Hide your I.P.

Not that it matters to me – my 68 readers are mostly mute in the face of my wisdom – but if you feel the need to obfuscate your identity on the Web or even maybe, like some disingenuous people I know, have a little conversation with yourself on a blog message board to strengthen your point, do take precautions lest your IP address give you away and show you for a naive computer user:


Floods, bombs, litigation, and a Commons boycott debate (which wasn’t – everyone agreed)

House of Commons Israel academic boycott debate, 28 Jun, 10:30. 

Sue Blackwell, who has long campaigned for measures which would exclude individual Israeli academics from UK campuses and collaborations, threatens to sue Engage for saying so.  We are all Engage now.

A petrol-fueled nailbomb fails to detonate in Piccadilly this morning. Anti-Terrorism department in the Met are investigating. Jaqui Smith’s response was as wooden as you might expect from an unseasoned Home Secretary. I had to spend time in Tiger Tiger for a friend’s birthday once – very understimulating place. The only problem I have with it. But for Jawad Akbar, on the other hand:

“No one can even turn around and say ‘Oh they were innocent’, those slags dancing around and other things”.

Anyway, we’re not afraid.  Look out for me and Matt – in drag. Do we look afraid? Bomb that, morons.

And from fire to water – Barkingside, standing tall at 35m above sea level, is highly unlikely to flood. Is your area?

If blog comments are driving the online education revolution, then why are they organised so badly?

Blogging in Their Own Words is a short film in which secondary school students in the US respond to the different types of blogging their teacher has required them to practise.

They seem to like it and find it helpful. But their responses give them away as – and this isn’t intended to be insulting – naive users with low expectations – none of the advantages and positive qualities either the students or the teachers identify for blogging are unique to blogging, and actually some of them are better found elsewhere. One thing I find slightly mystifying is that they’re not using discussion forums – mystifying because blogs are timebound, most recent post first – is this really the best way to organise student input? And also because although blogs are good for making individual presentations they are often poor at organising the ensuing discussion – again, if comments are presented in reverse chronological order it becomes impossible to follow any proliferating threads in the response. This kind of comment system makes blogs far inferior to discussion forums. The screenshots on the film show this – one post had 144 comments and the comments page shown was entirely flat – how are you going to find your way round that?

Blogging has a romantic appeal that discussion forums never had – in making a presentation you, common or garden citizen that you are, have a voice and people, if they respond, pay homage to you. Certainly, the layout and presentation on blogs is more conducive to an individual taking centre-stage – the preeminence of the blog post and the way it stands alone from the ensuing comments are different from merely starting and contributing to a discussion thread. There’s a hierarchy in which some voices are given emphasis over others.

That isn’t bad in itself – but part of this emphasis is an inadvertant function of the bad handling, common to much off-the-shelf blog software, of comments. Moodle’s (for instance, but there are many others) discussion forums are very helpful for getting the measure of a conversation topographically (visually). The indented threading option, combined with the ready processing afforded by each contributor’s graphical icon (as opposed to textual name) allows readers to gain an overview of the discussion, and follow arguments and/or the development of individual contributions in a way that most blog software still doesn’t. But what Moodle doesn’t do is allow commenters to reply (formally, I mean, so that a link is created) to more than one post at once – this almost certainly interferes with a learner’s ease of synthesising and weaving what is coming out of the conversation.

Another thing that most blog software has yet to offer, Moodle also allows rating of comments; in a discussion with Andrea about this he mentioned the emerging idea of inter-platform ‘kudos’ – the sum of your comments’ ratings which, with the advent of Open ID, you can carry with you between different environments. This echoes the Technorati approach to calculating ‘authority’, and accordingly is fraught with all the hazards and pitfalls of the Technorati approach – bias to the norm, bias against complexity, etc. However, it may work well in an educational environment where there is an ethos of risk-taking or experimentation in discussions, and I dare say there is research on this I’ve yet to read.

Here is an alternative (2005) response to the problem of responding to more than one post at once, which is addressed by prompting commenters to list the post (or posts – can be more than one) which inspired their comment and, if their comment inspires further posts, automatically updates the post links to the posts they inspired. Clicking the names takes you to the post. I don’t know how you link your comment to your post because the blog is no longer active. This approach is a bit disorientating (in all the jumping around you’re not sure if you’ve missed something important) and what it doesn’t do which is so important, and which Moodle and Digg do so nicely, is show you the shape and extent of a thread.

I await more alternatives with anticipation.

Britannica mounts elitist defence against Wikipedia. Germany funds theirs.

Alright, so Wikipedia is having some quality control problems at the moment. And true – the very least you can ask of an encyclopaedia is that it be complete, current and accurate, or alternatively that it flag gaps, uncertainty or controversies. In response, Larry Sanger decided that a little gentle oversight from an expert custodian for each entry would bring about these improvements, and so Citizendium was born.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, which would like nothing better than for it all to fold, takes spirited pot shots from the side. Michael Gorman’s case is that there is a:

“… collective pretence that the established criteria of learning—notably literacy and intelligence—are dilutable. True literacy—the ability to interact with complex texts and the ability to express complex ideas in clear prose—is being equated with ill-defined concepts such as “visual literacy,” “computer literacy,” and “21st-century literacies” as if they could make up for illiteracy and a-literacy. Some have proposed that playing video games is an activity on the same plane as reading texts and equally beneficial to mental growth. These attempts to downplay the central part literacy plays in the life of the mind are malign attempts to come to grips with the changes being wrought by the digital revolution through abandoning the fundamental values of learning that have obtained in Western societies since classical Greece.”

So far so good, but:

“Intelligence, an essential component of success in the educational process, is partly a gift and partly the result of work and training. There is no substitute for it academically, and it is very important that it be nurtured, encouraged, and rewarded.

Perhaps these are elitist ideas? So be it. Learning and education are enterprises in which the academically gifted prosper and are justified in prospering. That prospering benefits the individual, but it also benefits society. A leveling academy that rewards semi-literacy and tolerates ignorance is, by definition, dysfunctional. We should be seeking to reward the intellectually gifted, not least because societal progress depends on their intelligence, understanding, and wisdom.”

John Connell (via Stephen Downes) picked him up on that:

“I prefer to see education and learning as processes by which everyone prospers relative to their starting position. Gorman and his ilk, those who, with no sense of irony whatsoever, can style themselves as ‘intellectually gifted’, wish to corral education for their own selfish and exclusive use.”

I’m not ready to give up on Wikipedia yet. Nor is the German government, which is funding the training of contributors. Of course Citizendium may yet clean up with a model that subsumes Wikipedia. If Citizendium gets off the ground, that is – if people want to contribute to it, if the magic’s still there. And if it doesn’t, maybe all those willing experts who nagged Larry Sanger to jump ship on Wikipedia will make their way backagain, take up the cudgels and resume their edit wars.

And anybody writing their essay from Wikipedia should stop. Encyclopaedias are only for looking stuff up, silly.

Barkingside High Street watch

People of Barkingside can never have too much of Onur Kebab’s chilli sauce but what I don’t really understand is their culinary conservativism. They may be Turkish but I can’t see what they have against a nod to the lower Med with the addition of falafel to the menu. But I get nowhere with them. Can’t somebody else have a go?

Elsewhere on the High St, I noted with concern that the juice bar was shut last Saturday – hope they’re doing alright. The new Costcutter proprietor winced when I asked him how business was. And there’s a new cafe which was once – hmm –  shoe shop?  And there’s another vacant lot (former clothes shop?) which has been fitted out like a cafe. It’s been many months since the bakers at Yossi’s made wholemeal pitta. Chubby Panda (formerly Royal China) does well at the weekend, but the food is on the rich, greasy side. A fruit and veg warehouse has opened where the firework shop used to be, near the police station.

I already said it – if we go on like this, the entire High St will be edible.  Saints preserve the stationers, the hardware store, the discount shop with the fibreoptics back room, the lingerie shop with the kinky back room, the clairvoyant/florist, and St Frances Hospice to which I owe my (Matt disowns most of these) embroidered bird, standard lamp, wardrobe and dressing table set, marquetry fish, Baby brooch, cross stitched Tuscan scene, and untold numbers of books and records. I hope that the pet shop, which breaks my heart, is outlawed soon and the piles of sleeping kittens and rabbits are released to loving homes.

E-learning / E-research 2.0 – web page annotation with Diigo

Remember how happy and excited I was when Wikalong, an early social Web annotation tool, came out? How I wrote excoriating notes about the royal family in a sidebar to the Buck House Web site that everyone else who had the Firefox Wikalong extension could read and edit? And how Wikalong died in the water because using it was, frankly, purgatory?

A quick review of Web annotation tools threw up various sticky notes software which work with Firefox browser button add-ons. MyStickies and Sticki had their limitations though – they interfered with the flow of the page, and were not specifically enough positioned. Diigo is still the best. Diigo can highlight, add sticky notes, tag, bookmark (simultaneously to other online bookmarking accounts too), clip, aggregate clippings, and manage groups. You can make your work public (though they ‘raised the bar’ to avoid ‘littering’ – you have to have two invited friends with accounts), private and/or collaborative.  TechCrunch reviewed Diigo last summer.

I’m finding it particularly useful for annotating contributions in blogs and discussion groups, as well as Web sites in general. You can make the important passages salient which is a great help if you are a tiny bit dyslexic and/or have a sieve brain.

A round up of some other online annotation tools via makeuseof.com.

Sue Blackwell trips herself, Jon Pike commentates

Engage reports how Sue Blackwell springs to the defence of a group of laid-off staff at Birmingham who happened to be BME.  Jon Pike sent an acid reply. My stars, in all her earnestness Sue Blackwell appears not to have a clue what the academic boycott she espouses implies. But Idiot (a cipher for pro-boycott rationale I think) comments:

“The difference is, of course, that you can’t be racist against Jews because Jews are white, are not oppressed and are not excluded from employment or other spheres of society.  Jews are part of the ruling class, not the working class; Jews are pro imperialist, not anti-imperialist; Jews support the Zionists, not the Palestinians.

At one time racism against Jews was possible, but not now.  It is conceivable in theory that at some point in the future, racism against Jews will again be possible, but it is not possible now.”

Cipher or not, I know of plenty of people who will defend whoever has a smaller stick than their opponent, regardless of their values. Dispicable underdoggism. Eck.

Academic boycott on Facebook – update

Further to this earlier post, a roundup of group membership on Facebook:

Stop the Academic Boycott of Israel: 6,092 members.

  • And another of the same name – 187 members.

To UCU, unity not division. Cooperation, not boycotts: 134 members.

Stop the Academic Boycott of Israel by British Universities: 178 members.

And three Support the Academic Boycott of Israel groups:

  • MPAC: 12 members
  • Boycott Israel: 678 members
  • Robert Ander Lugg: 5 members

Slightly on a tangent, one Free Palestine group which dates the occupation of Palestine back 59 years (i.e. 1948), demands that all refugees return (ignoring Tabah) and fails to tackled alleged racism (moderator Satti Satti: “you know how it goes, put up or shut up, don’t waste my time.”) 5,463 members.

“Easy overgeneralisations make for easy criticisms”

Looking at this quotation again, it’s pretty simple:

“…easy overgeneralisations make for easy criticisms, and today we need to be asking tougher questions and confronting more conflicted choices about these new technologies.”

But it’s so widely true. Personally, it crystallises something that’s been pulling at me for a long time: I need to be better researched.

Militating against that are the catholic interests and divided loyalties I don’t want to give up. My solace is that I’m probably going to live so long that maybe I can afford to postpone political, critical, theoretical maturity for a while.

Burbules, N.C. (2002). Educational Philosophy and Theory;34(4):387-393.

Virtual Teaching Environments – what’s taking so long?

I got the hump reading E-Learning 2.: All You Need To Know on ReadWriteWeb.

Allow me to opine at length, like my friend on Irate about. I shake my head and tut at the post-structuralist direction higher education has been taking for the past god knows how long. Witness the proportion of entrants who come trotting in fresh out of school with all the assessment-orientation, weak conceptualisation and attachment to clear instructions – immaturity, you might call it – which that implies. I note that while educational policy makers continue to (distantly and arm-chairedly) champion the self-directedness of learners and hawk all kinds of software such as ELGG to personalise their learning experiences and social lives, and Facebook to personalise their social lives and learning experiences, teachers are practically out in the cold. Teachers, the hope of the nation. They may perch uneasily, ignored by educationalists with student-tinted spectacles, on the growing heap of radical constructivist theory but nobody seriously thinks they should go away.

I endorse the Personal Learning Environment movement, but why does that mean that teachers have to be saddled with stiff-kneed moth-eaten virtual learning environments which belong in a donkey sanctuary? Like students, teachers need to create representations of their domains which are as fluid, enduring, expansive, shape-shifting, contingent as the knowledge domains themselves.

If this e-learning 2.0 project rides on syndication, and if it is vital that students have access to their teacher’s conceptualisation of a subject areas – as ballast and because the expertise of their teacher is one of the reasons they chose the course – then where are the teaching environments?

There is none, and I rule out the following as OTS teaching environments on grounds that they don’t do either the right thing or the thing right:

  • blogs – the content management for the non-blog content (pages etc) is bad. The default most-recent-first presentation is both linear and rigid.
  • Moodle (and all VLEs, I believe) – you should be able to, but can’t, syndicate all content. The course area boxes, and the boxes within course areas, are tyrannical and militate against meaning making. The content management is appalling.
  • Second Life – it’s just like real life – moments in time. SL can overcome distance, unite media, and enable (rather clunky) simulations, but for a whole course representation there’s a need for something more enduring.
  • Facebook – not very flexible at all. And unless it is indeed “the last mashup” there’s likely to be an exodus when something is spotted on the horizon.

Where does that leave us? Well, my solution for a Virtual Teaching Environment (VTE) is Moodle with a drag and drop interface, ability to visually make piles and link between them, blended pictoral/textual interface, ability to dynamically and visually – but loosely – link different elements, and a choice of different presentation styles for different perspectives (e.g. as file management style, graphical style etc). In fact, this is a departure from Moodle and what I’ve actually just described is Zoho Notes with a Thinkball garnish. But is it too much to ask for an open source Web2.0 VTE? There, everything a teacher created, uploaded or linked would be syndicated, and students’ reader software should allow them to arrange, rearrange and connect the aggregated material as they saw fit, as well as integrating it with their own materials (again, like Zoho notes). Ideally – and more than likely, given findings about students wanting more access to the “great minds” at their institutions – students would feel encouraged to revisit the VTE on a regular basis out of curiosity – how had their illustrious teacher originally contextualised the content which appears undifferentiated in the student’s reader?

So, none of that is very ground breaking. It all makes emminent sense. So where is it?