6 rules for using free services

With the withdrawal of the free version of Ning being announced on their blog, I’ve witnessed some interesting responses. One colleague was rather dismayed as he was just about to use Ning for a new social community he was setting up. This simply emphasised to me the differences people have towards the philosophies underpinning current technology and innovation. For me it’s not about a service being withdrawn and then going into panic mode, but perhaps we do need something like this to remind us of modern working practices.

Here’s some comments:

  1. A service can be withdrawn anytime. It seems obvious, but many become lulled into a false sense of security.
  2. Treat such events as opportunities. When this happens it allows you to examine what you are doing, how you are working, and revise your practices. Update and improve your practice. After using Ning for a few years perhaps it’s time for a change.
  3. Always be on the lookout for alternatives. New and better services are springing up all the time. Keep experimenting.
  4. Always have a backup plan. If a particular service is vital to your activities, back up the data you hold with that service using another similar service. E.g. back up your social bookmarking by using Diigo and Delicious, store copies of your blog posts elsewhere.
  5. Don’t be too precious about you stuff. Consider if it really matters if some things are lost. I recently cleared out the garage and found a right load of rubbish I’d been clinging on to; research from nigh-on 20 years ago, I’m not actually going to miss it now it’s gone into recycling.
  6. Keep moving, things change (it’s the only sure thing), just deal with it.

It also emphasised to me the importance of the PLN. After starting a discussion about the loss of the free Ning service, there was a flurry of alternative solutions offered.


Keynote: Chris Lehmann

The PETE&C Tuesday Morning Keynote: Chris Lehmann:Chris Lehmann is the Principal at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. http://scienceleadershi…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Upgrade Me via BBC iPlayer

Last night after finishing a blog post I sat back and watched “Upgrade Me” on BBC iPlayer.

In this Simon Armitage the poet and gadget lover (which I didn’t know until seeing the programme) investigates the obsession people have with technology and gadgets, and their seemingly endless need to have the latest gizmo. He travels to South Korea, which has transformed itself in the last 30 years into the most technological country in the world.

I think this is well worth a view but I don’t know how long with will be available on iPlayer for, so apologies if you’re already too late to watch it.

Internet Safety

It is important for parents, carers and teachers to ensure that children are safe when using the Internet. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is part of the authorities in Britain dedicated to child protect. Part of their work is about disseminating the message of Internet safety. I just wanted to take the opportunity to highlight their work and to draw out some significant areas of their website.

A new intelligence report (pdf) has been published that parents will find useful in protecting their children whilst online, and an accompanying video:

Linked in with the CEOP site is the Think u know site.


This has advice split into age specific sections of 5-7, 8-10, 11-16, along with Parent or Carer and Teacher or Trainer.

The 5-7 year olds section, for example, has a set of non-threatening, age appropriate cartoons about using computers safely on the Internet.

The Parent or Carer section has some simple and informative advice about  how children use technology; important uses and concerns. The different areas covered in the faq section include grooming, mobiles, gaming, social networking and chat. There’s a quiz for parents to take to test their knowledge of how children use technology and the Internet. And what about this video as a warning:

Their YouTube video channel is linked here.

Additional (30/10/09): This video is used by police in schools to highlight the issues to school children. It’s very powerful, and the user feedback about it is very encouraging.

Web 2.0 Teaching Enhancement

The use of Web 2.0, or Social Web, technologies leads to the development of communities of practice, focused on areas of interest, and culminating in networks of users. Becta’s Learners’ Use study showed examples of learners whose interests had led them to use Web 2.0 technologies in sophisticated ways. However, the majority of Web 2.0 use is for social purposes; its use for learning and teaching has yet to be fully exploited.

Within this Social Web approach we are beginning to see distinct boundaries of differing web spaces, which has consequences for using Web 2.0 technologies with our students. Three specific ‘spaces’ have been defined, personal space for messaging (me space) , group space including social networking sites with Facebook currently being the prime example (we space), and publishing space including blogs and social media publishing sites such as YouTube (see space).

Evidence from several consultations with students and questionnaire has provided feedback to indicate that students don’t want formal education mechanisms encroaching upon their social networking activities. However, the literature would suggest that group space within a defined boundary has great potential to support learning and teaching.

Unlike many UK universities, The University of Sheffield is taking a strategic and systematic approach to deployment of Web 2.0 services. The University has implemented uSpace as a Web 2.0 technology solution to fulfill certain learning, teaching, research, and administrative functions. Primarily, chosen for blog and collaborative document/wiki-like capabilities, uSpace also easily facilitates discussions and enables social networking activities in an environment that is distinctly different and separate to openly available products, e.g. Facebook. This allows uSpace to be positioned between traditional formal learning provision and more open networks, without the perceived encroachment from the student perspective.

Young people are defensive about … [their spaces], essentially the ‘me’ and ‘we’ spaces, as opposed to … the ‘see’ spaces. Hence, their discomfort with staff-initiated discussion groups in social networking space when they are at ease with those they set up themselves for study-related purposes. We have been told that there is considerable untapped potential for exploitation of this, effectively a third space within group space – somewhere between pure study/work and pure social – to support learning and teaching.
Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World

The majority of Web 2.0 use is simply consuming rather than participating. Part of what uSpace can do is to encourage breaking down of barriers and enabling participation. uSpace, therefore, has the advantage of being able to allow students to develop 21st century learning skills, including communication, collaboration, creativity, technology proficiency, etc. to match the set of skills being required for employability in a changing landscape, but doing so within a secure and bounded environment. Although, it doesn’t have to be ‘tightly’ bounded, as permission setting within uSpace can allow externals (from outside the University) to comment and contribution if required.

The Library is promoting the importance of information literacies throughout faculty and students. This includes the ability to appropriately search, retrieve, evaluate information critically, and attribute sources without plagiarism.

Paralleling this, Computing Service is working to promote digital and new media literacies. In a digital world it is difficult to understand how information literacy is possible without knowing how to successfully use and implement new technologies, functions and facilities as they increasingly roll out on a daily basis. To achieve this, Computing Service initially looked at how students could be engaged in using and sharing knowledge. And following a successful SeeChange institutional project, the bluecloud space was initiated within uSpace. Following feedback from staff on campus after having the concepts underlying bluecloud explained to them, there was a demand for a similar resource for staff to increase their understanding of Web 2.0, digital and new medialiteracies. To enable this, The Knowledge Lab has been created within uSpace to tap into the knowledge of Computing Service staff and the professional interest and enthusiasm of other individual staff across the University to pass on their knowledge and discuss technology use at the frontiers of education.

Staff capability with ICT is a further dimension of the digital divide, and effective use of technology, ie to enhance learning, is as much of an issue as practical operation.

Universities’ realm tends to be predominantly … what is sometimes referred to as the ‘push-web’ in which they define the content and views to be received. Perversely, it appears that lecturers and teachers are not generally disposed to interactive communication online.

Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World

In addition, Computing Service needs to work in collaboration with library colleagues at the interfaces of these literacies; power browsing and its implications, for example.

It should be noted that there is currently a chasm between the openness of expression being seen amongst younger generations and now university students, where they willingly share and participate, and the guarded and introverted cultures of institutions. uSpace is an environment that allows this culture of openness to exist, but it will required continued education and exposure to enable the enthusiastic individuals within the University to encourage such a change to occur.

The Social Web has substantially changed participation for all. It enables greater engagement for students and encourages sharing. This has the potential to alter learner/teacher dynamics, and allow a shift towards increasing partnership between the two groups; and enable increased research-led learning to happen. The technologies have taken people into areas where their shared interest is the important factor, as opposed to their age or position in the educational hierarchy: the community of interest is the over-riding element. Web 2.0 technologies fit well with a constructivist approach to learning, as learners take part within a community, and focus on their learning interests.

Horizon Reports from NMC

The New Media Consortium (NMC) is an international, not-for-profit consortium of learning-focused organizations dedicatedto the exploration and use of new media and new technologies. Each year since 2004 they have published a freely available document called the Horizon Report. These reports are concerned with newly emerging technologies and their uses within higher education. They are split “time-to-adoption” periods of one year or less, two to three years and four to five years. The report focuses on a couple of significant technologies for each period and provides an overview, relevance to learning and teaching, examples, and additional reading.

Technologies can quickly leapfrog from a five year adoption to less than a year between consecutive reports, such is the speed of technology adoption.

The Horizon Report acts as a useful window through which to see what technology might he in use soon, or what technologies to put your efforts into developing resources for or with.

Site Link: Horizon Report

Report pdf Document Links:

2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

10 Technologies for educators

It’s reassuring when you chance upon something that affirms what you’ve set out to do. That happened to me today when I came across “10 internet technologies that educators should be informed about“.Yep, this is part of what I’m doing, identifying the useful stuff for educators, and providing appropriate application with examples.


Twitter & the backchannel

Etherpad & the whiteboard replacement

Vuvox / Glogster & visual presentation