Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Crystal Balls

Crystal ball At this time of year wise pundits traditionally look back at the year just ending. Not being known for my wisdom, I'll look ahead at 2009. My prediction is that there will be good things and bad things. Some of the bad things will be:
  • Continued contraction of free services, possibly mitigated by more uptake of the freemium model - as exemplified recently by Wikispaces. It remains to be seen what this portends for the uptake of Web2.0 services in education as the tension between the cost savings of outsourcing and paranoia about service availability plays out.
  • Google has won - will it take up the slack when other services disappear or start charging? Big G will enter into more federations with other services - one of which will be Twitter (involving AdSense initially).
  • Yahoo, I don't care about, except as a counterbalance to keep Google honest, but I do care about Flickr and delicious. And I'm worried that the implosion of Yahoo (87% probability in 2009) will damage these services.
And the good news?
I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started.
Donald Rumsfeld

That said, I'm confident that the advance of open access publishing and open science will continue in 2009. Sadly, I'm equally confident that there will not be a scientific publishing revolution next year and that there is a long hard road ahead...
It's also a given that Twitter Will Go Mainstream In 2009. How will you know when this happens? Your organization posts Twitter Guidelines with Do’s & Don’ts on the corporate intranet.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Reading

Custom QR Codes

Custom QR CodeCustom QR Code
QR codes have 30% redundancy to allow some leeway for poor image capture, etc. This means that you can edit machine-generated QR codes to introduce additional information. (Note that this reduces error correction from the code, so keep these for "fun" projects and use bog-standard QR codes for anything which is mission critical).

How can I make my own custom codes?
I made three QR codes of the information using generators from Qurify, the University of Bath QR code generator and the Nokia QR code generator. Note that although similar, they are not the same:
3 QR Codes

Compare the different codes. Some parts of a QR code are sacrosanct, so leave these alone:
Anatomy of a QR Codes

After that, it's a process of trial and error with Photoshop to introduce the additional information you want into the redundant areas.

Have fun!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Tipping Point?

RNA Biology We are pleased to announce the RNA families track for RNA Biology. This track will provide a forum of short publications detailing the structure, function and sequence conservation for RNA families. We envisage two main types of publication in this track, these will consist of analyses of relatively unstudied RNA families or significant review style updates to relatively well studied families. There will be two extra requirements for publication in this track; Firstly the deposition of an alignment and secondary structure in Stockholm format and secondly the generation or update of a corresponding entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The first requirement will ensure a much needed archive of well curated sequence alignments and secondary structures for all researchers in the community. The second requirement is, as far as we are aware, a first for any scientific publication. The main reason we think this is a good idea is because a Wikipedia entry is usually among the top few hits from a Google search with a molecular biology keyword. Therefore, we would like to ensure that the RNA relevant information in Wikipedia is both reliable and current. We think that this track will provide an important mechanism by which time will be spent by experts to improve the record. In order to ensure this the Wikipedia update will be reviewed alongside the submitted article.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who'd A Thunk It?

David Wilson Library Q. What do you call a person who constantly bangs on about drinking coffee?

A. Prescient.

An overbearing "email culture" and a shortage of coffee rooms and areas where people can meet and chat hinder internal communications in universities. These are the findings of a sector-wide research project led by the University of Leicester, which also suggests that the views of vice-chancellors on internal communications strategies are often far removed from those of the people employed to oversee those strategies.

The study is based on a survey of 58 university leaders, 86 directors of communications and 75 directors of human resources. It found significant disparities between the views of different groups. Neither group felt there was enough social space to encourage interaction between staff, and about half said internal communications were under-resourced.

The University of Leicester just spent £32 million David Wilson Library, completed in April this year. The 15,000 sq metre Library includes a range of study spaces for 1500 readers, a million books supplemented by extensive digital databases and journals, and 350 PCs, along with a 500 seat lecture theatre, a bookshop and a cafe.

Whoah, hold up there - that's not just a cafe, that's the DWL cafe, better known as Small Worlds HQ. We've planned three grant applications in there in the last six months, and there's a serious case to be made that without the cafe, it might not have happened.

So next time, cut him some slack ;-)

RAE 2008

See: RAE 2008 In Pain English


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Son of Small Worlds

Small world networks Last week I posted a brief note saying that the Small Worlds experiment had failed, which generated a surprising number of comments. In addition to a debate about the difference between an experiment and a hypothesis, numerous people have asked me to discuss in more detail what happened with Small Worlds and what I plan to do about it.

What was Small Worlds?

Small Worlds was my first attempt to leverage the power of social networks for research scientists. It was also a reaction against the construction of purposed social networks which inevitably turn into inward-looking ghettos. The "big idea" behind Small Worlds was to foster and expand on existing network memberships in order to create small world networks, which rely on multiple tightly connected groups which are loosely connected to each other, are the most efficient design to maximize the transmission of information across a minimal number of connections. In the sciences, these subnets correspond to existing natural groupings which have the most in common, e.g. individual laboratories and academic departments. By linking these to groups with related interests, e.g. biologists with chemists, geologists with physicists, we attempted maximize the online interactions and the potential value of the groupings. The idea was always that Small Worlds would have the smallest possible footprint - no membership, no walled garden, no API.

Why did Small Worlds fail?

The failure of Small Worlds was inherent in the design and timing of the project. The intention was not to create a new social network as this is a doomed path - even though may be a source of funding at the present time. I've seen so much money wasted by JISC in the last year through funding of doomed ghettos. In some cases, these expensive handcrafted sites didn't even work properly, let alone have a chance of attracting a sustainable user base. However, in order to facilitate the uptake of connectivity we needed some sort of hub so that people could find each other and set up connections. Thus the Small Worlds site was born, and this also became a place to host training materials for remote participants. We considered a range of options for the Small Worlds hub, including various wikis, Friendfeed, Ning and a number of other solutions, but in the end we settled on WetPaint.

From the outset, this spelt trouble, and in our early face to face training and promotion sessions, we could see how eager people were to use the social functions built into WetPaint, treating the hub as a destination rather than a starting point for exploration (No Zombie Vampire Superpokes Please, We're Scientists). I agonized over whether to move the hub to a new service but eventually decided to try to fix the problem in situ (How to build an antisocial network). This attempt to fix the plumbing on the sinking ship inevitably failed and traffic on the Small World site dwindled as people arrived at the site and stuck like flies to fly paper. The one bright spot has been an emerging Twitter network which has attracted scientists from the UK, USA and Canada and is a potentially useful resource for future development, but is not in itself a sufficiently structured tool to form a teaching conduit.

How do you plan to fix it?

Small Worlds is not repairable as the failure of the project was inherent in its design. I'll say it again: purposed social networks are a dead end (even if you can get funding to build them). It is possible to argue that Facebook was originally a purposed social network, but the large scale success of Facebook did not start until it outgrew its origins at Harvard and became a global system. Zuckerberg was an infinite monkey, but that was then and this is now. Going head to head with Facebook or Google is heading in the wrong direction. The difference between arXiv, which has been very successful at changing the culture in math and physics, and the Nature Network, which has had little impact in life sciences despite considerable funding from NPG, tells us that much of this is simply a turf battle. arXiv was the primogenitor of purposed social networks, a novel concept which flourished. Nature Network is a me-too Facebook wannabe. It's not about funding, it's about social spaces already being claimed. Erecting new social spaces in competition with established trusted brands is doomed to failure.

Freytag Pyramid A few weeks ago I stumbled across the Freytag Pyramid, buried in Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre, which I found that via a tweet from Alan Levine. Being a mere scientist - not too familiar with Aristotle's Poetics - this was a new one on me. As I explored the pyramid metaphor, the thought that came into my head was about the contrast between traditional, didactic courses and the more post-modern, deconstructed efforts I was struggling to pull together at the moment - in particular, the differences between our "loosely-coupled" undergraduate PLE course and Small Worlds. The PLE course has a timetable, an episodic arrangement of assessments, and the denouement of a final mark - Pass or fail. Small Worlds had none of these. The anticipation was there, but the climax was missing, and that feels ... unsatisfying. Small Worlds died because it didn't have a narrative.

How do/should we put the narrative in a Web 2.0 community? How do we make it sticky? The solution would be to run Small Worlds as a course, perhaps something like a mini-Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Online Course or a laboratory scientist-focused Social Media Classroom. So how do you build such a course? We've learned much in running our undergraduate "purposed Web 2.0" course in the last three months, which has emphasized the investment of time and effort required that participants need to invest in order to start to reap the rewards of network membership. To achieve this commitment, the course needs to be structured to encourage and reward investment:
  • A pre-determined timetable generates community cohesion and anticipation.
  • Video mini-"lectures" provide richness and a feeling of personalization.
  • Most importantly of all, assessment provides the narrative drive that propels participants to the spaces they should occupy online. However, managing assessment for this sort of enterprise is not a straightforward task, as has been much discussed in the wake of the recent Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Online Course. My solution is that after an initial handshake with the course organizers, assessment is peer-driven, for example community-building exercises on social sites most relevant to the participants. For life scientists this might well be on Nature Network or any similar site, in addition to the standard Web 2.0 tools such as Google Reader, Twitter and delicious. For other disciplines, alternative communities can be substituted.
  • To reduce dropout, participants will enter into an explicit contract agreeing that their course will be terminated if they miss the deadline for three successive assessment tasks.
  • Final "examination": the climax, a reflective post on a community site considering how the participant's professional online identity is represented and served. This will be followed by "graduation" with some sort of certification of successful completion.
The exact syllabus will need to be decided, but will be determined by the length of the course. We have a lot of feedback from our undergraduate course in this respect, which strongly suggests a six week duration. Our data shows that four weeks is too short to generate the recursive patterns of activity needed to embed the value of investment in online networks, and ten weeks is too repetitive and too big a commitment for most.

This is a long way from how I originally envisaged Small Worlds, but without such scaffolding, the concept seems to have little value. The narrative provided by the course structure and anticipation of the final outcome is the eduglu required to bring the concept to life. What are the nuts and bolts? To be decided. I favour concentrating on building and testing the syllabus which can then be delivered by multiple routes. An "Instructor's Manual" will accompany a Drupal module, Blackboard cartridge and Moodle equivalent to allow the course to be distributed and run locally where needed. Not Invented Here syndrome being as prominent in HE as it is, local instructors need to feel ownership of the process as much as the participants do. This could be flavoured for different academic disciplines, e.g. life sciences, humanities, social science, etc. This would requires a developer with the necessary technical knowledge, and that requires funding.

Which is my next task.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I like these internets

Taken on my mobile Yesterday I blogged about Seesmic and wound up having a video conversation with Loic LeMuir. Today I blogged about Symbian and got feedback from one of the Symbian developers.
And all this from a series of tubes!
What will happen tomorrow, I wonder?

Forgive me Father for I have Symbian

QR codes There's an age-related digital divide, at least when it comes to mobile phones. Mobile usage declines sharply with age, and apparently, I'm old, at least in mobile phone years :-) I've always detested the telephone in all its guises (although not as much as I hated the FAX machine) but as part of our forthcoming QR code project, we've been talking to people who we would like to be involved about our ideas. At this point, the age divide kicks in again, and eyes quickly glaze over, so I figured that we needed to demonstrate the technology rather than just talk about it. QR codes only make sense in terms of mobile technologies, so while I wouldn't normally soil myself with any sort of telephony, I need to grok the hated Trumpet of Satan.

Nokia's Nseries multimedia smartphones all come with a QR code reader preinstalled, and while there are lots of students wandering around the UoL campus with Nseries phones (and iPhones), they are still prohibitively expensive for most, including me, so I wanted to test with a more realistic mid-market phone. I settled on the Nokia 6600 slide, a new model available on pay as you go contracts at mid-range prices. This phone is video-capable with a 3.2 megapixel camera and runs Symbian, the Nokia operating system.
Update: Oh no it doesn't! See comment from Bruce Carney below.

Although I don't derive any pleasure from owning a phone, the 6600s is unquestionably a beautiful object. It reminds me of Kubrick's 2001 monolith (I'm assuming it's called the 6600 slide because of the way light just slides into it ;-) Why use Nokia as a testbed? Because Nokia has the biggest global mobile market share at somewhere between 30-40%. (We already ran a few quick tests with an iPhone a couple of weeks ago, and having sold my soul to Steve, installing and using a free QR code reader from the iTunes store was effortless).

After charging the battery, the first task was to install a QR code reader on the phone, of which there are lots of free options online. Symbian applications have .sis file extensions, so it's simplicity itself to download a file and stick it on the memory card via Bluetooth, or install directly on the phone via text. But that didn't get me any closer to having a working QR code reader, as the installed applications sat there sullenly, or if they could be prodded into life, delivered unintelligible error messages.

Normally under these circumstances, I would have solved the problem using Teenage Son #1. Unfortunately, TS#1 got a new mobile a few weeks ago and is now pissed off with me because the 6600s is two weeks newer than the phone he has (which is apparently two thousand in teenage years). Fortunately JayJay came to the rescue. It turns out that the 6600s runs J2ME-based Java applications rather than the normal .sis type. We previously tried to install the popular Kaywa QR reader on the phone, but failed because the Kaywa site insisted that the 6600s needed a .sis application. It was only when we stumbled on a nice free J2ME Twitter client for the phone which worked immediately that we figured out the problem, and by lying to Kaywa (we told it I had a Nokia 6500), installed the correct application, which now works fine.

So now I have a working test platform, it's time to go looking for QR codes in the wild, then sign some people up for our project.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Lies, dammed lies and Virgin Media, part 14

Digital Native

The PLE chickens come home to roost

Old School In the last 18 months it's been very hard to convince myself that I had anything to say which could be better expressed in a formal academic paper than in a couple of blog posts or even as an argument developed in a series of tweets. Finally, I do, and here's the recipe so you can repeat the experiment which generated the data:

Take 200 raw first year undergraduates. Wash well in cold water. Marinate in Web 2.0 for 10 weeks and season with Michael Wesch's A Vision of Students Today. Then ask them to draw a mind map of their personal learning environment (PLE).

At this point, I'd like to put up a slide show of some of the submissions. Unfortunately, privacy concerns prevent that, so I'll have to describe some of the common features. Of course, there was variation, with some examples showing more maturity than others. This was reflected in both the number of resources and tools shown and in how they were connected. However, following what these students were reading on Google Reader and bookmarking on delicious throughout the past term has been a fascinating and for the most part rewarding experience. The students however, hated this task, and comments on the module questionnaire show a complete lack of understanding why reflection on learning might be valuable.

Perhaps not surprisingly, connectivity was a major theme in every example. In addition to the more "academic" components such as Google Reader and delicious, MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger, Twitter, Facebook chat, etc, were indicated to be essential components of learning. I was pleased that 100% of the submissions contained Google and Wikipedia. This is an internal control since any student who did not include these would be lying, or perhaps more accurately, filtering the truth to what they thought we wanted to see. However, Wikipedia in particular engendered some guilt, and a number of students who presumably had previously been criticised for using Wikipedia felt they had to justify its inclusion.

What was a surprise, to me at least, was the seamless blending of online work and social spaces, with the implication of extensive multitasking (music, information, eBay, etc). The reason I was surprised by the extent of this was because two years ago students were making clear distinctions between online spaces, erecting barriers between "work" and "social" spaces. This now seems to have gone. If you were inclined, you could say that this cohort of undergraduates truly seem to be digital natives.

Jo commented recently on how much her PLE has changed in the last year. It would have been good to have a snapshot of each student's PLE at the start and end of their first term. I wonder how much change the module we have just finished has generated (and how much is simply due to the experience of university). Clearly formal education alters a PLE. We just don't know how, or how much.

Update: I forgot to mention how popular YouTube was as a feedback channel on this course - Martin's comment below reminded me.

Why Seesmic is Dying

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What's the difference between The Chicago Tribune and The University of Leicester?

I heart Leicester You may have heard that the media group which owns The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times has filed for bankruptcy. As you might expect, Clay Shirky's comments on this news are worth reading:
By the turn of the century, anyone who didn't understand that the business model for newspapers was a wasting asset was caught up in nothing other than willful ignorance, so secure in their faith in the permanence of their business that they assumed that those glaciers would politely swerve at the last minute, which minute is looking increasingly like now.
As we know, Shirky said what needed to be said back in 1995:
The price of information has not only gone into free fall in the last few years, it is still in free fall now, it will continue to fall long before it hits bottom, and when it does whole categories of currently lucrative businesses will be either transfigured unrecognizably or completely wiped out, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
The last time I bought a newspaper, I had ulterior motives. Universities are also in the information business, and should be worried, right?
Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.
B.F. Skinner

Universities are in the education business, not the information business.
So universities have got nothing to worry about?
I wouldn't say that exactly, so long as we remember the differences between information and education. Universities are in the contextualization business.

I've just come back from an interesting UoL Teaching and Assessment Network session presented by David Farrier, Student Presentations and Encouraging Effective Participation. David described how all modules in the School of English include a non-assessed compulsory element. After his talk, the discussion centred on how the School of English enforces the compulsory nature of these exercises. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer turns out to be - they don't. Because they don't have to. The culture in the School of English is such that this is an issue which simply doesn't arise. This cued up discussion about over-assessment in Science and Medicine, which we are well aware of but unsure how to back away from.

The reason we are on this over-assessment treadmill is because we can't rid ourselves of the notion that we are in the information business. And being in the information business is a dumb strategy right now.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Death to Ning!

Death to Ning! Love the Ningers, not the Ning. Forgive me Father, I have Ninged.

A failed hypothesis (was: A failed experiment)

Fail When I was a PhD student, I had a quote above my bench from Fred Sanger:

Most experiments don't work.

Purposed social networks for scientists are a failed experiment. Don't take my word for it, ask Neil Saunders.

But if you're still in any doubt, I have the data to prove it, which came from a failed experiment called Small Worlds. Yup, I'm officially calling Small Worlds a failure. I learned a lot, but the approach was wrong. Fortunately, I have some ideas how to fix it (but I'm not sure they will be funded).


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Psst, wanna work at the University of the Year 2008?

UoL Open Research Scholarship Programme

The University of the Year scholarship package scheme – a series of Open Research Scholarships available to students from the EU and UK – will create a range of opportunities for funded PhD study. These scholarships are available across a full range of disciplines at the University of Leicester; science, arts, social sciences, law, medicine and the biological sciences. Those joining the scheme will benefit from a package worth over £17,000 each year including a stipend, fee waiver and research training support grant.

Oh sod it, the bloody thing's stuck again

Noggin In the 1970's when I was looking for a PhD place, I had an interview with John Postgate at Sussex. I was quite keen on working at Sussex as a friend of mine was going there, and I was also eager to work on nitrogen fixation, but it didn't pan out. I had a very amiable interview, but John Postgate wanted me to work on Azotobacter, and I wanted to work on Klebsiella. There were no experimental genetic systems for Azotobacter at that time, and I regarded it as just too big a risk for a PhD project, especially mine, so eventually I walked away.

Only years later did the significance of that day occur me. I had shaken the hand of Oliver Postgate's brother.

Oliver Postgate was the subversive genius that launched a thousand quips (such as the title of this post, played on the swanee whistle in The Iron Chicken, which got him carpeted by the BBC). Postgate was the original edupunk. Noggin, Ivor and the Soup Dragon were the foundation of my imagination and story telling.

Another part of my childhood died today. But don't be sad. Roger the cabin boy, Master Bates!

Monday, December 08, 2008

This House (Blog) Believes That Twitter Groups Are Not Necessary


Speaking for the motion, Alan Cann:

Twitter groups are not necessary. The power of Twitter lies in filtering a personal network rather than in preformed groups which you do not have control over. Groups generate unnecessary noise, which is already the biggest problem with Twitter. The power to create temporary ad hoc groups (for conferences or events) already exists in Twitter via hashtags and the search function. Even if you want Twitter groups, Twitter is working on this "feature" as a top priority after stabilization, so it would be better to wait until the official implementation arrives rather than Balkanize the Twitter community with a plethora of Facebook-style groups. Twitter is not Facebook. Ladies and Gentlemen, please vote for this motion by leaving your comments below. Thank you.

And yes, I was Chair of the school debating team. Wanna make something of it? ;-)

Speaking against the motion, Steve Wheeler:

Friday, December 05, 2008

Vote for me! Or not. Whatever.

2008 Edublog Awards I'm honoured that Science of the Invisible has been nominated for the Best Teacher Edublog category of the 2008 Edublog Awards.

Voting closes on December 21st, and if you'd like to vote for Science of the Invisible (or even one of the other entries ;-) this is the link.

While you're there, make sure you vote in some of the other categories.

Word cloud for SOTI

Moderation in all things

JISC Emerge I recently joined the JISC Emerge site, "a consortium-based project ... primary aim to support the creation of a sustainable community of practice that will develop and exploit new emergent technologies (e.g. social software, pervasive computing) for use in educational settings".

On joining and looking around, the done thing seemed to be to shove your blog RSS feed into the site, and allow blog posts to be syndicated on the front page of the site. All was well for 48 hours, until I got a polite message asking if I was aware that "every now and then you nearly take over the Emerge home page", and suggesting that I might like to publish a bit less on the site.

Well, not wanting to upset the Jiscies, I was eager to comply! Except that it wasn't that easy. First, there's no way to be selective about posts within the site, and I sure as hell wasn't going to change my blogging for a site that I had only been a member of for 48 hours, so the only option seemed to be On of Off. Fortunately, George Roberts came to my aid and helped me with the mysteries of Elgg 0.9 (almost makes you glad to be a Blackboarder).

The trick was to create a JISC Emerge-specific tag feed from this site. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't make that particularly easy, so it took a little Google-mining to find the magic formula, which turns out to be:

Now the Jiscies can sleep tucked up in their cosy website, safe in the knowledge that I'll only be waking them up once a day. And if that still annoys the Jiscies, well, they'd better get blogging themselves, or cast me into the outer darkness ;-)

JISC Emerge is an, err, emerging community, but it badly needs a Help Section/FAQ as the navigation and users controls on the site are poor and undocumented - if no-one wants to write one, maybe they should pull an aggregated help posts from other sites (such as this one? :-)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Who are you lookin' at?

Masks At coffee this morning, I expressed my periodic recurring desire to create an anonymous blog where I could express my true feelings about certain topics I no longer feel I can blog about here. Buried deep in layers of Tor and bounced through more proxies than you can shake a stick at, my alternative blog, provisionally entitled WTF?, would be a cathartic safety-valve-come-soapbox.

Spurred by Facebook Connect, the theme of anonymity is taken up by O'ReillyRadar and by ReadWriteWeb in The End of Online Anonymity, which discusses (in a slightly superficial way) how online identities are changing, and elsewhere:
Privacy is the right to choose what to share, how much of it we want shared and with whom. Privacy is not secretive. Privacy is not having something to hide.
What has changed is the amount of effort required for the technically literate to control their privacy. The possibility to retain privacy still exists if you choose to do so, but the question becomes:

What am I prepared to sacrifice to achieve privacy?

Credit card? Mobile phone? Time? Trust?

And more to the point, what's the cost of not retaining personal control of my identity?

How students are using social software in their learning

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: steve wheeler #oeb08)

SlideShare version of paper presented to Online Educa Berlin 2008 by Steve Wheeler.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pleasure to meet you Ma'am

This page appeared here on 02/12/08:

Welcome to UoL

Shurely shome mishtake?

Monetizing Permission

Freemium One of the downsides of using free wikis as an ePortfolio solution is that the granularity of access control is less sophisticated than with some commercial ePortfolio solutions. Over the past week, I've updated the ePortfolios of Joanna Hughes (our fictional student exemplar) on WetPaint and Wikispaces.

In the past, I've never had a firm preference for either of these sites - they both have their good and bad points. A recent update from Wikispaces shows the route that this site is headed in, monetization through additional features - the Freemium model. The latest paid feature to be added to Wikispaces is custom permissions, giving paid users more control over who can view and edit their ePortfolio.

The bad news from our perspective is that this feature costs $200 a year. To me, this amount is a bit steep, and it's certainly not something that our students would be likely to pay, so for now, we're stuck with public/private as their ePortfolio access status.

Credit Crunch Bubble Burst Death of Services Part 1

Death of Pownce:

Death of Pownce

Monday, December 01, 2008

Screaming jelly babies - we're f*cked

No BBC News and TDA, science is not about blowing things up:

What the hell happened to intellectual curiosity? No wonder the career structure in science sucks.

SocialToo - too social by half

SocialToo Jo recently blogged about SocialToo, a service which allows you automatically send a direct message (DM) to anyone who follows you on Twitter and to automatically follow them back (if desired). Admittedly, Jo talked about the service in the context of drawing students into particular projects we are running, but clearly SocialToo is aimed at more general use, as shown by David Bradley. So I've signed up for SocialToo too, right?

Wrong. There are several reasons I don't like the way this service works, and I think they illustrate why many people struggle to understand Twitter. For me, Twitter is about crafting a personal network that shares my needs, which range from education to entertainment - preferably by way of the eclectic. That can only be achieved by filtering my network to maintain quality and minimize noise. I deliberately try to follow people who are smarter than me - so if I follow you on Twitter, pat yourself on the back (but don't rest on your laurels as I have no qualms about unfollowing people who no longer cut the mustard). Autofollow is diametrically opposed to the way I shape my Twitter network.

The second problem I have with SocialToo is that it sends new followers a DM rather than a public tweet. That's not what Twitter is all about - a public arena where knowledge is shared (part of the reason I never follow anyone who has protected their updates). If I want to send one person a private message, I'll use email, not Twitter.

So while I can see limited use for SocialToo in a few specialized cases, I won't be using it for my main twitter account.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I think this is what I want

or is it?

The Skyrails project at the University of New South Wales aims to provide visualisations of social networks. The Guardian likened it to the "consensual hallucination" of Gibson's novel Neuromancer.

A few months back, I thought I knew most of the questions, although few of the answers. Now, I don't even feel I know that.

It's been a bad week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Twitter and the Socratic method

Socratic dialogue is a genre of prose literary works developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BC in which characters discuss moral and philosophical problems, illustrating the Socratic method:

    Socr. I have heard it said, then, that at Naucratis in Egypt there lived one of the old gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis; and the name of the divinity was Theuth. It was he who first invented numbers and arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, dicing, too, and the game of draughts and, most particularly and especially, writing. Now the King of all Egypt at that time was Thamus who lived in the great city of the upper region which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes; the god himself they call Ammon. Theuth came to him and exhibited his arts and declared that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. And Thamus questioned him about the usefulness of each one; and as Theuth enumerated, the King blamed or praised what he thought were the good or bad points in the explanation... When it came to writing, Theuth said, "This discipline, my King, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories: my invention is a recipe for both memory and wisdom." But the King said, "Theuth, my master of arts, to one man it is given to create the elements of an art, to another to judge the extent of harm and usefulness it will have for those who are going to employ it. And now, since you are father of written letters, your paternal goodwill has led you to pronounce the very opposite of what is their real power. The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves. So it's not a recipe for memory, but for reminding, that you have discovered. And as for wisdom, you're equipping your pupils with only a semblance of it, not with truth. Thanks to you and your invention, your pupils will be widely read without benefit of a teacher's instruction; in consequence, they'll entertain the delusion that they have wide knowledge, while they are, in fact, for the most part incapable of real judgment. They will also be difficult to get on with since they will have become wise merely in their own conceit, not genuinely so."

    Then any man who imagines that he has bequeathed an art to posterity because he put his views in writing, and also anyone who inherits such an "art" in the belief that any subject will be clear or certain because it is couched in writing such men will be utterly simple-minded. They must be really ignorant of Zeus Ammon's method of delivering prophetic truth if they believe that words put in writing are something more than what they are in fact: a reminder to a man, already conversant with the subject of the material with which the writing is concerned.

    Phaedr. Quite right.

    Socr. Writing, you know, Phaedrus, has this strange quality about it, which makes it really like painting: the painter's products stand before us quite as though they were alive; but if you question them, they maintain a solemn silence. So, too, with written words: you might think they spoke as though they made sense, but if you ask them anything about what they are saying, if you wish an explanation, they go on telling you the same thing, over and over forever. Once a thing is put in writing, it rolls about all over the place, falling into the hands of those who have no concern with it just as easily as under the notice of those who comprehend; it has no notion of whom to address or whom to avoid. And when it is ill-treated or abused as illegitimate, it always needs its father to help it, being quite unable to protect or help itself.

    Phaedr. You're quite right about that, too.

    Socr. Well then, are we able to imagine another sort of discourse a legitimate brother of our bastard? How does it originate? How far is it better and more powerful in nature?

    Phaedr. What sort of discourse? What do you mean about its origin?

    Socr. A discourse which is inscribed with genuine knowledge in the soul of the learner; a discourse that can defend itself and knows to whom it should speak and before whom to remain silent.

    Phaedr. Do you mean the living, animate discourse of a man who really knows? Would it be fair to call the written discourse only a kind of ghost of it?

    Socr. Precisely. Now tell me this: take a sensible farmer who has seed he is anxious to tend properly and wants it to yield him a good full crop: would he seriously plant it during the summer, and in forcing-areas at that, and then take pleasure in the spectacle of a fine crop on the eighth day? If he ever did such a thing, wouldn't it be just for fun or to meet the needs of a special festival? But with seed that he was really serious about, wouldn't he make full use of scientific husbandry and plant it in suitable soil and be perfectly satisfied if it came to maturity in the eighth month?

    Phaedr. As you know, Socrates, the latter would be a serious act, the former quite different, and motivated as you say.

    Socr. Shall we suppose that a man who has real knowledge of justice and beauty and goodness will have less intelligence about his own seeds than a farmer does?

    Phaedr. By no means.

    Socr. Then he will not, when he's in earnest, resort to a written form and inscribe his seeds in water, and in inky water at that; he will not sow them with a pen, using words which are unable either to argue in their own defense when attacked or to fulfill the role of a teacher in presenting the truth... In this regard, far more noble and splendid is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who finds a congenial soul and then proceeds with true knowledge to plant and sow in it words which are able to help themselves and help him who planted them; words which will not be unproductive, for they can transmit their seed to other natures and cause the growth of fresh words in them, providing an eternal existence for their seed; words which bring their possessor to the highest degree of happiness possible for a human being to attain.

Think about it next time you're on Twitter.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's your ePortfolio, now get reflecting

eportfolio As our students ponder the PLEs they have "created" (more of that later, hopefully), we're getting close to the last act for this term, construction of a reflective ePortfolio.

Students will choose the software they use to create their portfolios, although we are recommending they use WetPaint or Wikispaces, as in these (rather minimal) exemplars. Next term, they will to continue to add to their ePortfolio each week and we will assess the way they develop. Which is where the fun starts.

What assessment criteria should we use?
We need to promote ownership of their portfolio (which is why they choose the software to use rather than having it imposed on them), and we need to recognize that the process of reflection will vary from person to person, so any criteria need to be rather minimalistic and competence-based rather than too restrictive. At the same time, the criteria need to guide the student in terms of what is expected of them (beyond the structure of the exemplars).

I'm not going to debate again the wisdom of assessing reflection, but I will repeat that we already know that if we did not assess the exercise most students would not participate, so the assessment period is aimed at getting students into the habit of reflection, after which it is hoped they will carry on then we stop giving them the reinforcement of assessment. It's also worth restating that our objective is educational rather than technical. We are more interested in the benefits students will gain from the experience than about compliance with IMS standards - to emphasize the process rather than the product.

The following criteria are based loosely on the reported E-Portfolio Assessment Criteria from Penn State University:

Functionality & Appearance: 30%
  • Appearance and navigation is clear and consistent
  • All links work
  • Multimedia elements display correctly
  • Text is clear and readable, spelling and grammar are correct
  • Previously published materials respect copyright laws
Evidence: 30%
  • Organization connects all evidence into an integrated whole
  • Features or showcases evidence
  • Shows depth of knowledge and experience
  • Shows breadth of knowledge and experience
  • Includes a current curriculum vitae
Reflection: 40%
  • Addresses both career and personal development
  • Includes reflective comments about evidence as well as reflective comments about what this evidence says about you
  • Includes short-term goals (skills to add/improve)
  • Includes long-term goals (professional and/or personal aims)
  • Interpretation of your achievements is expressed

Are these criteria adequate? Workable? Achievable?


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Student email

WTF? I've just received the following email from a student:

Please can I have extra time to complete the assessment. I've just been told by my doctor that I shouldn't use the computer. Obviously I'm using it now to email you, but I can't use it long enough to do the assessment.




Second Life a Liability

Just Do It I started this post while listening to the live stream of the Sounds of the Bazaar special "Into the Dragons Den" and participating in the chatroom. Kudos to Graham and Cristina for another great innovative session, but I'm afraid the content left me cold (as did The Dragon That Didn't Bite). I've tried to see the practical educational value in Second Life, but for me, SL just doesn't cut it - the cost benefit ratio doesn't work. If I have to pay a pile of money to professional developers to build something, that's too high a barrier as far as I'm concerned. Reuters has got it right, and now it's time for education to follow.

This morning, I was struck again by the discussion at CETIS08 concerning the differences between audio, video and lectures. A speaker made the case that video and audio are 'text' whereas lectures are 'interactive'. I feel SL deserves the same downgrading as video in this regard - SL is not half as interactive as Twitter.

It's all about barriers and ownership. Just do it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Google SearchWonki

Evi? Much flapping and tutting on the interwebs about Google's new SearchWiki feature. As usual, David Weinberger nailed it:
  • First, opting us in is obnoxious enough, but not giving us a way to opt out is unsupportable...
  • Second, the results page shows you the nicknames of other users who have voted the page up. So, now the whole world will see that “dweinberger” not only searched for “Angelina Jolie” but thumbs-upped the page of closeups of her tattoos? Guess who just changed his nickname to something less identifiable! This is a feature without value — the list of names isn’t clickable or complete or tell you how many people voted it up — unless you recognize someone’s nickname, in which case it has negative value.
Simple solution, log into:
Google: My Account: Web History
and turn History off. We already knew that Google is not to be trusted with this kind of data.

Move along, nothing new to see here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Obsequious apology

Future of Creative Technologies #foct08

IOCT Yesterday I was at the Future of Creative Technologies Conference run by the IOCT at De Montfort University:
  • Introductory keynote by Andrew Hugill, IOCT, DMU.
  • Technology - Jerry Fishenden, National Technology Officer at Microsoft UK: Trends in internet and technologies.
  • Content - Professor Sue Thomas: Trends in digital content.
  • Design - Professor Martin Rieser: Trends in digital art and design.
Afternoon sessions:
  • Jim Hendler
  • Lev Manovich
  • Howard Rheingold
  • Open discussion with questions from the workshops and the floor
To be honest, it was bit variable, but overall very enjoyable and I think quite valuable. The best way to summarize the whole thing is to publish the:

Josie's Photos:


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Tragedy of the Commons

Creative Commons Our PLE students are currently doing an assessment which involves them manipulating images and sharing the results on Flickr with an appropriate description and tags. The rationale for doing this is so that they can learn some rudimentary image editing skills, but it's also a Trojan horse so we can introduce them to Creative Commons. The students were told that they may use as source material "images you own (e.g. photographs you have taken) or original images covered by Creative Commons licences".

And the result?

Holiday snaps. We've made them so paranoid about copyright that they're not willing to take the "risk" of reusing existing resources, so they're just putting up their holiday snaps.



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is UoL filtering your internet access?

It is, according to The Guardian:

See: Firewalling. Hardly a recommendation, is it? More like, don't bother us.

Update, see: Obsequious apology

A blast from the past


As you can tell from that post, I didn't grok Twitter straight away, for two reasons:
  1. I hadn't built up a big enough active network for it to be useful.
  2. It didn't help me thinking about Twitter as "microblogging". I didn't get Twitter until I started to think about it in terms of "presence" and conversation.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Told you so

FREESOULS: Captured and Released

Freesouls FREESOULS: Captured and Released by Joi Ito is a celebration of all the people who are willing to share. It consists of photos by Joi Ito and a collection of essays by:

  • Howard Rheingold: Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies
    To accomplish this attention-turning, we must develop a participative pedagogy, assisted by digital media and networked publics, that focuses on catalyzing, inspiring, nourishing, facilitating, and guiding literacies essential to individual and collective life in the 21st century. Literacies are where the human brain, human sociality and communication technologies meet.

  • Lawrence Liang: Free as in Soul: The Anti-image Politics of Copyright
    It is well-documented that the philosophical justification of copyright is premised on the idea of the romantic author, the sole suffering genius sitting in isolation and producing works of genius. The first serious challenge to the idea of the romantic author emerged with the invention of photography.

  • Cory Doctorow: You Can't Own Knowledge
    ...there's plenty of stuff out there that's valuable even if it's not property. For example, my daughter was born in February, 2008. She's not my property. But she's worth quite a lot to me. If you took her from me, the crime wouldn't be "theft." If you injured her, it wouldn't be "trespass to chattels." We have an entire vocabulary and set of legal concepts to deal with the value that a human life embodies ... Trying to shoehorn knowledge into the "property" metaphor leaves us without the flexibility and nuance that a true knowledge rights regime would have.

  • Yochai Benkler: Complexity and Humanity
    To deal with the new complexity of contemporary life we need to re-introduce the human into the design of systems. We must put the soul back into the system. If years of work on artificial intelligence have taught us anything, it is that what makes for human insight is extremely difficult to replicate or systematize. At the center of these new systems, then, sits a human being who has a capacity to make judgments, experiment, learn and adapt.

  • Isaac Mao: Sharism: A Mind Revolution
    Non-sharing culture misleads us with its absolute separation of Private and Public space. It makes creative action a binary choice between public and private, open and closed. This creates a gap in the spectrum of knowledge. Although this gap has the potential to become a valuable creative space, concerns about privacy make this gap hard to fill. We shouldn't be surprised that, to be safe, most people keep their sharing private and stay "closed." They may fear the Internet creates a potential for abuse that they can't fight alone. However, the paradox is: The less you share, the less power you have.

  • Marko Ahtisaari: Intelligent Travel
    A new system of intelligent travel is already being imagined, and built. But the prospects of developing online, interconnected systems−ones based on the principle of shared intelligence and joined through trusted social networks−is not unique to one website or a single start-up. It is a global movement of world travelers sharing local information with friends, acquaintances, and everybody else.
Science of the Invisible is published under a Creative Commons licence