Monthly Archives: January 2009

Time Optimisation

Sometimes when I read people’s blog I wonder how they possibly get time to do all they do. It seems they spend their days writing / reading blogs, watching youtube, commenting on discussion boards, twittering, skyping, etc. On the one hand I’m jealous, on the other I’m confused.

This blog doesn’t have a post everyday because it’s author simply doesn’t have the time. Neither does she…. shock, horror….. twitter on a regular basis for the same reason. Here’s a typical day –

  • Get up, and potter about apartment. This isn’t time-wasting, it’s a needed relaxation before the day starts. TV3s Ireland Am is on in the background, it gets channel-flicked to gmtv or the bbc at odd times.
  • Take 35 minutes to walk to work.
  • Work day is spent: giving classes, preparing for classes, doing student consultations, answering / sending emails, attending meetings with colleagues, marking student work.
  • A work day can end anytime between 4pm or 8pm depending on how busy a particular day is.
  • Talk 35 minutes to walk home from work.
  • Much of the evening is spent reading / writing as part of my phd research studies.
  • I need me time to pursue personal activities that have become a needed part of sanity e.g. going to the gym (once or twice a week) , reading for pleasure (next up is Sebastian Barry’s Secret Scripture), going to the theater / the NCH, etc.

Not much time is left for engaging is social internet activities. I can multi-task with the best of them, but ‘interruption’ social internet activities squeezed in to the above tasks can be interruptive to those tasks.

There’s a time and a place for everything. I’m happy to spend the time I spend in Facebook, I enjoy posting in here, I enjoy reading the blogs I follow. I know that there are other blogs I would like to follow but I have to prioritise.

I have my blogs and news pages routed to a reader to speed up access time to them. I have my preferred websites book marked on delicious to keep them within easy reach. I have other tools that speed up my internet life but I still find I haven’t the time to do all I like to do.

Such is life. Time needs to be prioritized, simple as that.

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If you can’t beat ’em…

… join ’em.

And that’s what Encyclopaedia Britannica have done – sort of. 

The competition in the form of Wikipedia have had much success (yes, I know, I remember the sabotage examples too – but they seem to have overcome them) and has people flocking to their site in droves. Ask any 20-year old what Encyclopedia Britannica is and you very well might get blank stares. Wikipedia allows Joe Soap to contribute to it, and so Joe Soap knows all about it and its among his first choices when looking for information on whatever topic.

Britannica aren’t quite going the Wikipedia way of embracing the crowd for its contents. They are retaining  the emphasis on the domain experts (ok, there is some UGC but it seems to be downplayed).  One wonders how much an Encyclopedia Britannica expert gets paid. The cost adds to the cost of the final product. Wikipedia have discovered that people are more than willing to give away their expertise for free. This has a double plus – allowing the end product to be freely available and so more accessible to the those who want to peruse it.  Also, there is the the associated status. Having contributed to a working and accepting page of a well-travelled site is a badge of merit worn with pride – and we all know how pervasive online viral marketing can be.

I am curious about the “web-based tools that visitors can use to put together their own reference materials”. That might be interesting. Interesting enough to pay for….. perhaps, or perhaps not.

Technology – distractions and interuptions

Tech gadgets offer us a lot of positive things.  Time saving and convenience stand out the most. Could you live without your mobile, your computer…………….  An interesting effect is these tools are also a big distraction, causing a significant amount of interruptions throughout any given day. Here’s a list –

  • The mobile phone – how many times do you walk into a coffee shop or restaurant and there’s at least one mobile on most tables?  Diners will interrupt their eating to take and make calls. You never hear a comment such as “can I put you on hold for 10 mins while I enjoy this delicious cappuccino”.
  • The ringing phone – what is it about a ringing phone that causes an impulse to drop everything to answer it? My brother has made an art out of refusing to be distracted by a ringing phone. Often, this stretches to being totally oblivious to the shrill. 10 minutes later he’s surprised to discover he’s had a missed call even though everyone else in the vicinity is far too aware of it.
  • The text messages – do text messages need to be read and answered the moment they come in? Probably not. Self test over the next week – see how long is a comfortable delay before you read and / or reply.
  • The email – I have 2 email accounts in my workplace. One is permanently open on the screen, with an icon in the tray to tell me about new messages. Yes, I interrupt my work when I see the envelop appearing.  The other is web-based so it logs itself out very quickly. Consequently it doesn’t cause interruptions in my workday to the same extent.
  • The facebook – social networking is a useful and interesting way to see who’s doing what, and particularly so for overseas friends I don’t see that often.  However, unlike my students on Bebo, I don’t find it an interruption in my life.
  • Twitter – this is the ultimate distraction.  A short time back I finally gave in and started tweeting. But I’m not sold on keeping up with the minute detail of someone else’s life. It’s too much. I know there are people permanently on the tweet, and how they make time for this is beyond me. Don’t get me wrong. I see the benefits, but it’s got huge potential to be distracting and it is a significant problem in this regards for some people.
  • Chatrooms – I went through a period a number of years back where having 3 chatrooms open at the same time was a regular occurrence. I learned some cognitive multi-tasking but then decided I should study for a second masters degree and the multi-chat rooms was just too distracting to concentrated study. Now, I have a much more balanced approach to chatting.
  • RSS and blog/news readers – there is a sheer convenience of having one site that literally holds all that you need to know from a multitude of sites of interest.  Unfortunately  I can find myself hitting the refresh button far too often – has x posted his blog for the day yet, did Y make it into the news sites, did Z make a comment on the latest controversy in the financial world, etc.

The internet full stop – it’s a truly wonderful distraction. How on earth did I possibly live without it? How would I live without it if I had to?  Internet addiction is on the rise, particularly in terms of people spending more time online than offline, and not being able to switch off. Is this something society should be concerned about, or is it something that’s a standard feature of modern 21st century life?

Practice what we preach

When rate-my-teacher appeared educators up and down the land reacted very strongly. There was talk about how inappropriate it was, how it was the wrong way to handle positive and negative teachers evaluations, how it could be abused, etc. Now, what do we have – “if you can’t beat them, join them“.

Our students use their social networks to let vent to their feelings, be those feelings good, bad or indifferent. Now, it seems that their teachers and lecturers are doing likewise. Ok, every educator can identify with at least some of the gripes. But that’s not the issue.

The issue is whether or not a Facebook group is the right place to talk about them. On the one hand, it shows that the members are not feeling heard in their institution and have to go outside it to ask for help. If they get the empathy and support they need from their Facebook friends (who have the reassurance that they are not alone facing problems) then this group has a positive focus. On the other hand, it seems unprofessional.

So is a Facebook the right place or not to air grievances? I dont get too many comments on this blog, but the stats that WordPress tell me that it does have visitors. Now, this is not a beg for comments. I really am curious about what people think of this – So, what do you think? Yes or no?

what do students choose to do when…..

……. in class but not engaged in formal learning?

An interesting side effect of the cold weather is that students stay in during their class breaks instead of heading outside for a cig or a coffee. In a double class today with a break in the middle I decided to have a peek at what students got up to. Here’s a summary –

  • Read football reports online – 1 student
  • Watch football movie clips on youtube – 1 student
  • Watch movie trailers on youtube – 1 student
  • Search wikipedia – 3 students, all in different languages, none of them english
  • Catch up on e-mail – 3 students
  • Catch up on Bebo – 3 students
  • Catch up on Facebook – 1 student
  • Play computer games – 2 students (on the same internet game, and sitting right beside each other)
  • Text on their phones – 1 student
  • Talk to each other – 3 students

Having spent an hour doing computer-based work, the vast majority of students volunteer to stay on that computer even though they dont have to. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Whichever, it shows how integrated undergrads are with technology.

What do I learn when I ask about their preferred breaktime habits –

Bebo and Facebook at most popular on Mondays. The same clubs and pubs are attended but everyones experience of a night out is different. So reading about each others reflections on said night out on Bebo or Facebook is a way of catching up with friends that can’t actually happen on the night out itself. How about that? Going out is only as interesting as what is said the next day about same night out. Social situations and environments are extended beyond the boundary of the night out.  Loosely jointed records are there for all to see. Students get to evaluate the social event from multiple perspectives, form opinions and feelings about people and scenarios, and then act on them in a way not possible without social networking sites.

youtube clips are short enough to be watched quickly and so avoid the need to commit to something in-depth that may not be interesting. Web design gurus tell us that it only takes a couple of seconds to decide whether we like a website or not. Is it the same with other aspects of the web – our attentions span is so low, we cant become engaged with anything online for any extended period of time. It’s digital fast food. We want our web content dished up in a bit-sized chunks that we can sample and decide yes / no very quickly

Wikipedia is a source of information that is considered trustworthy and reliable. While we would rather students read scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals, they prefer wikipedia. IS this such a bad thing? Wikipedia isn’t any more factually incorrect than Encyclopedia Britannica, its got a significant amount of inter-linkages, it alters the reader when pages are incomplete or need more work, it has a “by the people for the people” feel to it, its got enough members who care to keep the riff-raff vandals from sabotaging it.

Computer games are a means of having a laugh while spending quality time with mates. Classmates bonding has a positive effect on a class. And if new skills and abilities are picked up in the process of the bonding (the students were playing a co-operative game that required them to work together to solve a problem) then why arent we as educators embracing computer games more? Perhaps its becasue gaming technology doesnt map onto formally prescribed curricula so easily, or its a large scale effort that we simply do not have the time for?

Here’s the really interesting part – there was as much learning going on during the break as in the classtime. Yet the break time content doesn’t get any credit

Gadgets…….

…. are expensive. Mine are getting seriously outdated but I can’t afford to update them. Here’s a run-down –

Ipod – it’s a first gen 40GB one, with 9,000+ tracks on it, I’ve had it for a number of years now and its starting to act up – the battery doesn’t last so long, and lately it kicks up a fuss when I try to connect it to the laptop.  But it was so expensive when I bought it nearly 5 years ago that I need to get more out of it.

Phone – a Nokia that I’ve had for quite a while now. It makes and received calls and texts (even pic ones), it takes pics, it records sound and vid, wakes me up in the morning, reminds me when my birthday is so I don’t forget, etc, etc.  But it’s not an iphone or any equivalent. Todays Sunday Bus Post suggests Nokia’s newest offering is worth salivating over. They’re probably right but my saliva’s staying put. Splashing out on a new fancy phone when the existing one meets minimum requirements is just too extravagant.

Camera – again, I’ve had this for a number of years too. The digital zoom can be a tad wobbly and the viewfinder is small. It had another bang over Christmas – picture this – dog A spots fast-moving rabbit and gives chase, dog B refuses to be left behind and takes off in pursuit of dog A, dog B forgets he’s on lead, extendable lead extends very very quickly, extendable lead reaches its end and your-truly grips it tighter instead of letting go, yours-truly gets pulled off feet into heap on the ground.  At least no major damage done – but while camera continues to help me take good pics, its too extravagant to replace, especially given how expensive it was in the first place.

Laptop – a small light Acer, that’s had to have its hard disk replaced and new RAM put in. The speakers are tinny so its not great for apps requiring sound.  It gets carried around a lot and so is bound to get a bang some day soon. The SBP reviewed Getac’s everything-proof one today. It’s got a good spec too. But for €2660 it wont be mine.

Book reader – still not an owner of a Sony E Book Reader, and at €250 I probably won’t be for some time.

And as for tvs and dvd players and such like …………  I never quite got the “big-tv” thing so they’re wasted on me.

so, how many have you broken already then?

Ok, I take that back. Setting and keeping new years resolutions is a relatively private thing — depending on the nature of the resolutions.

My public one that I will share is to noticably expand my IT in education paraphernalia usage this year. I will be borrowing from Stephen down in Limerick given that he seems to have it sussed. I’m not saying that I will be able to enbrace all his tricks and tools but I intend to explore the ones listed in there that I are new to me.

Here’s a nice categorisation of useful looking tools. interactivitysynchronicityAgain, some I’ve used, some I haven’t. Interactive and synchronous seem to be the big stars, literally.

Why am I doing this? Anything that might be a help in making me a better at my job should be checked out. Yes, there are all sorts of practical reasons for why I end us using some tools and not others. Ideally, the reason should be what works in terms of student interaction and learning and what does not. But, life isn’t always that simple.

Wish me luck

PS – apologies for pic size 😦

The quietest day of the year

It always struck me as ironic that new years day is such a quiet and almost dead day. It’s supposed to be the first day of the new year, full of hope and forward thinking and looking / planning ahead. But instead, everywhere is closed, the streets are deserted and there is nothing going on – it really is ironic!

University Blog posted about a criticism of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers recently. It’s nothing new for serious formal academics to get a little edgy when their area of expertise gets the so-called “pop” treatment.  By their nature, the “pop” versions tend to be far more disgestable for those not experts but interested in the area. Hence, they are popular.

Today, I decided to have a read of Outliers. Here’s what I got out of  part 1.

  • Yes, there are plenty of opportunities where I found myself asking but…, what if…., what about…. how can you be sure….. There is a trade-off between formal academic rigour and making material digestable for someone interested in nothing more than curling up on the couch with a nice glass of vino on a nice relaxing new years day.
  • The Intro sets the scene, establishing that an individual human cannot be studied in isolation. You can’t ask people about their story and not have other people, places, culture, society and situations play a large part in it.
  • 1. The Matthew Effect – one opportunity begets another and together these opportunites accumulate to something important indeed. Thing is, the initial opportunity can be built on a seemingly tivial  man-made rule that results in e.g. those being born in January rather than December getting ahead.
  • 2. The 10,000 hour rule – intellience and ability need only be good enough, beyond a certain point there are diminishing returns.  You just have to be bright enough. Real achievement also requires sheer hard work, 10,000 hours of it, to become expert. Problem is, even with passion and a love of the subject, accumulating this amount of practice isn’t easy e.g. having to work to pay bills while accumulating these hours is a distraction learners could do without. The world has to be ready for your 10,000 hours worth at the time you’re peaking  those hours – some societal juggling is needed.
  • 3&4. The trouble with genuises –  the account of Chris Langan really hurt, struck one heck of a nerve with me. This guy is mega mega intelligent but couldnt seem to get through the educational system. I cant help but wonder if the same acocunt was given in a text book or academic journal would have grabbed me to the same extent. But that’s beside the point. Again the point is made that a  high IQ can get you only so far. Practical Life skills are needed also. Those lucky enough to be brought up with nurturing parents who model such life skills for their children start building these skills at a very early age, long long before their deprived counterparts realise what they are missing.
  • 5. The 3 lessons of Joe Flom – Joe had the makings of being a top class lawyer but (un!!)fortunately didnt have a snooty enough background to be employed by the big law orgs of the day. What happened here then? The world changed, that’s what happened. The skills Joe had been steadily building up in his lower tier law firm became societys needed ones and were not featured in ye olde world snooty firms. Lower tier law firms swapped places with the formerly snooty ones who faded into obscurity.
    Interesting a/c here also fo the Borgenacht family. Now, this is one that isn’t resonating with me, it feels like it’s missing something and I’m not sure what. The lesson is clear though, and it’s classic marketing. What you have to offer has to be something that enough people want.
    To feel really fulfilled in your job, the work has to be complex enough to engage your mind, you need freedom to have a say in it, and it has to be rewarded in proportion to the effort you put in. So, how many of those 3 does your job provide you with?

I’m enjoying what I’m reading. Yes, the above points seem to be common sense and are logical. They are not earth-shattering profound discoveries, yet they are interesting reading. Yes, the arguments ask for clarifications and further detail, but see the first point above.  Besides, you can probe and probe but sociology being what it is, in beyond absolute proof. There will always be intervening variables  that cannot be controled for.

Gladwell isnt trying to be scholarly, so why should be taken to task for not being scholarly. Instead he gives us interesting stories, told with a human touch and in-between we get possible explanations that are thought-provoking. No-one is forcing us to believe them, but they are food for thought, and cause the reader to ponder “I wonder……”.