Category Archives: google

Top Ten Web Tools of 2016

This is the ninth 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, 20102011201220132014 and 2015, which tools I still use and which have fallen by the wayside.

Just outside the top ten were Slack, Evernote and Waze.

10. Instagram – a social tool for sharing pictures and over 2016 I posted an image a day to Instagram. I still think I am not using it to it’s full potential.

9. Dropbox – I like how I can easily work on files on multiple devices. It just works. I prefer it over Google Drive and though iCloud comes close that only really works with Apple’s apps such as Pages and Keynote.

8 . Flickr – I’ve been on Flickr for over ten years now, I still find it an ideal place to store and curate images.

7. Google Docs – Though I prefer using Dropbox for working on individual files, when it comes to collaboration and sharing then Google Docs wins out every time.

6. Tweetdeck – Though I usually use the web client on my Mac, or the Twitter App on the phone, when it comes to tweet chats and live events, I switch to Tweetdeck. I also find it useful when following various hashtags.

5. Yammer – a kind of Facebook for work, but in my current workplace it works really well and a good replacement for many of the conversations that would have been done using e-mail and probably lost in e-mail.

4. Skype (includes Skype for Business) – I used Skype for many years for conversations and then just stopped. I now use it on a daily basis for “phone” calls and instant messaging. I have never really been a fan of instant messaging, so still getting use to that.

3. WordPress – I like to blog (can you tell) and this is still a clever piece of software. Despite the trials and tribulations of maintaining security the functionality and the features of WordPress make it a really useful web tool.

2. Jira and Confluence – though designed for software development I have found these great tools for task management and projects.

1. Twitter is once again my top web tool for 2016. It works for informing, conversations and collaboration.

So that’s my top ten web tools for 2016, what were yours?

Opening the algorithms: Could we use open analytics?

globe

Do you remember when the Google algorithm wasn’t that good, well it was good, but today it’s better!

Many years ago if you searched for a hotel on Google, so you could find out if there was car parking, or to find the website for the restaurant menu, the search results most of the time were not the hotel website, but hotel booking sites offering cheap hotel rooms. Pointless if you already had a room, and all you wanted to know if you had to pay for car parking, or what time you could check out. The problem was that the hotel booking sites worked out how the Google search algorithm ranked sites and “gamed” Google search.

Today, the experience is very different, the algorithm usually results in the actual hotel website being the top hit on any search for a specific hotel.

Google had worked on the algorithm and ensured what they saw as the correct search result was the one that was at the top.

One thing that many people don’t realise was that Google not only worked on the software behind the algorithm, but that they also use human intervention to check that the algorithm was providing the search results they thought it should be. If you wonder why Google search is better than search functions on your intranet and the VLE this is probably why, Google use people to improve search results. Google uses people to both write the algorithms and to tweak the search results. Using people can result in bias.

laptop

So if we are to use algorithms to manage the next generation of learning environments, the intelligent campus, support for future apprenticeships and data driven learning gains, how can we ensure that we recognise that there is bias? If we do recognise the bias, how do we mitigate it? Using biased algorithms, can we make people aware that any results have a bias, and what it might mean? If we are to, like Google, use human intervention, how is that managed?

The one aspect of Google’s search algorithm that some people find frustrating is that the whole process is secret and closed. No one, apart from the engineers at Google really knows how the algorithms were written and how they work, and what level of human intervention there is.

So if we are to use algorithms to support teaching and learning, could we, by making the algorithms open, ensure that, we remove some of those fears and frustrations people have with a data approach? By making the algorithims open could we ensure that staff and learners could see how they work, how they learn and why they produce the results that do?

Could we go one step further and allow people to edit or even create their own algorithms? Allowing them to make suggestions on how they could be improved, creating new analytics that could benefit the wider community.

Is it time for open analytics?

Thank you to Lawrie Phipps for the conversations we had after the Digital Pedagogy Lab: Prince Edward Island conference and this blog post.

Still Predicting

change

So where are the flying cars, the silver jumpsuits and video phones which were going to be part of everyday life in the 21st Century?

Making predictions about the future of technology is easy. However accurately predicting the future is not easy and to put it bluntly everyone gets it wrong. Either they try and push an existing process and technology and extrapolate and “miss” out on any future potential inventions that make the existing processes redundant. The other mistake that people make is assume that the process of adoption of new technologies will happen faster than it actually does. So whilst fashion is still quite conservative and cars clog the roads and don’t fly, we through technologies such as Skype and Facetime are able to not just video phone, but we can instant message, present and share our computer desktops at the same time, using the same tool!

The one constant in life is change, we have social change, technological change, political change. This makes predicting change and the impact of change a real challenge.

Predicting how life will change for the university student of the future is fraught with difficulties and challenges and no doubt it is easy to get it wrong… However it’s an interesting thought experiment to try, which is why I think that people do it.

There are many people out there predicting the end of formal education and the radical change to university life for students. This, here I go predicting the future, however in my opinion, is a nice idea, but isn’t going to happen. The culture within education and academics is so embedded and rigid that changes in technology are only flexing and tweaking education, not breaking it or resulting in a radical metamorphosis.

The university students who will start their studies in September 2016 would have been born in 1998 On September 4th 1998 was the day that Google was founded.

1998 Google Logo

A year later in 1999, the term Web 2.0 was first used in an article. These students do not know a world without the internet, within their primary and secondary schools they probably had ICT suites and depending on which FE College they went to they have used tablets, netbooks, mobile devices and wifi enabled laptops to support their learning. These students have mobile phones that in the main are more likely to be used for things other than phone calls. The students of 2016 are very different to the students of 2006 and 1996, or are they?

How different are the educational institutions of 2016 to those ten or twenty years ago? Yes of course they are different, libraries have changed, classroom technologies have changed, but has education changed that much? If not why? There are many factors to take into account the inertia that you find in education. The main one appears to be is culture and a preference for what has been done before. The introduction of technology either falls into the depths of the pilot pit or is used sparingly at the edges of what has been done before and always.

So with all this technology savviness and awareness, you will hear phrases such as the Google Generation and Digital Natives been banded about in the media and in education. The assumption is that as these learners have grown up in a world with technology immersed into their world, grown up with the internet, Web 2.0, social media, tablets, smartphones and other new technologies; that these learners are able to skilfully use these technologies to support, enhance and enrich their learning. A pretty poor assumption in many respects, as learners have also grown up with books and magazines, but often lack study skills to utilise academic books and journals to enhance and enrich their learning. Learners may be using technology and the internet on a regular basis, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the study skills to use these same technologies for learning. Study and information skills need to take into account the changes in technology and access to information that the internet allows.

The dependence on written assessment in education is a result of the high cost and time required for oral assessment. As a result there was a shift from oral to written testing and the end result is no longer do we have a questioning and probing assessment, no we have the challenge of writing four essays in three hours. So assessment has changed in the past, but can it make such a radical change in the future? Students can now carry thousands of books in a single device, can access journals when and wherever they have an internet connection, communicate with the world. This quick and easy access to content in likelihood probably changes how learners learn. However when it comes to much assessment, we turn off this access, restrict what learners can use, apart from that, which can be remembered. Often other forms of assessment are seen as having less value. If we are to take advantage of the access that new technologies bring to learners, we need to rethink the ways and medium of assessment.

Part of the problem for planning for the future using the same processes and protocols we have used for change in the past, is that the pace of technological change can be faster than the pace of change. For example just as we get round to the idea of students using their laptops in lectures and thinking we should therefore equip lecture theatres with power sockets and overcome the challenges put in place by over zealous health and safety officers with learners using their own devices within an institution. We find that the devices our learners are now using and will be using have batteries that allow the device to be used all day without needing to be charged up. The new power sockets are now redundant before they have been used.

The same can be said with connectivity, a single wireless router was probably more than ample where there were a small number of devices using small amounts of bandwidth. Now with students having multiple devices and accessing a range of high bandwidth content, wireless networks need to be robust, scalable and capable of handling large numbers of devices and provide sufficient bandwidth. Look in your own pockets and bags, how many wireless devices do you have?

The question that we do need to ask is are we using technology to extend and improve an existing process, or can we use technology to radically change processes? Expectations are that we can use technology to lever radical change in education. This has never happened before, it would be surprising if it happened now. A simple example, when the internet had limited bandwidth, it wasn’t possible to use video or even audio across the web, so people resorted to textual communication. Bulletin boards, usenet and discussions forums allowed asynchronous conversations. The depth of discussion and learning that can take place with such tools certainly outweighed the disadvantages of textual conversations. However these were challenging tools for learning as it required a change in thinking and culture. Many academics and learners found them difficult to use and challenging to change the way in which they delivered learning. As bandwidth improved and new synchronous tools arrived, we have seen how virtual classroom and webinar tools allow for live teaching. These tools have proved popular with academics and learners alike. We have to question why is this, part of the reason has to be that webinar tools are digitising a traditional lesson or lecture format. Academics and learners are comfortable with this format, so a virtual version is easy to grasp and understand. This affinity with traditional approaches, means when given a choice, they will choose a virtual version of something they understand rather than try a different possibly better process. It is this aversion to the new and preference for the comfortable means that radical change is highly unlikely.

Cynicism and resistance to technological change in education has been part of education as long as people have tried to introduce new technologies. Paper was seen as wasteful and extravagant when it replaced slates. Pen and ink was an expensive luxury and shouldn’t be used by education. Likewise there was widespread resistance to the introduction of calculators. Some of today’s academics are cynical and resistant to the use of the web and mobile devices, just as their predecessors were to the new technologies of their time. Some academics are not, just as some of their predecessors, they embrace and see the opportunities that new technologies bring to learning.

Changing technologies is only one factor that impacts and affects education, a look at the newspapers and news websites, as well as glancing at Twitter will show how changes in policy and funding can have a much greater impact than a change in technology.

Change is happening, and the one constant in life is change, but it is happening very slowly. One thing is certain though, things change and academics and institutions that see change as an opportunity and a challenge will probably thrive better than those that ignore or encounter resistance to change.

Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15

There wasn’t a FOTE conference in 2015, which was a pity as it was one of my favourite annual events. I spoke at many of the conferences, most recently in 2014 when I spoke about the conflict between the light and the dark and used a Star Wars theme.

I remember reflecting on the conference on the way home that it would be a lot of fun to do a Back the Future themed talk for 2015.

Back to the Future

Alas it was never to be…

However I thought it might be a little fun to explore what might have been…

Continue reading Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15

Top Ten Technologies of 2015

Old workshop

These are technologies that I actually use, they exclude web tools and services which I do a separate top ten for. They are generally tools that make my life easier, more efficient and more productive. So though I liked Apple Watch, Google Glass and Oculus Rift, these weren’t the types of technologies I used regualarly.

Having changed roles in 2015, this has made the list a little more interesting as the technologies I used over the year did change quite a bit.

Here are my previous top tens from 2008, 2009, 2010, 201120122013 and 2014.

The tenth technology is my current workhorse computer is a Dell Latitude E7250 laptop running Windows 7, which is reasonably reliable, has a decent battery life.

For the first half of the year I had an iPad Air 2, and this is number nine in my top ten, and found it a great piece of kit. It’s smaller and lighter than previous models. Certainly much more powerful and has a better camera. The reason it’s dropped from third to tenth place in my top ten, was that having not had an iPad for most of 2015, I am not really missing it and has been generally replaced in terms of functionality by the iPhone 6S Plus.

Number one in 2014, the 11” MacBook Air drops to number eight, leaving my last job in May meant returning the MacBook Air. I really liked that computer and one day hope to get another one. I prefer it over the newer 2015 Macbook, though that one does have a retina screen.

Having spent a fair bit of time in the top ten, and now at number seven is the 2008 era Google Nexus One. I eventually retired this in November.

At number six is the iPhone 5S, having replaced the one I had in 2014, with an iPhone 6 Plus, when I changed roles, I was given an iPhone 5S which I have been using since June. It’s a powerful phone, but having the 16GB model is somewhat restrictive in terms of apps and what you can do with it.

At number five is the Apple TV, this is great for streaming video and showing photographs from my iMac on the family TV. I now have the fourth generation model which has apps and it now has BBC iPlayer, yay!

Apple TV

The tech in fourth place is the Polaroid Pogo Printer. This I bought back in 2009 and at the time didn’t think too much of it and was in many ways slightly disappointed. However trying a new methodology for making notes and planning, using a combination of a notebook, coloured pens and prints from the Pogo, the device has really come into its own this year and I have been using it much more than ever before. I am looking at replacing it though, as the battery is unreliable and I wouldn’t mind something compatiable with iOS.

iMac is my number three technology. A powerful workhorse with a great screen. I really like the design and power of the Apple iMac. I have the 27” model which has a beautiful screen and lots of real estate to do lots of different things.

Interestingly I have placed 4G as my number two technology. I have been using Vodafone 4G since about 2013, but it was only on buying an iPhone 6S Plus and changing contracts from an old grandfathered unlimited 3G T-Mobile contract to a new unlimited data 4G contract with Three that I really started to take advantage of what 4G can offer. It’s faster than my home broadband so I use the phone to stream video and connect it to my TV. Out and about, the speeds are really impressive, making it much easier to access stuff and information. I have been totally impressed with it.

So my top technology is really two things the iPhone 6 Plus and the iPhone 6S Plus. My main work phone for the first half of the year was the iPhone 6 Plus, and I replaced my dependable Google Nexus One with an iPhone 6S Plus in November. This is one big phone, but has replaced much of the functionality of my iPad. Best feature for me is the camera, which is incredible for a phone camera. It’s very powerful phone and combined with the 4G connection I find it perfect for so much of what I need to do.

So what are you top technologies for 2015?