Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Looking for online community: Social networking platforms

I thought that it was necessary to give further clarification to
explain my reluctance about social networking website (SNS) as
described in the Elluminate meeting. I had no time to read the blog entry beforehand and was caught unprepared for the topic, as it probably came across.
I am sure that Social Networking Platforms , which I will call
SNP in this post, can be a wonderful tool to interact with otherpeople and communities. However I think this is a risky environment.
Are the rewards really worth the risks?
There are several aspects to the problem:
1. your public profile can be used, with other elements of publicly available information for the purpose of ID theft.  You could minimise you profile, but SNPs have been hacked in the past and data stolen.
2. The gadgets made available in these site can be used by hackers to steel your data and/or  take over your account. I remember reading on the BCS website the testimony of a journalist who had a lot of damage done to his reputation after this happened to him. The company running the SNP was extremely unresponsive and he had to take legal action.
3. There has been cases of computers infected with malware (trojan- keyloggers) when their owner were visiting SNP and looking at other profiles. This is not specific to SNPs and can happen any number of ways (rogue email attachment and infected/hacked web sites being the main causes).
4. As for email, social engineering can be used to extract information from you, which can put you in situation 1 or 2. Never trust anyone you do not know on line. If you know them, check they are really who they pretend to be...
If you feel that you have to use a SNP I would advise you not to enter real details into them, check the site track record for security (Google), and at the very minimum have a computer with a good antivirus and firewall up-to-date. This would not protect against zero day attacks, only against known problems.

You can find further info on:
I have found Young People and Social Networking Services interesting, but think that the security part of it lack depth. Does it surprise you?
I have reluctantly joined the Online Facilitators network on
So we could use SNP, but it comes with a health warning. I would be uncomfortable  to ask young adults/teenagers to use this as a learning tool. If I had to use SNP, I would start by a compulsory session and test on how to minimise the risks associated with them.
I am more comfortable with a closed environment where you can control the membership of the group and moderate the content.

Course miniconference: I have been left high and dry with no speaker, and no ideas. Help!

Looking for online community: Virtual Worlds

Unfortunately,  I could not make it at the last minute to the second life meeting  due to first life commitments.
I have sampled second life a few years ago. As I have completely forgotten what my avatar was, I had to create a new one. I went to the place recommended by Sarah, getting used to the interface again. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the bandwidth requirements are a lot less than  in past. I was able to get away with a 256/128K link, but there were no-one to interact with at the time.
However, a teaching institution having several users using SL at the same time would  have issues with the bandwidth used. I can see SL becoming a source of frustration in this situation.

In the second Life Grad Student Colony page,  part of a sentence sent me warning messages: … since many of us spend way too much time in SL and not nearly enough time actually studying,…
These kind of environment can suck the life out of you if you are not careful!
Wikipedia, referring to an interesting article from Christine  Lagorio in the NY Times mentions that Instructors and researchers in Second Life favour it because it is more personal than traditional distance learning.  The article mentions that at the time of writing in 2007 there were numerous institutions using SL. Looking for more recent information,  I was expecting to find more info on Eduserve, as the latest report about the use of SL is dated from June 2009. The information did not convinced me that the use of SL is developing at least for the UK.
I have tried to create a group in SL. This would have cost me SL$100. This surely cannot help to create communities. I suppose you could create a teaching institution from scratch on SL, without the need for a physical location, but this would come at a cost.

My approach to new Learning technologies is "How can this help me to improve on what I am doing ".  At the present time, I cannot see how SL would help me. I probably lack of experience in using the environment and would have liked to be able to see a demonstration of group interaction in SL.  I can  see that it would help it the case of language learning. It must also be helpful  for other non-technical subject otherwise I dare assuming that it would not be used for educational purposes.

I have no doubt that communities exist in SL, as in everywhere people interact. The kind of interactions happening there would mean that facilitation would be similar to in-person meeting facilitation. One of the source of information mentions that you should limit the open questions asked, to avoid a meeting becoming chaotic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Using WiZiQ

My work network blocked me from accessing WiZiQ with the rest of the group last week. So following Sarah's suggestion, I did organise another meeting which took place tonight.
Already I was not not impressed from the start, as the registration process requested me to hand over a lot of personal information, unlike for DimDim. This rang alarm bells:  at best I am at risk to be spammed heavily .At worse my data could be stolen from their database for ID theft purpose. Mind you, apart from the email address, there is nothing to force you to tell the truth…

Catherine  and Heather  attended the meeting at different times.
I did find the interface  itself nice and simple.
As the meeting coordinator, you control the ability for the participants to speak on interact with the white board.  It would be better to have a system such as Elluminate where the participant can take turn to speak by clicking a button, without having the coordinator  identifying first who wants to talk, then click on a button.

The problem with enabling the speech permanently  (full duplex) is that you can end up with 2 people talking at the same time, as the delay for the speech to arrive to destination was about two seconds. This created a problem with two participants. What would happen with 10 or 20? Chaos!
I have tried to upload documents from the PC to the whiteboard with limited success. I was able to  load one PDF file, one PowerPoint file, one Excel file . A few files got stuck at 50% upload. The Excel file  was only displaying the print area, and you could not navigate between the sheets. The .pps file suddenly appeared after I had lost all hope of seeing it. The delay from to time between the system indicated that the file was loaded and its appearance on screen was of about two or three minutes. This  did not seem to have anything to do with my system or  my internet connection.
 The only way to share videos seems to be through You Tube. I also had the option to use as source the Camptasia plugin (?), but this came to nothing at the end. I attempted to upload video files directly. WiZiQ only seemed to be able to  only identify the .swf video file on my laptop, but any attempt to load the files came to nothing.
It does not appear to be any facilities for desktop sharing.
You can annotate  the uploaded documents, but when attempting to erase the annotations, the text on the document disappeared.  This is not an issue if you are aware of it.
The bandwidth used was acceptable on my modest DSL line, but it looks like a bit more than DimDim or Webex.
I am having another go at DimDim on Monday with some of my students (I know:  labour day - I must be stupid!), and will feed back on the experience.

So to summarise my experience, the interface is nice and easy to use,  but:
- delays gets in the way of communication and file sharing
-limited video sharing facilities
-no desktop sharing facilities
-concerns about privacy

Ideas for assignment 2

Since I am frequently using Webex as a participant, it think that it might be interesting for other people to get information on this excellent tool  from the point of view of a meeting organiser.
I am waiting to hear from the former colleagues at the Birmingham City University to see if one of them would be able to take part in an online event during
 between 9th - 22nd November. The event will probably take place during an evening (NZ time) to be able to cater with the time difference with the UK.

I hope this works out, as I have close to no plan B at the moment.
It would be nice to be able to use Webex for the event, but this is not a free tool. I will see if we can get access the Webex from BCU, but since it is supplied by the Cisco Learning Institute, there is no guarantee this would be possible.
The tools I am planning to use are therefore
3.Dim Dim. I was quite impressed with the possibilities of this free tool, even if I could not access to any sound from work. I will experiment with it to see if my modest bandwidth from home (256/128K) would be able to cope with the traffic.
As soon as I can get confirmation of the participants, I will add my event to  the course mini conference web page.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blogs, Forums, Twitter and facilitation

A blog is a journal edited by one person. Most blogs would allow to post replies. This frequently leads to exchange of ideas with readers which can themselves be bloggers. These bloggers are likely to have the same interests and would in turn cross reference with other blog, creating a network or community of blogs. A blog network can grow organically, or being actively weaved, as described by Angus.
An on-line discussion forum belongs to all participants. Participants are frequently screened to be registered to the community. They exchange ideas through a platform, and other members reply to the treads/questions
When investing the two formats, looking to the practical implementations of the two platforms, I arrived  to some conclusions. In general,
-Blogs tends to convey ideas which are much more in depth than forum, probably because the feedback is not frequently as fast from other people
-There is a tendency to have more intense discussions in forum.
-Sometimes  loudest people take over  a forum. This can lead its demise  as the other participants get less interested into visiting the forum. This can be counteracted with effective moderation of the forum.

My preconception about Twitter is that it at first feels like a tool for people with short attention span.
A reservation I have into to using it is that it would be an other source of information to have to cope with. I am at the moment spending up to 45 minutes  at work  every morning  reading, filtering, deleting the information arrived overnight through emails, RSS,  and update  on web site such as blogs. On top of that count the "urgent" information requested  from students via IM system, and you realise that the  back ground eNoise is already quite high…
So what would Twitter bring me? Twitter is well described be Sarah Steward on the FC09 blog.
There is not doubt that Twitter is probably be a good way of pushing information out towards other people. However, I feel that I could not effectively cope with an other source of information coming in, especially as I frequently could get it via other existing tools. I feel that it is much more efficient to gather information via limited set of tools such as RSS, eMail, and Update Scanner.  In fact I have rationalised my information input replacing most RSS by U.Scanner. Updates. Update Scanner works in 99% of cases, when RSS is not always implemented on interesting sites.
Let's get back to Twitter. If the people I am trying to push information to via Twitter are in the same situation as me, can I expect them to collect information via this tool, or should I instead pass the information via existing tools? You know by now what solution I would prefer. I will however try to use Twitter in a course I will be delivering next year, and get the feed back from the students. I might get surprised!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Looking for online community: Blog networks

Wikipedia describe the blogosphere as being made up of all blogs and their interconnections and a collection of interconnected communities. But are blogs communities?
A blog consist of one or sometimes several writer , passive readers  and readers actively commenting.
What can be a blogging network? I followed the link for Blogscope then BlogPulse. The idea to be able to search specifically for blogs about a certain topic is new to me. Does it mean that the blogs found concerned about the same topic constitute a community?
The first search was for eLearning. The two search engines are a good source to find blogs about a  specific topic, but it did not meant that the blogs were interconnected together.  It fact it did not seem to be many inter-connection between them at all.  There are  communities of blogs in Tumeke (thanks Rachel!) and KiwiBlogs (thanks Stephen!) These are concerned about NZ politics, but it does not seem to be much cross-references between these blogs either.

Organising blogs seems to be hard work as explained on (thanks Sarah!). The paper on which this blog entry was based made for very interesting reading.
Would someone complete such a task without financial incentive? I doubt it.

 A good example of a blogging network would be the FCO9 blog network. Several platforms are used for the blogs, but there are linked by
- a common interest
- links are interconnecting the blogs between each others
- the blogs also refer to each other.
 I have spent quite a bit of time looking for working blog communities.  Like  Stephen, I have found that most are not very active in the sense that most members seem to be active only for a short time.
One of the two properly working blog network I have met is….. The FCO9 network. The other one was link to a course I completed last semester, so was only active for a few months.

Does anybody in the group want to be interviewed for comments and ideas on how you thing the blogging network  could benefit from facilitation services?

 Can a blogging network benefit of a facilitation service? My gut feeling is this could only be happening if a synchronous event takes place. The only situation when I think facilitation services could be useful is when a group of bloggers is sharing a blog, with someone able to modify or withdraw entries if one is deemed to be unacceptable. I can imagine this happening in an educational context, but have not met any example of it yet.  This idea was reinforced by reading Kylee's blog entry this morning.

On-Line forum

I have questionned members of the long running  Yahoo! group UKFoster-Adopt · Fostering and Adoption in the UK.
This is the summary of the information gathered from some of the members.
The discussions about any subject related to adoption and fostering are 'roaming fairly freely'.  There is no point having someone trying to summarising a thread, as in any case, it would not close it. Too many people have to have the last word.
There is moderation taking place on the forum, as there are moderators who read every post after it is published, approve new members, deal with complaints and complete some 'admin stuff'. One of the moderators compared their role to light facilitation.
Sometimes moderators discuss off-line the behaviour of a member of the group giving concerns, and one of them steps in when things turn nasty.
It has happened in the past that members are put onto pre-moderation. In that situation, 'their posts must be read and approved before they are published but this is a rare event and has only happened a handful of times'.
There has been members banned for trying to sell children (!) or for breaking confidentiality agreement.
However the boundaries are  very wide and the discussions can wanders right off the purpose of the group.
One of the members mentions that the discussions on the forum create a learning environment challenging the members ideas and preconceptions. The participants have respect for each other,  challenge each other  respectfully , as they are a group of individuals with a common interest and passion in fostering. There have been occasions where the group came together supported a peer needing help with a positive outcome .
Another  good point was made by an someone else, who noted that 'with any group the dynamic of power and control more often is held by those who are charismatic, vocal and confident. It is dangerous to believe that freedom of opinion, low key monitoring and a lack of dissonance equates to agreement by the majority'.

(thanks to Tia, Mike, Rhys, Kathy, Jon)

This group feels like a real community. By in large the discussions are respectful  and the participants cares for each other . All the participants seem to have a common interest.  However there is no need for facilitation service as there are no plans for any synchronous events.