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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media: An Opinionated Digest by George Siemens - Jan.19 08

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Do you really know how Google performs its search "magic" and how it weighs your site inside search results? Are video tutorials the next wave? Is social networking going to be as relevant and impactful also inside the education universe?

Photo credit: Key909

On these, and other more interesting technology-related topics, education researcher George Siemens, lays his weekly reflections and pointers.

Dedicated to those who want to get a light, but comprehensive overview of media and technology key stories and issues that they may have missed out on this past week, this digest provides a cool selection of the ones you may have not caught on the front page of your preferred news aggregator.


Sense-Making of Technology and Media: a George Siemens Weekly Digest


by George Siemens

How Google Works


Google now controls 65% of the search market, with indications its dominance will continue to grow. With its humble ambition of organizing the worlds information, it has become a steady presence in how many people interact with information (and with each other).

Yet most people are not aware of how Google works. How and why it returns the results it does. Or the decisions Google makes on behalf of searchers. I delivered a session today on Google addressing these concerns (wiki page for the session).

It is critical that people become aware of how search tools work; after all search engines "interfere" with information in a myriad of ways in order to try and make it more relevant to the searcher.

Most people aren't aware that Google delivers different results based on the location of search origin (I get very different results in the US vs. Canada). Or how Google weighs sites and displays results. (In preparing for the session, I did find out that a search query that takes 1/4 of a second involves over 1000 of Google's machines).

Learn More


With different colleges, universities, corporations, and libraries experimenting with technology, the number of tutorials are growing quickly.

Gone are the days of sitting down with someone and explaining how to use a Wiki or Flickr... it's so much easier to just send a link to a video or tutorial. Ok, that's not completely true.

Emerging technologies get used primarily as a result of word of mouth discussions and demonstrations. But, the numerous online resources certainly make it easier to those who are interested to develop their competence.

The Learn More series tackles tools from a librarian perspective. Included: avatars, Flickr, Twitter, Wikis, LibraryThing, YouTube, and more.

Data Portability

Photo credit: Joshua Davis

Data portability is going to become a significant discussion. People are becoming more aware of the hassles of multiple profiles on multiple sites... as well as the concerns about who has ownership of the data. is introduced in a short video here.

I'm generally a big fan of tying pieces together and reducing duplication. But, data portability has its concerns as a concept.

I like having bits of my identity in different sites. I share and provide details to different services based on trust and frequency of use.

I imagine in a structured, connected system, I will be able to control what I share. But there is a bit of (false) security in knowing that a system only knows me by what I've actually entered in the profile, not by the pieces I chose to reveal from a central profile.

Logical Fallacies

Photo credit: Gilles DeCrouyenaere

Green Chameleon highlights a nice resource - taxonomy of logical fallacies. Spending a bit of time in a resource like this is beneficial for anyone.

Social Networking in Education

Photo credit: Steve Woods

The Economist has been hosting a series of debates.

The first focused on technology and education, the second on university recruiting, and the third and final debate is on social networking (great to see Ewan McIntosh in the debate - I always appreciate seeing edubloggers involved in discussions outside of blog community).

The discussion has attracted numerous responses:

Will Richardson:

"Often in my presentations I ask how many folks are teaching MySpace or Facebook in their schools. Not teaching with MySpace, but teaching the literacies of networking through the lens of a SNS. Rarely do more than a few hands go up."
(Source: Social Networks (No) vs. Social Tools (Yes) in Schools)

Danah Boyd:

"In their current incarnation, social network sites (SNSs) like Facebook and MySpace should not be integrated directly into the classroom...I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why social network sites (or networking ones) should be used in the classroom.

Those tools are primarily about socializing, with media and information sharing there to prop up the socialization process (much status is gained from knowing about the cool new thing)."
(Source: The Economist Debate on Social 'Networking')

In a related field - a recent JISC Report on the Google Generation (.pdf) questions the commonly held assumptions that the younger generation are adept at searching and finding information online. I find this discussion on social networking and the attributes of younger learners fascinating.

We are at a transition point. For years (almost a decade) we have seen steady growth in interest in blogs, wikis, and other social technologies. This growth has occurred mostly within a small camp of early adopters.

Now, as the use of these tools has grown to a level educators are not able to ignore, serious scrutiny is applied. When I dialogue with edubloggers, there is a sense of "hey, we're talking about possibilities and trying to see what opportunities can arise".

But now formal research is rapidly picking apart much of those informal conversations and assumptions. As I stated in September "if a revolution is to have life and permanence, the passion and rhetoric must give way to (or at minimum, be augmented by) logic and research". I think we are at that point now.

Diversity in the Edublogosphere

Photo credit: Piotr Bizior

Janet Clarey posts on women in the edublogosphere:

"This could be a post about Canadian bloggers, or Australian bloggers, or male bloggers, or under-30 bloggers or bloggers with webbed feet...whatever. But it's not. It's a post about women bloggers (mostly in the education space)".
(Source: Recap: Women in the Edublogosphere 2007)

Ambiguity Aversion


A short two minute video exploring the Ellsberg Paradox.

Ellsberg paradox forms the basis of ambiguity aversion - where we are inclined to ignore or shy away from uncertainty by favoring what is known. We essentially prefer what is known and exhibit this behavior in making choices.

I wonder to what degree the aversion of ambiguity and the unknown plays in educators resisting the adoption of technology.

While the original Ellsberg paradox was concerned more specifically with choice between two options - one with known conditions and the second with unknown conditions - I think it's obvious that we are more inclined in teaching and learning to pursue conditions with which we are acquainted.

I suspect many educators resist technology use not because they feel it works or doesn't work, but rather on the basis of familiarity and comfort with established habits (bounded conditions). Which in turn would suggest that we would make much more progress getting people to actually try blogging / wikiing / podcasting / secondlifing than to spend time convincing them of the academic value.



On a subconscious level, I think I suffer from Twitter envy (for those not aware, Twitter is a microblog tool that allows people to share "what they are doing now" with their network).

It's like school, where you see all these people enjoying life, having fun, and you want to join in... but internal resistance prevails because you feel that by doing "it" (whatever that "it" is), you will be doing so for the wrong reason: to belong, not necessarily because you have any interest.

Chris Lott has spent some time recently commenting on Twitter:

"Twitter on its own isn't much... but it is amazing what people make of it. Clearly it fills a niche somewhere."
(Source: Twitter on EdTechTalk)

So to all you cool Twitterers out there, laughing and having fun and making me feel like I'm missing something, I'd love to join you. But I just haven't found a compelling reason to do so (beyond satiating the urge for feeling like I belong).


Originally written by George Siemens and published as weekly email digest on eLearning Resources and News. First published on January 18th 2007.


To learn more about George Siemens and to access extensive information and resources on elearning check out Explore also George Siemens connectivism site for resources on the changing nature of learning and check out his new book "Knowing Knowledge".

George Siemens -
Reference: eLearnSpace
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posted by Patricia Mayo on Saturday, January 19 2008, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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