Shrinking the world after 4000 years

Quite a while back I read the book by John Freeman called Shrinking the World – the 4000 year story of how email came to rule our lives!  A ripping read, that contextualises email into the early 21st century communication systems as a derivative of human interactions through the ages.

We are now working in an era of constant interruptions. We nearly all have multiple email accounts which we use for a variety of purposes. Some eschew rapid communication still, of course,  along the lines of “oh I don’t want a gmail account, and please don’t expect me to create one so that I can participate in a google hangout for the conference/professional development/learning activity”.  Others of course have moved well on from email, making equally boring comments like “who uses email now anyway”?

If you work for a large organisation – as I do – the likelihood is that you will be using email. In fact, email remains a core professional communication tool alongside other forms of communication – Yammer being one example in my institution.

To be honest, I don’t have a problem with email – when it is used properly!   Ah, but there’s the catch.  Like any media tool, there are savvy users, and there are others.  And it is  the ‘others’ really who just confound the efficiency of the thing :-)

Freedman says:

One of the great paradoxes about email is that although it is created, driven and indelibly marked by ourselves, heavy use of it can leave you feeling emptied out, voided, fractured into a million bits and quips, yet somehow obliterated.

Overall his book is an attempt to step back from the frenzy and the flurry of now – the now we have created and the now we have to slowly remove ourselves from. He suggests that email is good for many things; but that we need to learn to use if far more sparingly, with far less dependency if we are to gain control of our lives.

I don’t agree with this – I think there are significantly  important points at the central purpose and value of email. Of course social media is giving us levels of connectivity across platforms, organisations and devices that email never set out to do.

But email itself, while still at the centre of an organisation, also needs to be used effectively. Let me tell you there are some basic aspects of email that can allow you to manage your workflow AND use the tool efficiently. Here are a few starting points: 

1. Don’t take forever to respond to an email message.  You may be busy, and if you haven’t time to give a considered and full response, have the courtesy to reply and indicate a timeline for response.  Not replying at all is discourteous.  If you can’t reply – put on your vacation message, or your ‘out of office’ message as a quick way to let people know that your inbox is in fact working.

2. Treat your students with respect. If you work in a tertiary institution treat students with the same respect you would accord to any adult you have contact with. I can’t tell you how many times students have been shocked to receive a reply from me the same day – they are accustomed to the (almost inexcusable) approach of treating virtual contact with students the same way as consultation hours with the tutor in a f2f setting – i.e. once or twice a week.

3. Use distribution lists or group lists to hold a conversation about a topic

4. Organise conversations logically. When in a group conversation – for heavens sake reply to the latest message.  The way that people fragment the conversation by simply replying to the first message, or one somewhere in-between is not only inefficient but also transparently discourteous.  If you were standing in a group around the water cooler – how would you feel if everyone simply acted as if you weren’t there.  Same thing.

4. For goodness sake use proper formatting.  We have a wonderful written language. We communicate in proper sentences when we write. We also speak sensibly and courteously with each other.  Yet for some reason, people apply kindergarten rules to email which look like this:

Dear Person I just like to write my comments all in one sentence and/or maybe a paragraph because it’s too hard to apply proper punctuation or even structure the message intelligibly and did you have a nice weekend Judy

While I can accept this in casual social media settings, to my way of thinking professional conversations in corporate email should also utilise the full affordances of the English language and supporting email structures.  I actually find it vaguely rude when a colleague doesn’t.

5. Turn on your auto-signature. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had to chase up a person’s contact details because the courtesy of having the full signature file is not utilised.  In a large organisation, transparency of conversation is essential.  If I need to phone you, or forward your email to another for response it should be clear who you are and in what capacity we are having our email conversations.

You’re probably thinking this is all very ‘old school’.  Perhaps it is!   But I’m convinced it’s part of the way to be professional, courteous and efficient with email until another tool arrives.

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by consumerfriendly

Stayin’ Alive – learning as the future

You have to love this old tune from the Bee Gees! Tight pants aside, the lyrics and pace of Stayin’ Alive hits the mark for the first subject kicking off in the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation)!

It’s “O” week, and I have a new band of troopers who are aiming to stay alive while giving  learning in new channels and new scholarly approaches a go with me. Wherever we work in the education sector the challenges are there – time to level up!

Areas to explore:

  • The information revolution, global connectedness and trends in technology
  • New modes and methods for information organisation and knowledge creation
  • Principles of connected learning, open access and open communities
  • The digital divide and globalization of lifelong and lifewide learning
  • Creative cultures including gaming and maker-spaces
  • Education informatics
  • Re-imagining the experience of education in a digital age.

Yeah, we’re stuck in CMS land – but not completely.  We have our backchannel in Twitter (of course), and we have our own degree portal as a launchpad for digital connections across platforms, devices, and scholarly digital direction. Please note the word ‘scholarly’. We are not about devices. We are about adding depth and scholarly rigour to the push into spreadable media, networked culture and postmillenial pop.

Yes, our students will have to know how to cite Twitter in an academic paper, alongside traditional citation practices.

Professors may scoff at the idea, but students are increasingly citing tweets in academic papers. Although they don’t exactly count as peer-reviewed, tweets do provide interesting insight into pop culture, breaking news and a number of social issues. After all, the Library of Congress is indexing tweets for historical reference.

They need to know about Open Access and full research re-use rights and predatory publishers.

mobilehubThey will make use of a host of tools from CSU Mobile Hub and dig deep in developing their professional reflexive and reflective position on what they are learning by keeping a digital record at CSU Thinkspace. Naturally a bunch of Bibliography and Citation tools will also kick into action.

Blending imaginative learning with real-word development needs can be extremely challenging and extreme FUN. Take our first assignment (yeah, we still have to have them)  – the scholarly book review.  Seems easy? huh?  Until you realise that there is an extensive list of books to choose from – see my Amazon list collection.

Write a scholarly book review, which presents a critique of the work in the context of current and emerging trends in information and knowledge environments created by the social and technological changes of the digital age, and in relation to learning and teaching.

Identify questions or issues that are important and which have implications for current practice and/or for your professional goals.

Many critically acclaimed books are published that address topics related to digital information environments and knowledge networks; creative cultures and use of technology; and futurist perspectives on learning in a digital world. However, regardless of popularity or publicity, educators need to be able to evaluate these publications from a scholarly point of view.

A scholarly book review is a critical assessment of a book. It can take a substantial amount of time for critical scholarship to emerge about a book. Likewise, as scholars read and digest the content of a publication, divergent views can emerge, and research can be questioned, or new areas of investigation can appear. Therefore the knowledge and skills underpinning a scholarly book review are more important than ever in the dynamic information environments of today.

This is no tripadvisor review.. it’s one that requires students to challenge their thinking, dig into the research, and in particular identify the value versus hyperbole so often present in many of these kinds of publications. This critique is a critical review, and as Steve Wheeler explains,  it requires a student to “look both ways” : 

  • Provide a balanced and objective argument; don’t indiscriminately pepper their assignments with direct quotations from the literature;
  • judge the worth of any theory or idea they include in their work; and
  • demonstrate to the reader (and marker!) that they not only found the idea and can understand it, but that they can also contextualise it.

Warning, warning.  Don’t keep quoting statements that have no foundation in emergent theory and research. Just because a self-appointed media ‘guru’ says it’s so, doesn’t make it so!

Students, it’s time to fine you niche in the digital noise.  We’ll be stayin’ alive together if you connect, communicate and collaborate.  Otherwise……get back into the desert of the analogue world.

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’,
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive.

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Daniela Hartmann

Resist the colour of Twitter?

Within the business and education sectors, some people prefer to maintain a ‘professional’ social  network for work-related communication and collaboration, while maintaining a ‘personal’ social network to communicate and share with family and friends. Others prefer to merge or integrate their professional and personal lives as a single ‘connected’ network.

Yet in my experience, rather a lot more hardly make use of the affordances of technologies, and prefer to remain back in the 20th century.  While I understand this when the choice is actively made based on knowledge of social media, I have run out of excuses to justify this position for educators at any time. In a technology-driven society, things change at a faster rate than ever before in history. We need to be connected.

Do we really need connected educators? Tom Whitby provides a ‘neat’ rationale for being connected:

Who educators connect with is a very critical consideration. Acquiring numbers of educators who share concerns and interests is essential. Once an educator connects with other educators, they begin to collect them as sources in a Professional Learning Network of educators, a PLN. A connected educator may then access any or all of these sources for the purpose of communication, collaboration, or creation. This connectedness is not bound by bricks and mortar. It is not bound by city limits or state lines. It is not limited by countries borders. The only nagging inconvenience is dealing with time zones on a global level.

Yes, there have been any number of examples in the last several years about the influence of social media, but this next story caught my eye today.

A Quiet [Twitter] Protest

In Istanbul, known as the city of seven hills, dozens of public stairways crisscross centuries-old neighborhoods, giving pedestrians a way to avoid heavy car traffic on the streets.

Those walkways generally attract little notice, but that changed last week, when a retired forestry engineer decided to paint the Findikli stairs in the central district of Beyoglu in all the colors of the rainbow — an act of guerrilla beautification that unintentionally triggered a fresh ripple of anti-government protests.

The retiree behind the caper, Huseyin Cetinel, 64, told the local news media that his original motivation for applying a fresh coat of paint to the stairs was not activism, but the desire “to make people smile.” Mr. Cetinel said he spent nearly $800 on paint and devoted four days to sprucing up the stairs, with help from his son-in-law.

“Don’t you think Findikli Stairs are just amazing? Thanks to those who did it,” one Twitter user wrote last week.

What happened next in the story was interesting.

What transformed the painted stairs into a political issue was the surprise that Findikli residents woke up to last Friday: the stairs had been hastily, and somewhat unconvincingly, repainted in their original color, a dark cement gray.

Activists began organizing on Twitter almost immediately, using the hashtag #DirenMerdiven, or ResistStairs — a reference to the hashtag used for protests in June against government plans to build a shopping mall in place of the city’s Gezi Park, #DirenGeziPark, or ResistGeziPark.

The rest is as you would expect – thanks to social action.  Read more at New York Times.

“But I’m already active on Twitter” I hear you protest?

Well I have something else to share with you that I know others have enjoyed.  Check out this  presentation to find out the number one mistakes that everyone makes on Twitter.

Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Lenore Edman

J3T – Judy and Tara talk tech

What happens when two friends get together, and pretty much impromptu, create 10 videos  in a few hours on 10 tech topics?

Tara Brabazon, Professor of Education and Head of the School of Teacher Education at Charles Sturt University,  Bathurst invited me (Courses Director, School of Information Studies in the Faculty of Education, Charles Sturt University , Wagga Wagga) to test this question.

The result was the J3T Judy and Tara Talk Tech series of 10.  Here we now have ten pebbles in a big digital pond – let the ripples begin…..  We introduce the J3T series here for you.

You will find the full series under the following topics:

J3T1 Email and the digital glut
Judy and Tara reveal strategies to manage the information glut. How do we control email? How do we stop email controlling us?

J3T2 Information Organization
Judy and Tara talk about how to manage information. How do students avoid plagiarism? How can software help to organize our ideas and sources?

J3T3 Managing Digital Lives
Judy and Tara explore how to differentiate our digital lives. How do we separate private and professional roles, on and offline? How is our understanding of privacy transforming?

J3T4 Creating rich learning management systems
Judy and Tara probe the problems and strengths of learning management systems. They explore how to create rich, imaginative and powerful environments to enable student learning.

J3T5 Open Access Resources
Judy and Tara explore the changing nature of publishing, research and the resources available for teaching and learning. They probe open access journals and the open access ‘movement.’

J3T6 Fast Media
Judy and Tara explore the challenges of fast media, like Twitter and other microblogging services. While valuable, how do we control the speed of such applications to enable interpretation, analysis and reflection?

J3T7 Sound and Vision
Judy and Tara explore the nature of sonic and visual media. When are sound-only resources best deployed? How do we create reflection and interpretation on visual sources?

J3T8 The Google Effect
Judy and Tara probe the impact of the read-write web and the ‘flattening’ of expertise and the discrediting of experts such as teachers and librarians. Judy also demonstrates the great value of meta-tagging.

J3T9 Are books dead
Judy and Tara asks the provocative question: Are books dead? They explore the role of platforms – analogue and digital – in carrying information to specific audiences.

J3T10 The future? Mobility
Judy and Tara discuss the future of educational technology. Particularly, they focus on mobility, through mobile phones and m-learning.

PS  I did not get my mowing man to text me at the right moment in ‘Managing Digital Lives’ – what a hoot!

Image: Blue Water cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Louise Docker

Being web savvy includes Twitter

These days the need for educators to be web savvy is a given.  What’s not so much understood is that being web savvy includes being social media literate!

The digital transformation has produced some extraordinary online tools for flexible education, which enhance students’ learning and promise innovative pedagogy for teachers. However, they can also be daunting and challenging for educators. It is clear that teachers cannot ignore these tools, which go far beyond just Facebook and Twitter. Educators are now dealing with Generation Z – students born after 1995 who have hardly known a world without social media and have always lived a life measured in bits and bytes.

Be web savvy to keep up with Generation Z became a case in point.  Recently I was asked to write this small piece for Times Educational Supplement @TES on this very topic. Nice!  I admit that what I submitted is not exactly as it turned up on screen (the print version looks grand), but that is the way of journalism racing to meet deadlines.

If it wasn’t for Twitter and the wonderful help of @TESAustralia I would still be cringing at the formatting errors – because traditional email was not resulting in a ‘fix’!! It’s true – I’m web savvy, but I had to be social media savvy to be connected with the right person to fix this tiny problem.

Being web savvy has many dimensions – and social media savvy is but one of them. My example is a silly little one of course, but it was important to me! Luckily there are many powerful examples of teachers who understand the full concepts and connections inherent in being web savvy, and I knew that when I included a few key friends and colleagues in my article. Thank you to @kathleen_morris, @BiancaH80, @dbatty1, for being my exemplary representative Australians, including Ivanhoe Grammar’s iCyberSafe.com.

Disclaimer:  I didn’t pick the title of the article!  You have to love a subbie’s take on what teachers might want ;-)

Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Neal Fowler

The mother of all demos

The first computer mouse held by Engelbart sho...

The first computer mouse held by Engelbart showing the wheels that directly contact the working surface (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following on from my last post which included mention of the historical turning points created by Douglas Engelbart, who died on July 2 at age 88, I wanted to share a record of some of that.

If Douglas’ name doesn’t ring a bell, then look at your computer mouse and give thanks to this World War II radar technician who came up with the idea in the 1960s. Engelbart also influenced computer use in other ways, such as working on the use of multiple windows, network computing technologies. In addition, his lab helped develop ARPANet, which was the government network that predated the Internet.

A bit of his history is captured and available on YouTube. The Mother of All Demos is a name given retrospectively to Douglas Engelbart’s December 9, 1968, demonstration of experimental computer technologies that are now commonplace. The live demonstration featured the introduction of the computer mouse, video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, bootstrapping, and a collaborative real-time editor.

Extraordinary!

Our everyday tools for success

REDToday I was genuinely honoured to head up a keynote session for the Rural and Distance Education Symposium NSW, being held in Sydney for two days. Over 100 fantastic teachers gather to share, learn, and re-energize so they can continue to meet the exceptional needs of students who are isolated by geography, health, disability, or other social reasons.

More than any single group I know, these teachers can really benefit from building a strong global PLN to help support their professional needs to grow in digital learning strategies in challenging circumstances.  Let me tell you, these teachers are a complete inspiration. You can visit the website for Rural and Distance Education, as there are some very useful resources availbale there. http://rde.nsw.edu.au/ 

It’s particularly worth checking the ICT tab – there is some gold buried there, particularly if you are passionate about accessibility.

My focus was the teachers themselves. I was on a crusade!

The digital revolution has created a world of global connectedness, information organisation, communication and participatory cultures of learning, giving teachers the opportunity to hone their professional practice through their networked learning community. What do you do to make it so?

Check out the supporting slide-set for Our Everyday Tools for Success.