Monthly Archives: December 2010

Language technologies not at their best

Googlelabs just released their Ngram viewer, a visualisation tool to search the occurrence of words and phrases in digitised books. It is impressively fast, but at a closer look, shows sincere weaknesses, that may delude users to the wrong conclusions.

Google Ngram Graph

In the above graph, you can clearly see that the expressions were not disambiguated, where the results for “Java” probably include the Indonesian island, Python the snake, whereas Javascript shows virtual non-existence.

A similarly misleading result occurs when comparing the items e-learning, elearning, and technology-enhanced learning. Only elearning shows any significance, the others range at level zero. This obviously does not reflect the terminology change from e-learning to technology-enhanced learning that occurred from around 2004 onwards.

Kennedy vs Nixon graph

In another test, we queried for two American presidents between 1960 and 1980: John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Kennedy, probably the most well-known president the US ever sported, has an occurence of zero. Common sense would tell us that this can’t reflect the reality.


Internet safety or not?

The concerns about online safety are mounting. Warnings expressed by technologists for a long time are entering the mainstream. The biggest dangers for our privacy naturally come from our mobile phones, which, like I said earlier, have nearly become another body part not far from an implant. They know where we are, who we talk to, even what we like and think. However, our phones and especially the apps on it, do not keep this to themselves

The Wall Street Journal investigated 101 apps on the iPhone and Android, and found many to be transmitting privacy data to third parties, mainly ad companies. This data is often submitted without the user knowing or granting permission. Data about your location, your contacts, your phone ID, age, gender, etc. are thus spread without user consent or transparency.

This, together with the lax privacy protection that sites like facebook and foursquare provide, begs the question how far you want to go down this route yourself. When I asked myself that question, I came to two options: (a) leave, (b) ignore.

Leaving your online social networks and stripping your phone of apps is really counter-productive to my life. Still, with growing uncomfort, I already minimised some of my engagement despite being sorry for the loss in connectivity and productivity. I am struggling to decide whether to opt out or to ignore the unpleasancies of broken privacy and lost ownership. Ignoring seems a pretty simple solution and has the obvious backing of millions of naive users. However, I don’t want to be reduced to a lemming.

Recognition for your learning

Self-organised and self-motivated learning still faces one major problem: How do you get it acknowledged by others?

More and more institutions expect that learning is part of your job, but no longer make any provisions for it. Of course, from the employer side this makes things easy: you do all your professional development in your own time and on your own motivation and cost – they just expect results. No money is spent on the traditional professional development courses or on productive time that’s lost while you study. The company need no longer bother about redundancy to have someone fill your place while you’re gone to develop your competences.

Can we do it? Yes we can! We are academics and used to learning. Learning on the job is part of our daily business. We collect and construct knowledge, contribute to learning networks, we innovate and update ourselves. But: not seldom we have nothing to show! And, let’s face it, the e-portfolio that bears the idea of documenting your learning progress has the industrial value of a self-published book.

This not only becomes an issue when you look for a new job. The signals your CV sends out is that you’ve been merely lingering in your office chair for x number of years, surviving in your post.

There are of course references that you could use when applying for a job, and these have been around for ages. But what if you leave in anger or frustration? What if you’re better in presenting yourself than being presented by others? References also have a short lifespan and are hardly covering the lifelong learner. Many companies use assessment centres to check on applicants’ qualities, but does this play to your personal strengths? Perhaps this just expresses the mistrust placed on assessment done by other organisations or weariness of self-presentation.

You’d think we are quickly moving beyond assessment and certification, but this is only in theory. We need something to replace it that is generally accepted in order to accredit self-organised learning, and we haven’t found it yet.

Related: This consultation from the European Union.