BYOD4L Day Four: Collaborating

The topic for day four of BYOD4L is collaboration. We were given two scenarios: one of a student finding it difficult to contribute to a group project because of other commitments, and one of a lecturer who wants to connect to other academics and give her students a wider exposure to the subject.

Collboration

Photo: Alan Cann (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The student can’t make the meetings that are being arranged because they are are in the week and she works full time. I see this problem as having two parts – her need to take part in the meetings (discussion) and her need to share and access various project documents (resources). The obvious solution for discussion is to use asynchronous techniques, for example, a closed Google+ or Facebook group. However, synchronous techniques are also possible. She could see if an evening meeting could be arranged instead using a tool like Doodle.com to check availability. If she could argue that her course is of benefit to her employer she could ask for a degree of flexible working and either attend the weekday meetings face-to-face or via a Google hangout. The downside is that this requires a degree of self-confidence that she may not feel, particularly as she feels unable to ask her fellow students for a weekend meeting. Documents can be worked on collaboratively through Google docs, or shared through services such as Dropbox or Google drive.

Google hangouts are one area I would like to explore in my own practice. Despite being invited to many, their timing always seems to clash with something else. I’ve also taken part in many webinars although it’s arguable how ‘collaborative’ they are. A lot depends on the facilitator and the number of participants and their inputs.

Collaboration, I think, is a emergent property of the other activities (connecting and communicating) in a similar way to offline networking where you have to build a relationship and level of trust before you can work together.

BYOD4L Day Three – Curating

The topic for day three of #BYOD4L is curating, and I thought I’d reflect on it through considering my sources, my stores, my outputs and finish with other potential channels.

Sources

Scoop.it screenshot

Photo: info_grrl (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I use RSS feeds a lot, and currently have almost 450 feeds organised into thirteen categories, with around half of those feeds being directly related to work. The categories include work, web development and coding, personal, environment, journals and trial. I use Feedly  at the moment, although over the past couple of years I’ve tried quite a few readers. I used Google Reader, then moved to the Old Reader when Google shut their service down. Then I resurrected my old bloglines account, before finally moving to Feedly. So one of the important things for me about a reader is that it needs really good import and export facilities.

Twitter is another main source. I’m following nearly 1300 people on my @DuncanGreenhill account (in nine lists), plus a number who are on lists but not followed (as I explained in my day two reflection). My other account (@ourCommonOceans) has only been set up for about eight weeks and is following 135 people, many of whom were on the ‘Marine Issues’ list on my named account.

In Google+ I’ve circled around 1400 people in eighteen circles, and have a couple of other circles where I’m the only member. That seems strange, to circle yourself, but I have a ‘read later’ circle so that I can temporarily bookmark a post but keep it within the Google+ service.

In Facebook I’ve joined a number of groups concerned with marine conservation, including groups set up to help with identification. So what I have there is access to a group of very knowledgeable people that can identify organisms down to species level, which is an incredible learning opportunity for me (I live quite a distance from the sea so my ID skills are quite rusty).

My final source is email. I get some information from mailing lists, but I also get a lot of journal contents alerts through email.

Stores

I use Diigo for bookmarking, having migrated from delicious a couple of years ago. Although I did use the network features in Delicious, I tend not to use them in Diigo, but I couldn’t really give you a reason why. Perhaps because while bookmarks can be mobile, networks are much less so.

I use a wiki running on my PC to ‘store’ my notes and thoughts. There will be project documentation, course notes, notes I’ve made on reading particular papers, and many others. It’s an unusual approach, but one that works for me. It makes the process active – I have to physically collect and order my thoughts before I can enter them into the wiki. There is a time penalty to this, but I’ve found the advantages outweigh the benefits. In effect, it’s an external sum of knowledge, actively added to, searchable, and easily amended. I know some use blogs for the same purpose, but I prefer to have a more private space where I don’t want to worry about how it appears to others while I work through something.

And of course I use the usual network/local folders for document storage, and for citation management I use an open source Java application JabRef.

Outputs

My outputs are Twitter, Google+ and my two blogs. My named twitter account has over 600 followers and my marine account has 24. On Google+, I’m in the circles of 667 people. The blogs are relatively low traffic, although that’s improving. For this blog, I think that’s down to the frequency of posts, and for Our Common Oceans I think it’s down to only really becoming active with that blog over the last couple of months.

Other channels and final thoughts

I may consider more overtly curated outputs such as paper.li or scoop.it. Paper.li would need to be carefully used. I get quite a few paper.li notifications on Twitter and often they’re not focussed enough for me – there’s simply not enough signal to outweigh the noise. If I were to use it, I would have to take great care choosing and filtering my sources, and I’d probably steer away from a daily publication towards a weekly one. The aim would be to give decent content once a week, rather than a daily dose of (mostly) irrelevance. I’ve found that the scoop.its that I get via RSS feeds tend to be of a higher quality.

One thing that I’ve noticed from my posts over the past three days is that I categorise the bejebus out of everything – Twitter lists, Google circles, Feedly categories – mainly I think to create smaller contexts that I can switch between as and when I need to. It reminds my a lot of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, where the lists of next actions (to do list) is organised not by project but by context or location. And a final reflection for today – if information had calories, I think my health would be in serious trouble.

BYOD4L Day Two: Communicating – Channels and Contexts

The topic for day two of BYOD4L is communicating, and we were asked to visualise our own patterns and channels of communication. I used Freemind to create a mind map. The first question was how do I organise this? By channel or by context? I chose to organise by context, which gave me personal, professional and oCo. oCo stands for ‘our common oceans’ and is a marine conservation blog I’ve recently started. It sits between the two because it’s more than a personal interest (I studied the subject at university), but neither is it my employment. I think where to place it depends on a sense of identity i.e. is it a professional context because you have expertise in the area, or is it only professional if you’re being paid for doing it?

My communication – channels and contexts

My communication – channels and contexts
(Click for larger version)

Next, I came to the conclusion that it’s a mess, with a lot of overlap between different contexts. I have two twitter accounts. The original is @DuncanGreenhill, which has been for both personal and professional use, and @ourCommonOceans for the marine issues. I don’t see a conflict between the two because I only tweet what I’d be happy saying to (or discussing with) someone face-to-face. I am interested in politics so I may retweet things that others may disagree with. That’s fine. I know some would argue against a dual-purpose account because a future employer might google me, look at my profile and decide I’m not for them based on what they see. That’s entirely within their rights. I’d argue that by using the account for both purposes responsibly I’m demonstrating attitudes and characteristics that they might find valuable within their organisation.

I think it’s just a historical accident that there is so much overlap. As the number of people I follow has increased I’ve turned to lists to keep things manageable. Everyone I follow is on a list, but not everyone on a list is someone I follow. So for example all the accounts I’m interested in for work are on the education list, but except for a few, I don’t follow the individual accounts. That means at work, I can focus on the work lists in Tweetdeck without the timeline on my phone becoming too swamped out of work hours.

I use circles on Google+ in much the same way as lists on twitter – to compartmentalise interests so that I can deal with them and switch between them as I need to. If I see something on one of the other, more personally-focused lists, I can favourite it for later. So, for example, when lunch time comes around I can read those I’ve bookmarked (by favouriting) or switch to the ‘politics and news’ list to catch up with what’s going on. Facebook remains resolutely in the personal zone, although some pages and groups feed into the marine area.

So, what do I need to change? That’s a tricky one. Although I’m happy with the twitter account under my own name being used for two purposes, it might be worth thinking about how I more clearly differentiate between the personal and professional contexts, and hopefully without going to the extreme of having a third account to keep on top of.

Turning to the scenario of the busy student with work, family and study commitments, I’d say look to connect outside the campus using whatever channels the other students are using, and compartmentalise where possible. So if his colleagues are on Twitter, use Twitter. If they have a Facebook group, join that. Meet them where they are, and look for other more interactive opportunities to meet online, for example, Google hangouts to make up for the face-to-face contact he feels he’s missing out on.

BYOD4L Day One – Connecting

This week the Bring Your Own Device for Learning (#BYOD4L) course is running. I missed it last time so it’s great to have a chance to participate this time around. It’s a little unusual in that it only lasts for five days, with a new topic each day, and there is no registration for the course – people turn up as and when to take part in the activities.

The topic for the first day is connecting, and we’re given two scenarios on video. The first is a final year student wanting to get an up-to-date perspective on wellbeing for her final year project, and the second was a lecturer who didn’t see the point of using mobile technology in their teaching and learning. I’ve decided to explore the first scenario, because it links to my recent experience of starting again from scratch when I started a marine conservation blog and twitter account.

Joined hands: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thelotuscarroll/

Photo: Lotus Caroll CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The student is not happy that the traditional academic sources such as books and journals are showing her what the reality of the field is. It’s not just that she wants to find out what the cutting edge research is, but also who is doing the research, and how that research in being applied in real initiatives to real people. She has a real opportunity here, not only to make her project thesis fresh and relevant, but also to develop some very useful transferable skills.

First, find a few key people or organisations. Look at who is publishing at the moment. What research groups do they work in? Where do they publish? If there are key papers that are a couple of years old, then look at who cited those papers. She wants an international perspective so she can go beyond academia by looking at national health provision in a few key countries – what are they doing around wellbeing? What about the World Health organisation – what are they doing?
Once this shortlist has been identified then she can start to build her network. Are any of them on twitter? If so, she can follow them and start to connect and collaborate. If they’re prominent in their field, then it can be very helpful to look at who they follow, because you’re seeing who or what they consider influential. Google+ and linkedin are also useful avenues for networking, but linkedin tends to be more restrictive in who you can connect to.

Networking is a key skill in most careers, and will be very valuable once she graduates, but can be difficult or scary in the early stages. She could talk to her university’s career service and see if they could offer any advice or training, but the important thing is to practice (especially for those of us who aren’t natural extroverts). An interesting point I came across recently around networking is that it is often people on the periphery of our ‘network’ that prove the most useful when trying to gather information outside our normal circle, precisely because they have access to people that are outside our circle.
So, in summary, I’d advise her to use the resources she does have access to to identify who she wants to connect with, and then actively network through social media or blogs.

A moan about Google Plus

I’ve been using Google+ for a couple of months now. I have a number of circles based around my interests, some of which are personal, and some professional. Some people I’ve added because I know their names from other contexts such as conferences or twitter and I can search for them, and some because they’re in the circles of someone I already follow.

And that’s where the moan starts. Google plus depends on making meaningful connections via circles. I have looked at many, many profiles where I see something like ‘Freddy hasn’t shared anything with you’ under ‘Posts’, ‘Freddy has not filled in his profile yet’ under ‘About’, and nothing in the info line under the name. So who am I looking at? Freddy McFishy, the renowned ocean scientist? Freddy Mercury? Freddy Krueger? I have no idea.

My profile isn’t complete yet, but it has links to my twitter account, delicious links, blogs, and my info line says ‘eLearning technologist, interested in oceans and the environment’ so someone has some idea what to expect from me.

I’ve now started to make some of my posts public as well as share them with specific circles so that if someone stumbles across my Google+ account in the future they can at least make an educated guess about whether to add me or avoid me like the plague. How about you?