Thursday, November 7, 2013

O, brave new world that has such people in't

The recent revelations about the ‘roast busters’ Facebook group has once again brought the focus of attention onto social media. The outrage over the existence of this site is justified. Sites dedicated to videos of the rape, naming and shaming of young girls who have been stupefied with alcohol are abhorrent, and an example of society at its very worst. If media reports are to be believed, the site apparently was set up (by teenage boys who happily reveal their faces to their camera) almost two years ago, and police have been aware of it for some time. And yet nothing was done.

The facts of this case have yet to be determined. Considering the complexities of the networked world, and the nature of the charges, some facts may never be revealed. However, in this case, as in others reported on in the international press, digital and social media play central roles. When I was 13 or 14, a video camera was a rare and expensive item. The video produced could be viewed on a television, but sharing or copying it required access to several VCRs and technical knowledge that wasn’t widely available. In addition, it took time… copying a 1-hour video took at least an hour, valuable time for cooling down and reflecting on the potential risks and dangers of sharing whatever it was that had been recorded.

Things are different today. Even the cheapest and nastiest mobile phone contains a decent camera. Copying and (global) sharing of the videos made on the phone happens at the push of a button. Within hours, millions of people may have watched, shared, ‘liked’ and commented on your video. By the time uploader’s remorse sets in, your video or picture of yourself doing something foolish is well and truly out of the bag. To make things worse, sites such as Facebook allow for facial recognition and automatic tagging. If you are not careful you can find yourself ‘tagged’ and identified in the background of someone else’s crime or idiocy. 

We know that social media feeds into a primal adolescent need to be liked, to belong. Friends without Benefits, a must-read article in the September 2013 edition of Vanity Fair, paints a depressing view of the impact of Facebook and Twitter on teenagers. It describes "...a world where boys are taught they have the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers"; quotes teenagers who admit that social media is destroying their lives, but they feel they would have no life without it; and reveals a world where the measure of one's worth is the number of 'likes' your latest Facebook post receives. However, conventional media also has a lot to answer for. Rumours, gossip, and naming and shaming are great ways to sell newspapers or drive traffic to a website. Radio DJs on stations targeting youth share revel in salacious tidbits of information about drunk actresses or the latest celebrity sex tape. They celebrate their own drunken binges. One New Zealand station even hosts a popular weekly feature called ‘drunk girl trivia’ (Did you stop to check that the selected drunk girl you interviewed and broadcast on national radio got home safely, Dave? Did you contact her when she was sober to make sure she was still happy to have her drunken maunderings broadcast to the world?)  Is it any surprise that we live in a society that coins terms like ‘roast busting’ when the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour have become so blurred? Teenagers are not known for their wisdom and good judgement, yet we provide them with instant access to the world, and simultaneously replace the safety nets of centuries of social norms and moral development with the self-serving, anything-goes world of celebrity and social media. And we offer them no help in managing their way.

None of this is meant to imply that the accused in this particular case should be excused – from all reports, they have coldly, premeditatedly and repeatedly uploaded rape videos. But it does beg the question, in this hugely connected world, why did it take so long for the site to be discovered? I find it hard to believe that only the alleged rapists and the victims knew of the existence of the site.  How is it that no one else said that it was not ok for 13-year olds to be supplied with enough alcohol to render them senseless? Not only were the police apparently disinterested, but where were the friends who must have known about it but who said nothing? What world are we living in where no one other than the victims (for whom reporting would be the hardest) object; not only to this site but to the types of behaviours that lead to its existence? 

The cat is out of the bag. The online world is intimately woven into our daily lives, and whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or some-yet-to-be-created fad, the issues that accompany ubiquitous connectedness are here to stay. Social media has many positive elements, but it has also irrevocably changed the rules of society (see this article, about funeral selfies). We need our role models to show how to use these tools positively. Miley Cyrus’ [or insert celeb du jour name here] endless stream of ‘selfies’ contributes to the positive development of her bank balance. Apart from that, it suggests to her audience of na├»ve young teenage wannabees that it’s ok to share pictures of your [drunken binge/vomiting/drugging/snogging/etc.] with the world. Sadly, it isn't. And sites like ‘roast busters’ proves it. The world is not a safe place.

We must find ways to model appropriate behaviour in this new context in a way that makes it attractive and appealing for our youth. The alternative, I fear, will make Lord of the Flies pale by comparison.

Update: 8 November
Last night, Campbell Live aired an interview about 'roasting' in general, and the site in particular. Two teenagers spoke in terrifyingly matter-of-fact tones about their knowledge of the goings-on, including apparently witnessing incidents, and being invited to participate. The biggest issue for them, it would seem, was not that 'roasting' happens, but that it shouldn't be boasted about on Facebook. At no point did it occur to them that stupefying and rape are crimes, and that they should do something about it. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Teaching, AG

One of the concerns I frequently hear raised by lecturers is the complaint that universities are decreasing lecture contact time, and consequently lecturers are having to reduce the content they deliver in a teaching session. Inevitably, the fear is that standards will drop as we 'dumb-down' the content for this reduced teaching schedule.

It's an interesting concern, and reflects the curious conflict that has arisen for lecturers and teachers in this AG (after-Google) era. Content is readily available at the touch of a keyboard. There is very little that can't be found within a few seconds of a Google search. So why are we so wedded to the idea that we need to deliver content? Ironically, many of the same people who worry about the reduction of content also complain that students lack the ability to think critically, to analyse sources appropriately, and to synthesise the information they find. This seems a little contradictory: will students ever learn to be analytical and critical if we continue to provide them with the content we think they need? I would certainly agree (based only on my own observations) that many students do lack these skills, and rely too heavily on whatever appears at the top of their Google search without understanding exactly how those results lists are created. But is this any different from my own undergraduate (not quite pre-computer, certainly pre-internet) days, when we took scrupulous notes in lectures so that we could parrot back in the exam everything we had been told? The excellent students were those who worked their way through the supplied reading list; again, not too different from the Google search results.

Stepping away from content delivery can feel risky. I know. I recently was asked by one of Massey's flagship institutes to run two three-hour professional development sessions on facilitating problem-based learning (PBL) as part of their preparation for the roll-out of a new curriculum. There is something particularly terrifying about being asked to present oneself as an expert, in front of a room filled with people who are international experts in their fields.

For days, I wrestled with how to design the sessions. Lecturers from the institute openly acknowledge their tendency to be 'tough on outsiders'; an admission which increased my anxiety! Adding to this was the fact that some of the lecturers who would be attending the session were PBL evangelists who had used the strategy in their teaching for years, others were anxious but enthusiastic about the changes, and still others were morbidly opposed to being forced to change their teaching style. I felt that I needed to present them with three hours of riveting content that would convince them all of the value of PBL whilst at the same time provide them with all the skills and strategies they would need to be competent facilitators themselves. A little daunting. A throw-away comment to one of my colleagues provided me with the answer: instead of presenting myself as the expert and spouting forth for three hours, I would present the lecturers with the problem, and give them the opportunity to solve it. No better way to learn about problem-based learning than to do it.

And suddenly the task became a lot easier from my side. Instead of trying to design a scintillating three-hour lecture (an unlikely combination) with riveting powerpoint slides, all I did was find a range of practical readings about PBL facilitation, photocopy the letter that had been sent requesting the professional development in the first place, divide the lecturers into groups, and set them off developing a professional development session to train a group of lecturers facilitation of  problem-based learning!
The first session thus became a PBL-in-action session, with me modelling facilitation skills, and the lecturers experiencing the role of students. And it was an outstanding success. At the start, many of the lecturers grumbled that what I was doing was a cop-out, and the lazy option, exactly the sort of feedback shown in the literature to be the typical first response of students starting PBL. One or two actively worked against the process, again, typical of a student response. The majority, however, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, knuckled down and tackled the problem, and rapidly became engrossed in the process.

Whilst all this was happening, I was making notes on the process, the comments that were being made, and the behaviours that were occurring. That was the real focus of the session, and the debrief that followed was an interesting process. Even the lecturers who were opposed to the introduction of PBL were engaged and had a better understanding of the process. One admitted that his opposition arose out of his own anxiety of handing control of the classroom over to a group of 100 students, a genuine and common fear. What really convinced people, however, was the fact that they had remained interested and engaged (even if in opposition) for three hours; they had tackled and shared a range of literature, critically reflecting on how it would apply in their own circumstances, and by working in the group, they had generated considerably more and deeper learning than I would have had I lectured them for three hours.

An issue that arose out of the first session was the need many of the lecturers felt to have a 'practice-run' facilitating a PBL session. We arranged this by bribing a group of student volunteers with the promise of a lavish afternoon tea. Lecturers then took turns to work in pairs to facilitate the students working through one of their PBL scenarios, whilst their colleagues observed and offered feedback. Again, it was an incredibly valuable learning experience for everyone. The facilitators were given feedback from their peers and the students themselves; the students got to see lecturers working on improving their craft, and all of us observing found ourselves reflecting on our own teaching and knowledge of PBL as we watched the facilitators working their way through the process. Like the first session, feedback from this session was overwhelmingly positive. A senior lecturer noted how valuable it had been to get immediate feedback from the students, and decided he would incorporate strategies for doing this into all of his teaching. Another said that the session had been the most valuable experience in all her teaching professional development.

What did I take out of all of this (apart from relief that I had not been chewed up and spat out by a group of high-powered lecturers?) The incredible value of learning by doing. I would never have been able to achieve the same levels of engagement and enthusiasm from the lecturers had I lectured them for six hours. I am also convinced that their knowledge of PBL is significantly deeper than it would have been had I lectured them. By letting go of the need for content, and allowing them to create their own knowledge, I believe the lecturers had a far more meaningful and long-term learning experience, and one that could not have been found on Google. Was it 'dumbed-down'? No, I don't believe it was, and the lecturers certainly didn't seem to think so. Was it engaging and immediately relevant to each person in the room in his or her own context and at his or her own level? Absolutely. Was it scary to let go of control and not be 'the expert'. Very. But the results spoke for themselves, and even now, weeks later, I have conversations with individuals who participated in the sessions which indicate that they learned, retained, and have been able to synthesize, a significant amount about PBL. And for a teacher, that is immensely satisfying.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Visual storytelling

Towards the end of last year, Massey University held its annual Vice-Chancellor's Symposium, focusing on the theme of defining 21st century scholarship. As part of the symposium, delegates were invited to submit posters reflecting one or other aspect of that theme. As my 11 avid readers will know, I am particularly interested in social media and the impact that has on modern life, so it seemed apt to explore how social media defines, or has the potential to define, the modern student. (At the time of designing the poster, Facebook announced the creation of its billionth account! There is no denying the pervasiveness of social media!) Because I was examining the potential impact of social media, it seemed appropriate to present my information in the form of an infographic. And whilst I made this choice more-or-less on a whim, designing the poster was the start of an interesting exploration of how the infographic (or my version of the genre, at least) allows one to present a great deal more information than simply words alone.

At the time, I was rather pleased with the way the poster turned out, although looking at it now I can see that there are some issues with it. Never-the-less, using the infographic format allowed me to mix data, in the form of charts, quotes from the literature, and imagery (cogs to reflect the connectivist nature of social media; the wave to warn of the risk of drowning in it) in a way which I think probably told a better story than the words alone would have done. 

Soon after the symposium, I was asked by a colleague to help her with a poster for a conference, and incorporating infographic elements worked well for that too.

I really became convinced of the usefulness of combining images and text  this year. I am currently working towards an MEd., and have to complete some initial papers before I get stuck into a thesis. One assignment required me to draw up a table comparing different groups of learning theories. I found the task a frustrating one, as the table format implies that there are clear boundaries between the theories, which of course, there aren't, and that the theories evolved in some sort of orderly process. Limited also by time and word count, I decided that the only way I could effectively present the information was to resort to incorporating infographic elements into the task.

This was my final product:

The content of the infographic was more or less determined by the assignment, but including visual elements certainly provided me with more scope for description. The three head silhouettes attempt to show the differences in the ways each group of theories explains learning. The associationists see it as a process of fitting new knowledge onto existing constructs, so lego seemed like an appropriate image. The cognitivists focus on the processes of information storage and retrieval, and the scripts and processes used by the brain to do this, hence the use of computer and other technological images. Situative theorists see knowledge as social constructs, so the images used there all reflect collaborative human elements.

By arranging the individual theories at different levels on the page, I was able to indicate the chronological progression without suggesting that these thing were truly sequential, and I used the circular watermarks to indicate the overlaps between the theories. Finally, the small icons next to each learning theory attempted to summarise the specifics of the theory in a way that could aid understanding and recall.
Using the infographic format in an academic context had great value for me and helped transform a fairly mundane task into a challenging and useful learning experience. Of course, I was fortunate to have a lecturer who was willing to allow the idea. And this is one of the big challenges of academia: so much of it is rooted in the tradition of words (a lecturer many years ago described the cult of publication to me as 'shedding pseudo light on non-problems). Publication must be in specific peer-reviewed journals for it to hold any value (although recent events have brought the value of peer review into question). Blogging and other forms of social media hold little weight in the world of higher education, and yet I doubt there is any better way of disseminating knowledge to the masses than through the use of blogs, tweets and other forms of social media, such as the infographic. Engaging with these less-erudite and arcane forms of communication, might enable academics to re-connect with the common man (or woman) who, through taxes and fees, probably fund a fair chunk of the university anyway. And if information is going to be valuable and useful, surely it needs to be as accessible and widely disseminated as possible?

[1] Hoare, K. (2012). Personal tutor- evaluation of a student support system - preliminary findings. ANZAHPE Conference 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Transforming schools

Although this video possibly raises as many questions as answers, I think schools like this could be the saving grace of so many kids.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Social media: friend or unfriend?

Picking through the social media garbage*
I have been a user of various forms of social media for a while now. I have a Facebook account which I use exclusively for social interactions with friends; this blog, and Twitter and Scoopit accounts, which I use for professional networking, reflection and resource sharing, and of course, a LinkedIn account, which, although I tend to neglect it, has brought me three unsolicited (but genuine) job offers in the last three years. I also have various other accounts, usually set up as part of my work in e-learning, so that I can get a feel for what they look like and how they could be used by students and teachers/lecturers; most of these are barren and neglected.

Social-media-savvy readers will have realised, no doubt, that I am no social-media guru. Anyone claiming to have real social media credit has thousands of Twitter followers... at last count I had fewer than one hundred, and, according to the Twitter stats, I send 0.95 tweets a day. I fear even the (soon to be ex-) pope tweeted more frequently. Despite this, I have found social media, especially Twitter, really useful. I use Tweetdeck to organise my Twitter stream, and tend to dip in once or twice a day, skimming through the feeds looking for articles of interest. (I suppose that means that I am really using Twitter as a content curation tool.) And I usually find at least two or three articles or links that are interesting and offer new ideas on things related to my work in education. In the last few months, however, this strategy of looking for gems whilst sifting through the screeds of inane comments on topics ranging from new clothes to the quality of coffee from someone's local coffee bar has made me feel like the garbage picker in the picture, sorting through the waste of society  and yet wearing an Armani cap. There are treasures to be found, but the air stinks.

Two recent events in particular have forced me to take a step back from Twitter in particular. The first was the Sandy Hook massacre. A few days after it took place, someone had the bright idea of using Twitter to encourage people around the world to wear green in memory of the children and teachers who were killed. Whilst this idea may have originated from the best of intentions, it rapidly devolved to people tweeting photographs of themselves in their Sandy Hook massacre memorial outfits posing flirtatiously for a 'selfie'... surely the pinnacle of narcissistic opportunism and bad taste. More recently, Oscar Pistorius' killing of Reeva Steenkamp has swamped the social media channels. It seems that anyone with access to social media is now an expert on everything from law and domestic violence to human behaviour and ballistics. Again, an appalling tragedy is reduced to an opportunity for intellectual masturbation, with little regard for the people killed in, or living through, the tragedy.

On a less outraged note, there is something about Twitter that seems to bring out the worst in people. Perhaps, by its very nature, it attracts the solipsist. I can't help but wonder who in the world would be interested in me posting a 'selfie' every day for a year. I'm just not that interesting to look at. And of the small group of people who follow my Twitter feed, perhaps two would be mildly interested to note that I have had a new haircut, or that the girl at the coffee shop short-changed me yesterday and then seemed surprised when I asked for the difference. Do I really need to inflict the minutiae of my existence on the other 96 followers who are unlikely to give a damn? Unless you are a member of my immediate family, I'm afraid I'm just not interested in the music you are listening to at the moment, how often you have 'checked-in' to a particular restaurant, the state of your latest diet or fitness regime, or the retweet of a compliment given to you by a colleague (retweeting stuff like that is just boastful.). The recent downfall of popular icons such as Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and now possibly Pistorius, should be sufficient warning to all of us of the dangers of cults of personality and yet social media allows us to create these cults for ourselves, easily and with little or no real foundation. This article from The Guardian sums up perfectly this strange brave new world.

And yet, despite all this, I can't disconnect from social media, or dismiss it completely. It has given me access to ideas, articles and research that I would never otherwise have known about. I've seen the value of Facebook as a tool for peer-to-peer learning, and have used Twitter to get answers to work-related questions from around the world. I curate and share resources daily using Scoopit, and many of these resources I find via Twitter. There is clear evidence pointing to the benefits of using social media in higher education, and statistics certainly point to the vast numbers of people for whom social media (especially Facebook, with 1 billion accounts and rising) is an integral part of daily life. 

So what is the answer? It seems unlikely that social media use will decline significantly, although of course the tools may change. It is imperative then, that social rules and ethics catch up with these new tools. Teachers and lecturers play a critical part in this. In as much as at school we teach children to read and write, we need to teach them to be ethical and social-media savvy. In higher education, we need to be going further: social media use should be an academic skill, and students need to be taught to think critically about the use of social media in the same way as they are taught to think critically about their core subjects. If we don't, I fear we are no better than the ancient Romans at the Colosseum, giving, on a whim, the thumbs up or down to the victims of the day.

*Image CC-By-NC-ND Grant Eaton

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ya want fries with that Mooc-shake?

Like anyone involved in online learning, I have been following the MOOC (massive open online course) debate with interest, and have read the discussions about the evolution of the phenomenon from the early constructivist/connectivist iterations, (cMOOCs) facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens to the current, truly massive beasts, produced by Coursera and the like (xMOOCs). However, I was never a happy window shopper. I have always wanted to 'do stuff' rather than simply read about it, so last year, I signed up for one of the brave new MOOCs. (I had participated in free, open online courses before, some with more success than others. Otago's Facilitating Online Course kept my attention, although I participated actively for only 4 weeks and I completed and enjoyed Wayne Mackintosh's quick-and-punchy Open Education Resources course last year). I mean no discredit to either, but I learned as much from the experience of being an online student as I did from the actual course content in either course.

But I digress. The xMOOC I (somewhat ambitiously) signed up for was Social Network Analysis, run by Lada Adamic of Stanford on the Coursera platform. And I admit, the fact that it was Stanford played a part in my choice. But I am also interested in social networks; consider myself reasonably intelligent and informed, and I was fairly sure that, whilst I was a complete novice in the subject, judicious use of Google would mean that I would be able to fill in the gaps when they occurred. The course was simple in design: 8 weekly topics composed of online video lectures, some readings and formative tasks, and two summative tasks. Anyone completing the course with an acceptable passing grade would receive a certificate of completion from Stanford (a tempting reward for yoiks with qualifications from the educational outback like myself).

Needless to say, the reality of the course was a little different to my expectations. Whilst I did understand the content of the early weeks, there were times when something was said on one of the recorded lectures that I simply didn't quite 'get'. And sadly, with a recorded lecture, no matter how many times one replays the clip, the lecturer always says exactly the same thing! There were, of course, forums on which I could post a question and someone would get back to me within 24 hours. The trouble with these was, with something like 25,000 people enrolled on the course, the forums were huge and intimidating. Never-the-less I managed to complete the early assignments with a fair level of understanding. (We were required to analyse our own online social networks: I discovered to my chagrin, that my network of Facebook connections is so small and scattered that it barely qualified as a network at all!)

What I found most off-putting about the xMOOC, however, was the number of very obvious experts who had signed up and who (it seemed to me) dominated the forums with highly erudite debates and discussions, leaving very little space for the likes of me. There is something very disconcerting about logging on to a forum taking 20-30min to formulate a well-crafted response to a discussion topic, only to discover that 180 other people had posted in the interim. It was incredibly intimidating and reminded me of the first day of high school, when the new kids, with stiff, too-big uniforms, are shoved to the back of the tuck-shop queue by the seniors, comfortably well-worn and self-assured.

Clearly my foray into the world of xMOOCs was doomed. Like thousands of others who had signed up, I ended, not with a bang, but a whimper. A recent article on the Augmented Trader blog listed the following completion data (for a different course, but most accounts of MOOCs suggest similar data):
Enrolled (clicked “sign me up”): 53,205
  • Watched a video: 53% of those who enrolled
  • Took a quiz: 26% of those who enrolled
  • Submitted first homework: 12% of those who enrolled
Completed the course:
  • 4.8% of those who enrolled
  • 18% of those who took a quiz.
  • 39% of those who submitted the first project.
Still, as many have pointed out, 2650 (5% of 53,000) is still a reasonable number of students, although no New Zealand university would dare post retention rates like that. The fact that the course was free (so no financial loss to students for non-completion) and open (no entry requirements) meant that there would be many tyre-kickers such as myself skewing the data.

Not wanting to write off the phenomenon completely though, I signed up for the Online Learning Design Studio cMOOC run by the Open University, UK. It promised to be all the things that the Stanford MOOC was not: small (only 1000-or-so people) collaborative, constructivist in approach, student centered.  It started three days ago. Before the course opened I had already received 13 emails with various instructions, hints, sites to register for, apologies for broken links, etc. I started ignoring the course emails even before the course had started. (I have received another 10 in the three days since it started... and had I signed up for notifications from forum discussions, that number would be exponentially larger.) I am supposed to be using Twitter, Cloudworks and Google groups. I think I have completed the tasks I am supposed to have done, but there is nothing that indicates confirms that I have.  

And after only three days, the discussion forums are so clogged with posts and proposals that I can't even begin to find my way into a team that proposes to build a project in which I am interested. (Quite honestly, the thought of virtual teamwork with strangers gives me the horrors!)

Clearly I am not cut out for MOOCing. I'm going to persevere a little longer with the OLDSMOOC... (apparently if I complete the first week I will earn a badge!) but I fear I am not cut out for this form of study. Even in the cMOOC format it is too structured for me and the pace is way too quick to allow for cogitation and procrastination. Whether the MOOC will be the disruptive innovation some claim it will be remains to be seen. For me, it was a stress-inducing and unsatisfying way of studying, an educational burger-and-fries from the drive-through, when I'd far rather eat at home.
POST SCRIPT: Following Claire Thompson's comment below, I had a look at the #ETMOOC and have signed up for that one too. It will be an interesting comparison in terms of structure, course design and communication. At first glance, it certainly appears to be a simpler and clearer structure to follow. Interesting how blogging and micro-blogging takes one in unexpected directions! Thanks, Claire!


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Professional networking or cheap trick?

I have been a LinkedIn user for about four years, I think. I’ve not been terribly active, but keeping my profile up-to-date has been useful, and I’ve even received two job invitations via the network. However, I noticed today that LinkedIn has a brave new feature that allows me the option of ‘endorsing’ the skills claimed by the people on my connections list. I discovered this after receiving a notification that one of my connections had endorsed my ‘teaching’ skills. I do mention on my profile that I was once a teacher, but apart from running the odd professional development workshop, (and I’m pretty certain my endorser never attended any of those)  I haven’t actually taught for a very long time, and it’s not a skill that I actively market, so why would I want someone to endorse it?

All of which begs the question, how reliable is an endorsement, and is this really a good idea for LinkedIn? I can’t help but feel that there’s an expectation of reciprocity in all of this: If you endorse my skills in x, I’ll endorse yours in y. Am I expected to endorse the people with whom I work? What happens to my working relationships if I don’t? Many of these endorsements are no better than children who, on the first day of school, offer sweet bribes to make friends and secure that tenuous popularity that might just give them a lift in the social pecking order.

Whilst I am happy to support the claims of many of my connections, I’d like that endorsement to have some validity. If I endorse Donna Thompson’s skills as a Moodle Administrator, for example, it’s because I worked with her for three years and I know she’s damn good at what she does. The endorsement of my teaching skills by someone who has never seen me teach, no matter how well intentioned, has no validity whatsoever. LinkedIn has always allowed recommendations, and I have done those, when requested, for people whose skills I know and respect. The endorsement process is too quick and facile, and I fear it undermines everything useful about LinkedIn.

If the network is determined to continue with this process of unsolicited endorsement, I’d like to suggest a ‘hell no’ button, so that I can respond appropriately to the rather inane endorsement question, “Does [insert person’s name] know about [insert random skill]?” Without that, LinkedIn is simply undermining the reliability of the professional network.