Saturday, March 29, 2008

BECTA research shows there's a long way to go with Web 2.0

From Ewan McIntosh's summary of the recent Becta Research Seminar on Web2.0 Technologies for Learning at Key Stages 3 and 4:

The digital natives, digital immigrants concept is too simplistic.

Many more primary students than secondary pupils are involved in Web 2.0 type activity.

Access and opportunity: In order, from 100% down to about 10%, young people have access to:
  1. TV
  2. Mobile phone with camera
  3. Digital camera
  4. MP3 player/recorder
  5. PC
  6. Desktop games console (Xbox, Wii)
  7. Handheld console (Nintendo DS, PSP)
  8. Wifi
  9. Laptop
  10. Wired internet
  11. Webcam
  12. Mobile (no camera)
  13. PDA

Activity is often low-level and unmemorable ('I didn't do my homework because "I was on MSN or something"'). There continues to be little evidence of creation of digital content.

School is a different place: Using 'their' tools at home, tools like Bebo, would take the fun out of it. Having the teacher on those tools is "weird". 'Collaboration' becomes placing a problem on Bebo, changing their name to CanYouHelpMeDoThisOnBebo and waiting for friends to deliver segments of the project before bringing it together.

Does anyone use Wikipedia: "Yes, Oh Yes. Every single bit of homework, just type it in, get that, copy and paste."
"If there was a science test I'd probably just go to the text book. You know where everything is in the textbook but I don't know where to find it on the web."

Web 2.0 challenges with the practice of education:
  • Resource overload (I've only just learnt how to... and now you want me to...).
  • ICT absorbing the budget (we have to replace this because it's not fast enough).
  • Dissemination (viral dissemination among teachers in a school).
  • Assessment (matching 'romance' to the realities of summative testing).
  • Most of the students use or are aware of web 2 sites but are surprised that they can be used "professionally".

As far as I'm concerned, these are not dissimilar from the challenges we face in higher education.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Underwhelmed by Twine

Twine Back in October, I wrote about the press launch of Twine, the semantic web application which was going to conquer the world. I finally snagged an invitation to the beta (thanks Tony), and have been playing with it for a few days.

Twine is young and it needs time to grow. At present, it's underpopulated and lacks content. But there's a more serious problem. Twine was touted as a web 3.0 application. But it isn't, it's just another social network. Frankly, I'm underwhelmed. Call me Mr Thicky, but what does Twine do that StumbleUpon doesn't? Yes, Twine has some wiki-like functions - but who needs another wiki? The people who seem to like Twine say things like "I never really liked", and that's fine, but for me, is where my social network is, and my network drives, in exactly the same way that the networks will eventually drive Twine. Web 3.0 (when it arrives) is going to be so much more than this. Whatever Twine is, it's not web 3.0 - more like web 2.1. To be really useful, Twine would need to aggregate rather than Balkanize social networks, and link Alun's archaeology stuff from Ma.gnolia with Pownce with JayJay's comms stuff from and Twitter. I can do that with FriendFeed, but it's not "semantic". So what is Twine adding?

If Twine is going to survive (and the web 2.0 crash is coming, before the end of 2008 - November, if not before, would be my rash guess), it needs to come out of invitation-only beta, and quickly, so it can bulk up. But frankly, I don't care, because I have some better and more semantic than Twine right now. That's the networks I have been cultivating, fertilizing and pruning on and more recently on Twitter. I'll reserve my final judgment on Twine for a while to see how it develops, but frankly, it looks like an uphill struggle to me.

(I have two spare Twine invitations if anyone wants one)
All gone!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

What are you waiting for?

Graph UK visits to the top 25 online video sites increased by 178% between February 2007 and February 2008. However, this is an underestimate and the total increase is actually closer to 200%.

It's a small world after all

Nexus network browser

It turns out that this is an example of a Small World network, the most efficient design, which relies on small tightly connected groups loosely connected to each other, maximizing the transmission of information across a minimal number of connections.

Who knew? ;-)

Adobe takes on Flickr

Abobe Photoshop Express offers:
  1. Online editing.
  2. 2GB free storage.
  3. Galleries and slideshows:



YouTube launches analysis tools



Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Humorous Pictures

Never break the chain

Tree Although information, news, and opinions continuously circulate in the worldwide social network, the actual mechanics of how any single piece of information spreads on a global scale has been a mystery. This paper traces information-spreading processes at a person-by-person level using methods to reconstruct the propagation of massively circulated Internet chain letters. The finding is that rather than fanning out widely, reaching many people in very few steps according to "small-world" principles, the progress of these chain letters proceeds in a narrow but very deep tree-like pattern, continuing for several hundred steps. This suggests a new and more complex picture for the spread of information through a social network. We describe a probabilistic model based on network clustering and asynchronous response times that produces trees with this characteristic structure on social-network data.

[These] chain letters had a type of stroboscopic effect, serving to briefly "light up" a structure - the global e-mail network - that has otherwise been largely invisible, and allowing us to observe a snapshot of this network's everyday use as a means of conveying information. The resulting analysis has exposed several themes. First, accurately reconstructing the paths followed by the information is a computational challenge in itself, given the extensive ways in which the data are mutated as they spread. Second, the spreading patterns of the real chain letters are strongly at odds with the predictions of simpler theoretical models, which posit processes that reach many more people in radically fewer steps. Finally, simple probabilistic models incorporating the speed with which individuals respond to information can produce synthetic spreading patterns that closely resemble the ones we observe in real life.

Tracing information flow on a global scale using Internet chain-letter data
PNAS USA March 19, 2008

Ten thoughts from an iPod

iPod Touch I don't do phones, so a week of (nearly) exclusive web browsing from my shiny iPod Touch (sorry, I'll stop now), has give me some interesting insights. I know none of this is original, but it's all part of walking the walk as far as I'm concerned:

1. Why don't all computers boot in 5 seconds? In future, there's no way I'd consider buying any mobile device which isn't flash memory-based.

2. Management of screen real estate is crucial for mobile devices, and small screens make you hate sites with advertising, especially banner ads. One touch in the wrong place and you have to trek back to the page you want.

3. It's a shock to realize how prevalent Flash interfaces and web devices have become.

4. RSS: is great, Google Reader mobile is good (probably reflects my personal preferences).

5. Surprisingly, the mobile email experience has not been as good as I expected. Gmail is a slight disappointment, but UoL Outlook Web Access is surprisingly good (sorry Martin :-)

6. Mobile note taking - I still use Gmail. The iPod Notes application is only useful if you always work from the iPod and don't change devices. Gmail is omnipresent. As expected, the iPod is great for management (e.g. posting, spam, etc), difficult (but not impossible) for writing.

7. It took me a while to figure out how to use easily on the iPod (sync Safari bookmarks through iTunes). Welcome back, I missed you :-)

8. What's the killer app for the iPod Touch? Twitter, of course. Google Maps is good, especially the mock GPS, but spooky. Google is tracking me!

9. Lack of copy and paste is a problem, e.g. for tinyURL, etc, so I installed iCopy, which is a bit of a pain, but better than nothing.

10. Summary: No regrets, except that based on this experience, I'd consider going for the iPhone over the iPod Touch. I don't need a phone but the extra connectivity is very useful at times when there's no wifi around. Having said that, I'm happy to wait for the 3G iPhone which is just around the corner.

Update: The iPT has finally converted me to using Google Calendar, now available wherever there is wifi, and the mobile version of GCal works very well on the device.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Decision Tree

1) Laptop or iPod Touch?
iPod - who wants to carry a laptop around?

2) iPodTouch or eeePC?
Harder, but I'm loving the iPT - feels like the right choice.

Blogged from my iPod :-)

Department of the Bleedin' Obvious

How to cross the road

Networks Versus Groups in Higher Education

Networks Versus Groups Fascinating post by Terry Anderson (with a nice bibliography) presents the arguments for the inclusion of networked learning opportunities in higher education. The most compelling arguments to date arise from the value of weak connections, increases in social capital and the development of lifelong learning skills.

Networks offer increased opportunities for the growth of social capital, for globally relevant distributed learning and for increased involvement and engagement of higher education in the world beyond the ‘ivory tower’. The power of networking tools, plus the relevance and popularity of networked learning activities provide motivation for higher education institutions to move beyond groups, to include networked forms of organization in their instruction and learning programming.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vacation homework

Here Comes Everybody Before we all go our separate ways, I need to set your vacation homework. Please read this before next term, and we'll discuss it online when we get back after Easter:

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

Why is this book important? For one thing, it explains why we need the UoL Blog Network, and similar non-institutional skunkworks outfits, like PlanetOU :-)

Large decreases in transaction costs create activities that can't be taken on by businesses, or indeed by any institution, because no matter how cheap it becomes to perform a particular activity, there isn't enough payoff to support the cost incurred by being an institution in the first place.

Social tools provide ... an alternative: action by loosely structured groups, operating without managerial direction and outside the profit motive.

In any profession, particularly one that has existed long enough that no one can remember a time when it didn't exist, members have a tendency to equate provisional solutions to particular problems with deep truths about the world. This is true of newspapers today and of the media generally. The media industries have suffered first and most from the recent collapse in communication costs.

And education?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

UoL Blog Network Updates

UoL Blog Network I'm happy to be able to add some institutional content to the UoL Blog Network:

Join us!

Facebook goes mainstream (but still p****s me off)

Facebook So, with Moyles playing "that ebay song off Facebook", I guess we can officially say that FB is now mainstream in the UK.

But the Facebook ads are still p*****g me off:

RSS subscribers - visit site to view video

Monday, March 17, 2008

SXSW: Battledecks

Liven up your lectures with punk PowerPoint: Battledecks:

RSS subscribers - visit site to view video

via Rocketboom

Sunday, March 16, 2008

UoL Blog Network - now with round corners

UoL Blog Network As you already know (keep up at the back), this week's word of the week is aggregation. A couple of interesting comments left here in the past couple of days have led me to put 2 and 2 together, and suggested a way of improving the University of Leicester Blog Network. One was from Tony, suggesting that institutional aggregation could be a way forward. The other was from Jo, stating her undying love for round corners. So ... SOTI proudly presents, The University of Leicester Blog Network: Round Corners Edition:
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's get to the really interesting bit:

The University of Leicester Blog Network FriendFeed Aggregator: Blogs and so much more... (also available in Netvibes and Pageflakes)
Some of these pages are proving tricky for some people, so you may just want to sign up to the FriendFeed RSS output:

What a shame that University of Leicester IT Services, Student Support and Development Service and Pro-Vice Chancellor with special responsibility for students do not participate in these conversations!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Avatars - an important building block in online identity managment?

Avatar If you saw yesterday's Appreciation post, you'll know that University of Leicester students need some tips on online identity management, and that's precisely why we intend to include this issue as an important component of our forthcoming push towards PLEs.

Clearly, plenty of students don't take representation of their online identity very seriously, so maybe we shouldn't be too serious in our treatment of this issue. If they want sock puppets, we'll give 'em sock puppets.

For this game-obsessed generation, a familiar-looking online character could be the key to getting their attention. Mii Editor is an interactive Flash application that works online, or that can be downloaded to your desktop. Very easy to use, it allows easy creation of custom avatars. I'm not into games, and my first reaction to such things tends to be to dismiss them, but I recognize that personalization is an important aspect in acceptance of PLEs, so chacun à son goût. When I gambled on the sock puppet in my statistics videos, I only had the vaguest hope that Sockie would be as successful as he has become out. Sock puppet - superstar. Who knew?

Avatar Other cartoon avatar creators are available, two of the most popular being the Laughing Squid Simpsons avatar creator, and Simpsonize Me, which works from a photographic starting point, but if you have a personal favourite, suggestions are welcome - leave a comment below. And a link where we can see your avatar ;-)

via Tony's is-it-a-blog, is-it-a-course site, Digital Worlds

Web 2.0 comes of age: disintermediation and the long tail in higher education

Main presenter: AJ Cann
Session title: Web 2.0 comes of age: disintermediation and the long tail in higher education.
Type of session: Paper presentation
Thank you for the session proposal you submitted for the 2008 Academy Annual Conference. I am pleased to confirm that your session has been accepted.
Your session has been timetabled for Wednesday 02 July 2008, 15.45-16.15.
This year we had over 430 proposals submitted; about three times as many proposals as slots available. It has been a very difficult decision to construct a balanced programme from such a wealth of material. A condition of your session being included in the final programme is that you and any co-presenters register for the conference and pay the delegate fee by 07 April 2008.
Details about how to register as a delegate at the conference are available at Bookings will open on Monday 17 March 2008.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Aggregation, aggregation, aggregation

This week's word of the week, awarded weekly on a week by week basis is:

Aggregation - the only way we can survive information overload from the diverse range of sites and services we flit between:

FriendFeed: keep up-to-date on the blogs, bookmarks, tweets, photos, videos and music that your contacts are sharing.

coComment: keep track of all the comments and discussions you are participating in or observing across the web.

SecondBrain: a content manager that helps you collect, organize, search and share content from multiple online services in a single library.

And the winner is:

A tie between FriendFeed (best interface - less is more) and coComment (best functionality).

UoL Blog Network update

The University of Leicester blog network is a grassroots organization not officially affiliated to the University which seeks to allow UoL bloggers to communicate with each other. If you're a blogger at the University of Leicester, add the logo to your blog:

UoL Blog Network

Logo code:

<a href="" target="window"><img
src="" alt="UoL
Blog Network" border="0" height="45" width="110" /></a>

RSS Feed: We have a Yahoo Pipe as a temporary feed:

So sign up for the UoL Blogger Network feed, which currently stands at:
I'd also encourage all UoL bloggers to sign up to coComment - this will enable us to interact more by tracking and sharing conversations across multiple sites. The extension works with Firefox and Flock, but the bookmarklet is handy for UoL open access computers or where you don't have administrator privileges to install the extension.

ToDo List:
  • Recruits!
  • Better RSS aggregation?



Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's all about control

I took part in a structured interview this morning for a PhD student, during the course of which some interesting themes emerged, and finally, the light bulb moment arrived.

She asked me some interesting questions about connectedness, during which I started to pontificate about different people's preferences for different channels and platforms, and what was behind the choices they make. I waffled about how anyone who had ever received or sent a letter could instantly understand the email paradigm, anyone who had ever received or made a phone call could instantly understand the instant messaging paradigm, but most people were dumbfounded by presence applications such as Twitter when they first encounter them. So why would anyone choose to use Twitter? My theory was that people might prefer near-synchronous microblogging applications over email or IM because it allowed them fine control of their connectedness - the immediacy of IM without the time commitment of synchronous communication, the control of email, but faster:
Then we moved on to talk more about tool choices and I discussed my strategy for introducing people to RSS readers: give them a choice of Google Reader, Bloglines and an AJAX page and let them choose. The reason this complex strategy is necessary is because RSS-naive people simply don't "get" some of the formats, whereas an alternative will trigger instant recognition of the potential.

And then it dawned on me.

Google Reader favours the "stream of conciousness" view - efficient, but simply overwhelming for some people:
Google Reader

Bloglines is still efficient for many many feeds, but seems to offer more control, through the familiar 3-pane view, than Google Reader:

Bui in AJAX pages, all the information is in nice, neat, safe, rectangular boxes (even if they do have round corners):

It's all about control.

What does all this navel-gazing matter? It's informing the way in which I will introduce students to these tools when we help them build PLEs next session.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What's a network worth?

Network The University of Leicester does not yet have a blogging culture, although the number of active bloggers is increasing slowly. There's Alun, who started the whole thing off, Chris and his blogging posse, JayJay, and me, plus a few others that I probably don't know about - if you're out there, leave a comment. (I like to think the fact that we seem to like Wordpress is a sign of good taste.)

We read each others feeds and leave occasional comments, but we work in different disciplines (except Chris and I), so we don't have any other contact. So I've been wondering if there's any value in having some other sort of contact - a UoL blogging network, which might occasionally meet up for a coffee. And if we did, bearing in mind that bloggers might have their own opinions, would the University regard it as a threat? (Mary, Richard - care to comment?)

Would we be able to speak with one voice (sometimes)? Would we storm the list of the world's 50 most powerful blogs? And would we have any impact on institutional culture?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ten best practices for teaching online - or are they?

Educashun Judith Boettcher lists her ten best practices for teaching online. Generally speaking, this is good advice, although I do have a few quibbles:
  1. Be present at the course site.
  2. Encourage a supportive online course community (motherhood and apple pie?).
  3. Share a set of very clear expectations for your students and for yourself as to (1) how you will communicate and (2) how much time students should be working on the course each week.
  4. Use a variety of large group, small group, and individual work experiences. Uh-oh, I feel "learning styles" about to butt in here.
  5. Use both synchronous and asynchronous activities - why? Depends on the situation, surely.
  6. Early in the course ask for informal feedback on "How is the course going?" and "Do you have any suggestions?" And then what? Are you prepared to change course depending on the feedback?
  7. Prepare discussion posts that invite questions, discussions, reflections and responses. quick one-liner hints: Model good Socratic-type probing (everybody likes a good Socratic-type probing) and follow-up questions. Why do you think that? What is your reasoning? Is there an alternative strategy?
  8. Focus on content resources and applications and links to current events and examples that are easily accessed from learner's computers.
  9. Combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning (motherhood and apple pie again).
  10. Plan a good closing and wrap activity for the course: Important advice which is frequently overlooked - how often have you been a participant in an online course which has just fizzled out...

An investigation of differences in undergraduates academic use of the internet

I'm in Adobe CS3 reinstall hell today, so all I have time for is:

Based on survey data from 1222 undergraduate students studying at UK higher education institutions, this article addresses students' engagement with the internet as a source of academic information for their studies. In particular the article explores how academic use of the internet is patterned by a range of potential influences such as students' wider internet use, access and expertise, their year of study, gender, age, ethnic and educational background. Analysis of these data suggests that students' academic internet use is most strongly patterned along the lines of gender and subject-specialism rather than other individual characteristics or differences in technology access or expertise. The article therefore considers how these differences can be addressed by those seeking to encourage ICT-based learning across all sectors of the undergraduate population.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Cost of Excellence

Times Higher ...teaching is seriously under-resourced. The Higher Education Funding Council for England teaching grant comes nowhere near reflecting the full economic costs, and under this incentive structure the major political risk is not that higher education institutions will turn their back on the widening participation agenda, but that their future expansion plans simply will not include UK undergraduates. High-quality overseas students continue to be drawn to the UK, outside the Hefce quota and contributing towards the full economic costs of their education. European Union students from 26 other nations compete for admission on equal terms with UK applicants.

Seems like someone's been reading my byline!

Richard Taylor, the director of marketing and communications at the University of Leicester, fears that the higher education sector may have fallen into playing "logo wars" with their identity, a continual game of one-upmanship. Changing a logo will not change the institution itself, although this is the trap that Taylor fears staff fall into when engaging in sparring matches over image. "If you focus on a logo, you might back yourself into a corner. Academics can be quite sceptical people and sometimes, if they perceive that marketing is just about logos, they're unwilling to engage in that wider debate."


Seems like we may have taught Richard something ;-)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Twitter in Plain English

RSS subscribers - visit site to see video

If you're struggling with the concept of presence, this might help, but it misses out lots about the potential of microblogging.

Thursday, March 06, 2008 network explorer

RSS subscribers - visit site to see video network explorer

Any suggestions why YouTube is corrupting the start of all the videos I upload (irrespective of format)?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pownce is the new Twitter?


Absolutely. But the feature set on Pownce is very good now - a true microblogging application. And it might be more reliable than Twitter.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Excuse Me

Glove I was walking to work when a woman walking along in front of me dropped a glove and carried on walking. To attract her attention, I called out "Excuse me!", but she carried on walking.

I called "Excuse me!" again. No response.

It wasn't until I yelled "HEY!" that she turned round.

So my question is this: what is the correct polite way of attracting a stranger's attention? The code of manners I grew up with is clearly broken.

Suggestions on a comment please to:

confused@science of the invisible

Monday, March 03, 2008

Reflecting on ePortfolios

Screenshot Last week's Febrile Ramblings post provoked the best discussions for some time, so having decided that there's a market for unstructured gibberish, here's another post in the same style :-)

I'm not able to do full justice to this morning's excellent BDRA presentation Using eportfolios and blogs as transition 'spaces' into and out of the University by Julie Hughes and Emma Purnell from the University of Wolverhampton, but it generated the following thoughts:
  • Online Identities: Perhaps we should get students to consider this question: What does a Google search for your name reveal, and what would you like it to say about you?
  • ePortfolios promote a dialogic, iterative approach to feedback (c.f. Bloom, mastery learning).
  • ePortfolios can be a "store of assets" to be rebadged and repurposed for multiple audiences, and/or a reflective exercise.
  • ePortfolio templates/exemplars are a good idea.
  • Institutional funding input is not sustainable long term, ergo lifelong learning requires a strategy which extends beyond the institution.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Norman Nomates

Trying FriendFeed:

Hmm, how sad is this:

Imaginary friends

Free Education - Too Expensive?

Free Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.
Lewis L. Strauss, Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1954.

Over the past decade, a different sort of free has emerged. The new model is based not on cross-subsidies - the shifting of costs from one product to another - but on the fact that the cost of products themselves is falling fast. It's as if the price of steel had dropped so close to zero that King Gillette could give away both razor and blade, and make his money on something else entirely.
Chris Anderson

Education has a rude shock coming unless it gets ahead of this change and figures out how to become less of an institution and more of a platform. I hear a lot of universities talking proudly these days about their going interdisciplinary within their own institutions - that is, enabling two departments to finally start working together offering courses. But that's not nearly far enough; that's like a media company talking about synergy. What they need to do instead is start thinking past their ivied walls to work with other universities and with networks of teachers and students, not to mention alumni who leave with knowledge and gain more knowledge they could and should share.
Jeff Jarvis