Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

Overcoming the academic media divide

June 27th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

If I was paid for the number of times i have heard researchers / teachers / lecturers / managers saying they discourage / ban / mark down students from using Wikipedia I would be a rich man (and I am not!). The reasons vary. The usual one is that Wikipedia is unreliable because it is crowdsourced. Another is that they want students to use ‘proper’ sources. Yet another is that Wikipedia makes life too simple.

Anyway the divide between academia and Wikipedia seems to be narrowing. In a welcome press statement, the UK universities based JISC announce:

Jisc and Wikimedia UK are collaborating on a project to bring the academic world and Wikipedia closer together. This will create opportunities for researchers, educators, and the general public to contribute to the world’s freely available knowledge.

They go on to say:

This is a national project, based at the University of Bristol. It will train experts in their workplaces and also run ‘editathon’ events which will be open to the public. Dr Martin Poulter, who is a Wikipedia editor as well as a professional creator of educational materials in the university, will be an ambassador between the two communities. This will include working with Jisc’s communities to identify specific topics for development.

Give us back our data

June 27th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

We’ve always joked that security services were listening in on our email and chat. I suspect many of us thought it was not a joke but it sounded so madly paranoid we didn’t like to admit it. Some of my techy friends steered clear of social networks, others encrypted their email. This sounded a little over the top. Not any more. Thanks to public hero, Edward Snowden, we know the US and UK security services have been illegally intercepting millions of internet based communications (and of course the internet includes telephone) and mining the data for goodness knows what.

And guess what, people don’t like it.

In a recent article referring to “Without Permission: Privacy on the Line” published in the International Journal of Information Security and Privacy, by Johanne Pratt and Sue Conger the editors say:

This feeling of victimization and violation of privacy is the fuel behind the recent public outrage directed toward the NSA and companies utilizing big data in marketing. A recent post on NPR’s blog Monkeysee discusses the differences between the information gathering done by Apple and Target, for marketing purposes, and the government’s motives for data collection:

“Government has no such transparent single motive, like profit, but a variety of motives, not all of which people are confident they know about. What you believe to be the motives of a particular administration or government agency depends on a complicated, often highly charged calculus of politics, policy, media consumption, and internalized constitutional theory that you may not have even verbalized but know in your gut.”

Over the last week I have been having a series of conversations with different project partners about how we should react. We don’t really have anything to hide, nor do we carry commercially sensitive data. But it is just the feeling of outrage at the fact that they intercept and mine our data, Google for commercial reasons and the NSA for perhaps more sinister reasons. We were already uneasy about letting Google have our data. We were already looking for more efficient tools for project management. And I think overall we are looking for systems we can install on our own servers and maintain ourselves. Of course that will not stop intercepts, nor will it stop our data being hacked. But al least we will have some element of control back over how we store and manage our data. Longer term this could have quite profound implications for how the internet develops.

Big data, issues and policies

June 21st, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I’ve been working this week on a report on data. I am part of a small team and the bit they have asked me to do is the use of big data, and particularly geo-spatial data, for governments. I am surprised by how much use is already being made of data, although patterns seem very uneven. We did a quick brainstorm in the office of potential areas where data could impact on government services and came up with the following areas:

  • Transport

– infrastructure and maintenance

  • Council Services

– planning

– Markets/Commerce

– Licenses

  • Environmental Services

– Waste and Recycling

– Protection

– Climate

– Woodlands

– Power monitoring

– Real – time monitoring

  • Health Services
  • Planning
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Social Services
  • Tourism
  • Heritage Services
  • Recreational Services
  • Disaster response
  • Disease analysis
  • Location tracking
  • Risk management/ modelling
  • Crime prevention
  • Service Management
  • Target achievements
  • Predictive maintenance

There seems little doubt that using more data could allow national, regional and local governments both to design more effective, efficient and personalised services. However there remain considerable issues and barriers to this development. These include:

  • Lack of skills and knowledge in government staff. There are already predictions of skills shortages for data programmers and analysts. With the rapid expansion in the use of big data in the private sector, the relatively lower levels of local government remuneration may make it difficult to recruit staff with the necessary knowledge and skills.
  • Pressure on public sector budgets. Although there are considerable potential cost savings through the use of big data in planning and providing services, this may require considerable up front investment in research and development. With the present pressure on public sector budgets there is a challenge in securing sufficient resources in this area. Lack of time to develop new systems and services
  • Lock-in to proprietary systems. Although many of the applications being developed are based on Open Source Software, there is a danger that in contracting through the private sector, government organisations and agencies will be locked into proprietary approaches and systems.
  • Privacy and Security. There is a general societal issue over data privacy and security. Obviously the more data available, the grater the potential for developing better and cost effective services. At the same time the deeper the linking of data, the more likely is it that data will be disclosive.
  • Data Quality and Compatibility. There would appear to be a wide variety in the quality of the different data sets presently available. Furthermore, the format of much published government data renders its use problematic. There is a need for open standards to ensure compatibility.
  • Data ownership. Even in the limited field of GIS data there are a wide range of different organisations who own or supply data. This may include public agencies, but also for instance utility and telecoms companies. They may not wish to share data or may wish to charge for this data.
  • Procurement regulations. Whilst much of the innovation in the use of data comes from Small and Medium Enterprises, procurement regulations and Framework Contracts tend to exclude these organisations from tendering for contracts.

 

About theory and practice

June 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

We have been running a series of workshops for the RadioActive project on developing internet radio stations. Part of this is about content and part around the technical side of streaming internet radio.

In theory the technical side should be easy – we take a series of feeds – from microphones, MP3 players, from a computer and mix them through a 8 track mixing deck before returning the signal to the computer, streaming it to a streaming server in London and hence to the internet. Indeed, so easy we thought it, that we designed the technical training as a breakout session from the main workshops.

We were wrong. The struggle with the technocracy has proved to be the main problem with the RadioActive project. And we came to realize the problem. We had showed people how to set the computer and deck up. But we had not explained the underpinning theories and ideas behind the audio set up. Fine if it all worked our of the box. But if it didn’t then without an understanding of what different components are doing, it is mighty hard to diagnose where the problem is.

Secondly we paid insufficient attention to the issue of leveling. Fairly obviously different inputs will have different levels (just like people – I am make an incredibly loud input). And one of the skills of the technician is leveling those inputs, both using presets during a sound check and adjusting the faders (and if necessary, the gain) during the broadcast. Also, post processing on pre-recorded items can help in getting a common level.
I could sort of operate the deck and system myself. But I had just picked it up as I went along and had no real knowledge of what the different buttons did.

And one of the issues was that people kept asking for us to tell them the ‘right’ why to do it, when , in truth there are many different ways to set the system up. But, once more, to understand the different possible set ups, which is useful when you discover you have left a key connecting cable behind, means having a more theoretical understanding of what we are doing than just following a diagram.
So we have revamped our technical training for internet radio. We have turned it into a two-day module and are experimenting with outcomes based accreditation. Dirk delivered the first workshop for the London partners two weeks ago. And I followed the same programme in Bucharest with our partners from Romania.

One of the critical aspects is we go far further into the theory, explaining what each part of the equipment does before even trying to connect it all up.
And it seems to work. Our Romanian partners broadcast a wonderfully smooth programme last Friday lunchtime. We still have some things to learn – we had forgotten to teach them how to use remote recorders. But the programme is getting set on the right course. Next step I think – is to try to produce some open educational resources and multimedia to supplement the face to face training

Hours of fun and Singing Fingers on the Taccle Web site

June 11th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Jenny Hughes was in Bremen last week and showed me some of her favourite apps on the wonderful Taccle web site. Although the site aims at providing practical ideas for teachers in using technology in the classroom, it is also a great resource for anyone interested in technology for teaching and learning and particularly rich in mobile apps.

We found a number of broken links and looked at installing a WordPress plugin to check for these. In the end we concluded the plugins seemed to have too high a processing load and instead used  free application called Integrity which worked like a charm. We also discovered that the Taccle site has over 2500 external links!

The other technical / design feature which interests me is the metadata / category system. This has undergone a series of revamps and I think gets in pretty much right now.

Anyway here is  one of my current favourite apps featured on the site – Singing Fingers, created at MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten.

Make a sound while moving your finger to record a sound-drawing. Touch the drawing you just made to play the sound back: forward, backward, sideways, or any way. That’s it! Singing Fingers Basic ExplanationSinging Fingers lets you see music, hear colors, and re-see everyday sounds for the beautiful playground that they are. Singing Fingers lowers the floor to let beginners play with sound as if it was finger paint, and raises the roof by letting advanced DJs break out of the grooves of the records into a world where sounds take any shape you give them. Your own fingers are like the needles that play the sounds back. Just like records and tape recorders were breakthroughs in simplicity and power, Singing Fingers has no complex buttons, menus, or rules. One simple medium, one simple touch of the finger, millions of possibilities.How it Works

While you drag your finger across the screen, your voice or any other sounds nearby are turned into colors on the musical canvas. The pitch of the sound is translated into a color, while the loudness of the sound determines the size. If you start on a blank white space you are recording. If you start on a colored space you are replaying. Use up to five fingers to play back many sounds at the same time, forwards, backwards or sideways.

Making Instruments, Telling Stories, Performing, Exploring, and Drawing Pictures

Tap the keys of a piano or sing a scale while dragging your finger on the screen, and you’ll have just drawn your first playable musical instrument. Tell a story while drawing the story on the screen. Explore a sound in the world, like rain or thunder, visually and see what it sounds like forwards and backwards. Use your voice as the “paint” to draw a picture. Laughter and yelling gives dozens of colors, Scribbling with Singing Fingerswhile whistling a note can give you a specific color.

Cross-Sensory Creative Thinking

When you holler out and move your finger around on the screen, Singing Fingers turns the sounds into a concrete visual object. By transforming the pitch of the sound to a color and smearing it across the screen, people can learn to “see music” and “hear colors.” What is sometimes referred to as “synesthesia” or “cross sensory thinking” becomes an everyday part of playing with sounds. One of the goals of the people behind Singing Fingers is to help people to see the invisible and re-see the everyday world as the beautiful playground that life is.The Next Evolution of Sound Recording and Remixing

A long time ago, only advanced technicians with handmade machines could record sounds. Exciting advancements like record players and tape recorders meant more people could play and record sounds, while cultural revolutions like scratching records and making summer mix tapes meant more people were mixing and remixing music. Computers have opened up many new ways to play with sounds, but none have been as huge a leap for DJ Recordpeople’s expressiveness as we would hope for: iPods let you play music, complex software lets you mix it together, and simple programs let you record sounds, but where is the big leap forward? We see Singing Fingers as a step toward the next big cultural transformation, putting all the power of recording, playing back, and remixing, literally at the tip of the finger for the most improvisational, fluid, sound interface we could come up with. Singing Fingers lowers the floor to let children play with sound as if it was finger paint, and raises the roof by letting advanced DJs break out of the grooves of the records into a world where sounds take any shape you give them and your fingers are like the needles that play the sounds back, with as fine control as your hand will allow. The scratching of records, the recording of tapes, the visualization of the graphics equalizer, and the remixing power of computers, in one little app that takes seconds to learn and years to master.

Interface Simplicity Lightning and Birds
Just like record players and tape recorders were simple and powerful new ways to work with sounds, Singing Fingers simply gives you a blank page. To manipulate sounds you only need your fingers to smear them onto the page and to play them back. No complex buttons, menus, or rules. In fact, to record, play back, and remix sounds there are zero buttons or menus (the buttons are only for file manipulation: saving, loading, and getting a new one). One simple medium, one simple touch of the finger, millions of possibilities.

 

LMI for All API released

June 9th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I have written periodic updates on the work we have been doing for the UKCES on open data, developing an open API to provide access to Labour Market Information. Although the APi is specifically targeted towards careers guidance organisations and towards end users looking for data to help in careers choices, in the longer term it may be of interest to others involved in labour market analysis and planning and for those working in economic, education and social planning.

The project has had to overcome a number of barriers, especially around the issues of disclosure, confidentiality and statistical reliability. The first public release of the API is now available. The following text is based on an email sent to interested individuals and organisations. Get in touch if you would like more information or would like to develop applications based on the API.

The screenshot above is of one of the ten applications developed at a hack day organised by one of our partners in the project, Rewired State. You can see all ten on their website.

The first pilot release of LMI for All is now available and to send you some details about this. Although this is a pilot version, it is fully functional and it would be great if you could test it as a pilot and let us know what is working well and what needs to be improved.

The main LMI for All site is at http://www.lmiforall.org.uk/.  This contains information about LMI for All and how it can be used.

The APi web explorer for developers can be accessed at http://api.lmiforall.org.uk/.  The APi is currently open for you to test and explore the potential for  development. If you wish to deploy the APi in your web site or application please email us at graham10 [at] mac [dot] com and we will supply you with an APi key.

For technical details and details about the data go to our wiki at http://collab.lmiforall.org.uk/.  This includes all the documentation including details about what data LMI for All includes and how this can be used.  There is also a frequently asked questions section.

Ongoing feedback from your organisation is an important part of the ongoing development of this data tool because we want to ensure that future improvements to LMI for All are based on feedback from people who have used it. To enable us to integrate this feedback into the development process, if you use LMI for All we will want to contact you about every four to six months to ask how things are progressing with the data tool. Additionally, to help with the promotion and roll out of LMI for All towards the end of the development period (second half of 2014), we may ask you for your permission to showcase particular LMI applications that your organisation chooses to develop.

If you have any questions, or need any further help, please use the FAQ space initially. However, if you have any specific questions which cannot be answered here, please use the LMI for All email address lmiforall [at] ukces [dot] org [dot] uk.

 

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