Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook

Professor Owen R. Youngman teaches a great course about Understanding Media by Understanding Google, but maybe he should consider a follow-up: Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook. Ravi Somaiya explains in The New York Times how Facebook is changing the way its users consume journalism. For quite some time media experts have been talking about the ‘unbundling’ of news – the fact that people no longer want to buy complete newspapers or magazines, but focus on individual stories which they find through search and social networks. What they ‘consume’ is determined at least partially by the algorithms used by Google and Facebook. It seems that the unbundling is happening right now.

Aaron Sankin posted on The Kernel a story about how Facebook is ‘wrecking political news’. In his opinion, the ‘trending topics’ feature on Facebook causes media to surf along whatever is ‘trending’ in order to attract the crowds they need for their traffic and advertizing revenues. Not only the choice of the topics is debatable, also the fact that stories are published in a hurry in order to benefit from the momentum leads to particularly bad journalism.

These are issues which should be discussed in both courses I’m following right now: the above mentioned Understanding Media by Understanding Google but also the Connected Courses which studies education and web culture. Facebook is changing online culture in very important but not always very visible ways. The world of blogs, RSS-feeds, social bookmarks and probably even web-based search is increasingly being replaced by a very different environment dominated by mobile social networks.

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Understanding Google, embeddable content and MOOCs

googlecourseWhat makes mobile so transformative? Why is Google a revolutionary company? These are questions asked and answered in the Coursera course
Understanding Media by Understanding Google. Professor Owen R. Youngman (Northwestern University) focuses during six weeks on Google and what makes it so important, not just for media people but for all of us. If you use a smartphone or a social network, you should know why these technologies are so much more than gadgets. The course offers the typical talking head videos but professor Youngman also adds his talent as a curator by selecting half a dozen books and many press articles dealing with fundamental aspects of Google – and of course both highly critical and more jubilant commentators are being discussed.

MOOCs and embeddable content

This is a second run for this course. Of course, it would be interesting to ask the question What Would Google Do (title of a book by Jeff Jarvis) about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as they are organized by Coursera. In an interview by Youngman, professor Jeff Jarvis promotes the idea of the ‘embeddable article’. Just like Google makes YouTube-videos embeddable, media companies could do the same for their news articles (incorporating their brand and ads in the embeddable content and adding a link back to their site). Wouldn’t this be a great idea for parts of the Coursera-content – or not really? Maybe this is less a problem for more connectivist-styled MOOCs such as Connected Courses – ultimately it boils down to choices about the business model (or lack of such a model).

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‘One does not own social capital’

The ConnectedCourses were discussing social capital and networks last week. Kira Baker-Doyle – Assistant Professor of Education, Arcadia University. Author of The Networked Teacher – started by explaining that one can own financial capital but not social capital. That is because your social capital is situated outside of yourself, in loose or dense networks.

Dense networks tend to be great for building trust and for sharing the same background and values while loose networks are more efficient for innovation and creativity as those networks link up people from different contexts.

These notions should be taken into consideration when thinking about Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). On a practical level, such networks use tools such as Twitter but also blog networks and RSS feeds. Shelly Sanchez Terrell (Teacher Trainer, Instructional Designer, Author of The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers & Learning to Go) recommends to look for the right hashtag corresponding to your interests and the community you want to find. She pointed out that hashtags are not just used on Twitter but also on Facebook and Google+.

Howard Rheingold mentioned other methods such as the social bookmarking services Diigo and Delicious.

As Howard Rheingold explains in the video these networks are also about emotions and camaraderie. By signalling people indicate they are willing to collaborate. It’s a huge asset and of course it not only applies to educators.

Kira Baker-Doyle brought in another crucial element in building communities and networks: actually making something together.

Watch the video, other topics being discussed are the relationship between online and offline contacts, the importance of local connections and collaboration and the risk of burn-out. Also have a look at the course page about trust and network fluency.

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Progressive and emergent games / online courses

I’ve been looking into an interesting course going on right now, Understanding Video Games, at Coursera by Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas (Alberta University). It’s a rather institutional Massive Open Online Course, not the connectivist style we experience at connectedcourses, but I’m very interested in the subjects they teach.

The three main parts of the course are developing the terminology that enables us to talk about video games,
exploring how these terms are used in theoretical frameworks to interpret games, and turning these theories toward cultural aspects of games in order to understand how the medium has impacted society.

I’m not much of a gamer myself, but I do think game culture can teach as a lot about web culture in general and about some of the basic inspirations of connectivist MOOCs. More specifically I think that open-ended, sandbox-like games and Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) are somehow among the ancestors of online, learner-centric open-ended courses.

One of the interesting concepts we study at the Video Games course are “emergent” and “progressive” games.
“Progressive” is not a political term here, it simply describes games that have little freedom of choice within the game, and “emergent” describes games with much freedom of choice within the game. This reminds me of the distinction between this Video Games course (progressive) and the connectedcourses (emergent).

Anyway, games and virtual environments seem like an interesting topic today, as Microsoft just bought Minecraft for $2.5bn (and not long ago Facebook acquired Oculus Rift for $2bn). Let’s hope Microsoft will not turn out to be a giant Creeper for the Mincecraft community…

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Bringing together distributed learning

One of the important topics at the connectedcourses is… how to connect all the posts on the many platforms learners use.

Facilitator Alan Levine mentions on his blog cogdogblog a few ways to aggregate content, two seem particularly interesting:

  • gRSShopper by Stephen Downes, the guy who introduced me and so many others to connectivist MOOCs in 2008. It’s a personal web environment that combines resource aggregation, a personal dataspace, and personal publishing.
  • The WordPress/FeedWordPress Syndication hub approach used for connectedcourses and the digital storytelling course ds106.

At connectedcourses the aggregation looks like this:

aggregation

Levine says in the above mentioned post:

It’s not the platform that matters, it’s the connected design.

I do hope to learn more about the technicalities of this design and the related tools during this course!

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Learning is tinkering and narrating it



Why should you blog? Own a domain name? Because learning is so tremendously enjoyable and the web teaches us so much about what learning is. The web is not just a tool for learning, it’s an experience which allows one to experience, to live learning. In this video Jim Groom (Edupunk, ds106), Alan Levine (cogdogblog), and Howard Rheingold (social media, virtual communities) talk about the how and why of setting up your blog – in this case for Connected Courses – but what they say is valid far beyond this particular course.

My very short summary of there arguments: the web and learning are both about tinkering. There is something more though: one should narrate the tinkering. Narrating it makes you reach out to others and leads to conversation and connections. RSS-feeds, hyperlinks, blogs, social networks, forums, social bookmark services, video and audio platforms – it’s all about narrating, connecting and tinkering.

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A course about connected learning

This seems to be a fun course coming up at connectedcourses.net:

For Fall 2014, our major focus is on running a course for developing and teaching connected courses. The course is designed and taught by faculty from diverse institutions, some of whom are the folks behind successful connected courses such as FemTechNet>, ds106, phonar, and the National Writing Project CLMOOC. You can find the syllabus here, and the people involved here.

I have no plans for ‘developing and teaching’ connected courses, but I’d love to learn more about the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web – and this course will be very much about these topics.

Another thing I do like is the team facilitating this course. It can be interesting to participate in a more institutional MOOC, receiving the top-down knowledge from a rock star professor, but here you have a whole bunch of rock star experts who facilitate a learning process, which in my experience is almost always more fun and rewarding.

The pre-course is open now – with valuable comments about blogging – and the course runs till December.

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Mindmapping Oculus Rift

I’m still working on the Oculus Rift coverage and will meet users and developers. I made a wiki mind map (so you can add, change to it) about Oculus, using sources such as the Oculus subreddit and Wired Magazine.

Scanning the reviews and reactions it seems obvious that Virtual Reality is back again. The application go far beyond gaming and new exciting developments can be expected such as haptic feedback and eye tracking.

So here is my fledgling mind map:



Create your own mind maps at MindMeister
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Learn Literature, New Media, Creative Programming



I look forward to this course on Coursera focused on Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings Online, exploring what happens to stories and films when they become online games. Jay Clayton of the Vanderbilt University will teach about narrative theory, media studies and video games (history and theory). Also included are some ‘landmarks of romance literature’.

The course starts on July 14 and runs till September 1.

Another course on Coursera which may interest those interested in video games is Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps. Teachers are Mick Grierson, Marco Gillies and Matthew Yee-King of the University of London. It seems to be a more technical course for those wanting to do creative work in video games, art installations or interactive music. The programming language used is Processing: an open source programming language and integrated development environment (IDE) built for the electronic arts, new media art, and visual design communities with the purpose of teaching the fundamentals of computer programming in a visual context, and to serve as the foundation for electronic sketchbooks. The project was initiated in 2001 by Casey Reas and Benjamin Fry, both formerly of the Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab (Wikipedia).

You don’t have to be a programmer to start this course. The course started already, so hurry up!

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Second Life 2.0 will be interesting, but no breakthrough for the multiverse

Quite some excitement among virtual worlds fans: Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, confirmed that they work on a new virtual world. They won’t let themselves be restrained by concerns about backward compatibility with the eleven year old Second Life as they want a fundamentally better virtual world and not just incremental improvements. CEO Ebbe Altberg of Linden Lab said that the ‘old’ Second Life will continue and new developers are being recruited for the new project. In the meantime, the founder of the Lab, Philip Rosedale, is working on yet another new virtual world, called High Fidelity.

More can be found on New World Notes and on Living in a Modemworld.

I cannot help being excited about these new developments, yet I don’t think we’ll see a spectacular growth in virtual worlds usage. My impression is that Linden Lab tries to benefit from the excitement around Oculus Rift, telling the world that the biggest open-ended and user generated virtual world is Second Life. However, people outside the fan base of Second Life are sceptical (as reading the discussions on Reddit makes abundantly clear).

My guess is that the niche of users of Second Life and OpenSim (the open-source version of Second Life) will be dispersed over three worlds now: the old and the new Second Life and Rosedale’s new project, but that the whole open-ended user-generated virtual worlds scene will remain a niche-thing. Will it change in a few years time when motion trackers, body sensors and 3D-cameras will become more mainstream? Maybe, but it won’t be next year.

Second Life fans often say that the lack of traction of virtual worlds is because of the learning curve and the difficulties in using mouse and keyboard to navigate those worlds. I think the real difficulty is the identity-play: the fact that people represent themselves by avatars which may be very different from the physical person using those avatars. For some this opens a world of creativity and exploration, for many others it’s just a bit creepy, especially in ‘serious’ (for instance work-related) contexts.

The other issue with these worlds is that they tend to be very time-consuming. Social networks and mobile communications help people to navigate from the physical to the digital world in fast bursts of time – checking updates, having a facetime of Google Hangout videotalk etc – but without spending hours immersed in a virtual environment.

Both these behavioral phenomena – preference for short time span interventions and for seeing ‘the real other’ – make widespread usage of open ended virtual worlds a tough sell.

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