Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What MySpace can teach education technologists

MySpace, the site that most Western teenagers use every day, but also love to hate. It has so many problems and issues, but nonetheless continues to grow in popularity. Perhaps there are some lessons we can learn for education technology projects.

1) Users can tolerate bugs: Myspace is bug-ridden. This morning I had to log in 10 times to subscribe to a friend's blog. But people still go there every day..
2) All that matters is the people: Most users only stay on MySpace because their friends and useful contacts are there.
3) Safety is not assured: although still affecting a relatively small number, safety concerns are high (as anyone can register, and say they are any age). So adults can send unsuitable content to children.
4) Privacy worries: teens are posting unsuitable content, without thinking about the consequences. There's clearly need for more media literacy education here.
5) Usability isn't such a big deal: the MySpace interface is very inefficient and requires far too much clicking to do some simple tasks. But they still go back...
6) Corporate ownership doesn't worry them: teens are uploading creative work to the MySpace platform without any concerns about ownership.

US researcher Danah Boyd has written a great deal about MySpace and similar social networks. Also my previous post on digital teenagers has some discussion of similar issues, and a link to an audio file which includes teens talking about MySpace.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Digital teenagers

A recent post on David Warlick's 2 Cents Worth blog pointed me in the direction of a recorded interview with a bunch of American teenagers about their Internet habits, which took place at the 2005 web 2.0 conference. I found it particularly interesting, as I realised that my own Internet habits were pretty similar to the teenagers. Here are some of the main points that struck me:
- teenagers spend a great deal of time on MySpace or similar social networks. I visit MySpace once daily, although don't spend as long on there as they do - but I'm using alternative spaces for similar activities.
- they are really into IM, via whatever interface is used by most of their friends. I only recently managed to get off IM (mainly to save myself time, as I often got into distracting conversations in the middle of the day), although in a previous job I used IM extensively to chat with web developers
- they don't want to pay for things, and use P2P networks on a regular basis. Me too!

My conclusion is that we need to look more into the following areas in education:
- Internet safety for teens: how to protect them through education and media literacy
- IM for education: there are obvious applications in language teaching (linking up pairs of students across borders to chat in second languages) but how else could it be used?
- P2P educational resources: in education, we often say that we want teachers to share resources, but still put up barriers to students doing this. Shouldn't we allow students to share/learn from each other in this way too?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Postcode plants database

The UK's Natural History Museum offers this excellent resource for the UK. You simply fill in the first part of a UK postcode in the search box, and the database returns a list of native flora from that area. The species are listed under both common and scientific names, and clicking on the species gives a few additional details such as the family, form, provenance and in many cases, some photographs. The database could inspire many different educational activities, such as comparing and contrasting species found in two or more areas of the country, providing a "jumping off" point for outdoor investigations, where children could map the frequency and location of particular species in the local area. The possibilities are really only limited by the imagination. Unfortunately the database is copyright to the Natural History Museum - it would be great to see this as a Creative Commons licensed resource. It's a nice initiative that could be widened to a global scale.

Update (19/10/2006): this morning I read Stephen Downes' post, re-emphasising the value of P2P infrastructures compared to client-server approaches. It made me re-think the value of this kind of postcode database. It would be even better if there were open contribution databases, with feeds which could be federated into one... Then, students could be contributors and constructors of the resource, rather than just users.

Google and Oracle make further moves in education

Both companies have recently announced new initiatives for education. Google have partnered with a number of educational organisations (mostly US based) to provide examples and advice for teachers around a number of their tools. They now have a specific website for educators bringing together the tools and content.

Meanwhile the Oracle Academy has a new curriculum for secondary school students in advanced ICT, and new training materials for teachers. There is an overview (PDF) posted on the site. It seems like a more formal approach to complement the existing informal learning project I previously blogged about, Thinkquest.

Photo by Marvin.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thinkquest Thailand

Oracle's Thinkquest competition for students is taking place again this year. So far, only one Thai team has taken part in the past. This year, three teams will join in the competition, and thanks to Dr. Rangsun at the Thai Bureau of ICT, I have the chance to support them. Dr. Rangsun organised a great one-day workshop, where the teams of students and teacher-coaches presented their ideas so far, and received constructive criticism from Oracle experts, Dr. Rangsun and myself. Now, the teams are supporting each other via a discussion list. I look forward to seeing the results!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Making connections through images: Memory Project

No Man's Blog recently introduced me to the Memory Project, a really wonderful small-scale project linking high school students in Western countries with disadvantaged kids in developing countries. The high school students are studying art, and are asked to make a portrait of their distant counterpart. As it says on the site/
"Given that children who have been abandoned, neglected, abused, or orphaned usually have few personal keepsakes, the purpose of the portraits is to provide them with a special memory of their youth and to help honor their heritage and identity".

It would be great to see this project enlarged, so that there is a long term means of contact between the two groups. Adding an ICT-based element for maintaining contact would then also act as an informal training mechanism for the children in the developing country.