What I Learned This Week (Part 2)

I often wonder how history will treat our online selves – especially when the political boundaries shift and countries cease to be. As we can see with the example of .yu and the former Yugoslavia. .yu would be a very nice domain for personalized sites – much like .pro is intended for professionals. Seeing as the overseer of the domain name is ICANN is largely American, I’m wondering if some lobbying is going on for this change several years after the fact.

100 Tips, Tools, and Resources for Teaching Students About Social Media is a handy list (and hell, if the blogosphere doesn’t like lists I’m a plate of tuna) for those who are teaching about and with social media online. Of course, the most social media of all is the classroom. I’m more interested in the media literacy component of the list, so the last 10 sites are interesting. I hadn’t considered looking at the MIT (Open) class on new media literacy. Guess I have some reading to do.

An invisible audience is something I never considered, although I probably should have considered it with my history in web design. I knew that only one in ten will be motivated to comment or follow up with a personal communication to a website. I also knew that this audience is the lurker in an online course, or the observer in a social situation. I wonder what this all means in an online class where participation and discussion is important to the content (or even forming the content).

On a, uhhh, personal level I’m terrible with hitting a braindead moment and filling the gap with uhhhh. Here’s a Mahalo answer for how to stop saying um so often. I really like the third answer, replace the uhh, with and moving onto – that sort of transitions don’t seem to exist in my speaking and I feel I’ll have to start with that to improve my public speaking.

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?

Cooped In With Audio Tracks

I’ve been playing with the Aviary Online Garage Band style web application called Audio Editor and have been cranking out some neat quick atmospheric items. While it takes a bit of fiddling to get good results, if you’re looking to craft a fifteen second introduction theme, like the one on Howard Rheingold’s videos, then this is a free way to do it. If you spend $25 to $50 on a sample kit you could put together a pretty decent intros and outros for videos or interludes.

It’s fairly intuitive, drag a track to the timeline then add another couple. Add effects, twiddle virtual knobs, and away you go.

Another similar project, although definitely slanted towards electronic music, is hobnox. In some ways hobnox seems more organic, plug the tone bank or 808 clone into a few pedals and dump it into the mixer, then the amp.

So you can add a little pizazz to your videos, which if the content is good, you’ll be able to make them closer to a professional production.

An Alternative Approach To Crap Detection

I haven’t written a lot about what Howard Rheingold calls critical consumption of information on the web, mostly because I’m paid to teach about it and somehow I feel that giving things away when I’m paid to do that is a violation of “trade secrets” or something. After finishing a video for Alec Couros, I feel that I should put this part out there because it’s more of an essential skill and less of a key feature of any course I teach. In fact, it’s a key feature of every course I teach… neither here nor there.

So I mentioned the five questions approach rather than crap detection or CRAP test. The five questions (who, what, where, when, why) comes from the journalistic inquisitiveness that we all intuitively ask when we smell something fishy. I’ve brought those questions to bear on looking at the websites we view daily. Here are some questions you might want to ask:

Who?

Who is writing this stuff? Does the author identify themselves? Can you find an author through tools like whois.net if they don’t?¬†Generally if a person signs a name to an article or column, it is more reliable. If you find a¬† name and an e-mail, do you get a response if you send them something? Can you further find a phone number looking at an online white pages? On top of those questions, ask yourself who this person is and what credentials they have. Is that important? Sure, being a lawyer in California is an impressive credential, but if you’re a lawyer who only practices in California with California law, does that make you credible to talk about issues in other jurisdictions? In some cases, law might be the same everywhere. In others, maybe not. Who links to this author, or writes about them? In many cases, links are from like-minded people. If it is difficult to determine people’s intentions, this is a good barometer of that person’s viewpoint.

What?

What are they saying? Does it ring true with your internal sensibilities? Does it sound reasonable? There’s many cases where a reasonable statement is false, only because it’s close to the truth, but not quite. Check with Snopes to see if it’s an urban legend. We also know how the masses can augment this effect, where we all come to a consensus of what truth is – if we say it often enough and loud enough and repeat it enough, it becomes truth. “What” attempts to combat this with evidence and fact checking. See what other people say about the subject. See if they agree, or is it cut and paste agreement? Is this person trying to sell you something? What is their motivation (which is quite often tied to who they are)?

When?

When was this written? Without a date, you can use the last time Google accessed the site, available on the results page through the Cached link. That gives you an idea of at least the last time Google saw it. When is tricky, because it’s importance depends on the context of the subject matter. Does it matter if information about the war of 1812 was written in 1995 or 2005? Only if something has been discovered in that time period. You can use the WayBack Machine to see if the website or webpage has changed in that period. Now ask if it matters if information on hip replacement surgery was written in 1995 or 2009?

Where?

Where was the article written? Does it matter? Where really only contributes to the case you’re building, rarely does location destroy credibility. It might play a part if liability and copyright are at issue. If you have an article written in a country that does not have strong libel laws, perhaps it might be less credible. You can determine where the site is hosted by the whois registration, and a brief glance at the domain name might tell you something. Of course, there are some obscure domain extensions (.tk anyone?) so refer to this handy list of domain extensions. Is the site hosting for free? If someone is willing to pay for hosting, chances are they aren’t just kidding around. While the cost of hosting is very inexpensive, certainly not as imposing as it once was, it is not a magic bullet to kill the claims of a website. Websites with the extension .org, .edu and .gov (depending on your view of the government) tend to be good sources of information.

Why?

After you’ve put together all the other pieces, you now know a little more about the author. Of course, you can never know why someone writes something, but you can examine what they have to gain from writing the piece. Are they trying to sell something? Is it a blog post or review about a product by an employee of the same company? These sorts of testimonials are hard to decipher because they can be very well written.

If you take into consideration the five questions whenever you are faced with confirming information on the Internet, you should be able to build a case to justify the website’s inclusion into your work.

Knowledge Metaphor

In the Elluminate session tonight Alec Couros suggested that his personal metaphor to knowledge that was: Knowledge is more like a river than a reservoir. I like that a lot, although as an aside, I thought to myself that knowledge is like a virus, you cough out an idea, and if someone likes it, it latches on to their system and mutates. As they think it changes… and spreads to a new host.

CCK09 – Initial Thoughts

Connectivism and Connected Knowledge, 2009 begins again. One of the themes that keeps running through my head is the idea of individuals in this structure of sense-making. In traditional, and constructivist classes, the individual is very connected to a class as a social construct, there’s an emotional bonding that occurs with people going through the course even on a subconscious level. I found myself in the Elluminate session tonight looking for familiar names, a sense of community and belonging. Belonging to a group. Even having this event (a course by any other means) is a social construct, which will lend itself to creating groups (which as Stephen said last year in CCK08, can lead to group think). What power does the network have over group think and what sorts of counter-force opposes group think by distributing the resources? There will be people who will immediately gravitate to thinking one way, based on their history with the subjects. I suspect that the people who think one way will invariably have a similar background. I wonder if they will gravitate towards each other naturally. Enough thinking, more sleeping.

Rubrics for Discussions and Wiki-Based Work

I’ve been refreshing a course I created in 2004 about Searching the Internet. Instead of the antiquated handouts I’ve replaced those four assignments with a wiki – each learner will contribute links, text, audio, images and video to the wiki. I decided that I can’t let them go and work in it without giving them some expectations so I spent a couple hours drafting this wiki rubric. I also cut 10% out of the mark and added it to a discussion component to drive people to talk in the talk pages of the wiki and the Discussion tool in the LMS. Here’s that discussion rubric.

The course I teach generally is to people who are older, may have a job during the day and are aspiring web designers. I would say that most of these people are carving out a second career. This course is taught at a distance, but I intend to tweak the rubric for a continuing education delivery (maybe take out the discussion element, or reduce it for a face to face class).

If you see some glaring errors I’d appreciate any feedback, in the comments or on twitter (@dietsociety), or something that I didn’t consider in my language. Thanks.

Aesthetics and Self Defined Identity

I wonder if there’s a benefit to allowing the end user, the learner¬† in educators cases, control of how online spaces function and look. How we design places, how we as educators/teachers/instructors design places is a egotistical idea, imposing a will of how things will be viewed and the order of viewing, that’s unlike anywhere else on the web. I can choose to go to Google in the middle of writing this article, no one says I have to finish writing this blog post before I can move on to looking at LOLcats. In the same sense why are we ordering students to complete tasks in an order that may not work for them? Maybe someone wants to engage in discussion before attempting the readings…

Similarly, who’s to say that my idea of what pleasant aesthetics are? Certainly they might appeal to a European or North American aesthetic set, but maybe my use of white, black and greys are not appealing to an African or Asian aesthetic? Wouldn’t it be nice to have educators select a default stylesheet, for those students who don’t have a preference, and allow the end user to choose how their localized content looks. I mean that was the hope with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and XML, where CSS would describe to the browser how it would look and XML would describe the data being transmitted. Instead of creating courses with content, generate a mass of XML that would be styled by the learner. Then you of course avoid all those nasty problems with mobile platforms, e-readers, etc.

Learner. A word that exemplifies the role, but seems so clumsy… I’ll have to look for a better one – don’t know if one exists though. Neither here nor there…

In this situation where the end user/learner styles the content, what happens to the identity of the instructor? Part of the deal with aesthetic judgments one makes about e-learning spaces is that it informs the student about the instructor. What happens to this implicit “understanding” (or misunderstanding)? The way we organize a page informs the reader of the page about the designer. Traditionalist? Times New Roman font, twelve point, one inch margins… Amateur? Comic Sans, larger, clip art that isn’t really relevant… Modern? Helvetica, ten point, maybe two columns, with images? Is it important to have this information as a learner at a distance? Is anyone thinking about this stuff?

Aesthetic Attention

Ran across an article about aesthetics from Carleton University called Aesthetics, visual appeal, usability, and user satisfaction: What do the user’s eyes tell the user’s brain? which had confirmed my previous assertions that you have 3 seconds to make an impression with a website – in fact, according to the article, you have 50 milliseconds. It also confirmed my idea that if your first impression is bad, then you’re fighting an uphill struggle to merely regain your credibility. This is a doubly bad situation for an e-learning space, where you have to not only fight to maintain attention, but also external preconceived notions of e-learning from other professors or teachers work online can have an effect on your credibility as an instructor. That credibility can be a class killer, especially at the College level in Canada. Colleges were built on trades, and being an instructor at College requires some real-world experience in the field that you’re instructing in. Any knock on your credibility can be overcome with good teaching technique, or personality but you have to fight for attention. When you are interacting with a screen though, as your sole “interaction” with a teacher, that initial impact is crucial to retaining attention. Positive first impressions will also allow users to forgive minor usability errors, although I didn’t see a definition of what minor was.

The article also goes on to say that users prefer things that they’ve seen before – which seems like an obvious statement – and also contributes to explaining why we see so many two and three column layouts on the web – familiarity. Three columns mimic the newspaper, which is familiar to most members of the 20th century (although, may not be to the members of the 21st century). Never mind that columns organize information into groups which allows users to better scan and assimilate information, but order on a page is aesthetically pleasing. Disorder is disorienting. So a logical ordering of information will help with your credibility long after the initial impression has occurred. Does it follow that a positive first impression and an orderly page improve your credibility? Or is there a finite amount?

What I Learned This Week

According to the World Internet Usage Statistics, North American Internet use is 15% of the world, and the penetration of the Internet in North America is almost 74%. To contrast, Asian Internet use is 42.2% of the world and the penetration of the Internet in Asia is at 18.5%. Clearly, I interpret this to mean that as Asia grows and becomes more connected, we will see more Chinese, Japanese and Korean language webpages on the internet, meaning the end of English as the dominant language of the Internet. What this means for education is that there’s a huge distance education market growing, and the forward thinking education institutions will be grabbing at those folks.

Mobile video is an emerging technology that is coming into the mainstream. The mobile video ad market is growing (slowly). The reason this has been slow to develop is that fast wireless networks and data plans that weren’t an arm and a leg are relatively new to North America. This will become more mainstream as 3G networks become commonplace. When Microsoft and Ford are beginning to buy ad time with mobile video in mind, you know it’s going to be important. Again, educators need to keep this idea in mind – so that the technology we use isn’t locked into one intended use. I can certainly see that mobile video will be important in developing countries as well – as internet connectivity has skipped over home use and gone directly to cellphones in places where technology is a luxury.

Two interesting things coming out of this Wall Street Journal blog about Wikipedia. The first is that approximately 20% of editors of Wikipedia pages have a Master’s or better. I wonder what that means for the authority boogey man that people trot out everytime someone says that Wikipedia isn’t a good source. I think this means that it is a good source, if you do the leg-work to ensure that it’s correct and are not lazy about fact checking. Secondly, people contribute to Wikipedia for mostly altruistic purposes. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s pleasant to see that people actually are good sometimes. Yes, the fact that Wikipedia users are predominantly men is interesting, but the blog comments by Tara Deck covers it pretty good, and I have nothing to add to her comments.

Also from the WSJ, a blog post about the EFF’s DIY test (called Switzerland) to see if your ISP is blocking packets for peer to peer transactions.