Friday, April 27, 2012

Google+? It’s very simple

Today I'm in London giving a workshop on Google+ for science communicators. If you're on Google+ from 2pm UK time this afternoon, say hello. Earlier in the week I wrote a guest post for the Nature Soapbox Science blog on Google, so it seems appropriate to reproduce it here:

Social network growth If you’re interested in science communication, or learning about science, Google+ is the hot place to be.
In January 2012, Google changed the game when it introduced “Search plus your world”, adding a social element to search results. Talk to any publisher and they will tell you that Google is still by far the biggest player in search, so if you want people to read about your science, you need to pay attention to the dark arts of search engine optimization (SEO). Although Google users can turn social search results off, the vast majority do not, so social is now an inescapable part of search. Apart from posting interesting information that people want to read, there are several elements involved in Google optimization. One is the rather technical markup resulting in “rich snippets” which appear with your avatar as a trusted brand in search results. A much simpler way to boost search visibility is to build a presence on Google+.

As part of our strategy to encourage more people to get interested in plant science (because there are now no plant science degrees in the UK), for the past few months we have been publishing on Google+ alongside our other online spaces on Twitter, Facebook and our blog, but it’s on Google+ where we’ve seen the fastest growth recently.

There are two main criticisms of Google+ that people often raise. The first is that they don’t need and don’t have time for another social network, and all their friends are on Facebook/Twitter. While this is understandable, it’s also changing with time. Show me the person who does not use Google and I’ll accept that they may not be using Google+ in one or two years time.

The second criticism is that Google+ is “too complicated”. When it launched, the unique selling point of Google+ was the Circles feature, a way of dividing people into groups. I also have experience of using Google+ with students, in rather a different way to the way I use my personal account. In questionnaires, students say that they like the security that posting to a defined Circle of their peers gives them. Less danger of looking stupid in public. But for most people, Circles are just too complicated to bother with. And the way Circles work is not straightforward:

Based on: Sarah Horrigan: How Google+ circles work
  1. Circles are a way to organise people you’re interested in and to restrict the audience for your posts or your incoming stream.
  2. Your Circles are private, only you can see them – unless you choose to share.
  3. Putting someone in a Circle allows you to follow their public posts.
  4. It does not mean that if you share something with the Circle you’ve put them in, it’ll appear in their stream (“not push”).
  5. They can see what it is you shared if they visit your profile.
  6. For it to appear in their stream, they’d have to have you in a Circle too.
  7. A circle is not a lasso that you throw around someone else to yank them into a circled conversation.
When I started using Google+ I hoped to have one account I could use for many purposes – discussing science, joking with friends, talking to students. That would only work effectively if I posted everything to separate Circles. But by keeping all my content and discussions private, I would defeat the original purpose of reaching out to talk about science. So I have two Google+ profiles, a somewhat private one for "teaching", and public one for "me". It's a hassle and I wish I didn't have to. The idea of going on to subdivide "me" into little boxes is untenable.
I find myself increasingly abandoning the use of Circles for push and simply using Google+ in a Twitter-like way with public posts. The secret to Google+ happiness turns out to be rather simple. My advice is: KISS (keep it simple, stupid):
  • Be public.
  • If you need to grab someone’s attention, message them by using +Username, e.g. +AJ Cann.
A lot of my posts are science or education-related, but not all. Some are just for fun, or out of technology-induced frustration. Just as my life is not divided into neat circles, neither is my Google+ account. I’m just me – sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes answering questions, sometimes asking them. This is how we live our lives. A little noise is the price we pay for information.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

MSc in Learning Innovation

The programme aims to enable you to gain a thorough understanding of how different pedagogical approaches can be supported and promoted by the affordances of learning technologies. You will develop a detailed and critical understanding of learning, teaching and training innovation, which you can apply to your own contexts.
  • Module 1: Technology-enhanced Learning
  • Module 2: Learning design for the 21st Century
  • Module 3: Research design and methods
  • Module 4: Case studies of innovation
  • Module 5: Dissertation project
One year full-time campus-based.

Start Date: September 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Putting Visitors and Residents on the rack

The Bacon-Popper Cycle
At #heanpl last week we sat around talking about Visitors and Residents all day. This was fun, but by mid-afternoon I'd decided that there were questions that needed to be asked...

Karl Popper argued that the central problem in the philosophy of science is that of demarcation, i.e. of distinguishing between science and non-science such as logic, metaphysics, psychoanalysis, and religion. Popper's major insight into the philosophy of science was empirical falsification. Put simply, a true scientific hypothesis is falsifiable and can be tested by experiment, whereas any statement which is non-falsifiable by experimentation is a mere belief. In addition, Popper also stated that a good scientific theory:
  • is wide-ranging and open to examination.
  • is clear and precise.

Confused? You have my sympathy, so here are a few examples:

  • All swans are white: falsifiable through testing (look for non-white swans).
  • The Earth orbits around the sun: falsifiable through testing (astronomical observation).
  • The acceleration due to gravity on the surface of the Earth is 9.8 m s-2: falsifiable through testing (measure it).

  • God is good.
  • Gluttony is a sin.
  • The English are better than the French.

In order to progress, first we need to define Visitors and Residents as a testable hypothesis. From the First Mondays paper, I suggest:
The behavior of Web users can be mapped onto a continuum between Visitors, who see the Web as a tool, and Residents, who see the Web as a space.
Is this hypothesis falsifiable, wide-ranging and open to examination, clear and precise?

  • Wide-ranging and open to examination? √
  • Clear and precise? The non-binary continuum nature of the framework makes falsification difficult. Any observations which seem to fit the theory are fine, but observations which clearly do not fit into this framework are required for falsification and thus acceptance as a valid hypothesis. Is such data obtainable or can the framework be stretched to meet all eventualities ?

Clearly, I'm way out of my depth here, so your input is required :-)


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Micropedagogy and Macropedagogy

Caption competition You know it's a good meeting when you run out of cognitive space before the coffee arrives...

I'm still batting around ideas from the #heanpl meeting in Oxford last week. I have a somewhat random collection of thoughts which occurred to me during the day that I'm slowly working my way through.

The attendees at this meeting represented a wide range of sometimes but not always overlapping interests. It seems to me at it is sometimes helpful to break the umbrella concept of pedagogy (the theory and practice of teaching) into smaller parts:
  • Macropedagogy: the part of pedagogy concerned with large-scale or general factors such as theories and philosophies of learning, such as behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, etc.
  • Micropedagogy: the part of pedagogy concerned with discrete data and the outcomes for individuals, such as learning analytics, feedback, etc.
I'm very much in the micropedagogy camp, but the Visitors and Residents concept is interesting to me because it seems to span both parts of the pedagogy divide.

Another thought which occurred during the day was about the overlap between the idea and attributes of Visitors and Residents, and bridging and bonding capital as discussed by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone. Although Dave is keen to stress that the terms are descriptive and neither visitors or residents are superior to the other, it seems to me that residency is inherently analogous to bonding capital, while visiting is linked to the lightweight (or agile, if you prefer) behavior represented by bridging capital.

Finally, a remark from Dave Cormier:
Community is the curriculum?

quickly mutated into "the Community is the curriculum". As this discussion progressed, there was some usage of the term Resident to describe activity offline. While I understand the point being made, I am personally unhappy with the use of the term in this way because it muddies the water and reduces the value of the concept.

You know it's a good meeting when you're still blogging about it a week later :-)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lectures were once useful, but now ... lectures are unnecessary

"Criticism of the lecture as a teaching method existed long before students obtained the ability to watch lectures online. More than 200 years ago, Samuel Johnson wrote: Lectures were once useful; but now, when all can read and books are so numerous, lectures are unnecessary. In the 1950s, the historian Henry Commager observed: Not only do we rely far too much on lectures, we rely on lectures to do far more than it is possible or desirable for them to do."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Literacies versus Skills

Caption competition
There was some discussion at #heanpl yesterday over the definition / meaning / boundaries of "literacies" versus "skills" as currently used in educational jargon.

I'm far from clear where the boundaries of these terms lie - so any opinions? Or is it all edubabble?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Places to Learn #heanpl

I'm in Oxford today for New Places to Learn: Flexible learning and online residency. If you want to follow along and join in, there should be an Eliminate stream and the Twitter hashtag is #heanpl.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Meanwhile, over at the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog

Preventing rigour mortis: our migration to social media does not spell the end of academic rigour

"Academic research involving social media is still perceived as less rigourous than traditional journal publishing. Alan Cann argues that while peer review remains the gold standard for quality research, we must apply this standard to the new unit of publication – a blog or even a tweet, not look down on the digital methods entirely."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Alone Together

Alone Together by Sherry Turkle
In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam takes a societal view of the decline of social capital and increasing personal isolation. Putnam only mentions the Internet in passing since it is not a major part of his thesis or his evidence. In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle takes a psychologist's individualistic eye view of the same problem.

I was personally more interested in the second part of this book, which is focused on social networks, than I was in the first part about robotics and A.I., although that is the part Turkle seems more committed to. 

Although Turkle is meticulous (possible over-meticulous and cherry picking) in cataloging her evidence, the flaw in this book is that it is not a balanced view as it does not adequately portray the upside of what Turkle calls the "networked life". Entirely accidentally, I read the book in a non-networked household where the tools that Turkle disparages could provide a considerable increase in welfare and well being - something not reflected in this narrative. Turkle's repeated Waldon Pond references reveal this to be an attack on technology, not on the Internet per se. In addition, with her excessive claims - unwarranted by neurobiology - she lets herself down.

While I was disappointed by Alone Together (in contrast to Bowling Alone), there is some value here, both in documenting evidence of excessive Internet dependence, and in the sensible call to allow personal and communal space for reflection - something I attempt to practice personally. Turkle reiterated this call in her recent TED talk, which I suggest you watch (and maybe skip the book):

I've been encouraging students to engage in personal reflection for years, but this is a difficult problem in our education system. We can leave space for reflection, but we cannot adequately (maybe should not) assess it. And in an assessment-driven system, that leaves a gap which is not adequately filled.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

eLife? Don't make me eLaugh

eLife? Enough already

You may have heard about eLife, the Wellcome Trust's push towards open access science publishing. While I support the concept and the ambition, this move has one huge flaw.


I understand that the Wellcome Trust does not want to go head to head with the Government on policy, but while 80% of the supposed credit measurement in the REF panels Wellcome is involved with is determined by impact factors, eLife - which will not have one initially, then later will be far below Nature and Science - will not achieve its objectives beyond window dressing.

Wellcome - why? Just politics?

Update: I may have done eLife a disservice.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Curating curation

Offsite curation
I've been thinking a lot about curation over the last year, the major pushback against information overload and time deficit imposed by Internet abundance.

The result of this was a proliferation of satellite sites around my own sites (SoTI and MicrobiologyBytes), such as, Pinterest, and to an extent, curated streams on multiuse sites such as Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. For the sake of sanity, it's time to make some difficult decisions in terms of concentrating effort.

Ideally, the result of a curated stream is an increased flow of traffic to the central site, stimulated by the authority and focus of the curated content, as well as being a service in its own right. But Andrew Baron, long my bellweather on Internet publishing, points to the difficulties imposed by interlinking with other services. So compromise is inevitable.

I'm shuttering my and Pinterest sites (they've already gone from the sidebars of the blogs - nobody noticed) - with the caveat that the AoB stream stays as it is a useful multiauthoring tool, and that Pinterest could return if I ever found a suitably visual use for it (and decided to use it over Tumblr).

With Twitter currently at its peak, my various Twitter accounts stay, as do the Facebook pages for MicrobiologyBytes and AoB. But my main offsite effort is now directed towards Google+, with my personal stream, MicrobiologyBytes and Annals of Botany pages all showing the fastest growth and greatest interactivity. This is where my effort is now directed offsite.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Stop using "viral" - it ain't

Stop saying viral!
At the #SGMDub social media session (and most other places too) many people referred to "ploughing a lonely furrow in my department" with social media. By now you've probably seen Structural diversity in social contagion, nicely summed up as follows:
"Epidemiology-based models suggest that the most important factor in determining whether an idea (in this case, to join Facebook) will spread to a given individual is how many other people the individual knows who have already been exposed to it. Just as someone is more likely to contract the flu if lots of his friends have been infected, the theory was that the more friends someone has that have signed up to Facebook, the more likely he ought to be to join. Instead, the researchers found that the best predictor of whether someone would join Facebook was a subtly different factor: the number of distinct groups that an individual could link up with through the site. Most people have more than one social network: a group of one's old school friends, for instance, is likely to have little contact with one's work colleagues, who in turn won't have much to do with one's extended family. The more such groups were present on Facebook, the greater the probability that an individual would join. In fact, once they had controlled for this effect, the researchers found that, if anything, users became slightly less likely to join as the number of Facebooked kith and kin rose."
This makes much sense, and points to the need for a multipronged approach to foster social tool adoption where people get the "can't afford not to or will be left behind" rationale.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Puzzlin evidence

LRA – Most accessed items March 2012

I'm still trying to figure out what drives repository stats. Last month:

Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’

from June 2009 got 174 views (popular in the far East) while:

An efficient and effective system for interactive student feedback using Google+ to enhance an institutional virtual learning environment

dropped from 1st in February to 9th in March with 132 views. No obvious pattern. Top hit in repository got 232 views. Conclusion, this is just random web noise? These numbers would need to go up by at least an order of magnitude to show consistent patterns over one month. Roll on the new stats availability.

Monday, April 02, 2012


An excellent new report on altmetrics tools
A month ago I drafted a post about personal impact metrics, spurred on by Amber Thomas coining the term "Pimpact". At the time, I'd been playing with totalImpact to compare it with my current repository metrics (and I was underwhelmed), so I had a fiddle with ReaderMeter (equally unimpressed).

At that point I stopped and thought I'd let these services settle down a bit before posting about them, but that's now been rendered moot by the excellent summary just published by the SURF foundation:

Users, narcissism and control – tracking the impact of scholarly publications in the 21st century
What is the scientific and social impact of my research publications? This question has been of interest to scientists and scholars since the inception of modern science 400 years ago. But it was hard to answer. This may now be changing. Scholarship is transforming into a variety of digital networked forms. These developments have created new possibilities and challenges in the evaluation of the quality of research. This is of interest to research funders assessing the quality of research. It is also relevant to the individual researchers interested in assessing their career development. This report explores the explosion of tracking tools that have accompanied the surge of web based information instruments. Is it possible to monitor ‘real-time’ how new research findings are being read, cited, used and transformed in practical results and applications? And what are the potential risks and disadvantages of the new tracking tools? This report aims to contribute to a better understanding of these developments by providing a detailed assessment of the currently available novel tools and methodologies. A total of 16 quite different tools are assessed.

The verdict coincides with my own experience - we've got some way to go in this area yet.