Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The missing link?

After discovering the wonders of FriendFeed there's another tool worth noting that promises to link Facebook with a university's learning management system. It's called CourseFeed and enables Facebook to link with an LMS giving students the ability to integrate their social network with their academic studies. Sounds like the missing link offering the best of both worlds but the question is whether we should let Facebook log into our LMS and collect information. Michael Hotrum's interesting blog takes up this question and for more comments just go there.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Keeping tabs

I see there's a new service for social networking fans. It's called FriendFeed and the idea seems to be to enable you to keep track of what your friends are doing on all the other social networks (ie if they add an entry in Facebook, a new video on YouTube etc). I've been looking at all sorts of Web 2.0 services in the past months and have an enormous collection of bookmarks as a result. You can be a member of a handful but you can bet your friends will be involved in networks that you haven't even heard of yet. So now you need a sort of broker service to keep tabs on what's going on everywhere else! Fascinating phenomenon.

This leads me to wonder how this will affect the orderly world of university IT. At present we have relatively secure networks offering students and staff selection of applications including the learning management system. Our firewalls and anti-virus programs protect us from the big wide world and we have a certain amount of freedom to customize and personalize. Now as more and more people start using the myriad of free tools for networking, video production, publication etc. there seems less and less point in IT departments investing in expensive commercial products. The LMS seems to be more and more of a walled garden; safe but cut-off from the outside world. Students and a number of teachers are already using the new tools and this is going to lead to friction. How can we exploit the potential of Web 2.0 in a university setting without abdicating a certain level of control? A great deal of coursework and communication between teachers and students should not be open for public view and needs to be protected. Can you run a course on , say, Facebook? Of course you can but should you? Who owns it all in that case? If you have all your material on Google Apps doesn't Google own it? The university certainly doesn't.

Can we combine the security of campus IT with the innovative potential of Web 2.0? If I knew the answer to that one I wouldn't be sitting writing this little blog.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The sound of silence

I can remember when there was literally nothing on television. Weekdays were largely TV free till the late afternoon when the children’s programmes started. They showed the testcard so that TV repair people could check that the set actually worked. At around 11 pm a presenter would tell us that the evening’s programmes were over and wished us all a very good night. Sometimes they even played the national anthem as a subtle hint that it really was time to go to bed. Even radio stations were silent at night.

Today there is still very little to watch on television but it goes on round the clock. 57 channels and nothing on. When they can’t think of anything to broadcast they switch over to TV-Shop with hours of hysterical ads about miracle fitness devices and anti-wrinkle cream. Or they show 5 back-to-back episodes of some instantly forgettable Dallas lookalike soap from the eighties. Who watches this stuff in the middle of the night? Anything to avoid silence.

Some channels show a very special type of phone-in quiz show. A young aspiring TV presenter gets the daunting task of filling an hour or two of non-prime time TV by trying to persuade the sparse audience to phone in and answer questions. The cash prizes are quite tempting and the questions are often along the lines of “What colour is the White House?” But no one phones and the presenter has to fill the time by commenting on the weather, what she/he had for breakfast etc. They can go on for 20 minutes without anyone phoning and you can sense the creeping desperation in the presenter’s voice as the nagging suspicion grows that there may not be anyone watching at all. I must say I admire their courage. If you survive a few months fronting one of these shows you deserve to go on to more rewarding roles. It takes guts to talk and smile non-stop for 2 hours in front of a camera knowing that your nationwide audience may be in single figures, including several who are unconscious.

We fill our lives with noise. People of all ages have their iPods almost permanently plugged in; when walking, jogging, gardening or travelling. Comfortable, handy, fun but again a sort of padding to block out the world, the avoidance of silence. When do we have time to rest, to think, to just be? Silence is awkward, it demands reflection. Sunday as a day of rest was an excellent idea and just as relevant today as it was for the Israelites of the Old Testament. Imagine a day when the shopping centres are closed and people just rest. A day when it’s OK to switch off. Hardly likely in our 24-7 globalised individualistic society but a nice dream.