Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Weird Twitter Triggers

As an avid user of Twitter, I am sometimes surprised at who chooses to 'follow' me. Most people following me are colleagues who are also using twitter, and people I follow too. I also follow some other people whose tweets I find interesting, but what really puzzled me was a set of seemingly random people (or rather, accounts) that turned up on my list of followers.

One (fairly predictable, with hindsight) set are 'females' with more or less revealing avatars, typically with a large set of people they follow, very few followers, and very few updates. Their tweets are usually bait to click on links which lead you off to dubious web-sites. It seems that these accounts are run automatically, and randomly pick the people they follow. Or whatever.

More interesting is another category, the 'trigger followers'. I first noticed that when I tweeted that my scooter was in the garage. Promptly I acquired a follower 'scooterscoop'. Other terms which have had a similar effect are exam/essay (websites selling essays being triggered), 'paperless office', and 'giants'. When you tweet about going to the theatre to see the BFG, and mention that 'the giants are scary', you are suddenly followed by an account linked to a San Francisco baseball team.

The latter example shows how useless isolated words are for conveying meaning. If you read the full sentence, it is pretty clear that 'giants' here refers to actual scary creatures, and you would need a lot of extra context to make that apply to a baseball team (though it is not impossible).

A lot of these random followers have since unfollowed me (or have been removed in the case of the dubious females), perhaps bored to death with the utter trivialities of my life. I am not sure whether that is a good or a bad thing...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Why not WebCT?

The next iteration of my FREDA module will make use of a course blog. No WebCT. Well, some WebCT: I will need to use it as a repository for some of the seminar reading, as it cannot be put on publicly available sites, but that will pretty much be all I'm going to use it for. Why?

There are several reasons why I believe WebCT is not all that great for teaching. First, it's slow and clunky. Having moved it to a hosted environment rather than self-hosting it at Bham might have improved things a little, but it is still slow and clunky, that's inherent in the way it is implemented. Too Web 1.0. Doing anything in it takes ages, for example putting a link on. Creating the link wasn't too bad, but I wanted it in the top-left corner, and by default it started bottom-right. So I had to click on the properties/move/up about five times, having to scroll the screen each time. And all just for one link!

The second argument, which came to me today while responding to a comment on an earlier post, is actually far more important, as it deals with inherent motivation. Sure, we can make our students use WebCT because it is the only way they can get access to certain materials. But will they enjoy doing it? No. If I curse and swear while using it, then the students will not scream with pleasure either. That means, no points for motivation. It's a drudge, not an enjoyable experience.

However, blogs and other Web 2.0 stuff is interesting. It's part of modern life, and students will see that it is a useful skill. It is inherently useful to be able to find your way round this stuff, and many students are already used to it. That, I believe, is instrumental for participation. If they have a positive attitude and are interested, then they are much more likely to do things. At least that's the theory. I'll keep you all posted on how it goes next term!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Web 2.0 in Teaching

In a quiet post-marking moment I have set up the course blog for next year's FREDA module. I have built the year into the title, as there will be a new blog with every iteration of the module, and it's always easier to do if you plan that right from the start.

In the initial post I have outlined my plans for teaching the module. Any feedback welcome!

Time for another habit...?

I'm really pleased with my daily 200+ words of writing, which I have managed to keep up so far. Even if it involved getting up in the middle of the night once, because I had just remembered that I hadn't written anything that day. I've written some 20,000+ words since starting it, and hopefully over the summer I will have some opportunities to turn that into some actual publications.

But now something else occurred to me. Writing is only part of the whole equation. You also need to read stuff, in order to a) get ideas for things to write about or research and b) know what other people are doing to either avoid duplication of mistakes or wheel-reinventions.

Since acquiring the Papers program, I have collected almost a thousand papers. But I haven't nearly read enough of them. Part of the hunter/gatherer or packrat mentality... Useful paper, will read it at some point when I've got time. Only, you never have time!

And here is the solution: apart from writing 200+ words every day (or spend 30 minutes editing), I will now do the same for reading research papers. I just need to work out what the best modus operandi is for that; clearly reading a paper every day might be useful but not feasible. One a week? Not really enough, probably. I think I'll settle for 30 minutes initially, and then see how much I can manage to read in that time. But it's not only reading, also post-processing. Keeping notes in some shape or form, probably a mind-map. Mmmh, this is more complicated than I initially imagined.

Anyway, starting from today I will try to read a research paper for at least 30 minutes every day!