Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

Thoughts and deeds

Archive for August 2009

The problem with comments on the web…

with 2 comments

When I have a spare moment, I make quick passes over the web and journals to see if I can find any research on who actually reads comments below blog posts and other web pieces, and how readers learn from these discussions. I haven’t found much, although I think it must be out there – there is so much interest now in engaging and organising people online, like Neighbourhood 2.0, Talk About Local, and that kind of thing.

Asynchronous text discussion, in which I am a silent participant or sometimes just a reader of a conversational fossil, has given me some of my most profound learning experiences. For subjects which interest me, to observe an argument unfold, see the misunderstandings, areas of tension, different styles, different priorities, moderating approaches, is absolutely engrossing. On an active site with an informed and diverse readership you get a real sense of the scope of a debate. So these days I bookmark entire discussion threads and annotate them using Diigo.

But according to this TechCrunch piece by Nicholas Holzapfel, I’m in the minority. Or maybe it’s that I read blogs which attract considerate and thoughtful commenters, who refer back to each others’ work and help the potentially formless and inappropriately linear threads to cohere.

There’s one blog I administrate which attracts quite a lot of sometimes contentious comments. I’ve enabled threading of comments (the blogging platform is WordPress). This indents replies and helps to provide a visual representation of the discussion. But the indentations only go 7 deep, which is frequently insufficient. This is one reason I think Nicholas Holzapfel is right to call for development of the technology which underpins commenting.

He ends on an empowering note:

“Some people believe that comments on popular articles will always be like this because many-to-many conversations are impossible. They believe that if we want coherence we must content ourselves with either conversations in small groups (few-to-few) or one-way conversations whereby a throng of admirers hang on the words of an admired expert (one-to-many).

I disagree.

I believe that the Internet offers the potential for coherent many-to-many conversations for the first time in the history of humanity. As MG Siegler points out, today’s “commenting structure [has] been in place basically since blogging began”. What is needed is an evolutionary shift which is suitably adapted to the Internet’s unique potential and pitfalls. We need something that allows massive numbers of comments to be navigated quickly and easily so that coherent mass conversations can emerge.”

Update: in the comments below, Nicholas directs us to yoomoot, a new direction in commenting which is launching in the near future. Meanwhile here’s the pre-launch blog.

Update 2: Andy Newman has a hunch that a high proportion of page views to visitors may be attributable to readers opening up the pages to view the comments (rather than viewing the posts as they appear on the front page). But if you were arriving via a feed reader, you’d also open the page. Not sure how his logs are presented, and I’m not a very sophisticated analyst of log files, but it might be worth looking. Then again, if you look at the character of the blog, it’s probably that the readers would be interested in the comments.


Written by Mira Vogel

August 27, 2009 at 10:57

Posted in peer learning, social networking

Tagged with

JISC Collections archive – 500 hours of film and 56,000 photos

leave a comment »

Press Release from the JISC Collections Archive (note the brief but helpful – not to mention accessible – textual synopses of the posted videos):


From Gorbachev to global warming: education experts choose images for JISC
Collections archive

Education experts have taken the first steps towards building a JISC
Collections archive containing over 500 hours of film and 56,000 photos
documenting modern history.

An expert panel consisting of e-learning advisors, librarians, academics and
image specialists, who collectively represent over a hundred years of
experience of working with digital images in education, have chosen 11
collections from ten suppliers to form an archive for students and academics
which will be available from next July.

Following £2.5 million in funding from JISC and a competitive procurement
process, JISC Collections has licensed the collections for at least 25 years
as part of the Digital Images for Education initiative

The images are copyright-cleared for use in education so they can be
reproduced in course packs, virtual learning environments, e-portfolios and
other multimedia works.

The selected images bring to life our shared history from a local, UK and
international perspectives to support teaching and lifelong learning.

Film clips will be available – from Gorbachev’s accession to power in the
Soviet Union in 1985 to the financial crisis of 2009, and including powerful
raw footage of the 9/11 attacks as well as coverage of key issues such as
deforestation and global warming.

Photographs range from nineteenth-century life in the Scottish Highlands to
contemporary youth culture.

Noel Williams, professor of communication at Sheffield Hallam University,
commented: “JISC has created what is pretty much a unique resource, exciting
in its scope and potential. It touches on the interests of a wide range of
subject areas, and contains images which will be of value to both teachers
and researchers, and useful in all educational contexts – from colleges
through to the highest levels of HE.”

The collection will include materials from academic and not-for-profit
organisations such as the Royal Geographic Society and the University of
Brighton, alongside commercial agencies such as Associated Press, ITN Source
and Getty Images.

Lorraine Estelle, CEO of JISC Collections, says: “The new images purchased
as part of the Digital Images for Education initiative bring to life our
history and capture, in particular, the key events of the past 25 years –
from the death of Princess Diana to the election of Barack Obama.

“The images will complement our existing and highly popular collections –
Newsfilm Online, Film and Sound Online and the Education Image Gallery – to
provide the UK education community with a world class library of still and
moving images covering the last 150 years.”

Between now and February 2010, around a terabyte of data will be delivered
each month from the content suppliers, which converted to paper would mean
the use of 500,000 trees.

Each of the images has to be checked for quality, and extensive metadata
tagging is required to optimise searching and browsing facilities. New
features will also be built into the destination collections to ensure the
tags are helpful for both curators and users of the archive.

Written by Mira Vogel

August 13, 2009 at 16:51

Podcasting for learning – a series

leave a comment »

Written by Mira Vogel

August 10, 2009 at 14:26

Posted in podcasting, techniques

Our learn.gold (Moodle virtual learning environment) interactive audio tours and guides

leave a comment »

Our learn.gold (Moodle virtual learning environment) interactive audio tours are scripted and recorded by me, in squeaky but enthusiastic tone. I decided to create audio tours because learn.gold is in many ways a space in which users need to understand how to get from A to B and carry out C.

  • so there’s an interactive hands-on learn.gold audio tour and transcript for students
  • and a tour and transcript for staff

We have just upgraded, so it’s time to check them again – update Aug 11th 2009: all checked and ready to use now. They’re designed to be as future-proof as possible, and there is a balance to be struck between pedantic tweaking and wasting time updating the recording, transcript and navigation timings, and getting these uploaded via the Web Team.

But I think there are enough improvements to be made to justify making some changes.

The Student one:

  • Reset the Demo area to Guests Not Allowed, so that audio tourers see the Participants block. But since there has been interest in this area from other institutions, might be better to change the script to direct audio tourers to the Enrol Me In This Course link, and then reset the Demo area to Allow Guests.
  • Wondered about putting Support alphabetically in the Course Categories page, instead of at the bottom; decided against it but this means that the instructions are a little inaccurate, but not critically so.
  • When discussing the Blocks on the Demo area, might be worth explicitly mentioning that there are many others

The Tutor one:

  • Throughout, change “adjacent to” to “close to” (for smaller screens)
  • Getting to the front page –  httpS://… (omitted the ‘s’)
  • Finding the Beyond the Obvious course area – currently assumes that tutors have not enrolled in anything else, and that the Course Categories are displayed on the front page. Needs amending to get them to click on All Courses. (This is made explicit later, so no need to explain at that juncture).
  • Entering the course area – similar to students it might be better to set the area to Allow Guests, and change the script to direct audio tourers to Enrol.
  • On Compose A Web Page,
    • would be good to mention that the meaningful title also appears in the Index of Resources (which is mentioned in relation to the Summary, a little later), which is why it should be short and differentiate that resource from others.
    • There is no “Show Settings menu next to the world Window” any more. Change this to “the menu next to the word Window”
    • “Then click Save” should be “Then click Save and Display”
  • Change “You can see your test Web Page” to “You can see a link to your test Web page”
  • Choose or Upload a File
    • “you’ll notice that underneath it” for the Choose or Upload a File button needs to be “close to it”
    • “File uploaded successfully” add to this “and you should see a link to your file”.
    • “The click Save” add “And Display”
    • “Since this podcast only covers the basics” should be “Since this recording only covers …”
  • “Glossary exists to” – add that it can be used to FAQ.
  • Get rid of LAMS – no longer exists
  • Add something on Questionnaire.
  • The most famous Wiki – also mention OpenStreetMap
  • Groups “will not be able to see what other students are doing” change to “will not be able to see what other groups are doing”
  • Settings “takes post you make on your area’s News forum and shows them on the front page” change to “and links to the most recent ones on your front page”

Now need to change the script, record, re-do the timings, send changes to the Web Team. When I recorded in Audacity I bookmarked the different sections, so it should be easy to find the relevant parts redo the navigation timings.

Update Aug 11th 2009: all done.

Written by Mira Vogel

August 6, 2009 at 12:36

Posted in how-to, learn.gold

Conference: the Future of Technology in Education, October 2nd 2009

leave a comment »

FOTE is a free conference at the Royal Geographic Society on October 2nd 2009

When I signed up there were 133 tickets left. Looking again 5 minutes later there were 128, so I recommend moving quickly.

From the front page:

The Future of Technology in Education Conference 2009 (FOTE09) is dedicated to showcasing the hottest technology related trends and challenges impacting the academic sector over the next 1 – 3 years and builds on the success of our inaugural year in 2008.

The 2008 conference completely exceeded our expectations and we were taken back with the great feedback we received for bringing together a diverse mix of speakers to give an insight into the unique technology related challenges currently facing the academic sector. Download a copy of the FOTE 08 Summary Paper for more details.

Should I attend?

With a wide range of topics covered, from both a pedagogy and technological perspective, FOTE 09 is going to be a must attend event for IT Directors/Managers, Learning Technologists, Practitioners, VC’s/Principals and basically anyone with an interest in the application of technology within the academic sector.

Written by Mira Vogel

August 5, 2009 at 11:12

Posted in event

Back to basics – searching the Web

leave a comment »

Microsoft’s Bing search engine is upon us, and Twitter is a search engine for the here and now, prompting me to tie a string round this small bouquet of suggestions for educational searching:

  • Edublogs.tv’s short How To films on basic and advanced search with Google.
  • An interesting post of indeterminate age which, while it’s almost certainly not adequate for your purposes or mine, is a helpful way of conceptualising the range of different objectives scholars might have for a search. I’m going to use it as a template for a personal signpost to reference sources, replacing the various search tools and repositories it suggests with ones which better suit my needs.
  • How to search Twitter
  • I get a steady trickle of requests about how to find academic blogs on a given subject. As far as I know there is no definitive resource, and anyway academics don’t necessarily blog as academics while some non-academics blog academically. Might be better to come at your search from a different direction than the professional identity of the blogger. But maybe not – if you need to find a blog which is overtly academic, try:
    • a directory, portal such as the AcademicBlogs wiki directory, BlogScholar.
    • search an educational blogging host such as the Edublogs domain (on Google, put in your search term followed by site:edublogs.org) or WarwickBlogs (blogs hosted at the University of Warwick)
    • searching for blogs by subject area e.g. ScienceBlogs.
    • Try to find lists of prominent academic blogs, for example UniversityReviewsOnline, Currency Trading (economics blogs), and fan out from there
    • Or find somebody else who is looking, like Scott McLemmee at Inside Higher Ed, and fan out from there.
    • Any more ideas?

Written by Mira Vogel

August 4, 2009 at 16:54

Posted in how-to

Tagged with