Monthly Archives: December 2007

Elastic Interface

Last week we had an intensive interface design meeting for the upcoming Personal Competence Manager infrastructure. The Web-based tools will be accessible online via a variety of access modes. This includes Widgets that can be included in Widget frameworks such as iGoogle, MyYahoo, NetVibes, etc.

The coolest thing I saw, though, was the elastic interface design presented in the MACE project on Metadata for Architectural Content:

MACE elastic interface demo

The page contextualises itself depending on the actions on the users. It’s a mashup of an image gallery, a list of content (architects, buildings, and style) and a map. It’s still a bit slow to load, but a nice intuitive user experience that requires no manual and enables learners to browse new things at the same time as searching for specific topics.


Weblog discussions and comments

Michele Martin gives us six reasons why people don’t comment on your blog. Mainly she puts it to the authors’ style of writing, which is an interesting and valid point. However, there are two aspects she does not mention:

(1) People often comment on their own weblog rather than in comments. This post is an example, so is Stephen Downes’ reaction to her post.

(2) The unpleasancy of allowing comments and being spammed with various pharmaceutical offers is in my mind the true barrier to meaningful exchange of comments.

To see the full debate we have to step outside our own weblog and take in the Blogosphere as a whole to see the discussions. For this, tools like Technorati or Google Alerts are helpful.

Defending Curverider

As the debate about the closure of EduSpaces continues (but see previous post about possible continuation) blame is put on Curverider about their handling of the event. I find this wholly unfair. For one thing here we have an entity against a non-entity: a company against the so-called community.

Who exactly is the community? Is it the owners of thousands of empty blogs and groups who have tried and tested Elgg in EduSpaces and who learnt and benefitted from it and then moved on to other tools which they will abandon just as quickly? Or is the community the people who naively put their stuff into a free service so they could avoid paying for a proper service (which Curverider offered and continues to offer)?

This has been a company business decision, and, of course, such decision always upsets the customers to some extent. However, we see this every day, when e.g. Microsoft announces to cease to support previous versions of Windows, or WebCT is taken over by Blackboard and discontinued. Other companies go bankrupt or are closed down by courts. I am sure the decision has not been taken ligthly. In fact I know the guys were actively looking for possibilities to have EduSpaces continued somewhere else – which apparently they have managed now, hurray!

Do self-organised communities have identity?

It now seems EduSpaces is safe. A Canadian charity called TakingITGlobal wants to host it. There have been other offers, but this is the one preferred by Dave and Ben.

The whole event highlighted a few insights into the structure of self-organised communities: For one thing, they require a space (virtual or real) to congregate. In fact they don’t care about the conditions under which that space is provided, be it charitable selflessness or selfish interest.

Secondly, they did not notice they were a community until something happened. Of course, they did communicate with one another from colleague to colleague, but there was hardly a common identity. This suddenly emerged through joint panic.

I guess sudden commotion is another feature that causes a community realise their own value. Who would have thought that something taken for granted may disappear.

Thirdly, it raises the question of whether a community can be simply “moved”. I doubt it, because this community never had a common soul – common ground yes, common soul no. It’s a bit like taking a shopping mall down. Of course the shoppers would be deeply offended by having to do their business elsewhere, but will they migrate in an orderly fashion? Hardly, unless there is more to it than sharing the same place by pure coincidence, convenience, and maybe interest in the services.

Web 2.0 dangers

In the light of EduSpaces closing and the discussions and dismay around it, I have been thinking about what I said in an earlier post, that Web 2.0 was all about trust – maybe I should rephrase this to “Web 2.0 is all about naivity”.

Naivity 1:
Let’s put all our eggs into dozens of baskets around the globe, they will be save there and we will have permanent access.

In EduSpaces I hear teachers and students alike crying now they have put their stuff into a site that’s going to disappear at short notice. And short notice might be a best case scenario against immediate closure e.g. through a court.

Naivity 2:
I sign up to this social network ’cause all my friends are there to – so it must be safe.

Amazing how easily people are lured into giving away most intimate data about themselves and their connections in the likes of Facebook etc. After all it’s all about being connected. Who needs a data protection law when people give their identity away for nothing …and here’s another site that wants details on how we met and on how good terms we are. Well, what’s the benefit to me for some company in godknowswhere knowing this?

Naivity 3:
It’s all for the greater good. We are all friends who share!

No my friend. It’s all about who you share with. People are more selfish than some of us make us believe. You can share with that cute little avatar that you’ll go on a lovely three weeks holiday, but don’t be surprised if you come back to an empty home, cause it was the burglar from the nearby neighbourhood you invited.

In a recent Web 2.0 workshop there was a call from educators to tell learners about the dangers of Internet communities. When I asked the question of how we (educators) can be certain to know the dangers and more importantly know how to avert them, there was silence. Having a vivid imagination of what might happen may be a good protection, paired with some healthy mistrust – but would this lead to happier citizens?

Gone is the One-World utopia. The online world, when stripped of all it’s gloss and green ecological thinking is becoming more like the real planet we know – including the dark sides.

The value of communities

We’ve all heard the success stories of sites like YouTube or Flickr being sold off to big companies for zillions of Dollars. It’s an open secret that even if the content is crap, the real value lies in the people network using the site.

The closure of the EduSpaces community is a blow to the user community. No doubt, it has been around for some time and got a little grey-haired for some of us, but it was a matured community with still some potential, as the ordinary users slowly caught on to social networking. A brilliant example site of what a global educational network has to share.

Research into Learning Networks actively looks into informal ad-hoc groupings of learners and self-directed group learning activities. But out in the real world, these are hard to find. Typically, it leads researchers to simulate self-directed learners by involving some of their registered students. EduSpaces was different. It contained thousands of such self-directed learning communities.

Where will people go? Will they disperse into Facebook and SecondLife and disappear in the crowd of entertainment seekers? Or will they regroup in another Elgg instance and re-emerge as a global education community? We shall see, but we may have to wait a long time still.

Lifelong learning in collectives

In what way is company learning or classroom learning different to lifelong learning in open communities? After all, this is learning as a group, joining an existing community of those who have learnt before and those who will learn after us.

At present, it seems unpopular to accept that in a formal context the learning objectives are externally defined, i.e. by the school curriculum or company needs. If so, we would have to change the way how these collectives are created and influence our lives. The very foundations of our (democratic) societies.

On the other hand, compare it with a tour operator: Everything is organised, you can rely on certain safety measures, difficulties that occur are resolved for you; it’s rather plain sailing.

Does self-directed learning protect you from being indoctrinated? Hardy, I would argue. Look at all the little blog dictators out there, or the spread of Islamist doctrine over the Net. Everyone’s right and holds the truth. And whereas the formal education processes in democracies follow some societal negotiation processes, the delusions of free informal education do not.

Come on an operated tour this year and be prepared for individual travel!