Saturday, June 28, 2008

They said it couldn't happen

Two interesting posts from Tony Hirst:
got me thinking. It's been fashionable to say there isn't going to be a Web 2.0 "killer app", but I've just figured out that's wrong. Twitter is the Web 2.0 killer app, because as Tony discusses, everyone uses it in a different way. And that personalization is the essence of Web 2.0.

Why do we keep blogging about Twitter? Because Twitter is important - technically crap as it is, it's the most important thing that's happening in the online world right now, and that means something. Twitter is the zeitgeist of Web 2.0.



When I were a lad...

Chris thinks students have it too easy these days:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A question of degrees

They could be twins


I was going to post this, then I thought, nah, better not, but by then it was too late, because I had.
Anyhow, the official caption competition is now open:

I'm getting close to abandoning Flock

Flock I've always liked both the feel and the functionality of Flock, the social network-aware web browser, but it just seems to be getting slower and slower, especially compared to the latest versions of Safari and Firefox - so much so that I'm close to abandoning it.

I've dumped as many social sites as possible from Flock, which raises the question - why bother with Flock now? This problem is not just on one machine but several. It seems to be related to the response time of the Flock website - does Flock call home? (And if it does, can it be stopped - Tony? Liam?)

If I abandon Flock, what do I do? Am I locked into the Mozilla extensions poisoned garden? I don't think so, but my personal online identities management strategies has always relied on the look and feel of different browsers so that I instinctively know where I am online (and make less embarrassing mistakes). So I suppose I could run two (or more) FF3's with different themes - is this possible?

I'm open to suggestions.

Update: And the winner is: Liam Green-Hughes, who quoth thusly:

How do I disable collection of anonymous usage metrics?

If you don't wish to participate in Flock's anonymous collection of metrics, you can opt out during the installation process on Windows. You can also disable metrics reporting in Flock at any time by completing the steps below. Warning: the Flock configuration window contains numerous settings which, if incorrectly changed, may render Flock inoperable. Please follow these instructions exactly as indicated to avoid this risk.

1. In your browser's urlbar, type "about:config" and press return.
2. In the "Filter" textfield, type "flock.metrics.enabled"
3. If no results appear in the result pane below:
1. Context-click (right-click) to produce a context menu
2. Select "New" and then "Boolean" from the resulting menu.
3. When prompted, provide "flock.metrics.enabled" as the preference name
4. Select "false" for the preference value.
5. If a value does appear in the result pane below, verify that it is
set to "false" or context-click (right-click) and select "Toggle" to
toggle it to false.

4. Restart Flock.

Facebook is a valid educational tool (Becta)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bye bye Hefce?

PedR bad boys (and girls)

  • The focus on pedagogic research within CETLs has highlighted the uneasy relationship between three dimensions of University practice:
  • active research within a discipline or cluster of disciplines (traditional research-based practice)
  • how that research-based knowledge is reproduced through teaching and learning programmes (teaching and learning practices embedded in courses)
  • the pedagogic knowledge (produced through research or experientially) which may or may not have a disciplinary boundary.
  • Pedagogic research has an uncertain status in some quarters with its legitimacy and the legitimate position of its proponents, being questioned. The main critique is that separating out pedagogic research within a discipline from its disciplinary research base is unsound, i.e. the emergence of academic teachers who teach within a discipline and have pedagogic expertise, but are not active researchers within the discipline, is antithetical to the core purpose of HE.

I've seen the light

Macbook For months I agonized over whether to buy an eeePC or a MacBook. In the end, the lack of functionality (especially direct use of Seesmic) made the decision for me. A week on, I don't regret the decision at all, and Asus is giving me more resons to be glad I bought a MacBook.

RSS Chair

I'm proud to work at the University of Leicester, where even the chairs have RSS feeds:

RSS chair

UK Yoofs

No shit, Sherlock. You mean: they've discovered the interweb? GASP!


still doesn't get what ethical behavior involves.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Arbitrary and unreliable

Life Scientists and Emerging Technologies

Over on Seesmic I've been discussing with Terry McAndrew the unwillingness of UK life scientists to engage with emerging web technologies. My stance is that scientists are inherently conservative due to the fact that the establishment punishes mavericks to keep them in line: edupunk, maybe; scipunk = career death. However, my recent conversations tell me that there are a lot of scientists out there consuming but not willing to contribute to social media.

Terry suggested the possibility of setting up a Ning site to facilitate discussions between interested parties, but personally, I find it a bit ironic that in 2008 the HEA Centre for Bioscience website doesn't contain any direct user-generated content, thus forcing any conversations to be carried out elsewhere. Another Ning ghetto isn't the answer to increasing participation. Where are the Centre for Bioscience blog, the video diary, the discussion boards? How else do we get the lurkers to de-lurk? And yes, it takes time, money and effort - but what's the alternative?

So here are my suggestions. Hold the discussions about the value of/problems with emerging in full public view, and encourage as many contributions from as wide a range of participants as possible. Maybe a quick and dirty online poll might help a few people to get engaged. But none of this provides the ultimate answer. Social media is all about personal networks, and it's only by grass roots involvement and personal recruitment that participation will grow significantly.

That's what the Small Worlds project is all about.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Compare and Contrast


Small Worlds Arts and Humanities Sub-Committee Meeting 18.06.08

Small world networks The Small Worlds Arts and Humanities Sub-Committee (me and Alex) met at Small World Headquarters (DWL coffeeshop) and talked about our planned pincer movement across the UoL campus. The regiments commanded by General Moseley will infiltrate from the south and west while the troops under the command of Field Marshall Cann will move in from the east and north. When it's all over, we'll meet in the middle, around teatime.

Among the things we talked about were online identities (real and imaginary) and Twitter evangelism, and we both agreed that network building and noise control are critical in the early days of the Twitter experience.

Then Alex came up with the brilliant idea of making up imaginary Twitter exemplars for newbies to follow which would give them just what they needed in terms of traffic while they were network building - not totally unlike the "imaginary friends" capacity in Friendfeed. The idea involves aggregating selected RSS feeds and tweets from carefully selected people via Friendfeed rooms, then taking the RSS from the room and dropping it into a dedicated Twitter account using twitterfeed.

The volume and content of information is critical to the early Twitter experience, so academic disciplines may be the ideal unit of size for this, i.e. one for biologists, one for medics, one for engineers, etc. Here's a quick UoL one I knocked up to give you the idea:

Friendfeed room -> RSS output -> Twitter

Update: The Summize search seems to be generating a lot of noise in the Twitter feed, so maybe we'd better go with Alex's idea of paying some munchkins to post items manually. JayJay - your official rank in the Small Worlds Army is now "Munchkin" ;p)

Update2: Big Oops! The Summize -> Friendfeed -> Twitter cycle created a loop which constantly repeated itself. Oops! I've shut down the Friendfeed room (turns out you can't delete a FF room, so I just renamed it with a random string), but the Twitter account is still there if we want to use it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Web 2.0: Unlearned Lessons from Previous Virtual Learning Environments

logo "Lecturers’ attitudes towards Web 2.0 tools are mixed. The pedagogic benefits seem clear, but the increasing use of technology in our practice has added to our workload. Considerable time and effort are needed to apply these innovations in a meaningful way; this issue must be acknowledged at an institutional level. Unless sufficient support and encouragement is provided by HE institutions, we risk a repeat of the rapid but superficial spread of VLEs. If institutional support is limited to providing the technical infrastructure, the use of Web 2.0 in a pedagogically-rich environment will become another unfulfilled promise."

Web 2.0: Unlearned Lessons from Previous Virtual Learning Environments. Emilia Bertolo, Bioscience Education e-Journal Volume 11

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tests make science dull - Ofsted

Teaching can be weak where teachers lack knowledge and understanding. Many were too concerned with meeting narrow test requirements ... Ministers should also provide more funding to help teachers develop their knowledge and understanding of science.

Damn right. As the parent of a child sitting a GCSE science exam today, I can tell you that the standard of science teaching they have received since entering secondary education has been appalling in comparison to other disciplines such as humanities and languages. The constant testing doesn't help, but it's not the root of the problem.


msars: Discussion post from student: "In no more than 50 words, explain the classification for acetylcholine esterase." Twitter influenced?

AJCann: You've definitely got something there - forget MCQs - examination by Twitter!

UK Edublogger Censored

All over the world, bloggers are persecuted. The UK is not excluded. In the UK, edublogger Doug Belshaw posted a thoughtful piece What is a VLE? in his personal blog. As part of this, he commented on TALMOS, who have now now threatened him through his employers:


You can email TALMOS at and tell them exactly what you think of their behavior. Even better, you can blog about TALMOS and whether a company with this standard of ethics should be allowed to hold UK educational contracts (make sure you send a copy to your local education authority).

Online identity plagairism

Richard Dawkins A wise man once said Dawkins didn't exist on Twitter so it was necessary to invent him. This was in response to the shock news that Richard Dawkins wasn't Twittering, the thought of which had pleased a lot of people.

So what do we learn from this? That nature abhors a vacuum and that online identity management is a bit more complicated than it looks. While I'm not condoning any type of identity misappropriation, Dawkins brought it on himself in that if he had used Twitter, this wouldn't have happened. This is what happens when you don't join the conversation.

Where do we go from here? Well if I was Dawkins, I'd start by sacking my publisher/agent for not getting him on Twitter in the first place.

Cheating the system


He's right, and he's wrong:

Academics are under pressure to turn a blind eye to plagiarism and "mark positively", which could lead to a collapse in degree standards. This is wrong, and not supported by any evidence. In fact, the opposite is true, with the current plagiarism paranoia tending to disadvantage innocent students.

He says universities have been lenient with overseas students because they rely on them heavily for their fees. This is also wrong and there is no evidence to support it.

The number of first-class honours degrees awarded has risen by more than 100% in the past decade. The number of undergraduates is up by just over 40%. Despite the rise in top-class degrees, Alderman says standards have dropped. This is unarguably true. Do the maths.

So Don Quialderman is tilting at the wrong windmills.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gotta sickbag?

Small Worlds TweetBoard


Measuring Small Worlds

Small world networks At our Small Worlds project meeting on Friday, we finished off by briefly thinking about an evaluation strategy, and came up with the usual fairly lame qualitative solutions. But it's a hard nut to crack, tracking user behavior online across multiple networks after you encourage people to roam freely around the interweb and make their own connections.

On Friday night, Jo sent me a tweet about a possible approach, using seeding tracking URLs into a network. That set me thinking, and so far, this is what I've come up with:

Tagging: Use a unique tag and follow the progress of a tweet across networks using Twittersearch, Summize, Tweetscan or Twemes.

For URL tracking, we could use Twitt(url)y. (I'm not sure that Twitterfeed is needed Jo, we can just seed the ping URLs manually).

To track locality: Twittermap and Twitterlocal.

We also plan to use various network visualization tools, such as Tweetwheel or something else, and network explorer.

All I need to do now is figure out how to phrase all this for the research ethics form!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Exploring online identity

We need to "grok" this issue for our Small Worlds project (yes folks, this week's word of the week, awarded weekly on a week-by-week basis is: grok).

T-Mobile Web'n'walk Plus

USB stick Does anyone have any experience of T-Mobile Web'n'walk Plus, using one of these ->

Should I, or not? If you'd rather not comment below, please send me a tweet.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Small Worlds Team Meeting 13.06.08

Small world networks At our Small Worlds Project meeting this morning, we discussed:

How to implement the program across the campus: It was decided that Kevin will liaise with Mike Warrington re. Engineering and AJC will liaise with Pete Meacock re. Medicine & Biological Sciences.

Reassessment of application priorities: Our original application suggested tool priorities as:

1. RSS, 2. Social bookmarking, 3. Laboratory wikis, 4. Online Document sharing, 5. Microblogging (Twitter)

After discussion we reorganized the priority list as:

1. RSS, 2. Social bookmarking, 3. Microblogging (Twitter), 4. Online Document sharing, 5. Laboratory wikis

Twitter was promoted in recognition of it's role as eduglu in this project. We spent some time discussing the role of Twitter, and came up with a pyramid diagram to explain time spent online:

The Twitter Pyramid

Participation in induction week: Based on feedback from previous years, we decided that it was important to kick start the project for new post graduate students by participation in induction week. Based on his previous experience, Kevin will develop an exercise to introduce participants to Twitter. This will start with a face-to-face simulation of online activity then move online to reproduce the f2f interaction. This will be rolled out in induction week, followed by further f2f sessions later in the taught program.

Involvement of post-doctoral staff: After discussion, we decided that the best way was to recruit new post-docs through departments, then to rely on cascading of social networks.

Evaluation strategy: Because of the distributed nature of the project, meaningful quantitative analysis would be meaningless, so we will rely on qualitative analysis through questionnaires and network visualization tools.

Link from Pete Meacock: Graduate Junction website Graduate Junction is a brand new site which aims to give research students an easy way of making contact with others who share their research interests no matter which department, institution or country they work in.

Comments welcome.

Do we need a Policy for social networks?

This story on the BBC website that teachers should not involve themselves with social networking sites sparked the following exchange:

cjrw: I have a policy of only accepting Friend requests from former not current students on Fb and never initiate requests.
ajcann: Beeb was referring to school teachers, but I don't accept many FB friend requests these days as I don't go there.

Which led on to a discussion of whether we (we being either UoL or the School of Biological Sciences) should have a formal Policy (proper noun) about social networking sites.

So do we? Do you have one in your organization? And if you do, is it a help or a hindrance?

Update: Jo reminded me that the UoL internet code (2005) says:
  • During busy periods don't “surf” the Internet for recreational purposes.
  • During busy periods use email only for work-related activities: leave social emails for a less busy time.
Hmm - time for an update?

Great expectations of ICT

New research suggests that students are starting to mix their social networking sites with their academic studies and inviting tutors and lecturers into their virtual space. The research builds upon on an initial study – Student Expectations - carried out last year when 500 students were asked to indicate their expectations of technology provision when entering into higher education. This new data is based on students now that they are studying as first years at higher education institutions, compared to the previous study when they were still at school.

The key findings show that:
  • General use of social networking sites is still high (91% use them regularly or sometimes). Frequency of use has increased now that they are at university with a higher proportion claiming to be regular users (80%) – up from 65% when they were at school/college
  • 73% use social networking sites to discuss coursework with others; with 27% on at least a weekly basis
  • Of these, 75% think such sites as useful in enhancing their learning
  • Attitudes towards whether lecturers or tutors should use social networking sites for teaching purposes are mixed, with 38% thinking it a good idea and 28% not. Evidence shows that using these sites in education are more effective when the students set them up themselves; lecturer-led ones can feel overly formal
  • Despite students being able to recognise the value of using these sites in learning, only 25% feel they are encouraged to use Web 2.0 features by tutors or lecturers
  • 87% feel university life in general is as, or better than, expected especially in terms of their use of technology, with 34% coming from the Russell Group of universities saying their expectations were exceeded
  • 75% are able to use their own computer on all of their university’s systems with 64% of students from lower income households assuming that they are able to take their own equipment, perhaps due to lack of affordability and ownership.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Falling standards

Faking It

Sorry about the ad at the start of this video (although I support SAS in advertising NS&I):

What do you think?

UoL School of Biological Sciences Social Media Event?

UoL The outcome of our coffee morning was that we would like to arrange an open event to demonstrate some social media applications to anyone in the School who want to come along. (This might be followed up later by more targeted roadshows to Teaching Teams or Departments).

So the questions are:

  • July?
  • August?
  • September?

  • I'll do RSS and
  • Chris volunteered to do social bookmarking



Following Monday's post about online office suites, we've been playing with Adobe Buzzword a bit more. My impression has been very favourable - seems to have all the feature's you'd want in a word processor without the Microsoft bloat. In some ways, I prefer the Buzzword interface to Google Docs. Document sharing seems to work OK (barring a possible issue with notification emails originating off-campus being bounced?). Importing MS Word documents seemed to work, with limitations surrounding fonts and MS features such as Track Changes.

Have you used Buzzword, and if you have, what did you think?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Edupunk is so last week, we're into corporatepunk

The answer

It's a big job jobadge: back from feedback session - students want personal tutors to be academic tutors. hmmm.

ajcann: The only way we're going to move forward with this is to go back to the Oxbridge tutorial system...

jobadge: of course, it's the best and we all know it :-)

ajcann: How do we work it without funding? Twitter? Peer to peer?

jobadge: peer to peer possible, not sure 140 chrs will do it.

ajcann: No time for more than 140 char

Participatory Media Literacy

Howard Rheingold In my own small way (together with the readers of and contributors to this blog), I've been preparing for the roll out of our PLE strategy by thinking out loud about the activities we will (and won't) ask students to undertake.

At the same time, Howard Rheingold has been conducting a similar exercise on his Participatory Media Literacy course wiki. Needless to say, Howard's effort is incomparably better than my own feeble scratchings, so in the spirit of edupunk:

Just nick it

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Disappointed by the Stevenote

Introducing students to online office suites

Docs For many years, as part of our first year key skills module, we've run through the Microsoft Office suite applications. This was because we felt that MS Office provided the basic I.T. functions that our students should know, and because the MS suite is available to all UoL students under a campus licence. When we begin our new personal learning environment (PLE) strategy for students in September 2008, it's clear that MS Office on it's own no longer meets the job description (not to mention the problems that Office 2007 is causing).

I'm going to come back to presentation software and spreadsheets in a future post. In this post I'd like to concentrate on the basic word processing functions of an office suite. Our previous practice was to get students to download an MS Word document, carry out various formatting tasks (including spellchecking, inserting images and using the MS Equation Editor), print out one A4 page and hand it in. The hard copy was marked and the marks returned to students via the VLE gradebook, and on the hard copy if they wanted it back (about 50% of students used to collect the marked copy). Having paper in the system was always a pain, but the original idea was for students to demonstrate that they had the capacity to produce a printed document. (Yes, this exercise dates from the days when most essays were hand written and "the print queue" was a big deal :-) I've been struggling with a way to resolve online document sharing with the print requirement, and may have reached the conclusion that print just has to go...

To introduce students to a range of word processing software and online document sharing.

Students will receive an introduction to word processing software via the VLE incorporating information about and links to a range of office suites, including MS Office on the UoL servers, Google Docs and others (Zoho? Adobe Buzzword? Update: The more we played with Buzzword, the more we liked it).

Students will be required to open an account in their UoL username (or an assigned derivative if that account name is already taken) and to construct a personalized curriculum vitae based on a plain text pro forma (including formatting instructions) which they will download from the VLE. Google Docs will be used as an example of an online document suite, but students will be allowed to make their own choice of software.
On completion, they will share the finished document online with the markers. The markers will annotate the document online and return the marks to students via the VLE gradebook. Students will be assessed on:
  • Producing and sharing an online curriculum vitae
  • Following the formatting instructions in the pro forma, including insertion of specified images
  • and?
And that's all. Are we happy to abandon paper? Is sharing now more important than printing, and can we implicitly assume that students have the ability to produce hard copies of documents?

What could go wrong? Answers on a postcard below please.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Direct marketing strategy

Clearly, students don't buy books any more:


Evernote vs Zotero vs UoL

EvernoteAs part of our PLE project, we've been looking at a range of online tools. Thanks to the generosity of Doug Belshaw, I've been playing with Evernote, an online bookmarking site which "captures information from any environment and makes the information accessible and searchable, anytime, anywhere".

Evernote, with its elephant logo (geddit?) is essentially a brain dump database that stores URLs, text and images. To be honest, my first impression is "Meh", although there is one very useful feature - text recognition in images, which is very useful, and in truth, probably the only reason I'll continue to use Evernote - take a snap with your phone, upload and it's available as text. Access to Evernote comes via a downloadable desktop application (but there's no Linux version), or a browser bookmarklet, which only offers limited functionality.

The nearest thing I can think of to compare Evernote to is Zotero, which is more limited in scope, essentially just a reference manager, but slicker and better at what it does. Zotero definitely offers more than Evernote in terms of the advantages of social bookmarking services. Unfortunately, Zotero is tightly linked to the Fireox/Flock browers only and will not work with Internet Explorer. Although UoL students have access to Firefox on the University system, it's not easy to get at and it would be difficult if not impossible to "force" them to use it (although I'm all in favour of gentle encouragement).

Both services are free at present but "Evernote Premium" will cost something at some point in future. On balance, I can't recommend either service to our students - they'll be better off with a core service such as, Google Docs or other alternatives.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Disqus Revisited

Disqus logo Last time I looked at Disqus, I wasn't very impressed. But based on Doug Belshaw's rave review, I'm giving it another go.

This better work Doug! ;-)

Small Worlds: Social Networks for Postgraduate Laboratory Scientists

Small world networks I'm pleased to announce that the University of Leicester Research Training Innovation Fund has funded this project:

The past few years have seen the rapid development of Web 2.0 services, the so-called "read/write Web". In contrast to the original development of the World Wide Web, in the Web 2.0 model, users not only consume online information but also produce it through collaborative interactions. Social networks such as Facebook have become immensely popular, but their impact has remained largely confined to social and leisure use and has not transferred to the professional sphere. Although scientists were the first inhabitants of the word wide Web, they have not moved on and these developments have not had a significant impact on practicing laboratory scientists (Nature Reviews Microbiology, 2008 6: 410). Research shows (Key Concerns Within The Scholarly Communication Process, Report To The JISC Scholarly Communications Group, March 2008) that the reasons for the lack of adoption of these potentially valuable tools are:

- Lack of time
- Lack of incentive
- Laboratory scientists are reluctant to share results and techniques
- Lack of a user base
- The pull of the familiar

The widespread availability of computers means that everyone is in constant contact with everyone else. However, this creates a false impression and the reality is that many early career stage laboratory scientists work in a professionally isolated fashion. Apart from those working in large, well-funded laboratories, many junior scientists do not come into daily contact with their scientific peers, and may be physically located at isolated sites such as hospital laboratories. For these individuals, the opportunities offered by Web 2.0 technologies could be particularly important for career development.

This project will facilitate the construction of online professional networks using freely available Web 2.0 tools to support the development of early career stage laboratory scientists in the Life and Physical Sciences. We will do this by guiding and encouraging development of clustered small world networks. Graph theory shows that 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 will maximize the online interactions and the potential value of the groupings.

Taking a grass roots social network approach we will facilitate the development of online social networks among early career stage laboratory scientists by introducing them to critically important emerging research tools such as:
  1. RSS (Really Simple Syndication)
  2. Social bookmarking (, and sites for sharing journal papers and references such as Connotea, CiteULike)
  3. Laboratory wikis
  4. Online Document sharing
  5. Microblogging (Twitter)
To achieve this we will:
  • Conduct a series of focus groups consisting of PhD students, post doctoral workers and academic supervisors from the Faculties of Science and Medicine and Biological Sciences to assess the requirements for and impact of these technologies.
  • Develop online tutorials which can be used as free standing resources and as a basis for face to face training sessions.
  • Conduct face to face training sessions within the formal postgraduate training programs in the Faculties of Science and Medicine and Biological Sciences to initially introduce the target audience to these concepts, followed up by online mentoring.
  • Seed the social networks with trained peer mentors who can champion the tools provided and lead by example within their own small lab or department groups.
  • Evaluate the impact of the project by an online survey.
Duration of project: September 2008 - July 2009




YouTube is Taking Over