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Weeknote #5

This week I have been mostly…

Planning for planning

I was asked to help put together the agenda for our upcoming quarterly planning meeting. This will be my first experience of the two-day events. I’ve proposed session titles including really bad puns – e.g. ‘Getting JISC-y with it’ and ‘Plone Ranger’ (Plone powers our website…)

Being trained

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. A friend of a friend, Ben Mawhinney, came to give us some training on Google Analytics at my invitation on Friday. It was really kind of him to share what he knows and help us to better focus on our core audience!

Making the most of my flexi-time

With the sunny weather and spending all week in the office, I’ve been leaving at 15.30 and using up some of my flexi-time. What. A. Great. System!

Getting the go-ahead

My proposal for a review of mobile and wireless technologies was accepted, so I’ll be spending from next week until about the end of October on a review which will inform an upcoming JISC publication.

Returning my Dell Streak

It would appear that for everyone who knows me (however slightly) my decision to return the Dell Streak on Friday after a week was entirely predictable. What can I say? I’m a sucker for well-designed tools that increase my productivity. Like the iPhone 4…

10 reasons I returned my Dell Streak today.

It had nothing to do with it’s size.

  1. No multitouch. I didn’t realise until it was pointed out in an Android forum that this makes typing a whole lot easier.
  2. Lack of apps I use often. Having to use the National Rail website instead of it’s £4.99 app may seem trivial but it’s important to me. Apps pretty much always come out for the iPhone first because of the huge, standardized, user base.
  3. Lack of accessories. I could walk into almost any shop on the high street and purchase cases, speakers and other accessories for my iPhone 3G. How many cases did I have to choose from for the Dell Streak? One. And that was fugly.
  4. Unintuitive annoyances. Holding down the camera button should bring up the camera app. The device should charge if the power cable’s plugged in – even if it is in ‘aeroplane mode’ whilst I’m asleep.
  5. Email. Having GMail, Exchange and IMAP accounts means 3 different apps on Android. #fail
  6. Position of headphone socket. Why put it on top of the screen? Hold it landscape and the wire gets in the way. Put it in your pocket and it’s sticking out the side. Oh, and the volume up/down switch should do the same thing in landscape and portrait. #confusing
  7. Lack of website support. If you go to popular websites on the iPhone then you get a decent browsing experience because they’ve made sure it’s optimised for that platform. Navigating some websites on the Dell Streak was clunky, despite the lovely Opera web browser I installed.
  8. Apps that don’t work. The number of times I purchased apps only for me to have them refunded within 24 hours was ridiculous. I had to force-close so many I lost count.
  9. Lack of ‘magnifying glass’ function. If you’ve made a mistake in a text, tweet or email you to half-guess where to tap to get the cursor to go into the correct position. There’s no ability to ‘zoom in’. This leads to frustration.
  10. It’s not an iPhone. Close as I was to keeping it, the fact that I was indecisive about it kind of sealed it’s fate. I would have been tied into a 24-month contract with the Dell Streak. And that’s a long time for something you only like very much rather than love!

The Dell Streak is, technically, a wonderful phone, music player and internet device. It’s almost perfect for me. I loved the ‘Rooms’ (virtual desktops) feature and the ability to add widgets to these. Spotify was amazing on the big screen and Google Navigation is better than any Sat-Nav I’ve used. The Shapewriter app made text entry fun and the camera is top-notch.

It’s just that nowadays a phone has to be much more than the sum of it’s parts. And unfortunately the Dell Streak only consists of great parts reasonably well put-together… :-p

The Hyperlinked Society [Full Review]

A while ago I posted a partial review of The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age. That review has since been accepted and will appear in a forthcoming volume of the academic journal e-Learning and Digital Media.

I realised this week that I never posted the completed review. So here it is, for what it’s worth, in full! 😀

The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age

Joseph Turow and Lokman Tsui, Editors (2008)

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

ISBN 0-472-05043-5 (pbk)

319 Pages.

Reviewer: Doug Belshaw, Durham University

In the introduction to The Hyperlinked Society, editor Joseph Turow explains how the book became a follow-up to a 2006 conference that ‘came together to address the social implications of instant digital linking’. ‘We did not intend to solve any particular problem at the meeting,’ he writes. ‘Instead, the goal was to shed light on a remarkable social phenomenon that people in business and the academy usually take for granted.’ The stated aim of the resulting book? ‘[N]ot to drill deeply into particular research projects [but], rather, to write expansively, provocatively – even controversially – about the extent to which and ways in which hyperlinks are changing our worlds and why.’ The book, therefore, is published explicitly as a platform upon which others ‘will launch their own research projects and policy analyses.’ (p.5)

Given this stated aim, it is easier to forgive The Hyperlinked Society‘s unconventional structure and somewhat eclectic nature. There are three main sections to the book. The first, ‘Hyperlinks and the Organization of Attention’ is almost entirely descriptive, ostensibly to set the scene for the rest of the book. The second ‘Hyperlinks and the Business of Media’ appears incongruous in an academic book; the essays and articles it contains feature few references and assertions abound. The final section is the most rewarding for researchers and academics in the field of new literacies and internet culture. It features an abundance of analysis – everything from the moral nature of hyperlinks to what constitutes the ‘online public sphere’. This final section is worth the price of admission alone.

Puzzlingly, given the editor’s proud statement in the introduction that over 200 countries were represented at the conference that led to the book’s existence, the examples given are almost entirely taken from the USA. Moreover, the American political situation and how it reflects, and is reflected by, internet culture is a dominant theme. Indeed there is more than one reference to ‘our country’ and what ‘we’ need to do. This does not sit comfortably at times, making this (English) reviewer feel like an outsider.

But there is much to like and admire in The Hyperlinked Society even if, at times, the authors try and relate anything and everything to the concept of the hyperlink. The editors have discovered and successfully begun to fill a niche: that space between popular internet culture books such as Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody and more traditional academic articles. The Hyperlinked Society successfully combines elements of both, especially in the third section and in particular Adamic’s The Social Hyperlink. This essay continues the collection’s dominant theme of political blogging, showing empirically that the ‘blogosphere’ is divided with hyperlinks mirroring political affiliations. Coupled with this, however, is a corrective to the possible conclusion that hyperlinks cause this ‘echo-chamber’ effect. An analysis of online communities in the USA, Kuwait and the UAE demonstrate the powerfully complex cultural and contextual factors at work. The reader is left fascinated, interested, and wanting more – especially given the ‘Do bloggers kill kittens?’ story with which Adamic ends the article. This, of course, fits hand-in-glove with the editor’s desire for others to use the collection as a starting point for their own research.

A second dominant theme in The Hyperlinked Society is whether hyperlinks constitute an inherently a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ thing for society. Most deal with this in a cursory way, but Weinberger’s The Morality of Links confronts the issue head-on. In perhaps the most valuable and reflective essay in the collection, Weinberger analyses his personal belief that ‘Links are good’. His wide-ranging and knowledgeable philosophical treatment of the problem takes fully three pages of background, covering everything from a critique of Essentialism to the value of a funnel. Weinberger concludes that there are two reasons why ‘Links are good’. First, the Web is a huge potentiality – but not in the same way ‘a stick could potentially be used to prop up a car hood’ (p.189). Instead, ‘the potential is the sum of the relationships embodied in links’ which makes the Web ‘a potential that we’re actively creating and expanding’ (p.189). The second reason we’re better off with links, states Weinberger, is because ‘every time we click on a link, we take a step away from the selfish solipsism that characterizes our age – or, to be more exact, that characterizes how we talk about our age’ (p.189-90). The world, says Weinberger (quoting Ted Nelson) has never been so ‘intertwingled’.

The third and final dominant vein running through The Hyperlinked Society is the emancipatory nature of hyperlinks. Whilst several authors raise privacy concerns and implications , the general consensus is that through ‘mashups’, ‘countermapping’ and other online grassroots activities, traditional power structures are beginning to be challenged. Halavais, for instance, in The Hyperlink as Organizing Principle explains how the changing way hyperlinks are used represents ‘a kind of collective unconscious’ that represents ‘deep social and cultural structures’ (p.39). Halavais also points out, with some apparent glee, that researchers can passively track social relationships and connections through the aggregation of links – thus alleviating the ‘Hawthorne effect’ and bias inherent in self-reporting.

Finkelstein, in Google, Links and Popularity versus Authority highlights two important instances where technical issues relating to hyperlinks threatened to undermine their potential for emancipation and democracy. The first is what he deems ‘the commodificiation of social relations’. This is a result of ‘blurring the lines between business and friendship’ (p.115) that occurs online. A second, related, problem is that of search engine algorithms being based on inbound links. Google’s PageRank algorithm, for example, works a ‘weighted combination’ of factors centering around how popular the website is with other websites. Herein, of course, lies a problem. If you want to talk about the dangers of a racist hate site, making parents and teachers aware of the URL , linking to the site would be counter-productive. It would constitute an inbound link – and therefore improve the racist hate website’s Google PageRank. As a result, the ‘nofollow’ tag was invented to allow links in such cases without the attendant positive conferral of status (or ‘Google juice’ as it is commonly termed). This is an example of what The Hyperlinked Society does well as a collection, dealing with both the social and technical aspects of problems caused by Web-mediated communication.

The Hyperlinked Society is not an overly-edited collection. There are places where the same stories are told, the same studies cited, and similar ground covered. But given the and/and/and nature of hyperlinks and the Web, this is highly appropriate. Instead of fitting rigorously into a pre-determined order, the authors are free to explore their own interests in a way that suits them. Such a structure and approach works well, and serves to reinforce the themes outlined above: the case of political blogging, the nature of hyperlinks, and their emancipatory potential.

However, as a researcher into new literacies and 21st-century education practices, it was disappointing to see terms such as ‘link-literacy’, ‘savvy’ and ‘competence’ used uncritically. There is a wealth of research in this area towards which the individual authors or, at the very least, the editor could have directed the reader. Although Lankshear and Knobel’s Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices was published in the same year as The Hyperlinked Society, their earlier volume New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning (2006) was available as a guide to the field.

Overall, The Hyperlinked Society is satisfying and informative when read in its totality, but also serves as an excellent reference point, with useful overviews to each section provided by the editors. It would be of most use to those running postgraduate courses exploring Web-related issues as it covers such a wide range of issues. The final section in particular is an object lesson on how to explore the wider implications of a very particular technology.

References

  • Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2006) New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning. Open University Press
  • Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2008) Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. Peter Lang Publishing
  • Shirky, C. (2008) Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin Press

Roadbud: a new iPhone app for runners [Review]

Background

I’ve explained many times on this blog about how great running is for your whole system of productivity. The trouble with running, though, is that it used to difficult to set yourself goals and targets. With the advent of Nike+ and GPS-enabled devices, however, all that has changed.

I first started GPS-tracking my running with my Nokia N95 a few years ago. I still haven’t found anything better than the Nokia Sports Tracker for ease-of-use and useful feedback, if I’m honest.

Since switching to an iPhone, I’ve tried a number of applications that can GPS-track my runs. Most recently I’ve been using SportyPal which I found pretty good and at a nice price (free!)

A few months ago, Mike Schoeffler, the developer of a new iPhone running app called Roadbud started following me on Twitter and reading this blog. I ended up joining the mailing list for updates and a free copy of the app upon release. After some delays, it was available in the App Store earlier this week.

For reasons only known to Apple, the free codes Mike generated are only available in the US (see the end of this post to win one for yourself!) Mike very kindly reduced the price of the UK version from £5.99 to £0.59 so that he kept his promise. Very noble and much appreciated (but this review remains impartial!) 😀

Review

Given that SportyPal, my previous iPhone running app of choice, is free and Roadbud Pro is £5.99 it had better do something special. Fortunately, it has go some unique features. Not least:

  • Integration with iTunes music library
  • StrongSong (Nike+ style motivational track you can nominate for one-button access)
  • Audio feedback on distance covered, time and pace
  • Google Maps integration as you run
  • Weather information
  • One-button access to phoning a friend or emergency services (if concerned about safety)
  • Twitter integration (option to tweet your run straight after workout)
  • Auto screen-lock

There is a free version (Roadbud Rookie), to be fair, but to my mind that version doesn’t offer anything over-and-above SportyPal. It’s six and two threes…

Whilst I can only give my opinion about Roadbud and my particular running regime, there’s some things I really liked and some things that I thought could probably do with some improvement.

The good:

  1. Integration with iTunes music library is a real bonus.
  2. I love the one-button access to my ‘StrongSong’ for when I need that extra boost.
  3. The Google Maps implementation is seamless and shows at-a-glance whether your iPhone is locked-on to the GPS signal.
  4. The audio feedback is useful for focusing on running instead of having to keep looking at the screen.
  5. You can choose a workout length (time or distance) with your progress then being shown as a bar underneath time elapsed. Nice!

Room for improvement:

  1. Track information of the song currently playing.
  2. Feedback when you’ve lost GPS signal.
  3. Lower power consumption (25 min run took 40% of my battery life on iPhone 3G)
  4. A website, like SportyPal to develop more of a community.
  5. The ability to export data to Google Earth.

From my contact with the Mike, the first three of the above are already in development for the next version of Roadbud. 🙂

Of course, people have different concerns and needs than me. For example, when my wife gets my iPhone in a couple of months, she’ll no doubt want to use it for running. I’ll then be really glad of Roadbud’s one-touch emergency call facility.

Conclusion + free codes

Would I recommend Roadbud? Yes.

Do I think it’s worth £5.99? At present, probably not.

I’d expect it to be more of a £2.99 app. I certainly think it’s got potential to be worth the higher price, though! I’m looking forward to seeing how it improves given that the developers keen to make it the best it can be. 😀

Want a free version of Roadbud Pro? I’ve got 3 free copies* for those who reweet this post (using the button below) before midday on Sunday 2nd May 2010!

*US residents only, I’m afraid, for reasons given above…

Learning Score, a lesson-planning tool. [Review]

Full disclosure: after mentioning Learning Score in a previous post (and raving about its potential) I was kindly given a free copy of the latest version, courtesy of John Davitt and Tribal. This was done on a no-strings-attached basis and does not influence the positive or negative points I make below.

Introduction

Lesson planning is a difficult thing to learn to do well; it’s even more difficult to teach others to do effectively. The idea of coming up with learning objectives and success criteria before dealing with specific activities is a difficult one to get used to. And then there’s all of the other things to get right:

  • Timings
  • Transitions
  • Managing resources
  • Homework

The list goes on…

Overview

So that’s why I was overjoyed (yes, overjoyed) when I saw Learning Score. It’s described as a multi-media lesson planning and delivery tool and I believe it to be invaluable for:

  1. Planning your own lessons
  2. Sharing your lessons (and associated resources) with others
  3. Modelling good practice

As you can see from the video at the top of this post, it’s extraordinarily intuitive and easy-to-use. The metaphor used is a musical score, a perfectly befitting one as a well-planned and executed lesson is like beautiful music played by a symphony. 🙂

In an improvement from the previous version, you can add up to 6 tracks, meaning that you can rectify the strange situation where ‘props’ are available to be added at the bottom of the screen but, by default, there’s nowhere to put them!

You create your lesson in ‘Edit’ mode and then, when ready for delivery (and after saving, of course) you click ‘Play’ to enter delivery mode. This has a timer function to keep you on track, but to be honest I find that learning goes off at so many tangents sometimes that the lesson plan is merely a statement of intent. The timer’s not that useful to me, but may be to trainee teachers for reassurance.

Double-clicking on the resources in ‘Play’ mode allows you to view/listen/access them within Learning Score. For obvious reasons, the filetypes available are limited. With videos, for example, only SWF and FLV files can be used. If you’re fond of using downloaded YouTube clips, this presents no problem at all. If you’ve got a bank of high-quality MP4 files, on the other hand, you’re going to either have to get transcoding or play them outside of Learning Score.

Positives

I love the whole concept of Learning Score: the way that it liberates you from having to use just text, which often can constrain ideas – and therefore creativity. I really like the way that, if you choose, you can package up all of your resources inside Learning Score, ready for delivery. And then, again if you choose, export them, share them with colleagues, or add via SCORM-compliance to your schools’ Learning Platform.

I admire the powerful simplicity of Learning Score, the way in which you can very quickly build up a lesson by focusing on learning rather than just keeping students busy. I find the interface intuitive, fairly lightweight and flexible. I like the ability to add annotations. In short, if a site is created to be able to share the resulting .lsz files (I’ve been told it’s in the works) then I can see Learning Score taking off. Big style. 😀

Areas for development

But Learning Score isn’t perfect. There are still some things I’d like to see improve. For example, although I can customise activities and props after dragging them onto the score, I haven’t figured out a way of adding to them so that they appear by default. And having only 30 characters for the main learning objective is nowhere near enough!

My second problem is the proprietary nature of the file format it produces. To a great extent this is the nature of the beast: it’s a new, fairly revolutionary tool. But the ability to read and write the file formats using (potentially) other applications would be a boon. It would reassure me as an educator that I’ll always be able to access my own lesson planning in future.

And finally, although the whole point of Learning Score is lesson planning and delivery in a very visual and multimedia kind of way, sometimes it’s necessary to print things out. Unfortunately this is what a wonderfully-crafted and visual Learning Score looks like when exported to text format ready for printing. Not pretty.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Learning Score. It’s an application that, had I not very kindly been given a free copy, would definitely have purchased for myself. It not only serves as an awesome way to plan your own lessons (and meetings, projects…) but to demonstrate in a very hands-on, visual way how colleagues and trainee teachers can do likewise!

A partial review of ‘The Hyperlinked Society’

Every academic area of research and study has its leaders in the field. In the case of digital literacy and, more particularly, new literacies, it’s Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. They have a joint blog at everydayliteracies.blogspot.com and a couple of months ago wrote a post requesting volunteers to review books they’d been sent for the academic journal e-Learning and Digital Media, of which Michele is the editor.

I, of course, jumped at the chance and offered to review two of the books. One had already been claimed, so Michele very kindly sent through The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age. I thought it would fit hand-in-glove with my Ed.D. thesis. I’ve promised to get the review to her by the end of this month, so this post is a way to keep me on track towards that target! 🙂

The Hyperlinked Society (hereafter THS) has three sections:

  1. Hyperlinks and the Organization of Attention
  2. Hyperlinks and the Business of Media
  3. Hyperlinks, the Individual and the Social

The book is a follow-up project to a conference in 2006 that featured around 200 people from countries around the world. They ‘came together to address the social implications of instant digital linking’ (Turow, p.5):

We did not intend to solve any particular problem at the meeting. Instead, the goal was to shed light on a remarkable social phenomenon that people in business and the academy usually take for granted… The aim [of the book] was not to drill deeply into particular research projects. It was, rather, to write expansively, provocatively – even controversially – about the extent to which and ways in which hyperlinks are changing our worlds and why. In short, we hope that this book will function as a platform from which others… will launch their own research projects and policy analyses. (p.5-6)

Given this stated aim it is easier to forgive the eclectic nature of the collected essays and the curious organization of the book as a whole. The final section, easily the strongest, which touches on the philosophical background and implications of the hyperlink, would seem naturally to come first. The middle section is the least academic of the three, with few references and bald assertions mainly about the future of advertising. The first section, whilst very interesting, is unfortunately almost entirely descriptive.

And therein lies one of two problems for a book about hyperlinks that is ostensibly a conversation-starter. First, the criticism can be levelled that why, if the book is about hyperlinks, does it need to be in book form at all? The second is the scatter-gun approach in terms of the target audience for the book. Whilst it sounds grand to state that ‘professors, graduate students, lawmakers [and] corporate executives’ (p.6) will find it useful, widening the book’s scope could lead to accusations that it lacks depth.

One of, if not the best, essay in THS is David Weinberger’s The Morality of Links. This is due to Weinberger’s willingness to not only going beyond description but to stick his neck out in defending his belief that ‘links are good’ and that ‘Morality and the Web have the same basic architecture’. Links are good because of two main reasons, he believes:

  • The Web is a real potential that ‘we’re actively creating and expanding’, and
  • Every time we create a link we ‘take a step away from the selfish solipsism that characterizes our age’ (p.189-190)

It is in this meta-level analysis of the importance of hyperlinks that the book has value. Given that most of the target audience would be aware of the history of the internet and would have probably only a passing interest in advertising, the third and final section of the book adds most to human knowledge in this area.

Overall, the book is valuable in providing material for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Whilst it would be difficult to envision an occasion in which it could be used in its entirity, it is useful as a resource for a course organizer to dip into. The first and third sections are the most valuable: the first because it describes well the current situation and how we got here; the third due to its analysis and where we’re headed.

My favourite music of the ‘noughties’.

You can listen to all of the music I mention below through this Spotify playlist!

My Last.fm history, June-October 2009

So 2000-2009, commonly referred sniggeringly as the ‘noughties’, has come and gone – and with it the majority of my twenties. For all of it I listened to what I would deem quality music, and for a good deal of it used Last.fm to track what I listened to (and make recommendations). The visualization above shows my listening habits for part of 2009, courtesy of LastGraph.

It’s not always the case that what you listen to most is the music you actually love the most. In fact, quite often it’s the case that you save music for special occasions or ration it so familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. So here are the three tracks that were made in the ‘noughties’ that I love the most – and why. The links will enable you to listen to the song on Spotify. 🙂

John Mayer – 3×5 (2001)

I remember being in Café Rouge in York with Hannah when we heard this for the first time. It must have been 2003 as we were just married. We asked the waiter which album was playing and he replied it was John Mayer’s Room For Squares. I went home and immediately bought the CD. Annoyingly, however, it’s the only album of Mayer’s that isn’t available on Spotify (which I now use instead of CDs and MP3s).

What I love about 3×5 is the feeling of distance, the sense of the inexpressible in the lines:

Today I finally overcame
tryin’ to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to
lose my way but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
No more 3×5’s…

In perhaps my first use of the term, I’d call it a ‘bittersweet’ song. It’s positive yet mournful at the same time. I wish the live version did the studio version justice. It’s legendary – perhaps even more so in the context of the rest of the album. 🙂

The Cinematic Orchestra feat. Roots Manuva – All Things to All Men (2002)

When this came out I was working at HMV in Meadowhall, Sheffield. The Cinematic Orchestra produce that sound that’s all encompassing and envelops you. I absolutely adore, for example, the soundtrack to the film The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos they did recently. The first three-and-a-half minutes is Cinematic Orchestra at the top of the game. Then Roots Manuva’s rhyming kicks in.

His lyrics make little sense. That doesn’t matter. It’s more than the sum of it’s parts. Wonderful. :-p

Bon Iver – Woods (2009)

Like the rest of the known world, I found Bon Iver’s album For Emma, Forever Ago to be beautiful and with an engaging backstory. However, it was when I started using Spotify that I came across the excellent EP Blood Bank – containing the sublime Woods. It’s rare for a track to be perfectly matched in sound, concept, and execution, but that’s exactly what we find here.

Wondeful melodies combine and build up to a crescendo. Use of auto-tune actually adds to atmosphere of the song, being used to make elements sound almost like wolves howling. It’s an extremely atmospheric track. One to play with headphones on, alone. I love it. 😀

Honorable Mentions:

Conclusion

Although you wouldn’t know it from the above, my tastes are fairly eclectic. I’m as likely to listen to The Prodigy as I am to some Ludovico Einaudi. But the above are those I come back to time and again. I’ll no doubt have made some glaring omissions – if so I’ll come back and edit this.

Hope you enjoy the above songs as much as I do!

Heuristical Templates (or, how to review elearning stuff in a way that benefits others)

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Image CC-BY photoplaydotcom @ Flickr

I’m not so sure on the name, but it’ll do for the time being. What follows comes from a few discussions I’ve had with EdTechRoundUp folk and a previous post entitled The importance of heuristics in educational technology and elearning. You may want to read the latter to understand what I’m getting at.

Suffer the poor person new to the wonderful world many of us inhabit. I don’t think the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ quite covers it any more, to be honest. Some have clutched at different titles to set those who inhabit this ‘other’ space – some have talked of the ‘networked teacher’, the ‘connected educator’ and so on. I’m not sure sure we need a formal title, but I think most people will know what I mean when I say there’s a difference between being a teacher in a classroom with a textbook, and being a teacher connected to literally hundreds of others worldwide through various communications technologies and conventions. 🙂

The trouble is, how do you get into this cocktail party?

  • What happens if you don’t know who to turn to?
  • What if you haven’t got a Twitter network to support you yet?
  • What if you’ve just found a tool and you’re wondering if it could be used with students?
  • What if you can envisage an end product but don’t know the technological means of getting there?

That’s where this idea of heuristical templates comes in.* If people committed to using a common format to review and discuss tools and applications relating to educational technology and e-learning, then this would have a number of advantages:

  1. It would give the newbie a common structure that they could seek out.
  2. If Creative Commons licensed, these could be syndicated in a central place.
  3. It would lead to some cohesion in certain parts of the edublogosphere.

An example of someone who blogs extremely well about new tools and approaches is Tom Barrett. By the end of reading one of Tom’s posts you know what the tool can be used for, why you’d use is, any problems there may be, and other people who have used it before.

To that end, and inspired by Tom, I suggest the following structure taking Posterous as an example.

* Perhaps E-Learning Templates is better? Hmmm…


Posterous

Name

Posterous

URL

http://posterous.com

What is it?

Posterous is a blogging solution. A blog is a website that is easy to maintain and which has the most recent content at the top. Posterous sets itself apart from other blogging solutions as it is almost entirely updated by using email. Sending an email to post@nullposterous.com serves not only to set up the blog but to update it. Posterous deals ‘intelligently’ with email attachments – for example turning MP3s into an embedded media player and Powerpoint presentations into slideshows.

How much does it cost?

Posterous is free for up to 1GB of space. The FAQ says that in future Premium (paid-for) features will be add-ons to the functionality available for free.

Opportunities

  • Low barrier to entry – everyone can email!
  • Does intelligent things with attachments.
  • Can blog via mobile phone.
  • Integrates with Twitter, Flickr and Facebook.
  • Custom avatars.
  • Group blogs (by adding more than one email address to a blog)
  • Custom domain names.
  • Blogs can be imported from other platforms.

Barriers

  • Limited customisation (stuck with white background)
  • Moderation?
  • Sidebar not very useful
  • Ads in future?

Examples please!

Reviews


So what are your thoughts? A good idea or not? :-p

Jolicloud: my first impressions of the ‘cool new [social] OS for your netbook’

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled Which is the best netbook operating system? The result of my experiments were rather skewed having neither access to a netbook at the time (I used virtualization on my Macbook Pro) nor to the promising Jolicloud operating system.

Built upon Ubuntu Netbook Remix, an operating system which I already have a lot of respect and time for, Jolicloud is another ‘layer’, as it were. It treats web applications and desktop applications as if they were the same, so to install OpenOffice.org and ‘Google Reader’ is achieved via the same one-click interface (shown below)

I bought myself an Acer Aspire One netbook, for the bargainous price of £99 + delivery on eBay. There was nothing wrong with it at all. I’ve simply added 1GB RAM (c.£11) to make it a bit more speedy.

As you can see below, you ‘sign in’ to Jolicloud and can follow other users. This means you can see what apps. and other things they’re using.

Signing in also lets you check if there’s any updates to Jolicloud (I’ve just upgraded to Alpha 2c)

If you have more than one computer running Jolicloud, you can see the on the screen below. I assume this will lead to the ability to ‘sync’ them in future?

WINE, a Windows emulator for Linux, is also a one-click affair. This means that you’ve got access to the excellent Spotify, quickly and easily! 🙂

Below you can see some of the applications I installed via Jolicloud and how they showed up under the ‘Internet’ tab.

I was delighted to see that the Jolicloud team have included a development build of Google Chrome. It’s a great browser and, in fact, I’m using it to write this blog post! 😀

Finally, another ‘application’ – this time newsmap. Jolicloud simply opens it full-screen in a window.

Finally, just a note to say that everything – and I mean everything, works out-of-the-box. The latest release even has a drop-down menu at the top-right to select what speed you want the processor to run, or if you want it to run ‘on demand’. Legendary.

Suffice to say it’s staying installed on my netbook for the foreseeable future! :-p

I’ve sold my Asus Eee 4G. What now?

I’m a bit of a sucker for gadgets. I keep telling myself that I should hold out for the second generation of things, but I just get carried away again and again. That’s not to say that I don’t buy quality stuff; quite the opposite in fact. Yesterday I sold my Asus Eee 4G to @moodlehotpotato (Mary Cooch) after a brief Twitter chat, Skype chat and Paypal payment. It wasn’t because it didn’t serve a need – it was because there was so much potential there I wanted something that could fulfil that need to the max! 😀

There’s many sites and blogs that have waxed lyrical about the Asus Eee 4G. From a teacher’s point of view, this is what I liked about mine:

  • The size and weight mean I can carry it one-handed from one classroom to another. As I teach History in my classroom and ICT in various other classrooms, this is great.
  • Internet connectivity is great: wi-fi is painless to set up
  • I could take it to meetings instead of a pen and paper.
  • My use of it makes staff and students alike want one. It makes the school purchasing a set more likely.
  • It runs a version of Linux customised for that particular device. Anyone who’s used OSX on an Apple computer knows the difference this makes… 🙂

So if it’s so great, why have I sold it? Well, three reasons:

  1. The screen, whilst useable, is a bit small. Newer models have 8.9″ screens instead of 7″ which enables them to utilise a 1024 pixel-width resolution. This makes all the difference when web browsing. Who designs sites for 800×600 in this day and age? (my web stats show that less than 2% of visitors to this site, for example)
  2. It hasn’t got Bluetooth built in – I purchased a micro-USB dongle, but it was a hassle to setup. I want things to be straightforward. Newer models have Bluetooth built-in.
  3. Battery life, whilst acceptable at a shade under 2 hours in normal use, could be better. Newer models, based on Intel’s Atom processor, promise to drastically improve on that.

So what am I going to buy? Well, a post about 4P Computing over at OLPC News (Price, Performance, Portability and Price) showed that only three met the criteria for a true Netbook:

4PC Name Power Perform Portability Price
Asus Eee PC No Yes Yes Yes
Classmate/2Go PC No Yes No Yes
Elonex One Yes Yes Yes Yes
Everex Cloudbook Yes Yes No Yes
HP Mini-Note PC No Yes No No
Norhtec Gecko Yes Yes Yes Yes
OLPC XO-1 Yes Yes Yes Yes

Of those, the Elonex One only actually has a 300mhz (must have been a mistake), the OLPC XO-1 is garish and not easy to come by in the UK, and the Norhtec Gecko only has a 7″ screen. It was obvious that I was going to have to cast my net wider, which is where the Low-Cost Laptop Cheat Sheet over at Laptop Magazine proved helpful. I’ve taken off the column about US availability as well as removed any that aren’t available in the UK (at least not according to Google Product Search). Finally, I took off any that had 7″ screens, changed the price to GBP, added the Asus Eee 900 and HP Mini-Note, and reproduced what’s left of the table below:

Laptop Name Price Operating System Processor Storage Display Size Webcam
Asus EeePC 900 £329.99 Linux/Windows XP 900 MHz Intel Celeron-M ULV 353 12GB SSD (WinXP) 20GB SSD (Linux) 8.9″ 1.3 megapixels
HP 2133 Mini-Note £349.99 Linux/Windows Vista Via C7-M 1.2Ghz 120GB HDD 8.9″ 0.3 megapixels
Asus EeePC 901 £499.99 (pre-order price, likely to be c.£400) Linux/Windows XP Intel Atom 8GB SSD (WinXP) 12GB or 20GB SSD (Linux) 8.9″ 1.3 megapixels
MSI Wind £334.95 Linux/Windows XP Intel 945GMS Atom 80GB HDD 10″ 1.3 megapixels

I paid £219 for my Asus Eee 701, so as you can see my next purchase is going to cost me at least 50% more. But which one shall I choose? Here’s the main positive/negative points about each one as far as I can see:

Asus EeePC 900

Advantages: Available now, multi-touch trackpad, lightweight, same size as 701.
Disadvantages: No Bluetooth, 901 coming out shortly.
Reviews:

HP 2133 Mini-Note

Advantages: Sleek metal body, WXGA screen, huge hard disk, optional Bluetooth, available now.
Disadvantages: Some users complain of fan noise, processor quite slow.

Reviews:

Asus EeePC 901

Advantages: Bluetooth, Intel Atom processor (improved battery life).
Disadvantages: Potentially expensive, not available now (early June).
Pre-release specs: I4U (unconfirmed)

MSI Wind

Advantages: Bluetooth, 4-in-1 card reader, 10″ screen, Intel Atom processor (improved battery life).
Disadvantages: Not available now (early June), likely to be significantly bigger than Asus Eee.

Pre-release specs: PC Advisor

The Verdict

It looks like if I’m going to buy now, it’s the HP 2133 Mini-Note or the Asus EeePC 900. If I can wait until mid-June, I’ve got the option of Netbooks with the new Intel Atom processors – namely the MSI Wind and Asus EeePC 901.

I’ll probably wait. But if I don’t, then here’s the HP and Eee 900 head-to-head:

Feature HP 2133 Mini-Note Asus EeePC 900
Dimensions (WxDxH) 25.5 x 16.5 x 3.3cm 22.5 x 17 x 3.4cm
Weight 2.63lbs (1.27kg) 2.2lbs (1kg)
Screen size 8.9″ WXGA 8.9″
Processor Via C7-M 1.2Ghz Intel Celeron M ULV 900Mhz
Memory 1GB 1GB
Operating System Linux or Windows Vista Linux or Windows XP
Battery Life c.2 hours c.3.5 hours
Storage 120GB HDD 12GB or 20GB
Bluetooth Yes No
WLAN 802.11a/b/g 802.11b/g
Keyboard size 92% 80%
Multitouch trackpad No (scroll zone) Yes
Webcam 0.3 megapixel 1.3 megapixel
ExpressCard/54 slot Yes No
SD card reader Yes No
Case Anodised aluminium Plastic

I reserve the right to make a carefully-considered, well-researched impulse purchase… 😉

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