More yabber-ing

Now that we finally have a lab and some great colleagues and a clear research direction, it’s time to start blogging again. There is also now a quorum of students beginning their foray into academia under our direction, and the online world provides a great opportunity for the sort of discussion that used to take place around the coffee table, and during weekly departmental seminars.

It has been great to see a research culture evolving in our workplace, with a number of research-focused groups getting off the ground, and an opportunity for interdisciplinary interactions with people who have common interests.

My blog sites seem to have diversified into a number of different areas – MoCapSuite, Digital Technologies and Training Lab, and this one (Yet Another Blog Blogging Edu-Ramblings) all hosted at Edublogs.org, and my own personal website at Wisebytes. It is an interesting exercise in identity to consider what goes where, and why they need to have different existences. Perhaps a shared blog is something that requires a different level of self-editing than a personal blog … I guess we’ll end up seeing what goes where.

Reviving an Edublog

Perhaps now that I’m an academic teaching psychology, it’s time to revive my Edublog blog as a way-station between official online learning resources for specific psychology units (which should be linked directly via Blackboard) and my own personal blog (which is mostly where I develop my own thoughts as I want them, rather than link to, or comment on, other people’s work for a specific audience).

I am thinking of using this blog as a repository of links that might be useful in class at some future time.

(UPDATE: in a fit of boyish enthusiasm, I decided to go with the flow and make this into a Pay-for Pro version of Edublogs even though, like my Gym membership, I might never actually use it. Strangely, to pay via credit card, I need to make myself a Paypal account – I don’t want a Paypal account – I don’t want to be told to go here and go there and sign this and continue that and agree to be sent product updates and make passwords for accounts I’ll forget I ever had … Maybe there are sensible options and pop-ups that Safari didn’t choose to show me, perhaps it is all very straightforward and sensible, but I wasted 20 minutes of my life attempting to give Edublogs my money and I failed. So now I’ve lost interest and I’ll go back to eating Easter eggs)

Abandonment in blog land

I’m wondering how a multi-user hosting site recognises when a site has been abandoned. I have a number of different sites, all in various degrees of abandonment, this one more so than most others. I just read James’s post on MU and making money (via OLDaily which I now read in monthly bursts rather than daily), and revisited my own abandonned edublog to see how it now looks. The content based advertising is pretty amusing and would be enough to force me to become a Supporter if my blog was actually a well-maintained site with a readership, instead of an exercise in bypassing the user-unfriendly IT systems of a former tertiary sector employer in relative anonymity. Or maybe I would keep the advertising just for the laughs in terms of how an automated system decides what ads are relevant to my content!

Correct link to Wisebytes blog

Link to Wisebytes Blog

Lisa Mitchell’s article in The Age, Adventures in blog land, is a pretty good article, except that the link to my main blog is incorrect – what you are now reading is my secondary blog, and my real blog, referred to in the article is at http://wisebytes.net/wordpress. Please visit that site as this one is more of a test area than a coherent blog.

Apparently the paper version of the article has a picture of me in it, but the online version only has a picture of a banana advertising erectile dysfunction – very tasteful choice of ad for the education section of The Age! (These ads change fairly frequently, so we’ve moved on to credit card ads …)

Cults of thinking – science versus dogma?

(cross-posted at wisebytes)

This excerpt from The Cults Of Military Thinking: Fools Never Differ by Darryn Reid and Ralph Giffin seems to suggest that educational technology and online learning are not the only areas suffering from whims of fashion and dogma rather than good science!!

“We explore the deeper reasons behind the formation of intellectual cults around fashionable ideas. Mistaken attitudes about rationality lead investigators to attempt to prove the truth of their ideas by accumulating supporting evidence, and to disingenuously evade scrutiny. The refutation of an idea is mischaracterized as personal failure. “

Blogging at work

(cross-posted on my WiseBytes blog)

I had an email today from someone wanting to talk to me as an academic who blogs and asking how blogging might help with my work. The amusing aspect of this request is that in the past week I have taken down my work blog on the basis that I am generally uncomfortable posting anything even mildly controversial to it, and the wider its readership (currently not wide because I don’t actually advertise my blogs anywhere), the less controversial I would be willing to be.

This is more of a reflection on my perception of my workplace than on whether or not anything I say is truly controversial or whether or not management actually has a view on blogging – but it is a still a disturbing aspect of the “new academia”. I am not comfortable having a blog as my personal commentary on issues of the day. I suspect part of my lack of comfort is because it would not have the balance of a range of other commentaries on the same issues when few other academics at my institution blog. Also in the field of online learning, it is not clear who are the “experts” since online learning is still relatively new.

But there also seems to be less of an ability or willingness these days to distinguish “role-based professional views” (me in my organisational role) from “professionally-informed personal views” (me as an academic psychologist) from “personal views” (me). My views on blogging and on online learning and the world in general differ in my recent role as Head of an Online Learning Unit, versus my academic role as a cognitive scientist / IT specialist interested in forms of communication, versus as me unbeholden to anyone else.

I would love to be able to say that blogging has allowed a return to the more collegial aspects of intra- and inter-disciplinary engagement, providing an avenue for sharing informed but relatively informal perspectives on current topics despite the busy-ness of the academic day compared with 20 years ago. I would love to be able to say that I have got to know a range of my colleagues I would otherwise not have known by reading their “conversations” on their blogs or having them interact on my blog. But in fact, through blogging, I have got to “know” a range of people from across the world rather than from my own location – this is good, but it is also a bit disappointing. All my previous forays online have primarily involved maintaining social networks that exist face-to-face rather than meeting new people. I have spoken on a number of occasions formally and informally to colleagues about blogs, but the response has been luke-warm at best.

The main reason I blog as an academic is that it forces me to think through what I write at a sufficient depth to “put it out in the world”. I tend to blog longer pieces on a particular idea rather than shorter commentary on issues of the day. It may be a quirk of my own style that I need a potential audience to clarify my academic thoughts, or it might just be a quirk of being an academic in a non-teaching role … perhaps as a teaching academic, the audience of students continually tests one’s thoughts. Then again, as a teaching academic, I would be much more likely to blog regularly to round out the topics being taught beyond the formal curriculum. I would also encourage students to blog and to share bookmarks.

I originally got into blogging as a way to store annotated bookmarks to things I’d read online – still at bloki.com from 2003-2004 but I now think that something like MediaWiki offers a better solution. The blog version allows me to find things that I read in passing and deserve a closer look, whereas the wiki version allows me to keep the most up-to-date view of what I’ve read prominent, and lists articles by topic.

I’d have to add that another reason I blog is that I think scientific publishing is struggling. In the attempt to quantify research quality by counting publications, academics responded by publishing every idea as a separate little paper rather than saving things up until there was something worthwhile to publish. So it is very hard to read “the literature” because it is heavy with quantity but light on quality. It is hard to find “seminal works” in an area over the last 20 years because everything comes out as drip feeds to ensure maximising publication quantity. Blogging allows a constant feed of fresh ideas without burdening the academic publishing system, and I would rather publish regular blog articles online while I write a substantive book than churn out a series of low impact publications, each of which says very little. Blogging ensures that I am contributing to the general knowledge base if people want to read what I have to say, but I’m not forcing my views on anyone who doesn’t want to listen.

The major difference between “blogging” and maintaining a personal website is the fact that blogging is based around date-based entries whether or not the temporal aspects are important, but that distinction is blurring. The ease of use of blog tools makes them a tool of choice for webpublishing irrespective of the “bloggyness” of content. The best improvement in WordPress (my favorite blogging tool) is the ability to create static web pages as well as blog pages, although I haven’t really played with it much. The best improvement in MediaWiki(wikis being the obvious alternative to blogs as an easy web-publishing tool) is the new focus on allowing restrictions on authoring – this is against the true web spirit of total openness, but much more realistic in terms of understanding human nature (there really are people out there who have nothing better to do than deface other people’s work) and accepting that it takes time and a certain degree of exclusivity to build online communities.

Blackboard Beyond Initiative

Blackboard Unveils Blackboard Beyond Initiative: Financial News – Yahoo!
Finance

Stephen Downes is very optimistic in his OLDaily comments

“… And maybe the 2.0 thing is buzzword bingo. On the other hand, though, maybe the right push at this point of time will see the words result in product. And that would be a good thing. I think we can do a lot of good if we try to help and nudge Blackboard in the right direction, and that includes nodding positively when they say the right things. “

James Farmer is much less impressed and I tend to be on his side in this instance.

I see Blackboard’s “initiative” as a blatant and deliberate continuation of a specific marketing strategy, already seen to good effect with the Blackboard Content System. The perceived need for content management of LMS content is high on the agenda at many academic institutions. So Blackboard puts out a product called a Content System to supplement their Learning System. It sounds like it is a tailored solution to the problem, so it easy to convince institution management to buy on name alone without too much examination of specific functionality. The Content System and Learning System are obviously integrated if they come from the same company, aren’t they? Once a “solution” has been purchased, institutions are very reluctant to change. Blackboard deliberately brought to market an immature content system to ensure that they were “in the space” early with a “solution” – they figured that by the time institutions noticed the staggering degree of immaturity of the product, they would have had the time to backfill the system and make it work.

The more recent buzzwords in eLearning are things like: Community of Practice, Networked Learning Environments, Social Networks, Collaboration. Institution managers will be hearing these terms and how their institutions need to adapt to the learning needs of “digital natives” entering our universities … and Blackboard is talking the talk and sounding like they have the solutions already to go. They are the leading eLearning vendor, and they are right up there with the latest stuff.

Of course, a cursory examination of the underlying course-based architecture of the Blackboard Learning System would make one wonder exactly how Blackboard will be able to graft the community-of-practice and social-network concepts of learning onto an architecture designed specifically to restrict access to courses based on enrolment, to allow guest and observer access to resources but not interactive tools, and to deny all that is not expressly permitted (rather than restrict only where necessary).

I suspect that it will be enough for most institutional administrators that Blackboard executives can talk the community / collaborative talk with great earnestness and enthusiasm, and have tools with plausibly community-minded collaborative names, without actually needing to transform their products to allow the full eLearning 2.0 experience (whatever that really means … something to do with student-centered learning, learners creating content, online communities etc … blogs, wikis, aggregation, personal identity, etc – basically using internet technology to support social networs of learning). In fact, I can’t really see why you would ever need an LMS for eLearning 2.0.

And as for the marketing power of product names: insofar as the Blackboard Content System was an example of marketing genius (allowing the name to imply functionality that is glaringly absent), by the same token, the Blackboard Portal System was a marketing disaster – many institutions already had plans for portals, so despite the fact that Blackboard Portal provided significant extra functionality specific to Blackboard, it was often overlooked for purchase. It has since been renamed the Blackboard Community System, which is much more desirable, despite the same functionality …

Blogging in the past …

What is the etiquette for “blogging” into the past – ie posting reactions and commentary written in longhand at a particular point in time, then posted to a blog a long time after the event? I am about to start transcribing a set of opinion pieces that have taken form in a notebook and are journal-like in nature (ie they are dated entries around topics-of-the day).

When I blog these things (as in put them into blogging software) is the date of publishing when the piece was first written (on paper) or when it was transcribed into the ether? How does one handle the temporal mismatch? If my blog is a representation of the evolution of my own individual opinions, then date of publishing should reflect the date of writing. But if my blog is a representation of my place in the conversational space of the blogosphere, then the date of publishing should be the date of entry to said blogosphere.

And if I blog to this site, should I refer to or copy this article to my other sites …? Am I self-plagiarising? Or does my writing become a different piece if it is embedded in a different context? What is semiotic implication of where I post something?

These and other questions have bubbled to the surface via a talk at UniMelb by James Farmer …