While I was there… Treating collaborative thinking

I had to leave the thought-grazers at 12:35 to see at student up at the Heath… But, following a slightly disappointing event we had both attended, where learning seemed to be very much ‘assumed’, I was glad to discuss with Joe about shared thinking in collaboration and being able to accredit that. He, David and I were thinking about the idea of whether it is possible to identify networked learning activity, what does it look like, and if it is possible to then accredit that (link to my own blog post about it (again!)).

It seems contradictory to give individuals an individualised grade for a shared idea that emerged as part of a collaborative conversation. Joe was saying that it would be very useful for the students to explain how they came to the ideas they eventually decided to explicate. As much as we might disdain the idea, able students want a good classification. If their individual conversational ‘moves’ could be reified (i.e. shared online), perhaps this is where epistemic fluency (after Ohlsson 1995 – see below – as referenced in the 2001 Networked Learning Guidelines) comes in in terms of being able to classify a contribution – we could ask the question, does this qualify as epistemically valid contribution? Is it using an epistemic ‘move’?

Apparently Dr Kelly Page is getting a whole module acredited through the contribution to the wiki although I would need her to explain more fully. It is as David said, something about getting students to the process rather than the end product although ironically some things about ‘final’ exams had that effect… But we’re in the game of trying to keep students…. Jonathan Scott was saying he’d bumped into another Kelly who’d just been able to accredit her module as totally student lead and taught, that’s one way to engage students… although, apart from the students own opinions, I’m not sure what the NMC would make of that…

Describing Writing about an object or event so that your reader acquires an accurate idea of that object or event.
Explaining Writing about an event or pattern of events so that your reader understands why that event or pattern of events happened.
Predicting Writing so that your reader becomes convinced that the event in question will happen.
Arguing To give reasons for (or against) a particular position, thereby increasing (or decreasing) your reader’s confidence that the position is right.
Critiquing Highlighting the good and bad points of something.
Explicating Writing so that your reader acquires a clearer understanding of something.
Defining To define a term is to propose how it should be used.

Ohlsson S. (1995) Learning to do and learning to understand: a lesson and a challenge for cognitive modelling. In Learning in Humans and Machines: Towards An Interdisciplinary Learning Science (eds P.Reimann & H.Spada), pp. 3762. Pergamon, London.

Oxygen as an enterprise alternative to Dropbox

My son has been VERY actively trying to persuade me to look into using Oxygen Cloud as an adjunct to Dropbox. Today he sent me this link which is worth taking a moment to read. There’s also a video to watch that explains/describes the model of file-sharing.

From this you can see that the main difference between Dropbox and Oxygen is the encryption which immediately addresses the recent “scares” about Dropbox releasing information to the US government upon request (of course you can still operate your own private encryption on Dropbox files if you want – but that’s a bit of a hastle).

So, Pete has allowed me to be one of his team members and so “family files” will be shared in the cloud using Oxygen. For any small team of five or less, why not use the free trial Oxygen service. If it meets your requirements, consider paying for secure storage in the cloud.

Google+ has landed …

Well something had to wake me up! It arrived this morning, courtesy of an invite from Paul Hobson which worked! I guess it’s connected to having your Google language set to English(US) – yes it rankles but it has its benefits. Anyway, I’m up and running and have given it the once over.

I like Circles – they look a much better alternative to Facebook Groups in two use cases (at least):

  1. For closely defined groups that you want to keep reasonably leak-proof for people you trust (ie family and REAL friends) or who have a coherence of their own (ie a volunteer group, charity, etc), it could really work as a virtual meeting-point and archive of activity.
  2. For corporates frightened of Facebook and never having taken to Yammer, then Circles could be the answer as you can define your own circles and again (and I haven’t checked the security model in detail yet) retain an element of firewall to the circle. [I’ll report back on that in a later post.]

In addition to Circles, I do like the way Google+ is presented; the way your profile is shown, the way you can edit it and the detail you can change so that you can really present yourself, the way you want to be [I haven’t quite worked-out the various communication symbols yet … but I will by the end of the day!]. I also like the presentation on the iPad – the mobile version – it’s really clean and passes usability tests (for me). Finally (and here I’m speaking as a Chrome and iGoogle user) the integration with the rest of the Google stuff on the desktop is really good. In my Chrome taskbar, I now have a David+ tab, and a notifications button, and the same is true of iGoogle – a new tab has appeared.

You can see the future on the Google desktop therefore – this is what it will look like. I think, just possibly, Google may have got this right – perhaps the time and effort in getting it wrong with Wave and Buzz might have not been so bad a thing after all.

Finally, the integration with Picasaweb is also very good and I wait to test the video chat functionality – this could be the real killer functionality. I think Facebook have got a real competitor this time, and for corporates (as long as the security model is granular) there may be a good entry-level collaboration suite to add to the increasing Google in the Cloud offering.

Collaboration, wikis, open source and more

A lot of the conversation at todays “cafe” was centred around wikis. Rachel from the Grad Centre attended for a while and we hopefully gave her some ideas as to why and how it might be a good idea to investigate using a wiki as the repository for their operational procedures. She’s looking to rewrite them all and it would appear a good project for collaborative authoring.

She particularly liked this diagram from NASA, which circulated again today in a post

… I think as a diagram it so graphically shows why email is NOT a collaboration tool (as if any of us ever did); but the post quite thoughtfully suggests that the problem in getting wikis established in the enterprise might more be to do with the perception that a wiki is a website (with all that carries with it in terms of governance). If it could be positioned as a service that augments an email system it might appeal more to corporates because that would place it nearer their comfort zone. Of course as many at the “cafe” said, the diagram to the left is a simplification of reality, and if you add cc’d and even bcc’d users, and users the document might be forwarded to, then the possibility of a cohesive and meanigful collaboration is distant indeed.

Anyway, it caused some mirth, some consideration and hopefully provided some assistance for Rachel.

Prior to that we’d been discussing software that allowed collaborative authoring in meetings, or learning sessions. Joe Nicholls had been experimenting with sync.in whilst Mike Johnson had been doing likewise with typewith.me. They appear to be identical and appear to be a product of Google wave activity. Worth a look and full revision history is provided through URLs.

Mike was also keen to talk about dialogue; how you engage with students, encourage them to participate and he spoke to me about a number of themes which I’d be hugely grateful if he’d expand as a comment to this post … please Mike! He also introduced discussion on motivation and reward for encouraging participation in group activity. He’d considered chocolate; he’d heard about virtual stars added to avatars; what can you do to recognise “good behaviour”?

The next issue was how you handle the disappearance of an externally hosted service (such as drop.io) that you might have “recommended” to staff or students. Can you wash your hands once you’ve given an introductory task – hopefully making them aware of what they should be doing at the same time as using the service to protect their information, or do you have a responsibility to be pro-active once you’ve given some advice. We didn’t achieve consensus on that one but agreed that education and training was vital – new literacies indeed; and that we did have a responsibility to alert when we became aware of a failed service – beyond that some disagreement. Should we indeed be pro-active at all, offering to find solutions and alternatives, for instance?

Finally, there was some discussion on the emergence of open source as a more plausible alternative to commercial offerings. Yes, we do use a lot of open source, but mainly in the back office and not visible to users. Would we want to replace our VLE software, or our collaboration suite with open source offerings? What would the issues be in moving in that direction? What is the support model that would be required? We ran out of time and agreed that it would be a good topic for a chat at a later “event”.