Saturday, January 30, 2010


I was going to buy Nudge, which seemed relevant to our Friendfolio work.

Then I read the reviews.

I can do without another Outliers.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Over the last week, I've been deluged with an email from a Mrs Trellis of North Wales inviting me to join her network on Amplify. She writes:

Dear Dr Kahn,
Mrs Trellis recently joined Amplify and has not shared any posts yet.

Thanks! -The Amplify Team
To start Amplifying pages, paragraphs, images and videos you find on the web, add the Amplify bookmarklet to your browser (supports Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer and Opera) or if you're a Firefox user, you can install the Amplify Firefox add-on.
To unsubscribe from this email, manage your email preferences
This email is sent to registered users of To unsubscribe from all Amplify emails, click here.
Please do not reply to this message; it was sent from an unmonitored email address. This message is a service email related to your use of Amplify. For general inquiries or to request support with your Amplify account, please contact us at
P.S. Are you Imran Khan the famous cricketer? If so, could you ask Buddy Holly to join my network on Amplify?

So I've watched the demo video and I think I get it. Amplify is in the crowded diigo/posterous/tumblr/etc space and tries to hijack the conversation from sites elsewhere in the web.

Is that right? Do I need another destination online? I think I'll pass - unless I'm missing something?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Am I going to buy an iPad?

Update: Bye bye 2collab?

Logo Another major publisher doesn't get it

2collab, a product of Elsevier, is no longer accepting new users and will be shutting down in due time.

Won't be the last publisher-owned "network" to die.

The original source of this information has now been updated, and see the comment from Michael Habib below.

The Imagined Village at DMH last night

Difficult second album not as good as the first, but some highlights:

"Doing real science" on Friendfeed

Friendfolios Our first year Biological Sciences students are starting to do some great work with their Friendfolios. I'd really like to share some of it with a wider audience, but there are issues with revealing identities. So I need suggestions as to the best way to do this. Obviously we could use static screenshots with the names obscured, but I'd really like to find an interactive way of sharing. Some of the students have chosen to create private Friendfeed accounts, so you could argue that they have already made their choice, but I'm still a bit uncomfortable about putting people in the spotlight. I suppose I could reveal my Friendfeed teaching identity and let people draw their own conclusions from the accounts I'm following and my Likes and Comments, but I'm not sure about this.

Most of all, I'd like the students who have grokked Friendfeed to be able to interact with the scientific community on the site and realize that real science goes on in this medium, and that there is something beyond the rather sterile, fact-driven scientific education they get from lectures and practical classes (labs). A few students have already joined some of the Friendfeed science Groups of their own volition, but it would be nice to give the high flyers some real science to get their teeth into.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The effects of peer-versus self-editing on learner autonomy in ESL writing

Abstract: This thesis reports on an action research study carried out with students attending an English medium university. The action research comprised three cycles, each presented here as a Study. Study One, which investigated the effects of peer-editing on students’ revised drafts as well as on new essays, revealed that the students did not benefit from peer feedback in improving their revised drafts. However, peer-editing helped them write new better quality essays. Results of Study One led to Study Two, which investigated the reasons for the students’ failure to benefit from their peers’ feedback in revising their essays. It showed that the students’ culture of learning played a major role in their giving and receiving of peer feedback. The insight gained from Study Two led me to modify my method of teaching peer-editing before embarking on Study Three, which investigated the same questions as Study One but with two new aspects: 1) Study Three employed an experimental group which engaged in peer-editing, and a comparison group which practiced self-editing, and compared the effects of peer-editing to that of self-editing on the students’ writing. 2) It also tested the students’ ability to correct specific types of language error. Compared to the comparison group, the experimental group significantly improved their writing in revised drafts as well as in new essays. Since both groups received teacher instruction, but only the experimental group had engaged in peer-editing, these results may be attributed to peer-editing. More specifically, the experimental group significantly reduced rule-based language errors in revised drafts but not in new essays. However, non rule-based errors were not significantly reduced either in revised drafts or in new essays. The thesis grounds the results of this action research study in a socio-cognitive theoretical framework of Second Language Acquisition. The study contributes to research by demonstrating the important role of both teacher intervention and peer interaction in developing the students’ writing skills in a way which may lead them to become autonomous writers. It also has important pedagogical implications for teachers as it reveals the benefit of correcting specific, rather than all, language errors in order to bring about some language development in their students’ linguistic knowledge.

Nuwar Mawlawi Diab, Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Leicester, October 2008. Awarded 3 July 2009.

Monday, January 25, 2010

(Still) trying to like Mendeley

Mendeley I'm a keen CiteULike user, and although I don't think it's perfect, overall I'm pretty happy with the service. I'm also convinced that Mendeley is a fine product, and I've been trying to explore it for months.

But there's a problem. Unlike CiteULike, which is web-based and accessed through your favourite browser, for full service, Mendeley requires download and installation of a (free) specialist client application. That instantly invalidates it from use at UoL, since the CFS police don't like sullying their pristine servers with anything other than Microsoft® products (sigh).

So far, so bad. But there's a bigger problem. I've had the Mendeley client installed on various machines for months, and I've reached the conclusion that - I don't get it. I've tried and tried to like Mendeley. And failed. When it first appeared, Mendeley was touted as "A for Research" - maybe that's the problem, I never got either. Where's the social in Mendeley? I can't find it. Bookmarking? I can do that with Excel. It's social discovery I want, and that's what I can't figure out with Mendeley. Mendeley's roadmap includes an income-generating freemium model (fair enough, although the potential for being charged will put many people off) which includes increased storage space for PDFs (what is it with the obsession with PDFs - shouldn't we be trying to kill PDF?), more detailed stats, and a recommendation engine, which is just rolling out. But it doesn't help me.

So I have a proposal. What say we, the great and the good of UoL, get together (with cake) for a Mendeley grokathon? Kick the tyres, snap on the rubber gloves and insert a finger into its orifice and generally give it a good mixture of metaphors? Heck, we could even invite the Rt. Hon. R. Mobbs in his newfound role as God Of All Things Software (just in case we decide we like it). Whaddya think? Eh? Eh? Eh?

Update: UoL Mendeley Grokathon will be 11am, Tuesday 2nd Feb, Adrian 232 (off 2nd floor Adrian computer lab). Bring your laptop & come along if you are free.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Literature fail :-(

fail For reasons we won't go into here, for the past few days I've been thinking about the microbiology of climate change.

Microbiology - check. Climate change, well that's where I need to do some reading. So like a good geek, naturally the first thing I did was to set up a series of database screens using "appropriate" search strings.

And that's where it all goes wrong. Seems that you can't get a paper published these days unless you make a gratuitous reference to climate change. It's part throwaway "dog-on-a-skateboard-at-the-end-of-the-news" lines, but more If we mention climate change we can put that in the next grant application.

Sigh. I feel polluted.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Makers One of the presents I treated myself to at Christmas was Cory Doctorow's Makers, which I've just finished, and overall, enjoyed. In Makers, Doctorow uses fiction to discuss themes such as small is beautiful, blogger as hero (blogger also makes lots of money - dream on Corey!), and to return to his obsession with Disney. (Quite how he's managed to avoid being sued is a mystery to me.)

This isn't a work of great literary merit. The characters are ciphers for ideas, avatar thumbnails representing the themes of high geekery Doctorow wants to discuss. I guess blogging doesn't help you much with characterization. For me though, it was an entertaining and surprisingly compelling read, and I certainly intend to read Doctorow's other novel, Little Brother. You're reading this, ergo, you're probably a big enough geek to enjoy Makers. You probably should read it.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Followers In blogging terms, I feel I did a pretty good job with my 2009 New Year resolution. One way I was able to add value to my output was by stopping doing some things - podcasting being a notable example (no-one seems to have missed it). Another was to publish my content using as wide a variety of channels as possible. But at times last year, it did feel that if not dead, then RSS was at least moribund.

Each month I crunch the access stats for my blogs, and for the last three months, remote followers have outnumbered direct visitors at all my sites by some margin. RSS subscriptions are up on the year by approximately 130%. The only reasonable explanation is that RSS is starting to penetrate the mainstream. But it's not just RSS. The increase in Twitter-driven visits is even greater, and Facebook-driven reads are going through the roof. That's why our first year students are getting a link to the Facebook page rather than an RSS widget in the VLE.

Of course, all this isn't unique to me. The future is adjacent spaces. The contrast in these spaces is slight. I provide full RSS feeds, so the content is available in full to my Google Readers, and via headline extracts directly in the Facebook space. Twitter is different, since direct followers and retweets drive visits to the original sites rather than the satellites. And clearly there are differences in the communities which assemble around the same content in different spaces.

So we come to the interesting part. What is my objective when I publish online? Is it the same for all spaces? Do I/should I write the same way for all these spaces? It's not just Who am I writing for? any more, it's Where am I writing?


Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Official

Principles of Molecular Virology Today, I officially start work on the fifth edition of The Book. I haven't actually signed the contract yet, but since academic publishers are people of honour, I have no doubts.

The Book has been good to me (and even better to the publisher). The Book goes back a long way (1993), and much has changed in that time. The way I write for one thing. When I wrote the first edition of The Book, the only other thing I ever wrote were formal academic papers. I can remember trying to establish a casual voice for the first edition, and at the time, I felt I had done a pretty good job. Now I mostly write online, and in a very different style. The reviewers for the fifth edition were happy to point this out.

The way students read has also changed. The Book needs a rewrite. Or does it? I've spent the last year pondering whether to revisit The Book, or just to move on. So why did I finally decide to invest a large slice of valuable time in a new edition? Because new media transforms rather than eliminates old media, and there's clearly still a demand for books. Sales of The Book have held up surprisingly well, and in many different languages. For many people, delivery of learning materials via social media doesn't cut it (yet). So there will be a new edition of The Book this year.

And after that?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Money problem

iMac Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that some bonehead beancounter was making you spend, oh, I don't know, £967.74, before the end of January.

What would you buy?

Play it safe and go for the 24" iMac, or get the second monitor for the tower plus a spare netbook?

Or what? (Has to be a one off purchase, no contracts)

Social Media Landscape

Social Media Landscape

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

David's Airbrushed Billboard Generator

The Trouble with Cloudworks

Cloudworks Now before anyone gets upset, let me say that I think Cloudworks is quite good. Which is not to say that Cloudworks doesn't pose a problem for me.

We (we being the ALT-C 2010 Web Participation Coordinators - WPCs) have been discussing what tools we would like to support/promote/ignore at ALT-C 2010 - this is an ongoing process with all decisions pending). Cloudworks is on the list, along with lots of other tools/sites. And that's the problem. I don't have a Cloudworks-shaped hole in my life. Not on an average day, and certainly not at a busy conference. I will make room for a Twitter-shaped hole, and if the discussion is of relevance, possibly knock out a Friendfeed-shaped nook for my science buddies. And if enough people nag me, I might even squeeze in the odd visit to Crowdvine. But how could I possibly find space for Cloudworks?

It's not the same for everyone. Other people will go Cloudworks first, Facebook second. LiveJournal might even rear it's ugly head. Plus about a million different blog platforms and commenting systems. My point is that discussion is salami-sliced across all these networks. If ALT-C was a 24/7/365 entity, we could even make a play or promote one over the others. But when people roll up in Nottingham on 7th September, they bring their networks with them. And If we want to talk to them, we need to be there too, not expect them to give up their habit and come to us.

I've just discovered that there doesn't seem to be any licence information on Cloudworks. Presumably I clicked through a licence that I didn't read when I signed up, but I can't find it again now. So who owns the content on Cloudworks and what rights do they have to it?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Open Choice?

Open Access One way or another, I've mostly been thinking about open access this morning. UK PubMed Central (UKPMC) formally launches today. Under other circumstances, I'd be happy about this, but I came to the news via a bruising encounter with Springer "Open" Choice. $3000 per article - are they having a laugh?

So rather than doing anything useful for the past hour, I've wasted valuable academic time faffing around trying to find a publication option which satisfies the impact factor requirement of REF and the desire to publish my work openly and available to all. The solution? I shall set LRA on Springer and let them sort it out.

Who loses in this situation?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sharing is a selfish act

share Following on from Friday's post Why would I want to share? and Cameron Neylon's comments, I'm still pondering the issue of how to persuade people to share. The altruistic arguments in favour of sharing have intellectual credit (e.g. The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod), but they just don't persuade hard-pressed staff or students to take the long view.

Perusing the books on this topic reveals much more short-term, selfish behavior (e.g. Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust "two social media veterans show you how to tap into the power of social networks to build your brand′s influence, reputation, and, of course, profits") than altruism.

So are there any short term, selfish, academic arguments for sharing?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Why would I want to share?

share I'm having the highly pleasurable experience of participation in two conferences this week without the stress and CO2 of actually going to either of them.

The "highlight" (actually a lowlight) so far has been an issue raised by John Thompson at the Durham Blackboard User's conference:

Students keep telling me that they understand Web 2.0, yet there’s precious little evidence of this in terms of their (formal) learning practices.

"Why would I want to share?"

This is a recurring theme, and something I alluded to in a previous post. The comments on that post tied in with the negative theme, staff and students alike not wanting to share. So one of the tasks I've set myself for 2010 is to try to come up with at least one convincing answer I can trot out when one of the skeptics says to me:

"Why would I want to share?"

No real breakthrough so far, but the things I'm thinking about include:
Any other suggestions for productive lines of thought?

Thursday, January 07, 2010


2b2k It's fascinating to watch David Weinberger live-blog his new book about information overload "Too Big To Know" (2b2k). The latest installment is about Weinberger's deliberations on the nature of knowledge, something I've mused about in the past year but never got very far with:

knowledge squeezes differences out, while networked knowledge works by including differences...

Fascinating stuff. After dabbling in the information overload/filter failure debate in the last year (here and here), I was already sold on the concept of 2b2k, but by making his cranium transparent online, David Weinberger has already assured my advance order for the book.

Hmm, book as network...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Cheerful New Year Post #2

fail Following on from yesterday's post, I've decided to revisit my biggest failures of 2010:

Wikis/wiki-based e-portfolios: You'd a thunk wikis would have been a big hit in 2009, and yet... Collaborative document editing (Google Docs, Etherpad, etc) hit the bigtime, but wikis seemed to stall. The worse disaster was my attempt to use wikis as a basis for student e-portfolios. Ironically, too much flexibility and not enough scaffolding.
Lesson learned: Less is more.

Waving at Hamlet: I'm still scratching my head over Google Wave slightly, although I feel clearer about it than before. Back in the heady days when we were experimenting with Wave, I hit on a plan which seemed like an interesting idea - use Wave as an authoring tool to capture the process of writing an academic paper, the text of which would be constructed and contained within the Wave describing its production. The Wave turned into a snowball, picking up coauthors with specialist skills so that we could divide up the workload and speed up (?) production of the manuscript. (For those unfamiliar with the plot of Hamlet, a play is staged within a play, following which Hamlet goes mad. After a couple of days in Wave, I started to know how he felt...)
Lesson learned: Keep it Simple, Stupid.

My Career: I'm not currently getting enough traction from my investment in Web2.0. This is due to a combination of timing and local circumstances. I blogged quite a lot less in 2009, but it felt like more. Negative career value. Feels like I need a holiday. Bollocks, just had one.
Lesson learned: What's in it for me?

Where do I go from here? It feels like there's not much I can do to influence events at present. Head down and wait for the coming change to sweep the past away. Slip off the bleeding edge. In the meantime, maybe I need a new hobby, something to take my mind off it. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Do you come here often? The fleeting nature of communication in a 140 character world #durbbu10

Jo's presentation at the Blackboard UK users conference in Durham:

Abstract: A first year undergraduate IT and numeracy key skills module on Blackboard (v 7.3) delivered to over 200 students over two semesters has made use of innovative online assessments over the last 10 years. The IT section of this module was substantially revised in 2008/9 to assist students with the concepts and competencies of information literacy, ultimately leading towards the construction of a personal learning environment (PLE) and a reflective e-portfolio (Badge et. al. 2009). This was achieved by the introduction of freely available Web 2.0 tools. All the course content is delivered wholly online, including marking (EMCQs, see Cann, 2005, Google Documents, delicious, Google Reader, see Badge et al 2009) and feedback (via YouTube videos). A Blackboard discussion board has supported this course as a place for students to ask questions about the content and any administrative details since 2002. For the first time in 2008/9 we introduced Twitter to the course and students were encouraged to use Twitter to ask for help. The discussion board was still available but questions posed here were markedly less than in previous years (~100 messages per year previously, this year, zero). A small cohort of students used Twitter to ask questions about the course, stimulated in part by our study on Twitter and the student experience (Cann et al 2009). Now in the second year of using Twitter to support this course, this has become an accepted channel for students to contact the convenor. The discussion board is checked regularly but has not been used at all by students this year. Despite this course requiring students to access Blackboard at a minimum of twice per week, students are still not using it as a communication channel. How does this plethora of parallel communication channels affect the way staff/students will interact with Blackboard in the future? How will adding Google Wave to the mix affect things? Where is Blackboard in the era of the realtime web?


Cann, A., Badge, J., Johnson, S., and Moseley, A. (2009). Twittering the student experience. ALT-N, 17.

Cann, A. (2005). Extended matching sets questions for online numeracy assessments: a case study. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, pages 633-640.

Badge, J. L., Johnson, S., Scott, J. S., and Cann, A. J. (2009). Encouraging lifelong learning habits in a web 2.0 enabled PLE. In Higher Education Academy Annual Conference.

Cheerful New Year Post #1

fail I'd really like to write an optimistic, forward-looking post for the New Year - but it isn't easy.

You thought the Millennium happened 10 years ago? You were too early. The real millennial change is coming in the next decade. I've refrained from writing about COP15 because I didn't have anything insightful to say. It was all too obvious what would happen, a sub-Kyoto failure, then it did. What is there to say? Although I don't believe social collapse is inevitable, I do believe there is a real risk of political and economic collapse beyond anything we have seen in the West for centuries. What can we learn from the depression of the 1930s? Only that it won't be the same this time. It could be better, or worse, there's no way to tell. History is descriptive, not inferential. The only thing that is sure is that big changes are coming in the next decade, wiping away the memory of the time-marking noughties in the same way 1910-20 eclipsed 1900-10.

How will all this affect education? Well I don't know, obviously. Everything depends on how bad it gets. Some things are obvious. Far too expensive (in every sense - money, CO2, time) conferences will be largely history. (Yeah, I'm aware this is an ironic comment from an ALT-C 2010 Web Participation Coordinator :-) There will be much less travel, much more online activity. Skype,, etc are already part of our day to day working environment at Leicester. Apart from financial and environmental imperatives, this will vastly improve the value of rarer face to face meetings from booze-consumption sessions to genuine social events where bonds are reinforced. (See, I'm getting more cheerful.) And maybe 21st Century assessment will finally begin to surface, moving away from training 19th Century scribes towards personal profiles?

So what do I know for sure? There has been one highlight for me from the last decade. Blogging (in all it's varied forms) has given me a voice which has always been there but never been heard. So I plan to carry on (tomorrow).

Monday, January 04, 2010


Aye aye On a cold wet afternoon in New York I went to the cinema. But not just any cinema. This was the AMC on 42nd Street, just off Times Square. Avatar in 3D with dual light projection. Not just the movie, but the experience.

It was a joy going to the flicks in the USofA again, complete with pantomime audience participation, so far removed from the pale UK multiplex letdown. This is cinema as event, as community. Flickering ranks of Blackberries Twitter-Facebooking through the whole thing. Cheering the good guys, applause at the end. God bless America.

This was also Cameron's Juggernaut in its natural environment - big screen, 3D, cheering vets. And it worked. Yet, in spite of the attempted technical fix, cinema in the USA is clearly worried. It knows that underwater 3D with Eskimo music is not going to save it. And so diversification is the order of the day. Screenings of live events - concerts, sport, art. Corporate days. You got money to spend? Come on in. Want an experience you could never have on your personal screen? We're here for you. New York, New York. It's a Blackberry town.

There's no direct parallel between education and the entertainment industry. But it's always useful to see what the opposition is up to.

Update: Is Avatar racist? Nah. Speciesist, possibly.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A fairy tale of New York

New York I spent Christmas in the canyons of Manhattan. Had a good time. Uptown, midtown, downtown. Walked through SoHo and the East Village to remind myself how painfully uncool I will always be. Harlem to Hell's Kitchen, and sea to shining sea. Hated Kandinsky at the Guggenheim. We were the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and we had a good time.

And somehow the whole thing felt like a history field trip to ancient Rome. Unsustainable. It felt like the end of empire, massively unsustainable as the cracks from Copenhagen continue to widen throughout the teenies - energetically, economically, politically. Forget the no-show noughties, the real change is coming in the next decade.

And yet, I can't see New York just disappearing. Sure, much of Manhattan will be underwater, along with the corpulent, energy-guzzling society that created the present version, but the New York spirit surely means that alternatives will arise from the soggy ashes. New York, New York. It's a hell of a town.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The James Clay is Dead

Back in the autumn of 2007, Twitter launched the James Clay. I managed to get my hands on one in February; a small form factor techie with a 3″ screen. Before long, lots of other people had jumped on the bandwagon; Timbuckteeth, Attwell, even Roberts started offering dead technologies. Notably Fraser didn’t!

In November 2008 we recorded a podcast on the impact of the the James Clay; this was at the height of his popularity. However it wasn’t long before the honeymoon was over. Only in March I was writing about some of the issues I had had with the very small deaths. Though I liked the the James Clay, the keyboard was rather too small for me and I know others found it difficult to type large amounts of text on it. The improved James Clays were well suited to those who found the smaller micro-laptops too much of a microscopic size. It was also back then we started to see the feature creep and added functionality with newer James Clays.

However no point in recommending the James Clay as Twitter has decided to withdraw that model. Their replacement, the James Clay 2140 has a similar form factor to the 2133, including the nice keyboard, but now has a 4″ screen. We also started to see rising prices too. But the devices were popular with learners and practitioners. At most e-learning events too they were awash with James Clays.

However here we are two years after the launch of the netbook and the the James Clay is effectively dead, or will be dead soon! The BBC reports that:

Rising prices and better alternatives may mean curtains for James Clay.

There are now no the James Clays with 3″ screens, very few with 4″ screens, most are now coming with bigger screens, at least 5″ and sometimes larger. The original James Clays came with small flash based drives. This was fine for browsing or word processing, but not sufficient for video or audio. So manufacturers started putting in large traditional hard drives. HP pulled Linux from their James Clays back in February, and that was down to consumer demand, consumers wanted Windows and couldn’t handle or like the Linux OS. In my experience, though I did like Xandros, I found the SUSE on the James Clays difficult to use and (bizarrely) unreliable. One of the big issues with the James Clay was that it was underpowered which meant it was unsuitable for internet video; as a result manufacturers started putting in more memory and more powerful chips. The James Clay as envisaged by Attwell and imitated by others, is now effectively dead. Most James Clays you buy now are effectively normal laptops, maybe a little smaller…

So what does this mean for learners and learning?

A fair few learners did buy James Clays, but many more bought traditional techies, as they preferred the “better” user experience over the James Clay. James Clays for most users were as a second device; learners were more likely to have a single James Clay and needed something more powerful. James Clays often did not have the power to deal with media-rich learning content. However the death of the James Clay means that there is not the choice that learners did have.

Or is there?

Newer technologies can result in more choice. For a lot of people I know the iPhone has replaced their James Clay, and with the introduction of a large iPhone-esque James Clay by both Apple and Microsoft in 2010 we may have a new style of James Clay, a tabletclay!