Thursday, July 28, 2011


While I'm on holiday I thought it would be fun to have a guest write a post here. My blogsitter this time is my colleague Chahira Nouira from the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany (follow her on Twitter).

What is your blogging strategy while you are away on holidays?

The holiday season has started and many of you may have started looking for the house sitter, the dog sitter but have you considered a blog sitter? Taking a break is very often getting disconnected from computers and the internet. But how is it for the blogosphere?

Last year I was observing some of my favorite bloggers and their different strategies for blogging while they are away. Steve Wheeler (Learning with 'e's), Martin Weller (The Ed-Techie) and Tony Bates ( had different strategies that I would like to share here.

Steve was announcing his holidays and that he won’t be online but he also announced a series of post to be published during that period of time. I very much enjoyed reading the series called “Web feats”. The posts were programmed in advance so that readers could have posts on a regular basis while he was away.

Martin chose another alternative and invited Phil Greaney who wrote a great and long post. The nice thing was that Martin took the time to comment and encourage his guest from his holiday home in France.

Tony Bates, wrote a post announcing he would be away to spend some time with his family and would be posting when he returned.

I got the feeling that in the first case readers could get their regular posts but rather be in a lurker mode and won´t comment as often as they would usually on Steve´s blog. As for the second case, Martin joked about him being worried that his guest would take over the blog. This did not happen of course and I think that it made me discover a new writing style on that blog. In both cases it was entertaining and enriching. In the third case I was clearly said not to have any expectations, so I just put the coming back date on my calendar!

These are examples of blogs I read; I am wondering what other bloggers do. What did you decide to do with your blog while you are on holiday?

Chahira writes on the SCIENTIA blog on education and e-learning related subjects.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Many of the conferences and seminars I attend are full of online educators all sporting the latest in laptop and mobile technology. Many want to tweet, blog and mail their impressions of the conference or look up the links that are suggested in the sessions. However there's often frustration in the ranks as we realize that the conference venue has no or inadequate wifi, a severe shortage of power sockets or poor mobile coverage. Many university lecture halls have a handful power sockets up front for the lecturer but nowhere else and getting a seat near one of these oases becomes hard currency.

This year I've sampled all variants but it seems that many venues are not keeping up with the explosive development of social media. Wifi capacity that was fine a year ago for checking web pages and mail is now hopelessly inadequate when everyone is filming, sending photos and live streaming. In addition we're now writing our notes on cloud services like Google Docs, preparing slideshows on SlideShare or Prezi and all of that needs net access. As we migrate towards cloud computing, demands on conference venues' wifi will accelerate and those who are not prepared will suffer. There's no point at looking at last year's stats when planning this year's conference.

Imagine when every delegate comes with a cloud-based laptop like the Google Chromebook or with iPads and other tablets. Plan capacity on those lines now and you will be an attractive venue next year.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Read all about it

I started this blog very tentatively back in April 2008 (read the very first post) deciding to try out blogging just to see what would happen. Since then it has become a way of life and I now spend rather a lot of my spare time writing three blogs as well as looking after a couple of web sites and various social networks. Throw in Twitter and Facebook and it all adds up to a fairly large digital footprint. The fun thing about it all is that one thing leads to another and the channels of communication multiply almost automatically.

My daily news on

Today there are some excellent applications that can compile impressive web sites around your everyday communication. If you have a reasonably sized Twitter network you can make a daily newspaper based on your daily Twitter feed using . It simply selects the most popular tweets from your followers each day and expands them into a newspaper format. Very attractive and involves virtually no work for me, apart from maintaining a good Twitter network of people who provide good content. See my daily news summary. I don't know how many people check my news site but it gives me the highlights from my Twitter network without even needing to log on to Twitter. The content is chosen by people I follow and I follow people who provide good links and valuable information.

This tool can be easily used with classes or projects. A group of students or a project group can start a Twitter account and follow key experts and bloggers in the chosen field. Paper-li will then compile this feed into a daily newspaper that monitors the subject being studied and gives students instant access to hundreds of relevant articles and new ideas.

My site, Corridor of Learning
I've just started a very interesting service called It provides a plug-in button on my toolbar and when I see an intersting article or news item I simply press the button and the article shows up on my own site which I decided to call the Corridor of Learning. On this site you can see what I've been reading recently and it links directly to those articles. I use this as a silo of potential blog material, handily presented on one page. I can quickly select an interesting article and put it on my site for reading in detail later. Some of it I will use for blog posts here and some will appear on my Swedish blog Flexspan (there's a translation widget there if you don't speak Swedish).

My site is just a reflection of my own reading but can also be used to great effect in the classroom. A site can have several contributors so a group of students could co-curate a site, adding relevant items from day to day and providing a visually attractive bibliography for their assignment. A new feature allows you to search for and link up with other users who curate similar sites to your own as this new video shows.

As I wrote earlier, once you get started on this you just can't stop and your network and involvement just keep on growing. And I haven't even mentioned Google+!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Scylla and Charybdis

I have a nagging sense that I really should get a Google+ account and see what all the fuss is about. My Twitter stream has been full of lyrical accounts of the advantages of Google+ over Facebook and already there are plenty of articles and guides to using G+ in education and its potential use for collaborative learning in general. But somehow I can't bring myself to put my toe in the water yet.

From what I can see as I press my face against the shop window there are plenty of attractive features in G+ that Facebook so far lacks, especially the ability to divide your friends into circles and create separate and more specific conversation groups. It looks more structured and easier to manage too and of course it integrates so well with all the other Google services that most of us use.

I try out new apps and services all the time but I hesitate with this one. The main reason is that I can't cope with yet another social network just now. I have my networks on Twitter, Facebook and a few other places and if I start with G+ it'll be another one to keep tabs on. If all my contacts mass migrated from Facebook to G+ then maybe but at present it'll mean an even more fragmented social network (plus log-ins passwords etc). I remember joining Google Wave and then wondering what to do with it. For the time being I will observe through the window and see how it goes.

Another point is the battle for world domination taking place between Google, Apple and Facebook. An article by Sebastian Anthony on ExtremeTech this week, Google+ Too many eggs in the Google basket, warns that we should be wary of letting just one company take care of all our digital needs.

"The problem with this rationale, however rosy it may seem, is that you’re simply moving from one internet juggernaut to another. You’re taking your chips from Facebook and investing them in Google+. This might be a satisfactory solution in the short term, but do you have any rational reason to believe that it’s better in the long term? Is Google a nicer company than Facebook? Google’s record with privacy-related issues (Buzz, Street View, Wi-Fi snooping) is just as bad as Facebook’s, if not worse, and it remains under investigation by governments around the world. Google+ certainly shows that Google has learnt from its mistakes — but just remember that Google makes its money by selling you; by knowing where you live, what videos you like watching, and your entire search and surfing history, Google sells targeted advertising to the tune of tens of billions of dollars per year. Selling you is of Google’s revenue stream."

They all want our interests, preferences, networks and communication so they can sell it to advertisers and we have to bear this in mind. They're out there to earn money, plain and simple, and we need to play the one off the other no matter how tempting it is to enter their attractive but walled gardens.

Like Odysseus we have to steer a careful path between Scylla and Charybdis.

Image: Work found at / CC BY-SA 3.0

Monday, July 11, 2011

Change perspective

pencil jar by Muffet, on FlickrAll innovations and new ideas must be tested and questioned before they can be widely accepted but how often to we test and question traditional methods and structures?

I heard a lecture a while back where we were asked to imagine how books would be viewed if they had just been invented in a world where multimedia games and the web were the norm. Reading books would be seen as a solitary activity where teenagers hide themselves in their rooms with no social interaction, no multimedia stimulus and very little physical activity. These strange book-lovers would congregate in quiet and unstimulating buildings called libraries where they all sat silently reading without even talking to each other.

An amusing thought in the light of today's discussions about gaming and social media but it is useful to sometimes look at accepted practice in a new light.

Another case is a blog post by Katie Stansberry on MindShift, 10 reasons to ban pens and pencils in the classroom. It's well worth reading and she presents the same arguments as are often used aginst the use of mobiles in the classroom she shows how dangerous pens and pencils can be. The case against pencils is just as convincing as that against mobiles and it all depends on what you do with these devices. The same device/method/tool can be either a trivial distraction or an invaluable learning opportunity.

I agree that we need to examine and questions innovations but we should not becom complacent in our attitude towards accepted practices. Just because classrooms/lectures/examinations/books/age-based classes etc worked in the past does not mean that they will work today. Keep questioning and re-examining.

Photo:Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Muffet 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Creative Commons - let's make it easy

A lot of effort is put into preventing plagiarism both in schools and universities and there are some excellent intitiatives in this field. Often students simply don't realize where the borderline to plagiarism lies or think that a few choice sentences here and there won't do any harm. But many institutions have published guides and often clear, informative and often light-hearted guides to help students do the right thing.

However there is not the same interest in helping students to choose correctly when it comes to photos and films. Both teachers and students simply search for good photos on Google and then copy and paste into presentations and essays. Creative Commons licensing is now widespread and there are millions of photos, films, diagrams and texts that can be freely copied and even reworked. However very few institutions have a policy for the media use and Creative Commons licensing.

This is the subjetc of the following interview with Professor Lawrence Lessig, Harvard University, on EdTalks.. The main point is to make it as easy as possible to use open resources. If schools and universities have a clear policy on using CC material and there are clear guidelines for staff and students that will help enormously. However Lessig says that responsibility also lies with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to make it easy to filter image searches so that you can quickly search for open resources. Today it's easy to search for photos and films but the main search engines make it impossible to choose the right ones. A simple search filter to click on wuld suffice.

Today it's easy to break copyright law and most of us do so unwittingly. Let's make it easy to follow the law and move the free material up front so people realize the wealth that is available. If someone wants their material locked away under copyright then let it remain hidden: If you share you're work will be used.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Communication breakdown

PowerPoint Slide with Lots of Words by barbaranixon, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  barbaranixon

I know a lot of people who hate PowerPoint presentations. I see their point but I try to defend the much-maligned tool. Used well the slide show helps the audience follow your argument and lets you provide memorable images and key words or quotations at strategic moments. I've heard too many people who proudly say that they don't like PowerPoint and instead will simply present "unplugged". Unless the presenter is a skilled orator, these casual presentations are often self-indulgent wandering narratives that are often impossible to follow. There are, of course, alternatives like Prezi but in the end they're all just tools and require the presenter's skill and sensitivity.

Used badly however, PowerPoint (or Prezi or whatever) is sheer agony though the fault lies entirely with the user rather than the medium. Despite years of presentation training courses in most organisations slides like the one featured above are still all too common. At several conferences over the past couple of years I have squirmed my way through dull presentations where the speakers actually read their slides to us, showed diagrams that were impossible to read beyond row three or used colour schemes that remind you of sixties psychedelia (ie yellow text on green background). Why does this go on unchecked? Strangely academic conferences are badly afflicted despite all participants being involved in education.

There's a good article by Rob Weir in Inside Higher Ed called End large conferences that takes up this theme with a vengeance. He has had enough of large academic confernces and his main objection is having to sit through a steady stream of excruciatingly dull paper presentations. The point of conferences for some faculty is to get a paper accepted and the presentation is simply a reading of the highlights, often with the stress on reading. Instead of trying to provide a concise, informative and convincing summary many presenters get bogged down in academic detail from the start and few, if any, of the participants are any wiser at the end. Sometimes you feel the speaker is simply ticking off the boxes (paper accepted at international conference - tick, paper presented - tick, paper published - tick).

Weir's objections are understandable and we do need conferences to be more engaging and to provide time and space for discussion and networking. The presentation of papers is a deep-rooted academic tradition that we don't need to throw out the window. I've seen the full scale from inspiring to abysmal but maybe conferences could provide guides to good practice to help presenters prepare the right kind of session. We need to stress the need for good presentation skills and give priority to those who can communicate effectively. The presenters hopefully want to communicate, the audience want to learn - why do we get it wrong then?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Don't forget to remember

Overload! by antwerpenR, on Flickr
There's a fascinating article in the Guardian, Why we must remember to delete – and forget – in the digital age, that discusses the probelm that the net never forgets. We keep hearing stories about people who have got into trouble because long-lost indiscrete photos or Facebook entries get dredged up again with embarrassing results. Time heals all wounds is a saying that may need revision soon since the wounds can now be instantly reopened thanks to the infinite storage capacity of the net.

The article centres on an interview with Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of internet governance and regulation at the University of Oxford's Internet Institute.He argues that we need to have a built-in sell-by date in our digital content to indicate when it should be automatically deleted. The owner of a photo, film or blog post should be able at any time to set a lifespan for the file. Many items should be stored indefinitely but we should be able to erase material that is no longer funny, relevant or suitable.

"He suggests that users, when saving a document they have created, would have to select an expiration date in addition to the document's name and location on their hard disk. "Expiration dates are about asking humans to reflect – if only for a few moments – about how long the information they want to store may remain valuable."

We need to focus on what is actually worth remembering and be able to filter out embarrassing trivia. The principle of forgive and forget is impossible when everything is recorded. The disadvantage of digital expiry dates is that real criminals can more easily cover their tracks, though there's nothing new there since we've always been able to burn old letters and photos.

It's also a question of digital management. Just because we have virtually unlimited storage space doesn't mean that we should save everything. Mountains of digital garbage is lying on the web simply because the owner simply doesn't know how to delete it or has forgotten it even exists. We're all guilty on that count. Let's make the choice of expiration date a standard feature and help keep what's really worth remembering.

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  antwerpenR