Monday, December 31, 2007

Googlewhacking grub

Google's custom search engine is becoming more popular. I used to run Google CSE on this blog, but it didn't perform very well, tending to return hits on archives rather than the original posts, so I binned it in favour of the Blogger search which doesn't seem to have the same problem.
Phil Bradley has just created a web 2.0 resources search engine, and a while ago, Tony Hirst created a recipe CSE, What's Cooking?

So clearly the next thing to do was to Googlewhack What's Cooking. My first successful attempt? "turbot caramel" (try it - the search that is, not the recipe!). And then come up with your own What's Cooking? Googlewhack - kudos for the weirdest combination (leave a comment)!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Question mark I can't decide what I think about the concept of transliteracy. I can see some of what the transliteracy proponents are getting at, but at other times, it feel like so much blindly obvious BS. Am I missing the point? Is transliteracy a real and susbstantive concept of just the latest trendy meme (trendliteracy?).

Transliteracy: Crossing divides. First Monday, 12, 3 December 2007
Abstract: Transliteracy might provide a unifying perspective on what it means to be literate in the twenty–first century. It is not a new behavior but has only been identified as a working concept since the Internet generated new ways of thinking about human communication. This article defines transliteracy as "the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks" and opens the debate with examples from history, orality, philosophy, literature, and ethnography.

Testing Zoho Viewer

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Second Life Media Zoo Launch

I rushed home from work (since we can't access Second Life on campus) and tried to go to the Media Zoo launch. After 25 minutes, the latest version of SL had downloaded and I logged on. The first two attempts to teleport to the island didn't work for some reason, but I got there at the third attempt just after 5 pm:
Second Life
I wandered around bumping into things for a while, but it seemed to be completely deserted, except for some ducks. I tried to talk to the ducks in case they were the avatars of a Beyond Distance project (Mallard?), but they just quacked at me, so I guess not?
Eventually I gave up after 15 minutes. Oh well, I tried.

It's a long tail Christmas

Hit with the ugly stick Always on dropping the ball, Auntie BBC has missed the point as usual. The story is not whether some lily-livered Radio 1 executive dithered and flip-flopped over the bowdlerisation of the Pogues' Fairytale of New York, but the fact that the long tail has decreed that a 20 year old record will be the UK Christmas number one. Look on my works ye mighty and despair.

And of course, the long tail will have a similar effect on education:
The simplistic view would be to see the long tail in curricular terms: the interactive Web means that, in theory, every learner should be able to learn what they want when they want, without having to worry about the structural constraints that are inherent in any formal system of education.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What the heck is a PLE and why would I want one?

Not so long ago, the VLE/LMS could do no wrong. Now, it seems that no-one has a good word to say about them, and PLEs are the future:

Learning management systems under fire: Course management systems can just as easily stifle learning as enable it.

An educational technology dead end? Sakai may be open source, but it's not free by a long shot (those salaries add up)

Networks, Not Tools: It’s different now, somehow, than it was a year ago. It’s more immersive.

What the heck is a PLE and why would I want one?
A guide to the pedagogy and practicalities of personal learning environments.


Google BlogsearchGoogle Reader
Google Images
Google News
Google Scholar
Google Docs

Monday, December 17, 2007

Speedlinking 171207 logo Long tail evolution
The long tail is getting longer, but the head is getting bigger.

Towards the personalised learning environment: Reality versus rhetoric
Presentation by Steven Warburton, University of London.

Microsoft in Denial: Google Threat is Classic Disruption
To understand why Google is such a threat to Microsoft you need to understand how disruptive technologies work. If history is any guide, the Google threat will end badly for Microsoft.

Incorporating Screencasts In Online Teaching
Screencasts can be used to supplement teaching materials and can also be prepared in response to student email queries, then saved and sent to other students with the same question. Screencasts can be applicable across all disciplines for online learners.

BBC staff rewrote Wikipedia pages to water down criticism
An investigation of "anonymous" edits on the site has revealed that the broadcaster's staff rewrote parts of a page entitled "Criticism of the BBC" to defuse press attacks on "political correctness". Also included in more than 7,000 Wikipedia edits by BBC workers are unflattering references to rival broadcasters.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Speedlinking 161207 logo Google Reader adds a social network
Reader's friend list comes from the list of people you can chat with on Google Talk or Gmail chat. To invite friends to see your Reader shared items, simply invite them to chat. To remove them, delete them from your Gmail contacts, or from your Talk list.

The academic blogosphere as a kind of Invisible College - this site is supposed to help make the College a little more visible to itself and its readers.

Really Simple People
Really Simple People format (RSP) puts the portable social graph within reach. Now.

Discovering versus teaching principles of social information management
Nobody understands what does.

Linear and non-linear learning
In nature, linear learning doesn’t exist.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rampant Disintermediation (updated interactive version)

It's video Friday on SOTI. But then again, it was video Wednesday and video Thursday as well. I find myself posting more and more videos here. In part this is for a little light relief, as in the example I posted yesterday, because I believe that education doesn't have to be boring. But it's also because more and more well-crafted internet videos have serious points and are making us think. Take the following example. Anyone who has heard me speak over the past few months has had the pleasure of my views on the long tail in higher education. But the first couple of times Martin wrote about disintermediation, I scratched my head. Although this video is about commerce, it's not hard to see how the (humorous) message it contains applies to higher education:

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the videos

Here's another example. Take a look at these two videos about Second Life. Which one tells you more about the educational potential of this technology?

OK Tony, here's the poll:

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Here's the original:

Feral cat care

And here's the Facebook Fotowoosh version:

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

And the educational value of this is???

BTW Fotowoosh people, I have been unable to install the FB Fotowoosh application via Flock (several different OS X machines) - the page just cycles endlessly without ever loading. I was able to install it via Firefox. I can't run the FB Fotowoosh application via Flock - the page just cycles endlessly without ever loading. I am able to run it via Firefox - see the above sample.

Goodie Bag: Trajan, the movie font

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Asterpix - impressive video annotation

I'm very impressed with Asterpix, which lets you annotate videos with hotspots and bookmarks, all of which are hyperlinks, like this one.

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video (it's worth it)

Best of all, because it's based on Flash, Asterpix is cross platform (unlike Fotowoosh), and there's a Facebook application, Hypervideo.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Doris Lessing We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education, to know nothing about the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers. What has happened to us is an amazing invention, computers and the internet and TV, a revolution. This is not the first revolution we, the human race, has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, changed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked "What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?" And just as we never once stopped to ask, How are we, our minds, going to change with the new internet, which has seduced a whole generation into its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging and blugging etc.

Web 2.0 technologies for undergraduate and postgraduate medical education

Objectives: To identify the current familiarity and use of Web 2.0 technologies by medical students and qualified medical practitioners, and to identify the barriers to its use for medical education.
Methods: A semi-structured online questionnaire survey of 3000 medical students and 3000 qualified medical practitioners (consultants, general practitioners and doctors in training) on the British Medical Associations membership database.
Results: All groups had high familiarity, but low use, of podcasts. Ownership of digital media players was higher among medical students. There was high familiarity, but low use, of other Web 2.0 technologies except for high use of instant messaging and social networking by medical students. All groups stated that they were interested in using Web 2.0 technologies for education but there was lack of knowledge and skills in how to use these new technologies.
Conclusions: There is an overall high awareness of a range of new Web 2.0 technologies by both medical students and qualified medical practitioners and high interest in its use for medical education. However, the potential of Web 2.0 technologies for undergraduate and postgraduate medical education will only be achieved if there is increased training in how to use this new approach.

Web 2.0 technologies for undergraduate and postgraduate medical education: an online survey. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2007 83: 759-762.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Social Networking and Data Protection

Facebook logo From JISC Legal news:

Staff in FE and HE considering (or already using) external social networking sites in a work related capacity in teaching and learning, or in communicating with students will be interested in the report that the Information Commissioner is to investigate a complaint regarding the retention of personal data on servers of a well known social networking site. This story highlights a concern that the level of privacy and data protection offered by some social networking sites may not always match that provided by an institution's own systems and staff should check that their use will not conflict with their institutional policies. For the full story and links see The Register.

kudos: Jo

The way we were

Brian Kelly asks:
Can you remember what your institution’s home page looked like when the service was first launched? And how did it evolve over time?
June 13 1997:
June 13 1997

August 9 2007:
August 9 2007

Personally, I prefer the old version...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Presence and group work

Twitter The Problem:
Intra-group communication and recording student contributions to group work on the University of Leicester i-Science degree.

Proposed Solution:
i-Science students generate designated Twitter accounts and use them to update their status at specified intervals during group projects, e.g. every 2-3 hours.

(AJCann on Twitter)

Research Skills Developer (Postgraduate Science)

University of Leicester Student Support and Development Service - Student Learning Centre Salary Grade 7 - £28,289 to £32,796 per annum
Available immediately Ref: D3550

The University of Leicester is seeking a highly motivated individual qualified to PhD level in a science discipline with the ability to make a contribution to the skills development of postgraduate and other early career research scientists. Based in the Student Learning Centre, the post-holder will be required to work closely with a range of partners that including academics from across the Faculties of Science and Medicine and Biological Science.

Downloadable application forms and further particulars are available from If you require a hard copy, please contact Personnel Services - tel: 0116 252 2435, fax: 0116 252 5140, email: . Please note that CVs will only be accepted in support of a fully completed application form.

Closing Date: 25 January 2008

A detailed description of the job is at

The sock meme

Oh la la!

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The infamous bubble video

Just in case you haven't seen it yet:

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video


VectorMagic Argh, still recovering from a nasty system crash here yesterday, so posting might be a bit light for a while, but I've just discovered VectorMagic, a nice online bitmap to vector graphic conversion tool, so I thought I'd share.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Speedlinking 021207 logo Beyond Information
"What we care about is what makes information inadequate." David Weinberger's keynote about the value of the implicit at Defrag Con. He's describing the route to web 3.0.

Fight For The First Year in College
Myths and realities of how to survive the first year of college.

In Defense of Cheating
We need to rethink the curriculum and not try to cram everything students will ever need to know into their heads in a short period. Instead, we need to train curiosity, self-reliance, cooperative skills, and knowledge of how to learn on their own.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Loophole Generation

I'll give 'em loopholes In the latest edition of Innovate, Jennifer Summerville and John Fischetti put their finger on the biggest and most serious problem in higher education, the failure of the majority of students currently entering university to engage with the educational objectives perceived by academic staff, instead preferring to put their energies into complicated strategic games:
When we speak to colleagues across campus and across the country, almost everyone who teaches online tells the same stories. An increasing number of students spend considerable energy seeking, finding, and negotiating loopholes in online course assignments. While this behavior is not new or shocking, the anonymous, self-driven nature of online classes may exacerbate the tendency. Rather than the exception, this behavior is becoming the rule.

We coined the phrase Loophole Generation to describe a group of students whose approach to coursework is influenced by the ease of online communication, hovering parents, a limited sense of intellectual curiosity, and a lack of experience in solving problems imaginatively. These students spend their time (and their instructors' time) exploiting gaps in class policies or assignments - sometimes spending more time than would be necessary to complete a particular project in the first place.
This is equally true of UK higher education as it is of the USA. I've been tending to blame the changes on assessment practices at GCSE and A level, but hearing the same complaint from the USA makes me pause. Summerville and Fischetti identify four loopholing strategies:
  • The Excuse Maker: Old howlers typified by "my dog ate my homework" have evolved into more plausible stories such as "the system was down," "I have a virus on my computer," or "I sent you the wrong attachment." Appeals to a family or personal crisis remain the most popular source of excuses for not completing assignments, and the technology that makes online education possible makes an ironic contribution to this class of loophole-seeking behavior.
  • The Bully: The bully can cast a pall over an entire class, often by combining negative comments with personal insults, threats, and harassment. Some bullies use derogatory or flippant language in discussions and postings that they would not use in live settings. Communications technology can enable this behavior, making students feel less pressure to moderate their self-presentation.
  • The Cheater: He or she may copy entire assignments from another classmate, submit work posted as examples by the professor as his or her own, contribute little to no work to group projects, have someone else help with an online test, or purchase an entire paper from an online retailer. These students are fully aware of what they are doing. Even with university honor codes and instructor-developed online codes of ethics, this behavior persists.
  • The Plagiarizer: specializes in creating a mosaic of several sources and presenting the results as his or her own. Many such students have plagiarized their way through high school and basic studies courses in college, often without completing any project that consists of something other than borrowed information. The ease of access to an abundance of materials on the Web makes this easy to accomplish, and the emphasis on test-taking in K-12 education has influenced many students to seek answers rather than to explore questions.
Their suggestions for eliminating loopholing include making it more difficult to find and exploit loopholes in classes than it is to actually complete coursework and designing coursework that rewards independent thought and squashes the idea that loopholing is a productive use of time.

Alternatively of course, we (academics) could just show some cojones, expose their lying and cheating behavior as worthy of shame and publicly chuck them out without qualifications. Sadly, I don't believe that in our cost-driven higher education system, where bums on seats are more important than truth, trust and integrity, that this is likely to happen. Instead, we will continue to beat ourselves up over our failure to devise sufficiently complex assessment strategies that the cheating little bastards can't crack. Maybe they would benefit more from some tough love.

Or am I being too hard on the poor little darlings?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Who Wants To Be A Scientist?

We've been investigating the use of personal response systems (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?-style voting) in lectures (formal reports to follow), but here's a flava (as the young people say):

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another major publisher doesn't get it

Logo Elsevier recently announced some enhancements to its 2collab "bookmarking service" (Digg clone). So, I'm a scientist, will I use 2collab?

No, of course I won't. I'll carry on using my existing web 2.0 research tools because they already have an embedded social network and the last thing I need is to build yet another social network from scratch.

Elsevier's shortsighted attempt to jump on the web 2.0 bandwagon (Hey, I know, let's incorporate some social tools on our website!) is a dumbass marketing executive move which will backfire because they tried to grab market share and lock users into a proprietary network rather than improving the usability of their site by incorporating existing tools such as Digg and bookmarklets and educating users to use them, thus exposing their catalog to a whole new market via these social networks.

Please, somebody show me a commercial (non Open Access) publisher which does get it. Thank goodness no university would ever be dumb enough to pull a stunt like that! ;-)

kudos: Sarah, who just pointed me at this

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Learning Power

At yesterday's Learning and Teaching Research Group meeting, we discussed assessment, and Jenny slapped our wrists about slack terminology:
  • Assessment is any method of obtaining information about the progress and performance of students.
  • Attainment is the level of knowledge and skills that can be formally tested and presented as grades/scores.
  • Achievement is the broad range of knowledge, skills and attitudes that students acquire.
Chris talked (and has now blogged) about the following paper:

Learning how to learn: the dynamic assessment of learning power. 2007 Curriculum Journal 18: 135-153
This article introduces the notion of the assessment of learning power as an important station in a mentored learning journey, which begins with the motivation and identity of the person who is learning, and moves through the awareness and development of the power to learn, to the publicly valued competencies and funds of knowledge of the formal curriculum. The seven dimensions of learning power are described, and the article reports on the findings of a qualitative study in which sixteen teachers were provided with learning power assessment data for their students as individuals and as whole groups. There were ten pedagogical themes which underpinned the teaching and learning encounters in those classrooms; these are briefly described. Learning power profiles have been used with nearly nine thousand students since 2003 and data from school-based development projects are referred to. The article concludes that the dynamic assessment of learning power serves three pedagogical purposes. First, it reflects back to the learner what they say about themselves in relation to their personal power to learn. Second, it reflects back to the teacher data about individuals, and groups, which can be used for diagnosing what is needed to move forward in the development of self-awareness, ownership and responsibility for learning. Third, it provides scaffolding for ways in which the students encountered the formal content of the curriculum. All of these operate together through the shared, and sometimes locally created, language stimulated by the learning dimensions, and through metaphors, icons and heroes which carry meaning in the classroom.

He's kindly made his slides available on Slideshare:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Podcasting is Dead. Long Live Video!

Bioscience Education E-Journal 10 (2007)

Podcasting (an automatic mechanism whereby multimedia computer files are transferred from a server to a client, is becoming increasingly popular in education. Although podcasts enable students and teachers to share information anywhere at anytime, the most frequent application of the technology to date has been to allow students to download audio recordings of lessons or lectures. Over the last two years, I have conducted trials of podcasting involving two campus-based undergraduate courses on which I teach. Working with two cohorts consisting of 150 first year and 90 second year biological sciences students, I delivered weekly learning support materials to these groups of students. These podcasts were intended to support learning on these courses and did not directly replace lectures. They were most definitely not recordings of previous lectures. Rather, the podcasts were intended to give feedback on students performance on the previous weeks assessment, pointing out areas where many students had struggled and suggesting strategies for improving future performance. However, both quantitative and qualitative analysis of the use of audio podcasts on these modules collected via download statistics, module questionnaires and focus groups clearly showed that these were not popular with students. These audio files generated an average 0.30 downloads per student per file. Direct file downloads (generated by students clicking on hyperlinks) accounted for more than twice as many file accesses as subscriptions to the podcast RSS feed. The main reasons cited for not listening were that students said they "didn't feel the need" or there was "not enough time". Technical issues and unfamiliarity with podcasting were also cited by a minority of students as significant barriers to uptake. Most strikingly, the students also regarded podcasting as "entertainment" or "not relevant" to academic study. The idea that all new undergraduates are an enthusiastic part of the Web 2.0 generation is clearly optimistic.

Although I was disappointed with the response to my audio podcasts, I was relieved to find out that I am not alone. A recent white paper from Carnegie Mellon University on podcasting corroborates these findings (Deal, 2007). Students do not listen to all the podcasts provided even when given the opportunity to subscribe to an RSS feed (Cann, 2006) and they do not view the podcasts as a replacement for lectures, although some do see them as helpful as additional support materials. In classes where the podcast replaces the lecture (and the time is devoted to practical study and labwork) they resent the extra time needed to listen. The paper concludes that "podcasting does not contain any inherent value and is only valuable inasmuch as it helps the instructor and students reach their educational goals". Although students are enthusiastic about academic staff providing podcasts, particularly as replacements for missed lectures, the actual take-up of audio files is low (Guertin et al, 2007).

Not easily put off by a little setback, I abandoned my podcast learning support model in favour of direct access to short online videos in the style of YouTube ( These were delivered via on institutional VLE without the option to subscribe via RSS, since this choice had previously been rejected by the students. The videos ranged in length from three to five minutes and consisted of a short "talking head" introduction, screencasts (digital recording of computer screen output with audio narration), and occasional interventions by a puppet character with helpful tips. Samples of the material produced can be seen at


Figure 1: Screen captures of videos described in the text. Online samples of the material produced can be seen at

In stark contrast to the audio podcasts, the video format generated an average 1.75 downloads per student per video, over five times the response rate from the same cohort to the audio files provided the previous semester. Focus group comments supported the positive reception for the video format in comparison to the audio podcasts. 9/12 (75%) of students had watched one or more of the videos (c.f. 9% for the podcasts). 11/12 (92%) had watched an online video clip previously, implying that familiarity with this format as well as direct "click and watch" access was responsible for much of the increased uptake. Other comments from the students included "Much better than the podcasts" and "I prefer the videos to your lectures".

A further trial of the video format was carried out on a cohort of 90 second year students to support a set of statistics assessments. The format was the same as for the first year cohort but without the puppet character. This group responded with an average of 0.92 downloads per student per video, nearly three times above the response rate to the audio podcasts.

Widespread use of online video learning objects has implications in terms of staff resources and training. Traditional HE audiovisual departments are not ideally placed to produce this type of learning material. Although seemingly effortless, the production of successful online videos is a highly-skilled process, requiring an understanding of user psychology and behavior, which is quite different from that of television viewing. The following brief taxonomy of online video (Table 1) is derived from Rocketboom, the most successful video podcast (Rocketboom, 2007).

Table 1: Video Format, Viewing Platform, Users Psychology and Best Practice

Viewing platform Best format for viewing Acceptable duration of video
Mobile devices, tiny screen Short format, viewer close to screen in active mode. File size, length and surrounding environment may be a serious issue to access and viewing < 5 min
Computer monitor, medium screen Short-medium format, viewer fairly close to screen, sitting vertically in active mode (wanting to click, short attention span) < 10 min
Television, medium-large screen Medium-long format, viewer further from screen in passive mode. Usually more comfortable posture < 1 hour
Cinema, large screen Long format, viewer far from screen in passive mode: “entertain me” < 3 hours

The puppet character ("Sockie") was included as an experiment to break up any repetitive pattern of "talking head" followed by screencast which the videos followed. Since viewers of online videos are in active mode (Table 1), with mouse in hand and ready to click, the puppet was used as a deliberate attempt to create some novelty and originality in what might otherwise seem an all too familiar format. The puppet appeared in at different points in the videos and sometimes not at all. Moreover, to allow comparisons, the puppet was used in the videos for the first year cohort but not in the videos for the second year group. I had some concerns that the use of a puppet might be viewed by students as condescending, but the limited use of this device does not seem to have generated this response as judged by comments on feedback questionnaires:

  • I quite liked the puppet, made me laugh.
  • The videos were fun especially the sock bunny.
  • Socky is annoying!
  • Name up to three ways in which this module could be improved: Kill Sockie! LOL
Even if student's opinions were divided, the puppet device seems to have achieved the intended outcome of maintaining student's attention to the videos. Moreover, the take-up of the videos containing the puppet (1.75 downloads per student per video) was higher that the take-up from the cohort where the puppet was not used (0.92 downloads per student per video), indicating that the puppet did not have a detrimental effect on viewing and may also have contributed to the strong preference for the video format over the audio podcasts.

The widespread availability of broadband services makes it highly feasible to distribute short video clips online. The most obvious manifestation of this potential is the rapid growth in popularity of YouTube and many similar services. YouTube has achieved a high public profile and has shown both the appetite for this medium and the fact that the majority of internet users can access the service (Hitwise Intelligence, 2006). A recent report indicates that YouTube looks set to overtake in share of UK visits within a matter of weeks (Hitwise Intelligence, 2007). Although the penetration of this technology into the student demographic is very high, teachers and academic staff are lagging seriously behind in the take-up of this new form of communication. Online video has a high acceptability to young learners. YouTube alone has almost 20 million visitors each month, with around 44% female, 56% male, and the 12- to 17-year-old age group most dominant (Nielsen/Netratings, 2006). In addition to ongoing investment by educational institutions, online video provides enormous flexibility to learners via computers, game consoles and mobile devices such as phones and video players.

Audio podcasting and the RSS subscription model in particular is severely limited in its acceptability and hence its utility to many student consumers, whereas short YouTube style videos have very broad acceptance and offer a much richer format for instruction. Long live video!


Cann, A.J. (2006) Really Simple Syndication. Teaching Bioscience Enhancing Learning Series Effective Use of Technology in the Teaching of Bioscience UK Higher Education Academy Centre for Bioscience.

Deal, A. (2007) Teaching with Technology White Paper: Podcasting, Educause CONNECT

Guertin, L., Bodek, M.J., Zappe, S.E. and Kim, H. (2007) Questioning the Student Use of and Desire for Lecture Podcasts. (2007) MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 3 (2): 133-141.

Rocketboom, 22 March 2007.

Hitwise Intelligence (2006) YouTube Takes 2 in 3 UK Visits to Video Sharing. Hitwise Intelligence Analyst Weblog, September 20, 2006.

Hitwise Intelligence (2007) YouTube to Overtake BBC in UK Visits. Hitwise Intelligence Analyst Weblog, June 20, 2007.

Nielsen (2006) YouTube U.S. Web Traffic Grows 75 Percent Week Over Week. Nielsen/Netratings, July 21, 2006.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More on CourseFeed

CourseFeed Logo Tony responded to my original post on the Facebook CourseFeed application with his own thoughts on invading student's social spaces, and provided an interesting link.

I've been doing some more digging into CourseFeed application and now find it holed beneath the waterline for my purposes. I'm intending to use the Learning Objects CampusPack Blackboard plugin (and very good it is too) for my upcoming course. Unfortunately, the CourseFeed application does not pick up content from the blogs and wikis that the Learning Objects add-on provides, only the static content on a Blackboard course (repeat after me: "Blackboard is not a filing cabinet"). The blogs and the wiki are where the learning (synthesis in Bloom's taxonomy) are going to occur, not the PowerPoint presentations (knowledge in Bloom's taxonomy):
Blooms Taxonomy

BUT: Even if CourseFeed were to work with the Learning Objects plugin, I'm still not sure I'd use it, as I fail to be convinced that we should be invading Facebook. What I would like to do is to make students (who are already Facebook users) aware of the possibility of using CourseFeed. This is because the application provides another breakout from the Blackboard monolith, so that I can follow a "loosely coupled teaching" approach to my planned course, and still use the strengths of Blackboard (authentication, monitoring student progress and convenience), while encouraging students to create, own and maintain a sustainable PLE. In that regard, the CourseFeed application is not half as useful as the exportable RSS feed that the Learning Objects plugin provides.

CourseFeed only reports the static content on my Blackboard course, so I'm not going to point it out to students at all, because that's not what I want this group of students concentrating on. If they find it themselves, I'll congratulate myself on a job well done in enabling them to build their PLEs.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Speedlinking 241107 logo Viral videos get ugly
Read the comments after the post.

Why use Twitter
Today is my twitterversary! One year of meaningless drivel flowing from my keyboard and phone. I still count it as time well-spent.

The Pros and Cons of Loosely Coupled Teaching
Examples of courses run on "loosely coupled technologies" - outside of a CMS using contemporary web 2.0 tools and methods.

Amazon Kindle
This isn't a device, it's a service.

How personal should a blog be?
I should tell my friends about that.

Friday, November 23, 2007

I'm confused about CourseFeed

CourseFeed Logo Knowing how the readers of this blog feel about Blackboard (I'm looking at you Martin), I have to admit that I'm a bit confused about the Facebook CourseFeed application, which seemingly (I need to play with it a bit more), lets you access all your Blackboard (and Moodle?) courses thought Facebook - without ever logging onto the VLE.

CourseFeed Screenshot

On the one hand, this seems like a potentially good idea (e.g. for those banging on about walled gardens), but on the other, as I was ranting to GrĂ¡inne this morning,
Facebook is another matter, but I can’t see much educational value there anyway (beyond marketing) - for God’s sake leave students some social spaces without trying to stalk them and shove learning down their throats!

Exploring online research methods

Exploring online research methods It's always galling when you stumble by accident across great work being done by a group of your colleagues that you weren't previously aware of, especially when they all work within 100 yards of you.
I've just come back from a great talk about the Exploring Online Research Methods project. The website (all OER) has a vast amount of information and the project is expanding now via a blog and social network. The new content which is coming soon (e.g. use of blogs as research tools) also sounds fascinating, so keep your eye on the website.
I wish I'd known about this site earlier!

Visit Online Research Methods

The I.T. crowd is scared

The IT Crowd There's something in the air:

Open University mailboxes are overflowing (when the system works)

Stuart Lee describes "The hidden dangers of Web 2.0"

David Hobson, Managing Director of UK-based security company GSS has banned social sites during office hours

and Niall Sclater, Director of the OU VLE Programme, comes to blows with Tony Hirst at the CETIS Conference.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lo, the Saviour Cometh

Ian Holloway

HEFCE bean counting

Dump the RAE The Higher Education Funding Council for England has launched a consultation on proposals for overhauling the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The proposed Research Excellence Framework will make more extensive use of quantitative indicators - particularly in the science-based disciplines - in comparison to the current system. It will ensure that future research funding allocations are based on rigorous assessment of quality, while offering reductions in cost and burden.

  • For science-based disciplines, a new bibliometric indicator of research quality is proposed, based on the extent to which research papers are cited by other publications. This new indicator will be combined with research income and research student data, to drive the allocation of HEFCE research funding in these disciplines.
  • For the arts, humanities and social sciences (where quantitative approaches are less developed) we will develop a light touch form of peer review, though we are not consulting on this aspect at this stage.

Umm, hooray ???

Pageflakes Video

Watch the video

Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work

Problems Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert-novice differences, and cognitive load. Although unguided or minimally guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half-century that consistently indicate that minimally guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide internal guidance. Recent developments in instructional research and instructional design models that support guidance during instruction are briefly described.

Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist 2006 41: 75-86

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Eye Candy

Creative Commons Logo The internet is primarily a visual medium. We may spend most of the day reading text, but we consume it with our eyes - YouTube, Second Life, Miniclip, email. I've always placed great importance of the visual appearance of documents, hence there's a visual image to break up the monotony of the text, lift the reader and engage the visual centres of the cortex in almost every post I write (and you thought they were just eye candy).

Almost without exception, these images come from the vast store published under Creative Commons licences on Flickr, which is why an article just published in Wired gave me that sinking feeling. Flickr provides the flexibility for users to switch photos back and forth - without limitation - between CC licenses and "all rights reserved" copyrights. So all those images I've used, entirely legally, over the years could suddenly become illegal if the users decided to switch the licence terms. Except that they don't. CC licences are irrevocable, so I'm in the clear.
You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation, be they verbatim copies, copies included in collective works and/or adaptations of your work.
But how could I prove it? The only solution is to use a service such as the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine or WebCite to record Flickr page CC licence at the time of publication. (I hadn't come across WebCite before and it looks interesting, especially the bookmarklet.) But that's a heck of an overhead for each blog post I write, and I'm not sure it's achievable. My gut feeling is that the only practical solution for blog posts is to carry on as before and pull images if challenged, but that's probably not the solution for other types of online document.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can kids teach themselves?

Sugata Mitra discusses the Hole in the Wall project in India, which suggests that kids, without education or instruction, can figure out how to use a PC on their own - and then teach other kids, if they're motivated by curiosity and peer interest. Video:

Play Video

Sorry for the poor sound quality.

If you build it they will come - not!

If you build it they will come I've been enjoying Martin Belam's series on How accessible are Britain's online newspapers, but the story on his site which really caught my attention was Why my Doctor Who blog failed. In series of six posts, Martin describes his attempt to storm the blogosphere. There's a lesson here for all bloggers, but more than that, the saga made me think about OER development...

Monday, November 19, 2007

This weeks meme

Twitter shirt Last week's meme was reading ease scores (which now seems to be cropping up all over the blogosphere).
I predict that Brian Kelly just started this week's meme: the history of the web backwards, so here's my contribution:

The History of Presence Backwards

In 2007, the constant intrusion of "presence" into people's lives finally became unbearable. Psychologists denounced the harm caused by continuous partial attention, and the web giants of old began to stir into action.

The ancient search giant Google divested itself of Jaiku, and in March 2006, social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter closed down. This was a sign of the times, but further revolts against the constant flow of information from online contacts did not begin until the disinvention of Jabber in 2000, and finally the end of ICQ in 1996.

When they could see the benefits of not being constantly interrupted, computer users began to abandon email en masse, and the last email message was sent in 1965. Finally, computer users could go about their business uninterrupted.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Speedlinking 171107 logo IM = Interruption Management?
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 2.

Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.

Facebook Privacy Default
Privacy is not just about information. It's all about the defaults.

Who was that masked man? The cellphone vigilante
I want one of these (hint, Christmas is coming!)

Fine-tune your blogging personality
Your blogging voice is your most valuable asset. Maintain authority, but write conversationally.

On the verge

Chumby I feel like we're on the verge of technology evolving (Also Sprach Zarathustra plays in the background, early hominid throws bone in the air).

First the iPod Touch (no, not the iPhone, which is a backwards looking distraction to old technology).

Then the RM Asus miniBook.

Google bidding in the FCC 700 MHz auction (WiMAX = gMAX?).

Now the Chumby.

Something is about to evolve.

Friday, November 16, 2007

How much information is enough?

Short fiction Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox discusses
Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy.

Information Foraging Theory assumes that people are ecologically rational, and that human information-seeking mechanisms and strategies adapt the structure of the information environments in which they operate. Nielsen discusses cost/benefit metrics for online reading. Cost is easy to model: the time it takes to read an article. Benefit is more nebulous and depends on the content. Nielsen states:
The conclusion is clear: people prefer to read short articles
which is ironic, considering only a few months ago he was banging on about how microchunking content via blog post-style articles may have a negative effect on the writer's reputation. Fortunately, he then goes on to contradict himself. This wouldn't be a subtle strategy to get people to shell out for your training programme (which you kindly link to at the end of the post), would it Jakob?

Friday Funny

Hex codes

Sorry this is geeky!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Chocolate Chilli Muffins

Chillis 100g milk chocolate
10g fresh red chillis
200g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
110g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
100 mL sunflower oil
225 mL milk
5 mL vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200°C.
Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.
Grate the milk chocolate, finely dice chillis.
Mix dry ingredients.
Beat eggs, sunflower oil, vanilla extract, milk and add to dry ingredients.
Spoon into paper cases and bake for approximately 20 minutes.

Fast Guy in Tights


Email Disclaimer


If, like me, you are a little bemused at the sudden imposition of a disclaimer notice attached to all outgoing emails from UCT, you may enjoy this. It is also a very simple procedure to replace the real one with this one - if you want to...


UNIVERSITY OF CAPE TOWN This e-mail is supposedly subject to the UCT ICT policies and e-mail disclaimer published on the website at or obtainable from +27 21 650 4500. This e-mail is intended only for the person(s) to whom it is addressed. If the e-mail has reached you in error, please smack yourself repeatedly, repeat “I am bad” twenty times, and sit in the corner for an hour. If you are not the intended recipient of the e-mail you may not use, disclose, copy, redirect or print the content, make fun of it, print it out and use as toilet paper, or otherwise debase its intellectual content or lack thereof. If, as is highly likely, this e-mail is not related to the business of UCT, it is sent by the sender in the sender's individual capacity, and remains their inalienable personal property in perpetuity. Or until GroupWise breaks down. Again.

How Ironic

RSS Icon from: AJ Cann 09:08 (0 minutes ago)
date: 15 Nov 2007 09:08
subject: How Ironic

How ironic that the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication website ( does not have an RSS feed!

AJ Cann, Leicester, UK.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Blackboard Fun Fact for the Day

Fun? The University of Leicester is the first institution with more than 1,000 Blackboard Scholar users!

Will the fun never end?

Proof if proof be needed

Following up my post yesterday, Putting on the style: How bloggers write, Martin Weller has carried on where I left off and suggested that blogs are easier to read than formal publications. He compared blog writing and formally peer-reviewed papers for three authors, generating Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores with FLESH:

AuthorBlog Reading EasePaper reading ease

AuthorBlog Reading levelPaper reading level

From these numbers, it certainly looks as if there is a difference, but what about formal proof? I analyzed these numbers using SPSS v13. The Shapiro-Wilk test suggests that these values can be treated as normally distributed, so I ran a two-way ANOVA test which showed that there is a statistically significant difference between the reading ease and readling level scores for blog writing and formal peer-reviewed papers (F(11,11) = 0.0, p <0.05).
  • How complex or original are the ideas expressed?
  • Is the content in a logical order?
  • Is there is any gender, class or cultural bias?
  • Is the design and layout attractive or distracting - do any graphics help understanding (e.g. graphs)?
  • Is the content and subject matter interesting and engaging to the reader?
  • Who is the reader and do they have sufficient background information to appreciate the information presented?
In other words, readability tests are a dead end which do not tell you how readers will interact with a piece of writing.
Oh well, it was good while it lasted :-)

Writing for friends and family: The interpersonal nature of blogs. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 7.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

He's back!

At a time when America needs a hero, just such a man steps up to the plate. It's the second week of the American screenwriters strike, and the world's best videoblogger, zefrank, is back:

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Putting on the style: How bloggers write

You know how it is. It's 3am when your eyelids clang open and you know instantly you've got absolutely no chance of getting back to sleep. So you get up, make a cup of tea and fire up the computer.

Pretty soon you've checked your email and you're reading your RSS feeds and then it hits you, the most cunning plan that ever won first prize for cunning in an international cunning competition.

You can use FLESH to analyze the writing styles of a sample of your favourite edubloggers. All you need to do is take a sample of first 1000 words each published on their blog in the month of October 2007 (text only, no blog hardware or comments), run it through FLESH to calculate the Flesch Reading Ease Score and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, quick bit of statistical analysis and bung it off to a journal.

Tea finished, back to bed and sleep peacefully. But when you wake up in the morning, the cunning plan doesn't seem so ... cunning.

Author Fleisch Reading Ease Fleisch-Kincaid Grade Level

The Flesch Reading Ease formula uses only two variables, the number of syllables and the number of sentences for each 100-word sample:

It predicts reading ease on a scale from 1 to 100, with 30 being "very difficult" and 70 being "easy." Flesch wrote that a score of 100 indicates reading matter understood by readers who have completed the fourth grade and are, in the language of the U.S. Census barely "functionally literate." Flesch compared the reading scores of popular magazines with other variables:
Flesch Reading Ease

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is an index that gives the years of (U.S.) education required to comprehend a document. For example, a document with a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 10 would require that a reader have about 10 years (or a 10th grade level) of education to comprehend the document. It can be calculated using the equation:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

Something funny with Cann1 - no matter how many times I check it, FLESH always gives a weird result for that sample. As for the rest of it - what do the numbers mean? No idea. I suppose that edubloggers writing styles (on this rather small sample) are somewhere between "easy" and "very difficult". The scores are roughly normally distributed. There's a negative correlation between the Reading Ease scores and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level but it's not statistically significant.

So you sigh, decide against the idea of trying to stretch it out for a journal article and think, sod it, I'll just blog it.

Update: Thanks to Tony for sending me this additional link. This site in particular seems to confirm the opinion I've formed over the past 24 hours that readability indices are oversimplified nonsense.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Blogging is a forest

forest Tom Haskins says blogging looks like a forest.

So if a blogger falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Creating interaction in online learning

Online Your homework for today. Compare and contrast at least two of the following: