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The shape of the course of the future? #cck11

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The higher education crystal ball is a bit too grubby to see very far at the moment, but online learning practitioner-commentator Stephen Downes has predicted that the future will see accreditation shrink in importance relative to reputation – the contribution you make to your community of interest or community of practice.

Accordingly, the experimental Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Connectivism and Connective Learning (CCK11) Stephen Downes (University of Manitoba) co-facilitates with George Siemens (Athabasca University) runs on the open Web as an event and an educational network of/for people interested in networked learning.

MOOCs are free, open to all, and distributed across the Web independently of any institution. As a MOOC, CCK11 is a course in that it has facilitators, material, participants and a beginning and end. However, participants are not examined, do not complete assignments, and don’t pay unless they want accreditation. They work by networking – connecting with and responding to other participants’ tweets, tags, and posts. The course is distributed in that there is no single path, and no central repository. It is authentic in that participants become part of a network of people with the same interests, networks which can be sustained beyond the course because they exist independently of the course.

More in this introductory video:

This may seem like a radical departure from the business model of most higher education institutions – but wait, from the About This Course section:

“If you would like to receive University of Manitoba certification, it will be necessary in addition to apply for admission and register for the course with the University. Here is program information, here is the program application form, and here is the course registration form.”

So as well as being a MOOC, the CCK11 course is one of six you can take towards a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies: Emerging Technologies for Learning (ETL) from the University of Manitoba’s Department of Continuing Education. So if you did register for a qualification, you would get to carry out your studies in a highly authentic environment which, ideally, attracted a community of motivated people with similar interests from all over the (anglophone) world.

So, the learning process is free and open for motivated, savvy learners to make of it what they can or will, but the qualification – the portable seal of approval from independent accreditors, if that’s what you need –  and presumably support to obtain it, is what the institution charges for.

I’ve signed up (which commits me to precisely nothing) and although for me this year is not a good time to do it justice, I will be joining in as best I can (for example I’ll be submitting this post) and looking at certain things in particular – those aspects I’d anticipate would make this MOOC approach distinct from established forms of higher education participation, for example, those. For example, how the filtering of information works in a massified open course without entry tariff, whether the course itself scaffolds sense-making in a distributed environment or whether you need some experience and know-how before you can join (making it more distinctively a higher learning course), and what my role is as learner on a course where – presumably – the facilitation can’t be expected to run to prioritising inclusion for those who have signed up, meaning that success may depend significantly on social-affective aspects of participation. How do you identify success? The identity of institutional higher education is changing – this course promises to help sharpen up what it is, may become, and is ceasing to be and, correspondingly, to test the limits of MOOCs.

I’m expecting interesting contrasts with the more traditional (though no less authentic) online distance learning course on the next version of Moodle, which will run for 4 weeks from February.

(For a discussion of the difference between connectivism and social constructivism as theories of learning, read Stephen Downes’ and this thought-provoking piece by Lindsay Jordan – more from me when I’ve got something sensible to say about it)


Written by Mira Vogel

January 20, 2011 at 17:29

Posted in cck11, literacies, social networking, web 2.0

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How experienced are you with social networking online?

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(Unless you are one of my workshop participants on 12th or 13th, you can ignore this…)
By ‘social networking online’ I mean active participation in any of the following: Facebook, Twitter, blogging, commenting, posting photographs, collaborative document editing, shared or collaborative libraries of references.

Written by Mira Vogel

October 11, 2010 at 22:31

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?

Written by Mira Vogel

August 10, 2010 at 10:18

Why I mistrust social without personal

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I fret about this these days:

“Lastly, my heart rolled over at the conversation about online social networking, which was consonant with everything else I’ve been hearing on the subject. I blog and I read an immense amount of ‘user-generated content’ – ideas, entire online arguments, artworks – but must I Facebook under my actual name to be a viable bet for my next employer?  Do we have to wear our lives on our sleeves online, or risk seeming one-dimensional? Is there any room for individuals to be friendly, civil, responsible, cooperative, without demonstrating it in a social network? Can we keep ourselves to ourselves if we want to, or will we discover that we have excluded ourselves because the rules have changed? Disturbed by the idea that I might have to come out behind all my social software aliases, and perform some career-oriented identities. This is not my idea of authentic. I don’t want to use my friends and colleagues as my foil. And what about the personal and professional parts of my digital identity – should I give in to the forces which are pushing them into each other? It reminds me of a commission by the Soviet constructivist artist Rodchenko, a worker’s recreation centre. You could busy yourself in a vast variety of pursuits as long as you weren’t doing them alone.”

There’s an alternative term for ‘social media’: the ‘live web’, and it’s the suggestion of Doc Searls (wondering what Doc is short for), Berkman academic and winner  of the Google / O’Reilly Open Source Award for Best Communicator. He argues, in a nutshell that over-attention to the social web, as things stand, interferes with any efforts to empower individuals natively because currently personal aspects of our online lives are assumed to follow from social aspects, rather than the other way round. This is going to take me some thinking out, from a teaching and learning context. I’m thinking Argyris on organisational learning, and Schon’s reflective practitioner. Double-loop learning involves not merely learning how to do something, but also examining and possibly adapting the premises of the task or question. This would depend on a neutral, adaptable environment. But as Searls points out, online environments are rarely ours; facebook wants to keep me inside it so it can show me adverts; your iPhone can turn itself into a brick if Apple catches you hacking it.

Much more thinking to do. Meanwhile:

“Here’s my other problem with “social media” as it shows up in too many of the 103 million results it currently brings up on Google: as a concept (if not as a practice) it subordinates the personal.

Computers are personal now. So are phones. So, fundamentally, is everything each of us does. It took decades to pry computing out of central control and make it personal. We’re in the middle of doing the same with telephony — and everything else we can do on a hand-held device.

Personal and social go hand-in-hand, but the latter builds on the former.

Today in the digital world we still have very few personal tools that work only for us, are under personal control, are NEA, and are not provided as a grace of some company or other. (If you can only get it from somebody site, it ain’t personal.) That’s why I bring up email, blogging, podcasting and instant messaging. Yes, there are plenty of impersonal services involved in all of them, but those services don’t own the category. We can swap them out. They are, as the economists say, substitutable.

But we’re not looking at the personal frontier because the social one gets all the attention — and the investment money as well.

Markets are built on the individuals we call customers. They’re where the ideas, the conversations, the intentions (to buy, to converse, to relate) and the money all start. Each of us, as individuals, are the natural points of integration of our own data — and of origination about what gets done with it.

Individually-empowered customers are the ultimate greenfield for business and culture. Starting with the social keeps us from working on empowering individuals natively. That most of the social action is in silos and pipes of hot and/or giant companies slows things down even more. They may look impressive now, but they are a drag on the future.”

The link again.

Via Stephen Downes.

Written by Mira Vogel

November 13, 2009 at 16:34

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Exemplars of Twitter and social bookmarking in Higher Education

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Twitter in Higher Education is a 20 page paper by Tony McNeill, Principal Lecturer in Blended Learning and Educational Technology base in Kingston University’s Academic Development Centre. The case studies begin in Section 2. Dr Sabah Abdullah’s students used Twitter as a broadcast tool in an economics course at the University of Bristol. Dr Monica Rankin used it as a conversational medium in a large cohort learning history at the University of Texas, Dallas. Sheffield Hallam used it to collect feedback; many students tweeted via SMS. The University of Colorado, Denver used Twitter to enhance social presence and so promote involvement, commitment and retention. There’s little in the way of large-scale studies and evaluations but lots of ideas – that’s how it is with very new tools.

On social bookmarking, the ever-creative Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard have produced something called H20 Playlists, “a shared list of readings and other content about an area of intellectual interest” giving learners a “wide open dialogue”. It enables learners in one community (and H20 is open to all) to gain a sense of who else in the world is thinking about the things they’re thinking about, often from very different perspectives. The video explanation is a good introduction to this ethos, or read Larissa, a Masters student in Library and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia, who explains in more detail what it does. And finally, here’s one of the featured playlists, on remix culture.

Written by Mira Vogel

October 30, 2009 at 12:42

Posted in library, social networking

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Twitter is a force to be reckoned with

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Time to update my Twitter workshop handout.

The Guardian was gagged by an injunction and could not report on the response to a Parliamentary question about Trafigura, a company connected with dumping toxic waste in Ivory Coast.

The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 (08:52 or thereabouts) and The Guardian report that Twitter can’t be gagged. As Today’s commentator Joshuah Rozenberg observed, the legalities of injunctions were drawn up for a world without a read-write web. More from the BBC.  And from the aforementioned Guardian piece:

“While the Guardian was prevented from reporting the question – from MP Paul Farrelly to a minister – until law firm Carter-Ruck withdrew its opposition at lunchtime today, Twitter wasn’t: instead of suppressing the story the attempt backfired. Factor in the Streisand effect, and starting here the topic spread across the internet and became the top trending topic on Twitter. The Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, tweeted the gagging order with the question “Did John Wilkes live in vain?”. The gagging order was lifted after Carter-Ruck dropped its claim.

But Twitter had already alarmed a variety of platforms, and the question about Trafigura got picked up by a number of prominent blogs, including Guido Fawkes, Richard Wilson’s Don’t Get Fooled Again, and Adam Tinworth’s One Man and His Blog. Finally, mainstream media caught up, with The Spectator pushing the story.

It might be a bit too exaggerated to call it a historic moment, but surely the real-time web passed its test today.”

Simple conclusion (addressing opinions still held about the worthlessness of Twitter): Twitter is not trivial. Sometimes it hosts trivialities, sometimes it is politically important.

What about educationally important? I’m not sure (although see the handout above for some ideas) but shouldn’t we give it some consideration?

Update: something a little more concrete – Professor of e-learning Gráinne Conole‘s discussion (Oct 09) about using Twitter with students; from it, Dr Alan Cann on Twitterfolios – an excerpt from that:

“Martin Weller commented:
I know, having tried to force-feed reflective practice, and having had it force-fed, that it doesn’t really map onto conventional teaching very well ‘Now reflect on your answer’. Students get fed up with this, and feel it is playing a game – they know if they say ‘I think I could have done better at this’, then they’ll get marks. Whereas if you said ‘I think I did everything right’ you won’t. It feels like a prisoner playing at contrition to get past the parole board…maybe just give students tools such as blogs, and get them to read people who are good, reflective bloggers, and they may pick it up in a more subtle form.
I’ve shied away from blogs and “learning logs” based on the negative reception they seem to generate, recorded in the work of Gráinne Conole and at the OU (don’t use the “B-word”: Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs & blogging can support distance learning in HE, ALT-C 2007, 169-178). Maybe I need to rethink this. Jim Groom supports the idea of the blogfolio (This ain’t yo mama’s e-portfolio part 1, part 2) and cites Barbara Ganley: “Twitter to connect, blog to reflect”.

In response to Martin, I commented:
A subgroup of this cohort are active Twitterers, and their tweets capture precisely this “stream of consciousness style of reflection”.
Hmm. Blogfolio? Maybe. Twitterfolio???

David Andrew commented:
I did find myself writing more reflective notes than I normally do – then I realised that they were in the form of the way I use Twitter – I think Twitter is maybe the best way of encouraging reflection.”

Written by Mira Vogel

October 14, 2009 at 12:35

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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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