Frog in a pot

frog in a pot 1

As I was reading Electronics and the Dim Future of the University by Eli M. Noam I couldn’t help but feel I had stumbled upon a very prescient academic. This article resonates just as strongly today as it did when it was written in 1995.

First, before I start cherry picking quotes from the article, let me say that I am not someone who relishes the fact that higher education may be in trouble. I’m not an anarchist or revolutionary who believes the system must break down in order for something new and better to rise from the ashes.  I passionately believe there is an enormous amount of societal value in having strong, publicly funded institutions of higher learning like universities and colleges. Which is maybe why I react the way I do to what I see happening in the webscape. It both exhilarates and terrifies me.

The question is not whether universities are important to society, to knowledge or to their members — they are — but rather whether the economic foundation of the present system can be maintained and sustained in the face of the changed flow of information brought about by electronic communications. It is not research and teaching that will be under pressure — they will be more important than ever — but rather their instructional setting, the university system.

I am sure there are other academics who thought like Noam in the early days of the web, but as I read his 1995 article, I was struck by how many of his points have appeared, or are appearing, on the 2012 learning landscape.

 If alternative instructional technologies and credentialing systems can be devised, there will be a migration away from classic campus-based higher education. The tools for alternatives could be video servers with stored lectures by outstanding scholars, electronic access to interactive reading materials and study exercises, electronic interactivity with faculty and teaching assistants, hypertextbooks and new forms of experiencing knowledge, video- and computer-conferencing, and language translation programs.

Hmmm, Kahn Academy? YouTube EDU? Flat Earth Knowledge? Open courses?

A curriculum, once created, could be offered electronically not just to hundreds of students nearby but to tens of thousands around the world.

MOOC’s? University of the People? P2PU? Saylor?

In any event, the ultimate providers of an electronic curriculum will not be universities (they will merely break the ice) but rather commercial firms.

Udemy? UdacityCode Academy? Straightline?

Today’s students, if they seek prestigious jobs or entry-restricted professions, usually have no choice other than to attend university. However, this is a weak and mostly legal reed for universities to lean on, and is only as strong as their gatekeeper control over accreditation and over the public’s acceptance of alternative credentials. When this hold weakens, we may well have in the future a “McGraw-Hill University” awarding degrees or certificates, just as today some companies offer in-house degree programs. If these programs are valued by employers and society for the quality of admitted students, the knowledge students gain and the requirements that students must pass to graduate, they will be able to compete with many traditional universities, yet without bearing the substantial overhead of physical institutions.

Open Badges? Instructor certification?

Now, granted, I haven’t lived in this world of academia as long as many of you (okay all 3 of you) who are reading this, and I might be suffering from a case of — (oh dammit, what is the word – that term that refers to each generation feeling like they are the generation that is living on the cusp of some GREAT CHANGE)….anyway, you get the idea.

Or maybe I am not far fetched in thinking that the world of higher ed is on the cusp of a shakeup. That we have reached some kind of tipping point. Or, as John Naughton notes in The Guardian article that led me to Noam’s article and inspired this post…

Some things have happened recently that make one think that perhaps the water might be reaching boiling point for traditional universities.

Photo credit: Frog in a pot 1 by jronaldlee. Used under Creative Commons license.

 

The Information Diet

We all feel it. How do we keep up with this mountain of information gushing towards us each and everyday?

Hundreds of posts sitting unread in Google Reader, our PLN sharing dozens of shiny new links on Twitter & FB, forum posts, a new edition of your favorite journal published – the firehose goes on and on.

It’s that feeling that Alexandra Samuel refers to as FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Shirky says it’s caused not by information overload, but filter failure, and the ability to manage this flow of information (or cognitive load management) is one of the essential skills future knowledge workers will need to succeed. So, just like the food we put into our body, we need to be critical and discerning with the kind of food we put into our brains.

This food metaphor forms the interesting premise of a new book by Clay Johnson called The Information Diet, which I have just begun reading (the physical book is due out early in the new year, Kindle version is available now).

What I like about the tact of Johnson is that it is not simply a rant against technology and social media, but instead is a much more holistic and, in my opinion, realistic view of information consumption. This balanced view is reflected in a recent blog post by Johnson on Facebook & Twitter.

It turns out that networks like Facebook and Twitter are perfect for consuming your socially proximate information. They’re not bad for an information diet, they’re critical to having a balanced one. But only if you use these tools smartly and proactively — by eliminating cruft, and consuming deliberately from these sources. Granted, spending the day on Facebook is not great for your information diet. But eating bowl after bowl of fiber-one cereal is probably not great for your food diet either.

Sure Twitter and Facebook are no substitute for being physically present with your loved ones, and having meaningful social interactions with them. But as long as you are deliberate about both (there are some great tips in the book about this) then you can use these tools to your advantage. So let’s not dismiss the tools because they’re technical, or out of some kind of strange generational preference. The problem is rarely in the medium itself and usually in either the habits of the user, or the system that supports it.

Reading this reminded me of the excellent Stillness in Motion session at this fall’s ETUG workshop, which I found immensely refreshing  and inspiring. Facilitated by Ross Laird of Kwantlen University, Brian Williams of  DIYDharma and  Scott Leslie  of  BCcampus, the session focused on how to be mindful about the ways in which we interact with technology.

Since that session, I have found myself asking a very simple question whenever I fire up my computer: what is it that I want to do right now? And I’ve found that asking this one simple question has made me much more productive when I get on. It brings my purpose front and centre, and I find I am less likely to get distracted down a rabbit hole when I take that brief moment to really clarify what it is I want to do before I mindlessly plug in.

Sure, I still find myself with a few dozen tabs open in my various browsers, email client up and running with constant notifications coming in, Tweetdeck firing away in the corner on my second monitor, but it is a start. And at least I find I am getting that one thing done that I wanted to get done.

I hope that The Information Diet will help me find a few more nuggets like that to make me a more concious information consumer.

 

From Google Reader to Kindle via klip.me

I’ve had my Kindle for about a year now, and love it. It is one of the pieces of technology I own that makes me happy every time I use it, for a whole whack of reasons.

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicLike Chad Skelton, I’ve found myself using it more and more for reading things other than books using the Kindle personal document service. If you are not familiar with the service, each Kindle comes with an email address that I can email documents to as attachments. These are then converted to the native Kindle format for reading on my Kindle. Excellent for when I have a PDF or long Word document to read.

Shortly after I began using my Kindle, I discovered a service called klip.me, which is a handy little bookmarklet/browser add-on that let’s me send webpages to my Kindle, stripping out most of the crud (ad’s, distractions, etc) giving me a nicely formatted Kindle document. I’ve had the add-on running for the past 6 months or so. It has turned my Kindle into more than just an ebook reader and is the primary reason I use my Kindle each and every day.

Last week, Chad had a very interesting post about Instapaper that got me thinking.  Instapaper has a service that allows you to email articles directly from Google Reader to your Kindle. So, I went to see if klip.me had a similar service and, lo and behold, it does. Even better, I can set up an automatic delivery schedule right to my Kindle via my Kindle personal documents account. Sweet.

What this means is that now every morning at 5am, klip.me crawls my GReader account, aggregates the latest 50 posts, and delivers them directly to my Kindle. For the past week I have been waking up with a nice, tidy personal newspaper delivered right to my Kindle in time for breakfast. Wonderfully convenient.

klip.me also has a service that will send my calendar and a weather forecast to my Kindle, but so far I have resisted these services. I want to keep my Kindle as a reading/consumption device &  don’t want it to be an all purpose device (that’s what a tablet is for). But to have a service that sends me articles from GReader to my Kindle? Awesome!

And a note to klip.me – I’d happily pay for this service to ensure it sticks around. Please, tell me how I can give you money because it isn’t obvious on your site.

 

Taking away voices – a rant on authenticity, transparency and freedom of expression

The NHL has unveiled a strict social media policy for their players which includes extensive blackout periods when players and team personnel cannot update or tweet statuses on social media.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/grabs40/status/114170216937828352″]

Interesting, and telling, hashtag on this tweet from Michael Grabner of the NY Islanders.

Now, the NHL is not the first major sport to enact a SM policy for players. And true, these people fall into the realm of public figures, but for me that doesn’t diminish the fact that this represents a chilling intimidation practice that I think is being carried out in other workplaces as well.

But don’t we have rights?

I read stuff like this and I worry. I worry about how much power organizations have over their people – of employers over employees – and how that power manifests itself and extends into the personal lives of the people and forces them to be silent. I worry about things like freedom of expression and the guarantee that, in Canada at least, we have (emphasis mine):

… freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.

I think there is a danger here as social networks become more entwined into the fabric of our lives – that if you choose to engage in a social network, be ready to have what you say scrutinized by the company you work for. The corporation owns you by virtue of the fact that they give you a paycheque, and you may be one keystroke away from getting Dooced. It’s sad that the example of Heather Armstrong happened almost 10 years ago, and in that time we have evolved our thinking in a manner which doesn’t view what the company that fired Heather as wrong, but instead have shifted the focus onto the importance of “managing” our digital identities through the lens of what our employers, present and future, may find acceptable.

Save anonymous for those who need it

I find this style of control by an employer over an employee not only wrong, but also dangerous for social media because it not only silences people from speaking and having a voice, but it also reinforces/forces anonymity on the net, something I am generally opposed to. People who can’t speak publicly as themselves will just take on anonymous pseudonyms or adopt elaborate codes to conceal what they are really saying. Not to say when there are not legitimate needs for people to be anonymous on the net (fear of political persecution, for example), but bending to the social media will of an employer is not one of those reasons. Let’s save anonymous for those who need it and make authentic the default.

Let’s be real

I acknowledge that sometimes I have a naive view of social networks, and that how I wish they worked is often in conflict with how they actually work. I think they are at their most powerful when people using them are real people, free and unencumbered to be real people, full of foibles and contradictions that real people exhibit. They are not afraid to post a half baked thought or something that might be viewed by some as controversial or provocative. That they have the opportunity to use their social network accounts to provide an accurate reflection of who they really are as people and not as corporate or political autobots.

Real and virtual – it’s all the same

In a perfect world, I would have the same level of freedom to express myself in a social network as I would have in the real world. That is to say, I should have the freedom to be bound by the same social conventions that bound my expressions in real life. In my heart, I would hope that this is where we are heading as a society. That actions on social networks are judged in the same manner as actions in real life. If you are an ass in real life, then chances are good you will expose yourself as an ass online. It is only in this way do I believe social networks can truly be “authentic”.

But when we begin to closely tie our online identities with those of our employers, and they begin to call the shots (both explicitly and implicitly), we lose this authenticity, and we lose who we truly are. When authenticity begins to get questioned, trust erodes, and when trust erodes and motives get questioned all the time, we grow tired and cynical and, most likely, withdraw. Disengage from the network because it loses value for us. And if that happens, I believe we have lost something that is hard to replace, and squandered a truly unique opportunity in our human evolution to connect at a very deep level with other human beings; human beings full of contradictions, who make mistakes, who post half baked ideas, who continually evolve and change throughout their lifetime. Who are real and truly authentic.

 

Informal learning for kids circa 1976

Since my Mom passed away earlier this year, my Dad has been going through boxes of stuff that he and my Mom have accumulated over the years. Bit by bit, pieces of my childhood have been slowly migrating out to the west coast with each family member who makes the trip from Saskatchewan to Victoria.

A few days ago my sister arrived at my door with the latest bounty – a box chock-a-block full of informal learning circa 1976.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

The complete Childcraft collection circa 1976. Published by World Book Encyclopedia (which we also had, and which I also cherished), I spent hours pouring over the books from the time I was 8 or 9 until I lost my way as a teenager to other vices. But for my formative learning years,  this was how I got my info fix when I wasn’t in school.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

I loved these books, and going through them over the last few days made me realize just how much these books taught me. These were my gateway to the world. These were my Internet.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

A favorite of mine was the special section of the Human Body book which had a transparent overlay of a boys and a girls body. Flip the transparent from page to page and you could overlay it like an onion skin over top the various systems of the body. I thought it was the coolest thing ev-ah!

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

Each year Childcraft would release a new volume. 1976 was a banner year. It was the year the dinosaur issue arrived.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

The only thing that would have been cooler is if they would have had a Star Wars yearbook.

As I pour over these, I am again struck at what an amazing time we live in, and how our kids won’t really know it as an amazing time because for them, it will just be a time. They will have no frame of reference for what life was truly like PI (pre-Internet), just like I have no frame of reference for what life was like pre-TV, pre-telephone or pre-power. And I wonder if someday my daughter or son might wander over to the Internet Archive and view the Martha Speaks or National Geographic Kids website from 2011 with the same kind of nostalgia for learning that I have experienced over the past couple of days flipping through these books.

Funny, though. Since these things have arrived, my daughter has kept this dog-eared yearbook close at hand.

Wikipedia for kids circa 1976

Which goes to show, no matter how much things may change, little girls will always want a puppy.

 

 

What can Wikipedia do to encourage new contributors?

I find it troubling that Wikipedia is losing contributors. Despite it’s flaws, Wikipedia and the overarching ideals it was built on, still represent the world’s greatest open educational resource. It’s a place built on the Web 2.0 ideals of transparency and collectivism, and I think of the people who contribute to Wikipedia as people who love learning and knowledge.

I wonder why it is losing contributors? Maybe after 10 years, the shiny factor is wearing off as it becomes one of those things in our life that kind of fades into the background. It’s always there, now serving a primarily utilitarian role in our lives. Like power or plumbing, we don’t notice it all the time because it is just there, and we have come to expect that it will always be there.

Maybe there are less contributors because, after 10 years and 3.7 million articles, there isn’t as much to actually edit or contribute these days. Sure, there is a lot of new information being generated every day in the world, but maybe the knowledge base has been pretty well built and now all that needs to be done is gardening. The low hanging knowledge fruit has been picked and we are now getting into topics and details that only those who are highly knowledgeable in those areas could contribute something new to?

Or, perhaps as the article suggest, it is difficult to edit or add an article to Wikipedia? Sure, in theory anyone can add or edit an article, but in reality it does take a bit of technical know-how to edit a Wikipedia article correctly. And then there are the protocols and procedures that Wikipedia has put in place that need to be followed. Unless you have done a bit of research into how to actually author or edit a Wikipedia article, it seems to me that there might be a barrier there for new users to figure out how to do it right.

I could be wrong with that last bit, which is why I’d be interested to hear your experiences with editing Wikipedia. Do you do it? Do you find it difficult? What could Wikipedia do to make it easier for you to add or edit articles?

 

Exactly what is it that students are addicted to?

Reading the results of the Going 24 Hours Without Media research has left me wondering exactly what it is students are craving for with their use of technology and media. Is it the technology they crave,  or is it what the technology enables?

The study asked close to 1,000 students from around the world to abstain from using all media for 24 hours, after which time they were asked to “report their successes and admit to any failures”. What the study discovered was that students found it difficult – sometimes even impossible – to unplug for 24 hours, and they often used the metaphor of addiction to describe how they felt when they were not plugged in.

Needless to say, mainstream media has been picking up this study and presenting it with headlines like students are addicted to their gadgets or that tech addiction symptoms are rife among students.

Now, I’m not going to dispute the fact that many of us love our gadgets and tech, but I do wonder if some of this media coverage misses a deeper point. The point that maybe it isn’t the tech or the gadgets or the media we are “addicted” to. Maybe what we are “addicted” to is something that is deeply human; the sense of connectedness to other human beings that these devices enable. Maybe what we are “addicted” to is nothing technical at all, but rather what the technology enables – the ability to fulfill one of our basic human desires and needs; that as social animals we need to be connected to each other.

Isolate any human being from other human beings and we will go mad. We can’t do it. So is it any wonder that when we feel disconnected, we feel isolated, lonely and depressed? Being connected to one another is essential for our survival, so should we be surprised that when we disconnect – not from the devices in our life, but from the people in our lives – that we feel disoriented and confused, upset and agitated? Being disconnected goes against our very nature as social animals.

I don’t want to be dismissive of this study – far from it. This is an important study that illustrates just how deeply this stuff is permeating into our lives. And I do not want to paint over the important point it makes about just how mediated our lives have become. We do need to think – and think deeply – about how the ability to be connected to each other 24/7 is changing us. Instead what I want to challenge is the notion that this is an issue of being addicted to technology, gadgets, or media, but instead cuts to something much deeper, something that hints at the very essence of what it means to be human.

It is not a matter of simply being “addicted” to my smartphone, or Facebook or Twitter. It’s much more complicated than that. I find the “addiction to technology” argument a distraction from what is really going on, which is that the ways and levels with which we communicate with each other have become much more complex, nuanced, interconnected, and vitally important to our well being. And we are responding in a most human way to this kind of ubiquitous connectedness – by feeling panicked, frightened and depressed when something that is so vital to us is threatened and taken away.

To me, the results of this study tell me far more about how critically important the human need to feel connected to each other is, rather than how important it is for us to feel connected to our devices.


 

Privacy and cloud based apps – a background paper from BCcampus

Descending Clouds

Ahead of their province wide conference on Privacy and Cloud-Based Educational Technology happening on April 4th, BCcampus has released a background white paper on Privacy and Cloud-Based Educational Technology in British Columbia (PDF).

The report is based on questionnaires and interviews conducted by BCcampus with a cross section of institutional stakeholders (instructors, teaching and learning centres and IT administrators) at 9 BC post-secondary institutions (25 were contacted) in the Fall of 2010.

The paper highlights some of the concerns and benefits post-sec institutions in BC are grappling with when considering using cloud-based applications and services (specifically those hosted in the US), and illustrates some examples of how BC post-sec’s have addressed these issues within their institutions.

Some institutions are afraid to authorize any “web 2.0” technologies because of privacy concerns, some have used workarounds, and some have just gone ahead and implemented institution-wide technologies to the best of their ability.

If you are involved in IT or EdTech in BC, this report is well worth the read and provides some real-life examples of how post-sec institutions in BC are addressing the ambiguous issues inherent with the big elephant in the room. As the report notes:

All (post-secondary institutions) have one thing in common: the need for clarity around what is or is not aligned with B.C.’s privacy legislation.

This ambiguity is reflected in one of the questions raised by Vancouver Island University:

Getting clear-cut responses from the Office of the BC Privacy Commissioner is important to  enabling post-secondary administrators to provide correct advice and guidance on FIPPA  related questions. What can the BC government ministry [responsible for FIPPA] do to  facilitate this?

Gina Bennett from the College of the Rockies also reflects this clarity concern.

According to Gina Bennett at COTR, FIPPA requirements aren’t well understood. “[Postsecondary institutions] use extreme caution, they don’t act -out of fear– or they fly under the  radar,” when they consider using cloud-based services or social media.

But my favorite Gina Bennett quote has to be this one, which nicely encapsulates one of the big picture issue that are at stake here.

“I wish we could have ‘openness people’ rather than ‘privacy people” at institutions. We  should be all about sharing. What is the purpose of the academy if not for sharing ideas?”

Hear, hear.

Photo: Descending Clouds by Gary Hayes used under Creative Commons license

 

A very emotional week

For reasons that will soon become apparent, this blog post covers both ends of the emotional spectrum.  My wife coined the term “congrolences” to describe the past 10 days. Feel free to use it as you read my story.

On Tuesday, February 8th at 10pm, I received a phone call from my Dad saying my Mom had a heart attack and passed away. Her health had been in decline for the past 2 years and, even though these things are never expected, part of me had been preparing for this moment since that rushed Christmas trip to Saskatchewan 2 years ago.  At that time, I remember being shocked when I walked into her hospital room and seeing that my Mom had gray hair. Weekly trips to the hairdresser for a bright red or orange rinse had been on Mom’s appointment calendar since 1982. I had never seen my Mom with her natural hair colour. At that moment I knew things had changed and that the phone call I received from my Dad Tuesday night was inevitable.

Last Wednesday morning at 10am found my sister and myself in the Calgary airport, waiting for a connecting flight to Regina to begin the terrible task of planning a funeral for a parent. I checked my email and discovered a message from Mary Burgess, Director of the Centre for Teaching and Educational Technology at Royal Roads University. She was offering me the newly created position of Manager of Learning Technologies. Less than 12 hours after hearing that my Mom had died, I was being offered a dream job with one of the premiere post-secondary distance learning institutions in the country.

Congrolences: a phrase said to someone when two life-chaging events at opposite ends of the emotional scale occur in a short period of time. I think I need to add that to Wikipedia. Or, at the very least, the urban dictionary.

I accepted the position. Since then, the knowledge that I am joining such a wonderful group of people in CTET at RRU has carried me through some of the darker periods of the past week. Already the reception I have received from Mary, Tracy and others at CTET & RRU during an especially difficult time has served to underscore the fact that this is truly a wonderful group of people working on an equally wonderful slate of projects in one of the most beautiful spots in the world.

There is another set of emotions at play here as well, as I prepare to leave Camosun College, a place that I have been associated with (on and off) for over 15 years. I have some very deep, long term relationships with this institution and the people here. From my time in the Applied Communication Program, to my stint as the station manager of Village 900 radio, to my work in Distributed Education, I have worked with a number of very talented, generous and wonderful people. I will miss them greatly, but take solace in the fact that I am a 5 minute walk from my home to campus and to many of the friends I have here, and many of those friendships spill over outside of the institution. Those will continue.

But right now, I do feel incredibly fortunate to have this new opportunity in front of me. And I know that, somewhere at this moment, my Mom is feeling pretty proud of her son.

 

PageFlakes – a cautionary reminder that free comes with a price

This morning Alec Corous tweeted a crowdsourced call for tools for a workshop he is presenting. I responded and suggested a couple of aggregators in Netvibes and PageFlakes.

I am a big Netvibes user & fanboy – it is one of the web tools I could not live without as it is my central dashboard for my online life. PageFlakes is a tool I have used in the past, but hadn’t touched for awhile and when Alec went to check the PageFlakes site, it was down. I started poking around and asking a few questions and discovered that it does look like Pageflakes is gasping it’s final breath. It’s probably not a good sign that the official company blog hasn’t been updated since July 2008, and most of the comments posted on it these days are for male enhancements.

It served as a good reminder for me – a message that I forget until something like this pops up. Not that I am going to stop using these tools, but every once in awhile it’s a good thing that something like PageFlakes dies as a cautionary tale that many of the tools I use and, in some cases, have come to rely on are just a single bad quarter away from disappearing.

Which is why data portability is such a crucial issue, and one that I pay much more attention to when I sign up for a new tool these days.

The other thing I have been paying more attention to when signing up for free services is what is the business plan? Is there a way that this service is making (or can make) money? And is there a way I can pay a few dollars for those services that I have come to rely on. I do this with the wiki service I use. I also pay for my own web hosting for this blog. If there is a way I can pay, then I don’t mind kicking in a few dollars for a service that I truly find valuable. After all, everyone has to make a buck, and I am not adverse to paying for something if it means it has a better chance of surviving in the long run.

 

Academics work around the paywall

Academics are finding ways around paywalls to provide access to academic research for colleagues. That’s one of the findings of research conducted by Jason Priem and Kaitlin Light Costello of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on how and why scholars cite on Twitter.

In the research, Preim and Costello analyzed the links tweeted by academics. They  broke the tweets down into 1st and 2nd order tweets. 1st order tweets were tweets that contained direct links to peer reviewed resources. 2nd order tweets were links to a web page (like a blog) which contained either a link or description of a peer-reviewed resource. The tweets analyzed were almost evenly split between 1st and 2nd order links (52%-48% respectively).

What is interesting about this is the reasons why academics link to 2nd order resources. Some found that it fit their workflow better. But others said that it helped them get around paywalls to articles.

That second point bears repeating. It helped them get around paywalls to articles.

[Armando] I’m much more likely, if I see an article that I think is really interesting, to blog about it myself and post a link to that or to link to someone else’s blog about it. Because you can provide a little more substance that way, even to people who do not have access to it behind the paywall.

The quantitative data support this interview finding. While 56% of first-order links were open access, only 25% of second-order links were free to access. This significant difference (p < .001, ?² = 12.86) suggests that scholars may prefer to link directly to the article when it is open access but will resort to second-order links to bypass paywall restrictions. Participants were attracted to open-access articles for Twitter citations; Ben said “I would certainly be much more likely to link to things if they were more readily available.”

Now, I am no academic. I am clueless about how the inner machinations of academic publishing work. But something tells me when academics are finding ways to work around the restrictions put in place to prevent access the research they are creating – well, that tells me something is not quite working with the current system.

Thanks to Tom Fullerton for sending this article my way – via Twitter – a first order citation of the highest order.

 

365Retro: My 2010 Flickr project (and maybe yours)

I have a project for 2010, and I’d love it if you came along. I’ve started a Flickr Group called 365Retro. The idea is to post one photo a day for the entire year. Now, 365 groups on Flickr are not new, but this one is a bit different. Instead of taking a photo with your camera, you have to scan a photo from your pre-digital photo collection.

The idea came to me while I was going through my old photo albums, which I have done periodically over the years. Every time I do I have this little voice inside me that says “I should really scan these”. But then real life took over and I never found the time.

This year, I am finding the time, mostly because my kids are starting to ask me more about my life, pre-kids. So, once a day I’ll be scanning and adding some old photos of my life pre-digital camera. I am really using this as an excuse to do what I have wanted to do for years – scan my old photos. And maybe share a few memories along the way.

One of the other reasons I am doing this is because in the past few months I have seen how a digital artifact, like a photo, can become a touchstone that connects people.

A group of radio announcers from CFGP radio enjoying a night out in Grande Prairie Alberta. From l to r: Peter Hall, Jeff Bolt, Paul Oulette, Clint Lalonde (me), Daryl Olsen.
A group of radio announcers from CFGP radio enjoying a night out in Grande Prairie Alberta. From l to r: Peter Hall, Jeff Bolt, Paul Oulette, me, Daryl Olsen.

Last fall, a friend of mine named Peter Hall passed away. I had not seen Peter for 15 years, but had worked quite closely with him for many years early in my radio career.

I heard about his death via a post on Facebook from a mutual friend. I remembered I had some photos of Peter tucked away in my photo collection. So that night I went through the photos, scanned a few, and posted them on Facebook. Before I knew it, people I had not heard from for years who both Peter and I had worked with began to comment on the photos. I reconnected with numerous old friends I had lost track of (including one who now lives in the same city as I do and we have met f2f for lunch since), and many fun memories were shared, all spurred by these photos.

Over the past few years, thanks to social networks, I have meet a whole new circle of people. Thanks to a continual stream of tweets, status updates, blog posts and Flickr photos, I have a pretty good idea of who these people are today and what they are up to right now. But ask me about these people and their lives prior to around 2005 when I started actively connecting virtually with people, and I know squat. And I want to know. I like history and knowing what happened to people in their lives that brought them to the point they are at now.

So, if you have a scanner,  some old photos, and a Flickr account, come and connect with us in the 365Retro group. Fill in the pre-digital gaps in your life to give your friends and family a more complete picture of your life and history. These photos can be whatever you want to scan and share. If you can add some context or a story that fills in the details about the subject of the photo, all the better. Add some context and share your stories and your history with the group.

If you don’t have a Flickr account, you can set one up for free. Once you have your account, join the 365Retro Flickr group. Scan and post a photo a day to your Flickr account, and send the photo to the 365Retro Group

That’s it! You’ve participated. And don’t worry if 365 sounds daunting. Contribute what you can. Or, if you don’t want to contribute, you can pop by and laugh at the various mullets and facial hair combo’s I have spouted over the years.

 

Test post from Google Docs

I am composing this post in Google Docs to test whether or not I can publish to my blog from Google Docs. So here is the post. If you are reading this on my blog or in my RSS feed, then the test worked. You can now resume your normal activities after this stellar post.

I am trying to pull an image from Flickr. If you see an picture above then it worked and the image from Flickr was included (my 5 year old daughter drew this as a tribute to Snowflake, our white goldfish who made a break for it and jumped out of the bowl awhile back). This text should link back to the original photo on Flickr.

Okay all done.

 

Google site aggregates Internet statistics

Did you know that over 30% of our leisure time is now spent online? Or that 20 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute? Or that worldwide, over 6 billion songs have been sold on iTunes? Where did I find these fascinating Internet stats I hear you asking? Why, from the Google Internet Stats site of course.

I just came across this site, but can already see how useful it will be to both monitor the Internet zeitgeist, and use as a starting point for current research about Internet and technology. Google has set up an aggregate site that monitors stats from a number of third party sites. The complete list of data sources is available on the site, but includes The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, TechCrunch, and Neilsen (among many others). Somehow the list of data sources also includes Coke, which makes me go what the heck? Is this the cola company? I didn’t realize they pounded out a lot of Internet stats and figures, but I digress..

The topics are grouped into 5 categories; Macro Economic Trends, Technology, Consumer Trends, Media Consumption and Media Landscape so if you are in any discipline that intersects with these areas, you should find something here useful. Also, the site is UK based, so expect the results to be skewed slightly towards the UK and Europe, but still this should be a useful resource if you are looking for stats as a starting point, or to quickly support a point.

 

The myth of multitasking

An interesting study from Stanford this week that challenges the idea that we are adept multitaskers and can effectively deal with multiple concurrent tasks.

According to the research, we’re really lousy at multitasking, and the idea that multitasking somehow makes us more efficient or effective at dealing with tasks is wrong.

I find the study results very much in line with what I have been feeling lately with regard to my own productivity. I thought my unproductive feelings were a result of age and slowing down, or being a 42 year old parent with a 5 and 2 year old and finding the time to be able to concentrate on a single task for long periods of time at home virtually impossible. Both of these are probably true to some extent. But lately I have been asking myself questions like how efficient am I, what do I produce, and is it really the best work that I can do? I find that by trying to do too many things at once, I actually accomplish very little and, in some cases, completely miss out on important tasks. I am beginning to question many of the habits and methods I have picked up over the years to deal with multiple streams of information and how I juggle multiple tasks and asking myself is this really the best way I work?

I know it is a common problem many of us who work in information based careers struggle with, but for me the change is that I am now starting to recognize that it might actually be a problem. Whereas before I thought multitasking was an essential skill I needed to thrive in a digital world, I am now beginning to rethink that and wonder if the opposite might actually true.

 

New Netvibes feature: drag and follow widgets

A few days ago, just as the D2L user conference Fusion was starting in Minneapolis, I created a Twitter alert for the conference tag, #D2L09. Since I couldn’t attend this year I wanted to virtually keep track of what was happening at the conference.

To do this, I went to the Twitter search page and typed in the conference tag #D2L09, which brought up a list of tweets from the conference. From there I grabbed the RSS feed and manually created a widget in Netvibes (glowing fanboy praise of Netvibes in just a minute). With the widget created, I did not have to continually go back to Twitter and search for that tag every time I wanted a conference update – the tweets automatically appeared in the Netvibes widget as they rolled in.

Today, Netvibes released an update which will greatly simplify this process in the future – drag and follow widgets.

If you have a Twitter widget installed on your Netvibes page and you see a hashtag come through a tweet from someone you follow, all you have to do is click and drag the hash tag onto your Netvibes page. Netvibes automatically creates a new Twitter widget for you populated with Twitter search results for that hash tag. Very handy!

You can also do this with people you follow in either Twitter or Facebook. Drag their username and a breakout widget with just their stream is created. Also very handy for following a few key people in my network.

Okay, here is the Netvibes fanboy gushing (which could really be gushing about any of the current breed of customizable web startpages, from iGoogle to Pageflakes).  Of all the web tools I use, none (save Firefox) is more used than Netvibes, my personal startpage that is my aggregator for all things web.

When people ask me how I manage to keep track of all this web stuff, I say Netvibes. It is the dashboard from which I can monitor numerous email accounts, my Delicious, Twitter, Friendfeed, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook networks, see who is commenting on and linking to my blogs, listen to podcasts, catch the current web zeitgeist,  and set up alerts for everything from Twitter tags to academic publications through our library. All the information I need is on one handy dandy page.

What began as a tool I used to keep track of blog subscriptions (functionality that has now been replaced for me by Google Reader and Feedly) is fast becoming a real time web monitoring service that allows me to quickly gauge what is going on and with who in my world.

If you haven’t explored the wonderful world of personal startpages, I highly recommend it. It is a powerful and (for me) indispensable tool to quickly and efficiently take the pulse of my network and track my interests across the web.

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Hi Tech Cheating – Do Your Kids Do It?

Note: this is a cross post from my Dad blog, but I thought the topic would be of interest to you as well.

Is this cheating?

Does your teenager have a cell phone? If they do, there is a good chance they are using it to cheat at school according to a new report by Common Sense Media.

Key findings from the report say that more than 1/3 of teens with cell phones admit to having used them to cheat at school, while over 1/2 of all teens admitted to using some form of cheating involving the Internet.

According to the report, we parents are living in denial. Not that this practice exists in schools – 76% of us believe that cell phone cheating is happening in school – but only 3% of us believe our kids are doing it.

Hmmmm, 35% of kids admit to doing it, but only 3% of their parents believe they are doing it. That is a big digital denial divide.

But really the question we as parents need to be asking is not whether our kids are cheating or not (although that is a very important question), but rather what is cheating? Perhaps it is time to take a long hard look at what we think cheating is in the digital age. If we do, then we might come to the conclusion that how we define cheating may actually be hurting our kids.

For example, is it cheating for students to collaborate with their peers to find the answer to problems? 1 in 4 of the students in the survey don’t think so and I tend to agree with them. After all, is this not what we “grownups” do in real life? When we need to figure out a problem, what do we do? We tap into our personal networks and fire up the web. Isn’t collaborating to figure out a solution to a problem something we want to foster in our kids?

And is it so wrong for students to use the most game changing educational tool called the Internet to find answers? I mean, why do we ask kids to pretend that this massively useful tool does not exist? Why do we insist that they need to be able to work inside a bubble to solve problems?

What I do have a problem with is a student taking someone else’s work and turning it in as their own. That, to me, is my moral threshold. But collaborating with their peers using technology to solve problems? That is something we should be rewarding, not punishing.

I realize this may seem like an extreme position to take, and it is fraught with a whole can of worms that educators have to deal with (not the least of which is how do teachers really assess learning), but I think we need to take a long hard look at how we define cheating in a digital age. If we do then we might just discover that what we think of as cheating is actually an essential skill our kids are going to need to thrive in a digital world.

Photo: Poor Marc Has No Idea She CHEATS! by Mr_Stein used under Creative Commons license.

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Change usernames in your Delicious network

Delicious was the first of the current breed of Web 2.0 social networks I signed up for. In retrospect, I wish it was one of the last because one of the things I didn’t quite realize then that I fully get now is that in order for these social tools to work their magic, you have to be found. And that means your name.

My Delicious name is the very unfortunate WindTech. At the time, I was heavy into freelance work with my own company, called Wind (which had nothing to do with weather, but that is another story), hence the WindTech.

Well, Wind has come and gone, but unfortunately the name WindTech has stuck on my Delicious account. I wish I could simply change it, but in Delicious, you cannot change your username. I would have to delete my account and create a new one, but that means rebuilding my network. The name doesn’t bug me that much.

But even though I cannot change my name, you can if I am in your network. A tweet from Delicious a few days ago let me know that you can now change the display names of people in your network. So, while I cannot change WindTech to Clint Lalonde, if you are in my delicious network at least you can so I appear as a real person as opposed to some semi-corporate entity in your network.

Since then I have learned the authenticity lesson of social networking – be yourself. So now when I sign up for a social network I am now me – Clint Lalonde.

Er, except on Last.fm where I am MondoCanuck. That was social network #2.

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The Networked Student

Wendy Drexler created this video, called The Networked Student. Wendy is a teacher in Florida, and was a student in CCK08, an open course on Connectivism offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes this fall.

If this is the first time you have come across the learning theory of connectivism, then this video is a great place to start. It clearly explains and illustrates, with Lee LeFever inspired simplicity, the concept of connectivism as a learning theory. I also love it because the events depicted here are true – theory in action.

 

Don Tapscott on the Net Generation

A useful interview for educators on CBC’s Spark this week. Nora Young talks with Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything). Tapscott talks about his book Grown Up Digital about the Net Generation and how their brains are being rewired to live in a digital world.

The interview that airs on the program is interesting, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to Spark embracing transparency (which is, coincidentally, one of the concepts that Tapscott says is vitally important to Net Gen’ers), you can spend a worthwhile 20+ minutes to listen to the full unedited audio interview.

For example, one of the stories Tapscott told that resonated with me was edited out of the final show is the story of Joe O’Shea, a 22 year old Rhodes Scholar from Florida State University who doesn’t read books. Imagine how ridiculous that statement would have sounded 10 years ago – a Rhodes Scholar studying Philosophy at Oxford who does not read books. As Tapscott correctly points out, THAT is disruptive and more than a little disconcerting to many educators.

He also has some choice words to say about how the net generation learns and what institutions need to do to meet the challenges.

The lecture is becoming defunct because it is a bad model of pedagogy. It’s not how young people learn. We need to move to interactive, self paced learning where students get to collaborate in the learning process.

You can read more of Don’s thoughts on education and the Net Generation at his blog.