How to get students to find and read 94 articles before the next class

There was talk in our dept about getting the research students to speak to each other more. I like this idea where the students manages to digest a significant amount of literature, as a group.

via Digital Ethnography by Prof Wesch on 1/28/09

My student-researchers and I tried something a little different to kick off our semester.  Instead of the standard syllabus that requires everybody to read a few articles to discuss, we decided instead to organize ourselves into a Smart Mob (more…)

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Social Media “Experts” are the Cancer of Twitter (and Must Be Stopped)

I couldn’t agree more!

via by Michael Pinto on 1/20/09

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Nearly a day goes by on Twitter without yet another social media “expert” choosing to stalk me. At first it started innocently — back in the day (about a year ago) various techie friends started to declare themselves social media gurus because they decided to hang out on Twitter and Facebook all day. And now an army of their offspring monitor Summize in search of human flesh.

Now the first symptom of this disease was what I call “social media deafness”, a state that occurs when a person’s social graph exceeds 500+ virtual friends. The result is that the person is a mile wide, but an inch deep. Suddenly the friend you use to know develops amnesia like symptoms and starts ignoring your direct messages — what was first simple Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder becomes full blown zombie like state.

The zombies then seek each other: You’ll always notice that of the 5,000 followers that a social media expert has that all 5,000 of them are also social media “experts”. Their only form of conversation is to quote each other and live tweet conferences where they gather. Like any good Ponzi scheme the lead zombies can make a good living feeding the hopes and aspirations of the worker level drones who parrot their every blog entry.

But that’s where the problem starts with us civilians: The drone level zombies then start to stalk any innocent Twitter user they can find. They don’t care who it is or what that person is interested in because their first prize is the “auto-follow”. By finding enough folks who don’t have auto-follow turned off they artificially inflate their number of followers which inflates their “expertise” in the field. Most start out by doing this to each other, but before long they need to prey on the flesh of the living.

If you’re unlucky enough to be followed that’s when the real problems begin: Before long every little quip you put out is met with a useless unsolicited recommendation. At first you might tease the zombie about their hard sell technique, but alas zombies have no sense of humor. Worst yet is that zombies don’t know how to take a hint — and that when my little buddy “the Block button” comes in handy!

Doom (1993)

Above: Social media and SEO “experts” aren’t human anymore (i.e. they’re undead) so you should feel no guilt at all in shooting them — in fact it can be an act of pleasure once your get use to it.

Now I know what you’re all thinking: Can’t these pitiful creatures be saved? The answer is NO!

My proof of my concept: Recently on a News Gang podcast I witnessed an attempt at zombie intervention and the result was a huge sad failure. Sweet Robert Scoble (now known by his borg name “teh Scobleizer”) had been sucked into some sort of fringe aspect of this cult called Friend Feed. So industry vet Steve Gillmor and action hero Mike Arrington tried to lead a brave (but futile) effort to lead an intervention to save poor Robert, but alas their rational pleas for sanity were ignored. Within minutes Scobleizer was back on the tweets, and this time he was disseminating Amazon affiliate links into his chirps in order to monetize his affliction.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Above: Robert Scoble is the second zombie on the left.

Like drugs, social media can be a good thing in the right hands. But there are too many people out there who don’t know what they’re doing and just get carried away. Sadly most people just lack the good old fashioned discipline to keep their worse instincts in check.

On a related note there’s also a related clan of zombies which are the SEO “experts” — these creatures are a blue collar variation of the social media experts and usually have the term “web master” in their bio. Sometimes the social media and SEO zombies can mate to produce a marketing strategy monster, but most of these are harmless as they don’t use the auto-follow technique.

In closing I’ve given this problem a great deal of thought trying to come up with a solution. At first I had a great idea about trying to have an automated script that would detect the zombies and block them as soon as they spot you. But like Spam I realized that any software solution was useless as the flesh eaters always manage to stay one step ahead of you. But then it hit me! Being a fanboy and having watched too many monster movies I realized that the only solution is to lure the entire population of social media and SEO experts to an island and for President Obama to authorize the dropping of a nuclear weapon.

Godzilla is hungry!

Above: I know one is tempted to be cheap and just use an atomic bomb, but having watched so many of these movies I know that it won’t be strong enough.

The end?

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I spend a few hours mucking around with Tumblr – only to discover that I may like posterous better. The real acid test is finding out which becomes "normality" in the same way that using twitter has become for me…

I guess that involves the weighting the value of community over having a nicely customised layout.

Hmph, I want to use tumblr for something – anything!

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More pre-PhD advice: give yourself homework

I am testing Posterous to see what happens when I email items from google reader. As I am enrolling on my Ph.D. course this coming Monday (12th of Jan), I am reading a lot about the Ph.D. experience and looking for tips for beginning the process.

I came across this entry via Academic Productivity. I am particularly interested in the progress from undergraduate/taught masters frame of mind into a more individualistic approach associated with the Ph.D..

In terms of using Posterous as a tool to share and comment on articles and other items of interest, I am pretty impressed. So far, so good. I am going to continue to use this site in the mean time in order to explore different ways in which to navigate the barriage of information I am exposed to daily online.

– Jay Jay


via Academic Productivity by james on 7/27/08

Jose posted an article last week about one person’s PhD experience, highlighting many of the common difficulties encountered when doing what’s largely a self-directed research project. There are loads of books about how to finish a PhD that expand on these questions – of supervisors, organizing your time and so on – but I’ve found that their advice can be frustratingly abstract. When I started my PhD I couldn’t help but wonder “yes but what should I do RIGHT NOW?”.

One useful trick I discovered was to set myself regular assignments. If you’re coming to a PhD from an undergrad or Masters level degree, chances are you’re more used to having teachers give you tasks rather than setting off into uncharted waters on your own. What’s more, you’ve got a big mountain of work sitting in front of you labelled ‘lit review’ and it can be hard to know where to start.

I tried to overcome these problems by dividing up the task into about 8 two-week long assignments. First, I did some brainstorming and together with my supervisor identified the subject areas with which I should become familiar, before dividing these topics into specific research questions. In my case, these were things like “How do people and societies respond to new technologies?” and “Describe the policy issues associated with metering of microgeneration systems in the UK”. I then gave myself two weeks to write an essay on these topics. It gave a clear direction to my reading and by the end of it, I could present my supervisor with a tangible product that we could then discuss.

In theory these mini-reviews could be edited together into your lit review chapter, making one of the most difficult parts of writing up much easier. In practice though I found that, because I was working in a fast-moving field, much of the material I’d gathered in the first months of my PhD was out-of-date by the time I got around to writing up three years later. But the essays only needed some updating, it was excellent writing practice and it was an invaluable way of establishing a routine at the start of a daunting project.

As a footnote if you have some experience in teaching and learning theory, you may recognize this technique as an application of learning outcomes (see this for a brief introduction). My assignment questions can essentially be re-written as:

In two weeks time, I will be able to:

  • Describe the policy issues associated with metering of microgeneration systems in the UK
  • etc

You can evaluate your own success against these outcomes, recognize how far you’ve come, and be clear about what you’ve achieved for things like your transfer report. The above link has some good tips on how to write and use learning outcomes.

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Free Things to Do in Leicester #143

Joined SEEFILMFIRST a few weeks ago. Last night got an email inviting us to go see Slumdog Millionaire, for free, at the new Highcross cinema. When cinema is about 7-8 quid a ticket these days, why the hell not?

(OK – people have been doing this for years – at the same time as I’ve been paying for a unlimited cineworld subscription (In Glasgow, not Leicester – no cineworld in Leicester :-(), so not noticed the price creep up to ridiculous amount.)

If you aren’t signed up, get signed up. Steal your housemate’s dairy milk* and you’ve got a free night out there!

*Disclaimer: I didn’t actually steal the dairy milk – just incase you read this..

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Quick New Year Reflection

I was looking back at older blogs and realised that I hadn’t wrote anything reflective around this time of year – mainly out of fear of being a massive bloggin’ cliche. What I’ve realised is that you can’t avoid being reflective at the start of a new year – and especially after being off on holiday. I was ideally looking for something to compare my achievements and goals from 2008 to 2009. These things can definitely be helpful – even down to the process of writing it down and putting it out there. So, I thought, sod worrying about being a cliche and just do it.

Here are a few things I would like for 2009:

– Blog more and blog better. I know I always start my blog entries with this, but I’m hoping that when the Ph.D. FINALLY begins (12th of this month), that I will be able to document the process with much more clarity. Furthermore, through utilising my networks on twitter and delicious, I’ll be able to make the whole online “social media” process far more fluid and inclusive of what is going on “offline” as well. I would like to think that the last 3 months have been practise for just now.

– Complete my (part time) Advance Postgraduate year at the same pace as those doing it at fulltime level. As I will be on campus pretty much fulltime, I don’t see why I can’t do the work at the same pace. I can only confirm this goal once I actually get going – I have a copy of the handbook and I’ve been reading since before Christmas in preparation for this.

– Continue proactively thinking about work and where I can get it from. I am grateful to my department for putting me forward for teaching assistant jobs and I am sorted until end of term. I need to be thinking about what I can do over the summer and potentially looking for part time research positions as I gain more experience in my field. This is one thing I just need to be consistently focusing on and not something that will happen over night. 2008 has shown me that it takes a combination of being available, meeting and networking with people online (off) and just generally being into your work (and wanting to work with others are into to it just as much as you) has been the way to go about it. I understand that this will be the case for a long, long time as I believe the old school style of getting a job and sticking it forever is long gone.

– Continue my fitness plan. Continue to learn to cook. Use my new bike whenever possible. All of these things are quite easy to fit in and I have been doing it for the last 2 months, I just would to keep on that route. In addition to quitting smoking 4.5 months ago, I am also quitting alcohol temporary (30 days at least to see how I get on – these sort of things can change your whole social life, let alone imporve your health.)

Overall I just want to keep ploughing on in the same manner I have been these last few months. The latter part of 2008 has been good to me – I just want to keep going along the same sort of paths, meeting the same sort of people and generally just being happy.

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