Saturday, September 16, 2006

Adding a feed to an rssMIX feed

Previously I had made an RSS feed from all CLC members' feeds. I thought that it might be useful to see how to add to this feed if we get a new member. There are only four simple steps to make a new feed from an existing feed.

Click on any of the images below to see them in more detail.

The steps

Step 1 Go to the existing mix at rssMIX and see something like this:

Step 2 Click on "create a new mix from this mix" to obtain:

Step 3 Add the URL for your new feed to the editable text box containing feed URLs. Here I am adding the URL for the post feed from a blog called LKL SocialSoftware:

Step 4 Click on the "create!" button to make new feed.
You obtain a new feed at a new URL, shown on the new feed page:

That's it to make a new feed. However, there is one more step to use it....

Step 5 Presumably you were consuming the old feed somewhere, like the CLC SpeedyFeed page. Presumably you now need to 'wire' the new feed URL into the consumer. Go to the consumer nd make the nescessary changes.

If you want to manipulate the CLC SpeedyFeed page itself, the password is very guessable! If you can't guess please email me for it, or add a comment here and I will be automatically emailed.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A SpeedyFeed page for CLC

I thought I'd start getting some resources together for the Connected Learning Community. The first of these is a page to aid 'jumping off' to posts or pages that are of interest to us. You can read the rest of this post and find out how I made the resource, or you can just try out the CLC SpeedyFeed page. Be sure to mouse over a few items on the resource page, it has a great pop-up feature which you may come to love (or at least, deeply appreciate). If you like the page, then you may be interested in reading Accessing the page below

The screenshot below shows what is displayed on the page:

Clicking on the screenshot shows it full size

The screen shot is an example of a single page RSS aggregator.
  • If you want to find out more about RSS, you could watch the Beginners Guide to RSS, Web 2.0 and Networked Learning over on the Network Learning blog. Hey, that's a CLC member's blog! The recording is of a web-based Elluminate session led by Steven Parker, who writes the blog. The recording starts off with just a few seconds of patchy sound, but then shapes up. No need for alarm. If it doesn't work at all then that probably means you need to install a Java interpreter.
What's special about the single page RSS agregator chosen here? Well, as far as I know, the only user-configurable single page aggregators that have previews are SpeedyFeed and BozPages. I first tried SpeedyFeed yesterday evening, thanks to an item in Seb Schmoller's excellent Fortnightly Mailing list (back issues here). SpeedyFeed isn't perfect, I would like to have the ability to add names to displayed feeds, but I'm happy to just have the pop-ups.

In making the CLC page, I thought that these things would be both interesting and useful:
  • Being able to access posts which come from CLC members' blogs, and which have been specifically written for CLC.

    Hopefully all of these will have been tagged with the clcommunity tag over at delicious. Consequently, all I needed to do was hook into the delicious tag feed for clcommunity. If you want to reuse this feed elsewhere, just copy this: (right mouse click and "copy link location" in FireFox).

  • Being able to look at a quick view of all posts made by CLC members. Why? Having a broad view and noting and acting on similar interests will help us become a cohesive community.

    To provide this kind of view of members' posts we need a feed containing both the CLC-specific posts and the non-CLC posts from all CLCers' blogs. The feed is then displayed using SpeedyFeed. The feed was the most sweat to construct because I had to find an RSS and Atom feed mixer that could deal with enough feeds, and time-order the posts while preserving content for the previews in SpeedyFeed. After a bit of messing around I found that did what was needed. RSSMix provides a feed that contains post entries for all the blogs of all the CLC members. This feed is available at (15 Oct 06: changed from 15279) if you want to reuse it elsewhere.

  • Because we are interested in trying to make PLEs from blogs and other web 2.0 / social software systems, I thought that some of us might be interested in seeing what is tagged with ple at delicious - there is a small group of PLE-interested folk busy doing social bookmarking there.

    To see that we need the corresponding delicious feed,

  • Finally as an experiment, I thought I would also try to show blog posts tagged with ple at Technorati.

    For this I used another feed, The results from this include posts tagged ple in all languages and the PLE results are not as good as if one does a similar but English-language-only PLE tag search. For this reason I think that the experiment is failing, and may remove that from our SpeedyFeed page soon. However, if f anyone knows how to generate a similar English-only ple tag feed, please comment on this post.
So what if someone else joins CLC? What needs to be done?
  1. That person should add their name and any blog/wiki etc to the CLC members page on the CLC wiki.
  2. If the new member can find out their blog's RSS or Atom feed, they should also add it to the CLC members page page. If they are stuck or don't put in the information then I can help.
  3. It would be cool if the new member added themselves to the CLC Frapper group (this means registering with Frapper) so we have a picture and map entry for the new person.
  4. Someone will need to generate a new RSSMix feed with the new members RSS feed added to the mix feed. That's a slight drag, because we can't just edit an RSSMix feed, we need a brand new one. Luckily we can start the process with the existing feed, mix number 15279, without logging into RSSMix. We can then plug this new feed into our SpeedyFeed page. To manipulate the SpeedyFeed page we do need to login to SpeedyFeed; there's a password for that which we can pass around.
    Anyone who uses the old RSSMix feed on their own pages should update to the new feed. We could easily announce changes on the CLC blog.
Accessing the page

If you like this page, then its useful to be able to see it easily. Clicking on a toolbar bookmark is good for doing this.

If you use FireFox, you can make a toolbar bookmark like this: Display the page and drag the URL from the URL field to the bookmark toolbar, dropping it where you want it to appear. Right click over the bookmark and select properties. Then rename the bookmark by changing the name field to something memorable. I used SpeedyCLC. That will probably change to something shorter like sC later, to give me more space on for other bookmarks on my already overflowing toolbar.

I don't generally use Internet Explorer, but from a quick look, this is one way of making a similar facility: display the SpeedyFeed page and drag the URL from the URL field onto the favorites icon. Then to display the link click on favorites, and, in the resulting favorites pane, click on the SpeedyFeed link.

PLE notes

While the four steps above can be done in a relatively short time, in the world of automated systems that's actually quite a lot to do in order to join a learning community. Particularly as we want to facilitate easy engagement with communities, both in joining and in interacting with the community.

One thought is that it would be nice to automate all of this. Not so easy to do, methinks, but nonetheless I will be thinking about it. No promises, though!

I predict that the automation bug-bear will come with are-you-human word-verification fields, and no doubt, with a lack of a compete set of APIs to programmatically invoke essential functionality in remote web servers. Problems like these may be one reason to develop integrated PLE facilities, rather than to totally rely on remixing web 2.0 facilities. However, it would be highly desirable to retain web 2.0 bricolage and remix abilities when making such a PLE implementation strategy choice.

Technorati tags:

Friday, September 08, 2006

Why the CLC will die (unless we do something about it)

A little alarmist perhaps, title-wise, but this post puts my point of view that I think that we need to consider some of Sean's posts on the rather carefully.

I've had a little bit of email interchange with Sean about CLC, in part following on from Sean's observation that CLC is less than vibrantly interconnected; as he puts it: "The network isn't as vibrant as we would have hoped."

I don't want to put anyone off CLC, but I think that Sean's comment is, in the nicest way, a call to arms, and that we need to act to stop the group atrophying and dying. I deliberately set out to try to shock some of us into action with this post's title.

As I see it, this network is worth nurturing and maintaining. But in order to do this we need to do some things (well, at least these things):
  1. Encourage community interactions. Difficult to do in a purely online environment. I was part of an earlier F2F and online network and I found that the regular F2F meetings helped grow group cohesiveness. So I wonder about online events, and am sorry that I missed the recent "Tapping into resources for e-learning", which although not part of this community is closely related to it. Can we organise some online events? Or publicise related events (like Jo's tour of second life) in some central place, perhaps via email too?

  2. Make comments on each other's blogs. I have been trying to do this, but have mostly failed (mea culpa). I shall immediately go and comment on the community blog.

  3. Open the community blog to all community members. This is an example of a community blog for the learning community I mentioned above. There is no need for centralised control of the blog beyond registering new group members to the blog. Maybe we can set up a sub-group that does registrations etc.

  4. Provide a mailing list for transient information with a short lifespan. This is in my view essential to gathering the community. Everyone reads their email (I hope).

  5. Encourage everyone to use a feed reader, to the point of getting volunteers to act as online sources of help for those new to feed readers. Or at least ease people's ability to see what is going on in the group.

  6. I am well aware of the 1% rule that Sean quotes, it has in the past worried me when I have been part of a community. In fact yesterday I was filling out an evaluation form describing my experiences of the LKL Social Software Group, and mentioned that this was one aspect of group participation that plagued me. We need to try to get over this. How? Suggestions please?

  7. And, I also think that we need some kind of help board. For example, how do I get blogger to do automatically do tracebacks and pingbacks? A second blog for help requests?

  8. Make howto posts whenever possible. Jo has made some, I've made one, and I suspect that thee are several wiki-based ones (Sean?). We need some way of centralising posts and pages on tools and techniques (the wiki?). Seeing as I am currently or shortly to be involved in the setup of three other communities, I am desperately keen that the web gets a high quality set of instructions about the mechanics of setting up collaboration mechanisms.
OK, well that's it. I wish I was an anthropologist skilled in community-formation knowledge. Anyone know one?

regards, mark.

Web 2.0 and revolutions in learning, teaching and assessment

Aficionados of web 2.0 and social software in learning and teaching might be interested in a set of slides from Scott Wilson of CETIS, presented at the recent (finished yesterday) ALT-C conference in Edinburgh.

I wasn't there to witness / take part in the workshop where Scott made his presentation, but I'm sure that it was all excellent stuff. I'm looking forward to someone posting the audio from this talk.

Passingly, I might mention a recent Don Hincliffe post on web 2.0: All we got was Web 1.0 when Tim Berners-Lee actually gave us Web 2.0. The point that Hincliffe is making that web 2.0 is really about us and our use of the Web, rather than just being predicated on technological advances:

"But is Web 2.0 really about the Web, or us? The rise of architectures of participation, which make it easy for users to contribute content, share it -- and then let other users easily discover and enrich it, is central to Web 2.0 sites like MySpace, YouTube, Digg, and Flickr. But this is still just another aspect in the way that we, ourselves, have changed the way we use the Web. Not only have we gained 950 million new Internet users in the last ten years, but a great many of them use the Internet differently now too, with a hundred million of them or more directly shaping the Web by building their own places on the Web with blogs and "spaces", or by contributing content of virtually infinite variety."

Independently, I have been thinking about the consequences of the read-write web (aka web 2.0) for education, particularly in the light of my own experience of trying to reconcile a course which uses massive group participation with an aging degree validation process. There is a faculty constraint that the marks contain a significant assessment of individual student work; sometimes less easy to supply when one is, as I do, teaching a rather unconventional course.

I posit that we are on the verge of a mass rise of architectures of participation in education, such as web 2.0 based PLEs. These in turn will enable a far more social constructivist style of education, and will take aspects of our educational systems to a point where there has to be a revolution in how education views individual achievement and its assessment.

Yet think about this: "Besides being competent, John got a 2.1 for his degree, so let's employ him" Clearly, too much hinges on the accreditation outputs of our education systems to just throw individual accreditation away. But if our educational institutions are to retain their accreditation role there needs to be a revolution in assessment that bridges near-future educational transformations with the demand for individual accreditation.

There are some starts in this direction, including peer assessment of individual contributions to group work. I'm interested in trying this in the next academic year, while running my own assessment system alongside peer assessment.

But individual experiments aside, I can see that a crisis is coming for assessment and accreditation unless we start to seriously consider new directions for assessment.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Those little traces...

As a long-time computer scientist, I am aware of just how easy it is to use computers to store personal information, and believe that as educators we need to ensure that our students use of web 2.0 and social software technology does not land the students with future problems. But as we shall see below, sometimes the choices are not so clear-cut.

Background: Once, perhaps five or six years ago, when I was teaching a public class on C++, a programming language, I had a student from a large credit card company. In the course of general chit-chat I found out what he was going to do with the programming language — aggregate thousands of data sources on millions of people to find out their buying preferences and their credit ratings. "And this huge scale activity is going on in a company," I thought, "What other companies are doing this?"

Of course, not wanting an eventual shed-load of (targeted) junk mail coming through my door from UK supermarkets, I have avoided their loyalty cards, only to realise that each time I use a debit card in a store, I am anyway adding to the slow accumulation of purchasing data that the store holds on me. At least one supermarket chain in the UK already classifies customers into groups according to purchasing preferences. I know this because a former colleague's partner helps run that particular operation. I never enquired as to my classification, but I guess it would be somewhere between 'gourmet' and 'base-level minimal-cooking survivalist', with a 'definite caffeine habit'.

OK, the wheels of commerce will turn, and data like my strong interest in drinking coffee will be collected. But what of our students and their use of the intenet?

Recently I have become interested in university students blogging as part of their higher education activities. The University of Warwick, for example, encourages all students to blog (see here).
  • In passing, some statistics are interesting, each of these 4052 blogs have an average of 18 posts and an average of 2.3 comments per post. I would say that this is a good uptake for a student body, and am particulary impressed by the comment to post ratio. I hypothesise that the comment to post ratio implies that a cohesive student community is starting to form.
We have been considering a similar approach, but just in the School of Computer Science that I sometimes work in, at the University of Manchester. Our conversations have sometimes centered on the problems in getting a community of computer science students to write prose.

In this context, I wondered if blogging that involves more than learning-related posts — for example about the students' social life — might help in encouraging blogging in general. Luckily for them, our students, mostly male, mostly heterosexual, have social events with students from schools that are less male-dominated, and there is a natural social linkage if we can get students in these other schools blogging too.

But there are big and important questions on what is stored where, and on potentially large real-life ramifications. Anything on the internet is fair game to be harvested and stored.

What might stop some employer-advisory service from scraping student blogs looking for key words or phrases? Text like "I drank 17 alcopops on the Friday, was I pissed or what?", or "We went clubbing and got off our faces" (i.e. took drugs). Who knows if this is recurring behaviour or once-off experimentation? Certainly there is room for creative interpretation, probably not in the best light for the person whose actions are being interpreted: An employer-advisory service could provide a paid vetting service to future employers who want to avoid employees who might 'loose it' from time-to-time.

While I'm not encouraging the above behaviours, I do think that we have a duty to make our students aware of the potential conseqences of their actions on the web.

And, in in this vein, every so often I get a salutary example of the power of little bits of self-generated information on the web. Here are some examples:
  • Today I found out from that there is a member of a particular community who has some interest in activism, hmm that probably should go on a government list somewhere. (Not!)
  • Not long ago I found out from that one of my colleagues bookmarked a lawyer's site; "What is happening in this person's life?" I wondered, because I knew that this person had already bought a flat and did not need a lawyer for that.
  • Recently we saw AOL misguidedly dumping some information regarding searches on the web. This information was subsequently removed but not before it had been archived and chewed over by several interested parties. See here, here, here and here.
  • What does Google do with your search data? Probably every facet of your life is described there; to some level of detail.
  • And the killer app is still coming, the US government trolling social spaces; check this.
  • As for the power of social software for self-revalation and unfortunate consequences, what about this?
The last item is scary, what would you do as a teacher if you found out (by any means) the same information that was gleaned from myspace? What if someone is making things that go bang? What if there is a teen who is self-harming? What is your duty as a teacher?

Certainly, in some circumstances, most thinking teachers would spring into action on receiving certain kinds of information. In turn this may have consequences for our view on automated trolling for data in social spaces, maybe some trolling is not so bad after all. But, then, do we trust the trollers and what they might do with the information? What is the cost-benefit equation here?

Food for thought...

Toolbar bookmarks and web start pages

There are many ways to start and keep track of web-based learning activities which are centered around sites out there on the web.

This post discusses FireFox's toolbar and some web start pages (also known as personal portals, resource sharing pages, etc...) for these purposes. Some tail notes to the post include questions of ease of low-level user interaction, pointers for PLE design, and some handy web resources.

Firefox and personal toolbar bookmarks

One easy way to make resources available is to use FireFox to make sites available via the toolbar. Here is an example from the machine I am using at the moment (click on any of the images in this post to see them larger):

On making the above picture showing the toolbar and how its contents have overflowed onto a drop down menu, I realise that I haven't been as neat as I can:
  • There are old and now unused entries from earlier work researching and building up web-based resources. I can remember wanting to get rid of one, but not wanting to go to the effort of thinking about how and where to refile it, so that bookmark just hangs around.
  • Last night I also used it for a bit of a dumping ground because I knew that I would be coming back to a couple of sites today and I didn't want to use my general purpose bookmarking service (delicious) for the purpose yet, because I didn't want to work out how to file these entries.
A bit like filing then, we sometimes have a messy filing system, hopefully files and folders get cleaned out in quiet moments...

All well and good, except for the confounded toolbar space problem that you can see above.

Web start pages / personal portals

To get around overflow problem in a browser toolbar, one can start to use web start pages, sometimes called personal portals or web 2.0 portals.

I have tried a couple of these tools. First, the one I use least, provided by Nowsey. It seems to function more as a feed and search aggregator, but can still be classed as a personal portal:

One can open and minimise the 'panes' in the browser window at will. Only one pane is open in the screenshot above.

The next example is the web-start page that I use more, provided by ProtoPage:

The pane on the left contains links to sites that interest me. This pane was populated when I realised that my bookmarks toolbar was full, and when I realised that not all my toolbar links were consistent in toolbars on FireFox in the different machines I used. By using a ProtoPage pane to hold links to other pages I can easily access those pages no matter what computer I am using.

Other panes show feeds and searches. Panes can be opened and minimised.

The third method I use to start learning activities is not from a portal, but rather involves refinding learning materials via More on that another day....

Mouse button usage in FireFox

It might seem absurd to discuss something as low-level as mouse button usage when discussing the field of elearning, surely there are more important points: pedagogy, learning goals, student control, learning design, assessment, reflection, ..... (make your favorite list here)

Yes, there are more important points, but at a low level we need to aid student interaction with systems in a way that encourages them to stay engaged, and not to wader off muttering "£$#'!@ that system, I'm not going to use it."

Using FireFox with a middle mouse button that I can use to click on a link to open the corresponding page on a new tag in the background. This does a lot for me -- I can look at a page containing links and 'middle mouse' interesting links, stacking up hidden but tab-displayable pages to investigate when I am done with the current page. Because pages open in tabs in the background I don't have to keep flicking between tags and there is no disruption to my reading and investigatory flow.

PLE notes
  • Navigation aids in a distributed learning environment are essential.
  • Learners (and teachers) need to be able to update navigation aids easily and rapidly.
  • Bricolage and personal mutation of tool use is important in the PLE space.
  • Ease of use is particularly essential with respect to not interrupting the current activity in order to schedule further activities.