Futurelearn “Web Science” – Week 1

Here’s what I got to do as first course activity for my Web Science MOOC:

The Web is used by many different kinds of people across the world. In this activity, we would like you to reflect on your use of the Web, and evaluate its impact on your life.
To get a clearer view of the kind of benefit that you get from the Web, you can use the Web History Visualiser to see which sites you visit the most.
What kind of sites do you visit most?
What kinds of service do they provide you?
What interests of yours and what areas of your life is the Web involved in, or not involved in?
Can you think of a way of visualising your conclusions as a chart or diagram so that you can share it with other participants in the discussion step that follows. (Futurelearn WebScience Activity 1)

I am going to skip the Web History Visualiser and rather focus on reflecting my personal history and “relationship” with the WWW.

Fact ist: I use the web. A lot. Every day. For practically everything. Let’s begin with my job: I am an education technologist at a University of Applied Sciences. My core tasks consists of providing tools and systems to help lecturers and staff at my university organise, teach and examine classes. All those tools are web based – so no matter if I give support to users, prepare trainings for them, develop didactically challenging scenarios or fix bugs, I am online. With all my stakeholders, I mainly communicate by e-mail, but Facebook and even more Twitter are becoming more and more important channels to spread information.
Besides my job, I am doing a Master’s program (Technology&Innovation Management)…I do have real life classes three evenings a week, but needless to say, the biggest part of the actual workload happens online as well: Collaboration with fellow students (Facebook and email), research (at least starting with a scholar.google search), online articles to keep up to date in my field. Social networks, readers and mashups play a crucial role in that process of staying up to date. I recently started some “serious” tweeting…getting in touch with people from eLearning and startup communities worldwide, exchanging ideas, articles and impulses.

And of course, a large percentage of my leisure activities have at least a certain “web impact” – if only the organisation / communication is done in the shape of Facebook events, meetings point are arranged and marked on GoogleMaps, or day trips are planned fully online. In addition, I’ve relocated several times as a child, and as an adult, have lived in four different countries. Without social networking platforms, that allow one-to-one as well as many-to-many interactions, I wouldn’t be able to keep up the quantity and quality of interaction with friends I haven’t seen in years.

I tweet, I blog, I do online banking, I stream music, I play online games, I shop at Amazon and Zalando, and I mooc (assuming that the acronym may already be treated as a verb…). Indeed, I find it hard, if not impossible, to define any aspect of my life that functions completely “offline”.

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I like to call this my www passport…tells you more about myself than a scan of my actual passport would 😉

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Futurelearn “Web Science” – Introduction

FLWebSci

I am taking a Massive Open Online Course “Web Science” by the University of Southampton at the moment via the new platform FutureLearn. In order to keep my progress organised organised, I’ll use my personal blog to publish assignements, reflections and other ideas about the subject.

 

To start with a few first impressions of the course:

  • I’ve done several online courses so far (even finished some of them – however, I don’t necessarily think that you only benefit from a MOOC if you manage to complete it) – and I find the Futurelearn layout, interface, navigation and the entire “look&feel” very appealing. Maybe with the exception of Udacity, Futurelearn is the platform that I like best so far…and Udacity is extremely hard to beat, since I have been an early follower and learned so many things that directly impacted my professional life.
  • An informal community for FLwebsci participants was established on Google+ and has been very active so far. People introducing themselves, looking around for students with similar backgrounds or origins, greeting each other and using +1 as virtual smile…it did (and still does) feel like the first day in college. Exciting, even before the first lessons go online.

    G+Community

  • Why did I sign up for the course? Firstly, because I sign up for a MOOC approximately every other week. There is so much out there I might find interesting, and if I manage to get a glimpse of only half of the subjects I enrolled in, it’s an amazing amount of knowledge and impressions I wouldn’t get otherwise. As I said before, I do not necessarily consider a MOOC I drop out from as a failed attempt. However, the Web Science course strikes directly in the very center of my personal interests, my everyday life, my passions…born in 1981, I am allowed myself to just count myself among the generation of “Digital Natives”, earning a living as an education technologist, and when it comes to the WWW, I can only quote post on G+ by a fellow student: “I use it everyday for everything”.
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“What Happens When You Live Abroad”: Thoughts of a Repat.

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I came across a remarkable article, and I feel the urge to reply to it with more than just one Facebook comment.

Chelsea Fagan’s “What Happens When You Live Abroad” on Thoughtcatalog describes the expat mindset, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who has lived abroad not to recognize themselves in at least every other line.

My very own idea of complexity and relativity

I am not sure how people that have never shared this experience read the text. Do they understand that having lived abroad is one of the most precious things one can do in their lives – not despite, but because of all the ambivalence, the constant feeling of being torn between two lives?

Claiming how differently I would deal with life if I hadn’t spent a fifth of it as an expat is nothing but useless speculation, of course. Yet, I do believe that a certain perception of complexity and relativity is one of the major benefits from my years abroad. Not at all on a superior level to non-expats. Just in a very specific way.

The “Blame It On The Place”-Syndrome

There are a few more aspects that came to my mind while reading the article. First of all: a phenomenon that I discovered very soon after moving abroad for the first time and that I refer to as the “blame it on the place-syndrome” ever since. It’s no big news that life is not a candyshop, that sometimes the sky turns grey unexpectedly, that things get rough at work and rush hours are crowded. And externalization – in other words: blaming someone or something – is a common, probably very natural, reaction on minor inconvenience. However, I get the feeling that expats are particularly likely to use the country they’re living in as object to blame. And it’s exactly what I did over and over (and still do). It’s not an act of serious, bitter accusation. It’s more like making digs at a partner or co-worker or roommate when in a grumpy mood.

“Not being Dutch” – my strongest point of identification

That observation based on my own behavior, however, led to another question that is still bothering me. I always considered myself as the “most privileged foreigner possible” – university graduate, summoned to the Netherlands through a governmental initiative to attract desperately needed foreign language teachers, the cultural and linguistic gap as narrow as could be, well paid, eagerly welcomed and helped by everyone. And yet, how could it be that a need for dissociation became so prominent almost immediately and increased throughout the years? That “not being Dutch” became such an important feature of identity to me (whereas I never considered being “Austrian” as a very strong point of identification). And here’s the question: If I was experiencing this on a noticeable level – how would it feel for less fortunate “foreigners”, possibly having left their country involuntarily (or for less sophisticated reasons than finding themselves or a huge expat allowance), without a pronounced passion for language learning, feeling distrust and the open request to assimilate wherever they go.
I am not offering solutions or suggestions. I am asking a question that has been bothering me ever since I started living abroad.

I know I will always be able to do it again.

And here’s the last thing I would like to share. I am not an expat any more, at least not in a literal sense. Once again, I live in the country I was born. Even in the city I was born, although I never really lived here before – which made it technically another completely new environment to adjust to. I wasn’t nearly as anxious as I had been when I settled in the Netherlands. Not because it was my “native country”, though. But because I had done it before. I knew I could do it, and I know I will always be able to do it again – understanding the pulse of a new city, getting used to shop hours, subway lines and how to behave in an office in order to get what you want – and finding the local expat hangouts. Because you never cease to be an expat. Because, frankly, you don’t want to cease to be one.

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MOOC myself. Chapter 2: Choosing a course

courseraOh what a pleasure. I remember an autumn day in Graz, Southern Austria, in 1999, when 18 year old me just got herself the freshly published university calendar – a book of 1000 pages, listing all faculties, all degree courses, all lectures. Everything was undecided, every single entry in that book could have been my future “field of excellence”.

 

Now I am not even restricted to one university.

I know Udacity, Stanford’s spin-off. It’s where I completed about 60 % of a course where I learned Python. Udacity is strongly focussed on Computer Sciences, though, and I want to get a bit further away from my comfort zone.

Additionally, I also know Coursera. It feels like a large register to me, an immense list of courses offered by various universities, searchable for certain criteria. “Explore courses” is exactly what I want to do, and I decide to focus on the following categories, as they seem to correspond best to my previously defined criteria: Biology & Life Sciences, Chemistry, Energy & Earth Sciences, Information, Tech & Design and Physics.

And here comes the first difficulty: “Just enrol in everything you might like. It’s not gonna cost you anything if you don’t do it seriously.” It’s true. The initial “investment” is ridiculously cheap. No money involved. No contract signed. No commitment made. “Do as you please.” But if I know one thing about my personal learning style…”do as you please” is not a very promising policy. Because as much as I like learning in theory – in practise, there is always a load of laundry, a TV show, a friend I haven’t met in a long time or an interesting discussion on Facebook that gets priority.

That means…I am not enrolling in everything I might like. I am going to pick a course. Wisely.

My shortlist consists of the following courses: Synapses, Neurons and Brains (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Global Sustainable Energy (University of Florida), Energy 101 (Georgia Tech), Genes and the Human Condition (University of Maryland).

And I already have learned my first lesson about MOOCs: The lack of an initial investment does not spare you the necessity of making conscious decisions. Because your decision will grant you motivation. And motivation is the currency that enables – or disables – self-organised learning.

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MOOC myself. Chapter 1: The Idea

MOOC Hysteria

Hello world. After quite a long time, I feel the moment has come to revive my personal blog. In my defense, I have been blogging for TEDxVienna, so I haven’t quit the blogosphere entirely.

 

 

But I am back. Because I had a new idea that fits into the category “Try something new. Every day.”

I am passionate about learning, and I am passionate about technology (which probably explains why I earn my living as education technologist). And I like self-experiments. Which is why I will expose myself, deliberately and voluntarily, to a MOOC.

MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses. We have probably all heard of them, admired the beauty of the concept, probably enrolled to one or several, experienced the honeymoon phase (aka “Introduction”), and then decreased and postponed our contributions, never really dropped out – because how do you define “drop out” when there are no mandatory exams to skip and not tuition fees to not pay any more. But I barely know any people personally who actually finished an entire course. 

So I will try to become one of them: A person that completed a Massive Open Online Course. And I will try to document that process in my blog.

There are no rules, except for the one that I’ll pick a subject that I haven’t really been in touch with before. I will try to avoid fields that are clearly related to my job, to previous studies or obvious fields of interest. Why? Because this is one of the characteristics of MOOCs that I find most fascinating: That you have the option to learn things that are really new. To, sorry for the cliché, broaden your horizon as you could never have done before.

Let’s see where I’ll end up.

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“So what is it that you actually do?”

My official job-title, as it appears on my office door, on my business card and in my e-mail signature, is “Research Associate E-Learning”.

That means, that sometimes I analyze logdata to find out how many users do what at what time of the day/night, sometimes I try to decypher SQL-statements, sometimes I spend whole afternoos on Facebook, Twitter and WordPress (legally, that is – to find out how people share content and communicate online and if that could be of any use for higher education), sometimes – well, frequently – try to justify Moodle’s data management system on the phone, currently try to find out if and how intercultural competence can be trained online, at any moment am supposed to either plan, organise or give a workshop or training on technical or didactical level, at times enjoy to impress people by switching from text editor to html and adjust that one table that made them swear for hours, passionately create Wordclouds as decoration for presentations, Moodle-courses and my own desk, and very often just fill in and freak out about paper work.

This natural “diversity” recently made a friend of mine utter serious doubts if I really had a job or if just made up random stuff…”because every time you talk about it, you say something completely different”.

For all those that share his concern…I finally found a version of the rather new (but still not really new any more) internet-meme, that should answer the question asked in the title of this post for all times. Plus, I really like the job title “Education Technologist” 🙂

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The Jester Studies. Pt. 1: Der Joker im Kartenspiel

Was ist aber das Besondere an den Joker-Karten im Kartenspiel?

Der Joker ist die ultimative Kompatibilität. Der Joker kann alles sein…was immer die konkrete Situation erfordert. Der Joker an sich hat keine Form. Die Form wird ihm verliehen durch die Erfordernisse der jeweiligen Situation, sonst nichts. Die Clown-Figur, mit der die Funktion ”Joker” dargestellt wird, ist weniger eine Form als eine Variable, beliebig füllbar. Seine spezifische Qualität ist es, nichts zu sein und alles sein zu können.

Was macht diese Qualität aus dem Joker? Macht sie ihn gut oder böse?

Eine Joker-Karte ist per definitionem immer eine gute Karte. Die einzige Karte, deren Wert nicht durch die Situation bestimmt wird, weil es die Form ist, die durch die Situation bestimmt wird, und diese Bestimmung der Form naturgemäß meistens die Form wählen wird, die den höchsten Wert verspricht. (Ausnahmen sind denkbar. Zum Beispiel Langeweile könnte zu einer solchen Ausnahme führen. Dazu später.)
Der Joker ist also die einzige Karte, deren Wert nicht relativ ist – abhängig von anderen Karten, Spielverläufen, der eigenen Kompetenz und der Kompetenz der Mitspieler, von Zufällen. Der Wert der Karte wird absolut ”positiv” aus dem einzigen Grund, dass die Form relativ ist.

Relativ ist diesem Zusammenhang natürlich auch der Ausdruck ”gut” an sich. Alle bisherigen Ausführungen gehen selbstverständlich von der Perspektive desjenigen aus, der über den Joker verfügen, ihn sich zu Nutze machen kann. Für ihn wird der Joker eben per definitionem immer gut im Sinne von vorteilhaft sein. Für die anderen Spieler – im Regelfall, d.h. bei jedem Spiel, das von mehr als zwei Spielern gespielt wird, die Mehrheit – stellt der Joker, wenn er schon nicht per se schlecht im Sinne von nachteilig ist, zumindest immer eine potenzielle Gefahr dar, solange er sich im Spiel befindet.

In einem moralischen Sinne jedoch…ist der Joker gut oder böse?

Die Grundfrage ist doch, ob der Joker sich überhaupt in moralische Kategorien einordnen lässt. Dass er je nach Perspektive zwangsläufig immer einen vorteilhaften oder nachteiligen Charakter annimmt, hat nichts mit Moral zu tun. ”Was des einen Freud, ist des anderen Leid”, könnte man auch sagen, und damit nichts anderes als Relativität meinen.

In seiner spezifischen Funktion, jegliche Form beliebig annehmen zu können, entfaltet der Joker eine einzige Bedeutung für den Spielverlauf: Er schränkt die Planbarkeit des Spielverlaufs dramatisch ein. Die beste, logischste, strukturierteste Taktik ist in Gefahr, solange der Joker im Spiel ist. Denn Taktik baut auf Planung. Die Planung muss jedoch mit einer Variablen rechnen, einer Unbekannten, einer ”Ungewissen” – nämlich dem Zeitpunkt des Auftretens des Jokers, und, durch diesen Zeitpunkt bedingt, seine Form. Das ist die einzige Sicherheit: Dass der Joker auftauchen wird, und dass er in einer für die Mitspieler potenziell fatalen Form auftauchen wird. Da jedoch der Zeitpunkt – und damit die Form – unbestimmbar sind, wird der Spielverlauf durch das schiere Wissen um die Existenz des Jokers zu einem hohen Grade unplanbar und um ein vieles schwieriger zu beeinflussen.
Die Existenz des Jokers macht jede Spielsituation zu einer Multiple-choice-Situation. Verleiht dem Spiel die Dimension des Zufälligen.

Der Joker sorgt also für Unplanbarkeit, Kontrollverlust, Komplexität, Spannung, er zerstört Strukturen und führt Taktiken und Strategien ad absurdum. Was macht er also?
Der Joker schafft Chaos.
Die Frage nach der moralischen Qualität des Jokers führt unvermeidlich zu der Frage nach der moralischen Qualität von Chaos. (Dazu spaeter.)

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