NerdTrivia as a Method of Assessment

Nerd Trivia  is a Twitter based interactive  game where questions are asked and answers are given via direct message. An @ message is generated to indicate whether or not your answer was given as correct. I had never really considered this as a tool for education it was a distraction (a happy one at that). However, after reading about how it was constructed using Twitter’s API, I got to thinking about how this idea could be extended to education. Sure, there is a natural fit in the K-12 realm, where drilling and memorization has to occur out of necessity to form the building blocks for later knowledge. But those idea do extend to higher education in some respects. The open ended questions are a good way  (well better than, say multiple choice) to test one’s knowledge – sure they could google the answer – but in the context of a course – does it matter how the student gets to know the answer? Whether they find it themselves or know it from a lecture, or video they’ve viewed it does not seem to me important. What is important is that they were driven to find it.

Twitter and Facebook drop RSS (Sort of)

Just finished reading that Twitter and Facebook drop their public pronouncements of RSS feeds for status updates, sort of. Twitter has hidden the old link that one needed to copy/paste to gather an RSS feed in Google Reader or Netvibes. Facebook has also hidden your status Feed. Is that a big deal, these sites are revenue driven now that they’re past the social networking infant stage – they both need to make money and they see the only way as making money is driving traffic to their site for their paid ads. What both Twitter and Facebook are doing are using API’s, essentially a separate standard for connecting to their web application (or website) rather than providing an open RSS feed. If you’ve grabbed the old Twitter feed, it should still work. For how long is anyone’s guess, but at least it’s something. As the web becomes more fractioned, with extremely large sites like Facebook and Twitter demanding innovation through their channels, and smaller sites using the power of the more open and transparent standards that have existed for many years, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Twitter Stats

So despite Twitter’s hubris, only 8% of Americans use it (that’s approximately 17 million users). What’s interesting is that somewhat diverse groups are using it. What needs to be looked at next is that are these different groups using Twitter for different purposes. I wonder if the initial influence of hip hop and basketball stars using the service were race predictors of who would use the service later? As if the initial celebrities who spent time on Twitter created a space where minority groups felt safe, and would then follow and accept the service as something race neutral. I’ve heard and often thought that Facebook was white, which is a big detractor for me – the blandness of the design and lowest common denominator mentality. Twitter seems like nuggets of ideas, some interesting and worthwhile, some not so much.

I’d also like to know how “use” is defined – is one tweet a week using Twitter? Or is it more often? Does posting a tweet determine use, or is logging in enough (the equivalent of a Twitter lurker – twilurker)? Does frequency determine more use? There’s lots of interesting avenues of research to follow up with Twitter users.

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?

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.

What I Learned This Week (Part 7)

I haven’t had a hodge-podge of links for a while – so this collection dates back a couple weeks.

Topsy: New-ish Twitter search engine that provides a ranking of your popular tweets, and attempts to navigate the network of links between your tweets, retweets and more. I think we’ll see many more of these sorts of popularity tools for Twitter pop up over this year as the general public tries to make sense of it.

Compare My Docs: I can see the plagiarism checking benefits for this (by comparing source material to essays) in addition to the versioning comparison that the site is aiming at. Sure, Turnitin is more robust, but it’s also a pay-to-play service.

WordPress Opens Up in an effort to improve their overall design and user experience. I never really found WP to be that bad, although at times I can see how user experience can be improved. A good idea to outsource this to the crowd, we’ll see the results fairly soon I suspect.

5 Things To Do To Improve Your Visual Intelligence

I’m using the term visual intelligence to refer to an ability to produce an aesthetically pleasing photograph, document or web page. Much like any other skill, experience is king. You have to learn by doing. The inspiration to do is sometimes a key problem. Here’s a couple of photography exercises that will help your visual intelligence.

1. The 365/10 project. On Flickr, take a photograph everyday and post it with the 365/10 tag. I’d go one further to geo-tag it and give it descriptive tags to help people find it.

2. The Dailyshoot is along the same idea, shoot something every day/week, but this time grouped around a theme. It goes one further to post a link via Twitter. Sometimes having someone give you constraints is a good way to focus on technique rather than finding something interesting to shoot.

3. Digital Photography Challenge is another photograph on a theme challenge, but it’s also a contest where you can vote on best shots.

4. Running From Camera is something Alec Couros posted on Twitter moments ago, but a cool task for a different shot. Of course, looking through the entries, some of them are composed very similarly. I wonder if you could work within the constraints of “running away” but shooting on a diagonal? Would the picture still work?

5. In addition to shooting more, critique more. Be very critical and selective about shooting and framing. Be reflective in your practice, think about what you could do to improve your shot selection. If you can’t come up with what you can do to improve your shots, review the basic theories that govern design, and choose one to work with exclusively.

Sociology of Technology

Here’s the twitter exchange that started me thinking about the sociology of technology:

Mark Gammon: what appears as “geek culture” now will be “culture” before long.. already underway #smchat

Me: @markgammon isn’t that always the way with culture though? #smchat

Mark: @dietsociety exactly my point. tech increasingly IS culture, differentiation of tech and cult is lessening #smchat

Me: @markgammon hmmm I wonder if that means those who shun tech. will become counter-cultural by default. What about “primitive” cult.? #smchat

Mark: @dietsociety think it will begin to look like that. mobile phone adoption is an example. used to shun users, now we shun non-users #smchat

I like the cellphone example, although I don’t necessarily agree with it – cellphone use in some circles is still seen as rude, or frowned upon. And what about old technology, it’s almost as if old technology is looked upon as worse than having no technology. As if there’s an explanation for not having technology, but not for not keeping up with the latest. I remember in 2003, just as flip phones became more popular I still had a brick of a cellphone (Nokia 5170 I recall). I got some flak for it, but I wasn’t going to throw away a perfectly good phone (with a good phone number too!). Eventually I retired it because it was frankly embarrassing to use it in public. It’s interesting to look back at the reasons for rejecting the old phone… not because it didn’t work (it actually worked a lot better than my follow up phone), but because as a “techie” it would tarnish my image to be carrying around last year’s technology. This disposability of an item for vanity is disturbing to me, as I had never thought that I was that sort of guy. Guess I am. I just wonder if people with last year’s models are destined to be second (or third) class citizens.

I mean, I just threw out a pack of Zip disks that went with my external Zip Drive from a decade ago when I was running a Mac PPC 6100/66. I still had the drive, just no SCSI cable to connect to, nor any way to read the information on the disks as I’ve long since donated any computer that might’ve had Mac OS 9. What have I lost that I can’t recover? Anything of importance? Probably. But I couldn’t even begin to think about it. Makes paper seem a bit more appealing though doesn’t it? As long as we are able to read, paper will be useful.

What does this mean for so-called primitive cultures, who reject or avoid technology? We already know that cultures that avoid technology are dwindling in numbers. Does that mean that progress is overwriting them? What happens to their memory when no one can speak for them because so few things about them are recorded?

Changing Nature of Relationships

So I haven’t written for a couple days, and I swore to myself that I would keep active on my blogs. It’s hard to balance writing content constantly and keeping it interesting , so I’ve backed off on my daily-ness in favour of quality. Amazing that after all these years (3 years blogging on another service, this blog over a year now, a year at Fear of Smell) that I still haven’t figured it out (the mix, I mean, not blogging).

Was interesting to see this post about the future from The Working Guy at Yahoo (and a similar one by the boob who wrote about how people are getting dumber), who contends that kids who use high-tech social media are lost in face-to-face relationships. Well, he hedges his bet with saying “may be lost…” but it’s the same scare tactic from media. Your kids are going to be turned into mindless zombies incapable of any emotion or thought, or will be unable to function in the “real world”. What’s really interesting is that the notion at the end of the Working Guy article where the author states that the time it takes to study this stuff is too long for the published results to be relevant. Really? Guess you should tell that to the McArthur Foundation or perhaps the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Instead of scare-mongering, perhaps the inverse is what we should be looking at? Instead of social zombies, ready to be strafed like some Resident Evil game, we should look at what is being enhanced.

Another line in the article got my attention (and at 8:30 AM, that’s a bit of a feat) was the tie-in to work environments. Well, again, instead of the negative side, maybe this is a push to create a community of telecommuters. Lots of people have been pushing this idea, and while I’m not in favour of having my work with me all the time, there are tangible benefits environmentally and economically. The continuous partial attention is something that work has forced on us anyways, as more work gets put on less workers, something has to give. Also, the fact that work has become less of a defining role on who we are as an entity, another benefit of social media, in my opinion, will give less importance to work as a whole. Never mind that many workers feel undervalued in their jobs and at the end of every pay period.

I’m also seeing a lot of mainstream media talking about this continuous partial attention and I think this Social Media boom is in for a bust soon. We are becoming saturated with social media, ways to connect, and people are becoming more and more selective with which products they choose to use because they are feeling this pressure. It seems that people are paying attention to is based on the network that their connections are connected to.  Sure, that’s a fairly simple observation to make, but the deeper meaning is that new and innovative products, like Twitter say, have to provide something new and tangibly innovative to users or it’s going to struggle. I think a lot of the skepticism around Twitter is because it doesn’t do anything new, except truncate context and provide more immediate access to people. Truncating context, an interesting phenomenon sure, but may be not all that useful to the end user.

Howard Rheingold makes a good point (as he almost always does) in this video about attention and multitasking. Yes, I linked it, as I wonder about the context of embedded links (another post I’m sure). He states that everyone already multitasks and pays attention, more importantly though, we pay attention to what we think is important. That decision making process is a critical thinking process, and if we want people to pay attention, we have to give them an indisputable reason to do that.

So where does that leave us?