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.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A creative commons quandary

Over the past few weeks I have been participating in the OER  online course organised by Wayne Mackintosh, founder of WikiEducator.  Although I thought I was pretty au fait with copyright issues, having spent six years working in the publishing industry, I discovered some gaping holes in my knowledge, especially around the use of so-called public domain artworks. What has really challenged me though, hasn’t been the information around copyright or creative commons. Instead, the course has forced me to rethink my views on the ownership and sharing of knowledge.

While still in SA, I worked in the textbook industry and authored a number of senior- and high-school textbooks, some of which have been in print for 9 years. I have enjoyed a small but steady income from those books, and the royalty payments have always been very welcome. Sometimes, content from the books has been re-licensed for other uses, and I have received additional payments whenever that that has happened. Again, financially insignificant, but all part of a much bigger money-making industry. (In my case, 12% of net profit on each title is shared among the authors of the title… fair for the industry. So 88% of the net profit went to the publishing company itself. Not bad really!)

What I am being forced to reflect upon, however, is:  do I have the right to ownership at all? Remember these works are not creative, original works out of my imagination; they are textbooks, so they are compendiums of knowledge that already exists. Of course, the way I presented and unpacked that information was  (I hope) uniquely my own work, but can I really place restrictions on people reusing what I have written on market systems; economic cycles and the like? I’m not sure that I can. That information existed before I put it down on paper.  At the same time, if it wasn’t for the large publishing industry, much of that information would never have reached the classroom at all. (Bear in mind that this was in South Africa, where access to electricity isn’t a given, and the printed word is still often the only way school children can find information.) It’s a debate with no easy answer. Publishing companies have done a world of good whilst making money out of their ownership of knowledge, but where do their rights end? Should access to knowledge really be determined by one’s ability to pay for it?

For me, the answer is easy (especially since I no longer work in the industry.) Work that I produced outside of my paid employment (that is covered by a legal contract) will always be licensed CC-BY.  Having had my own work copied and passed off as someone else’s, and having seen it done repeatedly by others, I know the importance of acknowledging one’s sources. It really hurts when people don’t acknowledge their sources. I would like people to say, ‘Jean was part of this…’.  It would even be nice if they dropped me an email and told me what they were doing with it. But if they can make money from it, all power to them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Facebook safety for kids and their parents

I recently bowed to the inevitable and allowed my elder son to set up a Facebook account. Given the issues that accompany Facebook, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but as I do a lot of promotion of the value of social networks in learning, it really was time to practise what I preach.

My son has been on Facebook for 3 months. He has over 200 friends. I have been on Facebook for almost 5 years, and I have 42 friends (and of these, about 10 are really active on Facebook.) One of the conditions for allowing my son to have a Facebook account was that I would be one of his friends, so that I could see what was going on, and over the last three months I’d say everything I’ve seen on his account has been harmless (although I was reminded of the dangers of those '25 things you didn't know about me' questionnaires, which often prompt people to reveal a lot of the information people typically use as password security: mother's maiden name, first pet, etc.) In fact, he has friended an Australian kid who is very active in the scootering community on Youtube, and who (at the age of 12) creates amazingly well-crafted movies around scootering themes. This has inspired my son to find out more about photography, video editing, and movie making, so there is clearly value to be found in the social networks.

However, there is a flipside to all this. As part of one of my regular checks of his online activity (and as long as I pay the bills and take legal responsibility, I will monitor what he does online) I clicked into the Facebook accounts of some of his friends. Remembering that most of these kids are younger than the required 13 years for an account, I was really disturbed by what I saw on some of their pages. I browsed about 20 of his friends’ pages, and of these, only one page was set to private… all the rest were visible, if not to public, then at least to friends of friends. This increases the risks of cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying enormously. The content of many of these pages was equally disturbing, and showed very clearly that these kids have no understanding of the permanence of comments online, appropriate tone, and the risks associated with posting pictures of themselves. Of course, they are kids… we shouldn’t expect them to have a proper grasp of these issues. But their parents and teachers should. Which begs the question: how are we educating parents to be parents of 21st century students? Are we educating them at all? It’s all very well highlighting the risks of cyberstalking and online predators, but we can’t keep our kids offline, so we parents need to know how to keep our kids safe, and to be as active in supervising our tweens online as we were when we held their toddler-age hands while crossing the road.

I raised this issue with my son’s teacher, and offered to be involved in developing an education programme for parents. Her reply to me, see below, gives me great hope. I particularly like the way she is involving the kids in analysing the problem and looking for solutions: by making it their responsibility I am certain she is increasing her chances of success, and she is actively engaging the students in 21st century literacy skills at the same time.

…I have discussed with the class the use of FaceBook and [your son] brought up a valid point regarding FaceBook and how it is used at school. He and another student are now in the process of writing to the principal to voice their opinions and follow up with a solution to what they believe is an issue that needs to be resolved.

I agree with your concerns and have checked Facebook pages of students in the class to ensure that they have secure pages. However, as you know this is only as good as the security of their friends.

Earlier in the year we spoke about the kinds of comments/posts that people put on Facebook and yesterday we revisited those as well as talking about what information they should (actually should not) give/make available. We will revisit this a few more times throughout the year…

Hats off to you, Miss Lynch!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Explaining social media

What more can one say, really...?

Social Media Explained a la @ThreeShipsMedia

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Modern art?

I love it when people use existing technologies in new ways. We've all seen how apps can make items on tablet screens tilt and orient themselves spacially, but this is a really clever next step. Of course, I'm not sure I'd want one of these paintings on my wall - every time someone walked past the darn thing they'd tilt it, and then leave the painting AND it's contents lolling drunkenly askew. Hell for those of us who like things just 'so'.

Still Life from Scott Garner on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Illustrating learning

I have been looking for different ways to present information in online learning packages. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of long paragraphs of text, but alternatives such as animations and avatars are simply out of my budget.

I have just started playing with online comic design tool, Pixton. It has taken me an hour or two to figure out the basics, but it seems to be a really user-friendly piece of software, and the gallery of comics created by users certainly shows that there is a wide range of options. And at $6/month, I can't complain about the cost!

 Neither art nor entertainment, but it adds variety to a learning package!

Interactive back seat windows

How things have changed. Like the author of this article, when I was young [she said, in a quavering voice] the best the back seat window had to offer was a screen for drawing in the fog created by my breath.

What doesn't seem to be covered by any of the proposed technologies, is how to manage the consequent smeary finger marks on the glass, which, in my family, usually precipitated roars of annoyance from the front seat!


SOPA has certainly polarised people, and it has been interesting to follow the global reaction to it. The day of internet blackouts and other protests certainly seems to have changed the minds of decision makers in the US. Whilst I'm relieved that the Bill won't be passed, if this infographic is to be believed, the speed with which members of the US Congress flip-flopped makes me cynical. I'm sure their change of heart has more to do with elections than conscience.

There is a part of me that admires the 65 supporters who continue to support the Bill despite the weight of opinion swinging to the other side. Are they the only members who actually have convictions, or are they simply those whose financial support comes from the entertainment industry, I wonder.

Image: SOPA-opera count via Whale-oil-beef-hooked

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The flipped classroom

There has been considerable debate in the blogosphere recently about the pros and cons of the 'flipped' classroom. Working in a blended degree programme that leans more and more to the online as it progresses over the three years, I have (probably rather unthinkingly) always been in favour of flipping. It makes so much sense. Why waste time downloading concrete facts and content in the classroom if you can 'preheat' your students by providing them with this information online, before they come to class. Theoretically, when students then appear in your classroom, you can spend your time troubleshooting and engaged in critical thinking tasks based on the stuff they've already downloaded into their brains via your online content. There is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest the efficacy of the approach - lots of teachers post about improved pass rates and increased engagement, and the popularity of the Khan Academy must be coming from somewhere. (Although it is worth noting that slightly more rigorous research into flipping the classroom with Khan academy shows that the difference in grades, post-flip, is not very large.)

Those opposed to flipping the classroom frequently cite the unfairness of it; the fact that it increases the digital divide by favouring the students who have online access at home, and who have the home circumstances that favour study and online learning. Obviously many students don't have these luxuries, and in a flipped classroom, they are going to be left behind very quickly.

But is this a valid argument against the flipped classroom? If I were still teaching in schools, and I had students in my class who did not have access to the internet at home, I would be acting unfairly and incompetently if I designed my classes to be based on flipped learning. On the other hand, if I had a class full of 'wired' students (and let's face it, there are very few high school students who don't have a Facebook account) why wouldn't I flip, even if it does increase the gap between the haves and the have nots?