Friday, September 29, 2006

Groups vs. Networks

In a recent post, Stephen Downes, also one of my favourite bloggers, has explained the difference between groups and networks. According to Stephen, groups are closed, distributive and require unity and coordination. Networks, on the other hand, are diverse, autonomous, open, and connective. He also provided a video and a drawing illustrating his thoughts about this distinction.

George Siemens stated that "A network can simply be defined as connections between entities. Computer networks, power grids, and social networks all function on the simple principle that people, groups, systems, nodes, entities can be connected to create an integrated whole. Alterations within the network have ripple effects on the whole".

In another article, George said "Networks are simple, consisting of two main elements: nodes (or vertices) and connections. The power of networks rests in their ability to expand, grow, react, and adapt. A network grows in diversity and value through the process of connecting to other nodes or networks. A node in a network can consist of a person, a content resource, or (if the network is perceived from a "high view") other networks".

I believe that a network is different from a group in the sense that it is characterized by less structure and control and more dynamic and flexibility and that our learning has to be based on networks rather than groups.

Podcasting Tutorial

Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio or video programs, over the Internet using syndication feeds, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. The term as originally coined by Ben Hammersley in an article in the Guardian on February 12, 2004, was meant as a contraction of "broadcasting" and "iPod". (Wikepedia)

The article How to Podcast by Jason Van Orden provides a step-by-step guide on how to podcast. In his blog, Doug Belshaw has also provided a detailed tutorial on how to create a podcast in 5 parts:

  • Part 1 - the what and the why of podcasting
  • Part 2 - recording your podcast
  • Part 3 - putting your podcast together
  • Part 4 - making your podcast available to others
  • Part 5 - advanced podcasting
Additional Resources on Podcasting (Well woth a look!):

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Google Web Toolkit (GWT) and Ajax

Yesterday, Nanda Firdausi called my attention to Google Web Toolkit (GWT). I´ve taken a close look at the same and I believe it´s worth to use this framework especially by Java developers who want to avoid Javascript. Google claims that "GWT makes writing AJAX applications leasy for developers who don't speak browser quirks as a second language". In his blogpost Google's Innovative Yet Limited Ajax Environment: GWT, Dion Hinchcliffe, one of my favourite bloggers, wrote "GWT seems very high quality, and lets developers write entire Ajax applications in Java, so they can take advantage of excellent development, testing, and refactoring tools such as Eclipse that have formed around the Java development world for a decade". He provided a nice figure of the GWT framework that I´m including here.

Dion also pointed to Rick Hightower´s post Google's GWT ? The Most Important Announcement At JavaOne? talking about the key benefits of GWT.
In the Ajaxian 2006 Survey Results, published last week, GWT appears in the last position of the list led by more popular Ajax frameworks such as Prototype,, Dojo, and DWR. Nevertheless, I believe that GWT will be the first solution for core Java developers in the future. It´s just a matter of time.

Sources related to GWT
(the list will be updated regularly):

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Web 2.0 and Social Software/Social Media

I´m trying to compile a list of definitions of the tems "Web 2.0" and "Social Software". If you have other definitions of the same, please let me know. Actually, I´m against these terms and I´ll tell you why. The label "Web 2.0" was coined in 2004 by executives of O'Reilly Media and MediaLive International while brainstorming names for a technology conference to differentiate between the old Web "Web 1.0" and a new phase of Web evolution "Web 2.0" (O´Reilly, 2005a). It has been agreed on seven key principles of the new Web generation:

  1. The Web As Platform,
  2. Harnessing Collective Intelligence,
  3. Data is the Next Intel Inside,
  4. End of the Software Release Cycle,
  5. Lightweight Programming Models,
  6. Software Above the Level of a Single Device,
  7. Rich User Experiences
It´s not surprising that the Web goes in this direction, since it has to reflect the open, dynamic, interactive, and social human nature. I believe that in the near future, someone will come up with a new version of the Web such as Web 2.1, Web 3.0 or even Web 3.1 Beta and try to give different reasons why s/he call it like this. I would just call it the "Web". Something similar was happening with the term "e-learning". Jay Cross coined the term e-learning a couple of years ago to describe learning resources or activities enabled by means of electronic technolgy. Nowadays, it becomes obvious, that technology is no longer the limit that constrains us and that each learning activity has some technolgy element associated with it. In the past few years, new terminolgies followed such as mobile learning (m-learning), ubiquitous learning (u-learning), pervasive learning, blended learning, informal learning, workflow learning etc. If I have to add a prefix to the term learning, I would rather call it "we-learning" or "me-learning" (I will write more about this in a future post). But it´s all about the same thing, about "learning".
As far as the term "Social Software" is concerned, the term has emerged as a major component of the Web 2.0 movement (Alexander, 2006). However, an important concept in Web 2.0 is the "End of the Software Release Cycle". On the Web there is no need to install programs; software is delivered as a service (Kroski, 2006). Software as a Service (SaaS) is the next generation of software. Therefore, I would replace the term "Social Software" with
"Social Media" or "Web Social Services" or "Networking & Collaboration Services".
But nevertheless, I´ll keep using the terms "Web 2.0" and "Social Software" in this post and give below the list of definitions I collected so far.

Web 2.0:
  • My own definition of Web 2.0 is a new generation of user-centric, open, dynamic Web, with peer production, sharing, collaboration, collective intelligence, distributed content, and decentralized authority in the foreground. (Chatti et al., 2006)
  • Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an "architecture of participation," and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences. (O´Reilly, 2005b)
  • The world of Web 2.0 *can* be one in which we share our knowledge and insights, filter the news for each other, find out obscure facts, and make each other smarter and more responsive. We can instrument the world so it becomes somethng like a giant, responsive organism. (O´Reilly, 2005c)
  • Web 2.0 is a vision of the Web in which information is broken up into “microcontent” units that can be distributed over dozens of domains. The Web of documents has morphed into a Web of data. We are no longer just looking to the same old sources for information. Now we’re looking to a new set of tools to aggregate and remix microcontent in new and useful ways. (MacManus, Porter, 2005)
  • What was happening was that the Web was shifting from being a medium, in which information was transmitted and consumed, into being a platform, in which content was created, shared, remixed, repurposed, and passed along. And what people were doing with the Web was not merely reading books, listening to the radio or watching TV, but having a conversation, with a vocabulary consisting not just of words but of images, video, multimedia and whatever they could get their hands on. And this became, and looked like, and behaved like, a network. (Downes, 2005)

Social Software/Social Media:
  • My own definition: Social media/Social software are services that support bottom-up knowledge networking and community building.
  • Social software - often connected to older forms of computer mediated communication (CMC) and newer discussion about online communities - can be defined as a cluster of activities performed by digital social networks. (PROLEARN)
  • Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities. (Wikipedia)

  • Social software allows people to interact and collaborate online or aggregates the actions of networked users. (Mejias, 2005)
  • Social media includes any digital environment built on the contributions of and interactions among people. (Hirschorn, 2007)

Other Sources:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

u-Annotate - An Application for User-Driven Freeform Digital Ink Annotation of E-Learning Content

User-driven annotation of learning content allows the user to interact with it in a flexible and an intuitive manner and hence personalize the content. This interaction, in most cases, follows the “paper and pen” note-taking paradigm. Though not without its advantages, this paradigm does not scale when the courses are delivered online as web pages. These paper notes are not synchronous with the content, hence may seem out of context, they may be misplaced, and don’t make allowances for collaborative learning. In this project we have designed and implemented u-Annotate, a user-driven freeform digital ink annotation application for web e-Learning content which aims at facilitating the learner to annotate the online content with the aid of pen computing devices such as graphic tablets, etc. Learners can freely mark up the content, save the annotations for recall at a later date, as well as share these with other learners.

u-Annotate endeavors to completely replace the paper-and-pen paradigm for the annotating needs. With the aid of alternate input devices, the web page can be thought of as a digital canvas where the user can enter her notes in the marginalia, and draw in a freeform way with a myriad of tools, and enter text via a keyboard into special text boxes.

Flash 8 with ActionScript 2.0 was chosen to be the development tool of choice for the provision of the front-end and rendering/retrieval based on criteria which were a) Support for overlays: SWF files can be transparently overlaid on top of the HTML content. This is the ability to be transparently overlaid in a separate DIV layer with Z Index greater than that of the underlying content. b) Browser Independence: The Flash program once embedded in a web page, can be run on any browser that supports the Macromedia Flash 8 player plug-in. c) Performance: The suitability of the application depends in great part on the basis of how well it performs i.e. speed of rendering, the amount of CPU stress it entails etc. The Flash application performs quite well on these tests.

Project participants are Informatik V, RWTH Aachen University, Germany, bureau42 GmbH in Cologne, Germany and the Open University of Netherlands at Heerlen (NL).

For more informations, please visit the project homepage.

Monday, September 25, 2006

LOM and LIP metadata editors

In the framework of the European Network of Excellence PROLEARN, at the Information Systems Chair, RWTH Aachen University, Germany, we have implemented 2 metadata Editors:

  • IEEE LOM Editor (LOM Editor complying with the IEEE Learning Object Metadata Standard)
  • IMS LIP Editor (Learner Modeling Editor complying with the IMS Learner Information Package Specification)

Friday, September 22, 2006

What is a community?

I´m trying to compile a list with different definitions of the term community/communities. This is only a preliminary list and will be updated regularly. Please let me know if you find or have your own definition of the same. I would like here to focus more on the term "community" itself rather than community types such as "Community of Practice", "Community of Interest", "Learning community". In future posts, I´ll try to collect definitions of those and other community types.

  • In his new book "Beyond E-Learning", Marc Rosenberg used the following defintion "communities are trusting groups of professionals united by a common concern or purpose, dedicated to supporting each other in increasing their knowledge, creating new insights and enhancing performance in a particular domain. They are people who need to work, learn from, and help each other achieve business goals." (Hessan, Vogt, 1999), (Rosenberg, 2006)
  • "A community is the clustering of similar areas of interest that allows for interaction, sharing, dialoguing, and thinking together. Virtual and physical communities share many similar traits:

    • A gathering place for diverse people to meet
    • Nurturing place for learning and developing
    • A growing place - allowing members to try new ideas and concepts in a safe environment
    • Integrated. As an ecology, activities ripple across the domain. Knowledge in one area filters to another. Courses as a stand alone unit often do not have this transference.
    • Connected. People, resources, and ideas are connected and accessible across the community.
    • Symbiotic. A connection that is beneficial to all members of the community...needed in order for the community to survive." (Siemens, 2003)
  • Jacke McKee defined a community as "A group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons" and mentioned that "People often think that blogs, forums, wikis, and other tools are community. In actuality, those tools are just that - tools. They can help you to build community, but they aren't actually "community". When we talk community, we're simply talking about an interaction, a connection. Blogs or forums are a way to initiate and sustain that interaction." (McKee, 2005)
  • Jennifer Rice defined community as "a group of people who come together and interact based on a shared interest. But that community may not result in relationships, and it may dissolve in a day. Or an hour. The interesting thing about the web is that is facilitates dynamic engagements; there's an ebb and flow of connections that form, dissipate and reform into new configurations." (Rice, 2005)
  • "In the physical world, communities are typically groups of people (a town, for instance) held together by some common identity or interest. The same holds true for virtual or online communities in that they, too, are comprised of people with shared identity or interests coming together for a shared purpose. This shared interest or intent offers a strong forum for members of the community to build relationships and affiliations out of which they can learn from one another and make an impact on the society or culture around them. Coming from two Latin words meaning "with gifts," the term community suggests a general sense of altruism, reciprocity, and beneficence that comes from working together. Communities help generate a shared language, rituals and customers, and collective memory of those that join the group." (Learnativity, 2002)

  • The 1998 Encyclopedia Americana (Int'l Edition) defines a community as, "A relatively small, isolated center with a stable population, in which all economic and social services necessary to life can be maintained. The community is on the of the oldest forms on human social organizations... The ideal type of community emerges as an intellectual concept when social change threatens to destroy a locality's isolation, traditionalism, and solidarity.... [This] leads to a newer form -- including occupational and professional groups, neighborhood groups, and ethnic and political groups -- becomes the functional equivalents of the older, ecological, isolated community, and they make it possible for their members to avoid the problems of a multidimensional mass society. Their members can find a focus for their social relations, loyalties, and interests." (Learnativity, 2002)
  • M. Scott Peck, MD in The Different Drummer: Community-making and Peace says, "Community is something more than the sum of the parts, its individual members. What is this 'something more?' Even to begin to answer that, we enter a realm that is not so much abstract as almost mystical.... The analogy of a gem comes to mind. The seeds of community reside in humanity -- a social species -- just as a gem originally resides in the earth. But it is not yet a gem, only a potential one.... Geologists refer to a gem in the rough simply as a stone. A group becomes a community in somewhat the same way that a stone becomes a gem -- through a process of cutting and polishing. Once cut and polished, it is something beautiful. But to describe its beauty, the best we can do is to describe its facets. Community, like a gem, is multifaceted, each facet a mere aspect of a whole that defies description." (Learnativity, 2002)

  • Sociologist, Victor Azarya, of Hebrew University says, "a preliminary confusion arises between a community as a type of collectively or social unit, and community as a type of social relationship or sentiment.... Community, in the sense of type of collectivity, usually refers to (1) a group sharing a defined physical space or geographical area such as neighborhood, city, village or hamlet; (2) a group sharing common traits, a sense of belonging and/or maintaining social ties and interactions which shape it into a distinctive social entity, such as an ethnic, religious, academic or professional community." (Learnativity, 2002)
  • Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science said in The Community of the Future, "Human communities are no different from the rest of life. We form our communities from these same two needs -- the need for self-determination and the need for one another. But in modern society, we have difficulty embracing the inherent paradox of these needs. We reach to satisfy one at the expense of the other.... As we create communities from the cohering center of shared significance, from a mutual belief in why we belong together, we will discover what is already visible everywhere around us in living systems. People's great creativity and diversity, our desire for contribution and relationships, blossom when the heart of our community is clear and beckoning, and when we refrain from cluttering our paths with proscriptions and demands. The future of community is best taught to us by life." (Learnativity, 2002)

  • Howard Rheingold, the man who coined the term "virtual community" offered in his book, The Virtual Community, "Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace." (Rheingold, 1993), (White, 2005)
  • Barry Wellman wrote "I define "community" as networks of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, and social identity. I do not limit my thinking about community to neighbourhoods and villages. This is good advice for any epoch and especially pertinent for the twenty-first century." (Wellman, 2001), (White, 2005)
  • Amy Jo Kim, author of "Community Building on the Web" wrote in 2001, "My own definition is a working, pragmatic definition, not the definition: A group of people who share a common interest or purpose; who have the ability to get to know each other better over time. There are two pieces to that definition. That second piece — getting to know each other better over time — means that there needs to be some mechanism of identity and communication. Something as simple as a mailing list has that. People have an identity, you know what their e-mail is, and you can communicate with them in the group setting." (Kim, 2001), (White, 2005)
  • "A community usually refers to a group of people who interact and share certain things as a group, but it can refer to various collections of living things sharing an environment, plant or animal...The word community comes from the Latin communis, meaning "common, public, shared by all or many." The Latin term "communitatus" from which the English word "community" comes, is comprised of three elements, "Com-" - a Latin prefix meaning with or togther, "-Munis-" - ultimately Proto-Indo-European in orgin, it has been suggested that it means "the changes or exchanges that link" (Both municipal and monetary take their meaning here), and "-tatus" a Latin suffix suggesting diminutive, small, intimate or local. German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies presented a concise differentiation between the terms "community" (gemeinschaft) and "society" (gesellschaft). In his 1887 work, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Tönnies argued that "community" is perceived to be a tighter and more cohesive social entity within the context of the larger society, due to the presence of a "unity of will." He added that family and kinship were the perfect expressions of community but that other shared characteristics, such as place or belief, could also result in gemeinschaft." (Wikipedia, 2006)

  • "When the term community is used, the first notion that typically comes to mind is a place in which people know and care for one another...Communities speak to us in moral voices. They lay claims on their members. Indeed, they are the most important sustaining source of moral voices other than the inner self". (Etzioni, 1993)
  • "Community in general is a very broad concept, but all technical communities share three common characteristics: Community Members. Technical communities cannot exist without community members. People and the relationships they form create the social fabric that holds the community together. Without the discourse among community members, a community simply doesn’t exist. - A Domain. Technical communities focus on a particular domain, which is the common interest shared by all community members and represents the realm of possibilities. The domain also gives the community a common identity and sense of purpose. Because the scope of a domain can vary, communities can exist within communities as the level of specificity increases. - A Body of Knowledge. Technical communities enjoy an ever-expanding body of knowledge. The core purpose of a technical community is to develop knowledge about the domain and share it with community members. To me, content is simply the persistence of community knowledge." (Caron, 2005)

  • Jake McKee defines a community as "a group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons."

Other Sources:

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Interesting Books

During the last days, I´ve been reading Marc Rosenberg´s new book "Beyond E-Learning". A very interesting book that I would recommend. In this book, Marc argued that "e-Learning is much more than e-training" and that "the accelerating pace of knowledge growth and change, as well as the increasing pressures of the marketplace, require that we look for innovative approaches to complement training". Most of the ideas presented in this book are very similar to e-Learning 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 concepts, though he didn´t mention those terms explicitly. Marc also had a good article based on the same book.
I´m currently waiting for 2 other books that would be available in the next couple of weeks. The first one is "informal learning" by Jay Cross who coined the term e-Learning a couple of years ago. In the "Informal Learning Blog", Jay introduced informal learning as "the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most of us learn to do our jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider". The second book is "Knowing Knowledge" by George Siemens. To introduce his new book which will be available in early October 2006, George said "Knowledge is changing. It develops faster, it changes more quickly, and it is more central to organizational success than in any other time in history. Our schools, universities, corporations, and non-profit organizations, need to adapt. We need to change the spaces and structures of our society to align with the new context and characteristics of knowledge. How we market, how we learn, how we build, how we collaborate - these are all changing. Most organizations are not prepared for the sea change washing ashore. We are conducting business in a manner that is no longer reflective of the market, or society as a whole. Knowing Knowledge is an exploration of knowledge - what it is, how it is changing, and what it means to our organizations and society".

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The best English and German e-Learning blogs

In his blog, Gabe Anderson has published a list of 19 best English e-Learning blogs. The most of them I´m also reading on a regular basis and are really quite interesting. A couple of days later Jochen Robes has given a list of German e-Learning blogs. What I can say for the moment is that there are far more English blogs dealing with technology enhanced learning than German ones. Is it because German do not like to blog?