Social media, open standards & curmudgeonliness.

The problem:

Harold Jarche:

The increasing use of software as a service (SaaS)… is simple, easy and out of your control.

Luis Suarez:

I guess I could sum it up in one single sentence: “The more heavily involved I’m with the various social networking sites available out there, the more I heart my own… blogs“.

It all has got to do with something as important as protecting your identity, your brand… your personal image, your own self in various social software spaces that more and more we seem to keep losing control over, and with no remedy.

A proposed solution:

Harold Jarche:

Own your own data (CC-BY Harold Jarche)

I’ve decided to start the Curmudgeon’s Manifesto, which may serve as a call to arms to start dumping platforms that don’t understand how to play nice on the Internet. It’s our playground, and through our actions we get to set the rules of conduct.

Here’s my start (additions welcome):

  1. I will not use web services that hijack my data or that of my network.
  2. I will share openly on the Web and not constrain those with whom I share.
  3. I will not lead others into the temptation of using web services that do not respect privacy, re-use, open formats or exportable data.

An alternative solution:

Wikipedia:

An open standard is a standard that is publicly available and has various rights to use associated with it, and may also have various properties of how it was designed (e.g. open process).

The term “open standard” is sometimes coupled with “open source” with the idea that a standard is not truly open if it does not have a complete free/open source reference implementation available.

OpenSocial:

OpenSocial

Friends are fun, but they’re only on some websites. OpenSocial helps these sites share their social data with the web. Applications that use the OpenSocial APIs can be embedded within a social network itself, or access a site’s social data from anywhere on the web.

Harold Jarche:

Blog Central

One way to keep information accessible is to use an open, accessible, personal blog as the centre of your web presence.

OpenID:

OpenID is a decentralized standard, meaning it is not controlled by any one website or service provider. You control how much personal information you choose to share with websites that accept OpenIDs, and multiple OpenIDs can be used for different websites or purposes. If your email (Google, Yahoo, AOL), photo stream (Flickr) or blog (Blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal) serves as your primary online presence, OpenID allows you to use that portable identity across the web.

Conclusion:

Change the name of the Curmudgeon’s Manifesto to the Open Educators’ Manifesto (or similar). Back OpenID and OpenSocial. People like to sign up to positive-sounding things that cite big players or existing traction. I’m sure Chris Messina and other open (source/web) advocates have a take on this! 😀

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Why Ewan McIntosh *was* (partly) wrong.

***Ewan’s gone back and added some clarification to his blog post. I’ve still got issues with points 3 and 4, but I’m pleased that we’re more in agreement than I initially thought. I thought about deleting this post, but I’ve learned that once something goes online, it should stay online!***

Ewan McIntosh

Based on an original CC BY-NC Ewan McIntosh @ Flickr

I like Ewan McIntosh. He’s a great guy: extraordinarily innovative and has worked hard for innovation within the educational community. However, I think that having moved away from the education sector he’s perhaps become a little out-of-touch with the realities of the classroom.

Normally that would be fine, but there are literally thousands of people who read his blog and are influenced by him. That’s why I want to take issue with a recent post of his entitled Why backward social-network-banning education authorities are wrong. I agree with the main thrust of the post about the folly of local authorities blocking access to social networking sites. However, Ewan concludes with the following:

What do I reckon could be done (only my tuppence worth, I add…) In a recent interview for Merlin John’s new Innovators series I outline how I believe things could change:

  1. design tools and learning spaces that entice and delight young people, rather than tools we have to mandate them to use – if the kid had a choice, would they use that or the competition?;
  2. plan less, creating time and room for movement as innovations come up;
  3. stand still and do nothing: look at what is working in the world around you and steal, steal, steal (and give credit where it’s due);
  4. if there’s a bandwagon, jump on it and see if it goes anyhere (a Coulterism);
  5. don’t do pilots, just do the real deal from the start.

(N.B. I’ve numbered these for ease of reference)

I’ve already outlined my opposition to the fourth point in On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping. Here’s my reason for opposing, with varying degrees of intensity, the other points:

1. Tools & Learning Spaces

As educators, we should be using the best tools for the job. There are two ways to conceive of ‘best tools.’ The old thinking was that the ‘best tools for the job’ were those prevalent in industry. Hence we have schools teaching Microsoft Office to students in ICT lessons. That’s wrong.

But the opposite of that isn’t designing our own tools and learning spaces. It’s using the best tools for the job. Those are tools with a pedigree, a user base and enable us to get data out as easily as we put it in. That’s why I’m a big fan of Open Source Software. Designing our own tools and learning spaces can often lead to the creation of ‘creepy treehouses’, stripped-down versions of what’s available elsewhere and clunky functionality.

Knowing what Ewan usually says about these things, I think we’re probably actually in agreement about this. I just don’t think he’s put it very clearly in what I’ve quoted above.

2. Plan less

I actually think we need to plan more than we do currently as educators. Instead of planning in isolation, however, we need to plan in collaboration. We should be planning not only with other educators (in our own educational institutions and further afield) but with students. This is where real innovation occurs. 🙂

It’s the learning outcomes that are important, not the tools we use. Yes, students need to learn how to use tools, but that shouldn’t be the focus. So I agree that we should ensure we have time and space to allow for innovation, but we shouldn’t be leaving spaces to be filled with ‘cool tools’. That’s the wrong emphasis.

3. Stand still and do nothing

Granted, reflection is important. I spend a lot of time doing this and encourage my students to do the same as often as I can. But it’s not really a tactic that can be used that much. In fact it’s something that goes against 4iP’s (Ewan’s employer) mantra of ‘Do it first. Make trouble. Inspire change.’

Yes, we need to be aware of what others are doing. Yes, we need to take time to think about how what others are doing can be adapted for our own use. But we also need to get on and do it as well! Looking around you can equally lead to copying instead of innovation. Nothing can be imported wholesale and be expected to work perfectly without modification. Everything requires work.

5. Pilots

Ewan sets up a false dichotomy when he states “don’t do pilots, just do the real deal from the start.” Piloting before rolling out can be the ‘real deal from the start.’ Take, for example, my rolling out of e-learning tools and approaches at the Academy. The only reason I was confident in getting every member of staff using Google Apps straight away is because I’d ‘piloted’ it in various ways in other schools. I knew all the features, likely problems, and anticipated training needs.

Without pilots of tools and approaches the person responsible for roll-out is constantly firefighting. That’s a stressful thing to do and not conducive to innovation. Whilst I understand the sentiment about making bold leaps and being uninhibited, that’s not always as possible as we’d like to think. There are other factors to consider, not least child protection and politics. Research is vital.

What do you think? Have I made fair criticisms? Are Ewan and I actually saying the same thing?

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How ‘microblogging’ sites such as Twitter can be used in education

microblogging_small

This week we’re going to be looking at three tools. I’ve labelled them ‘microblogging’ tools, but that’s something of a misnomer as they’re all much more powerful than that. If you do actually just want something to quickly and easily get content onto the Internet, try Tumblr or Posterous.

With that disclaimer out of the way, the three tools we’re going to look at are:

They all have slightly different uses and focuses, but I believe that they can all be used successfully within educational environments. I’ll discuss each in turn, looking at the features specifically relevant to educators.

Twitter logo

Obstensibly, Twitter is a micro social networking utility designed to answer the question ‘What are you doing?’ In practice, it’s used for a multitude of other things, from news reporting to marriage proposals(!).

Educators have been using Twitter ever since it was launched to connect to one another and share ideas, resource and links. There’s an element of social networking in it, inevitably, but it’s very professionally-focused and a wonderfully powerful thing to tap into.

Just launching yourself into Twitter will leave you baffled and confused. The Twitter experience is only as good as your network, consisting of those who you ‘follow’ (track updates of) and those who ‘follow’ you. The best way to do this is organically. By that, I mean:

  1. Find someone you want to follow on Twitter (@dajbelshaw is a good start…)
  2. Check out that user’s network and read the mini-biographies.
  3. Follow the users who look like they are related to something you’re interested in!

In terms of interaction, there’s 3 basic ways of interacting on Twitter:

  • Sending a ‘normal’ message that goes out ‘as-is’ to your network.
  • Replying to someone (or bringing something to their attention) by including their username preceded by an @ sign – e.g. @dajbelshaw then message. This can still be viewed by everyone who’s following you.
  • Sending a direct message by entering d <username> – e.g. d dajbelshaw then message. This can only be seen by the person to whom you sent the message and they will receive an email informing them of what you have sent.

If you want some ideas for how to use Twitter in an educational setting, you could do a lot worse than checking out Laura Walker’s post entitled Nine great reasons why teachers should use Twitter. Although I’ve tried using it with students, it’s not something I’d recommend for the faint-hearted. Use one of the other tools below for that. I see Twitter as being like a giant, worldwide staff room or café. It’s great! 😀

Edmodo logo

Edmodo‘s just been upgraded to v2.0 and is an amazingly useful tool. The only reason I haven’t used it a lot more extensively is that it effectively replicates – for free – a lot of the features of very expensive, commercial Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). For example, some of the features:

  • Set assignments for students (and attach files)
  • Manage classes
  • Share a calendar with fellow teachers and students
  • Interact in a safe and closed environment with students without sharing email addresses
  • Securely share learning resources
  • Grade students’ work

In their own words:

Edmodo provides a way for teachers and students to share notes, links, and files. Teachers have the ability to send alerts, events, and assignments to students. Edmodo also has a public component which allows teachers to post any privately shared item to a public timeline and RSS feed.

Although I haven’t used this with students yet, I know people who swear by it* and I’ve explored the features using test accounts. Certainly, if your school VLE isn’t up to scratch – or if you haven’t got one – you should definitely be checking out Edmodo!

* José Picardo has discussed Edmodo on a couple of occasions in Edmodo: microblogging for the classroom and Edmodo: What students think – both well worth a read! 🙂

Shout'Em logo

Shout’Em describes itself as a kind of roll-your-own micro social network:

Shout’Em is platform on which you can easily start co-branded microbloging social networking service. Something simple as Twitter or with more features like Pownce. It is up to you 🙂

Networks on Shout’Em are “lightweight social networks”. They have small set of features: microblogging, links and photo sharing, geo location sharing and mobile browser support.

I think Shout’Em is probably best suited for those who want something a bit more engaging than a forum for their students, but not anything as full-blown as Edmodo. Shout’Em enables you to have a private community, like Edmodo, and they’ve even entitled a blog post on their official blog The 15-Minute Guide to Microblogging in Education!

Check out their video to find out more:

ShoutEm Demo from vikot on Vimeo.

Do any of these ‘microblogging’ services fill a need? Have you tried any of them? What did you think?

5 interesting web applications to mess around with when you’re bored over Christmas!

Since the beginning of this term I’ve run one session per week in my role as E-Learning Staff Tutor. The most common question after ‘How come you get so many free periods?’ is Where do you get all your e-learning ideas from?

I can finally reveal the answer. I get most of them from… Twitter!

It’s probably best to show Twitter in action rather than just try to explain it. It’s a bit like a hybrid of the best bits of Facebook and Here’s the message I sent to my Twitter network on Tuesday evening as I was leaving school at around 4pm:

And here’s the response I got by the time I’d got home and had a cup of coffee!

…and then later, when educators in other places around the world weren’t asleep:

Depending on the time of day and who’s in your Twitter network depends on where in the world you get your responses from. It’s like ‘microblogging’, crossed with text messaging (you’ve only got 140 characters) and a social network all rolled into one. You can share links, ideas and resources really quickly and easily. 🙂

Here’s links, in alphabetical order, to the sites mentioned above. My top 5 are in bold, whilst those in red are those currently blocked by our school network. If you’re reading this and from somewhere else in the world, your mileage may vary… :-p

  • Animoto – an easy way to create high-quality and engaging videos using images and text
  • Backpack– an organizer (calendar, group discussion tools, etc.)for small businesses and organizations
  • blip.tv – a video sharing service designed for creators of user-generated content
  • Bloglines – an RSS feed reading application
  • Blogger/Blogspot – a blogging platform by Google
  • Delicious – online ‘social’ bookmarking
  • Diigo – online ‘social’ bookmarking with advanced features and groups
  • Dropbox – store, sync and share files online
  • Drop.io – privately share files up to 100MB online
  • Edublogs.org – a blogging platform dedicated to educational blogging
  • Edublogs.tv – online video sharing and embedding tool
  • Eduspaces – a social network and blogging platform for education
  • Elluminate – ‘elearning and collaboration solution’ (not free)
  • Evernote – ‘allows you to capture information (text, photos, etc.) and make it accessible from anywhere
  • Flickr – a photo-sharing website with Creative Commons-licensed content
  • GMail – an online email application from Google that provides lots of free storage
  • Google Calendar – a web-based calendar application that has RSS feeds and a reminder service
  • Google Docs – stores documents online and allows collaboration with others
  • Google Earth – a more powerul and 3D version of Google Maps (requires installation)
  • Google Maps – online mapping with advanced features
  • Google Reader – an RSS feed reading application
  • Google Scholar – search academic journals and articles
  • iGoogle – customizable home page (.com blocked at our school, .co.uk not!)
  • Kizoom – web-based ‘intelligent’ public transport alerter and organizer
  • Last.fm – a social network built around music that also recommends music based on your listening habits
  • MobileMe – online synchronization service for Apple users (not free)
  • Moodle – an Open-Source content management system based on constructivist principles (requires installation on a web server)
  • Ning – allows you to create your own social network very easily
  • Posterous – very simple and easy-to-use blogging platform
  • PBwiki – an easy-to-use wiki creation tool
  • Picnik – powerful online image-editing application
  • PingMe – a social and mobile interactive reminder service for getting things done
  • Remember The Milk – an online to-do list with advanced features
  • Second Life – a 3D ‘virtual world’ (requires software download)
  • SlideShare – upload and share presentations
  • Syncplicity – sync, store and share files online
  • TeacherTube – YouTube for educational videos
  • Toodledo – an online to-do list
  • Twitter – a micro social-networking tool
  • UStream – live video streaming and chat rooms
  • VoiceThread – allows comments around content such as videos, pictures and Powerpoints
  • Voki – make your own speaking avatar to embed in your blog, wiki or website
  • Wetpaint – a good-looking wiki creation tool
  • Wikispaces – a wiki creation tool
  • WordPress – a highly-configurable Open-Source blogging platform (requires installation on a web server)
  • Zoho Show – create collaborative, online Powerpoint-like presentations

Remember, with collaborative applications you have to give a little to get a little for it to be really useful. Try out Twitter over the holiday period. Merry Christmas!

PS Twitter’s best used with a dedicated program rather than the web interface. I recommend the wonderful TweetDeck, available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. 🙂

3 ways to prevent being ‘unfollowed’ on Twitter

Some people reading the title of this blog post may claim not to be bothered when they’re ‘unfollowed’ on Twitter, FriendFeed, etc.  I don’t believe them.*  😉

Most people on Twitter also have a blog. The reason you have a blog rather than write in a personal diary is to share your ideas with the world. You’d like to influence others in some way.

As a result, whether you like it or not, if you’ve got a blog you’re in the marketing business. You are (potentially) a global micro-brand.

All this sounds a bit business-like, especially for an educator with a professed aim to change the education system for the better. But, as I have blogged about recently, our ideas gaining acceptance is one way to achieve a sort of immortality. And if we do want to change the education system, we need to influence as many people as possible! 😀

So yes, you do need to be concerned when people ‘unfollow’ you on Twitter. One or two may not be a problem, but if there’s somewhat of an exodus, it means that they’re not getting what they thought you’d be delivering. Let’s see how we can make sure that state of affairs doesn’t obtain…

1. Speak in full sentences

When I teach lessons that involve students answering questions, I stress the importance of making sure they don’t start their answer to a question with ‘because’, and that they explain the context. Otherwise, when they come to revise, they won’t ‘get it’. Similarly with Twitter, you’re not just having a conversation with another individual – people who are following you are also listening. Don’t say ‘it’ – say what you mean and link to what you’re talking about (if relevant) – and in every tweet involved.

2. ‘Direct message’ people more

Just because someone’s used an @ reply to you (e.g. @dajbelshaw: my interesting message) doesn’t mean you have to do likewise to them. If what you’re going to say is unlikely to interest others apart from that individual, send them a direct message. Just be sure to double-check that you’re following them as well, otherwise it could be slightly embarrassing. I talk from experience… 😮

3. Don’t binge-tweet

I use FriendFeed as well as Twitter. FriendFeed summarises when someone sends more than one tweet in quick succession. Yesterday, someone I follow posted 25 messages in quick succession. When you’re following hundreds of people, that’s too much to handle. Be focused.

I’m always very aware that my tweets are one of the first things you see when you visit dougbelshaw.com. That means I try to keep the most recent tweet fairly interesting and relevant to both Twitter followers and visitors to my site. If I post a reply which may be useful to others but fairly geeky, I try to follow it up quickly with something of greater relevance.

These ideas may not work for everyone, but they work for me. What do you use Twitter for? What are your tips for using it?

* This post came about after a discussion about a new service called Qwitter that emails you when someone stops following you on Twitter.

(Image by Mykl Roventine @ Flickr)

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Librarian blogs and social networks

Angie Dickson, our new librarian, is an fan of the PE blog Phil Rowland set up for this academic year and wants to set up her own. Not only can she use this blog to communicate with students at our school, but with librarians and heads of information services worldwide!

Here’s some examples of some great (newbie-friendly) blogs in the field:

There are also some social networks powered by Ning related to libraries and information services:

Finally, there’s a great website called LibWorm that’s a search engine just for librarians! 🙂

(image from The Read/Write Web: Social Software and Libraries)

I’ve started using Twitter with my pupils…

Twitter birdMy Year 11 (15-16 year old) History groups – the ones who blog, can use a wiki (until Wikispaces became unavailable/unusable through the school network), use Google Apps for Education and on occasion submit YouTube videos instead of essays are now Twittering.

It’s about time: I’ve been talking about doing this for over a year now, and even suggested 3 different ways Twitter could be used in the classroom. So, over at my new (Google Sites-powered) Y11 History revision wiki I’ve shown my pupils (in great detail) how to go about signing up for their own Twitter accounts.

Usually, Twitter’s a fairly open-ended thing, with each user as a node on a (potentially) huge network. ‘The network’ is actually a series of larger and smaller sub-networks which are linked together by ‘bridge’ users. A little like a large wireless network, in fact. :-p

Twitter network (image credit)

But that’s not how I wanted to use Twitter with my students. Not yet, anyway. I had intended to use the promising-looking Edmodo but, after discussions with Jeff O’Hara discovered it wouldn’t be ready until after my Year 11s go on study leave. I need a closed network, at least at first. At the moment – and during this trial period whilst they’re revising for examinations – I want something like the situation exemplified by this image that I included in that blog post last year:

Twitter - Scenario 1

So far, each group has spent one lesson in the ICT suite making sure their @mrbelshaw.co.uk Google Apps for Education accounts work, getting acquainted with the new revision wiki and signing up for Twitter. The test posts from myself to their mobile devices go ahead this week and we shall hopefully iron out any problems next week.

Issues so far:

  • I wanted to have a separate Twitter account for each group. However, as I can only link my mobile phone to one Twitter account this was not a good solution. I’ve therefore been forced to have one account that will be used with both groups.
  • Putting +44 in front of their mobile numbers and missing off the zero caused some problems, even amongst the more able and digitally-literrate pupils who read all my instructions!
  • Network connection issues and Javascript error messages due to school-based problems.

Hopefully this will tie in with a Becta/Historical Association-funded project of which I’m an associate member. More on that and how my pupils get on with Twitter next week! 😀