Transforming Assessment webinar series 2010

The Transforming Assessment project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council and led by Professor Geoffrey Crisp of the University of Adelaide is examining the use of eassessment in online learning, particularly in the context of Web 2.0 and virtual world technologies.

A series of free public webinars has just been announced, starting with a session led by Geoffrey on Wednesday 12 May at 08:00h London time. Sessions will be held in Wimba and run approximately monthly. A number of speakers have already been confirmed, but the team are still interested in hearing from potential presenters.

More information on the seminar series can be found at http://transformingassessment.com/

Will tweet for money (revisited)

Ten months ago I mentioned Andrew Baron’s attempt at selling his Twitter account on eBay, and the idea seems to have resurfaced today.  As Baron points out, his last attempt to do so caused a lot of debate and provoked an intriguing mix of hurt feelings and fascination.  I’ll definitely be following progress again this time round, but I still think it’s a publicity stunt :)  With Twitter becoming such a massive pheonomenon and adoption constantly increasing, and with users becoming far more accustomed to it’s use as a publicity tool (although one that is not without its downsides), I’m eager to see how the reaction to Baron’s move plays out this time.

PS Someone did actually try to sell 867 5309 on eBay, but it was pulled :(

All your tweets are belong to us!

Did you notice a lot of Twitterank announcements on Twitter yesterday?  Were you one of those broadcasting your rank to your followers?  I can smugly say I wasn’t, but social media star Louis Gray was one of many, and he’s completely unconcerned at having supplied the service with his Twitter login details.  Oliver Marks on zdnet, however, has a less rose-tinted view of the whole affair and links to a screenshotof the Twitterank sourcecode that should make people feel slightly uncomfortable – particularly those of us who use the same username on every site we sign up to and lazily use the same password too…

It’s still not terribly clear, but it seems as though this was a bit of a publicity stunt to promote calls for Twitter to adopt OAuth.  It does highlight how much we can both value and be careless about our online identities, and illustrate the increasingly compelling case for OAuth adoption.

I’m very tempted to say that Twitterank set us up the bomb, but as the US Army apparently believes that Twitter is a terrorist tool, I’ll just keep quiet :-)

Update: Gray is rather less impressed with Twitterank’s leaderboard feature which has some odd results in it, including (currently) twelfth place for the unused account @google.  I still think it’s all a gigantic hoax, but I guess we can only wait and see…

Wikipedia as a teaching aid

There’s been a fascinating discussion on the use of wikis, particularly Wikipedia, as a teaching aid on the Association of Internet Researchers discussion list over the last few days.  A number of courses are already active in Wikipedia, and some useful guidance is available on the site together with sample learning activities and a list of projects.

One aspect of suggesting or requiring that students become involved with Wikipedia that seemed to cause some surprise was the extreme unwillingness of many students to engage as authors with the encyclopedia.  One possible reason suggested for this, that students don’t yet have confidence in themselves as ‘producers of knowledge’, is compelling and I sympathise with those students who were uncomfortable with the ‘public nature‘ of Wikipedia editing.  There were also some entertaining stories of students blithely vandalising Wikipedia pages as the class viewed them and an audacious attempt to avoid an accusation of plagiarism by claiming that the plagiarist actually wrote the Wikipedia entry that raise questions about how so-called ‘Generation Y’ learners relate to crowdsourced content.

Happy median

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m becoming more aware of these things, or if new Web 2.0 sites and services really are emerging at an exponential rate at the moment, but I regularly find myself following the rush to the latest toy application to try it out, spending a little while playing with testing it, then never going back again.  One exciting exception to this, however, is Social|Median, a Digg-like social news network that launched its open beta last Thursday to an impressively positive reception.

I really like Social|Median.  I spent far too much of Thursday finding my way around the site, identifying the newsmakers and networks I wanted to engage with and wandering off across the internet in pursuit of fascinating new content.  By Friday morning, the site had become part of my daily routine: log into email, check Twitter, open SM.  Yes, that quickly.

There are a few reasons why I’m quite so taken with the site.  Partly it’s the interface, which is nicely intuitive to use and which, more than other such aggregator services I’ve used, provides you with enough of an advance snippet from the stories clipped by users to know whether you want to follow them further.  The really crucial element, however, is the quality of the content that people are clipping (the SM equivalent of digging or stumbling upon), aided by the fact that some of the key names in social media, the likes of Robert Scoble and Louis Gray, have engaged with the service, bringing their stamp of approval and quality content to the service as well as becoming the news themselves

One thing I’ve noticed since I started using SM is that I’m less interested in Twitter.  I don’t know if it’s just coincidental, some random application ennui that might just be a passing phase, or if there’s a connection with the rise of SM; I rather suspect the latter.  Recently I’ve been using Twitter less as a social tool and more as a source of content, following twitterers who post interesting links and opinions rather than announcing the local weather or that they’ve broken a nail.  The awkwardness of retrieving older tweets and the 140 character limit, which made it such a fun and exciting service in the past, simply doesn’t lend itself to such use, particularly when combined with my haphazard approach to delicious tagging interesting material I find.  Social|Median fulfills this need so effectively that at the moment I’m barely logging in to Twitter.  Criticising a service for being poor at a function it was never really designed for may be more than a little unfair, but I guess the point of a lot of these services is precisely that they are what their users want to make of them, and if we’re bored with them, we can either find new uses or move on.

EduPunk’s not dead?

Having not heard a murmur about that slightly embarrassing EduPunk craze since around the time Sheila blogged about it almost a month ago, I’d kind of assumed that everyone had agreed to forget about it and pretend it hadn’t happened (rather like Cut the Crap, really). 

However, it appears to be alive and well in Wales at least, where Pontydysgu will be hosting a live radio show on Monday night featuring the Manic Street Preachers of EduPunk (that’s Martin Weller, Mike Caulfield and Katherine ‘LibPunk’ Greenhill).  Part of the ongoing Sounds of the Bazaar series, the show will include ‘interviews, music, opinion, poetry and more’, exploring ‘the EduPunk phenomenon’ and whether it’s more than just ‘a ludicrous social construction by white males the wrong side of 40′.  The show broadcasts live from 19:00 to 20:00 BST (20:00 – 21:00 CEST) and should be available to listen to later for those who can’t make that time.

Only connect? No. And get off my lawn.

John’s post on his experiences with the FireFox 3 del.icio.us plugin provided me with one of those OMG moments that happen every so often, mainly when I realise that I’m still a fundamentally web 1.0 person in an increasingly 2.0 world.

My problem with the whole social sharing aspect of delicious is that I actually find delicious rather useful just for me, and began using it as a personal repository of links long before I ever really considered the knowledge sharing aspect.  I regularly switch between three different computers, so having an online set of bookmarks seemed like a very good idea.  It does run a bit too slowly to use it for links that I can remember myself or find with a little effort, but as a place to store links to ’interesting stuff’ it seemed ideal.  It never occurred to me that anyone would actually look at what I’d been linking, so when someone casually mentioned that they’d read a link I’d tagged I felt rather as though someone had been rummaging through my drawers, raising a sardonic eyebrow here and there and sneering at my much loved Bagpuss socks.  Reading John’s comment that ‘I spend a few minutes each morning looking at what my network has been bookmarking’ reinspired that uncomfortable feeling and created an overwhelming desire to tag loads of (possibly NSFW/offensive) Spore porn to discourage further reading (is it actually possible to troll one’s own delicious page?).

In all honesty, my delicious page isn’t all that useful, even to me, mainly because I could really have put a lot more effort into tagging things in a more meaningful way.  The tags are, in their own way, impressive: they’re so random, generic and inconsistent that they’re actually effectively useless for finding anything – if I want to find something I’m certain I’ve added I’ve resorted to just scrolling through the entire list clicking on possible candidates rather than try to work out which of a screed of undescriptive tags I’ve used.  Although they’re not quite as bad as ‘important‘ or ‘me‘, they’re really not too far off it; combined with creative use of synonyms and avoidance of the ‘description’ and ‘notes’ fields in the tag form, I’ve managed to create a set of bookmarks in which it’s virtually impossible to find anything and which becomes less and less useful and useable the more I add to it.  Go me.

If I’d thought about it in advance, of course, I’d have created separate accounts for work links and personal interest links – except that they’re frequently the same thing, so perhaps I should have two accounts and just duplicate the vast majority of entries?  Perhaps I should have a separate account for each topic I’m interested in? – but then, that completely undermines the point of tagging entries in the first place.  I’ve always felt fairly sheltered from the clashing of different areas of my life as I’m not on FaceBook, but my cunning use of the same ‘anonymous’ handle on delicious, Skype, Twitter, PMOG, Digg, Flickr, FriendFeed (which is a sad and lonely experience when no one you know is on it) and just about everywhere I went has proven to be not the best idea if I’m going to get touchy about people coming across my collection of links on how to play a mage well in World of Warcraft, or that hilarious Craigslist sex baiting prank.

Although I realise it doesn’t sound like it, I do think that the social aspects of tools such as delicious are incredibly useful.  I’ve added links to delicious pages tagged QTI and eassessment (but should it have been e-assessment?) to our assessment domain page, and have found some invaluable resources because of other people’s tagging (similarly, I had more responses to posting details about SURF’s book on Twitter than I did from my blog post on it).  I could make my non-work delicious tags private, but that would mean that they weren’t available to non-work people who would find them useful.  For me, John’s post highlights the increasingly pressing need to be able to define the communities with which we engage rather than being defined by them, the need to respect these different personae, and to reconceptualise the walled garden as user-centric and user-defined rather than something that is imposed on us by disinterested parties for the sake of technological and commercial convenience.

Market share of blogs increases

A recent post on Hitwise reveals that, in the UK, we’re spending more of our browsing time visiting blogs and personal websites than ever before.  These sites accounted for 1.19% of all UK internet traffic in the week to 7 June – that’s a remarkable 1 in 84 of all internet visits.  Hitwise’s statistics show that this short team leap is reflected in the longer term view, with blog visits having risen from just over 0.3% of traffic in May 2005.  Curiously, there’s a marked difference between UK and US trends, with blogs having a significantly smaller part of the market in the US than they do in the UK; despite this, the number of British blogs in the top 20 is surprisingly low, particularly once blog aggregators such as Guardian blogs are discounted (see Robin Goad’s comment for the breakdown). 

Will Twitter for money

I was more than a bit bemused to stumble upon this post discussing Andrew Baron‘s attempt to sell his Twitter account ‘and followers’ on eBay.  Although Baron is still the proud owner of his account after ending the auction early (now that wouldn’t have been a publicity stunt, would it?), bidding had reached a tidy $465 as Boyd was writing.  He also inspired one innovative entrepreneur to apparently net himself a similarly neat $375 by selling his phone number on the auction site.  If only it had been 867-5309, perhaps Baron would have bought it and the circle of Web 2.0 life would have been complete…

This does raise some interesting questions though.  As Boyd says, it seems more like a playful thought experiment than something that ‘shed[s] any light on the issues of identity and reputation in any real world fashion’, but some commenters on his post seem genuinely offended by the notion that ‘followers’ can be sold, likening it to selling your friends’ email addresses to the highest bidding spam advertiser.  Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Baron’s comment that Twitter ‘is not the place to get personal… networks are different’, and to be honest I feel pretty guilt-free about unfollowing people whose tweets I decide (link may offend) I don’t want to read

This experiment also highlights the implications of relationships underlying the debated issue of Twitter reciprocation etiquette (or twitiquette – I guess someone had to do it).  Baron appears to follow almost all of his over 2,300 followers, while Boyd has a thousand more followers but follows less than 700.  Baron is a performer perhaps relating to his followers as to an audience, whereas the majority of Boyd’s updates are @comments that are part of a series of dialogues with individuals.  Just as the thoughtful and extremely persuasive comments to my post on Twittering at conferences illustrate, there are as many different ways of using and relating to such technologies as there are people to use and relate to them. 

Twitter ye not

Brian Kelly raises the delicate issue of conference wifi etiquette by highlighting complaints made to a live blogger at a recent event with respect to his ‘distracting‘ typing. Kelly supports the use of wifi and laptops, but for ‘purposes relevant to the session’ without suggesting how participants might be policed to ensure that their laptop use is indeed for relevant purposes (or who defines what is ‘relevant’). The notion of strutting, Sally Bowles-like around the conference venue flicking off switches with a riding crop whenever inappropriate use is discovered has a rather alarming appeal, but might not be the best approach to managing the issue.

There’s definitely been a signficant increase in laptop use at events in the time since I joined CETIS, although inevitably there was always a core of laptop users tapping away even in the earliest days. Wifi provision is a significant issue when considering venues, particularly for our annual conference, and people often seem disappointed, or even a bit nonplussed, when we can’t provide it. But why do we set so much store by it? Is that email really so urgent? Will your IRC channel collapse without you there? However did we network before CrowdStatus?

Kelly, Clow and those they cite comment on the value of live blogging, and the invaluable service it provides to people who can’t be at an event. But does it? I’ve followed, and thoroughly enjoyed, Twitter updates on events, but more for the subjective, qualitative impression they give of the event rather than for their information content. Live blogs are useful narratives, but out of context from the event they describe and lacking reflection in the light of the day as a whole and subsequent consideration, how much value do they actually provide beyond slidecasts and podcasts? If everyone’s live blogging and twittering to the world, who’s going to read the blogs – and who’s going to listen to the speakers?

It’s kind of ironic that I learned about Kelly’s post in the backchannel of this year’s Eduserv Foundation Symposium, as I found the live chat system wildly distracting itself. It didn’t help that, owing to a combination of non-Eduserv related factors, I could barely hear what was being said in the live streaming, but I found the activity in the backchannel so ‘loud’ that it completely drowned out what the speakers were trying to say. I’ve found this in the past in – of all things – training webinars where there were no sound problems at all, just a chatbox buzzing with babble and an increasingly demoralised sounding speaker struggling in vain to make his points. Yes, there can be useful information there – such as the alert to Kelly’s post – but it can itself be buried under the rest of the chatter.

Focusing on the technology, however, diverts attention away from the real issue, which is perceptions of courtesy towards presenters and delegates. Only a few people feel it’s appropriate to speak to each other during presentations (and even Paddington’s hardest stare won’t stop the truly dedicated disrupter), yet many people seem to feel that the same standards don’t apply to unspoken communications. Is this because there’s something inherent to these technologies that make their use somehow acceptable, or just because they’re so new that accepted standards of behaviour around their use simply haven’t emerged yet?