Attacking the symptoms

In one more case of attacking the symptoms of a problem rather than the source, some academians are refusing to allow students to cite Wikipedia entries in their papers. Now understand that I am not advocating for the unconsidered citation of Wikipedia or any other encyclopaedic work. But the net result of this effort is not an improvement of a process, but rather the unstated opinion that wikipedia, or any collection of socio-collaborative knowledge, is not of value to the educational process.

From Inside Higher Ed, comes this post:

“…the history department at Middlebury College is trying to take a stronger, collective stand. It voted this month to bar students from citing the Web site as a source in papers or other academic work.”

I am not trying to vilify the faculty at Middlebury, as a matter of fact I agree that making any decision or basing an assumption of fact on a single source is a dangerous idea at best. However I would opine that we should instead operate from the assumption that all of our sources should be considered suspect. Regardless of the source, in this digital age of information we should all be instilling within our learners a clear and focused approach to vetting that information. Rather than banning or explicitly ignoring social sources, we should instead be teaching our students how to verify their data. Even peer reviewed journals, the historical bastion of credulity, are not without their own margin of error(1).

I liken this process to the following analogy:

Growing up, I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol. One of our primary missions was search and rescue, often relying upon ELTs (Emergency Location Transmitters, now known as EPIRBs), to locate downed aircraft. If we were to rely upon a single line of bearing, the margin of error is such that we would be unlikely to find the plane. Utilizing two lines of bearing from two different angles results in a lower margin of error, but one with a significant search grid. But using triangulation, three lines of bearing, results in a degree of accuracy which minimizes the search grid and maximizes the chance of finding the aircraft.

If we were to use this approach with our information, we would require at least three sources from differing angles (read bias, approach, study type, etc.) to corroborate the meaning we derive from our data.

Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia, and by their own admission should never be used as a primary source.

Wikipedia officials agree — in part — with Middlebury’s history department. “That’s a sensible policy,” Sandra Ordonez, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail interview. “Wikipedia is the ideal place to start your research and get a global picture of a topic, however, it is not an authoritative source. In fact, we recommend that students check the facts they find in Wikipedia against other sources. Additionally, it is generally good research practice to cite an original source when writing a paper, or completing an exam. It’s usually not advisable, particularly at the university level, to cite an encyclopedia.”

However, the approach being taken is not addressing the cause, simply attacking the symptoms.

(1) This is not a solid conclusion but there is enough documentation to bear further review.

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Dorm Room of the Future Design Contest

A while back I posted about a scholarship contest which focuses on the digital dorm room of the future. Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) posted an article about the winners of a similar contest sponsored by ACUHO-I (Association of College and University Housing Officers-International). The contest was intended to spark thought and attention on implementing new principles of design and utility in the area of college housing. According to The Chronicle:

The competition was the first step in a process, called the 21st Century Project, that the association hopes will lead to construction of a prototype residence hall.

It appears that modularity was a common theme amongst the 46 entrants. The winning proposal was submitted by Jonathan Levi, architect and Harvard University adjunct professor. His proposal envisioned:

Residence-hall rooms of the future will be made in a factory, trucked to campuses, and stacked with other matching units — each constructed of sustainably harvested wood — to form buildings complete with lounges and corridors. The rooms will be filled with modular furnishings that can easily be switched out as needs change. A kitchenette might be rolled in to replace a second bed, for instance. And the rooms will be redecorated as often as their occupants see fit to reprogram the interactive floor-to-ceiling media walls.

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Got your Groove on? Microsoft Groove that is

As evidenced by the past few posts, I’ve been evaluating the latest edition of Microsoft Office, Office 2007. I first came across Groove quite by accident. I was looking to create a new folder and so right-clicked on my desktop. I noticed a new and unfamiliar icon and conducted a Google search to see what on earth it was.

As it turns out, it wasn’t spyware (yes, I know I’m talking about Microsoft here) but rather a link to a new piece of software included in the Enterprise edition of Microsoft Office. This software operates on a peer-to-peer level using technologies originally developed by Groove Networks. Rather than collaborative materials being stored on a central server, they are distributed to the desktop of each team member. This might serve to assuage some of the fears some hold over their files being stored by someone other than themselves, i.e. Google.

Each Groove Workspace can include any or all of the following components:

  • Calendar
  • Chess Game (all work and no play y’know)
  • Discussion
  • Files
  • Forms
  • InfoPath Forms
  • Issue Tracking
  • Meetings
  • Notepad
  • Pictures
  • SharePoint Files
  • Sketchpad

The workspace itself is shown in the image below. The tools are available in tabs at the bottom of the workspace.

Here are a couple of useful links to learn more:
Wikipedia: Microsoft Office Groove
Microsoft Office Groove
Microsoft Groove Tutorial

Now the bad news, this is obviously a commercial product so there is a licensing cost involved. While Groove is included with the Enterprise version of Office 2007, it can apparently also be licensed through Microsoft individually. A cursory examination of their site did not reveal a pricing structure. So while this might be a great option for businesses or organizations with a Microsoft campus license, it is not likely to gain widespread adoption in the education arena due to its exclusive nature. Another option that may be available to schools with computers purchased after February 2007 might be the Meeting Space collaboration tool embedded within the Vista operating system. While not as robust as Groove, in terms of available features and functionality, Meeting Space might serve to facilitate synchronous collaborative efforts through its abilities to distribute agendas and files, share desktop screens and presentations and link activities.

Either way, it seems that only just now is Microsoft catching the “groove” that the rest of the web has enjoyed for the last couple years. It still has a long road ahead.

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Single profile, single identity: Part II

I’ve been thinking a bit more since the Kathleen Gilroy post about the idea of a single profile and realized that something like the beginnings of this idea had been tried before in FOAF, or Friend Of A Friend. FOAF is/was an RDF/XML specification that tried to formalize the process of how we present ourselves, in a format which enables machine reading and processing. Although technically it still floats around, it does not appear to be a prevalent force. But it may have just been ahead of its time.

Now I readily admit that I am a player when it comes to web technologies. I subscribe to many things just to see how they click and if they have potential (for me or my clients) as learning technologies. Here are a few services to which I have subscribed:

Each of these services required that I replicate specific personal and/or professional information. Often times, these fields even use the same descriptor. All of this is information which could easily be standardized and then stored in an XML file.

If a file is in a machine readable format such as XML, then it would follow that it would be a simple matter to process that XML so that it becomes your virtual representation to other sites. As I mentioned in my last post, it seems rather foolish and redundant to have to re-enter our profile information to whatever application/social software tool we choose to subscribe to. The value of mySpace, Facebook, elgg, LinkedIn and other similar services is in their ability to not only present our information but to also make connections as a result of those virtual profiles. If we subscribe to one or many Moodle courses, or are filling out forms, why not expedite the process by enabling those services/apps to automatically parse information available from our FOAF file? Now if this is to be the case, then it would be extremely important to have a strong authentication mechanism that the FOAF file does indeed belong to the subscriber. I could see PGP filling this gap.

One other area to consider is the “opt out.” If your FOAF file was formatted in such a way that it flagged items that you wanted to be prompted to allow to be read, then it would provide a level of awareness over how deep an application was searching your information. A nice feature would be for the service to provide a checklist of the profile features that they were culling from your file or better yet, for your file to report back to you a list of the requested items for your approval.

This, in my mind, is step one for the evolution of social software. Step one in that it is still simply copying data from one location to another. Step two would be for each individual to have a profile which is centrally managed and used as a synchronization point for a netizen’s various social software services. No longer would you have to manage each of your profiles independently, this mechanism would allow for the author once, publish many aspect that the web is beginning to recognize.

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Single profile, single identity?

Over at the Otter Group, Kathleen Gilroy’s post “Where oh where does my profile reside?” got me thinking about the convergence I see coming between persona, identity and social networking tools.

In thinking about building second generation web communities, I have come to believe that the online profile is at the heart the new web. In the search economy, you need a dynamic digital identity. It is the means by which the right people find you and then connect with you.

What I need is a place for my profile that can be plugged into any web service I join. And by plugged in I mean can dynamically draw text, bookmarks, images, and videos from all of these services and build them into a dynamic view of what’s going on now. And I’m not dealing with the issue of residing “inside” an enterprise.

I left this comment:

You’ve touched upon the next evolution that will likely happen to further social networks - the convergence between our own personal and/or professional profile information, our electronic portfolios and federated identity management. What will happen when we create a social network tool that allows you to create a single profile that you could then use to present yourself in other spheres of your practice: when commenting on the blogs of others, when joining and participating in communities of practice, when presenting yourself in virtual environments. Similar in theory to single sign-on, we would now have single identity, not in the sense of authentication to a service but in the sense of authenticating your persona.

Why should I need to create and re-create personal profiles when I log into a new Moodle host? Why should I need to worry about juggling multiple personas when I only want to manage one?

MySpace and Facebook started with the right idea, that each of us has a voice and that we find it important to be able to represent ourselves. But as netizens we now know that we need to make our voices heard and that it is time for social software to take the next step.

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Northern Voice 2007

A number of folks have already blogged about the upcoming Northern Voice 2007 which runs from Thursday evening, February 22nd through Saturday, February 24th. Held at the University of British Columbia in beautiful Vancouver, Canada, this year’s conference kicks off with a spaghetti dinner and opening night party on Thursday, with Moosecamp on Friday and Northern Voice running on Saturday. The full schedule of events for Saturday has been posted.

I’ve wanted to attend Northern Voice since its inception three years ago. Many of the folks whose blogs I’ve come to know and respect have made a conscious effort to not simply be present but to participate and help shape the development of our virtual voices. Who are these voices who shape my own practice? There’s Brian Lamb, who spoke with great enthusiasm and passion for his work at a NERCOMP SIG on social software in October 2005. There’s D’Arcy Norman, who’s dogged work on Drupal and advocacy in the areas of open-source software amazes me.

Unlike so many of the corporate conferences, Northern Voice is not a commercial venture. It is built upon the work of, and remains true to, those who contribute to this community of practice. It is a grand social experience. I have to say that the thought of being surrounded by so many passionate and creative individuals is exciting, yet intimidating. I am struggling right now to find my own voice although I’ve been blogging for over a year now. It would be an amazing and enlightening experience to be able to share with and learn from this dynamic and passionate community.

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It’s interesting how we use the phrase “play with it” as a synonym for learning. “I don’t know much about that yet, as I haven’t had a chance to play with it.”

This popped into my head while I was listening to a speaker at the NERCOMP SIG talk about how they were learning a new technology. It got me to thinking that we use the term to denote experiential learning. The ability to experiment, fail, retry and grow as a result of the process is exactly what our children do, and we ought to be doing ourselves, as adults, perhaps even more importantly, as educators.

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Blackboard Patent Reviewed, Not Rejected (Yet)

According to Groklaw and a press release from the Software Freedom Law Center, the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) ordered a re-examination of Blackboard’s patent on certain aspects of the e-learning environment.

The Patent Office found that prior art cited in SFLC’s
request raises “a substantial new question of patentability” regarding
all 44 claims of Blackboard’s patent….

A re-examination of this type usually takes one or two years to
complete. Roughly 70% of re-examinations are successful in having a
patent narrowed or completely revoked.

This is very interesting news for those who have been following this issue since Blackboard’s announcement of their patent last summer and their subsequent lawsuit against their next strongest competitor (in terms of market share) Desire2Learn. While this may take up to two years, a patent rejection might well be the impetus that is needed to bring Blackboard back to reality. The corporate monolith mentality and disdain for their user community has not served them well in the past year.

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This is what it is all about.

This is an amazing story about connections. Not network connections, not political connections. About connections between people. And it’s also about the power of social consciousness. The story starts like this:

A friend got a water buffalo for Christmas from her dad. She won’t actually take delivery of the animal. The Web page says that it will be given to a family in Asia. If you read the fine print on the page, however, it turns out that there is no actual buffalo and no actual family and you won’t get a photo of your family and your buffalo.

Philip Greenspun wrote this post, which got picked up two days later by a concert violinist from the United States who is now living in China. He blogged about it and from there started a process that culminated twelve days later in the delivery of a water buffalo to a grateful, if not overwhelmed, family in China. But the story doesn’t end there, the violinist recorded and posted an incredibly touching video of the donation process which has enervated others to take action.

in just about 48 hours, we’ve had people contact us wanting to fly to China to give a gift of some sort themselves, we’ve had book offers, thousands of people have already viewed the movie, people want to donate more water buffalos . . .

Dec 26 - problem noted
Dec 28 - solution presented
Jan 7 - problem solved
Jan 16 - viral video explodes
Jan 19 - shift in public consciousness leads to action

Cost: $200 U.S. and a little sweat

Return on Investment: Immeasurable

Cut out the middleman, people to people - this is what social consciousness is all about and what social software helps to facilitate. This is the power of the web, yes, but more importantly it is about the power of PEOPLE, you and I, and the ability to connect ourselves to the world around us - around the hall, around the corner, around the country, around the globe.

Thanks to Will Richardson for bringing this to my attention and for Karl Fisch’s moving piece! I think his conclusion is quite eloquent as he speaks about our children, our learners:

“…this is life in the 21st century (ironically demonstrated by very non-21st century water buffalo cultivation). This is 12 days from problem to solution, and 24 days from problem to Internet-viral-movie-extended solution that may impact hundreds or thousands. Shouldn’t we be teaching kids about this stuff? Can’t we address the curriculum and standards in ways like this? Shouldn’t we be helping prepare them to be really good at using these tools in both their professional and personal lives to impact the world around them? Shouldn’t we be helping prepare our students to change the world?”


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