Monday, July 30, 2007


Thanks to Brian for pointing me at Zentation:
Zentation provides a way to synchronize video uploaded to Google Video with PowerPoint slides. Zentation's patent pending technology allows for the easy synchronization of your video and graphics without any technical knowledge:
  • Upload your video to Google Video.
  • Log into Zentation and "Add a New Presentation."
  • In the form, copy and paste the URL of your Google video.
  • Upload your PowerPoint file.
  • Use the ZenSync™ tool to provide precise start timings for each graphic in the presentation.
What old people do for fun
A comical how-to-guide for drivers

Podcasters - who they are, how and why they do it

Podcast formats Earlier this year I took part in a survey of podcasters run by Gerald Riechmann and Dennis Mocigemba. The results have just been published. So what have we learned?
  • That the survey is not representative of the podosphere (changing too fast, population is unknown, random sampling not possible)
  • Most podcasters work full time
  • Most podcasters have some experience of higher education
  • Almost every podcast comes with a blog

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

A Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: it is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random and more predictable than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. Humans are hard-wired not to truly estimate risk, too vulnerable to the impulse to simplify, narrate, and categorize and not open enough to rewarding those who can imagine the 'impossible', such as emerging technologies.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Desktop RSS Readers Are (Nearly) Dead

Logo A poll on Read/WriteWeb indicates people are migrating from desktop to browser-based RSS Readers. Web-based Readers are up 7% and desktop Readers are down 6%, start pages (e.g. iGoogle, MyYahoo, Pageflakes, Netvibes, etc) have overtaken desktop readers:
July 2007
January 2007
Web-based (e.g. Bloglines, Google Reader, Rojo):
+ 7%
Desktop (e.g. FeedDemon, NetNewsWire):
- 6%
Start Page (Pageflakes, Netvibes, etc):
14% (+ 2%)
no change
Browser (e.g. Firefox Live Bookmarks):
- 2%
Email or email-based client (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird):
no change
Social Network (Facebook, MySpace, etc):

Courses as games

Considering courses as games has a lot to offer, particularly in terms of "gameplay" and player reward schedules...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Google 1, Librarians 0

A report from the Research Information Network (set up in 2005 with £3 million of funding by a consortium of the four UK Higher Education funding bodies, the three National Libraries and the seven Research Councils) shows that researchers use Google in preference to other services.
One of the implications of Google (and web search engines in general, though in practice Google is the one most commonly used) already being experienced by libraries is that Google uncovers things that users cannot easily access, and librarians are increasingly asked to help in retrieving the object from webspace. This is not usually easy, takes time and is resource-intensive. It may be an interesting challenge for librarians, and perhaps even welcome so long as the volume of requests is manageable; but the future will bring more and more of this.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New technologies for teaching organic chemistry

At the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago Jean-Claude Bradley gave a talk on using blogs and wikis to teach organic chemistry. In his talk and the online versions, he describes the evolution of his teaching practices over the past few years, involving blogs, wikis, podcasting, vodcasting, games and class workshops. The summary of his experience is:
  • Use blogs for creating podcasts or for storing static sequential content (transcripts)
  • Use wikis to organize content and to interact with students on assignments
  • Use multiple channels to deliver content and assess learning
  • These technologies are simple, free and hosted
but this doesn't do the presentation justice, so watch it for yourself:

Inspiring Academics

HEA logo Professor Paul Ramsden, Chief Executive of the UK Higher Rducation Academy, gave a keynote address (pdf) "Inspiring Tomorrow's Students" at this year's HEA conference. Although the title of his talk concentrated on students, he also said:

To enthuse students, we must also enthuse those who make learning possible ... In inspiring academics, some basic principles apply. First, to use evidence about effective leadership and management for good teaching. What motivates academics to teach well? The practices of heads of departments and deans of faculties are critical to the development of a collegial commitment to enhancing student learning and to a culture of quality in teaching. In higher education, a shared commitment to enhancing student learning is linked to individual approaches to teaching: it implies a greater focus on changing students understanding than on delivery. We have evidence of a direct connection between the ways academics approach their teaching and the quality of their students learning. Inspired academics inspire their students to greater things ... Recognition and reward, at local and national levels, is crucial. Schemes that link teaching excellence to promotions and appointments in HEIs are more advanced than they used to be, but they must be sponsored by heads of department and deans if they are to be credible and succeed in removing the persistent perception that "research counts here... teaching doesn't" ... To this I might add recognising that institutions, like individual academics, are not all equal. Nothing dulls the academic imagination more than specious appeals to equivalence and the imposition of a dumbed-down, anti-competitive ideology.

So how does your institution reward you for teaching?

Blogging the floods

flood Following the vast online response to the disaster that hurricane Katrina caused in New Orleans, I was thinking about what UK bloggers could do to help those affected by the recent UK floods. Tony Hirst was thinking the same thing and came up with a Google Maps response to water bowser locations in Gloucestershire. Nice work Tony.

I'm still wondering though, what could web 2.0 technologies do in times of national emergency like these?

Monday, July 23, 2007

I have a dirty secret

Mail on Sunday Last week while I was on holiday in Dorset, I went to some trouble to buy a copy of the Mail on Sunday. Obviously, buying a copy of this execrable rag is not something I am proud of, and not an experience I ever intend to repeat. Although Dorset has not suffered the flooding that other parts of the UK have, we had out fair share of rain last week and I can at least recommend the Mail on Sunday for its absorbent properties if you are ever faced with as many wet hiking boots and waterproofs as we were.
Apart from my own shame, I also faced the scorn of my wife (for buying this right wing scandal sheet), and of my kids (for wanting a CD by the artist formerly currently known as Prince). Because, of course, the only reason for me to buy a copy of the Mail on Sunday is to try get the failing music industry to WAKE UP.
The Mail on Sunday is reported to have raised its circulation by a third (from 2.2 million copies to 2.8 million) by paying Prince half a million pounds to include his new CD, Planet Earth, with the paper (Prince nearly pips Princess). Prince shifts nearly 3 million copies of his new album. So what have we learned?
  • That the music industry is currently paralyzed in the headlights of the oncoming download trainwreck
  • That the general public still believe that music should be "free"
  • That Prince's new single "Guitar" isn't too bad, the rest of the album is mediocre, and I'm glad I didn't go out and buy the CD (lots on eBay for 99p if you want one)
And what about education? Who pays for that?

July 2007 snapshot of UK HE SL

eduForge UK Higher and Further Education in Second Life - Eduserv Report.
This report summarises an investigation into the use and uptake of Second Life (SL) by UK Higher and Further Education. The research, carried out in the period up until July 2007, had four main goals:

  • to determine the "state of play" of SL developments within the Higher and Further Education sector
  • to discover how these developments are supported, in terms of time, funding and other resources
  • to explore the functionality of these developments, i.e. which types of media or interactive service they incorporate
  • to establish how "busy", or well-used, the developments have been and discover any impacts resulting from their implementation and use

July 2007 "snapshot" of UK Higher and Further Education Developments in Second Life [PDF].

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tour de France mashups

Tour de France Le Tour has still not broken out of last century, so no RSS feeds from the cheese eating pedal monkeys. Hence, for your edification and entertainment, SOTI proudly presents:

The 2007 Tour de France Mashups

BBC Sport Cycling: RSS
Google News: RSS
Phil Liggett: RSS
YouTube: RSS
Google Earth: Tour de France 2007.kmz
Flickr: RSS
EDUCAUSE Review 42, 4 (July/August 2007) 12–25:
A remix is the reworking or adaptation of an existing work. The remix may be subtle, or it may completely redefine how the work comes across. It may add elements from other works, but generally efforts are focused on creating an alternate version of the original. A mashup involves the combination of two or more works that may be very different from one another.

Here are my rather obvious attempts:

Created with Paul's flickrSLiDR.

Dapper Flash Widget:
Add to your site powered by Dapper

I'm sure you can do better than this! Heck, you could even run your own Tour in Second Life!

Summer Reading

Ever since I was a kid, my ultimate horror is being stuck somewhere without anything to read, so with my holiday coming up, I've been thinking about my summer reading for a while. Like most bloggers I am reading more then ever, but most of the words are online and I rarely read books these days - except during holidays, which are a chance both to catch up on some technical reading, and to read some stuff I enjoy. That's my excuse why this list is not quite as sad as it first appears!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lijit Search Wijit

Lijit Lijit is a "socially aware" search engine:

When your readers search for information in real life, their first step is to typically seek out a friend for the answer. If their friend doesn’t have the answer they need, someone in that friend’s social network may. Eventually, they get an answer they trust, because it came from a source they trust. Your readers can now have that same experience on the web and it all starts with the source they trust. That source is you, the blog publisher.

Lijit allows you to easily create your own search engine, which searches your blog, bookmarks, photos, blogroll, and more. By offering the Lijit Search Wijit on your blog, readers can search all of you. In turn, Lijit gives you detailed statistics about those searches, so you can better understand and serve your reader community.

Update: The Google strikes back

Dump the RAE

Dump the RAE Martin Weller and Juliette White have been discussing the frustrations of the RAE for bloggers.
The RAE system has done nothing but damage and distort higher education and much original research in the UK (and waste huge sums of public money) ever since it was introduced:
The RAE has had a disastrous impact on the UK higher education system, leading to the closure of departments with strong research profiles and healthy student recruitment. It has been responsible for job losses, discriminatory practices, widespread demoralisation of staff, the narrowing of research opportunities through the over-concentration of funding and the undermining of the relationship between teaching and research (source).

But in the biological and medical sciences field at least, the progress towards open access publishing has been staggering over the last year. Recently there have been further developments such as Nature Preceedings, although this lacks the gold standard of scientific research, peer review. PLoS One does a much better job by incorporating community-based open peer review involving online annotation, discussion, and rating.

Perhaps the answer to RAE is to develop a system of peer review for bloggers. Technorati or the Google algorithms don't fully address this need, and PLoS One is based on the traditional academic paper structure for submissions rather than blogging architechture. Digg and other content voting systems are open to too much gaming (although no worse than the way universities currently gameplay the RAE system) and are not transparent.

So who's going to build PLoS One for academic bloggers?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How long is yours?

Nielsen/NetRatings Nielsen/NetRatings has moved it's website popularity rankings from the longtime industry yardstick of page views to begin tracking how long visitors spend on web sites (pdf).
Nielsen will start reporting total time spent and sessions for all visitors to give advertisers, investors and analysts a broader picture of which sites are most popular. The change is due to the widespread use of Ajax widgets which allow sites to update data continuous without users needing to pull up new pages, but in particular to the length of time web users spend watching videos on sites such as YouTube.
In the new rankings, AOL gets a big boost, largely because time spent on its instant-messaging software now gets counted. AOL ranks now first in the United States with 25 billion minutes based on May data, ahead of Yahoo's 20 billion. By page views, AOL would have been sixth. Google, meanwhile, drops to fifth in time spent, primarily because its search engine is focused on giving visitors quick answers and links for going elsewhere. By page views, Google ranks third.

So how long is yours? Sadly, Google Analytics tells me that mine is rather short ...

The Wisdom of Crowds

In 1906, Francis Galton, known for his work on statistics and heredity, came across a weight-judging contest at the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition. This encounter was to challenge the foundations of his life's study. An ox was on display and for six-pence fair-goers could buy a stamped and numbered ticket, fill in their names and their guesses of the animal's weight after it had been slaughtered and dressed. The best guess received a prize. Eight hundred people tried their luck. They were diverse. Many had no knowledge of livestock; others were butchers and farmers. In Galton's mind this was a perfect analogy for democracy. He wanted to prove the average voter was capable of very little. Yet to his surprise, when he averaged the guesses, the total came to 1197 pounds. After the ox had been slaughtered, it weighted 1198. James Surowiecki takes Galton's counterintuitive notion and explores its ramification for business, government, science and the economy. It is a book about the world as it is. At the same time, it is a book about the world as it might be. Most of us believe that valuable nuggets of knowledge are concentrated in few minds. We believe the solution to our complex problems lies in finding the right person. Maybe all we have to do, Surowiecki demonstrates, is ask the gathered crowd.


A comment on yesterday's post about Facebook led me to this page on Google's PigeonRank system.

Seems that I'm not the only fan of B.F. Skinner :-)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Don't blog

Jakob Nielsen says Jakob Nielsen. Web 2.0-sceptic Nielsen is well known for his comments about RSS, blogs, etc. His most recent web article suggests that microchunking content via blog post-style articles may have a negative effect on the writer's reputation. Instead, authors should invest their time in "thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers". He also says:
The beauty of the blogosphere is that it's a self-organizing system. Whenever something good appears, other blogs link to it and it gets promoted in the system and gains higher visibility. Thus, the 24 postings that are better than our expert's very best attempt will gain higher prominence, even though they're written by people with lower overall expertise.
Well, that's the theory Jakob, but any experienced blogger will tell you that's not actually how it works in practice. Some excellent content lags in relative obscurity while trivial chatter from A list bloggers attracts tons of links.
Nielsen takes a confrontational viewpoint, discussing strategies for "beating the internet". It makes me genuinely sad when Nielsen writes like this. I've been a fan of Alertbox for over a decade, but Nielsen's recent failure to "get" web 2.0, to embrace collaboration over competition through advances such as Creative Commons, open access publishing, etc, falls into the same trap as the declining music industry.
Not all bloggers are trying to flog products. Some of us are here to learn. Please stick to writing about usability Jakob - it's what you're good at.

Why Facebook is sticky

SpongeBob SquarePants Martin and Tony have both posted recently about the "stickyness" of Facebook and the potential importance of this affordance in education.

Tony correctly singles out your Facebook "friends" status as an important factor, and Martin just told me more than I need to know about his feelings towards SpongeBob SquarePants (on the other hand, knowledge is power, mwahahaha).

There's no mystery as to why Facebook is "sticky". What Facebook (and Twitter) users do is called "continuous partial attention", and it's due to the psychological principle of intermittent variable reward, one of the most powerful methods of operant conditioning:

Ferster, C.B. & Skinner, B.F. 1957 Schedules of reinforcement. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Zeiler, M.D. 1968 Fixed and variable schedules of response-independent reinforcement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 11, 405–414.

In the words of B.F. Skinner Bob Geldof, It's a rat trap baby, and you've been caught.

So the question is not what or why, but how do we use this affordance of Facebook for educational good, rather than evil? And what's the opposite of mwahahaha?

Academic blogging is Beaujolais Nouveau

Terry McAndrew Terry McAndrew has posted a thoughtful entry on Blogging for Bioscience on his institutional blog at Leeds.
I have been thinking a lot about how Blogging can contribute to advancing the cause of Bioscience teaching. My gut feeling is that it will enable an honest exchange of fresh ideas, which can be gently harvested into the basket far quicker than the formal publication route. Not so much rough-and-ready but fresh-and-ready. A sort of Beaujolais Nouveau to the McAllan or Glenlivet.
Read the rest of his article, but you won't be able to leave him a comment unless you work at Leeds because ELGG comments are closed to outsiders. Boo!

Win £100 in Amazon vouchers

HEA Centre for Bioscience The HEA Centre for Bioscience is in the process of revising their web content and structure. As part of this process, they are asking users to complete a short online survey. All completed surveys will go into a draw for £100 in vouchers.

I thought you might want to know :-)

Sunday, July 08, 2007




Jorum: very, very 1.0

I was recently offered a small bribe to use Jorum and write about it. Since I still haven't figured out the business model for Education 2.0, and since I'm a money grubbing hack, this immediately got my attention.

Jorum is: a free online repository service for teaching and support staff in UK Further and Higher Education Institutions, helping to build a community for the sharing, reuse and repurposing of learning and teaching materials (reusable learning objects, RLOs).

It turns out that Jorum is a closed service only available to staff in institutions who have registered for the service. So bang went my article about Jorum as RLO 2.0.

All the RLOs in Jorum can only be used in accordance with the Jorum User Licence. At first sight, the licence seems to be pretty close to a version of Creative Commons, but it set me wondering, why not just use an appropriate version of the Creative Commons licence?

And then I found all the flaws in the Jorum licence. Apart from the obvious of restricting access to registered users, it turns out that users may not:
display or distribute any part of the Jorum Material on any electronic network, including without limitation the Internet, and the World Wide Web, and any other distribution medium now in existence or hereinafter created, other than by a Secure Network.

It also turns out that all the Jorum RLOs are subject to takedown. Under these circumstances, users must:
make best efforts to suspend use of the alleged infringing item and withdraw from circulation any materials that include it

make best efforts to remove from the secure network all copies of the infringing item and all materials in which the object is reproduced.
Not web 2.0 at all, and not worth bothering with.

So I won't be using Jorum or writing about it.

Can I have my money now please? :-)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Journey by Starlight

Journey by Starlight I stumbled across Journey by Starlight via an AdSense ad on this blog. This is one of the best implemented science blogs I have seen, beyond straight science news type content. Although I personally don't like the black page background, I suppose it can be argued that it's appropriate to the subject matter.

No way to contact the author, Albert 2.0, who seems to be based in Dublin, so if you read this, kudos, and leave me a comment!

Physics teachers - point your students at this one!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A word of thanks to Microsoft

It's not very often (as Martin knows from my stinging rebuke!) that I have anything good to say about Microsloth. However, credit where credit's due, the MS spellchecker has come up for a more appropriate name for our institutional content management system, Plone:


If the cap fits ...

Social Networking in Plain English

Why microbiologists blog

Six microbiologists talk about why they blog, the role of blogging in science, feedback they've received, and the greatest microbiological discovery in the past decade. Filmed and produced by Chris Condayan and Garth Hogan for the American Society for Microbiology. Video:

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

iAm fed up

iPottie I'm probably the biggest Apple fanboy in this University, but now I'm fed up with the iPhone hype. It's not that they're not available outside the USA, it's because it's a phone. And I don't do phones.

Fortunately our fellow EU types have come to the rescue with a gallery of 19 iGadgets you can't buy anywhere (iBall, iSmell, etc).

My personal favourite? Number 18.

Journal of Visualized Experiments - why?

JoVE Following the post earlier this week about Bioscreencast, I was interested to read César Sánchez's views on JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments. The site is very nicely implemented ans there is some nice content, although it has to be said that there are a lot of talking heads where the video format adds little, but I am in agreement with César's doubts:

  • Is a majority of the scientific community willing to participate in such a transparency effort?
  • Why should you bother to record those experiments and submit the video to JoVE?
The creators of Bioscreencast and JoVE need scientists to spend large amounts of time producing watchable videos without getting any serious academic credit in return. Will they?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Google vs Michael Moore

Michael Moore I've never understood why Michael Moore gets most American's backs up as much as he does. Sure I know all the stories about how manipulative and opportunistic his films are. So what? That's just Hollywood.

Now Google has decided that he's bad for business.

In the words of one of my favourite movies (I'm allowed to say "movie" because I lived in L.A. for four years):

Helping Students Develop their Exam Essay Skills

Bioscience Education e-Journal You have 45 minutes, starting from now: Helping Students Develop their Exam Essay Skills
Chris Willmott, Department of Biochemistry, University of Leicester. Bioscience Education e-Journal Volume 9, 2007

Essay writing, particularly under the constraints of exam conditions, is an unnatural activity and one upon which contemporary undergraduates may never have received any formal advice. We have conducted these activities in the context of a stand-alone skills module, albeit with deliberate cross-reference to a concurrent genetics module. However, there is no reason why a series of three sessions on essay writing, as described here, could not be incorporated directly within a subject-specific unit.

The goal of Bioscreencast is to allow life scientists to capture how they use various software packages and websites for their research and productivity and share that with the community.

Interesting idea and there are some nice videos there, but if I was after a big audience, I'd put my video on YouTube.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Where did you find out?

Where did you find out about the Glasgow car bomb?

Euan found out on Twitter.

I found out on Digg (via Bloglines).

It's all on YouTube

YouTube One
I'm talking to a teenager about how they manage their addiction to The Simpsons now Murdoch has fallen out with Branson and Sky is no longer on Virgin. The kid shoots me the you're weird look, says I watch it on YouTube and walks away.

I'm talking to a different teenager about how to explain Dr Who to their [what's the 21st Century equivalent of pen-pal, MSN buddy?] who is German. I say It's on the BBC website, but I don't know if they'll be able to watch it from Germany. The kid shoots me the you're weird look, says YouTube, it's all on YouTube and walks away.