Thursday, November 25, 2010

Which is better, visible or invisible technology?

According to folk like Donald Norman, 'things' should be designed to be as easy to use as possible. There should be no need for a manual, still less expertise, even when pushing the limits of what a 'thing' can do. Requiring basic IT skills or new/digital literacies is just obstructing an individual's ability to concentrate on their job in hand.
Some of you will have come across AOL-only users, who think that AOL IS the Internet. Some Apple users are also totally thrown by the seeming complexity of Microsoft's offerings. Why do they have to make it so complicated!!?! Ignoring the fact that there has been significant convergence in 'ease of use' of competing operating systems, Apple's touch-interfaced i-phone and i-pad have changed the usability cosmos (in the aorist tense). I hear compelling accounts of all manner of 'non-computer people' swooning with wonder at the simplicity and elegance of reading from an i-pad.
I know Apple fans, at least, are going to find this risible, but I just want to ask, are we breeding a new generation of people who do not know how to even hold a mouse (i.e. the pointing device which first appeared in the latter half of the 20th Century)?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CEQ and group-based networked learners

Following my chat with Andrew again a week last Friday, I finally got around to looking at Community Equity (CEQ), which plugs into Confluence quite nicely. I wrote a bit about my ideal VLE before and this post is about thinking whether CEQ could fit some of those requirements.
I detect a growing consensus that group-based activity and the dialogue it promotes is gaining ground at many levels of education (I've been reading Littleton and Howe's book about educational dialogue).
When the group has divided up its work and separated, how can their activity be measured? Networked learning is about 'promoting connections' and this needs to happen in the minds and lives of people, not just by designing engaging learning materials, or even a highly relevant and stimulating learning activity. CEQ can incentivise social network activity by making that activity transparent. Contributions to a wiki in terms of edits, comments, bookmarks, ratings, etc., can paint a fine-grained picture of a person's online effort towards the group endeavour.
Perhaps that's enough. Perhaps awarding marks towards a degree classification may only distort the learner's focus, reducing them to a special case of myspace/facebook piracy. There's work to be done on defining performance levels, even if adopting the simple 'pass or fail' system, where a certain level of activity would get students over the finishing line. Hopefully, by then, they'd have become networked learners.
Of course, this is still very formative. I have no idea if we can bring CEQ together with automated 'space' creation/population, based on student information system data... but I'm warming to the idea of a pilot.
The other thing that slightly chills me is the whole development lifecycle of open source software.... but that's for another post...
Here's a video about CEQ...

See also

Monday, November 8, 2010

Contingency in use of Digital Tools

Once again, on the theme of implicit digital literacies...
I have been talking with students recently about reference management software. Amongst others, the students can choose between:
  1. Endnote
  2. Endnote Web
  3. Zotero
The first two are 'supported' at Cardiff University: there are 'styles' for both the School's in-house Harvard as well as Cardiff University's variant. Option 1 is expensive while Option 2 is quite clumsy to use (requires signup on-campus and 'nasty' passwords). Zotero is a dream to use and it's free, although the School's house style for Harvard is not available currently (another job for muggins perhaps).
However, with the recent demise of, it could be argued that recommending the open source, unsupported Zotero exposes students to an unacceptable risk. What happens when the student fails to submit coursework on time because Zotero failed? Of course, couching recommendations with cautionary remarks chill-off students from engaging with and benefiting from a tool that is unlikely to fail.
Expert use of tools like Zoterio and will have incurred a certain amount of investigation into the robustness/life expectancy of the tool. An expert will have a sense of whether it is necessary to devise a contingency plan in the event of the tool's unavailability, whether temporary (read a book for a bit) or permanent (start looking for an alternative that might be compatible with your archive).
Whether using email, online filestore, collaboration spaces, blog, mindmapping, bookmark sharing or reference management, all of them may suffer 'outages'. But this is something users have come to live with, it is implicitly part of working in these ways.
It is easy to demonstrate the benefits of Zotero. Communicating the 'small print' is far more tricky. But I am at a loss as to how to convey the 'tool appraisal' and 'back-up and rescue' skills mentioned above without completely losing my audience.

Perplexed by 3 approaches to twitter

At last Friday's CU Social Media Cafe, we discussed twitter. It soon became apparent that three experts adopted three completely different ways of managing their digital identity.
  1. Have different accounts for different 'identities' (work, hobby, family/friends)
  2. Use twitter for only work and use facebook (or other) for family/friends
  3. Have just one twitter account for every aspect of life.
There were well grounded and rounded reasons for each individual's choice, which I will not enlarge on here. What I wanted to highlight was that these routes perplex new users, not least when in the presence of experts discussing the relative merits of their adopted position. This position is not necessarily fixed either, but could shift over the course of a year or years.
Being aware of and able to hold competing conceptions or approaches of use in tension, without it hindering activity is an implicit ability that undergirds the use of social media. I've been through my own digital identity soul searching, eventually deciding to stump for option 3 above. The hiatus was quite disconcerting for a while. Others will wonder what all the fuss was about, yet others will never get to the point of resolving these issues having been switched off by them completely.