Thursday, July 31, 2008

An anthropological introduction to YouTube

Video of Michael Wesch's presentation to the Library of Congress. If you want to grok online video, watch this:

If you're struggling with online video, watch the section on vlogs 22 minutes in - you're not alone.
0:00 Introduction, YouTube’s Big Numbers
2:00 Numa Numa and the Celebration of Webcams
5:53 The Machine is Us/ing Us and the New Mediascape
12:16 Introducing our Research Team
12:56 Who is on YouTube?
13:25 What’s on Youtube? Charlie Bit My Finger, Soulja Boy, etc.
17:04 5% of vids are personal vlogs addressed to the YouTube community, Why?
17:30 YouTube in context. The loss of community and “networked individualism” (Wellman)
18:41 Cultural Inversion: individualism and community
19:15 Understanding new forms of community through Participant Observation
21:18 YouTube as a medium for community
23:00 Our first vlogs
25:00 The webcam: Everybody is watching where nobody is (“context collapse”)
26:05 Re-cognition and new forms of self-awareness (McLuhan)
27:58 The Anonymity of Watching YouTube: Haters and Lovers
29:53 Aesthetic Arrest
30:25 Connection without Constraint
32:35 Free Hugs: A hero for our mediated culture
34:02 YouTube Drama: Striving for popularity
34:55 An early star: emokid21ohio
36:55 YouTube’s Anthenticity Crisis: the story of LonelyGirl15
39:50 Reflections on Authenticity
41:54 Gaming the system / Exposing the System
43:37 Seriously Playful Participatory Media Culture
47:32 Networked Production: The Collab. MadV’s “The Message” and the message of YouTube
49:29 Poem: The Little Glass Dot, The Eyes of the World
51:15 Conclusion by bnessel1973
52:50 Dedication and Credits (Our Numa Numa dance)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Using Creative Commons Images from Flickr

Creative Commons Over the past few years I have built up quite a large collection of images on Flickr. I do not sell images commercially and I do not have any higher-resolution images available (so don't ask). All of my images on Flickr carry a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike licence. That means you are free to:
  • Copy, distribute, display, and perform the work
  • Make derivative works
under the following conditions:
  • Attribution: What does "Attribute this work" mean? You can use the URL of the image page to cite the work. Doing so will allow others can find the original work as well.
  • Share Alike - if you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license.
For more information, please visit the Creative Commons website.

This means you don't need to contact me to ask permission to use the image under the above licence terms. I do not make exceptions to this licensing policy. I wish you well with your publication/project and hope that you understand why you won't be receiving a personal email response from me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Talkinator - talk to me

Like Mailinator, which offers web-based temporary public email accounts created on the fly, Talkinator is an interesting idea: free, no-signup, no registration, group discussion rooms, like this:

Hmm, what can we use this for? Suggestions on a postcard below please ;-)

Monday, July 28, 2008

TechDis HEAT3:

TechDis I'm pleased to announce that our cross-disciplinary team from the University of Leicester has been funded by the JISC TechDis HEAT3 Scheme to carry out the following project:

Student Microblogging And Recording Timelines (SMART):

This project aims to utilize mobile technology to ascertain the study spaces used by students at University of Leicester. Free wifi access is readily available on the University of Leicester campus, and students will be required to use the Twitter microblogging system regularly to record short messages (up to 140 characters) describing where and what they are studying using an iPod touch (or on a personal mobile phone via SMS if they choose). Participants will be recruited by email and will use the iPod touch for three weeks before passing it to another student in the project. This way, a maximum of 90 students will be able to use the iPod touch, with all participants being entered into a draw to win one of the devices at the end of the academic year. Student posts will be tracked by RSS and data aggregated centrally for analysis. Use of Twitter will allow us to use RSS feeds to collect and record the data streams from the participants without costly administration associated with alternative methods such as paper diaries. In addition, Twitter provides automatic time stamps, immediacy and offers the potential for real time tracking.

Expected outcomes:
Participating students will be required to post messages (tweet) at least four times per day, e.g. "I am in the library writing an essay for module x". Ten devices over 6 months active recording will provide a minimum of 7200 observations, which will allow us to build an accurate picture of where and when student-defined learning spaces on and off-campus are utilized, and for what purposes. By rotating the devices through various student cohorts, we will be able to localize preferred learning spaces for the disciplines covered by the project (School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Arts) in time and space. The current interest in the student experience has included those looking at the learning environment and in particular the physical space and tools used by students when studying. The widening participation agenda has increased the proportion of registered disabled students and the numbers of those choosing to study from home or at their local university. These changing patterns of learners, increasing pressure on existing study spaces, and increasing use of technology will undoubtedly continue to challenge the traditional model of studying solely in lectures, laboratories and library study cubicles.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The madness continues

RyanAir - are they mad? SGM Conference, Dublin, September 2008.

How can RyanAir charge me nothing for the flight? I still don't understand. OK, I booked a hotel through their site, so they made some commission on that, but with fuel prices as they are?

(BTW, you don't have to lay the guilt trip on me for flying twice in one year, I've already got that)

Update: Ryanair to slash fares 5% - so now they're going to pay me to fly? WTF?

Testing SlideRocket

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bullying still rife at De Montfort

Google Knol - an alternative to blogging?

Google knol A few months ago, Google announced a new web authoring tool called Knol. "Knol" stands for "unit of knowledge" and Google tried to encourage people who know about a particular subject to write an "authoritative" article about it. The buzz at the time suggested that Google might be taking on Wikipedia.

Yesterday Google announced that the project is now open to everyone:

The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good. With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call "moderated collaboration." With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it! Knols include strong community tools which allow for many modes of interaction between readers and authors. People can submit comments, rate, or write a review of a knol. At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads from our AdSense program. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with a revenue share from the proceeds of those ad placements.

They also suggested that Knol might be an alternative to blogging:

Blogs are great for quickly and easily getting your latest writing out to your readers, while knols are better for when you want to write an authoritative article on a single topic. The tone is more formal, and, while it's easy to update the content and keep it fresh, Knols aren't designed for continuously posting new content or threading. One other important difference between Knol and Blogger is that Knol encourages you to reveal your true identity. Knols are meant to be authoritative articles, and, therefore, they have a strong focus on authors and their credentials. We feel that this focus will help ensure that authors get credit for their work, make the content more credible.

I'm not sure what to make of this, although I can see circumstances where I might want to use it. So to find out how it works, I knocked up a quick Knol (which was easy).

So what? Web 2.0 needs to come of age, and sadly, in this society, that means monetization. Is Knol one route to monetize online collaborative content? Maybe, though I remain to be convinced that it's more than extra eyeballs for AdSense. But perhaps I'm wrong, and perhaps you can tell me how Knol might have a role to play in education.

Update: Well, waddya know? 24 hours after I wrote my test Knol:

Google knol

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Future of Science

Michael Nielsen has written a thoughtful essay asking why scientists have been so slow to pick up on new Web 2.0 technologies (via David Crotty). They both comment on the failure of science online, and in particular Wikipedia, to achieve openness. In his conclusions, Nielsen is quite optimistic, coming to the conclusion that when we have better tools and cultural change, everything will work out OK, based on the economics of collaboration.

I'm not so sure.

We ran a Web 2.0 session for research scientists recently where one particular event sticks in my mind. One participant became excited about the prospect of social bookmarking, explaining that they wanted to be able to see what their competitors were reading, but didn't want them to see what they were bookmarking. Anti-social bookmarking anyone?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ze Frank - The Sound of Young America

Is VoiceThread a useful tool?

Update: There's an interesting conversation going on over on this VoiceThread now. My concern is that this is buried and inaccessible to most people.
I also have some problems with the navigation in VoiceThread, which we all seem to agree is harder to use than Seesmic, but that's all covered in the VoiceThread discussion, so please join in.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Twitter Story

Kevin, I made you a movie:

It's not the layout or the tools, it's the community and the conversation.
Any forum such as Ning is a closed ghetto - an echo chamber.
Twitter is open and public. No-one owns or controls it, and it will constantly surprise and entertain you. If you participate as I suggested, people will talk back to you.

Folks, I need your help. Please say Hi to Kevin on Twitter. Suggest how he can improve his Twitter account and explain why Twitter helps you.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Microbiology and New Media

Read this document on Scribd: 080809

goingpublic Science communication takes many forms. In this issue we cover some of the latest ways by which microbiologists can keep in touch with each other and their subject. We also pay a visit to the Welsh Assembly to promote microbiology. Podcasts The term ‘new media’ can be rather vague. It is often applied to anything internet-based that isn’t a static web page. One such application is a podcast: an audio file that is connected to an RSS feed, which enables subscribers to be alerted when a new (usually regular and frequent) episode is available. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of the most popular podcasts are based on music and comedy (15 of today’s top 25 podcasts on iTunes have comedy content; 2 are These three podcasts cover a spectrum of understanding, aimed at everyone from the interested school student and the concerned parent to the postdoc researcher and the seasoned scientist. Just like a magazine, information can be presented in different ways, including news items, discussions and interviews. The content is convenient to the user who, perhaps, does not have time to sit and read a monthly magazine, but can easily listen to a 10-minute podcast while walking to work, driving, etc. But perhaps most importantly, by making audio available, It is a short video with some basic information about creepy crawlies that live on us humans, including microbes. Other popular videos include Bacterial conjugation ( yvehqs) with 28,296 views and Great microbiologists, as told by Lego men ( Many of the microbiology videos on YouTube are aimed at students. It is possible to learn all sorts of things, from the history of microbiology to plate-streaking methods. Videos come from a multitude of different sources, including universities, labs and people’s living rooms. The benefit? According to ‘Everyone can watch videos on YouTube. People can see first-hand accounts of current events, find videos about their hobbies and interests, and discover the quirky and unusual. As more people capture special moments on video, YouTube is empowering them to become the broadcasters of tomorrow (YouTube. com, May 2008). Blogs New media has brought along with it a cascade of new words, which can make it seem even more difficult to decode. One of these is blog. Blog comes from the term web log, which refers to a web page or website content that is written and maintained regularly, often consisting of opinions and descriptions of events – a sort of online diary. The word can also be used as a verb, meaning to write or maintain a blog. Blogs can be (and are) written on just about everything imaginable, including microbiology. According to Google, MicrobiologyBytes is the most popular microbiology blog: with over 250,000 page views in the last year. ASM also has a blog, Small Things Considered. Our own blog (www.micropodonline. com/blog) covers diverse topics, including the effect of TV adverts on the public opinion of microbes and the increase in STIs at Christmas. For blog authors, a major advantage is the facility that enables readers to comment and provide feedback. Social networks Social networks are beginning to grow out of the blogging world. is a fledgling network that is based on ‘real-time microblogging’: people interact via short (140 character) blogs. Twitterers can reply to each other’s ‘tweets’, creating a dialogue in a network. Yesterday, I asked for opinions. Googler martynj said ‘I think Twitter’s great for serendipitous discovery of complimentary ideas/techs.’ AJcann said ‘Benefits to microbiology = community of practice, especially for professionally isolated folks.’ Social networks are often in the spotlight. An estimated 200 million people are registered on MySpace and at least 170 million people are on Facebook. In the UK, Bebo ranks second in the social network ranks and was purchased in March 2008 by AOL for $850 million (http://tinyurl. com/3ac2c8). Bebo, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace are in the top 10 most searched for items in 2007 (http:// and 1 in 50 UK network visits are to Facebook (http:// Social networks provide facilities for like-minded people to gather virtually and share links, videos, podcasts, pictures and ideas. People group themselves in all sorts of ways, by profession (e.g. microbiologists), by hobby (e.g. brewing), by interest (e.g. microbiology) and even by campaign (e.g. ‘I support the HPV vaccine!’). The group Micropodonline is made up of all sorts of people, each with an interest in topical microbiology. Some social networks are tailored to science and scientists. Nature Network enables Microbiology and If I wanted to, in the next 5 minutes I could download a podcast about astrobiology, comment on a blog discussing the pros and cons of mandatory vaccination, watch an instructional video teaching me how to streak an agar plate and join a group of sexy microbiologists just by clicking my computer mouse a few times. Such are the benefits of new media and web 2.0 technology. The advantages to me as a consumer are clear: I have a wealth of information, in a variety of formats, at my fingertips. I can even interact with the information, offering feedback and opinions. But what’s in it for microbiology?  / Jupiter Images new media factual) but there is certainly a place for science. The Naked Scientists’ podcast and The Guardian’s Science Weekly are both popular in the ‘Science and Medicine’ category, and microbiology is not neglected. A handful of podcasts is available by (free) subscription, including the ASM’s Microbeworld, University of Leicester’s (Dr Alan Cann) MicrobiologyBytes, and Micropod online, the product of a recent collaboration between SGM and the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) (www.micropod podcast.html). For the ASM, University of Leicester, SGM and SfAM, podcasts are a new way to make information available to the public. (MicrobiologyBytes has attracted 100,000 downloads in the last year and there are approximately 1,500 regular weekly subscribers.) the producers are better connected to the users, making them feel more involved with the subject matter and therefore likely to return for more. And hearing a scientist speak about their research makes it real, accessible, understandable and relevant. Video Around 9% of BBC Online content is video. People are watching less television, preferring to find relevant video content to view online. Videos access yet another audience, which may otherwise remain out of reach. For example, YouTube attracts around 20 million views each month and is popular with a younger audience. The number one viewed microbiology video on YouTube is called We are not alone ( It has had 257,451 views and been awarded a 5-star rating by the viewers. 150 microbiology today aug 08 microbiology today aug 08 151 A few useful URLs What? Nature Network Biomed Experts Facebook MySpace Twitter Plurk Second Life YouTube UStream Who for? Professional scientists Professional scientists Everyone Everyone (micropod online group Bloggers Bloggers People with some spare time Video lovers Video lovers Where? scientists to create a professional profile, including their areas of expertise, interests and publications. Members can discuss scientific issues and methodology, or just discuss last night’s episode of a TV soap. BiomedExperts, ‘your scientific match point’ is similar to Nature Network; and is created around professional collaborations; members are connected by publication, becoming part of a huge group of associated researchers. UN CCC meeting in Indonesia, to see whether we could add value to that event, open a window for extra participation for people over that fortnight.’ The virtual event was a huge success, becoming a model for similar events in the future. What next? So what does the future hold? Gone are the days when it was sufficient to put something interesting on a website and let people find it. Alan Cann thinks there will be a ‘growth in participatory media and user-generated content. Much of this will be driven by social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. There will also be a lot more usergenerated video chat through sites such as and Seesmic.’ To hear Alan’s response in true web 2.0 style, see It is projected that by 2012, 80% of online interaction will be via virtual worlds. Does this mean we should throw away our pens and paper? I don’t think so. Whatever happens, there will still be a place for traditional media. People enjoy flicking through a magazine, reading a newspaper, watching TV and listening to the radio. As the horizon changes, plain information will still be needed to form the basis of new content, be it a podcast, blog or discussion forum. Microbiology can certainly benefit from new media by making itself accessible to users, therefore more readily consumed. Microbiologists themselves will benefit from being part of online networks, but this does not spell the end for traditional conferences. To make the most of new media, we first have to be willing to dip our toes into web 2.0. SGM has done just this. www. is proving to be a success, followed by the recent launch of the SGM journals podcast (see p. 113). We have a Facebook group, a MySpace page, Wikipedia entries and RSS feeds in development – watch this (virtual) space! To find out more or how to contact me via web 2.0, email Lucy Goodchild, SGM External Relations Administrator MicrobiologyBytes videos The widespread availability of broadband internet makes it highly feasible to distribute short video clips online. As Lucy Goodchild describes on p. 150, the most obvious manifestation of this potential is the rapid growth in popularity of YouTube and similar video-sharing services. A recent report indicates that YouTube looks set to overtake in its share of UK website visits (http://tinyurl. com/34gndf). Although the penetration of this technology into the student population is very high, teachers and academic staff are lagging seriously behind in the take-up of this new form of communication. Online video has a high acceptability to young learners. In addition to ongoing investment by educational institutions, online video provides enormous flexibility to learners via computers, game consoles and mobile devices such as phones and video players. In a past issue of Microbiology Today, I have described the great and still increasing success of my blog and podcasts on This site has achieved its aim of engaging with the public about topical aspects of microbiology. I have also conducted pilot experiments with video formats in the podcast and blog, and these have been very popular. With the support of an award from the Society, I am currently producing at least one video podcast per month ( The production of video is more time-demanding than the production of an audio podcast, but the new audience and publication channels the video format makes possible means that this is worthwhile. The videos are ‘branded’ with the SGM identity and a link to the Society website. The aims of MicrobiologyBytes are to:  Promote understanding and awareness of current issues in microbiology in the general public, potential students of microbiology and the media  Promote awareness of SGM, benefits of membership, and resources available on the Society’s website  Promote awareness of career possibilities in microbiology and microbiology-related fields. Based on the success of the last year, I believe these aims have been realized, but extension of the project into the highly attractive online video field will further increase the audience. Alan Cann University of Leicester (e Virtual worlds Taking this one step further, you reach virtual worlds, where your online profile is given a 3-dimensional presence, or avatar. As Mellifera Slade in Second Life, I can talk to my virtual friends using my real voice. I can attend lectures (a recent event on the Nature Island was a talk on bluetongue virus), peruse the literature at the Second Life Centers for Disease Control and Prevention building or sit under a parasol and listen to the latest episode of the Nature podcast. Virtual worlds give institutions the opportunity to create virtual areas that are accessible to anybody with a computer. More than 100 universities have campuses in Second Life, on which courses are run and lectures given. According to Peter Armstrong, founder of, it won’t be possible for people to fly to conferences in the future, due to the pressures of climate change. Second Life is an opportunity for people to meet without having to travel. ‘We tested it last December against the Science and the Welsh Assembly On Tuesday 20th May, the Royal Society of Chemistry held its annual Science and the Assembly event in Cardiff, split between the fabulous Wales Millennium Centre and the stylish Senedd. This event aims to bring together scientists and the Welsh Assembly to discuss topical science issues, and began with a keynote speech from Jane Davidson AM, Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing. High profile researchers from around Wales then delivered scientific presentations. Afterwards, a buffet and exhibition in the Senedd, specifically timed to follow the Assembly’s plenary session that afternoon, allowed the delegates to mingle and chat, as well as explore the displays. The SGM participated in the exhibition. With the ongoing public inquiry into the 2005 outbreak of Escherichia coli O157, the largest ever outbreak in Wales, it seemed appropriate to present information on the foodpoisoning agent verocytotoxinproducing E. coli (VTEC). This included a short movie showing the interaction of E. coli O157 with the epithelia of the gastrointestinal tract. The Senedd is a space open to the public and throughout the day there was significant interest in the SGM display. The hand soaps (there to promote good hand hygiene, which is key in helping to prevent food poisoning) were especially popular with visiting school children. However, the undisputed talking point of the day at the Senedd, which divided opinions of visitors and politicians alike, was the huge tinplate portrait of Baroness Margaret Thatcher that had been hung against the glass windows at the front of the building. Visible from both inside and out, this temporary artwork, which was due to be unveiled the next day, was one of a pair. The other portrait was of NHS founder and Welsh hero, Aneurin Bevan. Faye Stokes Public Affairs Administrator Further reading Parliament/Events/Scienceandthe Assembly2008.asp ?lang=en highlights_movie.htm 7411199.stm 152 microbiology today aug 08 microbiology today aug 08 153

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Can a ghetto ever be good?

iPhone As you may have read, I don't like ghettos, but Danah Boyd says ghettos can be good - if they provide cluster effects by reaching crucial network density:

I've been anxiously awaiting [the iPhone] launch in the hopes that it might show the power of cluster effects wrt mobile phones. Cluster effects describe the emergent practices that occur when the density of infrastructure adoption in a social network reaches a critical tipping point. In other words, cluster effects are the cool things that people do when all of their friends can do the same things. We take cluster effects for granted in the Internet space because, by and large, entire friend groups can jump onto a computer, grab a browser, and login to a website. In terms of clusters, the barriers to Facebook or MySpace are more personal than infrastructural. (Those who lack general access tend to have friends who lack access.) Mobile phones are different. Even if all of my friends have a Nokia N95, the likelihood that we're all on the same carrier with the same plan is next to null. The result is that I can't install an app onto my phone and expect all of my friends to be able to play along. This kills mobile social software from the getgo.
So far, there have been few examples of dense mobile adoption platforms. There's the Crackberry, but that audience isn't exactly the most innovatively social. The Sidekick was impressive amongst deaf communities and urban youth, but T-Mobile managed to lock that puppy down so heavily that no innovative practices really emerged. Still, if you look at the AIM usage in those clusters, you get a good indicator of the potential. And that's all folks.
The iPhone has the best chance of hitting that tipping point of anything out there. For the most part, everyone is stuck on AT&T. And everyone gets a data plan. And the phone is semi-open. The price is still out of reach for most high schoolers who rely on parental pass-me-downs, but it has a decent chance of hitting other clusters. I was banking on urban 20-somethings, but I love the idea of it hitting cab driver clusters.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bill Bryson, Doctor of Letters, University of Leicester

Bill Bryson has probably given me more amusement than any other writer. From the time that I first stumbled across Notes from a Small Island to a flight back from Amsterdam in January this year when I thought I might get put off the plane for laughing uncontrollably at his description of the American love of Jell-O salad in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, he has been consistently good value, and A Short History of Nearly Everything is undoubtedly the best popular science book I have ever read, containing the best account of string theory I have heard. So I was delighted when I learned that the University of Leicester was going to award him an honorary degree this year:

Monday, July 14, 2008

In the Ghetto

Graduate Junction




Ning’s challenges come in three areas: First, users of any particular social network built on Ning can’t share their data across different Ning social networks, negating the advantages of network effects. This means that each social network on Ning has to grow an audience to start from scratch. (From Ning’s perspective, separate data gives social network creators more control). Second, if any social network actually becomes popular, there’s a good chance that it will migrate off Ning because independence affords more flexibility and control. Third, alternative platforms, like Facebook, offer far greater reach. Build an application on Facebook and you can market yourself to Facebook’s 53 million active users. Even if Ning allows for data sharing across Ning users, it has a fraction the active user base of many social networks.

While each of the above sites (and the many similar ones) have laudable aims, they fall into the torrent of sites being produced at present which require separate registrations to ring fence isolated communities. This balkanization of online spaces will fail to produce inclusive communities. Pity.
It's easy to get funding to produce a shiny new website, since the funding bodies have not understood the impact of Web 2.0 and are still operating like it's the 1990's. Getting funding to foster open online communites with specific purposes but based on existing vibrant networks is much harder. This is what Small Worlds is attempting to do.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Accessibility of Adobe Buzzword

I really don;t like how the flash based format results in lack of accessability features in Buzzword. Surely there's someway of making the text bigger for viewing if you wanted. Google docs is ahead on this count for me

GCSE Coursework

One of my kids GCSE coursework (which I don't do for them, since you're asking, but am often called in in in a consulting role ;-)

Compare this with this

kicked off happy memories for me:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Formative Assessment

Seb Schmoller pointed me at this interesting presentation from Dylan Wiliam on formative e-assessment:

An assessment functions formatively when evidence about student achievement elicited by the assessment is interpreted and used to make decisions about the next steps in instruction that are likely to be better, or better founded, than the decisions that would have been made in the absence of that evidence.

The big idea:

Use evidence about learning to adapt teaching and learning to meet student needs.

In other words: if it 'aint adaptive, it won't be formative.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Clay Shirky on Wikipedia

Here Comes Everybody Wikipedia continues to grow, and articles continue to improve. The process is more like creating a coral reef , the sum of millions of individual actions, than creating a car. And the key to creating those individual actions is to hand as much freedom as possible to the average user.

RSS subcribers, visit site to watch video

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Twitter growth continues despite outages

Making Small Worlds Sticky

Sticky I haven't been able to stop thinking about this comment Peter Miller left on the post I wrote on Monday. Peter's list for scaffolding (Word of the Week) Small Worlds includes:
  • make it fun
  • make it visual
  • make it so anyone can contribute
  • make it anonymous
  • make it competitive
  • make it collaborative
  • make it a game?
I'm sure he's right, but it's a challenging list. Some of his suggestions are unarguable, (anyone can contribute, collaborative), but some are difficult. Anonymous? Might that cause more trouble than it's worth?

We know why Facebook is sticky. I'm in agreement with Peter's list of principles, but how, in practical terms, do we make Small Worlds sticky?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

More PebblePad

Hello Neil. I would have left you a comment on your blog, but you've got comments turned off, so I'm posting it here instead. My original post was not a swipe at anyone (or I would have named people :-) and the one thing this blog is not devoid of is arguments about ePortfolios and PDP.

If you want to know why signing a 5 year contract with PebblePad is a bad idea, take a look at The VLE/LMS is dead. Just like Blackboard, PebblePad is also predominantly tutor/institutionally controlled - the students didn't sign the contract with PebblePad, and by doing so and mandating it's use, the University has taken away the element of choice which is so important in embedding PDP in a meaningful way.

Packaging Rant

Monday, July 07, 2008

Why didn't you blog Glasto?

Ed asked me why I didn't blog Glastonbury this year.

Partly because I was completely uninspired.

And partly because I hadn't discovered Imeem:

How/should we structure informal peer learning?

This video of Gráinne Conole’s presentation "Disruptive Technologies or New Pedagogical Possibilities" at the recent Eduserv Foundation Symposium raised some interesting questions for me:

Now, I'm not suggesting for one moment that you should skip Gráinne's interesting presentation, but the part which caught my attention was the discussion at the end. (Kudos to the organizers for including the discussion in the video - so often this gets cut off, leaving only the boring fascinating prepared talk.)

In our undergraduate PLE project, after lengthy consideration, we decided to impose structure on learners through assessment.

But is the idea of structure antithetical to Small Worlds, and if it is, how can we ensure the success of this project? In the jargon, what scaffolding does Small Worlds need?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Evil Genius

Evil Genius

The evil genius behind this weekend, courtesy of one of my talented sons.


Swurl I'm not quite sure what to make of Swurl. On the one hand, I like the simplicity, but by going for such a highly visual approach to aggregation, it lacks much of the functionality of FriendFeed. The basic view is too wasteful of screen real estate to be of much value as an aggregator, but the timeline is more promising, even if it does flag my Twitter addiction.

Any thoughts? (shame about the name) is a Twitter clone.


The twist is that is an Open Source, CreativeCommons framework for a distributed network of federated microblogging services.


This means that Twitter must now get it's act together, fast, or it will die.
Why? has (or plans to have soon):
  • OpenID
  • SMS
  • URL shortening
  • Cross posting to Twitter and other services
  • OAuth
  • Distributed/Federated: I put a customized version of the software (called on my server, you put one on yours, we both get friends on our local copy and any other versions around the web - and everyone can communicate with each other just like we were using the same service from the same provider
  • No Failwhale
Time to wake up, Twitter.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Exploiting New Research Tools

Boffins How to save time online
MSB G61 12.00-2pm Monday July 7th

All academic staff from the UoL School of Biological Sciences are invited to this free, hands-on event. No need to book, just turn up.


Alan Cann: How to find the research paper you need without looking for it

Chris Willmott: Knowing where it's at - find it? flag it? share it?

Joanne Badge: Beyond "Track Changes" to collaborative writing

Stuart Johnson: Organising your online world

Thursday, July 03, 2008

HEA Conference Day 3

Day 3 at the HEA Conference in Harrogate, and only a couple of highlights to report:
Apart from the informal networking opportunities, I'm glad to be home. This was a poorly thought-out and badly organized conference, and I won't be going to another one.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

HEA Conference Day 2

Day 2 at the HEA Conference in Harrogate. For me, the highlights today have been Paul Orsmond's paper on student self-assessment within communities of practice, and a number of discussions around the role of postgraduates in shaping HE development. I also gave my presentation this afternoon:

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

There has been both a quantitative and a qualitative change in the students entering higher education, and they have been described as the "loophole generation" (Summerville and Fischetti 2007). In order to effectively cope with the long tail of students currently entering higher education, academic staff need to stop attempting to maintain a stranglehold on learning technologies inside institutional walled gardens, while maintaining a firm grasp on the quality of qualifications awarded.

Disintermediation is "cutting out the middleman". By relaxing our grip on the technology of learning we can utilize the power of "Web 2.0", a blanket term which refers to a second generation of web-based communities and online services, such as social-networking sites, wikis, and social bookmarking and indexing sites, which enable creativity, collaboration and sharing between users. This approach changes e-learning resources from isolated information silos to interlinked platforms. Most importantly, Web 2.0 also includes a social element where the users generate and distribute content, often with freedom to share and re-use, and allows the user to do more than just download information. Users "own" and exercise control over the data on a Web 2.0 site. Web 2.0 sites have an architecture of participation that encourages users to add value to the site as they use it, and usually feature a rich, user-friendly interface and may also have social-networking features. These technologies are therefore a natural fit for building personal learning environments which encourage ownership of learning through a choice of the best tools available, rather than just those which have been purchased by a particular institution. By offering a wide choice of software tools, learners establish ownership of their personal learning environment (PLE) by following their preferred styles and patterns of learning. This enhanced stake holding motivates and sustains learning. Unlike an institutional virtual learning environment (VLE) or learning management system (LMS), students will not be locked out of their PLE when "their" course ends. This is the only financially and educationally sustainable approach to lifelong learning.

However, VLEs/LMS have some advantages, notably authentication, monitoring student progress and the convenience of "everything in one place". Rather than simply abandoning the present monolithic structures we need to abandon a blinkered approach to e-learning technologies and move to a loosely coupled teaching environment which aims to blend the advantages of institutional systems while leveraging the power of contemporary social software/Web 2.0 tools. In higher education we are selling a service, not a product. By allowing academic staff to assume the role of learning advisors rather than production supervisors, students will enter a learning community where they will acquire the skills and the knowledge required for lifelong learning via a collaborative framework. The loophole generation will be able to collaborate with academics to become the teachers of the next generation.

In the paper, I will describe initiatives which are underway in the Faculty of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester to develop new practical strategies for deployment of "loosely coupled teaching" involving Web 2.0 tools to facilitate and promote personal development planning and lifelong learning.

Web 2.0 changes the game and raises expectations
Web 2.0 is defined as:
"A perceived second-generation of Web-based services such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users".
In practice, it is almost easier to recognize a Web 2.0 site when you see one than it is to define the concept. Many examples of the Web 2.0 approach to online information have made their way into everyday life, e.g. the inclusion of aspects of participatory or social media into sites such as the BBC News website and many newspaper websites; Gordon Brown solicits comments from members of the public on YouTube. My current approach to e-learning has arisen directly from my own extensive experience with academic blogging. My microbiology blog has received over 250,000 page views in the last year. Evidence of the success of this blog as a participatory medium is that to date, the 500 posts have attracted over 780 non-spam comments from users, showing that the site has been successful in achieving its aim of engaging in a conversation with the public about topical aspects of microbiology. MicrobiologyBytes is also syndicated by organizations such as Reuters and Fox News, further helping me to reach the widespread audience I am aiming for (Cann, AJ: MicrobiologyBytes. Microbiology Today, 33(3): 192, 2006). In addition to the blog element, the site also serves as the home for my weekly MicrobiologyBytes podcast. In the last year, this has received over 100,000 downloads and there are approximately 1,500 regular weekly subscribers to the podcasts.

My other academic blog is at: This blog has over 150 regular subscribers to the RSS feed and receives an additional several hundred site visits per day. This site serves a consciously different function and readership to MicrobiologyBytes, by acting as a reflective site where I can experiment with and comment on emerging educational technologies and discuss them with other practitioners in the field. I have described in more detail my rationale for academic blogging. This site provides me with an opportunity to think, plan and reflect about developments in technology and my own learning and teaching practice. Producing daily output for this site forces me to read widely, including both peer-reviewed journals and online sources, in order to gather the input I need. This site allows me to play with technology and ideas, and it often surprises me how much I learn via the collaborative experience of writing in this way. By regularly covering topics such as:

Why Facebook Is Sticky
What is Second Life For?
Filtering My Network

and by engaging in online conversations with other academics, I am contributing to the active development of pedagogical knowledge around these rapidly evolving technologies. When I started MicrobiologyBytes, I imagined creating a sort of online magazine where the content was essentially disposable - tomorrow’s chip wrappers. Analysis of the blog posts shows this not to be true. To the contrary, the discrete individual blog posts are seen as reusable learning objects whose utilization is not only maintained but increases with time as they are indexed in an increasing number of locations. My initial expectations that I was creating trivial content has been confounded by the distributed architecture of Web 2.0.

The participatory nature of Web 2.0 is reinforced by the fact that you don’t need to be technically adept to contribute these sites and become part of an online community. The immersive experience of such communities is a powerful motivator, but difficult to convey to those who have not experienced it for themselves. In the Web 2.0 community, it is frequently stated that to fully understand Web 2.0, users need to “walk the walk”, i.e. immerse themselves in an online lifestyle. Many students currently entering higher education have done just that, not through their previous formal education but through social networks such as Bebo and MySpace. This has been eloquently pointed out by the recent work of Michael Wesch at Kansas State University, whose work in digital ethnography has resulted in videos such as "A Vision of Students Today" and "Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing Us".

In 2004, Chris Anderson of Wired magazine coined the term the Long Tail to describe patterns of e-commerce seen on websites such as Amazon. In the last decade, there has been both a quantitative and a qualitative change in the students entering higher education, and they have been described as the "loophole generation" (Summerville and Fischetti 2007). In order to manage the long tail of students currently entering higher education (Brown and Adler 2008), we need to stop attempting to maintain a stranglehold on learning technologies inside institutional walled gardens, while maintaining a firm grasp on the quality of qualifications awarded. By relaxing our grip on the technology of learning we can utilize the power of Web 2.0 such as social-networking sites, wikis, and social indexing sites, which enable creativity, collaboration and sharing between users. This approach will change e-learning resources from isolated information silos to interlinked platforms.

Virtual learning environments such as Blackboard, WebCT, etc, are closed systems which tend to lock learners into a "one-size fits all" pattern of learning. Although they have their strengths (such as authentication, monitoring of student progression and convenience), the pattern of learning they attempt to enforce is not sustainable in that the students are locked out of the resources of the VLE/LMS as soon as the course they are taking ends. The model of "loosely coupled teaching" I am developing employs contemporary social software/Web 2.0 tools outside of the confines of an institutional LMS to enable learners to develop their own personal learning environment. Ownership of both the content and the tools which comprise the PLE enables learners to sustain learning after formal courses have ended, and potentially creates a pattern of genuine life-long learning. By offering a choice of tools rather than institutional regimentation, learners personalize the PLE by incorporating their preferred styles and patterns of learning. This enhanced stake motivates and sustains learning.

VLEs have certain advantages, notably authentication, e.g. monitoring student progress and the convenience of "everything in one place". Rather than simply abandoning the present monolithic structures we need to escape a blinkered approach to e-learning technologies and move to a loosely-coupled e-learning environment which aims to blend the advantages of institutional systems while leveraging the power of contemporary social software/Web 2.0 tools. In higher education we are selling a service, not a product, so there is no educational advantage in locking students into educationally sub-optimal I.T. systems. By allowing academic staff to assume the role of learning advisers rather than production supervisors, students will enter a learning community where they will acquire the skills and the knowledge required for lifelong learning via a collaborative framework.

The social element is arguably the most important feature of Web 2.0, where users both generate and distribute content, often with freedom to share and re-use, and this allows students to do more than just download information. Web 2.0 sites have an "architecture of participation" that encourages users to add value to the site as they use it, feature rich, user-friendly interfaces and may also have social-networking and information-sharing features. Web 2.0 technologies are therefore a natural fit for building personal learning environments which encourage ownership of learning through a choice of the best tools available, not just what has been site-licensed by a particular institution. By offering a choice of tools, learners personalize the PLE by following their preferred styles and patterns of learning. This is a financially and educationally sustainable approach to lifelong learning. We will also ensure that academic staff also benefit from this project, learning about and through these new communications channels and media (e.g. RSS feeds from academic journals) alongside and in collaboration with students.

Where do students find information? Like it or not, they inhabit the Web 2.0 world, with Google and Wikipedia as their preferred reference sources. Google's share of UK internet searches is over 87% and continues to climb. We can either abandon students to these sources or try to engage with them to develop their skills, as attempts at prohibition are surely futile. The traditional model of I.T. support (specialist I.T officers embedded in departments or faculties) dates from an era when institutions such as universities were the guardians of technology and provided the only access to computing tools for the majority of staff and for all the students. We have a similar pedagogical stance with a tendency to assume that academic staff are the guardians of academic knowledge. Although the digital natives concept is overplayed, students no longer arrive at university technologically naïve, or dependent on the university as a sole I.T. provider. However, universities have made huge investments in information technology, and these must continue to be supported by traditional means - a campus-wide network of computer officers. But these traditional support channels are not the best means of facilitating outsourced Web 2.0 technologies, and it is unlikely that any enhancement can be gained by increasing investment in traditional activities. For enhancement of user support, innovation is required.

Small world networks
Small world networks consist of localized subnetworks linked together (Academic departments? Universities? Or something much less formal?). Clay Shirky eloquent summarizes the power of networked organizations in his recent book "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations" (Shirky, 2008). This small world pattern of organization is much more efficient organization than a single large network where everybody is directly connected to everybody else. Such monolithic structures are poor at filtering information (leading to institutional spam and alienation of users) and yet this is exactly the kind of structure that a top-down institution-wide support network tends to impose. Students don’t read their institutional email because it rarely brings them good news.

In the Faculty of Medicine and Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester we have initiated a number of projects designed to allow students to create personal learning environments and take much more control of their own learning through the use of participatory media. One project involves information librarians and tutors of modules in medical ethics and law to cultivate information literacy via construction of personal learning environments ( A related project aims to foster the adoption of personal learning environments for both academic purposes and for personal development planning (PDP) and promotion of lifelong learning ( The final project aims to facilitate the development of online social networks among early career stage laboratory scientists by taking a grass roots social network approach (

To achieve enhancement of student (and staff) I.T. support, rather than increasing spending on traditional support channels we should foster peer-support networks constructed on a small world network model. Similarly, outsourcing of knowledge and traditional academic roles to online communities of practice can only benefit students by preparing them for the world they will enter when they graduate. I am convinced that emerging Web 2.0 technologies offer enormously encouraging prospects for higher education. It is my belief that at the present time, we have only scratched the surface of the potential of these novel approaches to teaching and learning. It is my intention to try to ensure that the maximum educational benefits are achieved from this potential.

Brown, J.S. and Adler, R.P. (2008) Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. EDUCAUSE Review 43: 16-32.

Shirky, C. (2008) Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Allen Lane, ISBN: 0713999896.

Summerville, J. and J. Fischetti (2007) The Loophole Generation. Innovate 4 (2).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

HEA Conference, Day 1

I'm at the HEA Conference in Harrogate.

Day 1 has provided lots of opportunities for reflection, but limited insight so far. Bill Rammell is too busy to join us. Among the highlights of the day have been what JISC has been spending its money on, and the fact that most students don't seem terribly keen on ePortfolios or PDP. The highlight for me has definitely been several talks putting students in a much more prominent role in negotiating learnng delivery. But I suspect that the main value of this meeting is going to be the networking opportunities available when I have a glass in my hand, so that's where I'm off to right now - more tomorrow.