Edtech


Privacy is one of those things. You know that it exists but you don’t necessarily believe in it wholeheartedly. I mean, if you did, surely you wouldn’t post your personal details all over the internet for everybody to see – unless you wanted them to, of course.

You don’t have to read very far around this subject to find alarmist stories, from the urban myth that the CIA invented Facebook (or MI5 in a recent version I heard) to persuade us all to place our identities online, to more sober reflections on what privacy means to different people and how online exposure can impact on your life. A friend of mine recently explained how exposure on a social networking site could literally cost them their life as a result of a disturbing past liaison. Most of us are far less concerned about being found and are willing to forgo such concerns in the hope of making new friends and contacts, or finding old ones again. More troubling, however, are the possibilities of building up an identity profile by cross referencing web sites and using photo recognition software (Gross and Acquisiti) and back-door Facebook applications to mine hidden data.

It is tempting to remind ourselves that the chances of someone stealing our indentity are pretty remote. I have to confess to being more nervous of throwing my bank details out with the rubbish than I am to having them stolen online (though I won’t tempt fate by pouring scorn on the idea – remember what happened to Jeremy Clarkson 🙂 . I also think that it’s unlikely that anyone would want to stalk me, though I recognise that these risks are real enough to others. Of course Mark Zuckerberg has an interesting ‘people want to opt out while we use everyone else’s data to make money with’ spin on the matter, but then he would as he has done rather well out of allowing Facebook to do just that.

As I was writing this, a conversation was struck up between colleagues, one of whom has just discovered the joys of Facebook and had had a live chat with a friend that has gone ot work in China. The wonders of the social network seemed clear enough to her at the time of speaking, but as she did so, another colleague interjected with the declaration that she would never use FB. ‘It’s too creepy’ – someone from the past that she hadn’t invited contact with had got hold of her email address from an online communication between two mutual friends and this had unnerved her slightly. This set me wondering about the number of times I’ve actively tracked down old friends via the web in the past; they’ve always seemed pleased to hear from me, but maybe on occasion they might have found my sudden appearance ‘creepy’. I’ll never know, but at least I can be sure through Facebook that they are inviting contact and that they don’t have to accept my friend request. To this extent at least, Zuckerberg is right, they can opt out of contact if they want, and I won’t be too upset either.

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Doing some serious social bookmarking (about social bookmarking again), I stumbled across an interesting looking blog. “Tim’s Blog” was immediately interesting for two main reasons: firstly, he has produced and kindly made available an A4 guide to social bookmarking, which I believe will be useful for presenting to any takers for my forthcoming social bookmarking project at my teaching centre. Secondly, on his mission statement page he makes the following bold declaration:

“…we need young people to be empowered, and technologies to help us collaborate – in order to tackle big social issues and to bring about real, positive social change. Because that’s what creative, connected and empowered people do.”

Stirring stuff, which cast my mind back about 20 years to a meeting that I attended with various anarchists, communists and media hacks in attendance, which made something of a fist of discussing the potential of the emerging whisperings of a new way of communicating by interconnected computers in different parts of the world. Of course the word ‘internet’ wasn’t used, but it wasn’t long until a free modem came into my possession and sat proudly next to the Amstrad waiting for me to find out what to do with it (I never did and in any case, there was a severe shortage of ISPs at the time).

But, the point was that there was a great deal of excitement about the potential at that early stage for the social aspect of the web to offer a powerful means of promoting political ideas and perhaps build political movements, rather as the pirate radio movement ‘Free the Airwaves’ had tried to do around that time. This aspect of the web never really materialised, perhaps because a political movement was the antithesis of what the web was all about: i.e. the former was a means of bringing people together with a common political goal (normally someone else’s), or a whole cluster of them, while the web was to be about people coming together on their own terms as and when they wanted for a mind-boggling array of reasons that change faster than you can hope to count them. The political movement is dead, long live the social network (and whatever it morphs into).

It also occurred to me recently that the online social network existed before the web, in a very real sense. If you are old enough to remember, you might recall that in the 80s newspapers and late night TV channels carried endless ads for phone in chat lines that allowed large numbers of people to call a number and be connected to a synchronous spoken chat room. As I recall, for I never participated in this phenomenon being far to busy with my own face-to-face social networking, these were limited to the notion of an online party, with people looking to hook up one way or another. They never really had much to do movements of any sort. Nevertheless, the two ideas were already there: the desire for more power among the politicised via an international, non-controlled communications network, and the burgeoning online social group mindset that was already in full swing and looking for a new and more dynamic (not to mention cheaper) place to hang out. The rest is (recent) history.

Which brings me back to Tim’s Blog. The desire for social change is still there, but I can’t help feeling that the yearned-for communications revolution has brought with it (or coincided with) a feeling of helplessness as the world appears to move inexorably towards global climatic catastrophe and unpopular wars rage around us bringing their consequences to our doors. Has the explosion in communications produced nothing more than a cacophony of white noise from a world of meaningless chatter? Or is the next step in the social networking revolution to be real empowerment?

So there I was, tagging some new social bookmarking web sites to del.icio.us (and of course actually social bookmarking while I was doing it) when my colleague asks me for a pen. As I hunted around in my rucksack pockets behind the cables and memory sticks to find a biro, she remarked: “You obviously don’t have to use a pen very often these days.”, thereby obviously cocking a snook at my technophilia and general nerdiness. I was vaguely ruminating on the truth of this observation when she jaw-droppingly pointed out the reason for her request: “I need it to write down the address of a web site”.

This provided some encouragement to my plans for a work-based social networking project, but left me wondering how much of an uphill struggle it might be to get it working. She readily agreed to join the project when I explained what it was and the irony of her request, but clearly didn’t have too much of a clue as to what I was going on about. I had a similar experience yesterday when explaining the project to one of our IT Power Users; he has decades of nerdiness under his belt but has thus far singularly failed to embrace the Web 2.0 world.

A presentation next week to staff seems to be the way forward with some clear guidelines and a pathway for the project to follow. You never know it might just work.

Aside from its usefulness in the workplace, as part of my studies on H806 (code for a module on the Open University’s MA in Online & Distance Education), this method of sharing resources seems to have great potential for increasing access to well targetted and useful resources related to ours studies. The system of tagging makes it easier to see the relevance of the resource at a glance and will almost certainly save time in looking for resources, hopefully also creating a synergy of aour efforts as they are combined for the greater good of all in this particular community of interest/practice.

My love affair with Ubuntu has experienced something of a renaissance with the arrival of Hardy Heron, or version 8.04, as my fellow Twitterers may already be aware. As I’ve already remarked elsewhere, this user-friendly version is approaching comparisons with Windows for ease of use but still has some aspects that need work. On the plus side, automatic detection of your router settings make navigating a one-click affair these days, while setting up your mail accounts is as simple as under Windows. File-sharing and CD burning are problem free areas. On the other hand, I was becoming frustrated with the general sluggishness of Firefox under Ubuntu, that is until I came across this rather wonderful hack. It makes all the difference and now Ubuntu seemsevery bit as good, if not better, than Windows (if only I can get my web cam to work in Skype). It’s just a pity that all this messing around with code was necessary – still there’s a certain nerdy appeal to it of course, and that surely makes it all worthwhile.

I’ve been thinking about tagging (and why not). I enjoyed John Millner’s blog posting on this and have been reading a fair amount about it – perhaps not surprisingly there isn’t a huge amount about it in my own context (English language teaching) kicking around on the web, and what there is is relatively new obviously. To add to the confusion there is now such a thing as a ‘language tag’ (see langtag.net) to identify the human language of digital resources. That use of the term ‘human’ language caught me up short for a moment, but I like the sound of it. Of course the language of machines is a kind of human language too; perhaps the day will arrive when machines will develop languages that only they can understand.

So, back to tagging, and particularly tagging in the workplace. I had this wacky idea that I might try to persuade a group of teachers to join me in experimenting with such a project here. Asking for collaboration on such matters hasn’t always worked wonders in the past and there’s a feeling that any extra tasks like this should be rewarded financially. I can’t really profess to be the world’s greatest tagger and have resisted the urge to surround myself with clouds of metadat up till now, but I’m coming round to the idea and the social element is the clincher for me. I was an early Twitter registerer too, but didn’t start Tweeting in earnest till everyone else showed up. I suspect this will be the problem with this too – critical mass giving it all some meaning and dynamic.

So which to use? I rather like Connotea, but mainly because it looks more academic and maybe therefore more exclusive. I suspect that Del.icio.us will be the best bet as more people are likely to have heard of it and I could sell people on the more mainstream social appeal (maybe). My one doubt about it is that they may simply not see any value in it and not be interested in participating for that reason more than any other.

If anyone out there has any experience of doing this in their workplace, I’d love to hear about it.

… or moving house if you don’t speak Spanish. I’ve been blogging with Blogger for years and, though I was never unhappy with the service and always found it user-friendly, I’ve come to like the look and feel of WordPress of late. Hence the decision to up sticks and head on over here, importing my last post from Blogger on the way. I look forward to exploring its features.

As a techie and self-declared webhead, it’s always nice to have something new to play around with and my decision this week to switch much of my activity to Ubuntu has been a rewarding experience, especially so with the arrival of the latest release – 8.04 or ‘Hardy Heron’. It’s not my first time, I’m not a Linux virgin, so I expected it to be a similar experience to previous attempts with Red Hat, Mandrake and Ubuntu 6 (Dapper Drake?). Imagine my surprise then when I downloaded it and Wubi and set about installing it. This kind of thing used to entail much time and anxiety, as well as reading up on lines of code necessary to make things work. After all, this was all part of the fun and set one apart from the average Windows user – almost feeling part of ‘Hacker culture’ as Castells saw it in ‘The Internet Galaxy’ (2001). As he pointed out at the time “…the main obstacle to Linux development into low-end consumer users is the lack of interest of sophisticated computer programmers for this kind of application.” He was referring to user-friendly applications of the kind that Windows users are used to, the kind of thing that both my small children and aging parents can cope with. So, the installation process being incredible simple and the fact that I didn’t need to worry about partitioning was a nice start. Rebooting gave me the option of choosing either operating system (I installed under XP), and once the user accounts were set up (anyone could do this), that was it. In fact, it was so easy that I was almost disappointed that there wasn’t more to it. This was just like installing Windows, and what’s more, everything works. No need to configure my internet settings, it detected them. No more searching around for Linux versions of file sharing applications etc as comes bundled with just about everything you need. I did have to look around for a version of Skype, but the command lines I needed can now be copied and pasted into the terminal window so even this was a breeze.

But is it a rival to Windows for the average user? Not quite yet. There are still some things that need tweaking – my webcam doesn’t work in this version of Skype (though my Bluetooth dongle does, while it crashes Windows). This article sums up the difference pretty well, I feel.

So now, I’ll have to start using this blog more regularly, writing from Ubuntu (actually this entry was written under XP) and reflecting on educational technology matters as frequently as is necessary for the remainder of my current course.