26 June 2015

Online identity, work spaces and folios – a celebration of awareness

This post was originally published on the Teaching Tom Tom.

This sign welcomes visitors to the main building of the Googleplex (Google’s company headquarters) at 
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, California. Source: Coolcaesar on Wikimedia Common

Who are you?

Shall we start with a quick Google search on your name? Web, image, video, news, and scholar.

I do it as a matter of course when considering new people to work with, or in preparation for applying for work. I want to know what a person looks like; to gain some insight into how they work online (or not); to get an overview on the sorts of things they have done in the past; and to get a sense for what their identity is, online. There is a significance to me, in what is revealed in such a search and what is not.

Is it too simple to say that an online folio is a search result for a person’s or project’s name, and an online workspace is the Internet as a whole? This online workspace is not a single publishing platform or content management system – the Internet is the platform. Some of us might be a bit stuck on this, but this perspective becoming mainstream is probably inevitable if it’s not already a reality.

Cover of International Multimedia School Magazine
“trait d’union” n° 03-2003.
Topic: “our identity. Creator of the mask:
Antonia Lent, German School of Toulouse (2003).
Photographer: Lothar Thiel. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Most people who do a search on their name come to realise that the search result is essentially the first page of their online identity – their folio. It could be personal, it could be professional, often it’s both. Their next realisation might be that the way they work online, the processes, platforms, linkages and associations in the data that they generate, all has an impact on their portfolio-as-a-search-result. Their search terms and saved bookmarks, the media they upload and download, their playlists, click-through history, viewing times, purchase history, GPS location, and strength of linkage to other people, collaborators and projects. All this data is built up around us as we work online, and can be used to create, shape and grow a personalised and professional workspace. It can be harnessed to improve the quality and efficiency of our work. Our search results on topics of inquiry can become more targeted, or recommendations and linkages can be made more relevant. This includes advertisers and surveillance agencies of course, which at this point in time at least, we might consider as our symbiotic relationship.

You’re a machine

In 2004, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson created a video about this future that we now live in. They called it the Evolving Personalised Information Construct (EPIC2014). Their video starts in black, with a flickering light in the distance. A narrator reads, “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times…”

In 2007 Dr Michael Wesch expanded on this topic and published the incredibly popular video, The Machine is Using Us, now at nearly one million seven hundred thousand views. This video explained an EPIC hypertext reality, 7 years before Sloan and Thompson thought it would come to pass.

While we’re talking about Michael, check out his online folio. As you do that, it’s worth considering how the strength of Michael’s online identity impacts on those that link to him, such as his students at Kansas State University.

Goshen College Choir 1958-1974
Source: Mennonite Church USA Archives on Wikimedia Commons

A cog in a wheel

In the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, a range of educational development projects are interested in this line of inquiry, and in the kinds of operating principles that might inform the design of learning activities and assessment tasks. Tasks that ask people to manage their online workspaces, professional identities and portfolios.

At RMIT though, like many other universities, a specified workspace is provided that impacts on this conception of a professional identity, precisely because it has become a central and major entity of the Internet – Google.

To some, Google is a good platform choice. It is a very relevant and effective toolset in a university that needs to show ‘industry relevance’, productivity gains and expenditure savings. To some others though, they think that RMIT should be more concerned about data sovereignty and maintaining local IT skills. They would ask, “should an offshore advertising company with questionable links to surveillance agencies be getting intimate access to data about a large population base, especially a university one?

Who are you tomorrow?

As we ask people to use the Internet in their work, and in RMIT’s case – Google in particular, we’re asking people to shape their online workspace into a personalised space with professional relevance. Their connection to us is recorded, their connection to each other is recorded, what they do with their online identity all combines to teach “The Machine” to use them, and be used by them.

What happens to these online identities when the people leave though? Their accounts are disabled! They’re effectively deleted, or held in limbo until that person comes back into the organisation.

What about people who have already built themselves an online workspace, a professional identity and folio? Should they stop with that and rebuild another one? Won’t they dilute their online identities, especially students, casuals, contractors and other transients?

Additionally, if RMIT continues to limit the functionality of an RMIT/Google account by not enabling Youtube accounts, Maps, Classroom or the use of Addons for instance, what impact is that decision having on the account holder’s development of a professional workspace and online folio?

All this seems at considerable odds with RMIT’s graduate capabilities around Lifelong Learning.

A temporary role

I’ve raised these RMIT/Google account issues with anyone willing to talk about them, on behalf of the projects I’m assisting with, in the hope of better understanding RMIT’s position and conceiving a workable solution. I’ve had a few things pointed out to me so far:

  1. Perhaps managing multiple online identities is a critical literacy, and a student account is a ‘practice’ space before developing their real workspace. Related to this is the reality that industry workspaces are also going to prescribe an account that contributes to the complexity around a person’s online identity and workspace.
  2. RMIT is a large and international organisation and needs to implement a system that can work consistently across that organisation. Our partners in Vietnam for example, have not agreed to the full use of a product like Google, citing performance and other issues.
  3. An account with @rmit.edu.au is branded RMIT, and what a person does with that account impacts the RMIT brand and RMIT’s liability.
  4. There are legal implications for RMIT accounts using Youtube channels or Addons, relating to Intellectual Property.

Practically though, when a staff member or a student needs or wants a Youtube account, or to turn on an Addon, or to Create a Map, they simply work around the limitations and use their own Google accounts. I’ve been advised that there is no policy or procedure in RMIT that would regulate or prevent such practice.

Youtube for instance, the third or fourth most used website by Australians, and not just for watching funny cat videos either, has long been sociologically important, a media phenomenon over the past 10 years with significant cultural impact. RMIT’s teachers, researchers, students and administrators should have by-now developed deep critical awareness around this. But they have not on the whole, not while their RMIT accounts can’t engage it. RMIT remains technically disengaged.

Mummified Nile catfish (Middle Kingdom) placed in a tomb for the deceased to eat in the afterlife on display at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. RC 2182. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Retain something of yourself

With all these realities, issues and workarounds in mind, we might then consider the idea of advising people to primarily use their own accounts over their RMIT provided ones, because the development of online workspaces and folios are long term projects starting now, and continuing well beyond their life as students and staff members.

To most, this suggestion will appear too subversive, “taking a long walk off the reservation”, as a good colleague puts it. But in another light it might only be a minor conceptual shift. It is certainly inline with the practical realities at universities that are not deploying Google accounts. The staff and students at those universities simply use Google like any other external web service when required. One that is not limited by the University-wide settings or legalities over an account that in reality is on loan to them and never really ‘owned’ by the user who’s identity it actually is!

A BYO account has longer term benefits for transient people in the university, such as students, casual and part time staff – which I hear is most of us now.

“There’s nothing casual about casual employment. The working conditions experienced by tens of thousands of casual academics in Australia’s public and private universities demonstrate that casualisation, as an employment strategy, is both widespread and systemic.” Source: NTEU Website

Celebrate the awareness

To conclude this never ending libertarian dilemma then, if it is deemed inappropriate that an offshore advertising corporation with links to foreign surveillance agencies has deep ties to the research data and communications within a university; and if the university that is using that service does not enable the full features of that service anyway – thereby impacting on the productivity, professional identity and portfolio of its staff and graduates, it might be better to do away with the limited service and make arrangements for services that do better in terms of data sovereignty and personal responsibility and control (if that exists, look to the open source, open data and hacker communities for committed innovation in this space).

So, the university drops Google so that we can use Google. Better still, the university seeks out a partnership and invests in communication and documentation services that genuinely give us some options outside the profit and surveillance driven motives. In the meantime, we might make it our responsibility to raise awareness around all of this. We’ll design learning activities and assessment tasks that help people manage their online identities and establish life-long learning efficacy. And we’ll celebrate the readiness of our staff and graduates by citing the confidence of their online work practices and the self evident strength of their portfolios…

25 May 2015

How to create a website using Google Drive (Drivesite)

Here's a Youtube playlist on how to create a website using Google Drive, from total beginner, through to most advanced.

The Drivesite concept

If you're working in a team with varying abilities all collaborating on producing content, and/or if that content needs to feature on more than one site and you'd like to cut down on the time it takes to update those sites, then consider using Google Drive to create a site that can be embedded in another site, such as Blackboard. You or your team need only update the documents in Google Drive, and those updates will automatically take place everywhere you have embedded your "Drivesite".

How does it work?

Embedding is a word used for taking content from one site and displaying it inside another site. Embedding is a well known feature of Youtube, and many other 'Web2' services. It's not making a copy of the content, it is simply displaying the content from it's original location in a different location. It's a fancy way of linking.

Embedding uses the iFrame HTML tag. It's a tag worth getting to know because you can easily reuse it to embed other forms of content, any content that has a URL or web address. Here's an example iFrame tag:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/videoseries?list=PLhJG80urSiFhyWZpBswRRXoJSZ7G6CePX" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

You paste that code in your website's editor box, in HTML editing mode. This code is displaying a Youtube video at 560 pixels wide by 315 pixels high. Notice that "frameboarder is 0? This means the embedded content is set to have no boarder, but if you change the "frameboarder" to 1, you'll create a thin 1 pixel thick black line for a boarder. And this iFrame allows a viewer to click the video to make it full screen.

Reusing iFrames

Now, you can reuse this code to embed content from other websites, or whole websites if you like. Just swap out the Youtube URL https://www.youtube.com/embed/Z5N0Oy6hzGY for the URL of the content you'd prefer. For example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMIT_University - the Wikipedia entry for RMIT University. Sometimes, you might know the URL for that website's mobile version, and using a mobile version of a website to embed can be a good way of reducing the graphic noise when embedding sites within sites. In Wikipedia's case it's https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMIT_University (notice the m. added into the URL).

It's important to note that iFrames don't always work on some browsers, especially when embedding a mobile view of a site. Some browsers get confused when you're trying to force a mobile display version of a site on a non-mobile device, like a desktop. So test your work on the common browsers.


Street Shopkeeper on Wikimedia Commons. By SAM Nasim from Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh

The year is 2020. The third global crash of 2017 has really shattered the Australian economy.

I walked into what used to be one of many 'big box" retail outlets strung out along Canterbury Road in Bayswater's industrial precinct...

I had an idea for a bag, and needed the materials, tools and know-how to make it. With the help of the Internet and some people I met online, I've come semi prepared with some money (in local currency), a list of materials and a bit of a sketch for a design.

Walking in the front door I'm confronted with a welcoming group of people selling sausage sandwiches, made from the pig they recently butchered in the community farm next door. The onions were grown there too, and the cheese, the bread, all cooked on the charcoal made at the old timber supply yard up the road. It tasted good.

I got talking to a couple of people at the BBQ, told them what I was there for, and they introduced me to a woman who taught sewing and pattern making on Saturdays. Jo showed me the area where materials were stored, some of them new, many of them reclaimed. She showed me a range of patterns that other's had made and left for reuse and adaptation. Finally she walked me through the machine and work area where about five other people were working on their projects, and a schedule of training sessions ran daily. I felt ready to start my bag.


In the words of the New Media Consortium's 2015 Horizon Report Higher Education wiki:
...Makerspaces, [are] workshops that offer tools and the learning experiences needed to help people carry out their ideas. Makerspaces are intended to appeal to people of all ages, and are founded an openness to experiment, iterate, and create. The driving force behind Maker spaces is rooted in the Maker movement, a following comprised of artists, tech enthusiasts, engineers, builders, tinkerers, and anyone else who has a passion for making things. The formation of the movement stems from the success of the Maker Faire, a gathering that launched in 2006, and has since propagated itself into numerous community-driven events all over the world.
Back in 2015 the Maker movement, as it was known, was about ten years old.

If you have no idea what Makerspaces are, spend a few minutes with these links:

To avoid the ahistoric tendencies of a 21st century keyword (#hashtag), let me propose a range of lateral connections to the concept, stretching well beyond the acceptable limits.

Hacking, Hackerspace and LifeHack

Hacking has had a bad rap. Generally associated with antisocial, even criminal behavior through computing it is of course, much more than that. It may be helpful to consider the differences between hacking and cracking, and to associate hacking to pursuits well beyond just computing. Both hacking and cracking range in principle, from hobbyists just having a tinker, to those with political and economic agendas. I think it is the hacker's respect for a Do It Yourself ethos and a value for a collective and sometimes cooperative effort, that a connection to the Maker Movement can be found.

OpenSource everything toward a Free Culture

These principles connect us up to the free and open source movement. Free and Open Source is most commonly use to describe a type of software and an approach to its development. But it has expanded out into non software domains such as design and manufacturing. Open Source development is arguably the source of inspiration behind many things in Webist culture, the premise is that through free access as well as open use and reuse, a powerful source of creative energy can be established.

Unconferencing/open conference

Using these ideas of free access, participatory design and development, and open distribution, unconferences are gatherings of like minded people seeking to get to know each other's work outside the constraints of a formal conference structure. A typical format involves a loose and open organising group announces the event and helps to facilitate its organisation. At the event attendees nominate and vote on an agenda of sessions and workshops; and socialising and unstructured networking are given high priority throughout the event. Unconference events are usually documented by the participants through a collaborative online editing space connected to social media. Examples of unconferences include:

Networked Learning and economies

Ivan Illich's critique of the impact that schooling, institutionalisation and professionalism have on an otherwise convivial society might also be connected to Makerspace ideology. His influential books, Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality point out the disabling effect that modern institutional structures have on culture and society, arguing for a more connected, networked and post -industrial society as an alternative. Illich's hypothesis influenced the work of Christopher Alexander et al in their equally influential book, A Pattern Language: Towns Buildings and Construction.


It could be interesting to consider the Maker Movement and it's affiliations within the political frame of communitarianism. Aside from that little thought bubble, there are obvious connections to community initiatives like:


Hopefully you can see some pattern or sense in these connections I've roughly drawn. Admittedly, this may be the only place you you see them publicly described as such.

If you've been around awhile, you may at least recognise a common political thread, world-view and ideology running through them. A couple of years ago, someone attempted to coin a new ism for these and other movements, to bring them more into view and lift them to a similar status as other social movements like Feminism or even Marxism. n+1 magazine used the term Webism and used pre-revolutionary Russia to introduce it:
The leading poet of the pre-revolutionary symbolist school, Blok and his pale handsome face had been freighted in the years before 1917 with all the hopes and dreams of the Russian intelligentsia. In early 1918, when that intelligentsia was still making fun of the crudeness, the foolishness, the presumption of the Bolsheviks—the way contemporary intellectuals once made fun of Wikipedia—Blok published an essay urging them to cut it out. “Listen to the Revolution,” he counseled, “with your bodies, your hearts, your minds.”

Three years later, Blok was dead, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, the tribune of the Revolution, wrote his obituary. “Blok approached our great Revolution honestly and with awe,” Mayakovsky wrote. But it was too much for him: “I remember, in the first days of the Revolution, I passed a thin, hunched-over figure in uniform warming itself by a fire near the Winter Palace. The figure called out to me. It was Blok. We walked together. . . . I said, ‘How do you like it?’ ‘It’s good,’ said Blok, and then added: ‘They burned down my library.’”
A sobering association that! Goes well with Adam Curtis' cautions for contemporary ideologies. His most recent documentary, All Watched Over By machines of Loving Grace.

And, if you're still with me on this sort of long view wild connections and critique, you might enjoy going back to the source of Webism in the counter culture of the 60s, with a better doco, The Net: The Unabomber, LSD and the Internet.

So, that's my take on Makerspaces. I wanted to describe an idyllic scene in the not too distant future, and connect it up with a range of close and not-so-close affiliations, even a little revolutionary appeal. My hope is I've introduced a mycology of histories and futures that may or may not have a convincing connection to Makerspaces, and most certainly won't be made by others. In an applied sense, perhaps you're now wondering what sorts of connections all these have to learning, education and the digital... I hope you'll offer an idea or two.

15 May 2015

Cognitive Dissonance and Violence

Here's a short video on an old cognitive dissonance experiment:

I thought it was interesting, the idea that if a person was paid more to lie, they experienced no dissonance. But a person who was paid little to lie experienced dissonance, but managed it away to become committed to the lie - so much so that it was no longer a lie for them.

Is cognitive dissonance simply hypocrisy's cause and effect? Would managing people with this knowledge be a form of violence..?

Apart from this offering an explanation as to how and why political masters and their (public) servants get away with lies to their constituents, it offers me some angle on the notion of bad faith.

I've been using the phrase 'bad faith' to frame how an organisation, institution or culture might say one thing and do quite the opposite - academic capitalism for example.

Wider still, is there a connection between cognitive dissonance and domestic violence - where violence is not necessarily physical, it is emotional manipulation for power and control. I think it certainly would be if a 3rd person was knowingly manipulating someone through cognitive dissonance. In these terms domestic violence links to another form of violence we call bullying, or workplace violence.

Is workplace violence a product of institutionalised cognitive dissonance? What is institutional violence? What is a culture of violence? Australia's, or the cultures of the English maybe.

27 April 2015

Using video for assessment feedback

Video telephony in the year 2000, as imagined in 1910.
From a French postcard by Villemard, 1910.
Paris, BNF, Estampes. Wikimedia Commons

It is said that using video to give feedback offers a more personal dimension to the feedback, as Michael Henderson and Michael Phillips from Monash University attest to in their recent submission to Ascilite: Video-based feedback on student assessment: scarily personal

It might also be a way to solve a problem of storing assessment items for subjects that generate large, bulky and valuable artifacts, such as in art, design and production.

A question was raised about RMIT's obligation to store assessment items for a number of years past a student's graduation. The national regulation for vocational education is 6 months and RMIT stipulates storage of assessment pieces for 1 year. (As I've been advised by an RMIT Senior Advisor in Academic Policy and RMIT Archives).

Presumably this regulation is to enable third party auditors to double check the legitimacy of an individual's qualifications, or an organisation giving the award or qualification over all. Obviously storing actual works used in assessment can be very difficult, especially the art and design world. Large, fragile and valuable works that may be needed for other purposes can't be expected to be kept in a vault for a possible audit.

So, while we wait for the laws, policies and procedures to make sense and align, video assessment feedback might be a practice that satisfies the intent of these storage requirements, while also improving the value of assessment feedback overall.

Practically it means turning on some sort of video recording devise (like a phone, webcam or screen recorder) and recording the appearance of the thing being assessed, and giving a voice over for feedback toward the assessment, then uploading that video to a folder that the student can access, and that the School can store for a time. The video evidence of the piece is captured, satisfying the regulation. And you can imagine what a compelling form of feedback and assessment this might be for teachers and students. It might offer some flexibility and new dimensions to the feedback and assessment process over text only practices, and it offers some flexibility on the location of the thing being assessed, as well the physical space needed for its display and storage.

I'd be keen to meet anyone already doing this in the College of Design and Social Context, or help and support anyone willing to give it a try.

28 March 2015

Call for open academic practice at NTEU

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) recently ran a special focus on Fair Use' in Australian Law, and an argument for open academic practices.


Page 38.

It's unfortunate they don't publish in an open format or use hypertext, so here's a copy of my contribution.

David Day wrote for the Advocate last November, advocating for academics to take membership with Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) - an Australian agency that collects royalty fees for the use of restricted literary works and pays some of that revenue to some of the authors whose work was used.

I contacted the National Tertiary Education Union about the article in their journal, and have been offered space in this issue for 500 words. In these few words I’m going to offer an alternative to David’s advocacy for CAL and outline the opportunities and benefits of working toward an intellectual commons. I want to propose a coming together around the issues David touches on and open up more dialog in the establishment for how we might help accelerate the building of this Commons and our own intellectual relevance within it.

There appears to be a growing interest among academics, the public sector and private enterprise toward ideas of openness. Practices that include open research and data, open publishing and open education. ‘Open’ here does not mean simply free access, it includes transparency of process, and the freedom for anyone to reuse - including to copy, modify and redistribute works. These practices are gradually building an intellectual commons, and are a radical inversion of the kind of ‘knowledge economy’ imagined 30 years ago when CAL was conceived, and that are established today. You can find this Commons in many open journals, media repositories like Wikimedia Commons or Archive.org and projects like Wikipedia. The things that generally govern these practices are the use of the Creative Commons Attribution and Share Alike copyright licenses, open documentation of process, and the use of free and open standard software and formats.

In the university sector these practices offer a few noteworthy opportunities including the reduction or replacement of proprietary teaching media with free and more flexible equivalents; legally seamless collaboration in authorship; wider access and use and improved recognition of authorship.

Open academic practices have developed in spite of otherwise very restrictive copyright and intellectual property policies, and in spite of the monetary rewards that help to perpetuate those policies.

In 2010 a handful of staff at the University of Canberra proposed an intellectual property policy that would enable and strengthen open academic practices without undoing the established norms of restrictive copyright, and the agencies that facilitate user-pay fee systems. They documented a wide range of consultation and comment to the proposal, as well as key policy directions from Federal Government that relate to and inform the proposal. NTEU went so far as to call it a benchmark in IP policy. You can see that proposal here: http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Intellectual_Property_-_proposed_policy_and_procedures_for_Australian_research_and_education

If the Intellectual Commons continues to grow at the exponential rate it has done so over the last 10 years, individuals, institutions and governments will inevitably come to question the role of the likes of CAL and the usefulness of the fees they extract and distribute. Some authors believe they are already suitably compensated by the wages and grants given to them by taxpayers and fee paying students, and don’t wish to add more burden to that revenue stream. Many struggle to see the relationship their work has to the financial incentives standing around them. Most simply wish their work to be seen, appreciated and used, free of commodification.

I hope readers of Advocate and CAL will continue to consider their relationship to the Intellectual Commons and open academic practices. Perhaps the proposed intellectual property policy cited here will give new frames of reference to aid that consideration.


21 November 2014

Worried about the privatisation of public education and research? - Go to the Commons

South Central Farm by Jonathan McIntosh on Wikimedia Commons
Before you are compelled to sign over the rights to works you morally, ethically or legally own - or are custodian to, consider harbouring it in The Commons first.

Some researchers and teachers who are concerned about their publicly funded research reports, teaching materials and data becoming locked into restrictive publishing arrangements, are using the Commons to develop and publish the elements of the project before going to the private publishers. They preserve their own access to the data and elements of the publication, and a wider audience at the same time.

For example, a GIF graph visualising the data collected in the project is loaded to Wikimedia Commons BEFORE the report is written and BEFORE it is submitted for publication through a restrictive publisher. This ensures that at least one key bit of information about the project remains reusable and re-distributable. I personally take this further by making the Commons intrinsic to my data collection and management strategy, including the edit history data for the development of the project and report, as well as the comment and direction from peer reviewers.

Some teachers who are concerned about their course (content, library, curriculum design and assessment methods) being claimed away from them, and/or sold to restrictive publishers or third party providers, they too are using the Commons to ensure a more equitable arrangement for all involved.

This approach doesn't prevent the commercialisation of the work, nor does it block the ambitions of a hosting institution or publisher 'capitalising' the works. It just prevents them doing so exclusively - thus ensuring the original authors maintain ongoing rights, as well as other interests and opportunities not yet known.

What all must do though, is get good with open source exchange models. It's only fair!