As David Weinberger famously argued, the internet is great because it’s made up of small pieces loosely joined. That’s why I get kind of unreasonable when those connections I’ve made aren’t possible any more. It interrupts my workflows.
Many things can be automated these days using sites such as ifttt. If you haven’t discovered this website yet, click on the link and say goodbye to the rest of your morning/afternoon/evening. You’re welcome. 😀
For the past year or so I’ve been used to using something called gdzl.la to connect Twitter with Flickr. Instead of using TwitPic or, now, Twitter’s built-in service, I pointed my ‘Image API endpoint’ to gdz.la and my photos would show up in my Flickr stream. The flic.kr link to the image would then be appended to my tweet. Awesome.
In their infinite wisdom, Twitter took this functionality out of the latest version of their official iOS client:
(click to enlarge)
Disappointed Doug was disappointed.
All was not lost, however. I asked (via TweetDeck – the Adobe Air version, as Twitter’s HTML5 version sucks) my Twitter network which iOS client they used. The response was many and varied, but a significant number of people recommended TweetBot. Enough for me to pay £1.99 for an app that provides similar functionality I can get for free.
To cut a long story short, TweetBot allows you to define a custom Image API endpoint:
Every Thursday night on Twitter there’s an hour-long conversation around the hashtag #ukedchat. The idea is that interested parties (mostly teachers) vote on what they want to talk about relating to UK education (almost always UK schools) and a moderator keeps things on-track. It’s a bit anarchic and intense, but worth it. I dip in and out and have moderated one session on the purpose(s) of education. Afterwards the moderator tries to ‘tell the story’ of what was discussed, including the most influential (usually the most reteweeted) tweets. It’s a fantastic example of grassroots innovation and, dare I say it, even a form of CPD.
Last night the topic was the Pearson learning awards, hosted by someone from Pearson. I wasn’t the only one who thought that was a bit strange and that #ukedchat seemed to be going in a new direction. Low and behold I received a couple of Direct Messages (DMs) that suggested not only was Pearson muscling in on the success of #ukedchat but that, in fact, the Times Educational Supplement (TES) was taking over the running of the weekly discussion. Those who had been told were hushed to secrecy.
Being committed to open education and transparent practices I decided to, without revealing the names of those who told me, inform those involved in #ukedchat discussion. Things were already going so awry that the moderator had decided to switch topics half way through the hour. It was an example of companies doing social media in completely the wrong way. Whereas for-profit organizations such as Scholastic and BrainPOP! really do get social media as being about openness and conversation, the TES and Pearson seem to have conspired to commodify #ukedchat in an underhand, Machiavellian way.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I am, despite the claims of the TES to the contrary, that #ukedchat – an example of grassroots innovation by teachers, for teachers – has been effectively ‘sold off’ behind closed doors. Part of the problem is that busy teachers are delighted when a big name comes in and is interested in their enterprise. What often occurs, and my teaching career is littered with examples of this, is that companies become parasitic upon the goodwill and enthusiasm of teachers. They take what they can and suck the life out of it.
Teachers, don’t let this happen. Strike for better pensions on the 30th November and, if necessary, set up a new #ukedchat. You’re worth it.
(I’ve curated tweets from that hour using Storify here)
As I’ve already mentioned, in a couple of weeks’ time I’m going to be disconnecting from networks for a calendar month. I’ll still be at work, but won’t be tweeting or replying to personal email at all.
Many thanks to those people who have been in touch asking if that means for them as well. The answer? Yep, absolutely.
So if you’ve got something you need me to do or respond to, please let me know sooner rather than later! Come December 1st you’ll have to either phone me or stop by my house.
An article by Michael Erard has been doing the rounds recently. Entitled What I Didn’t Write About When I Wrote About Quitting Facebook, it simultaneously pokes fun at the growing genre of ‘social media exile essay’ whilst raising an interesting issue about the ways in which social networks mediate relationships. Erard concludes (my emphasis):
In the standard Social Media Exile essay, one doesn’t mention or announce when one returns to blogging or Twitter. For each platform or network one leaves, there’s another one to return to. Sometimes they’re the same. So I’m going to close this piece by breaking that convention and mentioning how easy it turns out to be to reactivate Facebook. When you sign back in, all your stuff is there, as if you’d never left. It’s like coming back to your country after a month in a foreign land, and it makes one feel that the whole reason for leaving is to make the place seem strange again. Being away from Facebook was certainly that. But I had to come back. That’s where all the people are. I’ve got a book coming out, and I need to let my friends know. Anyway, you know where to find me and what to talk about when you do. I’ll have some cookies baked.
Let’s cut to the chase: for better or worse, online, we currently act like brands. We can (and do) consider things like using a standardised avatar to increase recognition; we’re careful about what we say in certain kinds of company; we align ourselves with other brands (people, organizations, objects) to gain social capital. The trouble is that, in a similar way to a mall, we’re setting up shop on private property. We can be (and sometimes are) kicked out of spaces for violating lengthy, arcane user agreements written in legalese that few of us take the time to read. On various levels we control our digital identity, sometimes by self-censoring. This is problematic.
Some of us can play the game; Twitter and my online networks and reputation certainly helped me gain my last two jobs. But playing this game can be tiring. Each medium has its own vocabulary and syntax that one has to learn, as Erard demonstrates:
Instead of writing about any of this, once I was not on Facebook anymore, I found myself sending emails with some witty insights or photos of my baby, but it just wasn’t the same; a request for housing help for a friend via email got no responses.
Despite my impending Black Ops period, I’m actually not of the opinion that everything would just be alright if we all just got offline and talked to one another face-to-face. I remember reading recently that talking about the superficiality of social media is more than slightly disingenuous given the type of weather-related chat and insincere ‘how are you?’ questions that make up much of our offline interaction. There was no golden period of offline communication. Updating your Facebook status probably not time you would have otherwise spent in deep philosophical face-to-face conversation with your next-door neighbour.
But, nevertheless, there is a problem with online communication. Superficial conversations are (usually) neither recorded nor commodified in the ways they can be online. Erard again:
I hadn’t written about feeling like Facebook was a job. Like I was running on a digital hamster wheel. But a wheel that someone else has rigged up. And a wheel that’s actually a turbine that’s generating electricity for somebody else. That’s how I felt, which is what I should have written.
What we’re doing, in effect, is akin to renting houses when we should be buying them. The tools that commercial operations such Facebook, Twitter and Google+ give us are ‘free’ so we often don’t think through the issues clearly. Like a low-income people forced into dealing with a disreputable car dealers, we’re forced into hire-purchase with no real prospect of ownership.
Let’s run a quick thought experiment. Imagine Facebook started charging and, instead of a mass exodus, people (for whatever reason) kept using it. What would change? I think, for one, we’d question where our data was going and we’d want to get rid of the advertising. It’s been repeated so many times that it’s almost become a cliché, but if we’re not paying for something then we’re not customers. And if we’re not customers, we bring something to the marketplace that’s being sold on our behalf. We’re being tracked, packaged-up and sold to the highest bidder.
All this sounds alarmist, and it is, but all I’m trying to do is lift the veil a little. Discontent leads to a search for alternatives, so I suppose I’m trying to stoke the fires of discontent. We’re all in the same position: we need open, distributed social networks to avoid the above. But we’re in a Catch-22: no-one wants to make the first move to Identi.ca or Diaspora because it’s not social until all your friends are there, right?
This year I’m planning to do the same for the month of December. It’s slightly difficult given my role at JISC infoNet, but here’s what I’ll be doing (and not doing):
Spending time with family.
Not responding to email. If you email my personal email address you’ll get an auto-response. Other than work-related emails on my JISC accounts, the only other way to contact me is my mobile number. Ask for it if you need it.
Avoiding social networks. Yes, even Twitter. And Google+, Facebook. The lot.
Not blogging. Or moderating comments.
Collating and curating. Change doesn’t come through one person having a good idea. Change comes through ideas being packaged in such a way that they become memes and alter the status quo. I’ll be going back through what I’ve written and created over the past year and thinking through how it connects with other stuff.
Playing Battlefield 3. What an epic game!
Migrating web hosts. I’m sick to death of Bluehost. They used to be great, but now they’re slow and unreliable.
Depending on when I have to defend my thesis, I may also need to spend time making clarifications and changes to that. All in all, if you need to contact me, ask my advice, or invite me to speak somewhere, you’ve got four weeks before 2012 to do so… 🙂
I’m mentioned in The Guardian today in a short article entitled How to teach using mobile phones. However, as is the case with such things, what appears and what I submitted are two different things. For a start, my emphasis was on mobile devices more generally (not just phones!)
Thankfully, they’ve still linked to the resources I was asked to produce. If the link in the article doesn’t work (it didn’t for me) just search ‘mobile devices’ at the Guardian Teacher Network. I’ve decided to reproduce what I originally wrote here:
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to be in the pocket or bag of every young person it’s some kind of mobile device. They may forget their planner or even a pen, but they’re unlikely to be without their mobile phone. This, understandably, can lead to some frustration.
From the smartphone to the iPad to the Nintendo 3Ds the range of devices that young people have access to is growing – and so is their power to connect people. However, many parents, teachers and even children themselves are unsure as to how mobile devices can be used for anything more than entertainment. Do mobile devices have a place in the classroom? Are they merely distractions to learning?
On the Guardian Teacher Network, you can find now find a PowerPoint to get adults and children alike thinking about how they can use everything from their mobile phone to their games consoles for learning. The PowerPoint gives 10 different scenarios in which mobile devices could be used to add value to what goes on in the classroom – or even fundamentally change the types of activities that are available.
The associated Cribsheet gives suggestions and links to further resources as to how discussions about mobile devices can be framed with school governors, senior leaders, teachers, parents and children. There are many ways in which the resources can be used – everything from a PSHE lesson (perhaps drawing up guidelines to responsible and appropriate use) to Staff CPD or even a ‘town hall’ style meeting with parents.
With schools increasingly having the freedom and powers to innovate around the traditional curriculum through Academy, Trust or Free School status, now is a good time to be talking through the issues involved in mobile learning. Not only will it really engage pupils, but there’s the potential for it to be used as a ‘trojan horse’ for real curriculum change!
This was the second, more objective, draft. I’ve been promised that my first, longer and more polemicised draft will be used in a few weeks’ time. We’ll see.
I do a lot of research. Not only is my day job Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet but when I go home I’m researching and writing as part of my doctoral thesis. Quantity and quality are different measures, but I’d hope that I’m at least half-decent at something I spend a fair amount of my life doing.
Being a researcher before the internet must have been a very difficult occupation. Much less access to information but, I suppose, on the other hand, it must have been a much more ’embodied’ existence than spending hours mediated by several different kinds of screens. Without a focus it’s very easy to become confused very quickly and be like a dog chasing after shiny cars.
I use several tools to stay up-to-date in these areas and to discover new resources. Here’s five of the best:
Twitter + Storify
This goes without saying: Twitter is my social dashboard and an absolute treasure trove of useful information. The important thing is that it’s a network (of networks) of people who have expertise, influence and opinion.
Recently I’ve started using Storify to, for want of a better phrase, ‘curate tweets’ about stuff I’m researching. Here’s an example for iPad mindmapping apps. Asking a question, getting replies, curating them and re-sharing helps everybody.
This feels like, in a phrase Ewan McIntosh used five years ago, giving away some kryptonite as LinkedIn Signal is truly amazing for researching specific terms. It’s based on your LinkedIn connections, which I’m careful to keep based on people I’ve met. It shows your relation to that person but also the most discussed links about that search term.
Try it. You’ll love it.
Amplify is for ‘clipping’ content from websites and adding your comments to it. You can find my most recent clippings in the sidebar of this blog. The power of Amplify, however, is twofold: (i) the people you follow who often post things you wouldn’t come across, and (ii) the search functionality.
The ever-innovative Futurelab have recently announced EventEye, a paid-for version of EducationEye for (unsurprisingly!) events. EducationEye is a service that pulls in posts from blogs (including this one) and arranges them in a visually pleasing and useful way.
Again, there’s a search function available but it’s also handy for serendipitous dipping in and out of in order to keep up with the zeitgeist.
I use Quora about once per week. It’s a social question-and-answer site where people can vote answers up and down and summarise answers once there’s plenty of responses. It can work very well and there’s an extremely diverse mix of people on there. It’s certainly worth ‘tracking’ questions to see what kinds of responses they get and from whom.
So there we are! Five recommendations of tools that help me be a better researcher. What have I missed?
Here’s my summary with the entire archive of tweets here:
An extremely difficult hour to summarise given the frantic pace of the tweets! There was certainly a feeling that the purpose of education is much more than simply gaining ‘good’ examination results; most weren’t happy with the way education is heading in the UK. Although there was a strong anti-Gove sentiment, the overall tone of the discussion and debate was positive, with a sense that there was enough grassroots feeling to make educators’ voices heard in Whitehall.
‘Confidence’, ‘passion’ and ‘skills’ were perhaps the most used words in 140-character contributions to the question of what constitutes the purpose of education. Tweets mentioning the importance of holistic education, of equipping young people with the ability to learn how to learn, and of raising aspirations were among the most retweeted.
Many contributors mentioned how refreshing it was to discuss the fundamentals rather than ‘the latest web 2.0 tool’. Although some expressed frustration at only have 140 characters to express themselves (along with the speed of the updates) there was an almost-tangible sense of people thinking deeply about their beliefs as educators about the purpose of their profession.
I had a fascinating Skype conversation with Amber Thomas, a JISC Programme Director. She mentioned the concept of liminality in reference to the ‘trajectory of ambiguities’ idea I’ve been writing about in my journal article. It struck me afterward that I need to firm things up a bit given that I seem to exist in somewhat of a liminal digital world.
So here’s what you’ll find me doing where in 2011:
I’ll be writing, as usual, at dougbelshaw.com/blog about user outcomes (including: education, technology, productivity, leadership, design). I’ll be posting around 1-2 times per week and won’t be writing the ‘Things I Learned This Week’ series. It’s a shame, but it’s too much of a time-suck to justify.
I’ve cut back drastically on the number of people I’m following on Twitter (@dajbelshaw). It might be just me, but the signal/noise ratio seemed to decline sharply in 2010. I’ll be autoposting things from here and Amplify and using it for mainly work purposes.
I thought I deleted my Facebook (http://facebook.com/dajbelshaw) account in mid-2008, but it turned out I simply deactivated it. It’s now re-activated and I’ve gone about removing almost all of my ‘friends’, cutting back sharply to just my immediate family and close contacts. If you’re not one of those, I’m afraid I’ll be ignoring your connection request. Sorry.
As Facebook is the most popular social network and because pretty much all my close contacts are on it, I need to know how to use it effectively. Facebook’s also a great way to organise events and get groups started (without necessarily having a direct connection to people). More on that later, although you can (and should) ‘Like’ this blog there already.
My policy with LinkedIn (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/dajbelshaw) is simple: I need to know who you are, have dealt with you in a professional sense, and met you in person to connect with you. I’ll only waive the latter condition if you’re somebody I know really well online. It’s a professional, not a social, network.
I’m still experimenting with Quora (http://quora.com/Doug-Belshaw). Coming back to the notion of liminality, it’s a great example of what happens when boundaries are broken down as a result of new ways to connect to people. I really like the way it’s structured and it marries Yahoo! Answers with Digg and wiki-like functionality. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll connect with anyone on there. :-p
I’ve got more to discuss in terms of how I’m organizing things – especially related to academic stuff. This post covers just what others will see.
Three years ago, at the end of 2007, I took a hiatus. Inspired by Stephen Downes, I realised needed a break from the stream. It’s time I took another one, but for different reasons. This time I’m taking a cue from danah boyd who explains her position well:
Years ago, I realized that there was no way to take a vacation and manage the always-on, always-in-contact lifestyle that technology affords. Initially, I thought that it’d be possible to simply ignore email while on vacation and deal with it afterwards but I realized that this was untenable. It takes months to catch up on thousands of emails and I’d come back and immediately burn out again trying to catch up.
She goes on to add that “disappearing without properly making certain that everyone has what they need is irresponsible and disrespectful.” That’s why I’m giving advanced notice that I’m going on a personal digital hiatus from Friday 17th December 2010 until Monday 10th January 2011.
In practice this means that during this period:
I won’t reply to any email (and any email I do receive will be deleted).
I’m uncontactable via Twitter.
I won’t be blogging or moderating comments.
If you need to get hold of me, there’s two options: phone me (if you haven’t got my numbers already, you don’t need them) or contact me at work (until 21st December / after 4th January)
I’ll keep on clipping the occasional article I come across, but I’m intending to swear off Twitter, email and blogging for three weeks, during which time my wife will almost certainly give birth to our daughter. If that isn’t reason enough, I’ll also be doing the following:
Getting back into shape. The snow has knocked my exercise regime for six.