Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Death of Metaplace

Metaplace I'm sorry to hear that VR outfit Metaplace is closing down. At Peter Miller's suggestion, I recently tried Metaplace, and although it had big problems, in many ways it was well ahead of Second Life. This seems to close of any possibility of using VR for teaching in the foreseeable future. Shame.

Think of this as the first shutdown of 2010, not the last of 2009. There will be more (oh, here's the next one).


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I told you so

NPG pulls plug on Second Life

We need VR environments, but Second Life ain't it.

On the telly

Age of Stupid The family gathered round the glowing LCD screen last night and was treated to a few hours of rather informative television.

We kicked off with the Royal Institution Christmas lecture on More4. I'm sad that this has now been shunted to a ghetto channel. It was quite a blast from the past, not too flashy - all solid science. The economist and the historian kept up a running commentary suggesting lots of ways reality could be improved. The scientist just sat there and let it all flow over him. This year's lectures are available in the UK on 4OD.

We followed that up with Age of Stupid, which I hadn't seen before. It's relentless polemic, but effective. After a while, even the historian fell silent. At 3am, I was still awake. If you haven't seen Age of Stupid, you should.

Who says there's nothing on TV?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Around this time of year bloggers get an irresistible urge to do a "year in review" post, or, god forbid, series of posts, to fill the booze-fueled hours between Christmas and New Year. I actually started thinking about my stocking filler back in September when I was musing about the highlights of the year and it occurred to me: I've been to some cracking locations this year. Among the highlights were:

June: Science Communication Conference 09 at King's Place, London
Kings Place

August: Science Online London 09 at the Royal Institution, London
Faraday Lecture Theatre

October: Future of Technology in Education 09 at the Royal Geographical Society, London

My statistical mind implores me to tell you that there was no correlation between the grandeur of the location and the quality of discussion...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

e-learning workshops #cfbweb2 #uolafwg

e-portfolios Today I won't be leading a workshop on e-portfolios at the University of Leicester's Assessment and Feedback Working Group meeting on e-Assessment (#uolafwg). Just as yesterday I didn't go to our Enhancing Learning Through Web2.0 (#cfbweb2) event. Because at 1 am yesterday morning I started vomiting, followed by further unpleasant symptoms (fever, aching, and Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics running on a constant loop in my delirious brain Oooooh, piccalilli shinpads).

But I do want to apologize for wimping out of these events with a limp-wristed excuse such as my inability to maintain an upright position for more than a few seconds. And I most definitely want to thank all the people who made #cfbweb2 such a success (as far as I could tell from the hashtag:
  • Sheryl and Terry for organizing the event
  • Kevin for coming up to Leicester and enthusing everyone about CiteULike
  • Jo for stepping into the breach and covering for me
and all the participants. I'm very sorry I missed you, but I hope to have lots of conversations with you online.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why I Love Marking History

RSS This week I've been marking the RSS component of our first year student PLEs. The students were asked to subscribe to RSS feeds (of their choosing) using Google Reader and share several items each week, with an explanatory note detailing why they chose each item and how it is relevant to their studies. (This forces engagement and stops random sharing.)

Marking has been surprisingly easy and quick using a simple set of criteria we have developed. One reason I like this assessment is because it promotes engagement with current science and doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator - the high fliers have something to get their teeth into (which is important in the first year curriculum).

In reality, the mark distribution is bimodal, something we've come to expect with our student cohort (particularly in year 1). However, I like this assessment because it's easy to see the students who are engaged. In our last minute, modularized, chickennuggetized educational system, it's difficult for most students to immerse themselves in a task which requires ongoing commitment over weeks or months. Since the pattern of sharing is recorded, there is no place to hide. Even the boffs feel obliged to chuck in a last minute burst of activity, but this doesn't skew the marking at all since the full history of the assessment is transparent.

I'll almost be sorry to see this assessment go next year, but the ever more ponderous Google account admin means that we plan to dump it in favour of Friendfeed (subject to satisfactory trial next term) - where the history of engagement is similarly exposed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's the catch?

> Dear Sir,
> I found your Short Communication Podcasting is Dead. Long Live Video!
> most interesting giving helpful ideas for my own project - to create
> videocasts or screencasts about the basics of materials science. The
> paper gave me many good answers to questions like can I use some kind
> of puppet or is it too condescending. I also visited web page where
> your videos are, It seems that your idea about useful video for
> education is similar compared to ideas I have been thinking.
> There is one thing which concerns me quite a lot. Here I would like to
> cite your paper. Although seemingly effortless, the production of
> successful online videos is a highly-skilled process, requiring an
> understanding of user psychology and behavior, which is quite
> different from that of television viewing? I guess here you hit the
> point. I can apply a wide variety of pedagogical models and
> technological gadgets, but if the students don't find the result
> catchy, all my efforts are more or less in vain. While reading your
> paper I got the feeling that you have struggled with this problem
> quite a lot. So I would like to make a question: How to make catchy
> videocast for education? I am not expecting comprehensive answer but
> all ideas, hints, links or names of interesting articles and books are
> most welcome.
> I think the key element is something I would like to call the rhythm
> of the video, but what is the proper rhythm for 18-20 years old
> students.

I think there are many different answers to your question. Much depends on
who the video is intended for, but in my opinion, a good video should
reflect your own persona - in that way it is more likely to assume our
authentic voice and more likely to be effective.

I would experiment with a range of styles and techniques and find which work
best for you.

Dr Alan J. Cann, Department of Biology,
Adrian Building, University of Leicester,
University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Preaching to the choir

Gartner Hype Cycle v2 It seemed like a simple idea back in September when I pitched it to the HEA Centre for Bioscience: an event aimed at the novice to moderate user of Web2.0 tools. After discussions, the outcome was the Enhancing Learning Through Web2.0 (#cfbweb2) event we are running on Wednesday, so we rolled out the publicity. And after a while, people signed up, which was nice.

The only trouble is, the majority of people who have signed up ain't exactly novices. Which raises a few problems:
  1. How do we get the phobes to engage?
  2. Should we try to get the phobes to engage, or just let them play with themselves?
  3. How do you bootstrap a culture of sharing in an academic community?
  4. How do we use this technology to achieve cost savings?
  5. How do we get policy makers to engage with these technologies as residents?
If we talk about some of these on Wednesday, I'll be happy, but not as happy as if we come up with some ways forward.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Call for Papers - ALT-C 2010

altc2010 Last week the Association for Learning Technology published the guidelines for abstracts and for papers for the 2010 conference: ALT-C 2010: 'Into something rich and strange' - making sense of the sea-change. ALT-C 2010 will take place in Nottingham, England, 7-9 September 2010.

*Keynote speakers*
  • Welcoming keynote from Saul Tendler, the University of Nottingham's Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Biophysical Chemistry.
  • Barbara Wasson, Professor of Pedagogical Information Science at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, Norway.
  • Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University.
  • Donald Clark, Board Member of Ufi, and former CEO of Epic Group plc.
You will be able to submit proposals for inclusion in the conference programme from mid-December 2009, until 15 February 2010. In preparation for this please find below an overview of the conference, including links to all the relevant documents, along with details of relevant deadlines.
*Key dates*
Proposals for inclusion in the programme will be accepted between mid December 2009 and 15 February 2010.
Bookings will open in early May.
Presenters' booking deadline: 28 June 2010.
Earlybird booking deadline: 5 July 2010.
Bookings close: 13 August 2010.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Tis the season

...when we get sufficiently guilty about asking the undergraduates to map out their personal learning environments that we feel obliged to do ours too. Jo blogged about the evolution of her PLE yesterday, so here's mine, or at least, the best representation of it I can come up with on any particular day:


Multiple presentations next week, so is currently working overtime ;-)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Google Docs

Google Docs

It's Google Docs day week month here at Casa Mia. I'm working with colleagues in Leeds and across the road on a series of documents relating to a meeting we are organizing for next week. At the same time, I'm participating in the altc2010 meeting I didn't make it to in London today via another document. And student work (essays and presentations) is still tricking in from assessments run earlier this term. And I if find the time, I'll be putting together two joint presentations using Google Docs for the meeting next week.

So the question is, is Google Docs now so firmly embedded in my working practices that I couldn't live without it?

No. If it went away (or started charging more than a nominal fee), we'd simply move on a congregate round one of the other web office suites that are out there (and don't forget, Microsloth Office online, coming to an everywhere near you, soon).

Redundancy - essential (in this context).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Good science?

Abstract: Choosing good problems is essential for being a good scientist. But what is a good problem, and how do you choose one? The subject is not usually discussed explicitly within our profession. Scientists are expected to be smart enough to figure it out on their own and through the observation of their teachers. This lack of explicit discussion leaves a vacuum that can lead to approaches such as choosing problems that can give results that merit publication in valued journals, resulting in a job and tenure.

How To Choose a Good Scientific Problem. 2009 Molecular Cell 35(6): 726-728

This paper was widely discussed a month ago in the online science groups I frequent, but I've only just got round to reading it. How depressing there is no "public good" element included, it's totally self-absorbed :-(

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Baby Jesus? My Arse! #bahumbug

bahumbug It's only a few days old, but I'm quite pleased with the way my #bahumbug campaign is going. Argos started it, but I was also inspired by the Stop the Cavalry! group on Facebook. I've already been invited to set up an Antichristmas grotto, dressed as Dark Santa. Still, to add a little more depth to the campaign, occasionally I feel the need for slightly more that 140 characters, so I've decided to add the odd blog post giving those old Xmas favourites a #bahumbug twist. Here's the first one:
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Cancer growing in your bowels

Xmas songs being sung by a choir

All dressed up like Simon Cowells
And another:
Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Tra la la la la la la la la
Quantitative easing stole all your money
Tra la la la la la la la la
Don we now our gay apparel
Tra la la la la la la la la
Graham Norton's version of A Christmas Carol
Tra la la la la la la la la
And to finish off (for now):
Hark! the herald angels sing
Jeremy Clarkson's going to be King
Queen popped her clogs during Christmas message
Charles convicted of matricide
Joyful all ye nations rise
Richard Hammond's Morrisons ads win prize
With the angelic host proclaim
Top Gear's on TV again
Hark! the herald angels sing
All bend down kiss Clarkson's ring

Friday, December 04, 2009

Rethinking CiteULike

I'm getting my teaching materials ready for next term (online undergraduate journal club via CiteULike):

When I originally thought about using CiteULike for this, I had in mind setting up groups for each degree stream, but having played around with CiteULike groups some more this week, and bearing mind the success of our social bookmarking project (over 1500 bookmarks for a first year biochemistry module so far this term), groups feel like an unnecessary encumbrance. A lightweight approach seems much more feasible, so degree-specific tags it is, also taking advantage of one of the best features of CiteULike, RSS everywhere. I don't feel that groups would add much to this exercise. Would the students really spend as much time on CiteULike as they do in Facebook, populating the group forums and debating science? I think not.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Prohibition I've been very disappointed with Danah Boyd's recent output. Whether this has any connection with her taking the Microsoft shilling or not is hard to say. When she recently gave (by her own admission) a bad talk at a conference, the backchannel gave her some feedback. She didn't like it.

And again there's talk of restricting the backchannel.

Give it up, it won't work. Stephen Downes has it right. Prohibition doesn't work. If you don't participate in the conversation, you lose your vote.

E-Assessment: Warts and All #uolafwg

E-assessment E-Assessment: Warts and All
17th December 2009 9.30am-3.00pm #uolafwg

The University’s Assessment and Feedback Working Group is holding its second annual workshop day, to examine both the possibilities afforded by e-assessment as well as potential problems and pitfalls. How does e-assessment allow teachers to better manage assessment workloads, and how can it support and enhance student learning? At the same time, we need to understand the limitations and pressure points of e-assessment, what to be wary of, and what to steer clear of.
The day is designed around a judicious mix of workshops and plenary presentations and discussions, so that individuals and departments can explore a range of opportunities they might want to follow up.
The programme presents a rich mix of work being undertaken in the University alongside presentations by national experts and invited presenters. Subject matter will include:
  • The use of e-portfolios
  • An on-line tool for negotiating peer assessment of group work
  • Using aural feedback to aid student learning
  • Using e-assessment comprehensively in a distance learning setting
  • Analysing the state of play in e-assessment
  • E-assessment futures... where we may go next
The programme for the day can be obtained from the Staff Development Centre website. To register for the day, e-mail:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The (Post)Digital Researcher

British Library I spent Monday at the British Library in a meeting arranged by Vitae, the RCUK funded career development organization for postdoctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes. We were talking about training the digital researcher, although to my surprise and delight, the conversation turned postdigital pretty quickly.

On 15th March 2010 Vitae and the BL will be running a joint event which aims to take on the daunting task of attempting to convince researchers of the value of social tools. Why daunting? Well although we'll only get the researchers who have not been prevented from attending by skeptical supervisors, I still expect to encounter a fair amount of doubt, which I did my best to point out yesterday, in part by tossing a copy of Communicating Chemistry. Nature Chemistry, 1 (9), 673-678 (01 December 2009) on to the table. I don't accept all the arguments in this paper that chemistry is a special case - every discipline claims special status, and while each has different circumstances, the problems are essentially cross-disciplinary, but it was useful to make the point at Monday's meeting.
Some chemists point out that academia produces two vital inputs for the chemical industry, trained PhD-level scientists and published scientific results, without proper compensation. Industrial researchers read the scientific literature but they publish only sparsely themselves, because their careers do not depend on it, and to keep their research strategies and goals secret from competitors. This may explain why some academic chemists are particularly sceptical of present proposals for open-access business models, as they feel that industry would profit inappropriately.
It'll be an interesting few months ahead while we plan out our strategy. Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Enhancing Learning Through Web2.0 #cfbweb2

logo Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Medical Sciences Building, University of Leicester

Web2.0 technologies continue to grow, both in diversity and usage and have the potential to impact all areas of learning. How can a bioscientist navigate the technologies of Web2.0 and why should you bother? The Centre for Bioscience would like to bring together examples of Web 2.0 which enhance student learning or academic scholarship. The day will advocate useful approaches rather than advocating particular programmes and be aimed at the novice to moderate user of Web2.0 tools.

Follow and contribute to this event on Twitter at #cfbweb2.

10.00 Registration; Tea and Coffee
10.20 Welcome and Introduction to the day
10.30 Overview and workshop of Web2.0 tools: develop a foundation of Web2.0 technologies through discussions and activities to explore the power and many possibe applications of Web2.0 tools to teaching and learning activities.
12.15 Lunch
13:00 Citeulike, Kevin Emamy, Citeulike
This session is in conjunction with the University of Leicester College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology lunchtime seminar series.
14.00 Showcase: Examples of HEIs/Departments/Groups using Web2.0 to improve learning and teaching
14.45 Refreshments
15.00 Swapshop Session: short informal presentations offered by delegates
15.30 Centre Focus on Web2.0
15.45 Discussion & Reflection
16:00 Depart

Global Health Delivery 2.0: Using Open-Access Technologies

In the Magazine section of this week's issue of PLoS Medicine, Duncan Maru and colleagues at Nyaya Health in Achham, Nepal, highlight the problem of transparency and operations research in the growing field of global health delivery in resource limited settings. Their organization implemented several simple Web 2.0 strategies while delivering medical and public health services in rural Nepal. Drawing on this experience, the authors describe how Web 2.0 technologies including software that allows for rapid, Internet-based collaboration among multiple users can improve transparency among organizations participating in global health delivery. The platforms include quantitative outcomes data and logistics protocols on a wiki; an open-access, online de-identified patient database; geospatial data analysis through real-time maps; a blog; and a public line-by-line online budget. The authors emphasize that such strategies have recently been deployed extensively in resource-rich areas, but have not yet been implemented widely in resource-limited settings, where they would prove effective.

Maru DS-R, Sharma A, Andrews J, Basu S, Thapa J, et al. (2009) Global Health Delivery 2.0: Using Open-Access Technologies for Transparency and Operations Research. PLoS Med 6(12): e1000158. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000158

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Google Wave Algorithm

Google Wave Most days, I sit here worrying my pretty little head with the question What is Google Wave good for? (to the tune of Edwin Starr's earworm Wave, huh, yeah / What is it good for / Absolutely nothing / Say it again). But slowly, the light is beginning to dawn.

Wave is not for:
  • Large groups of people (such as conference audiences) - too noisy and cumbersome.
  • Individuals - the communication element is strong, so unless you have a split personality, you're better off organizing your thoughts in a document rather than a wave.
  • Small groups working on single documents such as a manuscript or planning document. Google Docs or Etherpad works perfectly well with this without the complications of Wave.
So, in the words of the song, what is it good for? No, not that. Unless you're going to use the attributes of Wave, which means robots, gadgets and all the other stuff which is going to appear over the next couple of years, you're better off using something else. It's possible that at some stage Wave may become such a prevalent medium that it becomes the default for words (and multimedia) on screen, but we're a long way away from that at present. The precise timing of events will depend on the community that you are working with, in exactly the same way that Twitter was adopted in successive, err, waves. And if you're not working in a community, you don't need Wave.

And one more thing. Even if Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today (it isn't, this is just a one liner the developers were forced to come up with at short notice for PR purposes - the Google PR department must be one of the scariest places in history), disruptive technologies augment rather than replace preceding ones. (Television did not replace radio, radio did not replace books, etc.) So while we wait to find out what Wave is good for, lets bear that in mind. Paul Buchheit suggests the future of Wave is to be integrated into the other Google offerings, producing a realtime environment for GMail and Google Documents. And he's been right before.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Socially unacceptable

ESTICT At the ESTICT event yesterday, Steve Draper threw out some challenging comments, as expected. For me, the most interesting was not about electronic voting systems (EVS), but about PowerPoint. Steve made the point that primary and secondary education have not sold their souls to PowerPoint as HE has done. One of the main reasons I'm not terribly interested in EVS is because most of the systems I have used are so tightly integrated with PowerPoint that inevitably they fall down because of the limitations of PowerPoint.

After I'd given up on the angry fruit salad car-crash demonstration of WordWall*, this set me thinking about not using PowerPoint any more. My classroom sessions are no longer lectures, more discussion based, and for that reason PowerPoint sucks even more than it does in a didactic lecture setting. Steve's passing remark inspired me to think about putting up a wordcloud and talking around the concepts instead. Sadly, I don't feel currently that I can take the risk of binning PowerPoint. Part of the reason for this is because it assumes that students would prepare in advance for each session, rather than just turning up and passively consuming a set PowerPoint slides. This isn't going to happen because these students have not been trained to do this. I wonder which university will be the first to ban PowerPoint? Perhaps neither likely nor desirable (what would be the second thing they'd ban?). All we can hope then is that PowerPoint in higher education becomes as socially unacceptable as smoking (I quite like the idea of small knots staff standing outside in the rain sucking down bullet points), eating in laboratories, or f*cking having intimate carnal knowledge of the freshers.

*WordWall looks like an interesting product, but the demonstration yesterday was poor, and there are huge accessibility problems I couldn't see any way to solve, so for that reason, I would never consider using it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Helping out #estict


Today I'll be helping out at the ESTICT (Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology) event here in Leicester. Mostly I'll be doing this by staying out of the way, keeping my opinions to myself and doing exactly what I'm told. Well, I might venture the odd tweet using hashtag #estict

09.30 – 10.00 Registration and coffee

10.00 – 10.15 Welcome and introduction

10.15 – 10.30 Networking event

10.30 – 11.15 Keynote : Dr. Steve Draper, Senior University Teacher, Dept of Psychology, University of Glasgow. Steve is an acknowledged expert in the field of EVS and has published widely on its use in Higher Education. Title: Ways to improve learning with EVS: some deep procedures for teachers, and what software features matter for these.

11.15 – 11.30 Coffee

11.30 – 12.00 Mark Goodwin, Teaching Fellow, GENIE CETL. Teaching bioethics using electronic voting technologies.

12.00 – 12.30 Mark Russell, National Teaching Fellow and Principal Lecturer, School of Aerospace, Automotive and Design Engineering, University of Hertfordshire. Tracking student progress with EVS.

12.30 – 13.30 Carvery lunch

13.30 – 14.30 Workshop: exploration of the pedagogical models which can be used EVS

14.30 – 15.00 Coffee

15.00 – 15.30 Reports from workshop groups

15.30 – 16.00 The future and aims of the ESTICT community

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It was only a dream

JISC You know how how it is. You wake up suddenly in a cold sweat having had a horrible dream. Slowly your pulse rate starts to return to normal. Then it occurs to you. Did I really just tell Malcolm Read publicly that JISC's approach to funding OERs is based on voodoo sharecropper economics because its top-down approach fails to benefit the academics who produce OER's, but are being hit with the REF performance management stick (where OERs don't count)?

Nah, must have been a dream.

The History Problem

History On two occasions last week I came up against The History Problem:

When do you teach the history of a subject?

If you leave the history until later in a course, students have no context on which to hang the facts: Why are you telling us all this stuff?

If you discuss the history early on, students have no context in which to place it: Why are you telling us all this stuff?

Over the years, I've tried it both ways, and been dissatisfied with both. I don't know the answer to this one. Do you?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Where's the social?

delicious Our first year students are doing some excellent work on delicious, creating module resources:
Although some are a little confused about tagging, generally the standard is excellent and the module resources they are producing are superb. In addition to the potential value to students, the sites they bookmark and the commentary gives us some excellent feedback on our teaching. I suspect these pooled module resources are underused, but they are there for the brighter students who figure out the value of socially-generated knowledge.

What is not clear if they are using this material socially. There is no conversation on delicious and so feedback is hard to come by. Unless we use alternative channels (which confused students and takes much time), we are merely spectators in the creation of these resources and cannot get involved in guiding them. That, and the disastrous move to the Yahoo registration system, is the reason why things will be better next year when we move over from delicious/Google Reader to FriendFeed, where we can participate in direct conversations with students as they are working.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Twitter I'm just sayin, is all. Doesn't include DMs, or all my other Twitter identities, so it's probably closer to 20k really.


At the CFB Reps meeting in September I was harassed by a teenager "suggesting" that tickets for Arctic Monkeys at the NIA would be a suitable birthday treat. Between sessions, with a few thrusts of the parental credit card, the deed was done. Which meant that in Friday night I had the opportunity of observe the yoof in their natural habitat for several hours. Inevitably at my age, attending any gig provokes anxiety, but I needn't have worried about this one since the age range was wide and I was far from the oldest there - probably about 10% geriatrics (not all mums or dads), 20% Gen Y and 70% Gen Meh. I couldn't actually see Gordon, so I assume he was moshing.

While the support band were inevitable, at least they gave us the opportunity to finally decide on a name for our family Spinal Tap tribute band, "The Pointless Umlauts". The rest of the gig were reet bangin (sprechen Monkeys?) and I enjoyed it, but it wasn't good enough to make it into my top 10 gigs of all time, which after interrogation (leaving out classical to make things simpler) turn out to be:

10. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Griffith Park Los Angeles, 1985. Two tribes, Thatcher and Reagan.
9. Argent, Plymouth Guildhall, 1974. Makes the list largely because it's the first gig I ever went to.
8. Eurythmics, Griffith Park Los Angeles, 1985. Sweet dreams.
7. Ian Dury and the Blockheads, City Hall Sheffield, 1979. Hit me.
6. Sensational Alex Harvey Band, club, name long forgotten, Mayflower Street Plymouth, 1975. Faithhealer.
5. Elvis Costello and the Attractions, De Montfort Hall Leicester, 1983. Shipbuilding phase.
4. Graham Parker and the Rumour, Sheffield Students Union, 1978. Heat treatment.
3. The Stranglers, dodgiest venue I've ever been to, near Moss Side Manchester, 1977. Still wiping the spit off.
2. Echo and the Bunnymen, Queens Hall Leicester, 1981. McCulloch in full Zimbo voice.
1. Focus, Plymouth Guildhall, 1974. Much yodeling.
(if you didn't make it into my top 10, don't feel bad, nether did Dylan, Paul Simon or lots of others)

And the answer to the perennial question of What do you do during the duff tracks off Humbug you knew they were going to play turns out to be:
  • Gen Meh: SMS.
  • Gen Y: Facebook on the Blackberry.
  • Geriatrics: Fieldwork.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does the UKCAT predict Year 1 performance in medical school?

Context: The need to identify the best applicants for medicine and to ensure that selection is fair and ethical has led to the development of alternative, or additional, selection tools. One such tool is the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test, or UKCAT. To date there have been no studies of the predictive validity of the UKCAT.

Objectives: This study set out to identify whether UKCAT total score and subtest scores predict Year 1 outcomes in medical school.

Methods: Year 1 students starting in 2007 at the University of Aberdeen or University of Dundee medical schools were included. Data collected were: UKCAT scores; Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) form scores; admission interview scores; final Year 1 degree examination scores, and records of re-sitting examinations and of withdrawing from a course. Correlations were used to select variables for multiple regression analysis to predict examination scores.

Results: Data were available for 341 students. Examination scores did not correlate with UKCAT total or subtest scores. Neither UCAS form score nor admission interview score predicted outcomes. None of the UKCAT scores were reliably associated with withdrawals (P-values for all comparisons > 0.05). Only the decision analysis subtest was associated with re-sits of examinations, but the difference in means was contrary to the direction anticipated (P = 0.025, 95% confidence interval = 6.1–89.7).

Discussion: UKCAT scores did not predict Year 1 performance at the two medical schools. Although early prediction is arguably not the primary aim of the UKCAT, there is some cause for concern that the test failed to show even the small-to-moderate predictive power demonstrated by similar admissions tools.

Does the UKCAT predict Year 1 performance in medical school? 2009 Medical Education 43 1203-1209

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Retweet fever. Or not. Whatever.


Yawn. All the Twitter clients I use have had retweet built in forever. Sorry about failure to be excited by this, but still nice to see user-generated functionality being added to Twitter.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Use, Reuse and Abuse

Posterous There was a little flurry of excitement over the weekend when someone took exception to another blogger reposting an article from their site. I'm deliberately leaving out the names and the details of this incident, but if the people involved wish to identify themselves, please do.

Personally, I'm much less bothered about others reusing my material than I used to be, although I do fret slightly (not much) about attempts to make money on the back of it. These days, if I don't want stuff reused, I don't put it online, otherwise it's fair game. My blogs get reposted by numerous scrapers trying to make money from Adsense, but that doesn't bother me any more, a) because I know it's impossible to stop, b) because with the collapse of Adsense revenues, it's just another distribution channel for my output, which I welcome.

The issue at the weekend was the use of Posterous and what counts as sufficient attribution for reuse of content. As you may know, I got fed up with the sharing features of Google Reader some time ago and started to use Posterous as a clipblog to republish interesting items from RSS feeds I subscribe to. At Son of SoTI, I repost education and technology-related items, usually with a very short commentary expressing my opinion. In contrast to Google Reader shared items, I know that hundreds of people read this site and I get a reasonable level of interaction with them via comments. I also post microbiology-related news stories on my MicrobiologyBytes Posterous clipblog, but usually without commentary. (Hmm, maybe I should start.)

The sources of nearly all the items I post are RSS feeds I subscribe to, and I rarely if ever visit the sites they originate from. Consequently, I tend not to post partial RSS feeds, but I occasionally post on Son of SoTI using the Posterous bookmarklet or Kwout. What this means is that unless copyright information is contained within the RSS feed, I probably won't see it - I don't go looking on the site of origin. Not legally defensible, but I'm always happy to remove items if anyone objects. I can't defend this approach to content reuse in legal terms, but in terms of moral rights, I feel justified in what I do in terms of providing a service to others by republishing.

Obviously, attribution is the key to all this, and accidental or deliberate plagiarism is a no-no. In the incident at the weekend, most of the offence seemed to have been caused by the placement of the attribution on the reposted article. (Full RSS stories to Posterous via email places the attribution at the top of the reposted materials, the Posterous bookmarklet places the attribution at the bottom). Each individual needs to derive their own position of reuse of their material, but if it bothers you, I would suggest:
  1. Make sure terms of use/reuse are posted clearly on your site, but more importantly, within your RSS footer.
  2. If that's not restrictive enough for you, consider publishing partial rather than full RS feeds (although I won't be subscribing to you and so probably won't see what your publish if you do this).
  3. And if that's still not enough, consider not publishing online. Who loses, and who gains?

Monday, November 16, 2009


Upcoming conferences, taken from the ALT Digest, a fortnightly publication from the Association for Learning Technology (ALT):

5th Plymouth e-Learning Conference
8-9 April 2010, University of Plymouth
Submission deadline: 15 January 2010

IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning 2010
19-21 March 2010, Porto, Portugal,
Submission deadline: 4 December 2009

5th Annual Learning Futures Festival Online 2010
7-14 January 2010

8th Annual eLearning Conference University of Ulster
TEL it as IT is: Technology Enhanced Learning
21 January 2010, Belfast Campus of the University of Ulster

Seventh International Conference on Networked Learning
3-4 May 2010, Aalborg, Denmark

The Fifth International Blended Learning Conference:
Developing Blended Learning Communities
16-17 June 2010, The Fielder Centre, University of Hertfordshire
On-line registration will commence January 2010

Handheld Learning 2010
10 October 2010
(Handheld Learning 2009-Complete set of free to access, digital proceedings including videos, podcasts and interactive discussions are now online)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Debate on proposals for science funding - join in

A photographic tour of the University of Leicester

A while ago I asked people to help me crowdsource a new camera. The response wasn't quite as big as I'd hoped for (but useful nevertheless). After much pondering, I made my choice, a Panasonic Lumix FS15. The size is ideal from the point of view of slipping it in a shirt pocket, the user interface is good and I wouldn't want to go any smaller than this as I already find it quite difficult to hold. As for the performance, I'm happy, I think it's creditable for the price. Put this slideshow (taken in rather poor light early in the morning) on full screen and I think you'll agree:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Phones for Africa

Phones for Africa

Why online security isn't

Razorwire For various reasons, over the last few weeks I've had to observe quite a lot of young people (ages 16-21) setting up online accounts for various services from banking to social networks. And in nearly every case, the user experience was crap and worked strongly against online security.

The minimum level of online security is, quite reasonably, create a username and password (of questionable strength) and confirm details via an email link. But in so many cases, it's so much worse than that. With great regret, we're dumping the fabulous delicious as a component of our first year PLE module next year because now that registration for delicious has switched to Yahoo, the system is so f*cked up and unfriendly that's it's untenable to continue with this useful service.

I watched a young person struggle with the O2 website, being asked screen after screen of "security" questions, multiple PIN numbers and passwords, and responding by generating throwaway details they had no intention of remembering just to navigate the maze required to get to their objective. And I just set up a new online bank account which required me to:
  • Fill in an online application form with my details.
  • Wait 7-10 days for a confirmation letter which asked me to send off a number of identification documents (originals, not copies).
  • Wait 10-14 days for online account details which I failed to enter into a website so badly designed that I couldn't find the right section because it kept redirecting me to the credit card section, necessitating two calls to the helpline, in order to:
  • Order a card reader necessary to withdraw or transfer money and
  • Wait up to 15 days for card reader to arrive.
And if one link in the chain breaks, one digit is typed wrongly or one letter goes astray, all bets are off. This isn't security. This is the opposite of security, encouraging people to cut corners, take risks and lie.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Google Wave I've figured out the only way I'll ever get my head around Wave is to keep plugging away at it until I find out what works and what doesn't. Unfortunately, opportunities to play with Wave have been very limited recently, so I was determined to use it during our PedR meeting yesterday, which I did.

I was hoping to make it a collaborative experience, but no-one else turned up with a laptop, and the iPod Touches much in evidence can't access Wave (easily). So while the chatter continued on Twitter, I squatted in splendid isolation in Wave.

One of the questions I was hoping to tackle was what is the optimum unit size in Wave for different functions, e.g. status update, liveblog, meeting record, wholedamnconference. To be honest, I didn't make too much progress, but I think I did decide that one blip per topic with multiple edits seemed to work better than a stream of blips each time I felt I wanted to record something, i.e. to create a document of record for a meeting, the unit size is moderately large.

Other than that, the only thing I was able to confirm (again) is that Wave feels much better when it's a collaborative experience - typing in isolation feels very sterile. So we have to wait for a much bigger user base. All in all, meh.

Update: Some useful thoughts here (also a rather good Wave blog).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finding the missing joy

For various reasons, I've been a bit depressed over the last couple of weeks. One of the reasons, (but by no means the main one), is the continued decline of Rocketboom, which has long been one of my main beacons in terms of originality of online content development. For that reason, I've been skipping a lot of episodes, in particular the excessive focus in internet memes. I was going to skip the latest episode, but for some reason I watched it. And I'm glad I did. I'm not a huge fan of Sesame Street, but there's no question that it has been consistently innovative. More than that, it has the sheer brio that so much online content is missing. Next time you're creating online teaching materials, take a lesson from the Cookie Monster:

It's not as simple as it looks. Brilliantly edited, but most of all, the sheer balls to just go for it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

No Natives Here

This study explores Web 2.0 technologies in an academic library through focus groups with undergraduates at Kent State University. Results reveal that students, despite being heavy users, are less sophisticated and expressive in their use of Web 2.0 than presumed. Students set clear boundaries between educational and social spaces on the Web, and the library may be best served by building Web 2.0 into its site and extending its services into course management systems.

No Natives Here: A Focus Group Study of Student Perceptions of Web 2.0 and the Academic Library'. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35(6):523-532.

Comment: In my experience, this observation was true 2-3 years ago, but at the University of Leicester at least, is no longer true and the barriers between educational and social spaces online are breaking down rapidly.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Monty Hall Problem

To a mathematician, it's obvious. To everyone else, it's just plain wrong. Imagine that you face three doors, behind one of which is a prize. You choose one but do not open it. The host - Monty Hall - opens a different door, always choosing one he knows to be empty. Left with two doors, will you do better by sticking with your first choice, or by switching to the other remaining door?

Jason Rosenhouse explores the history of this fascinating puzzle. Using a minimum of mathematics (and none at all for much of the book), he shows how the problem has fascinated philosophers, psychologists, and many others, and examines the many variations that have appeared over the years. As Rosenhouse demonstrates, the Monty Hall Problem illuminates fundamental mathematical issues and has abiding philosophical implications. Perhaps most importantly, the problem opens a window on our cognitive difficulties in reasoning about uncertainty.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Has Blackboard outlived its shelf-life?

Realtime Yesterday we cobbled together carefully crafted an abstract for the 10th Durham Blackboard Users' Conference based on our experience that the impact the realtime web and the proliferation of communication channels is having on VLEs. In short, they have killed the VLE as a communication channel, and conversation (as opposed to nagging students by email) has moved elsewhere.

In that light, it was interesting to read a post by David Crotty (describing thoughts from Mark Cuban) which argues that participation in and the shelf-life of online discussions are inversely related. Our observations, ranging from The Apprentice to ALT-C, certainly seem to support the hypothesis. The VLE is no longer a contact sport. Rather, it has become the box through which a multiplex of channels make it onto the screens of the punters (or don't, as the case may be).

It's now perfectly possible for me to embed a Wave in Blackboard, although in reality, I'd be far more likely to embed some of the functionality of Blackboard (maybe the Gradebook) in a Wave. The conversations around learning are becoming ever more fragmented, and as they do so, participation becomes ever harder to measure.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Reflective FriendFolios

Friendfolio I'm developing the concept of FriendFolios for use as lightweight reflective e-portfolios for our first year students next term. The next stage is to develop the assessment criteria we will use. I don't intend to go into the long discussions we held here in the past about the wisdom / desirability / necessity of assessing reflection, if you want to, you can read them yourself.

There are two factors I want to consider in developing these assessment criteria:
  • Encouragement for students to engage in reflective practice.
  • Feasibility of providing feedback - staff workload.
The previous assessment criteria we used for wiki-based e-portfolios were:

Functionality & Appearance: 30%
  • Appearance and navigation is clear and consistent
  • All links work
  • Multimedia elements display correctly
  • Text is clear and readable, spelling and grammar are correct
  • Previously published materials respect copyright laws
Evidence: 30%
  • Organization connects all evidence into an integrated whole
  • Features or showcases evidence
  • Shows depth of knowledge and experience
  • Shows breadth of knowledge and experience
  • Includes a current curriculum vitae
Reflection: 40%
  • Addresses both career and personal development
  • Includes reflective comments about evidence as well as reflective comments about what this evidence says about you
  • Includes short-term goals (skills to add/improve)
  • Includes long-term goals (professional and/or personal aims)
  • Interpretation of your achievements is expressed
These worked reasonably well and weren't too difficult to use, although they were necessarily somewhat subjective, but I don't think they transfer well to the FriendFolio concept. I feel we need something more lightweight which measures engagement. How do we measure engagement on FriendFeed? Comments and Likes, but I also need a practical framework to assess the content of status updates. Functionality and Appearance goes by the wayside because FriendFeed takes care of that, and we're not really into collecting Evidence any more since this isn't going to be a document of record. Thinking ahead to next year when we plan to replace Google Reader and delicious with FriendFeed, I'm inclined to use the type of assessment criteria we use for sharing on BS1010, i.e. n items shared per week with suitable reflective commentary = n marks. (We will give the students examples of what we consider "good" reflective updates via our FriendFeed teaching accounts):

Over the course of the whole term:
  • An average of three or more updates each week with suitable reflective comments: 100%
  • An average of two updates each week with suitable reflective comments: 50%
  • An average of one update each week with suitable reflective comments: 20%
  • An average of less than one update each week and/or no suitable reflective comments: 0%
Is this enough? Is more guidance (beyond what will emerge from feedback) necessary?

The next issue is, how do I introduce this to students, bearing in mind the problem of skimming?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Yin vs Yang

Yin Yang S. Lin & R.C. Overbaugh (2009) Computer-mediated discussion, self-efficacy and gender. British Journal of Educational Technology 40(6): 999-1013

In the context of hybrid instruction, this study was designed to explore whether gender has an influence on learners’ preferences for synchronous or asynchronous modes of computer-mediated communication, and whether this decision impacts learners’ self-efficacy (SE) towards knowledge acquisition. The participants were 180 teacher-education students (151 females and 29 males) enrolled in a hybrid (blend of traditional classroom instruction and online learning activities) foundations course at a United States research university with a proportionally high percentage of full-time commuters and/or distance enrolees. The findings showed that, regardless of gender, two-thirds of the participants preferred asynchronous modes over synchronous ones. In addition, gender was weakly related to the participants’ SE in both modes. Linear regression indicated that SE, in turn, was weakly related to academic performance. The implications of these findings for instructional practice are discussed.

Gender is not a significant factor, but 2/3 of the study group preferred asynchronous over synchronous communication tools.
Do I believe it? To what extent are teacher-education students representative of the students I teach? Am I happy about a gender study involving 151 females and 29 males? Surely the power of this study is limited.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Blobfish If, as a commenter in the Guardian maintains, Gordon Brown has the political instincts of socially challenged blob fish, I think I've just had a glimpse of Gordon's future:

And with that hashtag, Gordon's future becomes clear...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Failure is an option

Skimmer In May 2008 I wrote about skimming, and fact that:
  • When reading online, users spend more time on pages with more words, but only spend 4.4 seconds more for each additional 100 words. When you add more than 100 words to a page, users will only read 18% of the words on the page.
  • On an average visit, users read half the information only on pages with 111 words or less.
In the large first year course I am currently teaching, it has become painfully clear that many (most?) students are now failing to read instructions posted online, and that this trend has accelerated markedly from last year. Most of the questions we are being asked in face to face help sessions concern quite simple information contained in the online notes, and most of the students attending the help sessions are there because they have tried but failed to complete an assigned task.

Clearly, I need to put less information online for these students. At which point, they will complain, of course, and quite possibly fail to complete an assessed task first time round. At which point we will show them how to do it, or in, I suspect, the majority of cases, they will figure it out.

So maybe failure is an option. Maybe, for authentic and sustained learning practices, failure is the preferred option - preferred over the spoonfed student who always gets it right first time round?

Friday, October 30, 2009


This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own views and not those of my employer. Comments on posts represent the opinions of visitors.
A.J. Cann

Another interview with the future

In which I interview future me and tell myself about the future of education:

Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars

Socrates in the Boardroom: Why Research Universities Should Be Led by Top Scholars. Amanda Goodall, 2009. Experts, not managers, make the best leaders:

"This is a fascinating book, focused primarily - but not exclusively - on correlations between the excellence of universities and the academic distinction of their leaders. Goodall demonstrates significant such correlations, particularly for American universities. This is a book of considerable interest and significance, and it should be required reading for every university trustee or governor." - Robert May, University of Oxford

"Goodall argues that the best research universities are run by the best scholars - it is not enough for a university president to be a good manager. This is an important message that all universities need to hear. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the future health of the world's leading universities." - Sir Paul Nurse, president of Rockefeller University and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in medicine

Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology

Engaging Students Through In-Class Technology (ESTICT) is a UK network of education practitioners and learning technologists interested in promoting good practice with classroom technologies that can enhance face-to-face teaching. The ESTICT moniker spans a number of inter-related Special Interest Groups (SIG). The first of these is Electronic Voting Systems (EVS) and Beyond.


You can now register for the first free event to be held at the University of Leicester on Thursday 26th November 2009. The aim of the day is to share best practice in the use of in-class technology, with a particular focus on the pedagogic uses of electronic voting systems (a.k.a. "clickers", audience response systems ARS, or personal response systems PRS). This event is aimed at those both those with experience of EVS who wish to share their best practice and those with an interest in the technology that would like to know more. Both experts and novice users are welcome. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Steve Draper, Senior University Teacher, Dept of Psychology, University of Glasgow. Steve is an acknowledged expert in the field of EVS and has published widely on it’s use in Higher Education.

Places are limited, so sign up soon. More info, full programme.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Changing the game

altc2010 Yesterday, Martin Weller blogged about remote conference participation, and set up a Cloudworks discussion page for the topic (thereby selflessly torpedoing his Technoratijuice ;-) I responded that:
I'm all for augmented conferences which mix real people with virtual people. We're going to have to find out how to do this much better over the next few years as education and carbon budgets are progressively cut back, so the quicker we get on with it, the better. Note that I don't want to do away with RL conferences and replace them with online events, I want to use technology to extract the maximum bang per buck (or per kg of CO2).
Which technologies? In principle, all of them. Go to where the audience is rather than expect them to sign up to whatever crappy website you've just invented. The snag with this is that there is a risk of salami-slicing the audience and consequently the discussion. Roll on the Google-Wave enabled conference when everything can be everywhere!
I've been involved in a lot of online meetings over the last year, but the one which sticks in my mind is altc2009, which seemed to me to be a tipping-point at which a community accepted the virtual presence alongside physical presence as of equal value rather than as a poor substitute. Sitting in the multi-parallel sessions in Manchester, I spent most of my time augmenting the reality of the talk I was at with the data flowing out of the talk(s) I would like to have been at.

For that reason, I was delighted yesterday when I found out that I have been invited to be one of the four web editors for ALT-C 2010. (I'm not trying to steal anyone's thunder, but I'll let the other three introduce themselves just in case cats are inadvertently being let out of bags here.)

This is a new post for ALT, and I'm not sure if they know what a web editor is going to do yet. More to the point, I'm not sure if they know what this web editor is going to do yet, so to alleviate any confusion, I'll tell you. The role of this ALT-C 2010 web editor is to stay out of the way while promoting the most efficient exchange of information through all of the online channels available. And if that sounds like the Tower of Babel, I think I just figured out what the job of ALT-C 2010 web editor really entails.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I hate lists - or do I?

Thoughts on the new Twitter lists feature:


My contribution to Open Access Week 2009

Open Access Yeah, I know it's a week late, but this is where it fits into our timetable. Over the next week, all 200 of our first year Biological Sciences students will take an awareness-raising quiz on copyright, creative commons and open access. This replaces an unpopular image processing session which we will run a different way this year. Thanks to my colleagues from the David Wilson Library and the people on FriendFeed who helped out with ideas and checking. Here's a taster of some of the questions:

A student is creating a public website for a medical charity and would like to include images from PLoS Medicine. The work is voluntary and there is no budget for the website. What is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Write to the original author of the article containing the image(s) and request formal written permission.
  • Write to PLoS Medicine and request formal written permission.
  • Write to the original author of the article containing the image(s) and PLoS Medicine to request formal written permission.
  • Use the image(s) on the website with appropriate citation(s).
  • Try to find similar images in other journals which allow reuse.

A student is creating a public newsletter for a medical charity and would like to include images from this paper. The work is voluntary and there is no budget for the newletter. What is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Use the images because this is for a medical charity.
  • Use the images because this journal has an Open Access policy.
  • Request permission for reuse via the publisher's website.
  • Give up because this journal will not allow reuse of images for this purpose.
  • Use the images because this is covered by Fair Use legislation.
  • Copy the images and change them slightly to avoid copyright.

A student is preparing for an assessed presentation on a module and would like to include an image from the BBC News website in it. Taking account the licence for images on the BBC News website, what is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Include the image in the presentation without a citation.
  • Include the image in their report with a citation to the original URL (web page).
  • Include the image in their report with a citation to the BBC News website homepage.
  • Try to locate a different image.
  • Don't include an image.
  • Draw the image using Microsoft PowerPoint.

A final year student is asked to publish their project report as a journal article in Current Cancer Studies, an Open Access journal. The project report includes a (properly cited) image of an unusual type of tumour cell from Wikipedia. What is the most appropriate course of action?
  • Include the image in the journal publication, and take no further action.
  • Contact the creator of the original image (cited as "NormanEinstein" on Wikipedia) to request permission, and do not publish the article unless permission has been obtained.
  • Include the image in the journal publication, and cite the original source.
  • Don't publish the paper.
  • Publish the paper without the image.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Friendfolio Several observations emerged from the first run through of our undergraduate PLE module last year, and I can already see signs of then re-emerging this year. The first is weariness with having to sign up for yet another service. There are also problems in terms of tracking usage across various services (in particular Google Reader). While building a PLE based on a distributed toolset is optimum in terms of the tools available, we always knew we would be sacrificing the convenience of doing everything inside a big-box VLE. However, a bigger concern is for those services where I was able to track usage was that after the course ended, so did student use.

Last week I argued that FriendFeed would be much more palatable to students than services we are currently using, based on the Facebook paradigm and continuous partial attention. I had planned to use WordPress for student's reflective ePortfolios next term, but that's another service to sign up to, and I can't see it being any more palatable than most of the others. If we believe our tag line that:

why not use it? I want some of that FB marketing! If we get students to create "a network" (let's come back to that one in a minute) on FriendFeed, we may be able to plug into the familiarity of this type of site rather than the strangeness of Wordpress to this cohort.

Students will be able to chose where to make their "FriendFolio" public or private, sharing only with staff and chosen associates. Status updates as reflection? This is close to the reflective Twitterfolios I considered last year. I previously determined that chronological scaffolding of reflection is important in achieving success. FriendFeed is ideally suited to this.

Recently, John Postill argued that "social network sites" are inherently antisocial and should instead be called "personal network sites". Choice of names is important in achieving acceptability, and I certainly don't intend to call the FriendFolios e-portfolios within earshot of the students. I'm thinking in terms of encouraging ownership of reflection by calling them "your FriendFeed" in the same way that they refer to "my Facebook".


Monday, October 26, 2009

Not Waving but Drowning

Google Wave OK, so now I owe you two apologies. The first is for the title of this post (which I'm assuming has been done to death in the last month). The other is for writing about Google Wave, because either you don't yet have a Google Wave account and you're fed up with hearing about it, or you do have a Google Wave account and you're fed up with hearing about it.

I wanted to tell you what I'm doing with Google Wave right now. Mostly, I'm staring at it with a vague feeling that this could be useful, but I don't know what for. When I'm not doing that, I'm cursing it for having the worst user interface I've seen in a long time - why Google thought it was a good idea to carve screen real estate into tiny patches is beyond me. Presumably they've never heard of netbooks. I'm prepared to forgive Wave for a lot of things right now (like the total lack of accessibility, which is presently zero) because this is an early stage alpha product, but I'm struggling to see how they're going to overcome this defect based on the way Wave works. Maybe I shouldn't be so forgiving. Google is very fond of trotting out its tame blind man T.V. Raman, but has still managed to ignore accessibility completely. Is that an acceptable approach to software design in the 21st Century?

So far, I'm unimpressed by anything I've seen within Wave, but I have thought up a couple of gadgets I need. The first is a decent notification system built into Wave (yes I know there's a Firefox plugin, but for reasons we don't need to go into here, I don't use Firefox for Wave). The other is a Meeting Manager - I just create a meeting wave and it polls all the attendees for availability, books a location, takes notes and makes coffee. The snag with that one is that as a mere mortal who doesn't like pizza, unlike say, writing in HTML5, I'm never going to dive into python deeply enough to write anything beyond a Hello World robot.

So the reason I wrote this post is to let you know that if you don't have access to Wave yet, you're really better off because you're not missing anything. But the reason I wrote this post is I can't shake a vague feeling that this could be useful, but I don't know what for.

Sunday, October 25, 2009