Monday, March 31, 2008

Introduction of Seesmic Social video talk application

Learn how to use and join the video conversation today.

Online Communities Design Patterns

From: pecus, 1 month ago

We need to identify and gather a set of best practices regarding community-centered design.

This presentation came out from experimental workshop I gave on LIFT08 in Geneva, and introduce a set of design/functional patterns and interactions that a successful online community should display in order to empower its users and facilitate conversation between its members.

This workshop also tries to establish a bridge between Usability Best Practices and Community Centered Design, a practice that can maximize the networking and crowd effect under online user communities.

For the full presentation file, please refer to my blog post:

(SlideShare actually wouldn't allow me to upload the entire presentation file - size restrictions I guess)

SlideShare Link

Unbound: Advancing Book Publishing in a Digital World

On January 18th, 2007, Google organized Unbound, an event at the New York Public Library examining how the book business has changed and how it will continue to evolve in our increasingly digital world. Learn more about Google Book Search:

Connexions - Building Communities and Sharing Knowledge

Richard G. Baraniuk is the Victor E. Cameron Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University and Founder of Connexions.

W. Joseph King
W. Joseph King is the Executive Director of Connexions. Previously, he was an investment banker focused on incubating new technology companies.


A grassroots movement is on the verge of sweeping through the academic world. The "open access movement" is based on a set of intuitions that are shared by a remarkably wide range of academics: that knowledge should be free and open to use and re-use; that collaboration should be easier, not harder; that people should receive credit.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Beat up on Teachers, it makes us feel good

It has become very fashionable and accepted by the society to beat up on teachers by the opinion pundits of any kind including the politicians and school administrators for the failure of educational system.

Here is John Stossel beating up on poor teachers in an hour long docu-entertainment segment of a TV show

Notice how every thing is portrayed as teachers fault. In an interconnected world where every thing interconnects and influences every thing else such a crisp portrayal of facts is simply not possible if some one wants to do justice to a topic as complex as education. It can only be achieved by including the whole picture. Since it is not possible to consider the problem from every angle in an hour long TV show that also has additional responsibility to provide people their daily dose of emotional kicks so that they keep coming back to watch the TV, we get an extremely one sided view of the problem.

The problem is not limited to grade school only. It is creeping up even in higher education. There was a time when distance education was synonyms with the correspondence courses. It had a legitimate place in the educational setting and teacher were considered important to the teaching and learning process. With the rapid improvement and drop in the cost of the information communication technology that perception is changing.

The computers were originally invented to perform difficult calculations but they found their use in manipulating information bits and when they got interconnected they start shipping information bits from one computer device to another computer device very cheaply. Any profession that deal with information has no choice but to adopt computer information processing to stay competitive. The education profession has more demanding information processing needs then let us say accounting where all we need is client information and extremely structured client's financial information.

The education profession's information processing needs are not this well structured and that creates a very interesting situation where suddenly we have instructional designers/Technologists ,e-learning experts etc. etc. These experts should assist regular teachers to incorporate information communication technology to improve the learning process. That is in the theory. Instead they started beating up on the teachers too. They immediately found fault with teachers. According to them, teachers are using wrong pedagogy. They are not using correct assessment and host of all other jargon that specialist create to make their profession appear important. In the past the compromise between instructional Designer/Technologist and the teachers was that the process of teaching should be renamed as "Teaching and Learning". Once the Internet came along they want teacher completely out of the picture and the new word is "Learning"
You will notice this usage change in the words if you read articles written by some of the famous instructional Designer/Technologist. In their grand scheme of things teacher does not exist or has a very minor role of delivering the instructional material designed by them. No body can argue that the purpose of teaching is to facilitate pupils learning and with that objective in mind any thing that accomplishes this task should be encouraged. However, as far anybody can see that the results of the approach implemented using instructional design techniques has been dismal as any body can see from that video from John Stossel. We can argue back and forth about who is at fault. Instructional designer will argue that teacher did not implement it properly and the teachers can argue that instructional designer do not understand class room experience that is more chaotic then Instructional Designer are willing to accept. Even the Charter school idea worked only in a limited way and can not be considered as a overwhelming success.

So what we have now. Finally the focus on teachers where it should have been at the first place. Here is a New York Time articles with the headline

"At Charter School, Higher Teacher Pay"

How high

"Could six-figure salaries attract better teachers?"

"A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.

The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide."

Here is the graphics that compares salaries with other profession:

That is an start if this experiments succeeds I am sure that teacher salaries will make them equivalent to other professionals and an equivalent increase in the status will follow and hopefully their portrayal as a laughing stock in the current movies will stop.

I think it is a good start in the right direction. Hopefully it will bring attention to the other issues plaguing the educational institutions as well.

Finally with added respectability teachers will be able to voice their own opinion about the real issues in educating the students, not the one imagined and created by the Instructional designers.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Facebook blocks from adding members

I only have about 700 FB friends and I have been blocked from adding any more. I see so many members there with more then 1000 FB friends. Here is the dreaded message:

You have exceeded the limit for adding friends!

You are temporarily blocked from adding friends. Block times vary depending on the feature and scale of abuse. Blocks cannot be lifted.

Misuse of Facebook's features may result in your account being disabled

If you have questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page


If you read their FAQ that they suggest to read with the message that tells you that you are blocked from adding any more members, It does not tell you much. It is very vague.

Here are two answers straight from their FAQ
What are the limits?
Unfortunately, Facebook cannot provide any specifics on the rate limits that we enforce. Please know, however, that the speed at which you are acting and the sheer number of actions you have made are both taken into account.

How long will the block last? Can it be lifted?
The duration of the block varies depending on the nature of the offense, ranging from a few hours to a few days. When the block is over, please proceed with your site activity at a slower rate so as to avoid hitting another block or having your account disabled. Facebook will not lift this block for you until the entire penalty time has elapsed.

For start

1. It does not tell you what is block time.

2. They will not tell you what is the rate one can add FB friends. There is a vague statement that says that you have exceeded your rate with the threat that if you abuse your privileges here you will be banned.

3. It does not tell you what is the maximum number of FB friends you can have. Apparently they have some number in mind but they will not spell it out that there are limits.

Facebook seems to me is suffering from some kind schizophrenia. At one end you have the cute looking sweet talking founder Mark Zuckerman who wants everybody to join Facebook and get connected so that his enterprise become successful. When you join facebook they are on your back every day suggesting possible FB friends but when you get going immediately you are warned that there are limits on what you can do and they are not even spilled out clearly.

Can they really answer what is the acceptable rate at which one can add members?

I was testing FB to see if it is really a viable alternative to other options to support my teaching activities and find other people who have similar interests like mine. Since student are there why not bring the shop closer to them that was the premise. Plus there seems to be some interest by others such BJ Fogg from Stanford and many others link1, link2 who are creating facebook applications to promote teaching and learning on the facebook. I created few groups such as "Attention Economy", "Open free Education Resources" and few other course related groups and they are moderately successful. Also, I encouraged one guy to port his web application to Facebook to create an advanced calculator MaximaPHP that can deal with any kind of calcualtion and it will be extremely useful for Engineers and Engineering students if it works and we do not get the FB message "Please try again". It does work for computation that do not exceed the time limit set by Facebook on its applications.

I started collecting members because it is not possible to know in advance who is who and after adding 100 FB friends one can probably get 2 or 3 FB friends who may be useful and may be another 5 to 10 who wants to exchange some useless messages through one of those Facebook social applications. Rest are there with practically not much interaction and are FB friends. Considering this one needs at least 2000 FB friends to find 40 to 50 like minded individuals who can be considered as newly found intellectual friends. However, facebook policies prevent one from doing this. In fact I am not even sure what those policies really are because as I said earlier they encourage you to get members by making it easy and at first they even suggest you possible friends then once you get going they want to put a damper on your activities. I went on facebook to find new like minded individuals. I do not need Facebook to communicate with my existing friends. In fact most of them are older and reluctant to join Facebook while they gladly joined LinkedIN.

I think at this point Facebook is purely a social networking software. May be a tad better than Myspace/Hi5 but it is really not ready for serious business unless you have some kind of insider track through the venture capitalist who are funding facebook social applications. With their policies constantly in flux let us say some one puts in lots of effort and creates something of value what happens if he/she gets banned for some violation of TOS that is not even spilled out clearly as I noted earlier in the post. There is no appeal process but a computer generated note that is all one will get.

IMHO opinion my advice to the information creators is that distribute your information sources to different web sites to prevent from becoming one service provider too powerful. Just remember that by simply signing for a social networking web site you are adding value to that web site. They are in the business of user aggregation business and selling the click stream data just like the mainstream media that delivers the eyeballs to advertisers through their programming.

Actually if I get banned from Facebook I will not miss anything except few people I met there because I brought my data in to facebook from other sources and it will go out with me when I leave. I added few interesting data to my facebook profile but it is not facebook's data. It will disappear from their site but data stays in the information cloud on the Internet. In fact they will be the losers because I brought my data in and other interesting data that I added to my profile. I added value to the facebook not the other way around. I will not miss fifty requests of mind numbing social application from my FB friends that I really wanted to accept to be a good facebooker but it used to take so long to get through one request or the FB application will crash in the middle that I used to move on to the next request and the spam from the facebook groups I joined.

So the moral of the story is that as a consumer of web information services apply "Buyer the Beware" methodology. Insist on data portability. Do not support a web site that takes every data input in but does not give out any thing in return. In that respect I am all for "Open Social Initiative" and encourage others to read about it and support it. There is no need to give power to one single social application. Select your social application based upon your need and find a good social network aggregation web site to bring all of them in one place. There are friendfeed, Pownce, Iminta, Socialurl and many others but I am am still looking for one that will aggregate all my data, e-mails, IMs, notifications from social networking web sites and keep track of all the websites I signed on or manage at one single locations. Any social networking application that does not play nice in this regards join it for fun but do not spend too much time on it in building anything of value. In fact that this really what they want you do any way. They want your click stream data so provide them with some useless data like the one sales and marketing people want and collect so that can create advertisement that do not make any sense but sell you stuff using subliminal persuasion. That is the theory any way. May work or may not work.

If you want to create a serious business on web consider having your server and managing it because I think Facebook wants lots of users doing nothing serious except exchanging social pleasantries through FB applications. In some ways it is simply an extension of the mainstream media on to the web where the media provider would like viewer to be passive consumer of information while on internet they add interactivity to the same mind numbing entertainment we are so used watching on the main stream media.

On the final note, I am only active on facebook for the last seven or eight weeks and I am glad that this happened so early in my use of Facebook. Imagine the scenario if I had put in some serious effort in developing some application that adds value to FB platform and they tell me to walk away because I violated some TOS that I am not even aware of. Seriously how many of you read TOS when you join one these social networking website? I am still not banned just blocked from not getting any more members so I will be around but will do exactly what FB wants that is to be dumb consumer of mind numbing FB applications till their watch robot decide something else.

Mark Zuckerman video

Mark Zuckerman Facebook founders speech at SXSW

Friday, March 28, 2008

Unix and IT support staff

I like Unix, its simplicity, its power once somebody has learned enough to become productive with it. Then came OCW from MIT and all the open free learning management and learning content management systems. It was all fun to play with this stuff. There was no need to ask any body you just download it and start testing it for whatever it was supposed to do. This totally turned me off from Learning Management System like WebCT and Blackboard where there was no way to change any thing. The whole program acted like a black box.

I will talk to my IT support staff and they will tell me to use these programs and if I persuade them to install program like CHEF, a program that was there before SAKAI they will reluctantly install it but they will not provide any support for it. For some reason IT support in organization including educational institutions like to work with companies. They need the support from the company if some problem creeps up during the software installation and operation.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Open Professor

I have been a supporter of open source software, open course content and journals for a long time. It all started supporting Linux long time ago. One of my student brought few floppy discs and asked if I want this software installed on my system. I asked him about it and he explained to me the GPL license and every thing that goes with it.

We have made significant progress in the area of open and free software, research journals and open course ware. It is time to think about what it would be like to be an "Open Professor". Recently New York Times published and article "The Professor as Open Book". It is an interesting article. Here is the starting paragraph from that article

IT is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor on the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or can’t get enough of Chaka Khan.

THE BIG PAYBACK The mtvU series “Professors Strike Back” gives instructors a chance to refute criticism by students who gripe about them on Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television.

When scholars were recently given the chance to refute student criticism posted on the Web site, a cult-hit television series, “Professors Strike Back,” was born. The show, which has professors responding on camera to undergraduate gripes such as “boring beyond belief,” made its debut in October on mtvU, a 24-hour network broadcast to more than 7.5 million students on American college campuses."

This shows that the article even though had the right idea to talk about professors in the digitla age but it only focussed on the social aspects of student and teacher interaction. It failed in describing the professor's situation from professor's perspective.

So coming back to the topic of "Open Professor", what it would be like to be an "Open Professor". Right now we pretend that student are consumers and the professor are service providers that is "Education" to the students while students demanding "Edutainment" a combination of Education and Entertainment. The reason we pretend like this is because of the over whelming success of the business model that Industry followed in the past and its practices made us fabulously wealthy. We always copy the past models that were successful in some unrelated area meanwhile ignoring the fact that the products in the business of education may be not as well defined as let us say stamping out million widgets of exactly same size and color. Also, the technique of seduction and entertainment in form of sales and marketing are used to sell these products. A professor working in business settings of an educational establishment will have hard time in becoming open professor due to the adoption of cost/benefit model. To be successful he has to use all the same techniques of persuasion that are used to sell other products. That is the dilemma an open professor will face and has to resolve for himself.

In my opinion if a professor wanted to be an "Open Professor" he has to open up his practice of teaching. Student should know at every step of the way why they are being asked to do things. That would be the first step towards being open professor. But it requires a motivated student body. They need to have a curious mind to know why are they in the class and why are they spending their time on different topics. It is like the game of "tick tat toe". In mathematics they ran the simulations and concluded that winning strategy always conforms to a Tit for a Tat in the game of prisoners dilemma. Teaching and learning is a game that students and teacher play together. The teacher starts the dialogs and the student have to pick the ball and respond with a Tat. If the Tat is missing then the teaching becomes a monologue. If the Tick is missing then there is no dialog. An open professor will try to get this game going to have an interesting class.

What else an "Open Professor" can do? He/She can involve the students in the process of instruction design where student become co-creator of the course topics they will learn as part of their course curriculum.

Finally, I would like to extend the idea of Static and Dynamic Quality as it is described in the second book "Laila" written by Robert Pirsig to the teaching and learning process. He is also the author of the famous book "Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence". In his less famous second book "Laila" he extends his ideas from the "Zen and Motorcycle" book and he discusses key concepts of "Metaphysics of Quality". In his theory quality comes before the subject-object duality and one of the key idea in his thesis is that the reality consists of static and dynamic quality. The open professor will know that learning is a dynamic process and there is nothing static about it which means that he has to create a learning environment that is dynamic and it changes as it receives the feedback from its environment that is students. This pretty much throws out all the canned e-learning instructional material. It could serve as a start but the dynamic component of student learning takes over. Most of the teacher have an intuitive understanding of this process and that is why they look at the LMS/LCMS as useful silos in which learning process can start but it does not take place in it.

I know the Instructional designer/Technologist do not like the word "Teaching". For a while we had a compromise and the word was "Teaching and Learning" but now a days it is only "Learning". It makes good sound bite along with the "personal learning" etc. The truth of the matter is that a very small minority of students are self motivated learners. Most of them need at least a tiny bit of push to learn. The teachers do this along with that the creation of dynamic learning environment that can not be captured in any assessment matrix or LMS/LCMS.

There are many theories about what happens during learning process. In fact too many to list here. Every body seems to have his/her pet theory. However empirically it is possible to postulate that physically learning takes place within the learners brain. It is accomplished by creating new neuronal connections or modifying the existing neural connections within the learners brain. This modification of Neural connection is possible because of the existence of the well known phenomenon also known as Neural plasticity.

The learning is the retraining of the "Attention Process" of a learner. All learning exist as a potentiality. It is the "Attention of the learner" guided through the learning process start performing as desired by the teacher. The Open Professor will be cognizant of all this and will create learning environment with proper sequencing of the learning events that are dynamic and change depending on the need of the class as the learning process progresses.


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