Learning and working environments

Sitting in Tony Hirst’s mashup talk today, I was thinking about the tension between two fundamental approaches to creating a (computery) working – and learning – environment for yourself.

The first approach – the on-the-edge option, in Danny O’Brien’s terms – is to customise an individual machine: cosmetic things like changing the wallpaper, usability tweaks like arranging icons and elements to suit the way your mind works; and installing the software tools you use a lot.

The second approach – the in-the-cloud option – is to use online services you can get to from any machine that has a browser.  This way, you make do with the not-quite-rightness of any individual machine but can get to your stuff ‘in the cloud’, from anywhere.

These are in tension, and what you can do with both options changes both ways.  Web Bookmarks/Favourites is a good example – originally, you could only get at yours from your particular machine.  Then along came Delicious and you could get at them from any machine, with a bit of fuss.  And now browsers like Firefox understand such services and you can get the best of both worlds: bookmarks you can get at from anywhere but are neatly integrated in to your particular browser.  Or the worst of both worlds: bookmarks that live on someone else’s server (they have control, you might not always be able to get at them), and you still have to fiddle to make each machine you use work properly.

Richard Stallman is very suspicious of the cloud and would counsel you to keep your data where you control it – meaning a machine of yours (running a free – not just open source – operating system).  But the in-the-cloud option seems to save so much time and fuss: I don’t have to worry about all that setting up and customisation.  Perhaps that’s just the price of freedom and I’m not paying it.

Mashing up the PLE (Tony Hirst)

Notes from a seminar (slides) by Tony Hirst.

PLE=Personal Learning Environments.

Gilbert Ryle – notion of category mistakes (in The Concept of Mind); happens when people talk about PLEs as things – they’re not, they’re environments: you can’t point at them.  Also figure/ground illusion (vase/faces) – edges are the key.

Contrast to VLE – which is a thing (e.g. Moodle).  A PLE is not (just!) the personal version of one – but there’s a figure/ground thing, the VLE could be part of it.  A PLE is the students’ bag of stuff: literal stuff (laptop, phone, bits).

PLE is open, controllable, public; VLE is closed, private, you-can’t-edit.  [But: control/privacy to enable experimentation for learning – safe to get it wrong.]

Edges between VLEs and PLEs. OpenLearn has made a big effort to make the content portable.  Materials are stuff in a learning environment, and have alternative formats: print (single HTML file); XML; RSS feed; OU XML; IMS Content Package; IMS Common Cartridge; plain ZIP of all the html files and media assets; Moodle Backup. This export bit is the edge – can do the figure/ground swap here.

Mashups – using Glue Logic (not actual glue).  Live demo of sucking content from OpenLearn – leaving a trail of bookmarks as he goes on Delicious, tagged ‘elcple’. Copy RSS link from OpenLearn course/module.  Use in places like PageFlakes, Netvibes, iGoogle

Uncourses blog – trying to do in real time as a blogged course: ten weeks to study, so ten weeks to write. All done on WordPress at Digital Worlds. Category and tag feeds so it’s “self-disaggregating”. Link structure is emergent (in the sense that he didn’t plan it in advance).  Categories and tags are … basically confusing on WordPress.  Module coming to deliver posts (RSS items) as a drip-feed over time, starting when you want it.

(Flock and Firefox tip: can right-click on any search box on any site and ‘Add a keyword’ for that search.)

Mashups are not production systems, they’re flaky.  (Pageflakey.) – in response to having Yahoo Pipes problems in his PageFlakes setup.

Box.net is like MyStuff that works” – can share files, make them droppable, clicking in a browser will ‘just work’.

Grazr as an RSS reader on turbo – can wrap RSS feeds together in to OPML files.

Glue Logic – lives here http://ouseful.open.ac.uk/xmltools/dwCommentFeedsOPML.php (aka http://tinyurl.com/4vq4nt) – takes parameters and produces OPML feeds out of, say, all comments on posts with a particular tag. “It’s easy to use” [But not documented anywhere?]

Microsoft Live Search – you can add search results as a feed by adding &format=rss to the search URL.  E.g. orange smarties.

Autodiscoverable feeds – your browser can subscribe to it.

Tony’s OPML dashboard as a way of messing around with RSS/OPML files.

StringLE – a String-and-Glue Learning Environment.  The sample site sort-of works but is suffering from linkrot somewhat.

Pipework – Yahoo Pipes.  Live demo of taking Wikipedia data on city populations and putting them via a Googledocs spreadsheet on to a map.