Have you got a pirate in your school?

Something that rather belatedly crossed my professional radar has been the ‘antics’ of the Dread Pirate Roberts. I first caught up with this topic sitting in a hotel lounge in Singapore, reading the Forbes Asia September issue. Here was a fantastic challenge to the ongoing discussions of what happens online, including challenges to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and the whole matter of appropriate global citizenship. The truth is, we must be aware that online environments can be manipulated as well as manipulative – and in that sector, drug trafficking,  porn and the sex trade exemplifies everything that is destructive to society despite the so-called ‘democratic’ right of people to engage in their own peculiar passions and vices.

So it was increasingly sophisticated anonymity tools in online environments that created a bustling online narcotics market – and in this realm Dread Pirate Roberts was king of the waters, running the booming anonymous narcotics bazaar known as the Silk Road . What’s interesting to me is not only the ethical issues of drug use and marketing etc, but ALSO the communication mechanisms that are deployed online.

The Forbes reporting on the Dread Prirate said:

An entrepreneur as professionally careful as the Dread Pirate Roberts doesn’t trust instant messaging services. Forget phones or Skype. At one point during our eight-month preinterview courtship, I offer to meet him at an undisclosed location outside the United States. “Meeting in person is out of the question,” he says. “I don’t meet in person even with my closest advisors.” When I ask for his name and nationality, he’s so spooked that he refuses to answer any other questions and we lose contact for a month.

All my communications with Roberts are routed exclusively through the messaging system and forums of the website he owns and manages, the Silk Road. Accessing the site requires running the anonymity software Tor, which encrypts Web traffic and triple-bounces it among thousands of computers around the world. Like a long, blindfolded ride in the back of some guerrilla leader’s van, Tor is designed to prevent me–and anyone else–from tracking the location of Silk Road’s servers or the Dread Pirate Roberts himself. “The highest levels of government are hunting me,” says Roberts. “I can’t take any chances.”

How many of your students are aware of these unofficial and anonymous back-channels?  I know I am not. Seems that neither were any of the Dread Pirate’s family.

A media report today tells us that it’s the End of the Silk Road. On Wednesday, the FBI announced that they arrested 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, the Silk Road’s accused administrator, in the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library.The FBI hasn’t yet revealed how it managed to track down Ulbricht in spite of his seemingly careful use of encryption and anonymity tools to protect his identity and those of his customers and vendors who visited Silk Road as often as 60,000 times per day.

My question is – which kid is going to be the next dirty ‘entrepreneur’?  Which library or cafe  is going to be that kid’s base for disruptive activities deployed via online environments?

Digital citizenship programs in schools?  What a challenge!

Don’t like the new Google Reader?



To be honest, I’ve always hated Google Reader, so the current round of complaints since the update have had no impact on my RSS reading habits.  One quick look tells me that the interface is more palatable, having adopted the new Google look common to it’s other product upgrades. However, my RSS reads also tell me that many are unhappy, and that one of the key issues is the social interface.

Google Reader’s  redesign  removes social features to other websites. The Google Reader team has prepared for the release to be unpopular with some users in the userbase saying in a preemptive post “we recognize, however, that some of you may feel like the product is no longer for you” adding that they extended the amount of exportable data.  “Starting today we’ll be turning off friending, following, shared items and comments in favor of similar Google+ functionality” and iterated “we hope you’ll like the new Reader (and Google+) as much as we do, but we understand that some of you may not. Retiring Reader’s sharing features wasn’t a decision that we made lightly, but in the end, it helps us focus on fewer areas, and build an even better experience across all of Google”.

Google Reader is certainly changing. In truth I am not at all ‘qualified’ to comment on the current iteration of Reader. Why?

I’m been a long time fan and user of Feedly. If you’ve been around in any of my presentations, you’ll know that I like Feedly so much that I recommend it all the time.


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by heyjudegallery

If you currently manage all your feeds in Google Reader, Feedly is a nice way to transition to a different style of feed reader. Feedly syncs with your Google Reader account, but uses a more magazine-style interface. The minimalist interface thankfully doesn’t put as much emphasis on whitespace as the new Google Reader, either. The service offers support for a plethora of social media services, but doesn’t include any built-in substitute for Google Reader’s social features.

Just in time for the launch of the new Google Reader, Feedly also just launched version 7 of its web service

As an added bonus, there are also  various mobile and tablet apps for Feedly which work nicely now. However, when it comes to my iPhone I also have a friendly relationship with FeedlerPro!

Top image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by stylianosm

Social Bookmarking not so Delicious anymore



I remember the scramble to work out what to do when the rumours flew around about the demise of Delicious as a social bookmarking tool. Now the new Delicious has launched and the fallout for me is huge – I have to get re-organised all over again!

I read Delicious Relaunches. So, What Now for Educational Social Bookmarking? (Or, Rather: So What?) and jumped right on over to take a look at what happened.

Even before it was clear what the future of Delicious would be, people were turning elsewhere for alternatives, moving their data to sites Diigo, for example, or to Pinboard.

That was me – I managed to get paranoid about my bookmarks. Actually, I started actively bookmarking in Diigo, which I synchronised with Delicious, which I synchronised with Pinboard. So here we are now – we’re starting all over again as my sync-chain is broken.

I like Diigo for it’s group functions, and maybe this is what the new stacks at Delicious are all about – information curation for groups with  visual tweeks. But stacks are not collaborative ventures as represented by groups in Diigo. So I will keep using Diigo for the group collaboration (I like the weekly digest, and the ease of sharing on the fly), as well as for the personal bookmarking across my many devices.   .

Richard Byrne takes a look at Stacks and explains that Delicious Stacks could be a good visual way for students to explore a set of links that you have shared with them about a topic or you or your students could create multimedia playlists about a topic to share with each other.  If you are new to social bookmarking, this is certainly something you might be interested in.

As I jumped back to  Delicious I discovered just how many people forgot to or chose not to accept the changes to the new service. Suddenly I am only following 20 people and I can’t now see who follows me incase I want to reciprocate!!

I follow 101 on Diigo, including some that I consider critical, such as Howard Rheingold and his crap-detection. Now so many of the links I had in papers and presentations that pointed to Delicious users and resources have essentially died.

In the new Delicious:

  • I detest not being able to change the number of items I view on a page.
  • the new browser tagging toolbar does not ‘call up’ your existing tags.
  • there are no longer RSS feeds
  • no tag cloud and other features are missing

The best social bookmarking site is officially dead!

The new Delicious has a nicer interface, and is clearly going to go in new directions and respond to new needs.  However,  right now it has things I don’t need and things that are missing, so  it’s not my tool of choice  as it does not work as efficiently as the old Delicious.  But I have my account, so I will continue to ‘watch this space’ – at least I don’t have to start from the beginning.  (Perhaps this is just what some people wanted to do to de-clutter?)

Meanwhile, Diigo and Pinboard will continue to draw my attention – and it’s time for me to re-organise how I curate bookmarks. New delicious is a bitter disappointment.

Image: cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by bjornmeansbear

What’s wrong with being a geek and an academic?


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by extranoise

Within the world of academia, you will find all sorts of people with all sorts of interests and backgrounds.

So wrote Deanna in her post  What’s wrong with being a geek and an academic? She  made it clear that people in academia are not simply disconnected from the real world and only talk about their research!

In fact, there are all kinds of people, and for me it’s been confirmed that all kinds of people are right there in academia, as they are in schools.  They play and research in virtual worlds, they are passionate rock climbers, musicians, and creatives, and  they are exploring many aspects of learning –  and geeking that research as well!  We use Facebook and all kinds of social media to teach, share, communicate and engage in discovery with our learners.  In fact, I have found that academia is a much better place to be for ‘geeking your research and learning’!

Charles Sturt University recently went through a major re-branding program, that is being rolled out through all necks of it’s global woods.  It’s easy to be cynical about costs involved in this, but the reality of our online interactions is that marketing is linked to what is visually current for users, and the media that works for them.  The uni needs to meet the online needs of the scholars and alumni and this marketing is directly linked to the way it is seeking to evolve their courses and respond to future needs.

I was pleased to see that they are rolling out mobile versions of access to CSU.

It’s easy to access CSU on the go. Content and services provided through m.csu have been specifically optimised for use on smartphones so that they are quick and easy to access, and will continue to be refined and extended.  More will be added so I hope it’s great.

I was even more excited to see that the official template for our email signatures includes the option to add four social media links: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Now that is officially cool!

Bump your next PD!

Have your ever been to a conference and ‘bumped’?  I have – and it was so much fun to quickly share information. Funnily enough this App does not seem to have taken off with educators as you might expect – didn’t bump at ISTE2010 at all! Perhaps I was in the wrong room. But ACEC2010 earlier in the year in Melbourne was very bumpy!

Bump 2.0 is now out for the iPhone, with Twitter and LinkedIn integration. Powerful!

Bump 2.0 has had a major redesign for its iPhone app, changing the look and adding some very important new features, including Twitter and LinkedIn integration, as well as unlimited photo and contact sharing.

Other major new features include a chat function that lets connected users chat after a Bump, as well as calendar feature where you can compare calendars, invite each other, and automatically save to each calendar. Adding one of these new features would be news – putting them all together basically redefines the app.

I’d like to see this being used more amongst people in the education industry.

via The Next Web Apps

Don’t turn a digital blind eye…

Denver Convention Centre

So here we are  –  back at school again!  After the amazing ISTE2010 conference in Denver Colorado, I can honestly say that I came away packed with inspiration, and refreshed by the multiplicity of exciting approaches being tested and proved for their value in schools around the world.

There were many highlights, but above all, the message came across loud and clear from top to bottom  that we need to be proactive and adventurous in digital environments. Don’t guess  –  collaborate and learn from others! Build academic rigor through excellence in digital innovation.

I was so impressed with the schools that have a solid track record of integration of handheld devices such as the iTouch. They have shown us that it IS possible to have secure networks AND robust learning taking place that transforms opportunities for students. Even more exciting was hearing from those that are also exploring the added advantages that an iPad can bring to flexible learning. Of course, educators also reveled in the opportunity to explore and share Apps for the iPad. ISTE2010 was groundbreaking for me  – seeing so many iPads in one place was amazing!  Oh yes, the TL Learning Tools Smackdown was a real winner!

It was exciting to hear and see Howard Rheingold in person, in his Crapdetection 101 session. He has so much to offer us in understanding issues around good critical thinking in our digital environments. Take the time to watch his presentation, and then visit ISTEs critical thinking compendium.

So back to school for me  and the challenges of digital learning.

Thanks to our Powerful Learning Project initiative, our Digital Citizenship program delivered through a private Ning is once again alive and active with a plethora of curious, clever, colourful and amazing expressions of learning by our Year 7 boys. I know @snbeach will be pleased!

I love watching what happens in the first week!  Some boys are really excited (once again) to be working in an environment that to them ‘is like Facebook’ – which makes it cool! Others can’t help but use the Ning environment to ‘shout out’ about topics that are close to their hearts – who should win the next rugby game; should Ricky Ponting be dropped from the cricket team; and personal reflections on home and school. At the same time, boys are able to reflect on the topics being discussed in class, and sometimes amaze me with their  insights into their own digital world.

For example:

Cyberbullying is common  and mainly occurs because the person on the other side of the screen can’t see how hurt the victim is and they think it’s all a big joke to them. It is one of the largest forms of bullying because it doesn’t have any physical requirements, like conventional bullying does, but can be done by anyone. It is a major problem and is mainly based from social networking sites, not from SMS’ and phone calls because they are too intimate in communication.

One of the most annoying things about cyberbullying is anonymity and not knowing who is bullying you. It also is only effective in large groups so you feel excluded and like everyone is against you, unlike when you know you have friends to support you and back you up. If I experienced cyberbullying I would probably tell a teacher and document all the incidents so that the cyberbullies would get into trouble and hopefully learn a lesson.

Digital Citizenship cannot be ignored. Out of 160 + boys, only a few believe that they have had any help or guidance from parents or teachers in these digital environments.  So our digital initiative is being ‘rolled out’ via our English faculty – communicating in digital environments seems a very good reason to adopt this as our own (yes Darcy – I’m an English teacher too, so perhaps rank as a small part of your English Literati set perhaps in some small way?)

Other examples:

This is all well and good that the school’s IT group has put all this time and effort in to making this program but I have a an idea that this is just a trap for cyber bullyers. Because I’m gathering that school has no jurisdiction over our use of Facebook.

Ning is sooo cool, its just like a mini facebook, I can learn soo much from this!!

The important message  is that the world is changing really fast and in order to keep up with all the new and exciting things, we also need to no how to use these things in a responsible matter.

Cyberbullying = cowardice!

Very perceptive !

These environments are so important in both social and academic spheres.

Why do some educators continue to turn a digital blind eye?

Tag your world – share with Stickybits

What next you ask?  How about Stickybits!! With Stickybits we are now able to attach digital content to real life objects, and share this content with anyone else who accesses our Stickybits  barcodes.

The current phase of social media is all about location-based applications, such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Brightkite, to name a few. By downloading the Stickybits mobile application on an iPhone, users can scan the barcode and which provides the  videos, photos and text which have been added, which are referred to as “bits.”

Anyone that scans the barcode, can see the bits loaded from other users and also add their own content. Stickybits barcode locations can be identified on a map provided in the application and are tracked on the Stickybits website.

I think there are things we could do with this for professional or fun things, as well as develop ideas for school.

You can attach photos, videos, music, pdfs, and more to a barcode.

It is possible to print out your own barcodes, order some snazzy ones from Zazzle, or attach ‘bits’ to existing barcodes.

Here is where it could get interesting for schools – we already have barcodes on objects – now we could attach information goodies to items that are being used for reading, learning, playing, enjoying.  Would we?  This is definitely a whole new idea to explore.

Would you use Sticky Bits?  What would you attach to your barcode?

TechCrunch has a bit to say too:

Every place and object in the world has a secret past: who lived there, who passed by, who touched it. The secret lives of objects are filled with such details. If only you could make them talk. But what if you could give any physical object a story simply by sticking a barcode on it and appending a message to that barcode?

The barcode in a greeting card , for instance, could trigger a video message from the sender. One on a box of medical supplies could inventory what is inside. A business card with a code on it could link to a resume or LinkedIn profile. Museums and theme parks could use them for audio tours and maps. Local merchants could use the barcodes to track deliveries or place them in their storefront windows to distribute digital coupons and offers to passersby.

To get more ideas keep an eye on the StickiWiki, and please do let me know what you try.
Laura Gainor will be utilizing stickybits as a travel journal as she ventures to Disney World with her family from April 16 – 19, 2010 and also bring along stickybit stickers to attach to different real world objects

Laura Gainor used  stickybits as a travel journal for a Disney World trip with her family from April 16 – 19, 2010!