In Beta and sunsetting consumer Google+

Action 1: We are shutting down Google+ for consumers.

This review crystallized what we’ve known for a while: that while our engineering teams have put a lot of effort and dedication into building Google+ over the years, it has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps. The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.

I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that Google+ wasn’t a big hit although I am surprised that they’ve taken the step to shut it down for consumers. And this is the problem with online communities in general; when the decision is made that they’re not cost-effective, they’re shut down regardless of the value they create for community members.

When Ben and I started In Beta last year we decided to use Google+ for our community announcements and have been pretty happy with what we’ve been able to achieve with it. The community has grown to almost 100 members and, while we don’t see much engagement or interaction, that’s not why we started using it. For us, it was to make announcements about planning for upcoming episodes and since we didn’t have a dedicated online space, it made sense to use something that already existed. Now that Google+ is being sunsetted we’ll need to figure out another place to set up the community.

 

Using open source software in higher education

Universities and other higher education institutions are increasingly moving towards what many are calling the “connected campus“. While this move brings with it many benefits for students, it can also be expensive to implement. In 2008 I wrote a short post entitled “Open source alternatives to proprietary applications“. This was before the launch of the iPad, before Android, even before the beta version of Google’s Chrome browser was launched. Chrome has since become the most popular Internet browser, which shows how much can change in a few years.

At the time that I wrote that post, I had just started working in a contract position at the university and it was my first time working in an environment where everyone else was using Microsoft products. I had been using Ubuntu since it launched in 2004 and the idea of having to integrate with the proprietary platforms on campus was distressing. Hence the post on alternatives to proprietary software. However, since then there is even more choice, open source platforms have developed more quickly than proprietary versions (in my opinion) and the world of educational software has exploded. One of the things that was most surprising to me when I started thinking about this post was how many platforms are now included in the category of educational software. Things like blogs, micro-blogs and wikis are now pretty much mainstream, whereas a few years ago they were considered not only cutting edge but not really part of the educational technology landscape either.

I decided to write this post so that I could explore the open source tools that are currently available, with an emphasis on those that are commonly used in the context of education software. I won’t give multiple examples in a category because in some categories there are many options e.g. email clients. This list is not exhaustive and covers only the tools that come to my mind. I’m also not going to include anything that is free, but proprietary or not open source. You must be able to download the source code and either run it on your own server or modify the code and run it independently of any company. In other words, for social networks in education Google+, Facebook and Edmodo are out but Elgg is in.

So, here is my (unordered) list of software applications that we might want to include in the category of educational software, acknowledging that virtually anything can be used in an educational context (all links below go to Wikipedia entries):

Looking at the list above, I think it’s clear that universities and departments, should they choose, could run a significant portion of their infrastructure using open source software.

open-source-world_wallpapers_10169_1024x768

I enjoyed reading (December)

This post is really delayed, mainly because I took a break from blogging over December and January. I was starting to feel an “obligation to blog”, which is when I know that I need to step back a bit and take some time off. There’s nothing worse than writing because you feel you have to, rather than actually wanting to. Now that I’ve had a break, I find myself feeling excited at the prospect of blogging again, which is a much better place to be.

9 reasons why I am NOT a social constructivist (Donald Clark): Interesting critique of the concept of social constructivism as a theory that explains learning. To be honest, I’ll admit to having accepted the authenticity of the theory because it fits in with how I believe the world is. However, I haven’t been at all critical of it. In the spirit of adopting a more critical view of my beliefs, this was a very good post to read.

Educators nod sagely at the mention of ‘social constructivism’ confirming the current orthodoxy in learning theory. To be honest, I’m not even sure that social constructivism is an actual theory, in the sense that it’s verified, studied, understood and used as a deep, theoretical platform for action. For most, I sense, it’s a simple belief that learning is, well, ‘social’ and ‘constructed’. As collaborative learning is a la mode, the social bit is accepted without much reflection, despite its obvious flaws. Constructivism is trickier but appeals to those with a learner-centric disposition, who have a mental picture of ideas being built in the mind.

Going Beyond ‘Learning to Code’: Why 2014 is the Year of Web Literacy (Doug Belshaw): I like the idea of people having a sense of how technology works. As more and more of our lives become integrated with technology, isn’t it important to understand how it affects us? How are the decisions we make increasingly influenced by those who write the code of the applications and devices we use? Think about pacemakers that determine the frequency and regularity of your heartbeat. Wouldn’t you want to make sure that there are as few software bugs as possible? My interest in this topic is more related to the idea of open source software and the importance of ensuring that as much code as possible is open for review by an objective and independent community. Mozilla’s Web Literacy standard is one small aspect of developing competence in a range of skills that are increasingly relevant to our ability to interact with others in the world.

In this post I want to argue that learning to code is part of a larger landscape that we at Mozilla call ‘web literacy’. I see that landscape as being increasingly relevant in 2014 as we come to realise that “learn to code!” is too simplistic and de-contextualised to be a useful exhortation. Web Literacy, on the other hand, is reasonably well-defined as the skills and competencies required to read, write and participate effectively online. We’ve included ‘coding/scripting’ as just one part of a wider strand identified as ‘Building’ (i.e. writing) the web. Other competencies in this strand include ‘remixing’ and ‘composing for the web’.

Do What You Love: A Selfish and Misguided Message (Dean Shareski):

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL [Do What You Love] distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.

Academic publishers must sort out their outdated electronic submission and review processes (Dorothy Bishop):

My relationships with journals are rather like a bad marriage: a mixture of dependency and hatred. Part of the problem is that journal editors and academics often have a rather different view of the process. Scientific journals could not survive without academics. We do the research, often spending several years of our lives to produce a piece of work that is then distilled into one short paper, which the fond author invariably regards as a fascinating contribution to the field. But when we try to place our work in a journal, we find that it’s a buyer’s market: most journals are overwhelmed with more submitted papers than they can cope with, and rejection rates are high. So there is a total mismatch: we set out naively dreaming of journals leaping at the opportunity to secure our best work, only to be met with coldness and rejection.

Side note: The above post included a screenshot of this tweet, which I enjoyed.

Selection_001

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-04-19

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-08

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-01

  • Revisiting the Purpose of Higher Education and Courses. Why teaching content isn’t enough http://tinyurl.com/yg7ttj8 #
  • First two weeks of OpenContent at UCT http://tinyurl.com/ygtm9wx #
  • The Open Source Way: Creating and Nurturing Communities of Contributors http://bit.ly/bTDcGp #
  • Why technology is not disrupting the university sector http://tinyurl.com/yhk3boy #
  • @weblearning I like it, thanks for the heads up 🙂 #
  • RT @weblearning: “key difference between informal and formal learning is .. permeable classroom walls” writes @bfchirpy http://bit.ly/90f17e #
  • Establish Authority by Creating Value. A few suggestions on ways to better establish yourself within your field http://tinyurl.com/ygv2nfl #
  • Highlighting E-Readers. Short comment by Downes on a post highlighting issues with e-readers for scholarship http://tinyurl.com/yghqbnf #
  • Short post on the predominantly content focused nature of course planning http://tinyurl.com/y9v4u64 #
  • RT @melaniemcbride: one of the downsides of fewer [bloggers] is a preference for the shotgun-share over [hard work & analysis/commentary] #
  • @KEC83 #Diigo ed. acc? Been trying on/off for 6 months with not even a single response from them. Very disappointing #
  • @RonaldArendse looks interesting, but I think it’s going to be a while before we’ll see anything like that locally 🙂 #
  • Policing YouTube: Medical Students, Social Media and Digita Identity http://bit.ly/crA5yi #
  • Sunset at Mont Flour in Stellenbosch is beautiful #
  • apophenia » Blog Archive » ChatRoulette, from my perspective. Thoughts on the video service by danah boyd http://bit.ly/9TU4O3 #
  • Johannes Cronje: Wendren’s PPC Bag. Cool example of South African innovation http://bit.ly/aKdy3O #
  • @meganbur welcome to the revolution 🙂 #
  • At http://montfleur.co.za/ for UWC writing retreat. There are worse places to be. Some good insight into the writing process #
  • @sbestbier Thanks for the suggest, much appreciated 🙂 #
  • Science in the Open » Blog Archive » Peer review: What is it good for? http://bit.ly/cxzR6o #
  • It’s not peer review if you aren’t familiar with the subject « Connectivism http://bit.ly/1PIqDK #
  • elearnspace. everything elearning: Scholarship in an age of participation (Siemens) http://bit.ly/bigAMm #

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Microsoft ignoring standards?

It seems as if the beta release of MS Outlook 2010 has stirred up some controversy around it’s decision to continue using Word’s rendering engine to display HTML emails.  This hasn’t gone down too well in some parts of the community, with some groups of people struggling to accept the fact that MS doesn’t care about standards or their customers.

I hope that MS continues this trend for as long as possible, because the more people who understand that an open and transparent ecosystem benefits everyone, the less likely they are to use proprietary software.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-03-26

  • @JeffNugent Saw demo a few months ago, looks great but expensive (in South Africa). Looking for open source alternatives. Know of any? in reply to JeffNugent #
  • Pause/rewind podcast lectures = higher test scores. But technology just a tool, students must still work. http://bit.ly/OBbQW #
  • SA government turns it’s back on Zimbabwean refugees fleeing instability, starvation and collapsed health system http://bit.ly/AIQpF #
  • “Cholera just tip of Zimbabwe’s…crisis”, near total collapse of healthcare systems creates massive medical emergency http://bit.ly/10Vk7W #
  • Multimedia resources from Doctors without borders, great for teaching Human Rights and their relationship to health http://bit.ly/no8Qw #
  • Life-saving surgery by text message. Cellphones seem like old tech now, but it’s the only tech available in some places http://bit.ly/EWst0 #
  • @sbestbier Where’s the link to the page describing the widgets? in reply to sbestbier #
  • 3D globe with live (?) Twitter stream. Pretty cool http://bit.ly/10A4A #
  • 2D version here http://bit.ly/19wMqf. Striking how few tweets originate in Africa #

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The Tower and the Cloud

Just a quick pointer to what I think is going to be a great read.  “The Tower and the Cloud” is a new publication by EDUCAUSE, which looks at the impact of cloud computing on higher education.  The book is divided into broad sections, each containing several chapters, with each chapter written by a different author who is a prominent figure in the field of e-learning.

I’m particularly keen on the section, Open Information, Open Content, Open Source, containing the following chapters (I’ve linked to the downloadable chapters):

The book is available as a free download, as well as a paid-for hardcopy that can be shipped internationally, and is published under a Creative Commons license.  I’m really looking forward to reading this.

Note: EDUCAUSE is a “…nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology”.

Other books available from EDUCAUSE include: