Digital Ethnography @ Kansas State Uni

The Digital Ethnograpy crew at Kansas State university who previously produced the extremely popular Machine is Us/ing Us video (that I often use in my presentations to help explain the evolution of the Web..) have put a couple of new videos out both of which are extremely interesting (and as ever skillfully produced)

A Vision of Students Today is a really clever 5 minute video that should be of interest to anyone who was interested in the recent JISC Student Expectations study..

Information R/evolution covers in a 5 minute video what it took several hundred pages of  David Weinbergers Everything is Miscellaneous book…

I can’t recommend these videos highly enough.  They seem to be doing some genuinely cool work at Kansas State and have a real flair for making it interesting..

Working with Web 2.0 – a presentation to the TERENA-PR working group

Today (28/09/07) I was supposed to be giving a presentation to the TERENA-PR working group in Lisbon about using Web 2.0 in our communications, marketing and PR work. However, due to plumbing problems in the flat above me leading to a waterfall in my kitchen I haven’t made the trip. Not one to let my work go to waste I thought I would add the (massive) presentation here and write a short commentary on what I would say (I don’t rehearse or write presentations in advance other than the slides – just a few notes to self and then I kind of wing it – can make for a lively presentation but makes this sort of thing a bit tougher!)

The presentation is split into two main areas really – the first is an overview of my take on web 2.0 including the tools I use and the main elements of the movement that I try to embrace (mainly the concepts of ‘market as conversation’ and freedom of information) and the second section focuses on more practical examples of how we at JISC have been trying to implement some of these ideas using the concept of the Amplified Conference again as the main example.

One of my favourite slides is the Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0 slide – these are just a handful of examples from a much larger list at – they were selected to back up the general points of the presentation but I think they make for an interesting overview.

Nothing very radical in the list of tools I use – I do use many other sites online that hover around Web 2.0 but they didn’t seem appropriate here (no not those kind of site! things like eBay, Amazon, TripAdvisor..) but I am generally prettty conservative with my usage. I try an awful lot of applications and sites in beta but find myself relying on the same few products (not mentioned here but becoming increasingly vital to my work life are Google calendar and Basecamp)

The Cluetrain Manifesto and Naked Conversations are that oddity in this world – books that drive the digital world. They were both hugely influential especially around the idea that marketing needed to become a two-way channel and more about the conversation than just a lecture (I think we at JISC are only very slowly grasping this concept!)

I think the idea of freeing your data is a vital element of Web 2.0 – the rise of use of RSS and APIs plus the slow take up of microformats allows users to consume your data in the manner that suits them best. This is a difficult sell for many old school managers though as it moves pageviews and eyeballs away from your site…this is something people will have to come to terms with though and especially for organisations like JISC it should not be an insurmountable issue.

My ideas on the Amplified Conference are already available on this blog so in conclusion here I’m just going to add some notes on how the JISC Comms team is looking into using Web 2.0 in general as I was going to pepper the presentation with examples as I went..

JISC Comms is embracing elements of Web 2.0 functionality and thinking as an extra communications channel. It is not being treated differently than other more traditional options in the planning process just another route to engaging with our community.

Currently our primary tools are Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts all of which are having some success at present. Areas we are looking to make use of in the future are slidecasts (animated powerpoints with audio commentary) and video podcasts

Our primary JISC blogs are hosted at and are seen as a way of communicating with our audience in a more two-way manner – allowing comments on posts and also using the blogs as a forum to reply to issues in the community. Wikis are being used much more for collaboration around smaller, engaged communities ( i.e. events delegates, project teams etc) we have used free hosted services in the past ( and but have now moved on to our own installation of Confluence (a high end enterprise wiki) at Our podcasts have neen more successful than expected and are available at (and on iTunes and The content of the podcasts has primarily been interviews with notable members of the community and JISC staff on a number of subjects. We are lucky to have a Multimedia Editor with a great deal of sound engineering experience so we are able to produce high quality production.

Slidecasts are potentially massively useful tool for the JISC community. An enormous amount of Powerpoint slides are produced every year and published on our website but without the context of the actual accompanying talk they are of limited value. Syncing a recording of the talk with the slides genuinely adds value particularly for the wider community who may not have attended the original presentation. Brian Kelly has been experimenting here –

Video podcasts are already mainstream in the wider world of the web and offer much wider scope for integrating multiple sources of information into one short clip. With the rise of online video not only with things like YouTube but also more specialist sites like there is a growing demand for content in this format and we are currently experimenting with producing regular 10-15 minute ‘shows’ aimed at the JISC community.

OK thats all for now – not sure if this makes much sense but hopefully its a litle helpful to someone..The presentation is available on Slideshare
Its also available to download as a PDF here but be warned its 5 megs – sorry!

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‘What opportunities does Web 2.0 offer higher education?’

I was recently asked to  write 500 words on  the I thought I would share my less than original thoughts here..

The term Web 2.0 has always been both vague and controversial and covers a great deal of ground.  Wikipedia attempts to define it at    and the entry is particularly long and detailed (and hard fought).  It is here though that what I consider the defining elements of Web 2.0 are well stated:

“a social phenomenon embracing an approach to generating and distributing Web content itself, characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share and re-use, and ‘the market as a conversation'”

As with uptake of the web in its earliest incarnation Higher Education in the UK is already embracing Web 2.0 in many areas.  Both JISC and the Higher Education academy have been funding work in this are and JISC in particular has been busy publishing well received podcasts, papers and publications in this area in the last few months (see web resources at foot of page).

Brain Kelly who holds the JISC-funded UK web Focus post based at the University of Bath has also been evangelising about the benefits of Web 2.0 for the last 18 months, speaking at a number of high profile conferences and publishing a number of papers (

Between these resources and the large amount of other ongoing work already in process I feel the learning and teaching benefits of Web 2.0 are well served.  There are opportunities for Higher Education beyond this though and in particular the Widening Participation agenda may find areas that it wishes to pursue within Web 2.0.

The opportunity to make use of the rise in user generated content and social networks to create genuinely peer-to-peer, trusted resources for potential students would have considerable benefits particularly when targetted at particularly unrepresented groups.

There are some seemingly obvious opportunities in these areas (though they are not without challenges):

Taking an existing website (i.e. Aimhigher) and opening it up to user generated content – allowing first-hand, ground level reviews of not only institutions but courses (and even student support) as well.  This may seem like a radical step but the success of Amazon and Trip Advisor and many others has proven the power of this concept and as users/customers become increasingly wary of marketing spin it is to peer reviews and commentary that they turn.

Alongside this it makes increasing sense to travel to your audience rather than trying to move them from the destination sites like Bebo (10.7 million unique UK users per month*) and Facebook (7.6 million unique UK users per month*) to engage with them there.  That these social networks are increasingly offering the opportunity to build applications and tools on their platforms should be taken advantage of.  An example of a Facebook application that might gain some traction might be a tool that allows users to identify the courses and institutions they are considering attending and allow them to connect with other users of the same mind or even students currently undertaking those courses or even alumni.


There are many other opportunities and benefits that could be identified as well as no shortage of challenges and potential problems and this is just a brief overview.  Considerably more detailed information is available from the recommended JISC resources below.

What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education-

Web 2.0 and Policy –

Web 2.0 and social software: An introduction –

What is Web 2.0 and how is it impacting on education? –


*According to Comscore July 2007


Stuart over at OSS Watch recently wrote a post about how OSS Watch measure ‘buzz’ around there activities.  This sent me off on a little bit of a tangent as I started to give a little thought to the tools we use at JISC to monitor the impact of our website (and when I say we I still mainly mean Kerry!)

We make pretty extensive use of Google Analytics to monitor the JISC website and especially to track trends in popular topics and spikes in activity.  We also back this up with a desktop application called Absolute Log Analyzer Professional
that we use to analyse the raw log data files that Eduserv supply us.  This is mainly used to track downloads (still a major element of the JISC website for better or worse) and to sense check the results from Analytics.

Alongside this we also make use of Feedburner to track subscriptions to our RSS feeds – since they were purchased by Google many of the previously premium options have become free so we are looking into these tools as well and we use the backlink tool from the Google Webmaster toolset to see who is linking to us…oh and finally, lest I forget, we also generate stats from our Google Mini search appliance to help improve our internal search results.

All this information is about how people are using our site but we also try to track what people are saying about us as well.  Like Stuart we use Google Alerts and also saved searches as RSS feeds at both Technorati and Google Blog Search to see who is taking JISCs name in vain most recently.

Well what are we doing with all this information I hear you ask (well no I don’t but I’m going to answer it anyway!) All the usage data feeds in to our ongoing work on trying to improve the user experience of the JISC website.  The relaunch of the site was always seen as an opportunity to get us to a point where we had a stable enough foundation to really start to try and make some radical improvements to the usability of the site.  This has been a little slower than we had hoped (the usual financial, resourcing and priority hurdles) but we are again picking up momentum as we hit this new academic year and hope to make some real headway in a number of areas in the next six-nine months.

The other information is less well used – JISC has not wholly bought in to the need to engage in the conversation online yet – despite my quiet urging.  Some have started to embrace it but generally it is slow going.  I firmly believe however that it is a direction we should be going in and will continue to do all I can to encourage others.


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Lack of remote control..

As I was sitting in the foyer of the very impressive Said Business school last Wednesday after giving my very quick, and unfortunately quite poor, presentation to the JISC Services Communications Channels workshop (still I was on first and would have made everyone else look good!) I was left wondering two things 1) how the hell do I still let myself get talked into these things? answer: ego! and 2) how do people manage to travel all the time and still get things done?

I have all the tools of the trade – my Nokia E61 smartphone lets me check my email and browse the web (including importantly checking Facebook!) and I usually have my laptop with me and there is often free wifi available…but I just can’t get my head in a place where I can focus on the tasks I need to handle – plus I think I suffer from separation anxiety from my desk!

What I need is some way of shifting my headspace into another way of thinking – someway of making better use of my time when I am out of my comfort zone.

The blogosphere is very keen on the Getting Things Done methodology so maybe thats something I need to take a closer look at. (Has to said though its hard to get past the US marketing bullsh*t upfront!)

It is also increasingly obvious that despite being a pretty constant evangelist for the web as a tool I am personally best served by my moleskine  notebook and JISC pencil!  I just don’t type quick enough to get my thoughts down in any kind of first draft and more and more find myself handwriting drafts of everything first.

However on the other hand my working patterns have evolved to the point that my email inbox is the centre of my work universe – the benefit of GMail is that I can leave just about everything in my inbox, tag each email multiple times and search for anything.  This isn’t quite as successful a technique on the road though!  Even using the GMail mobile application for my phone it is very cut down and not 100% reliable and sometimes I think I would be better off with genuine push email and a standard email client on my desktop (i.e. a combination of a Crackberry and Thunderbird – no way thos guy is ever using Outlook again!).  What I do need though is a bluetooth, foldaway keyboard whatever open I end up taking – not having to use those diddy keys would be a productivity gain in of itself!

I feel its going to be harder and harder to avoid traveling for work in the future and I am certainly not going to get any less busy so these is some urgency about finding a way to handle this..

Oh well hopefully this post has focussed me on what needs to be done and with a busy period coming up I’ll soon have a chance to put it to the test!

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