23 September 2014

eLearning at GOTAFE

I've been asked up to Goulburn Ovens Institute of Technical and Further Education to give a 15 minute presentation on my vision for eLearning/online learning/networked learning - open education. It was a very last minute request and I haven't had the time to do the due diligence of researching the institute some and contextualising what I would present. So I'm falling back to general ideas.

18 February 2014


Alex Hayes is leading me into the emerging world of web-based tools that help manage a researcher's distributed online presence and impact. Alex has drawn focus on Figshare and ImpactStory. I've just quickly set up my ImpactStory profile.

My new profile is here: http://impactstory.org/LeighBlackall

first up - what a pleasure the site and service is to use. I was easily able to comprehend and use what it was set up to do.. and while I waited to be at a desktop to do it, I can see that it would have been just as easy on my phone.. fresh!

I will recommend my research active contacts to start using this site.

However, as an "early career" researcher, and someone who deliberately operates on the edge of what may be called mainstream (including my use of the various self publishing sites that ImpactStory draws in), I may eventually struggle to use their site. Up until today, I've been trying to get a better control on my Google Scholar profile, but it wants to push me into the mainstream much more so than ImpactStory.

I use Wikiversity to develop and organise my research. I wonder if or how services like ImpactStory might be able to draw in that data? Wikiversity is one of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, I contribute to several of them, so perhaps the likes of ImpactStory would want to go for the data someone has across all those projects. Here's my contribution record.

I'm note sure if they'd be able to mine the impact data of those contributions.. perhaps page views of the works contributed to should be easy enough, but more complicated stuff like number of other editors on those pages, how active the discussion pages are, and which of my contributions were discussed on project pages and which contributions were actually 'scholarly'...

My Wikiversity userpage is: https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/User:Leighblackall and there lists a range of teaching, research and community engagement works in progress - the three pillars of academic work in my opinion.

Archive.org is another publishing venue I use, and by now you should be seeing a pattern of free and open source venues as my preference. Here are the search results for works on Archive referring to and authored by me. Basic data on each of those items includes the number of downloads. More interesting data might be the number of seeders of the bit-torrent files..

My personal website (hosted on Blogger) has data in it too: leighblackall.blogspot.com
Other data sources that may or may not be relevant to a researcher's "impact" would be:
  • Published files out of Google Drive
  • Contributions to Google Groups and LinkedInGroups
  • Google search results
  • LinkedIn testimonials and recommendations
  • Twitter and Google+ profile views, connections and reshares
I'm sure they're thinking about this range. The big one for me is the Wikimedia projects. Recognise and crack that nut and I think they'll be on their way toward capturing a unique if small niche of researchers who are particularly interested in web integrated research beyond the simple prosumer idea.

05 February 2014

Are the Wikimedia projects social media?

I used a phrase "socially constructed media" back in 2004 when everyone was using "Web 2". I even coined "socialist media" but let that one go. I've been more than a little agitated by the use of "social media" these last few years, at the exclusion of the Wikimedia projects. Either all the stats, commentary and infographics are based on a poorly defined category, or my understanding of the words social and media somehow missed the new speak.

Does anyone who knows the inner workings of the Wikimedia projects have an argument for me? I find them to be the MOST social of all the user-generated sites I use. From sharing photos, video and graphics on Commons, constructing reports on News, negotiating courses or documenting research on Versity, writing on Books, or attending a Meetup.. Why does this not warrant more than a mention in the stats, commentary and infographics about "social media"? Why do almost none of our public institutions engage in these projects? (State Library of Queensland excepted).

Please don't tell me it's a commercial interest (therefore relevant) thing!

03 December 2013

What is blogging these days?

I've been blogging since it went mainstream in 2004. Over the years it has remained an important part of the web, giving voice to a very large range of interesting people and ideas.

I've been asked to talk about blogging with the Ambassadors at the Summer Foundation today.

The Summer Foundation and their ambassadors advocate for young people living in nursing homes, building support and capacity for improving lives. Jason Anderson is one of their members and is already blogging as an ambassador for the effort.

But how do we talk about blogging these days?

Recently, blogging seems to have merged into the background as web services like Youtube, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter have become central channels for authors and audience alike. I suspect this recent shift is still taking place, so who knows what "blogging" will be a few years from now... whatever is becomes, I hope it will be as great as the last 10 years.

What is Blogging
The Wikipedia article on Blogging is pretty good. Don't forget to check out the Discussion page behind that WIkipedia entry too.

Here's an old Common Craft video explaining blogs.

Setting up and Linking up
The way I approach Blogging is by setting up accounts on a range of channels, and linking them all up so my articles generally go out across them all with one click - no double handling.

For example, when I press 'publish' on this blog post here in Blogger, it will be automatically posted on my Google+ profile, which is set to cross post to my Twitter handle, which is set to update my Facebook wall. This takes a bit of setting up, but it's a set-and-forget - that is, until one of the parts breaks.
  1. Blogger is owned by Google, so the cross posting to Google+ is taken care of.
  2. I currently use ManageFilter to connect Google+ to Twitter.
  3. Twitter and Facebook have integrated their services too.

I also have a Youtube channel, and that posts into Google+ when I upload new videos. I have a Flickr account for my photos, and that is set up to send copies into Facebook and Twitter, but so far I haven't worked out how to get them into Google+.. so I'm posting photos mainly to Google+ now. 

If you check out the dates on the articles I post to this Blog, you'll notice a definite decline in frequency. That's because of microblogging, I think.

Microblogs are very short posts, usually on services like Twitter, Facebook or Google+, and usually relaying a link to something of interest - sometimes with a brief comment included.

For me, I regularly post links and comments to Google+, which in turn updates my Twitter page and Facebook wall. So, more and more, I have less of a reason to update this old-school blog...

That brings me to the most important bit about blogging - reading. It is MOST important because reading blogs helps you write a blog. If you're reading the blogs of people in your interest areas, this will obviously give you ideas for your own blogging, and an awareness of where you fit in. If you comment on people's blogs, they may start reading your blog, and this will eventually connect you with a network of other people online, which will be important if need help, advice, perspective, or getting your message out. 

But reading so many blogs can take a chunk of time, and you want to be sure they're interesting! Have you ever been on the train and wondered what all those people are doing on their phones? Some of them are reading through their list of blogs.

Old school blogs like this one have a file attached to them called an RSS feed. You can subscribe to a site's RSS feed using an RSS Reader. Sadly, Google closed down their Google Reader, effectively killing off a massive slab of people using RSS Readers, driving them to rely on Google+ and Facebook even more. I still maintain an RSS reader through the service called Feedly. It's not as good as Google Reader (RIP) and I find myself scanning through it less and less these days, but when I do I'm reminded how valuable RSS feeds are - they carry in so many incredible ideas!

Over to Common Craft one last time, to explain RSS

13 November 2013

Help for Villa, in Baybay, Leyte

Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has affected Sunshine's family.

This past few days I've been trying to help Sunshine get accurate information on the situation for her family in Baybay Leyte. Unsurprisingly, Australian news agencies have been slow to report or update the event, and are spreading misinformation and panic, but Twitter hashtags and Wikipedia edits are helping us cut through all that. 

We finally started hearing from family yesterday, and all are accounted for, but they are without food.

Sunshine's father is on his way there now, taking a boat from Cebu to Baybay to escort food to family asap. To assist with this, Sunshine has started an effort to take donations (not toward the travel, but directly to supplies). So, if you're still wondering if or how you might help, know that this way you're helping directly.

27 September 2013

Data and power

I don't reckon 'privacy' is the right word to frame the issues around data. It doesn't connect with the unsettled feelings we have with corporate and state collection and use of it. I think the issue is really about power, and through this frame we connect to a range of critical, political and economic ideas that may be more useful to consider.

Here's my slides for the University Analytics Forum tomorrow. As with all the presentations I do, these are initial ideas and thoughts that will hopefully generate comments to guide me in a more focused look. If it goes anywhere, I'll keep notes on a Wikiversity page.

14 August 2013

Zombies in the Academy

Brent alerts us in TALO to a new book called Zombies in the Academy, with a link to an interview with the authors for Inside Higher Ed. My first response was to point to Jim Groom and co's work using the same analogy to criticise the academy back in 2008 and since.

Yes, the more I read the interview, the more I recognised the "taboo" I'm pointing out, and as Walker called it:

There are two big taboos in academic writing, at either ends of the spectrum of using research: if you attribute to (sic) carefully and closely, you end up being derivative and weakening your authorial voice. Not acknowledging your sources, on the other hand, leads to accusations of plagiarism, and can result in expulsion and other horrors.

But I realise the use of this analogy is common, and I suppose it's highly likely that zombies didn't notice Jim's work back in 2008 and since, nor did a Google search when they thought to use the theme. And it's not fair of me to expect references in an interview, even if the first question was: "Q: Where did the idea originate to produce a volume on zombies in the academy?".

Don't get me wrong, I completely agree with most of the arguments being pitched in this interview to support the book, and it's great to have an Australian voice to refer to on this not-common-enough point of criticism. Up until now, I've only been able to refer to Susan Awbrey's Academic Capitalism. I'll include Walker and Wheelan now, after I've read the book and checked they're not actually walking dead themselves.

They make two comments in their interview that I would take exception to:

Whelan: "Perhaps one of the most accessible meanings is that in a way the "fight" for the university, or for the ideals of the humanities and social sciences in the university, is like a dead romantic fantasy. The reason for this is that those ideals were a kind of a dream associated with a specific historical era that has now past. It is not possible to conduct research or to teach in accordance with those ideals because most of these institutions are simply not resourced to support that (the "golden age" was anyway not so golden, in that access was limited to rather specific social groups). Continuing to try to meet the ideals in the massified system often happens at tremendous personal cost, especially to postgrads and adjuncts and early career researchers. Continuing to espouse the ideals (and selling the claim that they can be realized to young people) at an institutional level is disingenuous and unethical, particularly in those places where the education system is oriented to servicing a labor market that cannot actually offer work to graduates."

I try to argue in my job that arts-based education is important to vocational proficiency - if we're asking graduates to have sustainable and critical thinking for example (and we are), or for them to be innovative and entrepreneurial (and we are), a graduate with these attributes needs to be able to deconstruct a policy or strategy in their workplace, often because the premise of the policy is not even known to the zombie bureaucrat that authored it. Or they need to be able to hold a completely different perspective long enough to see a potential for innovation. That perspective may be informed by language and linguistics, philosophies, political theories, ways of seeing, you name it). Without people equipped to criticise and propose something else, we're left with the blind leading the dumb blind, or a total apocalypse of thought and action. It's interesting to consider that the zombification of the university sector coincides with the loss of arts and humanities. We can't give up, but work harder to show and measure their relevance and "return on investment". But it is frustrating how reluctant many academics from the arts and humanities have been to move with the times. Sadly, the most movement has been into fields like public relations! Sigh.

The other comment in the Interview made by Walker:

Walker: "Actually, I first started to teach in the French public university system, which was ironically even more ossified and zombified, given its reputation as the origin of continental philosophy and critical thought. Maybe things have changed since then, but the French university system I worked in relied on incredibly rigid hierarchies and practices. At my institution, student engagement at an all-time low, and it was incredibly clear that this was due to the set up of their degree programs: for instance any student could enroll in any subject in their first year, [so] I was trying to teach Shakespeare to students who couldn't speak or read in English. There was no requirement for class participation, with 100 percent exams at the end of the session. I couldn't believe that students even bothered enrolling -- and then I found out about their fantastic tax breaks and rental allowances for being full time students! Many of them didn't care what they were enrolled in, and whether they failed, as long as they turned up for exams and cashed in their checks."

This signifies to me that Walker is indeed walking dead. Like too many teaching academics I meet, they see themselves as the centre of a student's universe.. and that what they teach matters utmost. The extra curricular activities in a University are equally if not more important in my opinion, especially where they are protected and nurtured. Student unionism, student activism, student publication, clubs and societies.. these and many other activities like them are where students can develop innovative and entrepreneurial alternatives to the mind numbing vocational obsession of their courses, and the arrogance of their lecturers. Walker didn't even mention it, and makes a deadly suggestion that aids the zombification further.

That said, I'll read their book with interest, and cite their arguments - less the ones I object to at the moment.