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.

Journalism and Social Media

I’ve been thinking a lot about journalism, the celebrification of journalists, social media and the amateur celebrity. Now, you’re probably all familiar with the first three, but the last concept has been half-baked in my head for a while, help clarify it if you can. The amateur celebrity is the person who attains some status from social media – I’m one, you’re one, we’re all one if you’re publishing on the Internet. There needs to be some distinction between the producers and remixers of content, the pure recyclers of content (usually those who just post links without commentary) and the consumers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pure consumers – not everyone has something to add to a discussion, although that doesn’t stop them from putting in their two cents regardless. I think the act of publishing and producing content, even remixing content, is very close to what journalists do – take a remix for instance. One takes existing content, puts their own spin on it and publishes. Isn’t that what an editor does when publishing for a newspaper or online source? Take the written piece, select an appropriate image from one of a several news wire service,  maybe tweak the written bit to fit for space and style…

So what separates journalism from social media publishing? Accountability, research, time… certainly a lot of the blogs I read put in many hours just to publish a couple paragraphs, the owners of those blogs have a reputation and have an expertise in the subject, so what’s the difference? It’s hard to say, but it’s got to be a fundamental reason that newspapers are down as well as other traditional media.

Social Media as Marketing Tool (Yuck)

I’m tired of puff pieces about using Social Media as marketing for higher education. While this article/interview isn’t bad, in fact it’s pretty good, it exposes a glaring flaw in a lot of the logic of marketers. Hardly anyone in higher education is doing anything remotely clever with social media, certainly not on the scale of what some mass media advertising has done, so why are we even talking about it? Because it’s a fad? A talking point full of me-toos? Who cares? Maybe this is a side effect of technology envy, where the newest and greatest gadget needs to be used in some fake way to ensure we’re cutting edge. I, and most other students would, prefer to see these social media tools in action – maybe in say the classroom? Isn’t using social media in a introductory way without having any classroom presence disingenuous and misleading? Hell yeah it is.

Mechanical Reproduction of the Internet

I’ve been reading Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (PDF) as a part of the Communication studies class I’m taking at Athabasca. It’s dense, but makes a lot of sense to me. Particularly his writing about film, and how anyone can be an “actor” in film, sometimes by accident even. Certainly that might have been the case in the 1920’s, but as further commercialization of the film industry occurred, less people and more “actors” appear in constructed states. Sure, documentaries are different, but the expectation of reality in a documentary is much higher than a film.  To me, this is the same sort of premise that YouTube and video sharing sites get people to contribute content – even you can be the object of attention on YouTube. I see parallels between early film and online video, with a big exception – online video has years of experience with video and film to draw upon so it’s been getting quicker up to speed. Online video where everyone can be an actor is slowly giving way to online actor, but without an audience. Celebrity and online personas are becoming big business, which means as soon as advertising figures out how to get their products placed, and I’m sure they have already figured it out, they’ll really start investing in the folks who are online. I’ve seen my kid, who is an online producer and re-producer, scrutinize someone else’s room online as well as look for clues as to who a person is through their videos. This is advertising at it’s best, getting that word of mouth without paying a dime in ads.

In many ways, advertisers haven’t had to cajole or convince us, we often do the promotion for them. I talk fondly of Desire2Learn, who haven’t paid me to say so, but I do so because I think their product is superior to Blackboard. No one convinced me to say that. At least I think no one convinced me to say that. Or write that. Oh… slippery slope here I go!

Blackboard Does It Again.

So have you heard the big news? No, not that LeBron is going to Miami. Blackboard buying Elluminate and Wimba to integrate into the new Blackboard Communicate. Now the cynical will say that Blackboard will take the best pieces and make them into the worst functions of the new system… you might be right. What’s really interesting is the gluttony of Blackboard. Not only is it not enough to lessen the landscape with LMS’s, buying up major players, but also the tools that integrate into the system itself. Sure, people want one-stop shopping, but instead of locking them into tools that they may never use, why not use the building block approach that you already cultivate? Allow these other companies to grow and develop, to work with you and others? Oh yeah, the others bit. If Blackboard got a report card, “Works well with others” would definitely need improvement (“works well with clients” would also probably rank pretty low). Blackboard is acting like Google/Apple/Microsoft and any other large software company, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Yet I am.

Technology Skills for Teachers

What skills are needed for teachers in the next century? Is it important to know a piece of software anymore? And more importantly, will it matter in the future? I look at my skill set and often wonder if this is enough to coast on for the next decade? Where am I positioned in relation to where my skills need to be?

A lot of questions, with few answers. Maybe it’s best to list my skills, and what I think is useful and how. Maybe you can chime in with what needs to be there.

Video capture and editing: I’m a fair to midling video recorder – I’m a much stronger editor than capturer. Of course, that’s in line with my personality, more reflective, more contemplative and looking for options. With that said, this can be an important skill for a teacher – framing a shot is the one big thing that I see as a deal breaker in good and bad videos. I rarely use video in instruction, although I have done screen captures and voice-overs. The time involved to put together a polished piece, which is something I should do soon, is not a luxury I’ve ever had.  Will this matter in the future? Yes. While screen capture software and video cameras are easier to use, technical skill isn’t as crucial as it used to be. Of course, the better the product, the less gets in the way of communication. Technical difficulties can interrupt the flow of thought and concentration of the learner.

HTML and web design: I’m a good web designer and web programmer. I know PHP, Perl, some aspects of Javascript, XML, CSS and a few other alphabet soups. I’m comfortable here and although I’m pretty much entirely self-taught, with some formal education interfering here and there, I have a handle on using these languages well. Where I can improve is in writing and understanding of Object-Oriented PHP. I should learn jQuery and more AJAX stuff. I should experiment with HTML 5.  Will this matter for teachers? No. It hasn’t up until now, why would it matter in the future? We’re seeing more and more inline HTML editors (TinyMCE being the world leader) handle fairly well HTML. Is there a need for more than that? Maybe. Understanding XML and CSS might be handy if you’re a control freak and need to have things appear on screen in a way that’s controlled, but for the average teacher armed with a semi-modern LMS, this is not a skill needed.

Audio recording: I used to be an audio engineer, a fancy title for the guy behind the mixing board. I was very good, never great, although I haven’t done it for years, I still once in a while make things sound good. Much like video, the entry level and ability to sound good at a budget price point has never been lower and easier. Again, the one big pet peeve I have with webcasts, videos and most other online media is that you can’t hear the speaker clearly. Sometimes this is performance related, in that the person speaking does not enunciate well. Sometimes it is correctable through selective filtering and EQ adjustments. This is a skill I think more teachers, especially ones that work online, should have. Recently I was listening to George Siemens speak online, and I realized a lot of the time he has great quality audio. It’s rare that I’ve tuned into something George is doing, and had technical issue with his speech. Others, not so. I won’t take them to task because I don’t know what the issue is, whether it’s technical, accents, connection quality or some other unknown variable. I suspect though, if they had an audio background, could eliminate some of the technical issues.

There’s three sets of skills. Are they necessary? Clearly no, because people are creating media, some of them are even doing it well, but not enough. I just wish there was more quality media with the quantity of information out there.

Smart Mobs

Last month I finally got around to reading Smart Mobs, which is, admittedly a little late. Published in 2002, the book mostly covers ground that we’ve already surpassed, which is what makes it a great read. To read a then-future possibility, and recognize it as being a modern fact of life, is really startling. After reading, and thinking about what I’ve read, the book is really about trust (and networks of trust). You can see the foundations of Howard’s current work in this book as well – certainly his pillars of 21st Century Literacies are bubbling underneath the surface of some of Howard’s discoveries about social networking in a mobile culture. It would be really interesting to revisit these ideas now, although I’m sure Howard is already ten years into the future, and other people have picked up his mantle.  Has trust changed because of the explosion of mobile media? Has community changed because of YouTube? What about the civility within communities?  I suspect that they have.