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Brian Kelly: 5,000 tweets on

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Brian Kelly (Community and Outreach Team Leader at UKOLN, the University of Bath) has a post on his blog reviewing his use of Twitter. In it he summarises how Twitter has contributed to funding bids, participation at a distance, promoting and amplifying his own and others’ work, peer-reviewing draft work and, perhaps most importantly, his professional grapevine.

As you can gather from the tag cloud illustration in his post, Brian Kelly is a professional online networker. As such, he is drawn to Twitter as Twitter, examines its potential purposefully, tweets and blogs about being online, and has a community of practice with similar interests. Of all the academic disciplines, you would expect people in disciplines like Brian’s to be the pioneers – and I’ve learnt a great deal from Brian so I’m glad he is. What his experience illustrates, though, is that Twitter becomes an attractive proposition for academics who have people they want to hear from, or communicate with, there. For many disciplines, Twitter is still a bit empty.

I think what that suggests in turn is that, in academic disciplines without an academic interest in online networking Twitter will have to broaden through multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary channels, or through an individual’s non-professional tweeting identity fusing with their professional identity (as can easily happen on social networks – although various studies of online networking for learning e.g. Great Expectations indicate that learning in social environments tends to be haphazard). This broadening will probably go unnoticed until it is picked up by established organs like journals or disciplinary conferences, after which I think it will probably take flight.

So (for the very small proportion of my working time I have to dedicate to such things) I continue to wonder, what would pique interest for an academic who is intrepid with technologies but whose community of practice isn’t on Twitter?

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Written by Mira Vogel

August 10, 2010 at 10:18

Collaborative online note-taking

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Wirelessly-connected audience members collaboratively take notes on presentations, using Google Wave.

I’m still wondering what this divided attention implies for the way presenters structure their presentation. Should it become less dense? Should there be pauses to allow the note-takers to catch up? I seem to remember a post by Howard Rheingold in which he and his students negotiated periods of listening and periods of online networking during his sessions, but I can’t find it…

(I have some Google Wave invitations going if anybody want one.)

HT Steven Downes.

Written by Mira Vogel

November 24, 2009 at 12:01

The problem with comments on the web…

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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

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UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education 2009, and the University of the People

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UNESCO’s World Conference on Higher Education 2009 being webcast.

An overview can be found at Inside Higher Ed, including reference to a new 22-page report, Trends in Global Higher Education – Tracking and Academic Revolution.

Incidentally, one of the authors, Philip Altbach, has raised good questions about the marvellously ambitious, free, global online university, the University of the People, which launched this year with a fanfare from the UN and is currently accepting enrolments for September 2009 and seeking volunteers.

The courses offered at this early stage fall within three programmes, and are modular. Study is technology-dependent, but technology use is modest, drawing on established tools like facilitated discussion forums and email.

This is an exciting and potentially cataclysmic development. UoPeople is run on an altruistic, technology-dependent and technology-enhanced, peer-learning model, with no tuition. If it works it will be proof of concept of these ideas in higher education.

I’m not sure what you think of the promotion so far, but I am missing an ethos (apart from the obvious and admirable one that education should be free and available to all). Learning is not solely about grasping facts – in order to make use of them you need certain attitudes and values, for example creativity and a critical, unprejudiced mindset. Currently these kinds of concerns are absent from the UoPeople’s identity.

The first hurdle for UoPeople, however, is gaining accreditation. Quality is not a concern which comes through strongly on the site. You’d imagine confidence, expressed as accreditation, would sink or float the initiative. Clearly, with learners shaping their own experiences and with no way, currently, to verify that the student who is assessed is the student who claims the credit (a long-standing problem for distance learning which is also true for established forms of learning), the idea of accreditation will need a rethink. But because I know little about accreditation I’ll stop there. I am rooting for UoPeople and hope it becomes a superb learning institution.

UoPeople blogs (mostly community-building and not related to learning), tweets (more relevant to the matter university learning), and YouTubes. The Facebook area is active with ‘fans’ from all over the globe.

P.S. Dispiriting that there are no women on the advisory board. I also hoped for more in the way of educational theory, given the huge departure from established university models. But in fact, despite widespread concern with metacognitive skills, established universities give little away about this either and I wouldn’t want to set a higher standard. Better watch the vids.

Update – relatedly, get your brains round this: The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, a freely available report from the Massachussettes Institute of Technology. I thought it was visionary – the part which most stood out was on Wikipedia:

“To ban sources such as Wikipedia is to miss the importance of a collaborative, knowledge-making impulse in humans who are willing to contribute, correct, and collect information without remuneration: by definition, this is education. To miss how much such collaborative, participatory learning underscores the foundations of learning is defeatist, unimaginative, even self-destructive.”

Written by Mira Vogel

July 9, 2009 at 17:55