Digital Marginalia 2 – Electric Boogaloo

Digital Marginalia is an infrequent blog post series that captures some links I’ve retweeted or looked at, grouped into a theme, and commented on.

Disrupting Education/Learning – Whatever that Means

There’s two related bunch of links that are tied here; the first being the onslaught of Richard Branson, Disrupting Education:

http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/disrupting-old-education-models

http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/education-outside-the-classroom

And the response:

http://blog.edtechie.net/uncategorized/what-disruptors-really-want/

http://cogdogblog.com/2015/10/05/richard-branson/

It’s strange because I understand what Branson’s saying, and yes, education needs more flexible education. But to criticize something he doesn’t really know, because he didn’t go into it forty years ago, and isn’t part of it now, and clearly doesn’t get that in fact, higher education does do a lot of the things he says it doesn’t. Business schools basically train their graduates to be startups. Many, many MBA programs have that as their overarching theme. Our Master’s level Engineering program is based on a business project model with real clients. We aren’t unique in this. Our Geography department have several trips to real world places to do the work that they will do post-graduation. When I went to community college a decade ago, we took several entrepreneurship classes, because they knew that software designers would likely be their own bosses. Should things be more flexible? Yes. Often the reason things aren’t flexible is because someone, somewhere along the line bought a student information system that can’t schedule things in less than three hour blocks, or doesn’t understand that a course isn’t 14 weeks. That’s the sort of flexibility that the private sector brings you. Get real, Branson. Martin Weller said it better (first link under responses) so go read his post and give it some love because it’s so terribly spot on.

https://www.lrng.org/

“LRNG redesigns learning for the 21st century so that all youth have an opportunity to succeed.”

Really, I don’t have any non-vulgar words… OK here’s a fact you may want to consider, YOU CANNOT REDESIGN HOW I LEARN. I control how I learn. YOU control how you communicate information to me; I control how I receive that information. If you do not agree, then you are working on a paradigm that reinforces that students are empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge. Again, I agree with connecting someone’s passion with learning, doing it through an online medium, sure that’s awesome. I love the Cities of Learning program, I really do. Just “redesigning learning” is like saying you’re “redesigning eating”.

Closing of the Open Web

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/oct/06/reddit-upvoted-launches-aggregated-news-site–with-no-comments-allowed

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/im-on-twitter-too

Commenting, whether you think it valuable or not, is one of the best features of the world wide web. The amount of time I’ve found something in the comments of an article that links to another great thing is staggering to think about. The Vice thing is kind of delicious, in that after years of cultivating this vacuous audience (looks directly at Dos & Don’ts) they now want a civilized discussion. I guess people can grow up, but instead of turning off comments, why don’t you do like many other places and cultivate the commentary by moderating it. That way, you approve the good stuff and your audience doesn’t have to change the way they interact with the site.

Privacy

http://campustechnology.com/articles/2015/09/28/deep-learning-privacy-research-gets-google-go-ahead.aspx

Google and privacy? Uhhh, the jokes write themselves.

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-to-see-what-facebook-tells-advertisers-about-you

Undoubtedly, not all of what Facebook tells itself about you.

Manditory watching. Glenn Greenwald is one of the most important journalists of our time. Seriously undervalued/rated.

 

 

 

 

 

Answers for 2012

Every year I try to do a Questions for the year – themes that I think will be interesting to explore and think about. At the end of the year, I go back and see how wrong I was.

For 2012, the Questions are here.

For those questions here’s some answers:

1. Pearson LMS? No big deal. I think the Blackboard free LMS is more important in the LMS space, but Pearson may be doing some things, but nothing big or earth shattering. Of course, a lot of faculty I work with don’t use Pearson texts.

2. Web mining useful? Ultimately yes, but increasingly difficult to do. With Twitter becoming more walled off, Instagram way more walled off and Facebook increasingly walled off, it’s much more difficult to use something like Ifttt to get something cool to mashup. It’ll be interesting to see how open data sources survive, and whether APIs will wither. I’d like to see more open data – I think it’s where we’ll see growth and interesting possibilities emerge. From an economics standpoint, these sorts of niche areas will be tremendous economic generation in the future.

3. MITx? In and of itself is not that big, but EdX, Udacity, Coursera and the others are making MOOCamania running wild on you. Credentials is still a big thing, but I suspect that’s the gateway and where these startups will make their money – partnering with a school who will rubber stamp their findings – or partially rubber stamping credit.

4. Android tablets in Education? Big fart of air. iPads still rule. Android will suffer for the hundred of crappy tablets and lag of killer apps on the platform. For phones, it’s fine; for tablets, not so great.

5. Learning Technologists? Still play their/our marginal role.

Questions for 2012

1. Does the Pearson LMS gain traction with anyone seeing as Desire2Learn and Blackboard have both integrated with Google Apps for Education? It’s interesting for me because the University I work at now is looking at replacing their internal e-mail system with Gmail for students to start off with, but will later expand that to everyone. They’ve also made an announcement that Google Apps for Education are coming, which I think is a huge deal, but everyone else seems to not be talking about too much.

2. Will web mining for information be a growth concept in 2012? I’ve seen Pattern, a python based toolset to access information, as well as sites developed like Ifttt which makes programming logic available to the masses in an easy to understand format (almost like Yahoo Pipes). There’s a lot of hope for Ifttt, at least from my perspective, it does take a bit to manipulate to get it to work.

3. Does MITx make an impact? I suspect it will, it could change the whole model of distance education and if it’s MIT that’s assessing and stamping approval, that’s a huge thing. However, does it mean that the credibility of MIT as a credential granting source takes a hit (ie. does more people with MIT education mean that it is worth less in the long term?) or are we looking at a real paradigm shift, where the credential means less and the knowledge exemplified means more?

4. Android tablets are cheap, but are they any match for the quality (and sheer amount of apps available for media creation) of an iPad in education? I know there’s no evidence to suggest that iPads help learning (starts halfway down that page), however it does allow a form factor that beats a laptop as a mobile learning device – as we could consider any Internet enabled device a learning device – it’s up to that pesky user to actually do something with it rather than play Angry Birds or Super Stickman Golf. By the way, Android tablets also have Angry Birds. And Super Stickman Golf – so consider your productivity screwed on either device.

5. Will Learning Technologists become even more important a bridge for faculty and technology? I provide support for the LMS at the institution but I also can help design learning, use different strategies and suggest ways to embed learning deeper by using different tools in and outside the LMS. I’m a big fan of wikis providing they are used in a way that support and demonstrate the learning. I think there’s two ways institutions can go – one tell faculty to just worry about teaching and research, and let the technical side be developed by a techie. The other is to demand the faculty learn the technology, and use it to be supported by a techie. Either way, the technologist is there to support. I think the successful institutions will have technologists that can be given room to explore where the technology is going without being too far ahead of the faculty needs. That sweet spot is hard to find, and lots of institutions will fail at it.

Google/Pearson LMS

So I’ve been fairly critical of the Pearson/Google LMS – I really don’t like the idea of Google getting it’s hands on educational demographic  data – especially in the K-12 market, which is a market that many advertisers salivate over (kids after all, drive parental purchase decisions). I also dislike the idea that one publisher has a step up in regards to content published within the LMS. When I hear the words “open” and “free”, I don’t think of Google (although Android is a tasty alternative mobile OS) or Pearson.  Stephen Downes started a thread on Google+ that deals with  a lot of the criticisms that I raise as well.

Pearson, in my experience, have tried to muscle in on LMS territory for a long while. I can recall being embedded in a Language Studies department and Pearson making presentations to faculty about how things like MyCommLab, their textbook/website/testing one-stop solution and boasted of their integration with a series of LMSs. Well, they couldn’t exchange marks data with Desire2Learn, and they couldn’t even think of how First Class might integrate with it. Turns out the integration they had was with Blackboard (which wasn’t available at my institution).

Even when presented with a space on Desire2Learn, Pearson couldn’t figure out a good way to export marks from the MyCommLab to Desire2Learn. Now they may have fixed that issue, I haven’t worked with Pearson or my former employer for a year now. Somehow I doubt it. Technologically, it’s actually not that hard, myCommLab would have to export a CSV in the way that D2L expects it. Even more slick would be an XML transfer of data using the IMS standards and some ASP/PHP code to facilitate that exchange. Seems that Pearson and I have different ideas of what “open” and “free” mean.

Here’s another issue. Google makes a lot of money gathering information about you. They already know a lot, and they do see knowing you as a value statement. Combine knowing about you and what you want to know about in school provides a whole different dimension of you. I’ve harped on about how different facets of one’s life manifest themselves in different online personas.  Google+ doesn’t allow for my school persona to be apart from my record collecting punk persona or my techno-programmer persona. Google (and Facebook) sees me as one person, and that one person can only have one persona. If you look at my Amazon profile, you’ll see I’ve bought conspiracy books, edtech books, punk history books, an anime DVD and a VHS to USB dongle. It’s a bit of a mish mash. Amazon recommends some weird stuff, most of it correct, but it doesn’t have the context to understand that the conspiracy books were gifts for my brother (at his request). I don’t have much time for conspiracies the equivalent of modern day science fiction.  Google is attempting, by gathering all your data from all your personas, to understand you real world contexts.

Those misgivings aside, my cynical side wants to have more separation between publishers and academics (much like the illusionary separation of church and state).

NOTE: After I originally posted this, Google has clarified it’s position with the OpenClass LMS. Which makes OpenClass even less useful in my opinion. I still wonder if I can import a McGraw Hill package into a course?

Retweets, Likes and the Like

Here’s my comment from CogDogBlog‘s post about the decline of content creation:
I think there’s a couple of things at work here – one being the idea that one has to produce content all the time, a constant stream pushing out content for people to consume. As most bloggers have experienced, after the initial wave of writing it’s hard to maintain that push. Most don’t. Twitter has the same thing only sped up. It takes less than a second to consume 140 characters, maybe stopping the receiver for ten seconds if the post required decoding or some sort of thought. So Like and RT’s become easy to maintain an audience’s interest – a reminder so to speak. It’s a cheap way to maintain attention. Much like the way television shows are cut before the commercial breaks – mini cliffhangers to maintain interest while the commercial runs.
The other thing that’s going on is that Likes are different beasts than retweets – I think there’s a metric tonne of difference between liking something, which is a pretty vacant statement, and a retweet – which usually is some sort of statement that one supports. I can like something without a real investment, a retweet takes a bit more. I look at retweets the same way I look at links on a web page, it’s annotation. It’s telling me about the author of the retweet. A like does that as well, but it seems that a retweet is more nuanced.
Maybe I’m over analyzing it.

Now, I think it’s important to recognize the shift away from web publishing (websites and blogs) into more immediate forms of communication. The next big thing will come from the people who figure out how to catalog retweets and likes into some cohesive idea of mass consciousness – much like Google did with links on the web. Facebook may already be doing this – although I suspect that it’ll be someone from out of the blue. I think retweets act just like links do, as retweets are rarely just links – they usually have some form of annotation accompanying them. This annotation serves two purposes – information about the link and information about author of the retweet. Links on the web do this as well, although websites have a distance from an author in many cases. Does a bad link on say Boing Boing or Wired reflect poorly on the author or the entity?

Be All and Goog-All

A new study is indicating that students trust Google too much – assigning it too much trust to it’s ranking algorithm. I frankly don’t see the problem with this, seeing as trust is crucial to Google’s ranking scheme – Google is based on reputation. So the results you get have to be somewhat right otherwise you’ll turn somewhere else, that was the problem with Altavista and other search engines circa 1997, the ranking schemes weren’t trustworthy. It seems to me that the authors of the study might have missed that point, or maybe the brief didn’t spell out that issue in full detail (being brief and all). Of course people trust Google, it’s right most of the time. What the article should be looking at is if it’s the correct answer. It would be interesting if in this data if Google did return unreliable results… that might be useful. Seeing as Google’s main factors in ranking are essentially crowdsourced, it might be some evidence of the wisdom of crowds.

After a bit of searching, and looking at the previous works of the author, it seems that despite previous knowledge of the subject, that she’s missed a big piece of the puzzle. In the previous piece she’s dismissed that search engine use has been generally measured by folks like Danny Sullivan who’s been tracking that sort of information for years. If you cross reference Sullivan’s work with the two or three other measuring sticks and the reported use from the sites themselves you get a good picture that Sullivan is pretty close with his findings. Again, trust built up over years of work, I trust Sullivan’s results. Lots of other people do as well, there’s a reason he’s the guy to go to when you want numbers about the web.

The premise is correct though, people need to be more critical about the media they’re consuming and sure there’s a slippery slope concerning the dominant culture overwriting less dominating culture (specifically cultures that have a minimal web presence). Just seems that the issue could’ve been dealt with deeper. It’ll be interesting to read the study when it becomes available.

Ten Web 2.0 Tools I Can’t Live Without

This post is inspired, or a direct response to, the “Tools of My Trade” post by Steve Wheeler. So here’s the ten Web 2.0 tools that I can’t live (although I would) without:

1. Twitter/Tweetdeck – I grouped these two together because my use of Twitter is non-existent without Tweetdeck. Twitter has gone from a second thought to the first thing I open at work in the morning. In fact, I open my Twitter account and scan it before I open e-mail. I never thought when I first started using Twitter that it would have this profound an effect, but it does.

2. WordPress – Without WordPress, there would be no blog(s) for me. In fact, I chose to buy and host on my own because of the ease of installing WordPress. Certainly I could’ve continued with the free hosting at Edublogs, or moved to a Blogspot location, but for me it only seemed logical to roll my own.

3. Google Search – Yes, I’m a bit wary of the monolithic Google  and the amount of information they can potentially know about me. Of course, I’ll trade what they know about me for the wealth of information that is available. Sure, it’s becoming second nature that the first result will probably be the best one for me – which will be an issue once that second nature is unquestioned. Until then, and not only because I used to teach searching techniques, Google Search is crucial.

4. bit.ly – Again, if you follow my Twitter stream (@dietsociety) you’ll know that I use this shortening service exclusively. I like that I can know something about the people who click on the links, and it often leads me to new people I choose to follow (if I’m not already).

5. Scribd – I can’t imagine that this service, where you can read books online, won’t be affected by the iPad, Kindle and other portable e-book readers. Still, lots of good information out there.

6. Flickr – I do maintain only one stream of photos – mostly for the live music I’ve seen and been lucky enough to get a workable photo at. My wife uses it as a dumping ground for all things – so I leave the photos of my life over there. Plus she’s much more talented than me.

7. Yahoo Mail / Gmail – Does this count as a Web 2.0 tool? I’m a chronic checker of e-mail – so much so I forget to check the one associated with my home ISP. I’ve had my Yahoo mail account for just under a decade… so by default I guess it’s not Web 2.0… maybe Web 1.5?

8. LMS – As a user I’ve used Blackboard, Desire2Learn, WebCT 4, Moodle, FirstClass and Sakai. As an instructor I’ve used Desire2Learn, FirstClass and WebCT. I’ve also had administrative powers for most of those systems at one point or another. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t login to one of these systems.

9. Wikipedia / Media Wiki – I used this in my teaching, and often refer to it as a starting point for inquiry.

10. Facebook – Occasionally I use Facebook to keep up on my family’s coming and goings, as well as my friends. Having friends in several different cities across the world – Facebook makes sense. Otherwise, I’m not interested in Farmville or any other Mechanical Turk work.

Crap Detector Part 2

Continuing on with the theme yesterday I wanted to add that Howard Rheingold has succinctly written a piece on crap detection, which pretty closely mimics what I’ve said in the last year of my Searching the Internet course. I’ll embed last years’ video lectures from that week’s work.

We work on the same principles, in fact when I teach this face-to-face, I try to accentuate that you have to think like a detective or private investigator; build a case for or against this website’s information. That was interesting because I’ve had cops in my class who said that investigative technique is a lot like taking a bunch of disparate pieces and putting them together is a lot of what detective work consists of. I’m glad we’re on the same path.

Google Jumping the Shark?

I read this article about Google courtesy of the Wall Street Journal – frankly I’m surprised by this action. Google wants to leverage their position as premiere search engine by getting Internet Service Providers to give them priority – a fast lane – on the information superhighway (how’s that for an antiquated phrase?). Clearly, this is not the most neutral position a company can take. If this practise were to become commonplace it would be easy to see that this could lead to a multi-tiered system, where voices who have been empowered through the internet (most recently through social networking sites like YouTube) are then further disadvantaged again, as the individual loses their equal footing to media giants again.