Monday, June 22, 2009

Don’t Fence Me In

Stephen Downes questions when lawmakers will recognize that the laws that result in multi-million dollar judgments for sharing songs over the Internet are wrong. I’m afraid Stephen that things are going to become a whole lot more restrictive. Stephen writes:

When a court awards a $1.92-million penalty for sharing 24 songs, we have to ask, when will it become clear to people that the law is wrong? Because, any law that allows this, is wrong. Some other things that are wrong (via Charlene croft): a city in Montana requiring job applicants to submit all of their Web 2.0 logins and passwords. And a bill introduced here allowing government to intercept internet transmissions and gather user information from ISPs. Wrong. And I say: there is a fundamental disconnect between government, and the people they purport to be governing.

I tend to see the freedom provided by the Internet much like the freedom the old West afforded people. Both were initially populated by early adapters who were resourceful and independent. They did not like the restrictions mainstream society offered and the control that the rich could impose on that society.

Of course, this chafing of restrictions also tended to create a situation where lawlessness also grew. As long as it was early adapters there was no problem. In the old West feuds were settled with gun battles; on the Internet it was flame wars in forums.

Then the railroads, major businesses, started to move westward as enterprising individuals found resources that the East could use. This led to more people moving west; people who were not early adapters and who wanted the civilization of the East imposed upon the West. It took time, but as more individuals became wealthy from the railroads opening the West it became apparent that the wildness of the West had to be brought under control and probably by the 1910s, when Arizona became the 48th state accepted into the Union the west was tamed.

The same thing is now occurring in the Internet. By 2004, Nielsen reported that three-quarters of the United States had Internet access. With this influx of people corporations followed, not just with personal websites but also entrance into social media. It’s not unusual now to see corporations advertising to follow them on Facebook. The music industry is just the first industry to discover the wildness of the Internet and are actively fighting to tame the West. They were quickly followed by the motion picture industry. DRM laws are the equivalent of the fences erected to shut down the freedom to roam as property rights took precedence. Frankly, I don’t hold out much hope that the freedom that existed with the Internet will continue much longer.

Small voices will be shouted down by the bigger corporations who have the resources to take control. It’s apparent that Google who offers the largest platforms for individual voices to be heard (Blogger, YouTube, etc.) already caves and censors the Internet for the People’s Republic of China. From my perspective, the freedom and independence offered to the individual by the Internet is not long for this world.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I want to learn this…you want me to learn that…

A fascinating post on BoingBoing blog by Cory Doctorow, an author that I have a great deal of respect for, concerning learning. It tells the tale of a student at San Jose State University who had a run-in with his professor over the posting of his homework (computer code) on the Internet.

While the details of the incident are probably a repeat of incidents dating back to the first time a teacher and a student did not see eye to eye over sharing of information with other students, it was Cory’s assessment of the important learning moment from this tale.

There's a lot of meat on the bones of this story. The most important lesson from it for me is that students want to produce meaningful output from their course-assignments, things that have intrinsic value apart from their usefulness for assessing their progress in the course. Profs -- including me, at times -- fall into the lazy trap of wanting to assign rotework that can be endlessly recycled as work for new students, a model that fails when the students treat their work as useful in and of itself and therefore worthy of making public for their peers and other interested parties who find them through search results, links, etc.

I would agree with Cory’s assessment up to a point. I think it is true when the course is focusing on something the student wants to learn about, in other words, they are already self-motivated to learn. Other courses that may not necessarily interest the student, but are a required program by the university or corporate management, may not generate that level of interest.

This raises the interesting issue of how do we balance what we want to learn versus what others want us to learn? Of course every teacher thinks that his subject is the most important, but his students may not agree. It all depends upon their motivation. The question is how do you convince the student that even though he is not personally interested in a particular topic it is in his best interest to strive to perform to their highest level…to produce meaningful output, not just regurgitating what he thinks the teacher wants to hear.

The easy answer is to provide a motivating statement at the beginning of the course; this has been a staple in the corporate learning world for as long as I can remember. Provide the learner with a reason why they should want to learn the material. But is that always feasible. You ask any student and they can provide you with a class that they are required to take, but which they see no need to know the material.

My point is that not every class needs to involve producing meaningful work…sometimes proof that you are aware of the subject matter may be all that is necessary. Maybe the solution is to take the approach the state of Virginia is advancing, give students the option to take end-of-year tests or having their final grades based upon a portfolio of their work. The drawback with this effort is twofold.

  1. You have the issue that Cory talks about, the “lazy trap” that teachers fall into. It is easier to grade multiple-choice tests than it is to evaluate a portfolio.
  2. Is an “A” based on a final multiple-choice exam the equivalent of an “A” based upon a body of work.

The big question is how far as a society should we go in requiring students to learn information that they may not ever use. Is the concept of a well-rounded education a thing of the past?

Student challenges prof, wins right to post source code he wrote for course - Boing Boing

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reprimanded For Facebook Post

facebook This seems to be an up and coming issue as social media moves off of high school and college campuses and into the work world. An Associated Press reporter is reprimanded for a post to his Facebook page.

The minidrama is an increasingly familiar one as companies and workers navigate the landscape defined by sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Firings and reprimands over postings to social networking sites have become commonplace over the last year.

As learning professionals we need to ask ourselves and our clients if the workplace environment is conducive to such open communications before we recommend the use of social media.

AP Reporter Reprimanded For Facebook Post; Union Protests | Threat Level |

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Social Media Gender Gap

Business Week has a fascinating report that instructional designers should keep in mind before floating Web 2.0 ideas to a customer. In the article The Social Media Gender Gap suggests women are more apt to adopt web 2.0 applications then men.

It's no shock that men and women act differently online, just as they do in everyday life. The Web is an extremely social medium, and Web 2.0 is all about being social. Traditionally, men are the early adopters of new technologies. But when it comes to social media, women are at the forefront. At Rapleaf we conducted a study of 13.2 million people and how they're using social media. While the trends indicate both sexes are using social media in huge numbers, our findings show that women far outpace the men.

Hat tip to MetaFilter community blog which also points to articles that Twitter appears to be the one social media that is dominated by men.

Creative Commons Flickr Photo from Kanaka’s Paradise Life.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Evolutionary Dead-end?

Interesting observation about technology at the webblog Boing Boing.

Every gadget expands until it becomes a PC. Any gadget that does not so expand is replaced by one that will.

It sure seems that way. Comment was in reference to a post at its sister blog Boing Boing Gadgets about the digital picture frame shown here.

Recently at Boing Boing Gadgets - Boing Boing

List of Cultural and Educational Video Sites

Open Culture blog provides a list of 35 cultural and educational video sites.

Looking for great cultural and educational video? Then you’ve come to the right place. Below, we have compiled a list of 35 sites that feature intelligent videos. This list was produced with the help of our faithful readers, and it will grow over time. If you find it useful, please share it as widely as you can. And if we’re missing good sites, please list them in the comments below.

Movie camera photo courtesy of: domi-san’s photostream on flickr.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Social Web as a New Walled Garden

Interesting perspective from Wired magazine on the future of Social Web.

The social web trend is more or less complete. Oprah's gone Twitter, your co-worker has a MySpace problem, and if your parents aren't bugging you with Facebook movie quiz invites, they probably will be by the time you're done reading this. People are flocking to these sites in record numbers, as Facebook now boasts over 200 million users worldwide, and Twitter has grown 3,000 percent since last year. But for the social web to evolve into its final stage and take flight, the walls that separate these services, their users and everything they create will have to come down.

The article then suggests that once again we are building silos that restrict communications.

Leo Laporte, a broadcaster who runs the popular TWiT network of technology podcasts, calls the phenomenon "the social silo," and he doesn't think it can last much longer. "People are pouring all this content and value into individual sites," says Laporte, "but they aren't going to want to keep dealing with Facebook, and Twitter, and FriendFeed, and whatever is next." Laporte and Owyang agree that in order for the social web to move forward, the separate ecosystems which make it up need to unite.

Of course the assumption that we all want to share with one another is just that an assumption, one predicated that we desire to be of one herd that is in constant communication.

Creative Commons photo from Eggman’s Flickr photo stream.

Dual Perspectives Article