declaration of sponsorships and affiliations

Stephen Downes points to some new regulations that may require people (celebrities and others) to declare when something they’re posting has been sponsored by a third party. He also suggests (rightly) that edubloggers and pundits should have similar declarations, to point out any possible conflicts of interest or bias.

Not that I expect any major change, but it would be interesting to see all education and technology pundits declare their sponsorships and affiliations. “The new rules, expected to be implemented by early 2017, will require such individuals to disclose whether they’ve received payment — either in the form of cash, free products or other considerations — in exchange for the mention. Bloggers will need to include statements within their posts or videos while users of social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat will have to include hashtags such as #sponsored, #spon or #ad.”

So, here’s my full disclosure of sponsorships and affiliations.

  1. I work for the University of Calgary. I’m a MaPS staff member (management, so no tenure, no academic freedom protections). That does shape what I write (or don’t write) about.
  2. I’m a PhD student at the University of Calgary. I get some tuition support for the program, but I turned down full funding because that would have meant quitting my job. See point #1…
  3. I have some mutual fund backed investments. I honestly have no idea what stocks are in them. I don’t track it. I don’t play the stock market. Yes, I should pay closer attention to those investments, but at the scale I invest in, it’s not really worth it. This has zero effect on what I write.

That’s it. I don’t have a consulting practice. I don’t accept sponsored posts. I don’t run any ads. I don’t have any other professional affiliations. I’m pretty boring. My taxes are super-simple to do. I like it that way.

where the wild (spammy) things are

Wordfence automatically blocks IP addresses that repeatedly attempt to brute-force logins on UCalgaryBlogs. After a few attempts, they aren’t able to try again for a few minutes (in case it’s a legitimate person trying to log in, it doesn’t banish them entirely right away). If they knock it off, the ban gets lifted. If they keep hammering, the ban gets escalated, eventually putting them in a permanent penalty box (identified by their IP address – not perfect, but it’s all we have).

wordfence-countries-report
Blocked logins by country, August 8-22, 2016

I was half tempted to just drop the ban-hammer on the entire country of Russia, but we have students there (and I wouldn’t want to anger Putin or his tiny-handed American mouthpiece). The US? Buffalo appears to be one of the biggest sources of spam bots – colocated servers (compromised? rented by spammers?) are a big chunk of the attacks we get.

rambling thoughts on blogging and silos

Alec Couros posted a quick throwaway on Facebook (I’d link to it, but Facebook doesn’t work that way)

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It got a lot of likes, and then the comment thread kind of exploded. I posted several comments and replies, and realized that was a silly way to post that particular discussion because it’s exactly the kind of thing we are talking about as killing blogging and personal publishing.

I’ve pulled my comments together below. They’re from various bits in the conversation, so don’t necessarily flow as a single post. Whatever.

I’ve been thinking about the web we lost a LOT lately, but keep having a nagging feeling that some of it is nostalgia and romanticizing the good parts while overlooking the less good. I think we should learn from what was good (and so, so much was very good), learn from what wasn’t as good, and move forward to build new goodness on modern tech.

I don’t miss Reader. There are alternatives. I miss interesting people publishing coherent posts on diverse topics, rather than scattered like birdshot splattered across disconnected algorithmic streams on corporate silos.

I’ve been digging Medium. Haven’t posted anything there, but it seems like a great mix of people and ideas (if a little heavy on the entrepreneur-fu articles). But I wonder what will happen to all of the posts after Verizon/Nokia/Facebook/Google buy it (eventually. It’s the exit strategy of every web company on the planet now). Will it be shuttered? Improved? Stagnate and die?

Reader isn’t the problem. People just stopped owning their words, publishing on their own websites. The internet archive for the last 5 years or so will largely be a gaping hole of dark matter where corporate silos like Facebook used to be.

And if someone didn’t have tech skills, they didn’t have a voice. And if they didn’t want to put their thoughts out on the open web (where they could be used out of context, doxxed, harassed, etc) they weren’t part of the conversation. There were reasons why the blogosphere (even the edublogosphere and openblogosphere) was dominated by white male professionals.

Readership is down by a few orders of magnitude as well. Back in the olden days, I often had thousands of people reading posts. Now, maybe 100 on a really busy day. Not sure what that means – I cross-post to Facebook and twitter, so I assume people just read the snippets there and don’t click through to read the full thing. Summary blurbs, short attention span, moving on…

Anil Dash – The lost infrastructure of social media

A great summary of various bits of tech that made the early blogosphere1 so alive and vibrant in ways that hasn’t been captured or reproduced since. How can tools give individuals control over what they create, where they publish, who they follow, what they read, and how they share? These are currently controlled almost exclusively by one of two companies for the majority people on the modern internet. Something amazing, powerful, and enabling was lost in that transition.

More than a decade ago, the earliest era of blogging provided a set of separate but related technologies that helped the nascent form thrive. Today, most have faded away and been forgotten, but new incarnations of these features could still be valuable.As social networks grew in popularity and influence, the old decentralized blogosphere fell apart and those early services consolidated, leaving all the power in the hands of a few private companies. That’s left publishers and independent voices even more vulnerable to the control points of a few social networks and search engines.

Source: Anil Dash – The lost infrastructure of social media. — Medium

Much of what I’ve been trying to do has been fumbling around trying to shift back to many of these bits of tech for my own use. RSS is still king because it lets me control what I read without opaque algorithms shaping and pushing. Blogs are still king because I can publish and archive whatever I want, without worrying or even thinking about where it goes or who gets to modify or transform it.

obi-blogosphere

And, yes, I get that I saw Anil’s post on Medium rather than via RSS. Whatever.

  1. man, that’s something I haven’t said in ages… it used to be a thing. I desperately want for it to be a thing again. []

Kin Lane: Working To Avoid The Drowning Effects Of Real Time

A million times, this:

You hear a lot of talk about information overload, but I don’t feel the amount of information is the problem. For me, the problem comes in with the emotional investment demanded by real-time, and the ultimate toll it can take on your productivity, or just general happiness and well-being. You can see this play out in everything from expectations that you should respond to emails, all the way to social network memes getting your attention when it comes to the election, or for me personally, the concerns around security and privacy using technology.

Source: Working To Avoid The Drowning Effects Of Real Time ·

I’ve definitely been feeling this fatigue more lately. Describing it as a “real-time toll” is a good way to look at it. It’s definitely not information overload – it’s sensory and emotional overload as a result of a flood of realtime demands on attention and connection.

I am actively reducing the number of real-time platforms/connections/whatevers that I pay attention to, and am actively trying to do as much as I can on my own schedule. RSS is on my schedule. Checking and responding to email is on my schedule. Twitter/Facebook/etc are more real-time environments, so I’m reducing the amount of time I spend there.

Update: the Related Posts feature pulled up this post from 2008. “Real-time toll” is a perfect way to describe what I was getting at back then:

Every time I read an update by someone that I care about, I think about that person – if only for a second – and my sense of connection is strengthened.

Nick Heer on web hosting and user data

These are all concerning avenues for users. Adding advertising tends to mean user privacy is compromised, as ads become increasingly targeted by the day; shutting a company down means all user data gets removed, and it’s up to each user to find a new product or service to fill the hole. Rinse and repeat.

Arguably worse is when the company and all attached user data is acquired. There’s very little control any user has over that decision: they may like the original product, but are uncomfortable with the new owner. These decisions are impossible to foresee: if you signed up for Flickr ten years ago, or Tumblr five years ago, would you be expecting your photos and blog posts to end up in the hands of Verizon today?

Source: Don’t Cry for Yahoo — Pixel Envy

We see the same thing in education. Hopefully, a vendor is successful and things go smoothly. But, corporate (or open source) failures, acquisitions, or changes of terms will all impact what happens to student data.

We need to make sure we own our data, or at the very least have workable backups and/or exports that can be quickly spun up if things go south.

consolidating phd notes

I started a new blog site, running the fantastic Known blogging platform on a fresh subdomain running on my webspace at Reclaim Hosting. The intention was to give a place to think out loud about stuff I’m working on or thinking about for my PhD program. I started publishing some stuff, and then realized that having a separate site for that was awkward. There was no real need to separate and disconnect that content from the Day Job™ content from the-rest-of-my-life content.

So. I just imported the 8 whole posts I’d published over there, into my blog here. They’re now in a separate category called, creatively enough, phdnotes. Yeah. I added a navigation link to the theme, and there’s an RSS feed just for those posts (does anyone else still do RSS?). I’ll be posting stuff there as my program starts up (officially kicks off in September) and I start to get ideas about what I’d like to work on.

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desocialmediafacating

I’ve been frustrated by how much time I burn away fidgeting with social media. Lately, it’s been essentially a form of self-regulation or soothing as it feels like civilization is melting down. Trump stumbles to pronounce a 5-letter acronym fed to him on a teleprompter? Ugh. To Twitter! etc.

The world isn’t melting down. I need to snap out of the pattern of just pissing away time on social media. So, I’ve deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone and iPad. And I’ve added a handy /etc/hosts file to my Mac that will block everything (even MySpace and Orkut! Thank Jebus!)

Anyway. I’m not deleting any accounts. I’m not disappearing. I’m (hopefully) just snapping out of this pattern of fidgetting with social media rather than doing literally anything else that is more interesting and productive and relevant to anything – even nothing. Life is too short for that kind of bullshit.

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Ideas on the documentation and interpretation of interactions in a classroom environment

Some rough notes of some ideas I hope to work on, potentially as part of my PhD program.

My Masters degree thesis was based on the use of social network and discourse analysis in an online course to attempt to understand the differences in student activity and interactions in two different online platforms and course designs. Tools like Gephi and NodeXL are available to anyone teaching online, to feed the data (system-generated activity logs, raw discussion text, twitter hashtags, search queries etc.) and get a powerful visualization of how the students interacted. It struck me that the tools are so much richer for online interactions than they are for offline (or blended) face-to-face interactions.

As part of our work in the Taylor Institute, we work closely with instructors and students in classroom-based face-to-face courses, in support of their teaching and learning as well as their research and dissemination about what they learn while teaching (and learning) in the Institute. That is something that could definitely use visualization tools similar to Gephi and NodeXL, as ways to document and share the patterns of interactions between students in various experimental course designs and classroom activities.

There are several layers that need simultaneous documentation and analysis in a classroom, including at least:

  1. Environment. The design of the learning spaces and technologies available in those spaces.
  2. Performance. What people actually do while participating in the session.
  3. Learning. This includes course design, instructional design, and the things that people take away from the session(s).

Environment

At the most basic level, this includes the architectural, design, and technology integration schematics. What are the dimensions of the space? Where is the “front” of the space? What kinds of furniture are in the space? How is it arranged? How can it be re-arranged by participants? How is functionality within the space controlled? Who has access to the space during the sessions? Who is able to observe?

This kind of documentation might also be informed by theatre research methods, including scenography, where participants document their interpretation of the space in various forms, and how it shaped their interactions with each other (and, by extension, their teaching and/or learning).

Performance

What do people (instructors, students, TAs, other roles) do during the session. This might involve raw documentation through video recording of the session, which might also then be post-processed to generate data for interpretation. Who is “leading” parts of the session? What is the composition of participants (groups? Solo? Large-class lecture? Other?) Who is able to present? To speak? To whom? How are participants collaborating? Are they creating content/media/art/etc? How are they doing that?

There is some existing work on this kind of documentation, but I think it gathers too much data, making it either too intrusive or too difficult to manage. Ogan & Gerritsen’s work on using Kinect sensors to record HD video and dot matrices from a session is interesting. McMasters’ LiveLab has been exploring this for awhile, but its implementation is extremely complicated and couldn’t be replicated in other spaces without significant investment, and would be difficult in a classroom setting.

This layer might also be a candidate for methods such as classroom ethnography or microethnography – both of these methods provide rich data for interpretation, but both are incredibly resource intensive, requiring much time and labour to record, analyze, code, and interpret the data. I think this is where the development of new tools – the field of computational ethnography – might come into play. What if the interactions and performances could be documented and data generated in realtime (or near realtime) through the use of computerized tools to record, process, manipulate, and interpret the raw data to generate logs akin to the system-generated activity logs used in the study of online learning?

There are likely many other research methods employed in theatre which might be useful in this context. I’m taking a research methods course in the fall semester that should help there…

Learning

Most of the evaluation of learning will be domain-specific, and within the realm of the course being taught in the classroom session. But, there may be other aspects of student learning that could be used – perhaps a subset of NSSE? Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale? Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model?

What might this look like?

I put together some super-rough sketches of what microethnographic documentation of a classroom session might look like. I have a few ideas for how the documentation may be automated, and need to do a LOT more reading before I try building anything.

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