible," she claims."
Good grief, woman. Why not take this one step further? Let's have perspex walls on prisons! Let's see justice really being done. When kids are given detention, make them walk to it with a loud-hailer, announcing their 'crime' as they slouch along. How about all public servants wear bibs with their job title and how much they're paid? Doesn't the British public need to see where their money's going and who's representing them?

Let's start first with MPs though. I hear Jack Straw is a big fan of people wearing brightly coloured comedy bibs in the name of visibility...
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