måndag 28 november 2011

On the many functions of this blog

Only ten days about, I wrote a text about academic blogging. As it turns out, I will not give my short intro to my use of, and my thoughts about this blog in December, but rather today. In fact, this blog post is slated to be published 10 minutes into my talk and I will use this blog post in lieu of a powerpoint presentation.

My goal was to keep this text short and sweet, confining it to the list of functions that I originally planned for, or have since discovered since I started this blog 15 months ago. It turned out to be a long list though. And I have kept it relatively short and might write a follow-up to this blog post later, incorporating reactions and new ideas I get from my audience.

When I started the blog, I had three specific uses of it in mind:

- A record, or a diary of my work-related activities. Not all of them, but at least one per week. I have a job that is as varied as mine, something interesting worth writing about must happen every week. Like all those seminars I have attended and didn't take notes from (or did take notes that were never organized and can't be found).

- A way for people to follow me (I had a fuzzy idea about who might want to follow me but I primarily thought about work colleagues).

- A place ("webpage") where I could start to keep track of and collect work- or career-related information (papers written, courses taught etc.). People who search for my name on the Internet should find this homepage/blog.

During the first months, a couple of new functions appeared:

- When I went to a workshop on "Digital media and collective action" a year ago, I found it useful to write about some highlights and to link them up in the blog. Webpages written down in some notebook are soo much less useful than if they are in a blog post about the event where the webpage was mentioned.

- Later, I also directed a master's student of mine to that blog post and more specifically to some of the links. So the blog is not only a way for me to write things up and/or to allow others to follow me, but also a permanent archive to which I can direct others to specific posts (in this case a master's student, later also a whole class).

Other functions that have appeared over time are:

- Use the blog to write summaries (and analyses) of students' course evaluations. Writing for others (which I'm supposed to do), who, I suspect don't pay attention or might not even read my course evaluations has never appealed to me. But if I write up the same things in a little freer form and for myself, that's a different thing. Hopefully, others (TPTB) will be satisfied with the contents of such a blog post instead of the more "official" formats (?)

- To to collect three or four books that I have recently read and write a paragraph about each one. That gives my reading a rhythm; I can go back later and see what I read and when.

- During the spring, one of the comments were signed with "Media student, KTH". I hadn't really though about the fact that some of my/our KTH Media Technology students read the blog. It had just never crossed my mind before. That fact opened up the blog to a number of texts that would primarily be written for our students, i.e. blogs where I comment on and analyze our sometimes differing perspectives on higher education (I have such a blog post in the pipe). I have some idea about how many (few) read this blog, but I have little idea of who they are.

- During the autumn, I have also noticed that some other lecturers/researchers read this blog even though I don't know them personally. How do I know? Because that have commented on a blog post and I followed them to their own blogs. So now I subscribe to their blogs and I guess the next step (for 2012?) would be to invite each other or to eventually meet up someplace. They obviously have similar or overlapping interests and are thus be definition interesting for me to keep track of.

- Very usual nowadays is that I write up a blog post and then, directly after it has been published, send of a link to one or half a dozen people I think or I know will be interested in the topic of that blog post. I ask them to give me feedback in the form of a comment on the blog, but that seldom happens.

- I also know that a few colleagues (at least two; Jorge and Hannes) subscribe to and read my blog and this can make some of our meetings very effective. I write about stuff that happens and stuff I think about and they read it - so we can take the discussion from there instead of from scratch. Last month I wrote about the Green Hackathon event that Jorge and Hannes organized. This month Jorge wrote about it in his blog and referred to my blog post. I read his blog and immediately edited my blog post to point back at his text (another first for the blog).

- I also point to this blog as example to encourage others (primarily colleagues) to start similar blogs of their own. I can't say that I've succeeded as I don't know a single person who has picked up this habit... Jorge blogs (seldom) and I follow his blog, but he started before I did. I might ask/demand that a ph.d. student of mine starts a blog for the same (or similar) purposes, asking her to write a blog post once per week so as to help me keep up with what she does that she thinks is interesting.

- The last function on this long list is this blog post serving the double function of entertaining/educating the regular readers of my blog, and as a foundation for tomorrow's talk about this blog.

Some of the functions above are more specialized categories of others, i.e. writing about the books I have read recently is a special case of using the blog as a record/diary, and having students of mine follow the blog is a specialized case of allowing other's to follow me.

As time goes by, my blogging habits becomes more advanced. At first, I wrote about something that had happened during the week. Now, I sometimes check my calendar and in advance pinpoint what this (coming) week's blog post will be about. If I attend some event that will, or might become the blog post of the week, I might directly ("proactively") take notes having that in mind.

A new first is also to strategically write a blog post about something in order to be able to direct specific persons to that text in order to get them to do me a service (I might write about the specifics later).

That's it for now and I'll finish with some info about the blog's readership and popularity.

- During the last 30 days, I have had 318 visits from 29 countries, but I have more than 3 visits only from 5 countries; Sweden, United States, Australia, India and the UK. Of all 318 visits, no less than 80% come from Sweden!

My first blog post was published in the beginning of September last year and I have since published around 65 blog posts. Almost 75% of those blog posts have been published this year, but more than 90% of the traffic has (this far) been generated this year (2011):

The numbers of visitors are rising, but since this is a low-volume blog, "coincidences" can have a large impact. The huge numbers of readers in April (below) has to do with a specific blog post, and the fact that a high-volume blogger referred to it - sending hundreds of readers this way. To be honest, I don't even remember why I had many visitors in January this year.

There 11 persons subscribing to the blog though Google reader, but again, I have no idea who those subscribes are, or if there are other subscribers who use other RSS readers... Fortunately, enough of the functions in my long list above does not depend on having (many) other readers, so I don't see that low numbers of readers will be a reason for me to discontinue blogging. Quite the opposite! I find new reasons for blogging that I myself benefit from all the time. The fact that I slowly pick up more readers over time is great, and it will be exciting to see what possible spin-off effects might follow from that in the future.

PS 140419. I just found an article about "9 reasons why running a science blog is good for you". Ha, amateurs, I found 50% more reasons (above) and I could now, 2 1/2 years later probably squeeze out another couple of reasons...


söndag 27 november 2011

Rich pictures and social media

I went to a conference last year (Engineering Education in Sustainable Development, EESD) and came home with a great idea for an exercise, "Rich pictures". I wrote about it a year ago and will thus only quickly summarize this year's exercise that is being held in my Social Media Technologies course. The exercise consists of two parts where the first part (a kick-off) was conducted during a two-hour seminar and the second part (a group assignment/project) is being conducted during and in parallel to the rest of the course (6 weeks of which only a little more than a week remains at this point).

- I met all students the day after the course started. The students helped me rearrange a seminar room and we spread out hundreds of pictures on the desks. Each picture had (at least) one person in it. This person was often strange-looking or was involved in a strange-looking activity.

- Students were to pick one or two pictures (i.e. persons) and take a few minutes to think about the person in the picture; Who is the person, what are her worries, what brings him joy, what is her story? Think it up!

- Students were to mingle and present their persons (i.e. pictures) to one another and look for commonalities. What could bring my and your person together? A successful match could go on and recruit others so as to form a group with 4-5 persons (it was ok to exchange a picture so as to fit into a group). A group should always be formed around a theme and the ten groups that were formed were: Appreciation, Crowds, Alternative art, Loneliness, Joy, Food strike, Wild-life, Active old people, Role-playing and connecting Internationally and Extreme fashion.

- The class is diverse and there were some further restrictions on the groups formation process so as to make sure to mix the students up (no same-country, same-language, same-sex or single master's program groups).

- Each group's task was then to work together during (in parallel to) the rest of the course and develop a tailor-made social media tool or service for the target group; What challenges does this group face today? What do their lives look like? How do they know each other, what do they do together? What could a social media tool or service do for them?

Group assignment/project
- Students will present their projects in the form of a poster (70*100 cm) and a paper (4-6 pages of text plus probably some pictures).

- The posters will be presented at "Torget" (house D top floor) on Wednesday December 7 between 10-12. The posters will also be displayed there during the preceding 24 hours.

- The posters should clearly state a target group, a problem area and a proposed (social media) solution (service or tool).

There were also some further limitations and guidelines for the project deliverables but I won't go into that here.

Last year, I wrote up a text for the social media course's blog (that the students read) where I summed up some of the lessons learned (i.e. things that should be changed). I think basically all of those points have been handled this year, but some further changes have also been made since last year:

- Last year the Rich Pictures exercise was compulsory but not graded. Some students were disappointed when they understood that the time they spent on the exercise would have no effect on their grades. The examination of the course has been changed quite a lot since last year, and the group assignment/project now contributes to 20% of the final grade on the course.

- This means that I have developed and made more detailed criteria available to the students about how the deliverables will be judged. We will use six different criteria to judge/grade the posters this year; Relevance, Innovation height, Credibility, Integration, Independence and Finish.

- We also had review meetings halfway into the course so that students could pitch/discuss their ideas with me and get some feedback. This is after all a task with many dimensions of freedom, and since it is going to be graded, I felt it wouldn't be fair for them to be too much in the dark about what was required of them.

- Another difference is that we have actually found the money to print glossy nice-looking posters at a printshop instead of cutting-and-pasting a collage together. I look forward to see the results - the finish should be a lot higher this year compared to last.

I have to admit that the set-up for this exercise can be stressful for the students. It's not easy to choose people you know nothing about to work together with. It is on the other hand a good way to meet some new people (especially for International students). I presume some people get more done and work harder than others in the group, but I have unfortunately little insight into the internal workings of the groups. The basic rule is that everyone gets the same grade - even though some group members deserve it more and others perhaps less. We have therefore also asked students to include a short paragraph about the division of labor within the group. There issues are always difficult and sometimes even problematic in group assignments. On the other hand, the exercise has hopefully also been a fun and creative opportunity to work together with other students in a course where we otherwise mostly read and discuss a lot of literature...

torsdag 24 november 2011

Architecture vs Media Technology smackdown

In my "Future of Media featuring Future or Radio/Radio of the future" course (previous blog post here), we had a mid-term critique session 10 days ago. Our students presented their stuff and two external guest critics gave them feedback. Our two guest critics were architects and the whole impetuous to do a mid-term critique thingy originally came from those architects (designers) - and we have done it for a couple of years in the course by now. The KTH School of Architecture use it a lot in their own project courses, and as far as I understand, all architecture schools do.

The topic of this blog post isn't the mid-term critique though, but what I learned before and during the event by talking to Architect Charlie (AC), and my subsequent reflections about the differences between our respective students and our respective educational programs and philosophies. Thought AC's actions and comments, I understand that our expectations differ in these ways:

- Architecture students have large swats of scheduled-but-unstructured time, i.e. they are supposed to spend many hours together in a studio, working on a project. We (Media Technology) are instead happy if our students show up for class.

- Our students put a premium on being effective. Sometimes that means going to a lecture and sometimes they decide they don't learn that much at that math lecture and will instead watch a lecture covering "the same" topic on the Internet, or read the course literature by themselves, or work on math problems in a group. Sometimes they choose not to go to a lecture because they don't have to, and because they prefer to use their time in other ways (including for leisure purposes, or for attending another course, for salaried work etc.). Sometimes I acknowledge and agree with their choices, but many times I disagree with their priorities (their studies have a lower priority than I think it should).

- AC don't want her students taking too many courses in parallel. I don't know how School of Architecture "control" or "regulate" that. They want the course load to be "reasonable" so that students can spend large swats of scheduled-but-unstructured time together in a studio, working on a project. Our students have problems coming together. They have so many different choices, and both their inter-personal and intra-personal schedules overlap, i.e. a student can take different courses that collide schedule-wise and students in a project groups take different courses and have different schedules, making it difficult for them to all come together in time and space. That's the disadvantage of giving our students much (too much?) freedom to choose their course freely.

- AC made some snide remarks during the mid-term critique about students showing up an hour late. Some of our students had collisions with other scheduled courses. To the architects, nothing should ever be scheduled at the same time as a mid-term critique session. To our students, this is just one course among many and one scheduled event among many. There was a mismatch between AC's expectations (and mine to be honest) and some project groups' (relative lack of) preparations for this event. Note-to-self: how can the importance of this event be emphasized in next year's course?

- AC thinks the teacher should meet project groups at least once per week in a project course. That is a lot easier if students are expected to all be in the same place (a studio) during large swats of scheduled-but-unstructured time. AC can then just stroll down there and have an informal chat with her students just about whenever. Me, I have to schedule all meetings in advance (and oftentimes a group member or two can't come to the meeting anyway).

- As apart from AC, I can't informally check in on my students - they might not even be in school but can instead work on a project asynchronously and distributed (having divided up parts of the job between them). Not regularly working together face-to-face means that a large part of what it means to work in group is lost. Since we put a premium on the quality of ideas and concepts in Future of Media, our students are (or put themselves) at a disadvantage here. From what I've written here, it follows that the average quality of our students' projects must be lower in terms of the creative content. I believe our students spend little time thinking and discussing ideas and concepts in the beginning of a project, and that they instead opt for "locking down" an idea (too) early and then dividing and distributing the workload.

- It is easy to get our Media Technology students to perform - if and when the task is well specified. But it's much more difficult to get our students them to spend time, to discuss, to think deeply (together) and to work though problems, issues, ideas together.

- A good start (at least for project courses and design projects) would be to give our students access to great spaces where they can hang out and work on projects together. We don't have that. We (or our neighboring research group) have a space that is OK ("Torget") and I have realized I should ask for permission to direct our students there. The endemic schedule SNAFU is more difficult to tackle, but a group with six members can do great work together even if two members are absent.

- The next step would be for us Media Technology teachers to make an effort to actually pass by regularly and chat with students/project groups and offer informal critique and advice. I don't really do that today, but I should change this habit if the project groups become easier to find (physically, in space and time). I have informal conversations with my colleagues in the corridor and in our kitchen when I'm not too busy. I should have informal or semi-formal project-related conversations when I see "my" project groups working together.

To summarize: First we need more spaces where students and teachers can meet informally. Second both students (project groups) and teachers need to have the habit to talk even/also without scheduled, formal meetings.

I have more to say about lessons learned from AC/School of Architecture but that will have to be the topic of another blog post.

lördag 19 november 2011

On academic blogging

I sat on the subway, talking to a colleague, and started a sentence by "as you know, we are planning a new course on...". Then I stopped and thought for a moment and realized that she wouldn't know about this course as she's not in the loop. So I started over again and said "there is no reason for you knowing it yet, but we are planning a new course on...".

The course itself is not of interest in this blog post, and might not be of interest to her, but if I will teach that new course during the next academic year, the implications of me dropping some other course might affect her and this is of interest to her. So how does information like this (in this case about a course-in-the-making) spread informally at a workplace? Are there ways of improving it? What use could a blog like this be?

Right then and there, on the subway, my thoughts went to 1) the coffee table and 2) to this blog. The coffee (or lunch) table is a great place for exchanging and spreading information informally, but some topics don't come up. In this specific case, there are only me and two colleagues who are in the loop at the moment, and I can't recall us talking about it a single time in the company of any of our colleagues yet. The course is not a secret, quite the opposite, it's just that the topic hasn't arisen.

That's where a blog like this could make a difference and my thoughts immediately went to it. Despite the fact that we have only had one meeting about the new course, the yet-unplanned and yet-unnamed course could be the topic of a blog post here. Perhaps it "should" be, but it competes with many other possible topics for blog posts, as well as with practical issues such as how much time I have to write, and my level of ambition (minimum of one and maximum of two blog posts per week).

I don't primarily see this blog as a semi-(in)formal way to inform my colleagues about what I think they should know - such a formal agenda would be to oppressive and would turn the blog into another "must-do". This blog is rather my blog and I write about whatever I want to write about (having colleagues and other vague groups of readers - students? researchers elsewhere? friends? - somehow in mind). If what I write about happens to be of interest to my colleagues, fine, and if not, well, that's fine too I guess. It's like the difference between a consultant having to spend an hour every week with a dreaded time reporting system to input data for billing customers, versus the same consultant writing a (perhaps anonymous) blog, freely choosing topics and reflecting upon the past week at work.

The difference between what I "should" write about, and what I do/want to write about might be smaller that I make it out to be, and I might very well write something about the new course here, and if not now, then perhaps sometime in the spring. It's just not something that I've thought of as a topic for a blog post yet.

My colleague on the subway could have known something about the course had I already written about it here, and we would have shared "common ground" in our conversation. Perhaps she should subscribe to this blog and at least scan the messages, since some of them might affect her (perhaps she already does?). And even if she didn't already subscribe to the blog, our conversation on the subway could have been followed up with a mail and a link to a specific blog post. I've done quite a few of those, i.e. writing something up and then immediately sending of a mail to specific persons with a link to that blog post. (I'm doing it with this blog post, sending her the link directly after it is published.)

So, this is yet another proposed use of a blog like this. I don't suggest that we should replace our coffee tables with blogs, but they could complement each other. Stuff that doesn't "fit" or doesn't reach the coffee table could be written up in a blog. Blog posts could become topics at the coffee table, and conversations at the coffee table could become topics for blog posts (with relevant links included - difficult to provide at the coffee table).

This text has focused on the role of this blog (a blog) as a means of communicating with colleagues. One reason for writing about this specific issue right here and right now is that I will talk about my use this blog and the perceived uses and benefits of having a blog like this at an informal weekly department breakfast meeting next month. I might post something here if I get interesting feedback at that meeting.

I also realize that I can use this blog post to invite any colleagues who read this text to come to that meeting (at Torget at 9 a.m. either Mon Dec 12 or Dec 19 - the date hasn't been finalized yet) and contribute to the discussion! I could also disseminate a link to this blog post before the meeting - but I don't know if that would entice people to come or if all this navel-gazing would scare them away! Right before publishing, I realized I had to change the title of this blog post. If I will disseminate a link to this blog post, the title of the blog post would be seen in the link/URL and should be general and self-explanatory (chosen more with potential seminar visitors and less with regular readers in mind).

Do you know of other (academic) blogs that you would like to recommend or that could be of interest for me to check out before the seminar? Please post a comment and also say something about why you think the blog in question is interesting or good. <--- This request is yet another use of a blog like this!

onsdag 16 november 2011

Proposal: "Programming competitions as (e-)sports"

I wrote a longer blog post about computer programming competitions a month ago and I mentioned an upcoming workshop, "Beyond sports vs. games", in that blog post. The workshop had a November 15 deadline, and what they asked for was a 500-word "extended abstract". I submitted this extended abstract and will get to know if it is accepted before the end of this month:

Programming competitions as (e-)sports

We can think of a pure leisure activity passing through a number of different developments or even “stages” in the process of becoming a sport (i.e. in the “sportification” process). From being played mostly for fun, an activity can undergo successive changes (or “developments”) with an emerging consensus coalescing around competition formats; fields of play, tournament rules, judges, time frames, what constitutes cheating etc. Further changes might involve factors having to do with developing a “sportified” activity into a spectator sport (Croona and Bleichner 2011), perhaps also encompassing (or trying to create) a commercial layer and business models around the activity in question (professional teams, practitioners, coachers, commentators, sponsors, broadcasters etc.). Computer gaming has undergone some, if not all of those changes during the previous decade (Rambusch, Jakobsson and Pargman 2007, Hutchins 2008, Taylor and Witkowski 2010, Cheung and Huang 2011, Taylor 2012).

In his bachelor’s thesis in sport sciences at Malmö Högskola, Kalle Danielsson (2005) examined to what extent e-sports could in fact be regarded as a modern sport. His inquiry took as its theoretical starting point Allen Guttman’s (1978) list of significant characteristics of modern sports (that were lacking in their pre-modern forbearers):

1. Secularism

2. Equality of opportunity to compete

3. Specialization of roles

4. Rationalization

5. Bureaucratic organization

6. Quantification

7. The quest for records.

In my contribution to the workshop, I use the same list of characteristics to examine the process of sportification in yet another activity beyond sports and games, namely competitive programming/programming competitions. While there are several different strands of competitive programming, my study focuses on the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). In the 2011-2012 competition, 8000 teams from 2000 universities in over 80 countries compete for 100 spots in the world finals (to be held in Warsaw, Poland in May 2012).

At my own university, the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden, ICPC is a somehow important event among some of my colleagues at the School of Computer Science and Communication. Several professors and Ph.D. students have participated in the ICPC competitions and later become involved in ICPC-related activities and tasks, such as training and coaching new students and new teams at KTH, as well as working on organizing, documenting and broadcasting the ICPC event itself.

The empirical material for this study primarily consists of interviews with KTH faculty, Ph.D. students and (primarily) fourth year students in the computer science program who are taking the course “Problem solving and programming under pressure”. This course is tailor-made to allow a limited number of students to “try out” competitive programming in order to see if it’s something for them, as well as to “search for talent” among the students. The course is followed by informal voluntary practice sessions, later leading to the formation of a three-man team to represent KTH at the ICPC competitions.

In terms of the analysis of the material, I am particularly interested in “problematic” characteristics in Guttman’s model, i.e. characteristics where competitive programming does not qualify, or where there are significant or even structural tensions between characteristics of modern sports (Guttman 1978) and the practices and goals of the ICPC


söndag 13 november 2011

"Green" telecommuters

Me and my colleague Jorge have talked about two groups, green telecommuters and urban homesteaders, who both blur the line between urban and rural. It's possible to live outside of a large city and do (part) of your work from home with the help of ICT. It's also possible to live in a city and be pretty serious about gardening and small-scale husbandry.

Me and Jorge are, I guess, thinking about putting together a research application later, but as a first step we met a month ago and started to discuss what a thesis proposal in this area might look like. This week we met and finalized a thesis proposal we called "Green distance work in Sweden" [written in Swedish].

We are especially interested in "distance workers with a green agenda", something we define as:
1) distance workers who live in a smaller city or on the countryside,
2) who work from home a least one day per week (and who might have "downshifted" and work less than 40 hours/week)
3) who have a "green agenda" behind this decision of theirs (i.e. to lower their energy use and their CO2 footprint etc.)

We did in fact define three distinct tasks/theses proposals, and in a best case scenario, different students would explore two or all three questions in parallel. The thesis proposal is fine, I guess, but we would need to beef up the list of proposed literature a little more. We still went ahead and published it though and add to the literature list later. Please add your own suggestions for literature in the form of a comment below!

Talking about thesis proposals, I have a blog solely for this purpose and where every blog post in fact is a thesis proposal. I haven't been very active lately though, and this was only the second to appear this year.

We will have a new batch of students who will write their bachelor's thesis at our department during the spring, and I have set as a goal to publish at least ten new proposals before the end of this year. That's not as difficult as it sounds, I have at least twice as many ideas and drafts that I just haven't had the time to finalize. That's one of the tasks for December though, when my two courses (that keep me very busy indeed at the moment) end.

lördag 12 november 2011

Social media, modernity and superstition

This blog post has a tenuous connection to my work and is more in line with "general musings" about life, universe and everything.

Wednesday this week, at a seminar in my social media course, me and my students sat down around a large table and the young woman beside me said "I don't want to sit at the corner [of the table]". Two other nearby women chimed in and were in humorous agreement. Me, I didn't get it. Why would you not want to sit at the corner of a table?

I quickly found out that according to (local?) superstition, a young woman who sits at the corner of a table won't get married. The women who didn't want to to sit at the corner is Hungarian and the other two other female students were from Russia and Lithuania. I don't know if this saying is Eastern European or if "we" Swedes also believe(d) the same? Perhaps I'm not in the knowing because I've never been a young woman and anyway didn't spend a lot of time thinking about getting married or not?

The student in question said that she "of course doesn't believe in this", but that every time she sits down at the corner of a table, her family tells her not to. I jokingly made a snide-ish comment, wondering aloud if social media will ever eradicate superstition or not.

The day after the seminar, I went to the Royal library [Kungliga Biblioteket] and put my coat and my backpack in one of the lockers, simultaneously realizing that for some reason, I like to put my stuff in a specific locker, namely the one with the same number as the year I was born.

I could lie and justify this behavior by saying that it helps me not to forget the number of the locker, but really, the number of the locker is printed on the key, so it's not like I wouldn't find my stuff if I put it in another locker... For some reason it feels (a little) better putting my stuff in that specific locker than in any of the neighboring ones. I wouldn't go as far as to say that I feel a connection with that specific locker, and I don't mourn the fact that the locker is sometimes taken, but anyway, there it goes.

I do believe that no matter how "modern" or "rational" we are, it is difficult to eradicate our primitive belief, and our want or even need to create meaning from stuff which doesn't have any, or has very little. The positions of the stars become pictures and stories and so on... I would even go as far as to say that this is true even for the most rational of us rational modern people. We might look down on "primitive" or "superstitious" people who have unfounded beliefs, or who succumb to "magical thinking", but we do it too. Here are a few examples:

This past week saw the 11th [day] of the 11th [month] of 2011. At 11.11 - a magical moment if any - my whole department got spammed by a researcher who just couldn't refrain from commenting on the fact in the form of a mail. I myself told my students that this "magical" moment would occur during the break in our class. The date and our belief in the magic of numbers carried a specific significance and was a topic that made it into newspapers and radio.

Joseph Weizenbaum, in his 1976 book "Computer power and human reason" (which I also mentioned in a recent blog post) pours his scorn on hackers (or, in his parlance, "compulsive programmers"), comparing them to the most irrational of gamblers:

"the hacker is "without definite purpose": he cannot set before himself a clearly defined long-term goal and plan for achieving it [...] The closest parallel we can find to this sort of psychopathology is in the relentless, pleasureless drive for reassurance that characterizes the life of the compulsive gambler. [...] Touch a hunchback, carry a rabbit's foot, don't cross your legs, and have a blond young lady stand behind the chair. When that doesn't work, he calculates that that particular combination works only on Thursdays, and so on [...] The programmer is free to convert every new embarrassment into a special case to be handled by a specially constructed, ad hoc subprogram and to be thus incorporated into his over-all system."

I recall that the eminent researchers Kahneman (2002 Nobel laureate) and Tversky (died in 1996), who have looked at how "irrational" we all are when we make decisions, have said something like "for every problem that the layman fails at, there is a marginally more difficult version that experts fail at". I searched for the quote in the book where I thought I would find it, and then some more on the internet but failed to find it... Do you the original quote? If so, please write a comment and tell me the quote and the source (or a curse may befall you)!

söndag 6 november 2011

Bridging the student - teacher gap

Students and teachers oftentimes misunderstand or don't understand each other. As universities have scaled up in size and become knowledge factories, the contact between individual teachers and individual students has decreased. To teachers, students are oftentimes numerous, faceless and replaceable. They are not really individuals. To students, teachers and courses pass on a 5-year long lit de parade, one after the other. It's difficult for a student to feel an obligation to someone who doesn't know who you are or who doesn't even know your name. That's why I nowadays make serious attempts to learn my students' names in my courses.

Another problem that I face is that students oftentimes don't understand how exciting the topics of the course I'm giving is. Instead of thanking me for curating and carefully selecting good texts for them to read, they complain that the literature is difficult, or takes too much time to read. I'm sure students have similar but opposing views of my lack of understanding issues that are important for them.

So, I'm really happy that one of the groups in my "Future of radio/Radio of the future" course has chosen to try to bridge that gap by exploring how radio/podcasts can be used in higher education. One point that some of our guests lecturers drove home in that course was that radio is the master storyteller medium. So instead of using radio as one more channel to deliver information, this project group is instead exploring how to use radio to tell stories. Last week I summarized their project here:

"Niche podcasts for students who have started or is about to start studying a course. An entertaining and inspiring way to learn about the topic of a course through an interview with the responsible teacher and also a way to bridge the gap between students and teachers through the use of stories."

What they did was to interview with me in my role as responsible teacher for a course about social media. The interview was 90 minutes long and it primarily covered 1) me and who I am in relation to 2) interesting phenomena having to do with social media and 3) my interests in social media in general and these phenomena in particular. The students then edited and cut it down to a 20-minute long fast-paced radio program/podcast (which is available here - through one of the student's blogg).

The very specific audience for this kind of niche podcast are the students who have just started a course, or who perhaps are considering selecting that course. It's a way to bring a subject and a course alive. It might be difficult to make a math course exciting, but why not interview the teacher and ask why the math in the course is useful, or even beautiful, poetical, fun or exciting? A teacher ought to be able to say something about that, right?

The idea behind a podcast like this isn't primarily to give the student a lot of information about the course itself (literature, content, examination etc.), but it will for sure give the student a lot of information about the subject through (hopefully entertaining) musings, stories and anecdotes by the teacher who will teach the course.

Talking about my social media podcast, it really is a little strange to hear your own voice "on the radio". While the podcast is fine from a technical point of view (I can't believe how much gets said in only 20 minutes!), neither me nor the students have a lot of routine in the craft of posing great questions or providing great answers. It feels like I ramble or have attention deficit disorder (ADD), bringing up new topics without finishing the previous one. I could definitely have given "better" answers and great sound bites, and a journalist with some routine would have known exactly how to pose a question in order to get an answer that would sound great on radio (or asked me to reformulate a good answer to make it great). But that's all just details. Right now we're after proof-of-concept.

I was interviewed a week ago and just this past Friday the "Future of radio"-students came into the social media students' classroom and unveiled/promoted the podcast. We hope that many social media students will download and listen to the podcast and then answer the short survey. I don't know exactly how the students will proceed with their project (for example if they will make another podcast with another teacher about another course), but I will find out later.

At the moment, the podcast is not published on the Internet, but only available to the students who take my social media course. I might make it accessible on the web later (I have to listen to it again and perhaps have some colleagues vet it). I think the basic concept is pretty great anyway; creating stories around topics, courses and teachers.

Right at this moment (Sunday evening), only 8 students have downloaded the podcast since it was made available two days ago. There are 50 students taking the course and I hope many more will listen to the podcast and answer the survey. The podcast in itself can for sure be reused in next year's course and perhaps after that too.

Any of my colleagues reading this are welcome to get in touch to listen to the podcast - if they promise to provide feedback!

lördag 5 november 2011

Heavy workload

I have, and have had a heavy workload for a couple of weeks. That means I have more topics than every to write about here, but ironically, I have little time to write those blog posts.

My new course on Social Media Technologies started 10 days ago and there are quite a few topics I could write about; 1) last year's course evaluation and the changes I've made (and the reasoning behind those changes), 2) this year's Pecha Kucha student presentations, 3) this year's Rich Pictures exercise, 4) the use of, and the thinking behind the course companion blog, 4) this year's guest lecturers. And probably some other topic too. I might write about some of them - later.

I did write about the theme of this year's program-integrating course - procrastination - a few weeks ago. I did meet my share of undergraduate students (4 groups with around 6 students per group) last week and could thus write about their procrastination habits (which are very diverse and really interesting).

There are also a couple of other noteworthy topics well worth writing about, but those that are important enough will be written up at some point or another. If I don't find the time to write about the the thinking behind, and the kick-off of the Rich Pictures exercise, I will for sure write about the results in December.

Because of lack of time, I only posted once last week and will only post once this week (this blog post doesn't count). I try to make sure I follow my own rule of posting at least once, but no more than twice per week.