Malleable Musings

May 28, 2010

Did I just describe a PLE?

I had an interesting phone call last week from someone in the COI. The COI, in case you don’t know, are the UK Government Central Office of Information (COI) – the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications. They do some excellent work providing guidance on all aspects of marcomms.

Anyway, the person who rang me was carrying out a research study for The British Council. They were wanting to identify the media habits of professionals who work in the area of international education.  In particular they wanted to understand potential media which actively engage in issues related to higher education and how these were used.

So during the phone call I was read a list of media titles.  I’d heard of more or less all of the titles mentioned although there were a couple of more obscure titles (journals) where I wasn’t quite so sure.  In discussing the traditional media I explained that print-only media is more or less invisible for me.  The only thing that I receive in hard copy format that I even flick through is the COL newsletter.

So online media is really the only way I access this sort of specific news of information.  I also explained that I wasn’t that likely to visit a particular website to get my news, although I might use an online database, library or datastore if I knew what it contained.

I reflected back and thought about the professional networks that do exist.  They often provide meatspace opportunities but I recognised that very little news was ever highlighted to me offline.  Okay, I’d occasionally find out a little titbit of information in conversation with colleagues from other institutions especially at conferences but it was usually soft anecdotal stuff rather than news or hard information.

This lead to a bit of a discussion about what I thought NEWs was and an explanation from me that I was only really likely to look at NEWs if it was sent directly to me as an email newsletter or highlighted to me in another way, through an RSS feed or crowdsourced by a brand I trusted (either a corporate brand such as the chronicle or a personal brand) or if it hit a search filter of some type that I’d set up.

I also explained my reticence to paywalls and the problems I have with sites that have registration walls (e.g. the FT).

It was a quite an interesting conversation that had me reflecting quite a bit about my current media habits and how they have changed over the past few years.  Two or three years ago I would have given very different answers and even a year ago my thoughts were quite different and search seemed much more important to me.

I didn’t talk about the details of how I get my NEWs these days but whilst I was on the phone I kept thinking have I just described a Personal Learning Environment.

In terms of the details of my PLE, for the past six months or so I’ve relied on my6Sense to keep me updated.   My6Sense is an interesting iPhone app that pulls together your social and RSS feeds.   The idea is that the more that you use it the more it understands your interests and starts to surface the things that you’ll find relevant.  I usually check it a couple of times a day and so far I’ve found it to be pretty good.  Of course, I don’t really know what I’m missing however for some reason it feels better knowing I’ve flicked through a couple of pages of my6sense recommendations than seeing the thousands of items that I never got around to looking at in Google Reader.

I do also occasionally dip in to Twitter and Friendfeed.  Twitter lists, and friend lists on Friendfeed help me catch up on things that particular people have said that I might have missed and I also use Friendfeed to bookmark things to go back to read later when I have more time.

I certainly don’t feel that I’m really part of an international education network.  If an online network does exists for the people who are interested in these aspects of international education then either:

  1. I  haven’t really found it yet (although I have found lots of people who offer some really interesting points of view);  or
  2. I’m too much of a visitor and not resident enough – also read I’ve been too much of a lazy slacker and haven’t worked hard enough to become part of that network yet.

However, I do feel that I’ve got the beginnings of a personal learning environment.  It’s a learning environment that I know will definitely change over the coming years, months and days in ways that I can only dream of, but it’s still my very own PLE isn’t it?


October 1, 2009

Newsnight vs Question Time

Filed under: Life at home, Twitter — Brendan @ 10:22 pm

This evening I was slightly torn. Should I watch Newsnight or Question Time. I settled on Newsnight but had Tweetdeck open and one of my search columns was #BBCQT so I didn’t feel that I was missing anything.

Bizarrely I received this tweet.

A Tweet from BBC Have Your Say

A Tweet from BBC Have Your Say

Hhmmm, #BBCQT was trending at the time!

The tweet is obviously trying to bring people to the official BBC QT discussion page which has moderated comments. Two things struck me:

1) Why didn’t @BBC_HaveYourSay use the #BBCQT hashtag?
2) The conversation was happening on Twitter and elsewhere – so why not use this on the discussion page? You could even moderate it if this was really necessary!

September 11, 2009


Filed under: Twitter — Tags: — Brendan @ 11:39 pm

I had a really great time at brumtwestival. I met a whole load of really good people (far too many people to mention). My personal highlights were:

1) meeting @citizensheep who has written probably the most accesible introduction to RSS that I’ve ever seen

2) buying a drink for @joannageary (although I think she might prefer @timesjoanna these days). I’ve been a long time fan – she was the person who unknowingly introduced me to tweetgrid.

3) buying a raffle ticket from @ellielovell who I’ve followed on Twitter for quite some time but whom until tonight I’ve never met in the flesh. Thank God she didn’t sell me a winning ticket – my YMCA dance really isn’t up to much.

The only thing I wish I’d managed was to say hello in the flesh to @paulbradshaw whose work I have admired.

June 25, 2009

New job – what I’ve learnt from the first 72 hours….

Filed under: Social Media, Twitter — Brendan @ 7:15 am

So I started a new job on Monday morning – I arrived at the office at about 08:15 and then realised my potential mistake (no one else in my office had yet arrived). However luckily one of my new colleagues was in and had just gone off to make herself a cup of tea so I was able to get in to the office after all.

My first couple of days went mostly as I expected.  Before I started a handful of appointments had been made for me.  I’d been warned by my new boss that my first task would be reading several reports and papers and filling in a host of forms to get access to various things. Even now 72 hours later, I know that I’ve not got access to everything that I will need. However, I’m still at the stage of trying to identify who in the organisation knows what and what the organisation doesn’t know, so really I guess not seeing student record data or the departmental drives really isn’t that important right now.

For the first day and the first couple of hours of the second I didn’t have access to the computer network.  This certainly isn’t something specific to universities as a friend reminded me

However what this first day really taught me was:
1) How much a computer has become an integral part of my working day. (Making hand-written notes about what I was reading seemed almost alien to me, and at the first chance I had on Tuesday and Wednesday I transcribed them to a digital format.)
2) Social media is a fantastic tool when you are starting a new job. I’ll return to this theme later.
3) That I can’t ditch a computer for my iPhone yet (even with the new copy and paste features available in OS3.0). I love my iPhone – my wife often tells me I love it too much. I just can’t type as quickly as on a computer keyboard and I certainly can’t multi-task in the same way.

So far I’ve got to meet some of my colleagues who work in central roles. I’ve talked in some detail with two of the four people who appointed me about how they see my role and have arranged follow up meetings with four or five key staff specifically in the Division of Marketing & Communications and the Finance Office.

Bizarrely, today will be the first day in which I’ll get to spend some time with my line manager – as she’s been out of the country.

At the moment I’m still trying to process the information I’ve been picking up about how distance learning works at Leicester.  In my last job after four or five years I could with some degree of certainty predict how many students we were likely to recruit in each territory for each course and after a year I had a good understanding of who I needed to talk about for specific end.

I’m hoping that at Leicester I’ll be able to make inroads much, much more quickly. I’ll probably know how quickly by the end of next week. However the range of people I’ll need to be in contact with feels a little overwhelming at the moment.

There’s a large number of people who I’ve only just managed to say hello to (and not yet managed to say much else).  And that’s just within the central administrative parts of the university. As an example I still don’t know the names of everyone in the room in which I sit, let alone the Division in which I work (Marketing & Communications).

What’s more I desperately need to get out as soon as possible to talk to people out in the departments as soon as possible. I’ve sent a couple of emails to request meetings with a few key people and I’m expecting to be introduced to a large number of other departmental contacts at a forum on Tuesday.

I’m particularly conscious of the importance this because I was appointed by a small group of people who are largely based within the central roles within the university.  Only one academic was on the panel, and whilst he knows Leicester well, he’s still very closely associated with the International Office in which I’m based. I’ll be meeting him on Friday and from what I’ve heard elsewhere I know he will have some fascinating insights to share with me.

Then I’ll need to have a think about the external partners that I’ll be working with. Luckily, I’ve never much believed in Dunbar’s number!

One thing that has been particularly interesting for me was that I last moved jobs in 2001 – in the days before Facebook and WordPress, let alone Delicious, Digg, Twitter, Flickr, Plurk, FriendFeed et al.  Back in 2001 I seem to remember Mamma not Google was the search engine of choice. Funny how things change eh!

For my interview at London in 2001 I was able to download the entire London website (100 odd pages) and use that as the basis of my interview.  In 2009 given the tsunami of information downloading and analysing the Leicester website really wasn’t an option. (I love the phrase “tsunami of information” which I heard most recently within the first few minutes of Scott Leslie – The Open Educator as DJ – Towards a Practice of Remix which is well worth watching by all to hear about for benefits of working within the tsunami.)

By working within the tsunami utilising specific tools I’d been able to listen (at a very superficial level) to a few conversations that were going on between staff, students and others.  I’d been doing this for about the past four or five months, from as soon as I knew I was being interviewed.

Generally I didn’t take part in a conversation, I sent the odd tweet, and a couple of emails but generally I was just listening. I really felt that I should participate in some of the conversation – particularly, this sort of thing and on several things on then relatively new Beyond Distance blog.

I quite recognise some might equate this to stalking. However I didn’t want to be drawn in to public conversations too early. I especially didn’t want to get bogged down in a convoluted conversation without understanding more about the culture of the organisation I was joining, or fully understanding the identities (and motivations) of the people behind the digital personnas that I was encountering.

I also wanted to be somewhat careful about the digital footprint I was leaving behind, as I don’t want it to cause me any problems.

So far I’ve found Social Media to be of immense value to me in starting my new job. Initially I used my listening process to identify a couple of people to make contact with who I knew I would be able to relate to and who I would probably need and want to work with at some point in the future. I took the step of going for lunch with @stujohnson a couple of weeks before I started working at the University. Whilst at lunch he made a couple of suggestions of other people I should take particular care listening to online. Thanks to one of the suggestions Stuart made and the follow up that I did through digital media tools I had a meeting at the end of Wednesday that I never would have had. And it has generated ideas for using other types of social media tools that I wouldn’t have expected to be able to even be talking about for another 3-4 weeks.

Something else that was particularly interesting to me was that when I was invited to a lunchtime lecture on my first day and given an attendee list.  I realised that I knew the Twitter usernames of five of the fifteen attendees and that I’d read blog posts by some of these five and one other before the lecture started. Stuart said something along the lines of Thanks to Twitter I was probably one of the best inducted members of staff Leicester has ever had. I think he might well have something in that!

May 12, 2009

I’m a sheep…

Filed under: Social Media, Twitter — Brendan @ 11:26 pm

I was listening to Episode 155 of the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast on my train ride home this evening.  I was really interested in the first 20 minutes or so in which there were some good points about how 21st century educators need to be a cross between curators, librarians and broadcast editors.

However the later part of the podcast seemed to drift off in to talking about how people are using web 2.0 tools, particularly twitter…

Somewhere within the podcast there was a phrase about how some people are sheep who just RT or share a message without providing their own perspectives or taking an idea forward in anyway.  This struck me as particularly ironic as I’d just ‘liked’ the podcast on Friendfeed.

Later on, I started thinking about new technologies generally and how they are adopted. My thoughts initially strayed to cavemen and the adoption of fire and how the idea of fire might have been marketed and spread as it’s use evolved (a source of light and heat, a weapon, a way to prepare food etc.).  I also remembered something I once read about primate group learning of tool use.  The basic idea is someone has an insight which may or may not be imitated and spread through a group.

Web 2.0 tools are still relatively new technologies and we’re collectively still figuring out the uses for them.  Like fire to the caveman many tools can be used in very different ways.  Consequently, it’s so easy to make assumptions that people use tools in the same way that you do.

As tools develop and mature, social pressure will probably standardise their use somewhat, but at the moment the tools are evolving.  I certainly don’t use the tools, or think about thim in the same way I did three months ago (e.g. twitter favourites as a way of showing you value content and wanting to read every tweet from every person I follow).

May 9, 2009

Evolving consumption

Filed under: Blogs, RSS Feeds, Social Bookmarking, Twitter — Brendan @ 10:25 pm

I am a bit of an information whore. I’ve always been an avid reader but my pattern of consumption has certainly changed over the years.

Over the past few years, I’ve occasionally thought that I’ve come across a new online tool that might help me manage or sift the information better. I thought like this about digg and delicious and stumbleupon but I’ve never managed to run a social bookmarks account successfully. More recently I started to think Twitter might replace my various sources of information. It doesn’t as there are too many issues about the recall and quality of information. So today I really just dip in to Twitter every now and then. This means that what I read / respond to is often determined by recency and opportunity rather than anything else (although I’ll always respond to anything directed at me, as soon as I can).

Given this at the moment I consume news (my definition of news rather than my wife’s, who thinks I could take in news by listening to the radio or watching TV) in a way similar to the one Alicia describes on the most recent Just Another iPhone blog, i.e. via RSS, email alerts, twitter etc.

However I’m preparing myself to think about changing the way in which I consume information and ideas, and the way in which I record my thoughts and perspectives, as my lifestyle may be changing shortly (due to a new job). At the moment I use the evenings after the kids (and sometimes my wife) have gone to bed to catch up with things. Since I handed in my notice I’ve also had the luxury of using an increasing amount of my train journey to catch up with news, rather than working.

In addition I’ve started listening to more audio podcasts as well, both on the train and when I’m doing the more repetitive or manual tasks at work or at home (for example I’ll listen to a podcast while mowing the lawn).

I think my reliance on audio is only going to grow given that in the new job I’ll be driving rather than taking the train, and I’d quite like to use the 30-40 minutes productively. Tools such as tweetmic and audioboo are opening up podcasting but what isn’t there yet is the search technology to find the sort of things that I’m going to be interested in.  Adrian Graham explains this well in this audioboo.

The new job also means that I need to start tinkering with my OPML files for Google Reader and with my Friendfeed, which is the latest tool that I have high hopes for. The search is at least reliable for re-finding anything that I like/comment on/publish, but I will need to think about what tagging I need to do for audio (especially given my previous failures of using tags successfully on social bookmarking sites).

April 24, 2009

Twittering in conferences

Filed under: Conferences, Twitter — Tags: , — Brendan @ 7:13 am

On Wednesday I was asked if I could run a presentation for the Centre for Distance Education. That night I couldn’t sleep and instead of counting sheep I thought about conferences and presentations.

Twitter actually provides a useful addition to conferences. I hate the idea of twitter as a backchannel – it’s not a backchannel it’s a public conversation.  Within conferences and presentations it can provide an echo-chamber for the speaker(s) to understand what’s going on and a place to refine thoughts and continue a conversation.

However I wonder if it’s as useful as it should be.  I’ve got a very long unfinished post (private link at the moment) about a conference I was involved in from a couple of months ago.

As I was lying in bed I thought about the major problems.

1.) Integrating the feedback from Twitter in to the main presentation
2.) Using the tweetstream – especially at a later date, I don’t think conferences can rely on, e.g. search for a conference from last year on Twitter then search for it on Google with a modifier.
3.) Attribution of tweets and the unintended changing of meaning of what a speaker actually means

This lead me to two particular thoughts which I noticed as tweets from two people the next morning about tweeting when a keynote speaker and about using the tweetstream.

It also led me to start playing around, with a few things and last night I watched the extremely good .eduguru’s presentation at #hewebcornell which prompted a few further thoughts about how the process could be improved further.

I’ll need to write more sometime.

(P.S. 12.05.09) – Just discovered this great post by James Clay about use of Twitter in conferences and social reporting.

April 16, 2009

Twitter Search API

Filed under: Twitter — Brendan @ 8:24 am

I’ve been seeing some strange results from and all of the applications I use to access Twitter Search.

Wonder if this is the beginning of the death knoll. It’ll certainly affect live interaction at conferences and the like.

April 1, 2009

April Fools

Filed under: Twitter — Brendan @ 9:30 pm

I love April Fools Day – I love watching what inventive ideas people come up with. I always try and make sure I pick up all the newspapers (and this morning I spent most of my train journey browsing the web) seeing what April Fools stories and adverts have been created. I was especially impressed with King’s College London whose April Fool story was tweeted by one of the accounts I currently manage. Whilst the one I still would love to be true is Shouttr.

However I’m always wary about April 1st in a work context because:

1. if there’s anything important that needs to be communicated it can often be misconstrued as a joke;
2. if you make a joke it can easily be misconstrued and come back and bite you.

I think that this is especially appropriate when using social media.

So it was therefore unfortunate for Webster University that they chose 1 April to run a test of their emergency systems. See below to see how I found out about this test via Twitter whilst sitting at home in Coventry in the UK.

tom8williamsRT @websteru: EMERGENCY! Active Shooter on Campus! Avoid the area of 1st floor classrooms. Seek shelter immediately! If off-campus, stay OFF
Wed, 01 Apr 2009 19:25:10 +0000

Sure enough a quick twitter search (or try this Yahoo pipe, List View, to read it in date order) revealed the following, although when I went to click on it the tweet had already been deleted:

websteruORLN-EMERGENCY! :: Active Shooter on Campus! Avoid the area of 1st floor classrooms. Seek shelter immediately! If off-campus, stay away!
Wed, 01 Apr 2009 19:20:28 +0000

However in that time the message had been retweeted four times, and looking at the number of followers of the people who RT’d I’d estimate that it went to probably around 2,000 people on Twitter alone (and probably more according to @tonywagner).

Given the date some including myself were speculating it was a very poor taste April Fools joke. However @annmclure confirms that it was a test that went wrong. Although it was really unfortunate that:
1. the test happened on April 1st
2. that a more generic “Mr Sands” type message wasn’t used
3. no warning was given that a test was about to happen

Whilst I realise that 2 & 3 might have compromised a test if they were testing how far the message would spread, I think it serves as another reminder about the viral nature of communication, as well as the dangers of April 1st.

P.S. Tom Williams also blogged on this subject and gives more of the backstory on the Innogage blog.

March 15, 2009


Filed under: Twitter — Brendan @ 9:39 pm

I spotted @wefollow this morning.

It looks like an interesting concept, and I think it allows a whole new world of opportunities for finding people, especially via twitter search, rather than through the wefollow website.

However I haven’t signed up yet because there aren’t three topics that I’d like to define myself with.

I guess if I was to send a tweet it might read something like.

@wefollow #stuff #otherstuff #andsomemorestuff

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