Thursday, January 31, 2008

Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0

Cover If access to higher education is a necessary element in expanding economic prosperity and improving the quality of life, then we need to address the problem of the growing global demand for education. Compounding this challenge of demand from college-age students is the fact that the world is changing at an ever-faster pace. Few of us today will have a fixed, single career; instead, we are likely to follow a trajectory that encompasses multiple careers. As we move from career to career, much of what we will need to know will not be what we learned in school decades earlier. We are entering a world in which we all will have to acquire new knowledge and skills on an almost continuous basis.

It is unlikely that sufficient resources will be available to build enough new campuses to meet the growing global demand for higher education - at least not the sort of campuses that we have traditionally built for colleges and universities. Nor is it likely that the current methods of teaching and learning will suffice to prepare students for the lives that they will lead in the twenty-first century.

Fortunately, various initiatives launched over the past few years have created a series of building blocks that could provide the means for transforming the ways in which we provide education and support learning. Much of this activity has been enabled and inspired by the growth and evolution of the Internet, which has created a global "platform" that has vastly expanded access to all sorts of resources, including formal and informal educational materials. The Internet has also fostered a new culture of sharing, one in which content is freely contributed and distributed with few restrictions or costs.

Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler. EDUCAUSE Review 2008, 43: 16-32

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is Yahoo dying, and if it is, what does that mean for the internet?

Is Yahoo dying

Speedlinking 300108 logo Twitter for Academia
13 ways to use Twitter in academia.

UK university students offered free web hosting
This deal aims to provide students with web space free from the restrictions of the university, 500MB of web space and a bandwidth allocation of 2GB per month.

Never understood what net neutrality means?
The shift from locking down content to locking down the network.

On “The Twitterialization” of Blogging, Networks, etc
Twitter wasn’t created to be the learning/professional development tool that it seems to have become...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do you want fries with that?

Die you old hag Ok, so I'm the last edublogger in the UK to mention that McDonald's has won approval to offer courses which could form part of a qualification at the standard of A-levels or advanced diplomas.

Does it bother me that BigMac is about to become an education provider? Nope. Lifelong learning. I'm all for it.

What bothers me is the the UK higher education system is so f****d-up that employers think this is necessary.
And we all know who's fault that is ->

Take a perfectly good higher education system and wreck it by destroying the technical university sector. Which leaves us in the mess we're in now.

And with that, I'll shut up, 'cos I'm starting to sound like Downsey (without the hair).

Completely round the bend

The Curve £59,000,000.

That's how much Leicester City Council has spent on The Curve, the daft building with the daft name which replaces a perfectly good provincial theatre in Leicester (The Haymarket).

With more than a passing interest in education in Leicester, it almost makes me cry when I think of what £59,000,000 could have done if spent on education in this city.

My prediction (based on the history of The Haymarket)? It's all going to end in tears.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Speedlinking 280108 logo The Future of Blackboard
Future plans and features for Bb8 and Bb9.

Post to Pownce, Twitter, Jaiku and Tumblr at the same time
Consolidated presence status updater.

A social community platform enabling you to organize your online identities. Connect to all your social sites with one URL.

How to Use Twitter
Twitter is a more effective tool if you know why you re using it and focus in on just one (or a few) objectives.

The RSS Explanation Problem
I remember the exact moment when it first became apparent to me that there was such a thing as an explanation problem...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Scary holiday

I've just spent the last hour online booking our summer holiday. Which was fine until checked Google maps:
It took me a while to figure out what the big circle is.
We'll be fine. France isn't capable of starting a nuclear war in August. They're all on holiday.

Friday, January 25, 2008


RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Albert Einstein, the quintessential scientist? Nope.


Kick-Arse Virology 2.0

Interestingly, while I'm in the middle of conducting my own "Virology Teaching 2.0" experiment (more of that later), comes news from two of my old internet virology buddies of what they are up to. At UVic in Canada, Chris Upton's students are talking to each other via a WetPaint wiki, and at the University of Otago in New Zealand, James Kalmakoff has just reported on his successful trial of using social networking in a virology course:

SlideShare | View

James used Web Crossing software to allow the students to develop the social networks for this project, and is very satisifed with the outcome.

Our approach here in Leicester is leaning more towards an open-source environment, but I'll let one of his students have the last word on the value of the social approach to learning:
This site is Kick Arse ... It beats Blackboard any day
So I guess I'll have plenty of material when I bang on about social media at the SGM meeting in Edinburgh!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is a Pushmi-pullyu?

Pushmepullyou I think I'm in love with, the essence of Everything is Miscellaneous made flesh*. So I get a little upset when I think someone is abusing it. Except that I'm not sure whether they are.

Brian Kelly has been exploring what Twitter is for (by trying to break it!), and similarly, I feel I need to get my head around what is for. Is it a pull technology which I use to search for information, or is it a push technology my network can use to publish information?

Clearly, the social features of mean that it is both, but the question I'm facing right now is how upset should I be when my colleagues bookmark links on to try to nag me?

*If you need an explanation, try this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fraudband Britain: Reasons to Dump Virgin, Part 3

Beardie Branson According to reports, Virgin media has implemented subscriber traffic management (STM) on its cable network. Commonly called throttling, the new policy could restrict your upload and download speeds between 4 pm and 2 am, 7 days a week. For example, reports that for the Broadband Size M package, during peak times (4 pm till 9 pm), users on the Size M package that download at least 300 MB of traffic and/or upload at least 150 MB of traffic will have their broadband speed temporarily traffic managed. Their download speed will be set to 1 Mb, with their upload speed set to 128 kb. This will last for 5 hours from when the traffic management policy is applied, the data used to trigger traffic management is then reset. In some circumstances you could have to wait until 2 am before your speed returns to normal, if STM was triggered at 8:59 pm.

Although Virgin, if challenged, would undoubtedly talk about BitTorrent and peer-to-peer filesharing, in reality STM makes online video delivery via services such as YouTube and the BBC iPlayer rather limited, and in fraudband Britain, the difference between what you pay for and what you get just got a whole lot bigger. Super-fast fibre, my arse.

So maybe it's time to tell beardie Branson where he can stick his cable, and jump into bed with that nice Mr Murdoch, who is at least capable of supplying me with HD TV in the 21st century (even if I have to do a deal with the BT devil to get it).

Lies, Damned Lies, and Feedback

Feedback As the National Student Survey cranks into gear again, striking fear into the blackened hearts of vice-chancellors everywhere, we've just been discussing the now annual problem of "how do we get better results for the feedback category?"

It's clear that when it comes to feedback for students, quality does not equal quantity, and less is (sometimes) more. Of course, some students engage with feedback and benefit from the experience, but many do not. But there's one type of feedback that all students instantly recognize and read: the mark they've been awarded. But while marks are an indicator of past achievement, they're a pretty poor feed-forward mechanism to improve future performance. And once they have their mark, many students stop reading.

So it seems that the answer is clear. Step off the treadmill, stop marking student's work, and give them more useful feedback instead. If we were totally focussed on improving student's performance, that's what we'd do. But I can't see it happening somehow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Webs 1 to 4

Semantic web Just when you were getting your head around Web 2.0 (and taking sides in The Economist social networking debate), along comes a 400-page study of semantic technologies and their market impact.

Semantic Wave 2008: Industry Roadmap to Web 3.0 and Multibillion Dollar Market Opportunities.

Fortunately, there's a summary here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

U-Now: yet another OER silo

The University of Nottingham has launched its OER site, U-Now.
There are some interesting resources on there, such as:
but overall, it's a pretty thin. Shame the marketing imperative overcame the possibilities of joining a collaborative national OER effort - because there isn't one. Instead, universities investing in OER are all building their own isolated silos.

Lies, damn lies, and Steve Jobs keynotes

Steve Jobs What's wrong with this picture?

The anger mounts...

MBA Anger

Life as information

DLD Jeff Jarvis is liveblogging the DLD (Digital Life Design) conference in Munich. His latest post is on the session with Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter on the future of the gene. Some of the highlights:
  • Dawkins says the gene is pure information.
  • Venter says is concerned that because the price of oil is in the hands of a few people, they can artificially lower the price to take away incentives for scientific development of alternatives. This is why he favors carbon taxes.
  • He says that evolution is already open-source; it happens all around and in us. The microorganisms living in each of our lungs are different as they adapt to our immune system. He says that we need to take more of a hand in that evolution.
  • Jarvis is fascinated with the idea that information becomes the building block of anything including life. Data are alive. Life is media.

You Suck

You Suck at Photoshop As you know if you've been reading this blog for long, I'm a huge fan of online videos for training. There are some great purpose-made videos online now, including CommonCraft's Explanations in Plain English series, and the latest star, Donnie Hoy's You Suck at Photoshop series.

Brilliant, innovative and effective use of the format.

Unlike the effect you get if you take a video made by a traditional video production unit such as a university AVS department, edit it down and put it online.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Skitch A while back, Tony recommended Jing, a new screen capture application. Try as I might, I couldn't get my head around Jing, but to me, Skitch is much more intuitive:


However, there's another point here. I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with Jing, and I recognize that Jing has capabilities which Skitch does not (although sometimes, and I suspect this is the case here, less is more). The point is, we are all wired differently (that seminar last week on neural development in Brachydanio rerio is paying off). And that's why attempts to force users along particular paths and to use particular tools to build a PLE will inevitably fall short.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Microblog: What if?

Apple/Google consortium wins 700 MHz spectrum auction.



MacBook Air.

WiMax-enabled EeePc.

Game over?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Speedlinking 180108 logo In order to understand web 2.0 you have to act 2.0
Ed Techie: The Facebook lessons.

The Debate on Social Networking
Social networks no, social tools yes.

Personality barometer
The jokes people tell about you and the faults they highlight are your personality barometer. They stop you from taking yourself too seriously. I consider myself most fortunate therefore to be surrounded by friends, family and colleagues who never cease to tell me what a loser I am...

Time to ditch the ill-defined concept of our degree classification
The time has come to face up to the real question: not whether there are too many firsts or upper seconds, but why we are continuing at all with the current illusory classification system.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Are Biology Teaching Methods are Wrong?

Biology textbook Over on Bitesize Bio, Nick Oswald argues that biology teaching methods are wrong:
I shudder to think of the way I was taught about metabolic pathways as an undergrad. Lists of mysterious names connected by arrows - all to be memorized, with little reference to how the processes actually worked on a chemical basis...

Nick argues that traditionally, biology teaching has involved the study of "black box" processes - processes whose fundamental basis was unknown. Early teaching had to be superficial since so little was known about the underlying mechanisms of the processes described, but that over the years as our understanding of biological processes has evolved, basic teaching methods have not.

So far so good, and I'd broadly agree with this analysis. His suggested solution
is to follow the approach advocated by Jakubowski and Owen in a 1998 Journal of Chemical Education paper and an online textbook which starts with how small molecules give rise to biological structures. From structures they move to function, and finally to enzymatic reactions, signal transduction and energy.

Sounds like a great approach - if students see themselves as chemists - and our's don't. Yesterday I sat in a meeting where we discussed the reason why four first year physiology students had left because, from their point of view, there wasn't enough physiology in the first term of the first year of their degree. They weren't convinced by out point of view that all biology students needed a firm grounding in all areas of biology, including how biological molecules work, and that there would be plenty of physiology in the second term. In their
minds, they were physiologists who had come to university to study physiology.
They wanted Physiology (with a capital P) and they wanted it IMMEDIATELY.

So Jakubowski and Owen's ideas are nice in theory, but I'm not sure they will wash with the present generation of students.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Personal Learning Environments - what they are and why they might be useful

Nice SlideShare presentation by Graham Attwell:

MacBook Air

Update: In the cold light of dawn, reality sets in. I won't be buying a MacBook Air, Why? Two reasons:
  1. The 64GB Flash-drive version costs over £2000. Buying anything other than a flash-drive configuration in this type of ultraportable makes no sense. If I was a road warrior and needed a laptop as my main machine, I'd go for it. But I'm not. And I don't. So I won't.
  2. I had been hoping for something mid-way between the stunning iPod Touch and a full laptop. This is a full laptop, not what I need. The killer? It weighs 3 lbs. So the decision now is whether to buy an iPod Touch, or... OK, decision made:
It's off to RM to order my Asus minibook (£200, weighs less than a kilo). The only decision left is whether to jump now or wait for the upgrade.

Want. Now:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Speedlinking 140108 logo Blogfolios
How are blogfolios different from e-Portfolios? They aren't exactly, they're more of a subset of e-Portfolios, or another way of looking at the traditional e-Portfolio.

The Social Media Spiral
For people to understand new concepts and develop new skills, you have to start with what they already know.

Twitter is Dead, Weep!
Tumblr is to the iPhone what Twitter is to the pager.

Cambridge applicants screened via Facebook
A Cambridge University admissions tutor has admitted he checks up on students applying to his college by browsing their Facebook profiles.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Decade of Scale

Miscellaneous Just when I thought it was safe to emerge from cover without being assaulted by predictions about the year ahead, I caught up with David Weinberger writing in Harvard Business about The Year of Scale:

Management by control just can't work in a scaled world. In fact, it was only by removing control that the online world was able to scale. Participants ... are learning that collaboration works, but only if certain conditions are met: People need equal opportunity, a meritocracy needs to be able to emerge, roles should shape themselves to the individual's abilities and social relations, and there has to be complete transparency about the process and the progress. In a sense, management comes after the fact in the scaled world, helping out where needed, but letting much of the organization emerge from the complex relationships among the co-workers.

It's hard to disagree with with Weinberger's argument (more on that below), but I do think he has the time scale wrong. I think this is a case of what Don Dodge calls macromyopia - over-estimating the short term effects and under-estimating the long term impact. Weinberger is right, but he obviously succumbed to an editor's blandishments to write an article about "the year ahead".

Similarly, in Social networking through the ages Stephen Fry considers social networking, and concludes that we've seen it all before:

Social networking ... has been identified as the Big New Thing. In other words, people who watch My Family have now heard of it and are at last aware of the difference between downloading and uploading.

He's quite right in that online networks are nothing new. What's changed is the scale of uptake. It took much longer than expected for "people who watch My Family" to cotton-on - another classic case of macromyopia.

So why do I care? Because it's the decade (rather than the year) of scale. We must not underestimate the long term impacts of web 2.0, just as we must not overestimate the short term impact. Just as online shopping has revolutionized (or ravaged, if you were running a small family business) camera shops, the book trade and the music industry, education is about to change. And we're no more immune to macromyopia than those sad music industry executives.

How should we respond to these changes? I'm not sure yet, but I am sure you have a suggestion! :-)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

BDRA Learning Futures Conference 2008

BDRA A retrospective view from Lindsay Jordan:

The THES is now the THE

Times Higher Education The Times Higher Education Supplement becomes the Times Higher Education magazine, opens up its website and provides lots of luverly RSS feeds:
And as a special treat, here's the University of Leicester RSS feed UoL RSS

Speedlinking 100108 logo Becta slams Vista and goes open source (sorta)
"Schools and colleges should make students, teachers and parents aware of the range of ‘free-to-use’ products (such as office productivity suites) that are available, and how to access and use them"

Enrolment of British students at UK universities stalls
The number of British students enrolling at UK universities has stalled while those coming to study from overseas has continued to rise according to latest official figures.

UK wants to make CD ripping legal (at last)
A feature of UK copyright law is that ripping songs from a CD isn't allowed. That could change soon as Lord Triesman, Minister for Intellectual Property, announced a consultation on IP reform that could make format shifting a legal right.

The Pirate’s Dilemma: The Problem With Information (and how to fix it)
The same way light confuses scientists by existing as particles and waves at the same time, information increasingly seems to confuse us ...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pondering PebblePad

PebblePad Today, I have been mostly pondering PebblePad.

Not knowing much about it (and not finding their website very illuminating), I turned to the blogosphere to find out people's general impressions. Not overly impressive, as it turns out.

I'm wondering if the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

What are the open source alternatives to PebblePad? And what does PebblePad give students in terms of lifelong learning that they can't get from, say, Google Docs, or a WetPaint wiki?

Clarke's 3rd law (revised)

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Clarke's third law has been revised:

Any sufficiently advanced statistic is indistinguishable from magic.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Confessions of a Ppt addict

Delft I've just spent a couple of days in Delft, where I went to talk to a group of people I didn't know much about about something they didn't know much about.

Before I left, I started to become anxious about our mutual lack of knowledge.

I knocked up a quick PowerPoint presentation.

And then I didn't feel anxious any more.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Speedlinking 070108 logo

Office 2.0
Everything you need to set up your office 2.0 (and more).

Norovirus spread by contaminated computer keyboards
The highly contagious Norovirus can be passed from one person to another through contact with commonly shared items such as computer keyboards and computer mice, U.S. health officials report.

UK sales searches trebled in 2007
The number of UK consumers searching for post-Christmas sales online more than trebled during the 2007 holiday period, up 249% for the week ending 29th December 2007 than the comparable week in 2006.

Who writes Wikipedia?
When you count words rather than edits most of the content in Wikipedia does indeed come from contributors outside the core, but Wikipedia does have a lot in common with traditional publishing organizations.

Why 2008 will be a bad year for Microsoft's Ed Tech market share
The low cost and ease of use of open source software, combined with low funding for education means that commercial software giants like Microsoft will see a continually declining share of the educational technology market.

Sent to Blogger via

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Social media beyond the grave

Personally, I believe that you live, you die, and that's it. But memorials are important for those who outlive you, so a few years ago when it dawned on me that I'd never be asked to appear on Desert Island Discs, I started planning the music for my funeral. My wife says I'm only allowed three tunes (she's clearly planning to outlive me). So far I've got one Elvis Costello (can't decide between Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes and Radio Radio), one White Stripes (probably Fell In Love With A Girl, but possibly Hotel Yorba) and I'm dithering about the third*.

What does funeral planning have to do with social media? I've been playing with LetterMeLater (see the previous post), a service which lets you schedule emails for future delivery (very useful for posting to Blogger), and if you wish, you can share the messages that you send with other users:

I can't complain about the funeral planning aspect, but does anyone else find the voting part a bit creepy? For all my commitment to social media, I'm not going to let anyone else pick the tunes for my funeral :-)

* I know my wife wouldn't like me to have any Hank Williams, and I'm so lonesome I could cry seems, well, too sad for a funeral. If people liked you, they'll want to celebrate your life. If they hated you, they'll be glad you're gone. Either way, funerals are happy occasions, so it looks like I'll have to give in and finish up with Bohemian Rhapsody.

Update: OK, I think I've solved the problem. iPod, pair of speakers, funeral playlist, shuffle. Let the technology decide.

Speedlinking 030108 logo

Dapper: RSS for sites without it and more
Though it may seem like everything has an RSS feed nowadays, lots of sites still lack the feature. Fortunately, there's Dapper: The Data Mapper, a web service that will take information from a site and package it in the form of your choice.

APML - Attention Profiling Mark-up Language
APML allows users to share their own personal Attention Profile in much the same way that OPML allows the exchange of reading lists between News Readers.

Five Ways To Fall in Love With Tagging Again
Tagging online content is something that doesn't seem to have taken off the way some people expected it to. Is it too complicated for widespread adoption?

Data smog
American Psychological Society article on the impact that information overload is having on our lives.

Sent to Blogger via

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What's up with Google Scholar?

Techcrunch recently reported Google growth rates over the last year (comScore, Nov 06-Nov 07):

Google growth

The big surprise to me is Google Scholar, down 32%. Can anyone suggest why this is?

Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip

RSS subscribers - visit site to watch the video

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Is Disqus evil?

Disqus logo One of my proudest blogging achievements is that I seem to be winning the war against participation inequality and engaging in a genuine conversation with the people who read my blogs.

How do I know? On MicrobiologyBytes, the number of comments exceed the number of posts by nearly two to one, and on this blog, I often get feedback on ideas and observations within minutes of posting them.

One of the most important things I have learned is that anything which is a potential barrier to someone leaving a comment on a blog for the first time is evil - once people have joined the conversation, they stick around to participate. On MicrobiologyBytes, Askimet does a brilliant job of stopping the spam (and spam comments exceed genuine ones by 135:1 on that blog), allowing commenters to write their comment and publish it with a single click - no registration, catchpa, or any other barrier, just write and click. And the most important thing I did on this blog last year was to remove comment moderation (although I have kept the Blogger catchpa), allowing reader's comments to appear instantly on the site - one less barrier to joining the conversation.

In addition to making it as easy as possible for people to leave comments on my blogs, the other side of the blogging equation is to comment on other people's blogs. As wide a variety of blogs as possible, and to comment early and comment often. And that creates a problem. If you want to stay in the conversation, how do you track all the comments you leave across dozens of blogs?

When I first heard about disqus a few months ago, I thought it might be the answer to this problem, as disqus is intended to do just that - track the conversation across multiple blogs. But the last 24 hours may have changed my opinion about disqus. Twice in that time, disqus has prevented me leaving a comment on other blogs, the first time in response to Terry Elliott's commentary on my PLE tutorial, and the second time on Rocketboom's new tumblr blog.

It may be that I'm missing something. Or it may be that disqus does not work with OS X (although there is no mention of that that I can find on their site), but that's not important. What is important is that disqus is a barrier to the person who is trying to leave a comment. Because disqus take over the commenting system on a blog, leaving no alternative, and requires registration, many first time readers will slip away without ever joining the conversation. So disqus does not appear to be the answer to the problem of conversation across multiple blogs.

So maybe there's a better solution?

Update: Very prompt response from the disqus team. On further investigation, one problem seems to be with using the Flock browser - I was able to leave comments with Firefox.