Monday, November 30, 2009

Being mindful of a hype cycle

At this stage the implicit motivation of the handful of staff has been enough to maintain a fairly high level of engagement with social media, spilling over into program and course development and general awareness in the faculty. Some staff have become enthusiastic with the potential, encouraging others to make contact with me and find out more about social media.

I sense this is the beginning of a critical moment however. One in which there will be a down turn in that initial enthusiasm, with a dampening of expectation when the reality of time constraints and technical ability present themselves. This sort of trend is common in my line of work, generally known as a hype cycle.

I am hoping however, that a small second wave will help buffer that down turn, as well as the finishing of the UCNISS website. At this stage, my approach to avoiding a trough too soon or too deep is to advise the early adopters to focus on the use of social media for their own professional development and research, and to hold off thinking about uses for teaching. This takes away the risks of a failure under teaching pressure, but the risk of not finding a useful synergy with research and professional development remains. Ben rightly points to the absence of any explicit incentive or reward for academics adopting social media practices, citing the Performance Development Review process at UC as a potential hindrance or driver.

Keane Wheeler has referred me to a number of coaching concepts that could be very helpful in my work to keep up momentum beyond the trough. Frameworks such as FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type) coaching. Ideas of "over compensation" in cognitive loading. Periodisation as a basis for thinking about timing and types of activity. And the writings of I. Balyi and T. Bompa for ideas relating to all of this. Coaching concepts are something I have not considered, and I realise now that there is no-doubt a wide array of knowledge in this field that will be useful, and I have experts like Keane to help me understand and apply it.

Developing individual and group Social Media presence

Maintaining individual intelligence in an Institutional identity
My advice to staff new to adopting social media is to focus on using it for their own research and professional development, and to put off ideas for teaching just for now. A focal point for this is the establishment of the UCNISS website (link soon). It is being designed to capture contributions made in each of our individual spaces by RSS feeds. The syndication of the postings by each of us appears on the UCNISS website in a sidebar box called "news just in". Once each post is captured by the website, it is a simple editorial step to reassign any of those posts to a new category in which it will appear as though it was an official post to the site itself, placed in the correct section of the site, with its own graphics and layout fitting to the site. At a first glance, it would appear as though all the content is local, but to a search engine and experienced user, they will see that the content is networked from individual presence.

In this way I expect to over come the pitfalls of group work, group think and multiple identities, leveraging the motivation each individual has to establish and maintain their own web presence. Through each person maintaining their own presence with new posting, they will be helping to establish and maintain the UCNISS website as well.

This approach also aids search engine optimisation through the linking between the distributed and networked content - for both the individual and the Institution, and it demonstrates to some degree, how information can be made to flow across multiple channels. Much like Wesch's video describes:

Our challenge now is hacking away at the UCNISS website so that the layout maintains integrity when feeds come in, and that linkbacks to the original author are working.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On connectivism

Steve Downes' notions of connected learning is of course not new. He himself has been introducing the basic premise for many years now. Further, Illich (I argue) described it without reference to Neuroscience, or the Internet and its billions of artifacts and technical channels that gave it light. Bill Kerr and others argued that Connectivism is a method within the learning theory of Social Constructivism - I think I agree with this argument, but obviously if Connectivism is a method then it is one with an encompassing and complicated understanding, with plenty of evidence to consider. Whether or not it is a "valid" learning theory really doesn't matter. Learning theories themselves are poorly understood and practically useless to us anyway.

What is obviously new, and where all parties would probably agree, is that Internet technologies are becoming socially accepted and widely used. The result of this wide adoption and popular use gives us, among many other things, a tangible glimpse of recorded informal research and learning. The potential uses of this evidence has implications for formalised education - if only in considering how we view and potentially measure learning, but more hopefully - how it might bring about entirely new educational services, or give much more weight to existing ones such as recognition of prior learning, and open access education.

Education is culturally disconnected
Unfortunately, we in the education sector (including Downes), have not yet made enough sense of this vast and quickly changing array of behavioral changes through popular media. Not even the marketeers have worked it out yet - but they're getting close.

I've been watching the Youtube search feed on Social Media for about a year now and notice that more and more marketing and publicity services are dominating the subject.. educational voices are almost nowhere to be seen anymore, but for Michael Wesch. I agree with Sierra, education should look to marketing literature and practices, as they will likely inform our own motives better than educational theories will.
Here is my Youtube playlist on Social Media.

Further to the idea that education is absent, the Wikipedia article for Social Media had no reference to education until just now - when I added two links to compensate. The See Also section (a good indicator of the interest groups that are perceived to be associated with the concept) is dominated by media and marketing concepts. I added the links to the Connectivism and Networked Learning pages... my point here though is, am I the only one thinking about this!? Clearly I'm the only Wikipedia editor who is...

This absence of a relationship between education and 2 of the top 10 most used information sources is worrying but not-at-all surprising. There has been a long and barren relationship between education and popular culture for over a century now. Education has been absent from reality for as long as I've been a part of it and today is no different - even when Social Media has direct associations to the rhetoric of educational practice.

The challenge I think, is to educationally consider the culture being recorded in these mediascapes, in such a way so as to ask let alone answer more than the obvious questions. The obvious (and pointless) questions are "how can we use these tools to do what we're doing more effectively?" Questions like this miss the bigger issue. In depth engagement with social media seems to lead many educators to the question, "is what I am doing even relevant anymore? what is my new relationship to this culture - if it becomes dominant in my society?" Journalism has asked itself, the entertainment industry has asked itself, the retail sector has itself, the government arena is asking itself, why not the education sector? So far, too few of us are asking these questions, fewer still are exploring answers.

But can we find and measure learning evidence in Social Media that is disciplined enough to warrant such serious rethinking in our institutionalised practices? Given that the work we do is economically protected and market regulated, what will the motivation be for asking such a question?

Where to begin?
Take the institution to the media, don't try and bring the media into the institution.

We (inside the institutions) need to go into social media and networked spaces to find out how it works and what our relationship to it might be. This means having an account on Wikipedia, Youtube, Slideshare, Twitter, uStream and Blogger or Wordpress and engaging with the networks there and at least finding a synergy. From a management perspective we should stop setting up internal systems that duplicate these cultural mediascapes, and sidetrack our engagement by catering to irrelevant institutional concerns. If the only reason you're using a Learning Management System is to easily manage assessment and feedback, then you're not asking a relevant question. If you haven't stopped to think if an "ePortfilio" service isn't already being offered in the "gift economy" market, then you're not asking if there is even a need beyond our institutional assessment methods. Is there really any benefit to having an internal blogging system beyond brand awareness? Same for a social networking system, or a wiki etc? What do we gain by having our own small and inadequate versions of the wider space? Why do we persist using password protected networks and Wifi? Do we even need a physical and centralised learning space apart from some specialised and technical facilities?

If a small percentage of staff in an educational institution achieved status on social media sites, that would be evidence of a readiness to discuss a relationship I think. Status such as Wikiversity Custodian or Wikipedia Administrator, or 200 thousand views on Youtube or 50 thousand views on Slideshare, or to have had a hand in creating a featured book in Wikibooks, or article in Wikipedia. If a number of people had such involvement then I think we'd be in a position to discuss a new research and educational relationship with our society in the wake of a Socialised Media culture. Until then we are merely as critically engaged as the common consumer, ignorant of the depths and personal customisations, illiterate on the workings of a larger picture. The path to achieving such incite does not involve the time spent humouring internal systems that do little more than interact with 15-300 participants motivated by fees and assessment.

I find Ask Ninja's video What is Podcasting persistently relevant to this vision:

I first used Ask Ninja's video in the post What would it be like to be the rain, where I describe what a socially networked researcher and educator might be like.

The key idea in these references is for an academic to set up a social media presence that affords people an opportunity to consider their work and expertise along side all other interests they may have. The academic's work is positioned so as to offer people a seamless transition between their everyday life, and their interest or motivation to learn from or with the academic. It is easy to do in a social media setting. I think once you do this, you start to wondering how much might be possible like this in "real" life. Setting up our own sites and password protected networks is just kidding ourselves, and misunderstanding the flows of information and knowledge in this culture.
If just a few of use can find that sweet spot of seemless transition, then we can reveal to people (as Wesch does) what they may have not recognised before, that they are closer than they think to the accreditation we offer, or have a significant interest in the subject, or are indeed capable of sitting the assessment, or simply finding a quick and true answer to a small question at a particular moment. If that doesn't motivate institutional change, then I suppose we'll have to just wait for the market demands growing along these lines.
This shift is going to take 10-15 years in 3 stages.

1st is the era in which we in formal education learn to use these spaces with authentic expertise and to demonstrate its disciplined use (3-5years). The struggle here is in the distraction of those woefully inadequate internal systems we keep setting up.

2nd is to show people who have the innate ability (net gens due in our undergrad courses in the next 3 years) that they don't have to play our institutionalized routine if they can remaster their own media worlds to disciplined study and learning (another 3-5 years for that to bed down).

3rd era begins when our society is more fully connected (2/3rds instead of the 1/3rd it is now), and begins to appreciate these alternative pathways to educational credential - even comes to expect it in some quarters. A measure of success in this will be when people not formally engaged in university education start following friends or family online, or by engaging as informal "students" themselves.
All this assumes we - the educational institutions, remain the gatekeepers to class and income.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

UCNISS Research ideas

Keane, Robin, Ben and I have been discussing possible research projects that UCNISS could take on in 2010.

So far we have 3 ideas we believe would be valued in the community, and to our knowledge don't yet exist:
  1. A video directory for ACT sport, recreation and activity
  2. Return on investment for cycleways
  3. Engagement in niche activities
Our current action is to investigate past projects in the ACT and see if these sorts of works have been done already.

A video directory for ACT sport, recreation and activity
What options are there for sport, recreation and activity in the ACT?
UCNISS will investigate and create a directory of sport, recreation and activity options around the ACT. From Rugby to orienteering; skate boarding to rock climbing; cricket to ultimate frisbee. Our objective is to find groups of people with a shared interest in an activity, and to create a profile for that activity complete with video interviews and activity footage, description, locations and maps and further details that someone with an interest can use to get involved. UCNISS will measure the impact that both the finished product and the production process has on levels of engagement in that activity.
Possible partners: ACT Health, ACT Sport and Recreation, Australian Capital Tourism, Canberra Tourism, ACT Skilled and business migration program...

Return on investment for cycleways
What impact do the Canberra cycleways have on community health and engagement in physical activity?
Canberra has exceptional infrastructure for cycling. Numbers of people cycling and walking along these sealed ways is a noticeable aspect of Canberra. UCNISS would investigate usage levels and value perceptions of these cycleways and attempt to compile a return on investment report taking into account impact on individual and community health, happiness and well being; influence on engagement in physical activity, prevention of road related injury, impact on business and economy, influence on lifestyle satisfaction rates. Such a study would require cross discipline and faculty collaboration.
Possible partners: The UC Faculty of Business and Government, the UC Faculty of Information Science and Engineering, the UC Faculty of Health, ACT Health, The Canberra Cycling Club, The Canberra Bicycle Museum, Pedal Power, Ride Canberra, other cycling groups, ACT Sport and Recreation, Australian Capital Tourism, Canberra Tourism, ACT Skilled and business migration program... I have emailed Pedal Power to see if they know of a any study like this.

Engagement in niche activities
Ben is investigating this idea, but essentially it is to find out if people who engage in niche or minority activities, engage in other forms of activity as well. It is to find out if for example a skate park was made unavailable in a community, would the people who use that facility remain engaged in other forms of activity. I'll let Ben describe this project more on his blog, but I really liked the sound of this one as it potentially gives value and understanding of the value that smaller fields give to the community.

When it came to the question of how we might find such research, we think the projects align with ACT Health's Community Funding Round which opened 7 November 2009, with application closing 25 January 2010, and funding available July 2010.
The Community Funding Round aims to support activities related to the promotion of good health in general and the prevention of chronic disease. Funding will be provided to organisations to develop partnerships that strengthen the capacity of individuals and communities to make healthy choices. The funding round also aims to build the capability of organisations to adopt health promotion principles and practices and deliver a range of health promotion strategies.

The Community Funding Round calls for projects that place an emphasis on ACT Health's key priorities. These include: physical activity, healthy nutrition, chronic disease prevention, environmental sustainability and health, smoking reduction and mental health promotion. The funding guidelines will be applied flexibly to project applications received from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

We are looking into other possible funding opportunities, and forming up Google Docs for each. Over the coming weeks we'll investigate if similar studies have been done before, and if we were to conduct such studies - how we would build on that related work. Next meeting some time next week.

Comments and suggestions?

Friday, November 06, 2009

My research and development plan at UC

So, 1 month in and where am I up to with the National Institute of Sport Studies, The Faculty of Health and the University of Canberra generally?

What's expected

Social media presence. The UCNISS wants to be leading sport studies institution through the use of open and networked research, teaching and learning. An invitation has been given to UCNISS staff then to develop online presence and adopt open and networked practices. To this end I am brought in to advise and develop the capability of staff who are interested in such an approach, and work closely with them to develop critical appreciation and skills in the use of the Internet and social media to achieve this goal.

The website. While 80% of my time is allocated to working with the UCNISS staff, 20% is to address the short comings of the Faculty of Health's web pages. The expectation is that the web pages will be updated and made more usable as soon as possible, and in time for our peak student enrolment season.

What I have done so far

Investigating existing services. For the first few weeks, I investigated the functionality of the services provided by the University of Canberra, and considered how they could be incorporated into the effort to establish online presence for the UCNISS staff. I looked at the following services:
  1. Moodle
  2. UCSpaces
  3. Yammer
  4. The UC Website
  5. The Wordpress install
  6. UC's Wifi provision
  7. I am waiting to see the outcome of a lecture recording facility being considered
I was primarily looking for simple and intuitive two way integration between these services and the established popular media platforms that we would likely use:
  1. Blogger
  2. Twitter
  3. Delicious
  4. Wikipedia, books and versity
  5. Youtube
  6. Slideshare
  7. Ustream
  8. Smartphones

The UC Moodle set up is one of the better setups I have seen. Users have the option to make their courses open access, including deep linking into the course itself from outside the network. Also, I was able to embed several forms of RSS fed media into a Moodle course, delivering a relatively seamless relationship to outside media platforms. Here is an example course I set up to automatically update based on my activities in the social media platforms outside moodle. Recently, I am told, Moodle now has the ability to capture a blog post on Blogger and update the blog instance for that user inside Moodle. Unfortunately the RSS feed coming out of Moodle is difficult to use, the URLs for the courses are not easily memorised, and Google search does not effectively locate pages inside the Moodle course.

UCSpace is run on Confluence, a widely recognised content management system based around the wiki and social networking software. It was set up to offer both an open and closed social networking space for UC staff (and students?) It appears to have received very little support or uptake. I found it too difficult to use and graphically unappealing. I tried to set it so that this blog would automatically update my blog in UCSpace, but I couldn't work it out. I tried to manage the RSS feeds coming out of UCspace, but it proved difficult to find the right feed, and the one I thought was right, appears to not be updating properly. I posted an initial plan for updating the Health website (and copy pasted it to my blog) but recieved little constructive feedback compared to the network I have established outside UCspaces. From what I can tell, UCsMoodle has a better chance of becoming the internal space that UCspace was intended for. To my thinking, both are unnecessarily limiting in that they encourage introverted thinking on the part of UC staff, and so probably facilitates poor understanding of the popular social media platforms.

Yammer is an excellent micro blogging platform, and if I could, I would try and convert all the Twitter users to it. But again my established network is on Twitter and to a smaller degree a UC network is in Yammer. It is possible to feed Tweets into Yammer via the #yam tag, but it is not possible to reply to these tweets from inside Yammer. Observing the UC Yammer network for a month now, I believe that opportunities are missed by not using Twitter, and that Yammer facilitates an introversion again. It is important to strengthen networks inside one's organisation, but I hope to play a role in drawing more of my colleagues out onto Twitter, and so help establish #UC etc as relating to the University of Canberra, and establishing wider networks relating to our UC issues and discussions.

The UC Website
I have been totally bewildered at the difficulty in using the UC Website content management system. Apparently popular in the Australian public service sector, MySourceMatrix, or at least the UC instance of it, is incredibly inefficient to use, often crashing my browser, and requiring several tens of clicks and processes just to complete a simple task like creating or updating a new page. The UC web team have been very helpful however, generously providing their time in getting me confident in the use of the system. It is possible to capture an RSS feed into the site, and I have set up staff profile pages that capture information from their respective blog feeds. It is more difficult than it should be by contemporary CMS standard, but at least their is no official UC policy or procedure preventing such a feature on the website. Given the extreme difficulty in using this system, it is unrealistic to expect academic staff to be able to manage and update pages themselves, rendering the website almost useless for achieving the goal of establishing web presence for UCNISS. Instead, it would be wiser to set up the website to capture activity outside, and to represent a central point for over viewing UCNISS in relation to the Faculty of Health. As for the Faculty pages as a whole, again given the usability issues, there is a risk that I will become the only go-to person for updating the website, but for now it is manageable and complimentary to my learning how to use MySourceMatrix.

The Wordpress install
The domain name was intended for use for UCNISS, but as a colleague recently pointed out, is currently operating and risks confusing the web presence, as do a number of other NISS type organisations. Discussion is being had with the likely result being to adopt UCNISS as the name, and change the domain to Currently there is a Wordpress install on the domain, administered by an employee at UC. It seems that person is very busy and might not be able to assist too much with the development of the site. My first recommendation would be to install Wordpress Multi User, and set the site to capture RSS feeds from the blogs and channels of the staff that make up UCNISS (rather than have them set up accounts on a central site like UCNISS). This approach will lesson the reliance on a UCNISS site administrator, and encourage UCNISS related content to dispurse over the Internet, helping with search engine optimisation, and developing staff skills in the use of a wider array of tools.

UCs Wifi
UC's Wifi is universally disappointing, and has not been properly resourced or developed to keep up with contemporary expectations. I attended an IT forum in which the IT support staff challenged the perceived expectation of Wifi, citing low usage statistics as a justification for not providing an enhanced Wifi service on campus. From this I surmise that it will be a very long road to getting free and open Wifi on campus, and so my colleagues and I are investigating alternatives, including roaming keys and portable wireless hubs to make our wired network open Wifi in lectures, meetings with guests and conferences. The Teaching and Learning Centre at UC in the meantime, continues to lobby IT for better Wifi support.

Lecture recording
The TLC is reviewing a system called echo360 for use as a lecture recorder. My previews of the system gives me cause for concern. The frame rate and image quality appears poor, the recordings centre around a screen recording positioning the actual lecturer and lecture room as a peripheral aspect to the lecture, the multi media recording (the one that includes an image of the lecturer and the room) does not output in a portable format outside Flash. I could be wrong on these points, but regardless - it seems to me to be another instance of using an expensive system when we have free and ready access to popular systems that will do much the same, and position our lecturers in the market so to speak. Some UCNISS staff for example are quite keen to use Youtube, Slideshare and Ustream to record and broadcast their lectures. I have argued that the money allocated to a lecture recording system would be better spent upgrading the Wifi and providing lecturers with smart phones to carry with them and broadcast lectures, interviews and other situational events through the Wifi to services like Ustream.

I have also spent the month using an HTC smart phone with the Android operating system, as well as a Nokia N97 smart phone. The affordability or these phones, along with their functionality could yield interesting uses for staff in UCNISS - such as broadcasting lectures and live events, are integrating their social media webpresence with a mobile device. This might be some way off yet.

This is a diagram for a plan I have been discussing with colleagues for achieving the goal of establishing UCNISS and staff presence on the Internet.

So far I am very encouraged by the enthusiasm and intuitive understanding my colleagues have shown towards this idea. Our conversation is well beyond the basics already and right into the exciting possibilities. 2 staff have lead a charge, having set up blogs and Slideshare accounts each, with one going on to explore Ustream, Youtube, and Twitter. Time does appear to remain an issue for both however, and so far the exploration remains superficial.

My intention is to work closely with these early adopters, and offer as much help for them as they need. I am trusting that that won't turn into me doing the work for them, and that their interest and enthusiasm for how these tools are useful will remain strong and inspired.

My next post will more fully articulate the thinking behind the flows of data, the how's and why's of using a plan like this, and how I am thinking to make this project with UCNISS the topic of a PhD.

How might P2PU do without copyright?

"I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man's copyright, nor ask another man to live for mine."
Steve Forester, in discussion with Minhaaj Rehman and others on the Resist-Copyright list, Nov 2009.

The Peer to Peer University is discussing copyright at the moment, and have invited comment from people who have something to say on the matter. They're looking for "1 pagers" to bring into their meeting for consideration and debate within the P2PU team.

The argument that I am going to try and make is that P2PU should actively resist copyright. So the question should not be which copyright license to use, but how to not use copyright at all?

I've been writing and acting on the topic of copyright in education for 6 years now. A seemingly short time, but pretty much the duration as it applies to copyright in education. Most of that time has been explaining and promoting the use of the Creative Commons Attribution License as the best choice for educational organisations. Not because it "enables" sharing (we shouldn't, and don't need a license to share) but because it was a logical compromise between the prevailing restrictive licenses at the time, and the objective to remove all bureaucratic costs over the free use and reuse of information and expression - especially educative. At that time, educational organisations and their contractors were following the Free Trade lead of corporatisation and privatisation, and at that time corporations and private organisations believed ownership and restricted access to information and media was the only way to protect their "property", competitive edge and/or income. Free software, open source, Wikimedia, OurMedia, Youtube and Google, and Creative Commons was to gradually show otherwise is possible.

The moral and even economic arguments for free and unrestricted information is as old as the Internet itself. The so-called CopyLeft offered a temporary enabler in the face of overwhelming restrictions, while the rest of us slowly came to terms with what new economic models where being made possible. Corey Doctorow took advantage of the Creative Commons star and showed how openness in book authoring is beneficial even to the old models of publishing. Many universities eventually saw the moral and economic advantage of open access to their information. Yochai Benkler academically legitimised what many in the popular sphere had been practicing for years. Google and the social media providers generally, showed that the Gift Economy can be happy bedfellows with the Market Economy.

The point here is not that copyright restricts or enables this new economy, copyright is merely temporary within it. The Gift Economy, Information Economy, free information world, what ever you want to call it, is driven by profound human will and desire, ages old, to know and communicate. This will, combined with digital formats and the Internet, completely decimated business models that relied on the preventative costs of production and distribution, and now they rely on the protectionism of copyright alone. Copyright is merely a nuisance to a truer force for free information, certainly not an enabler.

And so, we wait for groups and organisations to recognise the freedom that individuals enjoy regardless of copyright laws and protectionism. Look to the success-at-the-time of Napster and Pirate Bay for models of such freedom, and learn from their eventual weaknesses. As well, consider corporations like Google who boldly flaunt their disregard for copyright, helping the rest of us to push out and enjoy that freedom. Groups like the Peer to Peer University should join direct and indirect activist such as these and reject copyright as a defining policy over their activities. Their reasoning for such a stance should be abundantly clear by now, none-the-less there will be die hard and wanna be bureaucrats out there who simply cannot envision an operation free of copyright, and so a strong statement, coupled with a defiant stance in the face of what remains of such conservatism is necessary.

P2PU wants to be a network, made up of individual action and responsibility. As such P2PU should not impose a particular copyright policy on these individuals, instead focusing on the facilitation of the free exchange of learning and educational advance. Further, P2PU should not even recognise copyright as a legitimate governing force over the free exchange of learning or educational advance, and so it follows that it will not take action for or against any individual in the network based on copyright.