Category Archives: blogging

The impact of the fickle nature of the web

Broken Web

Over on my tech blog I have been writing about the fickle nature of the web, it is one of those things that I find annoying. You post a link, embed a video and then a bit later you find that it has gone! This was very apparent today with the news that the BBC are, in order to save money, will close down their recipe website. For me this is a mistake, however I also understand how this can happen, not just with textual content, but also media too.

Now as I write this blog post, it would appear that the BBC have climbed down somewhat and the recipes will be moving over to the commercial BBC Good Food website.

Screengrab from BBC Food website - Eton Mess

The impact of archived, expired and missing content may be annoying for me, but it is probably more annoying and frustrating for teachers who have created or curated content using third party links and embedded media and find that the learners are unable to access the third party content. These links need to be fixed or replaced, embedded media needs to be found again, or an alternative discovered. I know when I was working with staff, this was an issue they found very frustrating when creating courses and content for the VLE.

Personally I when writing content for my blog, I try not to use third party sites (in case they disappear) and try not to embed content if I can help it. There are times though when people have removed a video years later and looking through an old blog post you find the embedded video has disappeared as the obscure service you used has shut down, or was taken over.

As I said over on the tech blog, sometimes I think, why do people and organisations like the BBC do this? Then I remember I have done this myself and sometimes you have little choice.

WCC Logo

Back in 2001 I was appointed Director of the Western Colleges Consortium and we had a nice little website and the domain of westerncc.ac.uk and the consortium was wound up in 2006. As a result the website was shut down and the domain lost.

Back in 1998 when I created my first web site, using Hot Metal Pro I used the free hosting that came with my ISP account. A few years later I moved hosting providers (as I was using too much bandwidth) and had a domain of my own. I did leave the old site up, but due to bandwidth usage it was eventually shut down!

I remember creating a course site for my learners using one of those services where you got a free domain name and free hosting, should I have been surprised when they shut down and asked for large fees for transferring the site and the domain. It was often easier to create a new domain and get new hosting. The original site was lost in the midst of time.

We have seen services such as Ning, which were free and well used, but once the money ran out and they started charging, lots of useful sites shut themselves down. People then moved to different services.

For these small sites, it probably is less of an issue, annoying, slightly frustrating, but you can live with it, it’s part of what the web is about. However with big sites, like BBC Food, then it becomes more than annoying, especially if you have a reliance on that content for your course or your teaching.

Since I wrote my blog post yesterday , the reaction on the web has intensified (and it looks like has had an impact). One blog post from Lloyd Shepherd, one of the original team who worked on the archive makes for interesting reading.

It was my team that ran product management and editorial on the new Food site, and the site that exists today is largely the site we conceptualised and built at that time.

He explains the basis behind the site

The idea was very simple: take the recipes from BBC programmes, repurpose them into a database, and then make that database run a website, a mobile site, and who-knows-what-else. Create relationships between recipes based on ingredients, shows, cuisines, and who-knows-what-else. And then run it with as small an editorial team as possible whose job was simply to turn telly recipes into database recipes.

He continues to point out that as far as the remit of the BBC as a public service broadcaster, the food archive hit two key points.

Did we discuss ‘public service remit’? You bet we did. Every day. And it really came down to two things:

These recipes have already been paid for by the BBC licence fee payer, and they’re being under-utilised. A new service can be developed out of them for very little up-front cost.

Nutrition is now a public health issue. Obesity is draining NHS coffers, government guidelines are badly understood and terribly publicised. There is a role for the BBC to play in this, and this is the way to do it.

Though at this time we don’t know for sure where the content will be archived, rumour has it, it will be archived on the Commercial BBC Good Food site, one impact which I know it will have will be on catering courses that use the BBC content to support the learning of the students. A lot of the recipes are from professional chefs and provide guidance and inspiration to learners who are starting out on their careers. Additionally the way in which the archive works, they can find ideas and recipes for different ingredients. Even if the archive is moved, one aspect of the BBC Food site that will be missed, is the lack of distracting advertising.

It would appear that the BBC are moving away from an archive to library of content, which can be “borrowed” for 30 days before it expires. That got me thinking…

In the olden days when I was running libraries, we use to “weed” the collection of book stock which needed replacing, was out of date or no longer been used. We would buy new content to either replace or update existing books, or buy books that were completely new. One thing we were clear about was that we were not an archive, old stock was to be removed and got rid of, usually recycled or sold. The copy of the Haynes manual for the Hillman Imp from 1972 was interesting in its own right, but from a teaching and learning perspective wasn’t actually of any use any more.

Haynes Hillman Imp manual

We didn’t have the space to store and keep books and journals just for the sake of keeping books and journals. Of course with online materials that space argument becomes less critical, but there is still the resources required to manage curate large quantities of digital content to ensure that the content is accessible, searchable and relevant.

I personally don’t think the BBC Food archive is a library that needs to be reduced, refreshed and restricted, I think it is a great archive that should be kept. For me there are two services here, one is the archive and the other is a service delivering current and new content. It’s a pity that the requirement of cost savings means one was planned to go. Hopefully the recipes will be saved and restored when they move over to the new site.

In my post on Ning starting to charge  back in 2010 I mentioned above,  I did say one of the issues with using any free Web 2.0 service is that they may not be here forever.

Gabcast is no longer free, but Audioboo is. Jaiku is pretty much dead, but Twitter is alive and well. Etherpad has gone, but iEtherpad is up and running.

I still think what I said in 2010 is still relevant today when talking about services and web tools.

At the end of the day this is not about a service disappearing or now charging, it’s much more about how when using these services you don’t think about long term, but have the capability and the technical knowledge to move between different services as and when they become available.

Use what is now and in the future use what is then.

Though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain and moan when something like the BBC Food “closure” happens, as sometimes there aren’t real alternatives, especially when it comes to content rather than a service.

What this whole story tells us is that the web can be fickle and relying on the stickiness and permanence of web content can be a challenge for teachers and lecturers. How do you cope with the transient nature of web content?

Image Credit: Broken by David Bakker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Social Media in FE and Skills – #jisc50social

Are you flying high in social media for UK further education and skills?

So are you using social media effectively to enhance, enrich teaching and learning and assessment in FE and Skills?

Maybe you are using Twitter to enhance learning through the use of Twitterchats or keeping lessons topical using a Hashtag.

This isn’t just about the Twitter, it’s about how you are using social media.

Are you enabling learners to debate and discuss using the communities feature of Google+ and using Google Docs for collaboration and assessment.

Do you have a Facebook page or group to engage with learners?

Is Periscope a tool that your learners are finding useful for live streaming from a workshop or the

Are your learners reflecting on their practice using tools such as Blogger, WordPress or Medium?

Why not help Jisc celebrate and share best practice by nominating yourself or nominating someone who is in FE and using social media effectively to support learners and learning.

Nominate them here.

#blideo – You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

Well I have been avoiding this whole #blimage thing, but even not entirely, as a certain person who shall remain nameless, let’s just call her Bex, wanted to borrow this image for #blimage.

Then, that David Hopkins, decides to write a blog post, not using images, but a video clip, another hashtag, #blideo, and then decides to challenge me (and Julian Stodd, and Terese Bird) with this clip from The Italian Job.

I have to admit my first reaction was to ignore it and dismiss the challenge. It’s not as though I’ve not done these before, back in 2008 I was challenged by someone called Steve Wheeler on a meme called Passion Quilt.

Right. It’s an interesting challenge and looks a little like a chain letter, but here goes. Mike Hasley, of TechWarrior Blog, has laid down a challenge for me and 4 others to add to a collection of photos that represent our passion in teaching/learning. I have to tag it ‘Meme: Passion Quilt’ and post it on a blog, Flickr, FaceBook or some other social networking tool with a brief commentary of why it is a passion for me.

That Doug Belshaw challenged me in 2011 to write 500 words on the purpose of education. There was also an image challenge with that too

So for this challenge I need to look at the video clip, and what it makes me think of, professionally or personally. As I said I was going to dismiss it, but hang on a minute…

The Italian Job 1969

The Italian Job is one of my favourite films of all time. I like it for a lot of reasons, it’s also the same age as me. I am surprised it didn’t make my cinematic advent calendar I did in 2012.

It’s a classic British 1960s crime caper. It’s got Michael Caine in it, as well as Noel Coward. Yes it’s full of cliché, yes it’s rather sexist and does have a fair few unfair stereotypes in there too, the Italian Mafia and Camp Freddy are examples of this. Having said that, if you can forgive a film of it’s time, this is an enjoyable romp through 1960s London and Italy, with a great script, photography and cast.

The story tells how Charlie Croker gets out of jail and plans a heist of Chinese gold that is been delivered to the Fiat factory in Milan. The film has a classic chase sequence as the three Mini cars are filled with gold and driven across Milan, with the Italian police in pursuit.

The Italian Job 1969

The film ends with the cliffhanger clip shown above, showing that despite a successful heist, crime doesn’t pay…

From a professional perspective, what does this clip mean for me?

Well what the film shows is a robbery, but an expertly planned and executed h, one that takes into account a range of issues and the plan mitigates these. The success is dependent on the planning and planning down to the smallest detail.

“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

From checking how the Mini cars would perform with all the gold in the boot, the amount of explosive to evading the traffic jams.

“If they planned this traffic jam, then they must have planned a way out of it.”

The Italian Job 1969

In addition there is a lot of preparation to ensure the success of the plan, from people to resources, to computer programming.

However as the clip shows, despite all the planning resulting in success, one slight mistake and success is on the cliff edge (literally) with the prospect of it going either way. Despite all the careful planning, innovative thinking is required if disaster is to be avoided.

I am a great fan of careful planning and good preparation, when it comes to teaching and learning. When I was a teacher I would plan out the entire year in advance, including lesson plans for each lesson. Alongside these I would prepare the majority of the resources required and these would be printed in advance and stored ready for use. When I “discovered” the internet, for some courses I created my own “VLE” and the scheme of work and resources were available for learners to access and download. On the site were additional resources, links, news items and a discussion forum – this was in a time when not many people had internet at home.

However what was also important was having the space to be innovative and responsive to accommodate unexpected events and issues. In addition there was space to allow for topicality and for ideas from the learners. When opportunities arose, they were grasped (as there was the flexibility in the planning to allow for this) and not ignored because we had to stick to the plan.

If you think of the impact snow can have, or service failure, having the space and the initiative to adapt is critical to take account of these unexpected million to one chances that happen nine times out of ten.

I know speaking to teachers over the years, that many don’t like this approach, they see planning as inflexible and doesn’t take account of what happens in the classroom on a weekly basis. So as a result they don’t plan. They take a more ad hoc approach, though this can work for some people, often it can result in core elements been missed or rushed.

Good planning does not mean rigidity or lack of flexibility. Having a plan doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for innovation. No effective planning, will build in room for innovation, will be flexible and will allow for topicality and spontaneity. In reality an ad hoc approach usually results in a bland approach falling back on using the same methodology,

We often do things because we have always done it that way. We take the same route to work, we go the sandwich place for lunch, we choose the same thing from the menu when we go out to lunch.
I recall an apocryphal story about the Royal Horse Artillery who have not used horses for a hundred years, but still have five people for each artillery piece, four to fire the gun and one to hold the horses. The essence was that we do things because we have always done them that way and sometimes the reasons for doing it this way have actually changed or disappeared, but we still keep doing it.

Doing everything last minute, usually means doing everything the same way every time. Planning allows for innovation, creativity and the last minute cliffhangers.

Just going back to the Italian Job, if you didn’t know, a few years ago the solution to the problem was “discovered” in a 2009 competition.

In addition to that competition, according to a making of documentary, the producer Deeley was unsatisfied with the four written endings and conceived the current ending as a literal cliffhanger appropriate to an action film which left an opportunity for a sequel. The documentary describes how helicopters would save the bus seen on the cliff at the end of the first film. The grateful gang would soon discover that it is the Mafia that has saved them, and the sequel would have been about stealing the gold bullion back from them.

So as this is #blideo in theory I have to challenge someone with a clip, well here’s the clip, as for the challenge, well that’s open to everyone.

Top Ten Web Tools of 2013

oldtools

This is the sixth time I have compiled a list of the top ten web tools I have used during the year. I am finding it interesting looking back over 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2012 which tools I still use and which have fallen by the wayside. My 11th tool would be Delicious, which I have started using more, but certainly not as much as the other tools listed below.

10. Dropping one place to number ten is Speakerdeck. I replaced my usage of Slideshare with Speakerdeck in 2012, and in 2013 I continued to use Speakerdeck as a platform for sharing my presentations. It drops a place, mainly as I did fewer presentations in 2013, so as a result used the service less than I did in 2012

9. Dropping one place from 2012 is WordPress which is number nine. I still use the blogging software for my blogs. I like the flexibility it offers and it certainly works for me. However as I did less blogging in 2013 than in did in 2012, though still a useful tool, I was using it less. I still think the only thing that is missing for me is a decent mobile client or iPad app.

8. Flipboard falls a couple of places to number eight. The main reason it falls is more down to Google than Flipboard. Google retired Google Reader and I was using that service to feed Flipboard. Though I did manage to import my Google Reader subscription into Flipboard, I am finding it slow to refresh and of course much more difficult to add new sites to the feed. I do need to spend some time working out how to maximise my use of Flipboard as a news reading tool, as when it works well, it works really well.

7. Climbing three places to number seven is Evernote, the online note taking tool. Since changing jobs in the Autumn, I am using Evernote more than ever. A really useful tool for making notes and syncing them across devices.

6. Instagram drops three places back to number six and I know that part of the reason was that in 2012 I used Instagram everyday as the main way of posting a photograph a day. I didn’t do that in 2013, so used Instagram less. I did try though and improve the quality of my images in 2013. I have decided to return to the photo a day thing in 2014, so will now be using Instagram much more than I did last year.

5. Dropping three places to number five is Flickr. Whereas in 2012 I added 1300 photographs to Flickr, in 2013 it was a measly 635. I also used Flickr extensively for finding photographs for the blog and for many of the presentations I gave this year.

4. Climbing three places is Chrome, which is now my default browser on my main computers. Even though I use it a lot, I do use it alongside other browsers such as Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. What I do like is that I can now sync my browsers across different computers and different devices. Using the Google Nexus 7 I can now see and open the tabs I was using on the iMac or the laptop. I also like how I can do the same with Chrome on the iPad. Great when you want to refer to a site, but either can’t remember the URL or how you got there.

3. Climbing one place to number three is the Twitter. I use Twitter almost every day for checking out news, links, travel reports and interesting stuff. I certainly don’t have the conversations on there that I have on Google+, but when they do happen they are useful and interesting.

2. Dropping one place to number two is Dropbox. It isn’t social, but I use it every day and in some cases all day. Dropbox is a fantastic tool, in the main because it works! It was interesting switching to a Windows PC for a few months in the new job how my usage of Dropbox stopped and I was using an USB stick of all things! In the previous nine months though I did use Dropbox extensively and it was a really useful tool. It just works, to the point it is transparent and it never gets in the way of me doing my stuff, which is as it should be.

1. In the top spot for 2013 is Google+ climbing four places from number five. There are two core reasons for the rise of Google+, mainly more people used in in 2013 than they did in 2012, but in my new job it’s an integral communication tool for sharing links, news and views across the group.

So that’s my top ten web tools for 2013, what were yours?

You’ve been quiet!

Regular readers of the blog will have noticed that things have been a little quieter than usual with me posting a lot less.

The main reason for this is that I have for the last week been attending the JISC Innovating e-Learning Online Conference 2010 which has been taking place in… well online as you might expect. I am going to write a more evaluative piece on the conference later.

I was the conference blogger at the conference so as a result I was posting a lot of blog entries there instead of here… Most of the blog entries on the conference blog (which is not available to non-delegates) were about the conference itself, however some were on more general web and e-learning issues. These will be expanded upon and published later on this blog – so you won’t miss out.

Running a conference blog has been fun, if exhausting, but I’ve had a lot of nice positive comments back from people, so well worthwhile.

A conference blog is something that you sometimes you see at other conferences, but I certainly would recommend that other conference organisers think about having a conference blog for their conferences.