Rob Watson

Mar 162015
 
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You might think that as I teach about using social media that I would want to interact with my students using Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, in order to give them feedback about their work. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and the more that I teach about social media, the more I am reminded of the value of face-to-face discussions.

It’s become all too easy to suggest to learners on my modules that they can catch-up with the notes from each of the lecture sessions by reading the PDF documents that I post on my website. In a way this get me off a massive hook. I can assume that my teaching responsibilities have been exercised because I have sent out an email pointing learners in the direction of the notes.

Likewise I can safely assume that everything that is written in the notes is understandable and legible, and that any reasonable person – in my mind at least – would be able to figure them out.

But this isn’t really the case, and the more that I interact with learners on my modules, the more I have a growing sense that all of the digital forms of communication we have available to us are actually leading to lower levels of understanding.

When I sit with a learner, and we discuss the issues that have been covered in the lectures, or that crop-up in the reading, I can only really get a good sense of what is being understood by reading their face, looking at their eyes, and giving them time to think through the ideas that we are contemplating.

The stress of modern learning delivery is all focussed on delivery by technology and what’s being squashed is the one-on-one learning, in which a student sits with a tutor and they ask each other questions about the tasks or the issues to be discussed. I can’t do this very well with social media. Yes, it’s possible to give feedback using Skype or other visual and audio forms of social media, but this doesn’t get anywhere close to sitting and chatting.

One thing I would like to develop in my modules, then, are more sessions where we sit and chat with each other about the topics and the ideas we are covering. A café-style room would be ideal. Small tables that three of four learners can sit around and participate in discussions. I’d even suggest that we order tea or coffee every now and again, and really settle in to a vibrant discussion.

Those learners who are able to sit with me, I hope are well adjusted to the extended process of learning at university, rather than just being people who process information and regurgitate so-called knowledge.

Mar 122015
 
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Are people who want to use selfie sticks getting unfairly treated in public spaces? It looks like the latest social media technology that has spread among users of camera-phones, are getting it in the neck for wanting to enhance their photographs when they go visiting public places and galleries. According to the BBC “The National Gallery in London has banned selfie sticks. The gallery says it has placed them in the same category as tripods, which are banned ‘in order to protect paintings, individual privacy and the overall visitor experience’”

It seems that users of selfie sticks have broken some kind of taboo? A taboo that says that we shouldn’t be so obvious when we take our self-images using our phones? But what are we expected to do, I’m not so sure? For such a simple piece of equipment, the radical change that the selfie stick affords is quite dramatic. Selfie sticks allow users to situate themselves within the place that they are visiting. In a way the selfie stick breaks the rules that means that people should be dutiful and respectful of the environment they are in, and that they should act with a high-degree of public decorum.

According to the Guardian, “a spokeswoman for the National Gallery said staff had been told to help enforce the ban. She said: ‘Photography is allowed for personal, non-commercial purposes in the National Gallery – however, there are a few exceptions in order to protect paintings, copyright of loans, individual privacy and the overall visitor experience. Therefore the use of flash and tripods is not permitted’”

Instead, the selfie stick allows an individual or a small group of friends to take control of the photo-moment for themselves in a completely inclusive way. Rather than one person being behind the camera to take an image, the selfie stick is inclusive and participatory, and allows the entire group to be included in the photo. No more missing mums or dads, taking turns to capture a picture of the family that they are a part of, but otherwise forced to be behind the camera.

“Selfie sticks are the wildly popular extending rods that can be fitted with a smartphone for a different angle self-portrait.” Time Magazine suggests that “they’ve been banned at a number of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Washington D.C.’s National Gallery. The Centre Pompidou and the Louvre are considering bans”

The taker’s of these selfies become much more active participants in the environment that they are visiting. No longer determined by the dynamic of just snapping what’s in front of the visitors, we can now include ourselves in the vista and the setting. The wide-angle lens affords a wider view of the scene, and we can respond to one another in a more natural manner, rather than posing for a formal image in the traditional portrait manner.

USNEWS suggests that “’Selfie sticks’ have now been banned at a French palace and a British museum, joining a growing list of global tourist attractions to take such measures. The devices are used to improve snapshots, but critics say they are obnoxious and potentially dangerous. Officials at Palace of Versailles outside Paris, and Britain’s National Gallery in London, announced the bans Wednesday, saying they need to protect artworks and other visitors”

So before anyone wants to ban the use of selfie sticks in other public places, just consider for moment what you would be trashing. The active participation of people as a social group who have strong social ties, and that are embedded in a location or a venue. How can anyone complain about that?

Feb 192015
 
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One of the best tools I’ve used online in recent years is Zotero, the web reference management tool that allows me to capture links and web pages for use later in my lectures, research and blogs.

The good thing with Zotero is it’s free and can sync to different PCs that I have. This means I can keep all my tags coordinated across all my devices and update them wherever I am.

Zotero is designed as a reference management tool, so I can create bibliographies automatically in different formats. I tend to use Harvard, so it’s a good tool for an exptended list of online articles I can share with my students.

It’s not difficult to get into the habit of using, and when I’m reading articles online each morning, I make a point of saving them in the different folders I’ve categorised in Zotero, so I know where I’m looking for stuff.

Zotero is no completely integrated into my daily routine, and I can band out a reference list at the touch of a button.

Feb 142015
 
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The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is reported in the press today to be willing to force overweight people to accept treatment or loose their benefits. According to the Mail Online “Obese people could be forced to get help for their ‘treatable’ condition or have their benefits cut.” The Mail Online reports that the Conservative Party is considering a plan to force “almost 2,000 people registered as long-term sick because of obesity” into taking ‘treatment’ for their condition or “face having their benefits docked unless they agreed to lose weight.”

In The Telegraph the Prime Minister is reported saying that “taxpayers should no longer ‘fund the benefits’ of people who refuse to accept the treatment that could help them get back into employment.” According to The Telegraph,  David Cameron believes that “It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.” And so “The next Conservative Government is determined to make sure that the hardest to help get the support they need to get them back to a fulfilling life.”
Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 10.38.02All of which would be understandable if addiction – whether its drugs, alcohol or food – was genuinely a choice and not something that is beyond the rational and reasonable control of individuals. David Cameron is playing with lazy stereotypes and blaming vulnerable people for being feckless, lazy and stupid. A typical Tory stance on social problems then. Lets blame the victims and do nothing to support and correct the underlying problems that people face in regulating what are highly addictive substances.
Blaming people for being obese is like blaming smokers for getting a cough. It is the inevitable consequence of a society that is dominated by a food industry the peddles carbohydrate-overloaded processed foods. These foods are designed to be addictive and the lack of recognition of the dangerous role that sugar and excessive carbohydrates play in our food industries is the real culprit.
Rather than blaming a few people who struggle, lets challenge the supermarkets and the food industry who are making billions of pounds in profits to change their practices, and to stop stuffing their foods with salt and sugar in order to increase their massive profits.
If David Cameron was serious about dealing with the obesity and diabetes epidemic he would bring in a Sugar and Carbohydrate Tax and remove the government subsidies from the processed food industry. He would ban sugary drinks and snacks from schools, and he would stop supermarkets from further decimating the local food networks that allow people to buy fresh food on a daily basis, rather than the long-life processed foods that stack the shelves of the convenience stores.
The nasty prejudice against people who suffer from obesity is clear in Cameron’s attack. It is an attack which isn’t supported by any evidence, and stigmatises addition by linking it with personal morality and will-power. Believe me, I know what it is like to be a carbaholic. It’s a tyranny that is almost impossible to break free from. If David Cameron really wants to do some good he can stop blaming people and set-up the alternative community-based well-being services and food networks that would re-educate people to live without excessive carbohydrates and processes foods.
Feb 132015
 
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While the modules I’ve been running this year have been based on the way that we use media to socialise our experience through social networks, I’ve come to realise just how much I value the face-to-face contact that comes from interacting with students in the workshops.

It’s one thing to circulate and share ideas on social media platforms, but its so much better to be able to talk with people directly on a one-to-one basis in a workshop session. Rather than assuming that learners are going to immediately understand the concepts that we are using in the module, it’s important instead, to read people’s faces and their eyes to see what’s going on inside their heads as they process the ideas we are using.

This face-to-face interaction tells me so much more about what learners are actually able to process and make sense of than any electronic survey or report could ever do. Those who have completed a tasks and feel that they have learnt something show the pleasure and joy on their faces. Those who think they have dodged a bullet find it harder to obfuscate and divert my attention when they clearly haven’t done the work that was expected of them.

There’s a danger that we instrumentalise the learning experience in our modules by including too many electronic check-boxes, too many feedback and survey points, and too many remote systems for monitoring learners access with the online information that we post.

I’ve come to value, once again, the traditional interaction of sitting and talking with learners. With playing with ideas in a conversation, and taking our time to think about things that at first don’t make sense to us, but which change in our minds as we process them through chat.

If there is an underlying approach to the scholarship in my teaching, it is the socialisation of learning has to be diverted away from the banking model of learning, in which privatised consumers of knowledge store-up their expertise, skills and capabilities in order to complete a future assessment. Instead, I’m much more interested in the socialisation of learning and using our learning as it happens in a flow of reciprocal interaction that challenges the assumptions that we hold about phenomenon in the social media world.

Feb 112015
 
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For this week’s lab for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology, I’ve set the task of looking at, researching and writing about Social Television for the DMU Commons Wiki. The aim of the session is to gather information and comment about the emerging phenomenon of social television; what it is and what is being said about it. This can include the technology that drives it, the way that it is being promoted by media companies; the way that advertising and marketing is driving the development of metrics-driven media, and the way that individuals use and make sense of television content and services now that they are part of a networked culture?

The first step is to look at some websites that talk about Social Television and to look for some interesting articles and discussion pieces. It’s worth looking at the scholarly articles and journals that a Google search brings up, and Google Books is an excellent way of finding quotes about television consumption and research from the Media Studies tradition.

Building the article is going to be a process of discussion and collaboration, exchanging ideas and examples. So the discussion page of the Social Television wiki article is the essential place to look to see what other users of the Wiki have been adding and recommending. Posing questions that contributors think will help other contributors to figure out what else they might research or write for the article will be particularly useful.

The embedded signatures in the wiki page are incredibly useful as they help to get a sense of who has suggested what [the four ~~~~]. In addition I’m encouraging contributors to note the links and the references to any published items by using the Harvard citation style, as it has been adapted for Wikipedia. This should help us to build-up a substantial and wide-ranging set of source resources that we can share and use as a group.

Feb 062015
 
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Using the DMU Commons Wiki for coursework activity for TECH1002 Introduction to Social Media & Technology has been a very interesting experience. This week I wanted to start and develop a page about Instant Messaging. Well, I’d planned to do a load of research and present a mini-presentation about it, but then I thought better and realised that this might be something that I can put out to the ‘crowd’ and see what we can build and assemble collectively.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 13.16.53So I created a page on the wiki ‘Instant Messaging’ and I added a couple of questions to the talk page behind it to start the process off. So far so good. I was interested in finding out how the learners on my module had used Instant Messaging in the past, and what information they could find on the web about it. So the task was to search for some information, note and summarise it on the wiki talk page, and then pass this information on to the next group, who could take it on and build it up.

Wiki Talk Page

Wiki Talk Page

The only problem has been the lack of attendance at my sessions. Apparently there is a media production deadline today, and it seems that all other work stops when first years are putting their audio and video pieces together! But not to worry, this is the web, and this is a social media module. There’s always another way to get this done.

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to virtualise this little project and to use social media to encourage the learners on the module to contribute to this page on the wiki by using other means. We have blogs, wikis, Twitter streams, Facebook groups, and so on, all accessed and used by learners. There’s no particular reason why this must be done in a lab sessions, other than this is the one place that I’m available for questions and advice.

One of the learners pointed out that we have not been using the talk page correctly, and that each point that is made on the talk page should be given a signature. On Media Wiki this is very simple. It just involves the use of a simple piece of syntax ‘~~~~’. This then bring up the users name and a date stamp with the information of when the discussion point was raised.

The actual discussion page is very similar to the main page in the way that it is edited, except that it isn’t for public consumption and can therefore be revised more freely. It’s an excellent way of testing out the wording of an entry and getting people to agree the content before it is copied or moved into the required page.

The next thing I want to look at is tags and categories, as I’ve fallen behind in how to use them. By the end of next week I’d like for us to have a comprehensive page of information about Instant Messaging that can be spread to other people as an example of how to collaborate on a document like this.

Jan 062015
 
DMU Commons Wiki

One of the innovations I’ve made in my teaching this year has been the introduction of the DMU Commons Wiki system to my first and final year social media modules. In the past we’d used the inbuilt wiki in Blackboard, but I was never satisfied that this was not outward facing or industry standard. It’s difficult to encourage learners to take on a social media system sometimes, when it is behind an enclosure or garden wall. The system that is built into Blackboard only uses the propriatorial system that they provide, and I was keen to get learners to use something that is more widely recognised in the real world – which doesn’t come much better than MediaWiki, the system that Wikipedia uses.

So I’ve introduced regular wiki posts into the coursework for TECH1002 Introduction to Social Media & Technology and TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production as a way of providing a space for learners to experience posting to an open wiki system, where they are in charge of the process of submission and can see the posts that are created by other learners. Indeed, the aim is to encourage learners to collaborate on posts and to encourage other people to contribute to them.

The DMU Commons comprises as set of blogs and the Wiki. The skills needed for each are fairly straightforward and give immediate access. There is no coding or complex set-up. WikiMedia is a simple ‘syntax’ based system that can automatically generate a set of standard formatting functions in a page just by adding some simple punctuation/syntax. For example MediaWiki creates a contents box based on the use of headers in the text, which are simply identified by adding a couple of ‘=’ wrapped around the text that forms the title. My estimate is that you can learn to post a page with some basic information in about twenty minutes.

DMU-Commons-Wiki-001Once the basic skills in creating a page and mastering how to format some simple content are established the main issues is how to name the page so that it can be found by other people on the wiki. There are two main ways to navigate around a wiki, either by following a hypertext link or by searching for a key word. This is a rhizomatic approach to information management, with no centralised or ‘tree-like’ information structure. All points are available to all other points in the system at all times. Indeed, planning wiki entries requires a shift in our thinking that eschews structure and instead works on tags, key words and links. You don’t have to worry about what comes first, or what follows. Each page is posted discretely and stands alone. So it has to be named in such way that it can be found without it being linked to any other pages.

The great advantage in this form of publishing is that there is no central control exerted over the production process, and it can be revised and updated at any time. There’s no need for an editorial board or a publishing schedule. Users can post content when they want, and if it needs to be published in an initial form that is incomplete, then it can be revised and updated later, by any of the other contributors. It’s a perfect development tool for collaborative teams as they work on documents that form a centralised information point. The information can be shared easily and updated as networks of developers go along. Behind each page is the tracking system that maintains a record of what changes were made and by who.

I’ve encouraged my learners to create a profile page for themselves, so that they can add information about what they have been producing, what their biographical information is, and examples and links of work that they have developed. Another advantage of a wiki is its relative anonymity. So users only get identified by the P:Number (DMU ID), and nothing on a page is publicly credited. The most experienced users can sit alongside the newbies and develop content that is of equal worth in the wiki. There’s less opportunity in a wiki to exercise your ego, and as a result those of us who are more introvert and retiring get the chance to make our mark while the loud-mouths have their sense of entitlement to recognition toned down. The blogs that the learners write can be as egotistical as they like, but the wiki entries have to be written to a general standard that isn’t based on who you are, but is instead about what you have to add.

I thought it was important to encourage contributions by asking learners to post content that they are interested in, so there’s a selection of fan pages, sports pages and gaming pages, all in different stages of development. There’s a lot of interest in TV programmes such as Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Firefly; and then there’s pages about DC and Marvel Comics and Films. The games pages are interesting, because there are a lot of students who game at DMU, with a good deal of expertise and knowledge about different game worlds and systems. As a platform for grass-roots interest, a wiki is a pretty good way of allowing contributors to express their own interests. Interests that are representative of the diversity of interests that exist at DMU. With a wiki, no one page can be flouted as being above any other page in terms of its value or appreciation except that it is of interest to the users and contributors of the wiki. All content is equal on a wiki.

The advantage of a wiki goes beyond simply sharing information, but also allows users to develop collaborative plans when working on projects. Rather than sending around different versions of a document, a wiki page is a living document that can be updated in real time. Changes can be made easily and with clear agreements from the contributors. There are other collaborative document systems, such as Microsoft SharePoint, but for what MediaWiki costs to host, and the level to which it enables collaboration, I don’t think I’d use anything else for project planning in the future. My final year students are about to write a project development plan using the wiki for a social media project they are undertaking, so I’ll be able to share how this goes later on.

So, what’s likely to be of use on the DMU Commons Wiki in the future? One thing that I think has loads of potential is the development of How-to-Guides. Already there are a couple of pages dedicated to media production techniques, such as photography, audio recording and video production. The sharing of hands-on information by learners, technical staff and academics alike, heralds a good opportunity to pass on information to a wider audience, a community of practitioners. With expertise often split over different departments and buildings at DMU, the DMU Commons Wiki could be a cost effective way of bringing practitioners together, regardless of their chosen discipline, to share and collaborate in how to get the best from the media technologies that they are working with. Indeed, why stop at media technology, this wiki is open to all technologies, disciplines and subjects, across the whole of the university.

So I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges from the DMU Commons Wiki, what kind of communities of interest emerge, how they share and collaborate knowledge, and how they enhance communication so that people who wouldn’t normally get to collaborate and share are able to with minimum fuss.

Dec 192014
 
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I’ve been tweeting about some of my meals and the food I’m cooking, as a way of keeping track. It’s better than writing things in a notebook, as I can include a picture and a location of where I was. This morning I’ve tried something new. I’ve been seeing this Bullet Coffee popping up in some newspapers and some websites over the last couple of weeks. There’s a good feature by Joe Shute in today’s Telegraph, where he gives a good outline of the whole phenomenon of mixing coffee with butter and coconut oil.

I must admit I was sceptical, thinking that it is just a Hipster fad, so I dug out the blender and made myself a quick one using the stuff I had to hand in the kitchen. I tend to use Lavaza coffee anyway, and I have plenty of butter on hand, and I’ve even got a small pot of coconut oil. So I boiled the coffee in my Mocha Pot and then heated the blender jug, dropped a knob of butter and a knob of coconut oil in, then added the coffee and gave it a whirl.

The texture is great. It’s very creamy, and not at all oily. It takes away the bitterness of the coffee, and feels quite refreshing. I’ll probably keep experimenting with this now. I’ll buy some better quality butter, the recommendation is unsalted grass-fed, and there are more concentrated versions of the coconut oil, but I’m not spending more than I would normally. I will probably invest in some better ground coffee as well.

Now, can we persuade any of the coffee shops in Leicester to start to sell it?

Dec 182014
 
Why My Cat is Sad

One of my favourite Twitter feeds at the moment is ‘Why My Cat is Sad’. Its a philosophical investigation into the burdens of being, as expressed through cats and their relationship with the world and the people around them. The human behind it is Tom Cox, and he’s written a couple of books about his cat, The Bear, ‘who carries the weight of the world on his furry shoulders’. Gues what I’m going to be reading over the Christmas week? I can’t wait.