UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Archive for January, 2014

Guest Post: Sheila MacNeill’s reflections on the #byod4l “mini-MOOC”

Posted by sheilmcn on 31 January 2014

The #BYOD4L event took place this week. One of the aims of the five-day long online course was to encourage collaboration. Brian Kelly and I have agreed to collaborate by writing guest posts on each others blog. Brian’s post is available on my HowSheilaseesIT blog and my post is given below.


What was the byod4l event about

The best place to get an overview of the event is from the byod4l homepage, and last Sunday in preparation for the week I wrote this blog post which explains some of my thoughts and motivations for participating.

What did I learn?

To be honest I’m not completely sure yet as I think there is another C that needs to be added to the list – contemplation. I think a need a couple of days to cogitate and reflect on the week. But a few things come to mind including time and chaos but more on that later in the post

Connecting

I’ve tried to instigate some f2f connections here and later today a few of us are having a MOOC meet-up to have a chat about our experiences. I’ve managed to join in a couple of the twitter chats at night and that has allowed me to connect with old friends and find some new ones via twitter. This has also been a great way for Brian and I to connect in a different context. My connecting blog post tho’ was about a different kind of connection.

Communicating

I’ve pretty much stuck to twitter, my blog and google+. I find the UI of the ipad google+ much nicer now and so I am more inclined to look at that more than before. I also automagically publish blog posts to various places including google+ so I’m there even when I’m not. Brian and I also experimented with a bit of video communication.

Curating

To be honest, I’m leaving curating to others, the team are doing a grand job of curating tweets, posts etc. I shared my thoughts on curating in this post.

Collaborating

I hope this post is a form of collaboration, and that the different approaches Brian and I have shared resonate with others. I also hope that focused interactions with others in my peer group online and within my institution will lead to more collaboration.

Creating

Well I have created 4 posts over the week and one or two tweets:-)  and I’ve created time for some f2f discussions with colleagues which I think is really important.

Final Thoughts

This is the hardest bit to write. As I said earlier I’m still processing the week. It’s been really useful to have some f2f chats with people and get different perspectives on things. It has reinforced the fact that I don’t mind a bit of chaos, and I that am confident enough online to “have a go” without having always having a clear goal in mind. This is probably equally a good and bad thing!

However the one thing that I keep coming back to is time. Participating this week has required time commitment. Some evenings I’ve been able to join the twitter chat, others I haven’t. Some days I’ve been able to take a bit of time during the day to watch the videos, do a quick blog post, others I haven’t. Today a few of us have blocked some time out to discuss the experience. Creating that time is really important for us as academic staff but I think we also need to find ways to give students more time to become more comfortable with using their own devices in an educational context. If we are serious about integrating byod4l approaches into education, then we need to move beyond byod policies and think about how to redesign our courses to allow some time to just try things. We all need some space and time to play (or experiment if you prefer) to develop the confidence and digital literacies needed to engage more fully with the potential that byod4l approaches to connecting, communication, curating, creating and collaboration can contribute to.


This guest blog post was written by Sheila MacNeill, Senior Lecturer, Blended Learning, Glasgow Caledonian University an assignmentexperiment for BYOD4L. Sheila normally publishes on the How Sheila Sees IT blog.

Posted in Guest-post | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Responding to “I Don’t Have Time!” Comments

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 29 January 2014

The #BYOD4L Event

The first day of the BYOD4L short event, which I mentioned earlier this week, included a post containing a brief video clip. As described in a post by one of the participants:

Video 2 is of a tutor showing some frustration with her mobile devices. She views technology as a hindrance to her teaching practice and that an insistence that she uses the new opportunities offered by mobile devices as a waste of time. This “I don’t have time” mantra sounds more like an excuse rather than an explanation and is covering up some apprehension about the use of mobile technologies in learning environments.

I have an interest in the potential of innovative technologies and approaches in supporting a range of academic activities. However I’m particularly interesting in understanding the barriers to sustainable innovative practices and finding ways of addressing such barriers.

Risks and Opportunities: Institutional Concerns

I first addressed such issues in a paper on “Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers” which Mike Ellis and I presented at a conference way back in 2007. That was followed by papers on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” and “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“, both of which were published in 2009. These papers tended to focus on institutional concerns regarding use of social media services (e.g. the sustainability of the services) and copyright and other legal concerns.

However the main areas of concerns now seem to be different. There now seem to be institutional acceptance of the benefits of Cloud services with Janet, for example, providing contractual support for institutional use of services such as Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Office 365.

Risks and opportunities frameworkThe main barriers now seem to be individual: individual lecturer’s or student’s concerns over use of social media services and use of mobile devices. And this is a more difficult area to address.

My initial work led to the development of a risks and opportunities framework which was intended to ensure that institutional concerns regarding the risks of using Cloud services were being considered and addressed. It should be noted that an important aspect of the framework was that the risks of not using the services should also be addressed (i.e. the missed opportunities). In addition it was suggested that the risks associated with continued use of in-house services were also re-evaluated.

In a webinar on “Open Educational Practices (OEP): What They Mean For Me and How I Use Them” I revisited this work and suggested that there was a need to address these new challenges: the concerns of the individual. Note that slides used in the webinar are available on Slideshare.

Risks and Opportunities: Individual Concerns

If institutions are now taking more mature approaches to making use of Cloud service which are often accessed through one’s own mobile device to support their institutional activities, the focus is now moving towards individual attitudes towards use of such devices and use of Cloud services. It would now be timely to view the YouTube video which illustrates the concerns of a tutor who demonstrates her frustration with mobile devices.

How should one respond to such attitudes? Some approaches which occur to me are given below:

Revisiting the past: This is probably nothing new. An one stage computers were used by a minority, mainly scientific researchers, in the mainframe era. Then we saw the growth in mini-computers standalone computers, microcomputers, the standalone PC and Apple Macintosh, networked PCs and Macs, online PCs and Macs and now a flurry of mobile devices. With each new generation of technologies we saw people who were reluctant to embrace the new developments (I recall colleagues in IT Service departments in the 1980s being dismissive of PCs). But as the technologies matured, the winners became ubiquitous and the failures were forgotten (Commodore PETs, Acorns and other microcomputers). So perhaps we don’t need to be too concerned about the late adopters.

Education and training: Clearly there is a need for education (on the potential of mobile devices to enhance learning) and training (how one can make use of mobile devices in one’s specific context). It should be noted that this will need to address some of the subtler aspects of use of tools such as Twitter: treating tweets as a stream of information and conversations which one can dip into when appropriate rather than feeling the need to keep up-to-date with every tweet. This should then be followed by examples of tools and strategies for filtering the information.

Understanding and addressing specific concerns: The #BYOD4L blog posts and Twitter chats (e.g. see the Storify archives of the first and the second #BYOD4Lchat discussions) have covered both use of mobile devices and use of social networking tools. If learners and learning support staff have concerns there will be a need to understand what the specific concerns are. If, for example, the concerns are to do with the privacy implications of social networks, this should not rule out use of a mobile device for activities such as note-taking and keeping up-to-date whilst on the move.

Personal motivation: If mobile devices do enhance learning, we may see this recognised through new opportunities or promotion for those will the relevant expertise.

Mandating use of mobile devices: Rather than a softly softly approach to encouraging use of mobile devices, should they be mandated in particular circumstances? Would, for example, it be acceptable for a learning professional to state that they do not use email?

Acceptance: However rather than adopting hardline approaches it me be acceptable to acknowledge that mot everyone needs to make use of mobile devices and social tools; as long as their learning or learning support activities are not limited significantly by continuing to make use of traditional approaches, then perhaps this is fine. The danger, I would argue, would be if such decisions are made by managers or decision makers who could restrict use of mobile devices and social tools by those who do find them beneficial.

I’d welcome comments on these approaches and suggestions of how you might (or have) responded to colleagues who may be reluctant to embrace use of mobile devices to support learning activities.

Posted in Mobile, Social Networking | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Buying a New Tablet (Useful for #BYOD4L)

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 27 January 2014

The BYOD4L Online Event

On Saturday I bought a new tablet. On the same day I read Sheila MacNeill’s blog post on Getting set for #byod4L – what Sheila will be doing this week in which she described how this week she will “getting back into the MOOC saddle again with #byod4L“.

The BYOD4L (Bring Your Own Device For Learning) web site describes how this online event invites people with an interest in the use of one’s own mobile device for learning over the next five days to “bring your own devices for learning: an open course for students & teachers (facilitated, stand-alone, for other groups/courses)“.

My New Device

Before Christmas I had decided to get a new tablet device. I read about developments in the tablet marketplace and decided to get one in the January sales, as I read suggestions that after vendors announcement on new devices at the CES show we would see a reduction in the prices of current versions.

I had no particular platform in mind. I currently have an Android phone (a Galaxy Note 2) which I am happy with (despite my misgivings over the first generation of Android devices and the operating system).  But I also have an iPod Touch, which I was also happy with until it fell out of my short pocket while gardening in the summer and the screen was smashed). In addition for the past six months or so the desktop PC I use in my home office runs Windows 8 – and so the new generation of tablets running Windows 9 was also an option.

I kept an eye on the Hot UK Deals web site and was interested in deals for Android devices such as the Galaxy Note 10.01 (similar to my mobile phone), the Nexus 7 (good reviews) and the Sony Xperia Z 10.1 (waterproof, so I could tweet from the bath!) as well as Windows 8 tablets such as the Dell Venue 8, the Toshiba Encore 8.1 and the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 2.

In the process of reading the reviews and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the different models I realised that I was indifferent to the platform. The operating system functionality was similar across devices and the applications I intended to use (a web browser, a Twitter client, a note-taking app, a camera app, an app for storing content in the cloud, iPlayer, etc.) were available across all platforms; indeed my preferred apps (e.g. Chrome, Evernote and iPlayer) were also available across all platforms.

This reminded me of a tweet Mike Ellis posted a few weeks ago during a discussion about the merits of Android versus Apple mobile devices “Not sure about the “future is Android” thing. I think the future probably is “it doesn’t matter”“. I think I’ve shown that, for me, Mike was correct!

One significant decision I had to make was whether I wanted a 7/8″ or 10″ device. In the end I decided I wanted a smaller device which was easier to carry and use in bed.

In the end I bought an iPad Mini which was being sold off at PC World. Ironically I spotted this on sale on Boxing Day and took my girlfriend to PC World where she bought the 64GB model for only £300. A few days after seeing the device I decided it was the one I wanted. Unfortunately PC World had sold out, but on Saturday I found that they had one on sale, although this was the 32 GB, WiFi plus cell model. But I’m happy with the device.

Creating Content

If the tools I intend to use are similar across platforms, the differences across the platforms seem to be how I create content. It was for this reason that I looked into the Windows RT platform, and devices with built-in keyboards. However these devices were expensive and I decided that, despite my comments that I am platform-agnostic, I did not want to purchase a Windows RT device since this seems to be an evolutionary dead end, with the low volume of sales leading to a reluctance for software developers to invest effort in developing apps for the platform.

I decided to purchase a Bluetooth keyboard and case for my iPad. But I wonder what other approaches to creating content will be relevant. I decided that the quality of the tablet’s camera wasn’t a factor (my phone has a decent camera and I also have a camera that I can use as a camera :-) But I’m wondering whether to get a stylus - I’d welcome comments on how useful a stylus is, how it could be used and which one to purchase.

I also decided that voice recording wasn’t a factor in selecting a tablet as I suspect that they are all much-of-a-muchness. But what of voice control of a device, such as Siri and equivalent approaches on Android devices? Although I have tried out these technologies I haven’t used them in anger. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has found voice input to be important.

Selection of Apps

If my decision on selection of a tablet came down primarily to price, the more difficult decision is probably which apps to install on my tablet.

Facebook question on_ipad appsWhile waiting for the iPad to charge I asked for advice from my Facebook network.  I was pleased to receive 30 responses, which include the following recommended apps:

Adobe Reader, ArtRage, Blipfoto, Browzine, City Mapper, Evernote, Facebook, Feedly, Flipboard, ForeverMap, Goodreader,  Good Beer Guide,  Google Drive, Google Authenticator, Google+, Instapaper, iPlayer, iSSH, Kindle, LinkedIn,  Movie Vault, Notability, Pheed, Photosynth, Pocket, Procreate, Puffin (for Flash), Rebelmouse,  Tripit, Tuneln Radio, Simplenote, Skitch, Snapseed, Train Times, Triposo, Tweetbot, Units, WhatsApp, Wikipanion, YouTube, Zinio and Zite.

These are all free, I think, so making my tablet a useful device does not appear to mean that there are any additional costs. And it was thanks to my Facebook connections that I was able to get these suggestions.

Your Thoughts

Is my platform agnosticism, unusual, I wonder, or are Apple and Android ‘fanboys’ still in the majority? Will Windows 8 grow in popularity and am I correct in my thoughts that Windows RT will not gain significant market share? These questions may well be relevant for those involved in mobile development work, in choosing which platforms to provide apps for. What are your thoughts?

 

Posted in Gadgets | 8 Comments »

What Could ITS 2.0 Offer the Web Manager?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 24 January 2014

ITS 2.0 videoBack in October 2013 the W3C announced that the Internationalization Tag Set (ITS) version 2.0 had become a W3C recommendation. The announcement stated:

The MultilingualWeb-LT Working Group has published a W3C Recommendation of Internationalization Tag Set (ITS) Version 2.0. ITS 2.0 provides a foundation for integrating automated processing of human language into core Web technologies. ITS 2.0 bears many commonalities with its predecessor, ITS 1.0, but provides additional concepts that are designed to foster the automated creation and processing of multilingual Web content. Work on application scenarios for ITS 2.0 and gathering of usage and implementation experience will now take place in the ITS Interest Group. Learn more about the Internationalization Activity.

Following the delivery of this standard, on 17 January 2014 the MultilingualWeb-LT Working Group was officially closed.

But what exactly does ITS 2.0 do, and is it relevant to the interests of institutional web managers, or research, teaching or administrative departments within institutions?

The ITS 2.0 specification provides an overview which seeks to explain the purpose of the standard but, as might be expected in a standards document, this is rather dry. There are several other resources which discuss ITS 2.0 including:

But the resource I thought was particularly interesting was the ITS 2.0 video channel. This contains a handful of videos about the ITS standard. One video in particular provides a brief introduction to ITS 2.0 and the advantages it can offer businesses involved in multilingual communication. This 8-minute long video can be viewed on YouTube but it is also embedded below:

The video, an animated cartoon, is interesting because of the informal approach it takes to explaining the standard. This, in my experience, is unusual. The approach may not be appreciated by everyone but since standards are widely perceived to be dull and boring, although still acknowledged as important. For me, providing a summary of the importance of standards in this way can help to reach out to new audiences who might otherwise fail to appreciate the role which standards may have.

If you are involved in providing web sites or content which may be of interest to an international audience it may be worth spending 8 minutes to view this video. If ITS 2.0 does appear to be of interest the next question will be what tools are available to create and process ITS 2.0 metadata? A page on ITS Implementations is available on the W3C web site but again this is rather dry and the tools seem to be rather specialist. However more mainstream support for ITS 2.0 is likely to be provided only if there is demand for it. So if you do have an interest in metadata standards which can support automated translations and you feel ITS 2.0 may be of use, make sure you ask your CMS vendor if they intend to support it.

Might this be of interest to University web managers? If you are a marketing person at the University of Bath and wish to see your marketing resources publicised to the French-speaking world but have limited resources for translating your resources, you probably wouldn’t want:

The University of Bath is based in a beautiful georgian city: Bath. 

to be translated as:

L’université de bain est basé dans une belle ville géorgienne: bain.

And whilst Google translate actually does preserve the word “Bath” if it is given in capitals, this seems not to be the case in all circumstances. For example, the opening sentence on the Holburne Museum web site:

Welcome to Bath’s art museum for everyone. 

is translated as:

Bienvenue au musée d’art de salle de bain pour tout le monde.

Perhaps marketing people in many organisations who would like to ensure that automated translation tools do not make such mistakes should be pestering their CMS vendors for ITS 2.0 support!


View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

Posted in standards, W3C | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Beyond MOOCs: Sustainable Online Learning in Institutions

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 22 January 2014

Personal Experiences of MOOCs

Cetis MOOC paperLast year I completed the Hyperlinked Library MOOC. I had previously signed up for several MOOCs but this has been the only MOOC which I have completed.

I found the experiences I gained in participating in the MOOC useful and felt they were worth sharing and so I published post on my Initial Reflections on The Hyperlinked Library MOOC and the Badges I Have Acquired and on my final Reflections On The Hyperlinked Library MOOC. In brief I felt that the Hyperlinked Library MOOC was valuable for staff development for those working in a library environment who wish to learn more about the potential of social media in a library context.

The Bigger Picture

But what of the bigger picture? How should institutions respond to the hype which has surrounded MOOCs? What impact can MOOCS have in enriching the teaching and learning activities which take place in institutions? What technological options need to be considering when considering deploying a MOOC? And what are the strategic challenges and opportunities which MOOCs can provide?

These issues are addressed in a 20 page white paper on “Beyond MOOCs: Sustainable Online Learning in Institutions” by my Cetis colleagues Li Yuan, Stephen Powell and Bill Oliver which was published yesterday.

The Executive Summary of the paper describes the opportunities which MOOCs can provide:

The key opportunity for institutions is to take the concepts developed by the MOOC experiment to date and use them to improve the quality of their face-to-face and online provision, and to open up access to higher education. Most importantly, the understanding gained should be used to inform diversification strategies including the development of new business models and pedagogic approaches that take full advantage of digital technologies.

It was interesting to note the emphasis placed on supporting diversification strategies, new business model and pedagogic approaches: although the paper mentions a number of MOOC platforms, the technological infrastructure is not felt to be the main challenge which institutions need to consider. Rather, the key themes which have emerged from uses of MOOCs to date are openness; revenue models and service disaggregation.

The technological options (the platforms and services used, the functions they provide and whether single platforms or a collection of integrated tools and services will be used) will need to be addressed, but such considerations cannot be divorced from other important areas including the pedagogic opportunities which may be provided and the learner choices which the provision of new and affordable ways for learners to access courses can provide.

The white paper is available from the Cetis Web site and is recommended reading for those involved in developing or supporting MOOCs, those with management and policy responsibilities, those who may be evaluating MOOCs or simple those with a general interest in MOOCs.

I would be interested in learning more about people’s experiences in using MOOCs. I therefore invite people to complete a brief survey (which is embedded below) and to share your experiences in the comments for this blog post.


View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] – [Tweetreach]

Posted in Web2.0 | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Reshaping my Twitter Network

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 21 January 2014

Managing One’s Personal Learning Network

Pruning My Twitter Network

In the autumn I took part in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC. One of the assignments was to develop plans for use of an Online Professional Learning Network (OPLN). The specific requirements included developing a Network Maintenance Plan:

This will provide answers to questions such as: How will you maintain your online professional learning network? When will you adjust it? At what points will you actively add to it or delete from it? Is there a particular type of technology that you will employ to make the best use of your network? Will there ever be a point where you would create a new plan from scratch?

As I described in the assignment:

My new job [as Innovation Advocate at Cetis] will provide an opportunity to prune my professional network, removing Twitter accounts, blog feeds, etc. which are no longer relevant to my new role (unless, for example, I still gain value for the personal connections).

Numbers of Twitter followersIn November I began work in pruning my Twitter network, and on 13 November I reduced the number of people I follow in Twitter from 1,426 to 1,397. However it was just before Christmas, on 23 December, when I deleted a significant number of my Twitter community. As illustrated on that date the numbers of people I followed went down from 1,426 to 1,122, a drop of 324 (note the graph is taken from the Twittercounter service).

I used the Social Bro Chrome extension for my Chrome browser in order to help identify followers to remove.

Social Bro list of inactive followersAs shown, this tool helped me to identify the people I follow who appear to have stopped using Twitter. The tool was also useful in highlighting Twitter accounts which may be used by spammers.

Of course, the more difficult decision to make was when to stop following accounts which are being used in a legitimate way, but are no longer aligned with my main professional interests. The decision I made was to remove significant numbers of accounts from contacts I’ve made over the years with the museums sector (unless I had a string personal connection.

As can be seen I did not quite achieve my target of 1,000 followers (and the number has started to grow slowly since the purge). However the exercise was useful and I may chose to repeat it yearly.

Growing my Online Personal Learning Network

My Cwtis and LACE networks shown in TweetdeckThe intention in pruning my Twitter network was to enable the network to be reshaped in order to be able to more effectively engage with communities relevant to my new role as Innovation Advocate at Cetis.

As I described in the blog post in which I summarised my plans for the development of my online professional learning network I intended to follow the accounts of my Cetis colleagues. In order to make it easier to view tweets from my colleagues I set up a Twitter list.

However since the main Twitter client I use on my desktop PC is Tweetdeck I also set up a Tweetdeck column of my Cetis colleague, which enables me to easily see their tweets and areas of interests which they have retweeted. In addition to work related content which I can find on internal mailing lists or Cetis blogs, Twitter also enables me to get to know my colleagues informally

As shown in the screen shot I have also set up a Tweetdeck column for a new area of work I am involved in – the EU-funded LACE project. As described on the LACE Project Web site:

LACE will:

  • Organise a range of activities designed to actively and passively integrate communities that are conducting LA/EDM research, early practitioner adopters, and those who are building first-generation commercial or open-source software. This integration would be used to stimulate creativity and accelerate the identification of viable and effective solutions to real problems, and hence to drive both current research and technology transfer.
  • Create and curate a knowledge base of evidence. This will capture evidence for the effectiveness and the relative desirability of the outcomes resulting from use of various tools and techniques.
  • Actively participate in the exploration of plausible futures for learning analytics and EDM by combining the creation of imaginative scenarios with participatory workshops and structured methods including a Policy Delphi to assess differences of opinion about the feasibility and desirability of possible future states, thus informing future research and policy agendas.

The LACE project brings together existing key European players in the field of learning analytics & EDM who are committed to build communities of practice and share emerging best practice in order to make progress towards four objectives.

I have started to follow project partners using the #laceproject Twitter hashtag. Interestingly I have just noticed that the @TheLaceProject Twitter account is used to promote fashion and jewelry and so there will be an interesting clash of hashtags!

How Do You Manage Your Twitter Network?

My change of jobs provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my professional networks. This was helped by the Hyperlinked Library MOOC assignment which argued that one need to plan the growth of one’s network and to proactively manage it in order that the contacts reflect one’s changing areas of interests.

I used to have an annual calendar alert which reminded me it was time to check the links provided on legacy project Web sites in order to ensure that technical or others changes hadn’t resulted in problems with the structural integrity of the Web sites (see the audit trail on the UK Web Archive copy of the Cultivate Interactive Web site).

However it seems to me that it would now be more relevant to have an annual survey of one’s professional networks and to see what maintenance may be needed in order to ensure that the professional network continues to provide a useful role. Does anyone else do this?


View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

Posted in Social Networking | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Announcing IWMW 2014!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 January 2014

I am delighted to be able to formally announce the IWMW 2014 event will be held at Northumbria University on 16-18 July.

The IWMW event: a well-established national event for those working in university Web management teams.

The IWMW event: a well-established national event for those working in university Web management teams.

The Institutional Web Management Workshop series, better known as IWMW was launched in 1997 to enable those responsible for managing institutional Web services to share best practices, hear about new developments and discuss their relevance. The event has been held at locations across the UK in the 17 years since it was launched.

Last year’s event was slightly shadowed by the forthcoming cessation of Jisc funding for UKOLN. However, a post-event survey together with comments we received during the event indicated an overwhelming appetite for continuation.

Over the past few months I have been exploring new funding options to cover planning, organising and hosting the event in 2014. I have received positive feedback from commercial vendors who would be willing to sponsor the event and my new organisation, Cetis, has agreed to provide support for the event. In addition, Jisc Netskills have agreed to act as co-organisers for the event.

The call for submissions will be announced shortly. If you have any questions or queries, feel free to get in touch. This includes those who may be interested in speaking at the event, as well as potential sponsors for the event.

The IWMW 2014 will take place over 3 days, which, based on feedback from previous events, has proved an ideal length for attendees – enabling them to enhance their skills and expertise and develop their professional networks.

Posted in Events | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

New Year Resolution: I Won’t Ditch Software on a Whim!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 9 January 2014

Why I’ll Still Explore New Tools and Services

In my previous role as UK Web Focus at UKOLN and my current position as Innovation Advocate at Cetis I’ve tried to be an early adopter of new technologies and services which seem to have the potential of enhancing the range of activities carried out in the higher/further education sector.  An important aspect of such evaluation is the open sharing of thoughts on the potential benefits of the innovations but also associated risks and concerns.

I will continue to evaluate new technologies. But there is a question as to what is being replaced if new technologies prove successful and become embedded in normal working practices.  Over the years this has happened with technologies such as Skype. As discussed in a post published in 2009 which reflected on Skype, Two Years After Its Nightmare Weekend, at one stage institutions, and indeed, JANET, where looking to provide standards-based VOIP services. In, back in 2006 a UKERNA report (PDF format) described how  “Uncontrolled use of Skype, and particularly its bandwidth-hungry super-node behaviour, is likely to breach one or both of these [Acceptable Use Policy]sections.” But how, I strongly suspect, use of Skype is now widely embedded across the sector (are there any institutions which still block the service?).

There are other services which at one stage were considered to have risks by IT service staff but which have similarly become widely used by the user community: Google Docs is a good example of a tool which is often suggested when you are collaborating with people outside one’s host institution. Clearly changes to one’s IT infrastructure does happen and seems likely to continue.  But what are the processes which one should take when choosing to replace an existing tool with an alternative?

Moving To New Tools – A Case Study

In a recent post Doug Belshaw, the Web Literacy Lead for the Mozilla Foundation, gave his thoughts on “Why I’m ditching Evernote for Simplenote (and Notational Velocity)”.

Since I am interested in new tools which can enhance my productivity or provide a richer working environment I was very interested in this post. As a long-standing Evernote user which I use on a range of devices I have an interest in looking for signals which hint at problems with the application and an alternative solutions.

However, on further investigation, I’m unconvinced that it would be sensible to move away from Evernote or make use of Simplenote.

Doug#s post references Jason Kincaid post on “Evernote, the bug-ridden elephant“. Jason has experienced problems with Evernote which led to data loss. I was pleased he shared his experiences and the approaches he took in identifying the problem areas. I was previously unaware of Evernote’s activity log. Jason described how the activity log contained “Thousands of lines of gibberish, dates and upload counts” although, confusingly, also complained that the file contained sensitive data. Anyway I looked at my Activity log file. It too, contains thousands of lines such as, earlier today:

10:14:36 [8840] 0% Connecting to http://www.evernote.com
10:14:36 [8840] 0% * loaded updateCount: 628
10:14:37 [8840] 0% Usage Metrics: sessionCount=0
10:14:37 [8840] 0% Client is up to date with the server, updateCount=628
10:14:37 [8840] 0% * saved updateCount: 628
10:14:37 [8840] 0% Skipping uploading shortcuts because local shortcuts are not newer than the server shortcuts.
10:14:37 [8840] 0% Session terminated normally, elapsed time: 0s

A useful debugging aid, it seems to me. Indeed the Activity log did help to identify Jason’s problem:

Turns out there’s a bug, this time compliments of Evernote for Mac’s ‘helper’ — an official mini app that’s meant for jotting down notes without having to switch to the hulking beast that is the desktop application.

Oh, so there’s a bug in the software. But it has been identified and therefore it should be able to be fixed.

But there are other problems:

They say to file another ticket.

As for the audio file: even more bad news.

It’s been nearly a month and the most substantive thing Evernote has said is that it is “seeing multiple users who have created audio notes of all sizes where they will not play on any platform.” The company has given me no information on what’s wrong with the corrupted file, and no indication that they might find a way to get it working in the future.“.

The problems seem to be confirmed on the comments list and even the CEO of Evernote “apologized, saying the post rings true and that there is a lot of work to be done both on the application and service fronts. In the short-term the company will be implementing fixes for the issues above, with plans to focus on general quality improvements in the months ahead.

So there are problems. But these have been acknowledged and Evernote have stated that they work on improving the software

But I’ve not had problems using Evernote – and as I don’t use audio notes I’m unlikely to encounter the bug mentioned above. But since Doug has suggested an alternative I felt it would be useful to investigate Simplenote further.

I read information about Simplenote. But since my data will be held in the Cloud I am more concerned about the sustainability of the company rather than whether the software is open source or not. What do I find? The Wikipedia article for Simplenote is fairly basic. On further investigation it seems that a Mac app and an Android app were launched in September 2013.

Simplenote bug reportSince software is prone to bugs, it is not surprising that we can see examples of Simplenote users complaining of bugs. What is somewhat worrying is that, as illustrated, Simplenote’s official bug reporting service contains spam which has been there for over two weeks so far. And the bug report which was submitted in September 2013 has not been acknowledged.

Out of the frying pan into the fire? Isn’t there a need to investigate the business model for important tools and not just sect a tool because it is open source? At least Evernote have acknowledged there is a problem and have said it will be addressed. Evernote also seem to have a sustainable business model. Sadly, I see no evidence that Simplenote do!

What To Do?

It seems to me that ditching an existing tool which provides a useful service but which appears to have bugs for an unproven alternative simply because it is open source would be a mistake.

The dangers of having an over-simplistic view of the merits of open sources software were described in a paper on Openness in Higher Education: Open Source, Open Standards, Open Access by myself, my Cetis colleague Scott Wilson (who is now manager of the OSS Watch service) and Randy Metcalfe, former manager of OSS Watch. The paper describes how:

OSS Watch therefore avoids making specific software recommendations. Instead the principal task is to help universities and colleges understand legal, social, technical and economic issues that arise when they engage with free and open source software. The goal is not the promotion of open source software for its own sake. Indeed, for OSS Watch the choice of proprietary or open source solutions is immaterial. What matters is that institutions have the resources to think through their procurement, deployment, or development IT concerns in a sensible and rational fashion. The best solution for any single institution will depend upon local conditions and individual needs.

The paper goes on to add that:

This pragmatic approach to advice and guidance is consistent with that employed by UKOLN in its work on standards. It is also a guiding principle in the JISC Policy on Open source software for JISC projects and services (JISC, 2005). This policy is based on the UK government policy in this area and should be seen as an implementation of that policy.

The paper, which was published in 2007, focussed on institutional policies on use of open standards and open source software. Over 6 years later, in light of the importance of software which is not hosted within the institution but selected by individuals, there is a need to revisit the advice provided in the paper and explore how it can be applied when an individual is considering replacing use of an existing tool or service.

In the case of replacing Evernote in the comments on Doug’s blog post it was pointed out that:

Sadly there isn’t an alternative to Evernote if you store anything other than plaintext. PDF with annotation, automatic OCR on PDFs and image files, ability to attach MS Office files, audio notes etc. Evernote needs to stop with feature push and spend some time sanitizing what is already there.

And indeed, Jason Kincaid’s post was successful in getting his concerns acknowledged by the CEO of Evernote who responded by admitting that “that there is a lot of work to be done both on the application and service fronts.” A subsequent blog post  On Software Quality and Building a Better Evernote in 2014 was published on the Evernote blog which began:

I got the wrong sort of birthday present yesterday: a sincerely-written post by Jason Kincaid lamenting a perceived decline in the quality of Evernote software over the past few months. I could quibble with the specifics, but reading Jason’s article was a painful and frustrating experience because, in the big picture, he’s right. We’re going to fix this.

The post has generated a large number of comments (96 to date) which seem to primarily be from other Evernote users who are frustrated by bugs i the software and are unhappy that the official Evernote response was written following the publication of  Jason Kincaid, a blogger with a high profile.

In this post I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of Evernote’s limitations.  Rather I’ll conclude that alternatives to existing tools may not prove to address the limitations of tools which are currently being used and, indeed, may have other disadvantages, which may get worse if the company is not able to handle increased usage. In the case of Simplenote, for example, the online support service does appear to be non-existent. Ineed looking at the Support Center home page I notice a post entitled “Is Simplenote dying? I’ll concluded by quoting this post, published on 8 January, in full:

No blog posts since October.
Unanswered questions in support center.
Spam-filled support center.
Web app that CRAWLS.
Is Simplenote going away?

When do.com announced it was closing up shop, I landed at Simplenote. I started using it for new notes right away, but I continued to look for an easy way to import my do.com notes to another cloud-based note app. Yesterday, I gave up and did a manual copy-and-paste on all of my notes to get them into Simplenote. Now I’m experiencing performance issues I wasn’t experiencing before. I’m hoping this is a temporary thing, but based on posts I’m reading here in the “support center,” it looks like this has been going on for a while now. Please don’t tell me that I am going to have to migrate all my notes to another tool.

And no, there hasn’t been a response. Caveat emptor!

 

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