Category Archives: social software

Learning Systems Wishlist

In a blogpost, Learning Systems ’08 host Elliott Masie lists 12 features learning management systems could/should have.
Elliott Masie’s Learning TRENDS – Learning TRENDS – 12 Wishes for Our LMS and LCMS

A summary:

  1. Focus on the Learner
  2. Content, Content and Content
  3. Ratings, Please
  4. More Context
  5. Performance Support Tools
  6. Social Knowledge
  7. Learning Systems as Components
  8. Focus on the Role
  9. UserContent Authoring
  10. Learning Systems as Service
  11. The Lifecycle of Learning Systems
  12. Learning Systems as Human Capital/Talent Systems

While Masie’s focus is on training and learning in corporate situations, many of these ideas are discussed in other types of learning contexts, including higher education. Some of the most cynical of university professors might say that the reason this list could apply to both corporate and university environments is that university are currently being managed like businesses. Yet, there are ways to adapt to some of the current “customer-based” approaches to learning while remain critical of their effects.

Personally, I think that the sixth point (about “social knowledge”) is particularly current. Not only are “social” dimensions of technology past the buzzword phase but discussing ways to make learning technology more compatible with social life is an efficient way to bring together many issues relating to technology and learning in general.

Masie’s description of his “social knowledge” wish does connect some of these issues:

Learning Systems will need to include and be integrated with Social Networking Systems. Some of the best and most important knowledge will be shared person-to-person in an organization. The learner wants to know, “Who in this organization has any experience that could help me as a learner/worker?” In addition to the LMS pointing to a module or course, we need to be able to link to a colleague who may have the perfect, relevant experience based on their work from 2 jobs ago. The social dimension of learning needs to be harvested and accelerated by a new vision of our Learning Systems.

Throughout the past year, I’ve been especially intrigued about the possibilities opened by making a “learning system” like Moodle more of a social networking platform. I’ve discussed this at the end of a longish wishlist for Moodle’s support of collaborative learning:

  • Another crazy idea: groups working a bit like social networking sites (e.g. Facebook). You get “friends” with whom you can share “stuff” (images, comments, chats, etc.). Those groups can go beyond the limits of a single course so that you would use it as a way to communicate with people at school. The group could even have a public persona beyond the school and publish some information about itself and its projects. Moodle could then serve as a website-creator for students. To make it wackier, students could even maintain some of these contacts after they leave the school.
  • Or Moodle could somehow have links to Facebook profiles.

My curiosity was later piqued by fellow anthropologist Michael Wesch’s comments about the use of Facebook in university learning and teaching. And the relevance of social networking systems for learning strategies has been acknowledged in diverse contexts through the rest of 2007.
One thing I like about Masie’s description is the explicit connection made between social networking and continuity. It’s easy to think of social networks as dynamic, fluid, and “in the now.” Yet, one of their useful dimensions is that they allow for a special type of direct transmission which is different from the typical “content”-based system popular in literacy-focused contexts. Not only do large social networking systems allow for old friends to find another but social networks (including the Internet itself) typically emphasize two-way communication as a basis for knowledge transmission. In other words, instead of simply reading a text about a specific item one wants to learn, one can discuss this item with someone who has more experience with that item. You don’t read an instruction manual, you “call up” the person who knows how to do it. Nothing new about this emphasis on two-way transmission (similar to “collaborative learning”). “Social” technology merely helps people realize the significance of this emphasis.

I’m somewhat ambivalent as to the importance of ratings (Masie’s third point). I like the Digg/Slashdot model as much as the next wannabe geek but I typically find ratings systems to be less conducive to critical thinking and “polyphony” (as multiplicity of viewpoints) than more “organic” ways to deal with content. Of course, I could see how it would make sense to have ratings systems in a corporate environment and ratings could obviously be used as peer-assessment for collaborative learning. I just feel that too much emphasis on ratings may detract us from the actual learning process, especially in environments which already make evaluation their central focus (including many university programs).

Overall, Masie’s wishlist makes for a fine conversation piece.


Flock as Blog Editor

Now that Flock has a “spell as you type” feature, I can give it a fair shake as a blog editor.
Flock 0.9 Beta Release Notes | Flock
Thing is, though, it seems to have a problem with my main blog‘s extremely long list of categories. When I tried posting a blog entry with my WordPress.com blog account listed among the others, Flock became unresponsive as it was trying to download all my categories (all 2,751 of them). Maybe I could have waited longer but after a number of minutes without being able to use my computer at all, I decided to let it go.
Still, it made me a bit cranky. So the rest of this post will sound like a rant. It’s more like wishful thinking, though. I like wishful thinking.
I don’t like the way Flock’s blog editor handles link insertion. Sure, like any WYSIWYG editor out there, it has a button on which you can click to add an appropriate URL to text you’ve selected. But there’s no clear shortcut for this button and it could be much more powerful than it currently is.
Qumana has a better way to handle links. For one thing, it automatically inserts the clipboard’s content in the URL section of link insertion dialog box. And since it keeps published blog posts, it makes it easy to copy the “permalink” to another blog entry (for those bloggers, like me, who tend to be self-referential). Can’t remember off the top of my head but I’m pretty sure ecto and Windows Live Writer have similar features.
Ok… Flock does have this drag and drop interface for “media streams” (basically, Flickr or PhotoBucket accounts) and for “Web snippets” (local content, including text and links). Good idea and I guess I could make my “bloggable content” available to me while blogging by adding lots of content to my Flock installation and Flickr account. Makes a lot of sense for those who mostly use blogs as placeholders. But it’s still not the ideal method for blogs which rely on more extensive writing. Or for message writing.

What I want is pretty obvious but I haven’t found it yet, even in dedicated blog editors. I want my blog editor to have access to all of my links (Web history, favourites, social bookmarks…) and make it easy to work with those links while I’m writing. Sure, a “Web Snippets” feature is useful. But it still requires a fair amount of mouse movement to simply insert a link. Call me lazy but I prefer limiting my mouse movement while I’m writing.
My dream editor would integrate all of my social bookmarks, Web histories, and address books in the same interface. I could use a keystroke and start typing to get access to those links and addresses that I use frequently. Why addresses? I want to use the same editor for writing blog posts and email messages. Why not? Messages and posts end up having very similar features anyway. As many sites label it, it’s all about “sharing content.”
(I’m not really into IM but, as logic would have it, the same features should work with IM as well.)

To me, the “killer feature” in modern browsers is that auto-complete in the URL bar. I want to go back to a site I’ve visited recently, I just start typing the URL in the URL bar and the browser shows all related URLs. Same thing in Gmail: start typing an address and Gmail auto-completes it. So simple that nobody ever talks about it. But this simple feature is yet completely absent from blog editors, AFAICT.
Oh, sure, Flock does auto-complete in the search field. In fact, it supports incremental searches, which is really nice. But I need auto-complete for links and addresses.
What makes auto-complete even nicer is that it’s now possible to synchronise browsers through Google’s Browser Sync extension for Firefox (it might work with Flock too). Google also saves a Web History. And Gmail users get easy access to their address books from Google applications like Google Docs. And Google has toolbars for most browsers. So I guess Google could easily implement my dream editor.

Thing with my wishful thinking is that it’s often obvious enough that it becomes concrete very quickly after I say it. For all I know, this feature may exist somewhere and everybody else knows about it. But I’ve been missing it for a while now.
Ah, well.

Blogged with Flock

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Blogging Tools

Been trying a few blogging tools on Mac OS X. Currently trying out ecto, posted the previous entry through MarsEdit, played around with Flock, downloaded MacJournal, Dossier, blogworkz, looked at pages for other tools (like Performancing).
Still haven’t found the ideal tool.
Would like the following features:

  • Free (as in beer) or really inexpensive.
  • Spell as you type through Cocoa Services or multi-lingual dictionaries.
  • WYSIWYG with a toggle for HTML.
  • On-the-fly categories and (technorati) tags.
  • Browser integration (Firefox, Safari, Flock).
  • Easily enter URLs from bookmarks and history.
  • Manage posts.
  • Batch application of categories and tags.
  • Basic outlining (move lines up/down, left/right).
  • Crossplatform (OSX/XP)
  • Statistics (wordcount, etc.)

At this point, ecto seems almost like a winner as it has most of these features. What’s missing, though, are the on-the-fly categories which WordPress.com has in its Web interface.

Another option would be to use Safari or another browser which does “spell as you type.” In fact, Cocoa Services available in Safari also include many interesting features, including text tools from Devon and integration with several applications. But the Scrapbook in Firefox is almost addictive and it doesn’t work in either Flock or Safari. (Flock doesn’t do spell as you type.)

Ah, well…

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Video Merits

Video Bomb

Refers to Digg and Delicious. Mentions iTunes and Participatory Culture’s own DTV as software clients.

Interesting that they should mention democracy. The About page unapologetically calls it meritocracy, which is honest and accurate.

Like other systems available online (for instance, Podcastalley and, obviously, Digg), the way users rate content is by adding their “vote” to as many items as they want. That in itself is an interesting concept. The only thing the user needs to say is “I like these ones,” without any need to compare specifically. It’s not competitive in a strict sense, yet it’s a rating system. So it’s more of a popularity contest than a true meritocracy. It’s a bit like the “two thumbs up” statement on so many movies in that it doesn’t require much from the reviewer yet it’s a way to assign positive value. Because some reviewers acquire social capital, their choices will become popular which adds a positive feedback loop to the system.
Of course, people can post comments, which is the very basis of the type of contact and communication proposed by the venerable (!) Slashdot as well as the whole blogging community.
The other part which is quite important is that tags are applied to content which makes for community-created bottom-up classification (unlike strict taxonomies). Many online systems have this (say, Technorati). Of course, classification may be unreliable at first and tags may seem idiosyncratic. But the tagging system itself seems to work well on average. Good way to observe cultural schemes being created.


Social Networks, Software, Wiretaps

PBS | I, Cringely . January 26, 2006 – The Falafel Connection

Social networks from the point of view of computer geeks. Social networks are quite important in social sciences (from Milgram to Boissevain, Milroy to Eckert). And there’s a parallel in the computer world through “social software” (online sites and tools such as Friendster, LinkedIn, FaceBook, LiveJournal, Flickr, Del.icio.us, Flock…).

Cringely talks about a specific case (wiretaps) but broad ideas about social networks have become mainstream.

Does this new awareness of the effects of networking have any consequence in the way we understand friendship?