Was uns der Fall Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica lehren sollte

Fast hätte ich übersehen, dass sich hinter diesem Titel der vierte Eintrag im digitalen Tagebuch des Dr. D. verbirgt. Dr. D., mit bürgerlichem Namen Markus Deimann und Bildungsforscher aus Lübeck, nimmt den Fall Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica zum Anlass, um noch einmal auf die Illusion des sozialen Internets hinzuweisen, über die sich längst die Wirklichkeit einer kommerziellen Dienstleistung gelegt hat.

Können hier technologische, politische und juristische Regelungen helfen? Wahrscheinlich nicht. Weil sie den Aktivitäten von Facebook und Co. nur hinterherlaufen. Markus Deimann hält die Fahne der Bildung als „eine Art persönliches Betriebssystem“ hoch, „das verantwortlich ist, wie wir die Welt wahrnehmen und uns zu ihr verhalten“. Das ist gut, doch sicher auch kein Stoppschild für die Netzgiganten. Markus Deimann legt deshalb nach:

„Eine zweite, bisher nur ansatzweise diskutierte Möglichkeit zur Förderung von Ordnung beziehungsweise Orientierung ist darum eine aktive Medienarbeit. Diese sollte über instrumentelle Aspekte wie Anleitungen zur Nutzung von Tablets oder Apps hinausgehen und insbesondere die sozialen und kulturellen Implikationen der Digitalisierung in den Blick nehmen. … Es gilt, die Medienbildungspotenziale der Digitalisierung systematisch und ideologiefrei zu untersuchen und entsprechende Konzepte für Schule, Hochschule und Zivilgesellschaft zu entwickeln.“

Nun ja …
Markus Deimann, MERTON – Onlinemagazin des Stifterverbandes, 22. Mai 2018

Bildquelle: Book Catalog (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018

Fürs Protokoll: Die Ergebnisse einer Befragung amerikanischer Jugendlicher (13 – 17 Jahre) haben jetzt noch einmal unterstrichen, wie sich die Präferenzen verschoben haben. YouTube, Instagram und Snapchat liegen in der Gunst vorne, Facebook folgt auf Platz 4, dann Twitter. Und ohne Smartphones geht im Alltag Jugendlicher nichts mehr. 45 Prozent von ihnen sagen, dass sie rund um die Uhr online sind.
Monica Anderson und Jingjing Jiang, Pew Research Center, 31. Mai 2018

What Facebook knows about me (and you)

This week (March 2018) there has been a lot written about Facebook, the data it collects, the data it ‘sells’ and the data available to developers, marketers, advertisers, etc. I’ll not go into it here but you may want to read these posts to get the general idea, if you don’t already, why everyone is suddenly worried about their Facebook data – here and here and here and here. There are more. Many more. It won’t take long if you want to find more.

I’ve tried, very half-heartedly and without any success, to delete Facebook from my life before. I’ve gone as far as deleting the Facebook apps from all my devices and only use it through a browser interface now on one device. I know this was only a token gesture to take back control of the data I transmit to Facebook and ‘associates’. I try really hard to ignore the quiz and adverts, I pass over the standard ‘copy this to your wall if you …’ chain-statuses, I avoid commenting or ‘liking’ statuses when friends and family post updates saying ‘having a lovely time in …’ when I know it’s advertising their homes as empty for the next week or so.

I am careful what I do share, I don’t say when I’m away or post anything about where I am when I am away, I don’t check-in to places anymore (I used to enjoy Foursquare and Instagram, they’re both history to me now) and I don’t share anything personal. Even saying this, Facebook has algorithms that can take what I do post, and the data I’m transmitting without even knowing it, and build a profile of me based on this and past behaviour. The scary bit is it also knows a lot about all my other online behaviour through my devices and browser, even if I’m not on or been near Facebook for days. 


So, I’ve downloaded my Facebook data archive to see what they have. This will be interesting … I hope it won’t be embarrassing?
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So, I’ve downloaded my Facebook data archive to see what they have. This will be interesting … I hope it won’t be as embarrassing as it was for Jon Porter? For the record, it’s 230mb of data from over 11 years on Facebook. While I look over the data I will have to remember that privacy and settings were different back then, and what I allowed Facebook to do has changed as I’ve grown up (and the platform itself has grown too).

First things first. Once you’ve download your archive you have to unzip it. Once unzipped you’ll have a main ‘index.html’ page and several folders. Open the file in a browser and, well, off you go.

Facebook archive

And here it all is … friends, deleted/un-friended friends, ignored friends, messages, status updates, photos, videos, ad history, which advertisers have my contact info, ad topics, apps, etc. I think it’s fair to say, on looking through this, that this is all based on the current settings (certainly for apps) as there is quite a bit that historically I know to be different. 

Scare #1

What is scary is actually nothing about me, it’t what it knows about you! Or rather, what it knows about me through someone else’s account that somehow I’ve interacted with or been linked to. It’s not even about friends or friends-of-friends. In my archive is mentions to other people who I’ve interacted with over time. I would love to see what this is like for someone who hasn’t locked down their profile and privacy settings as a lot of this looks like it would link elsewhere, to other profiles, etc. 

Scare #2

Even without knowing it, but on some level I guess I did, I was sharing my location. I turned all settings to private and no location sharing ages ago, but it can still take the geolocation data in a photo and use that to plot where I am. Under the ‘security’ page there are lots and lots of IP address from where I’ve logged in, including device, browser time, etc. Not a surprise really, knowing what I do about Facebook already, but still a bit of a shock to see it all listed like that!

If we link this (and this is my own interpretation here based on articles and developments elsewhere in the ‘internet’, to programmes, apps and algorithms) Facebook can take my photo and work out where it was taken, who is in it (even without tagging them) and make assumptions based on it. Lots of photos in the countryside … adverts for hiking, walking, outdoors equipment. Photos of London … adverts or ‘stories’ for London hotels or restaurants. I rarely tag people in my photos so Facebook wont be able to cross-pollenate it’s data that way, but who’s to say what they’re working on behind the scenes?

Scare #3

Data on each photo has the IP address it was loaded using as well as the metadata from the photo file itself .. including ISO speed, exposure, latitude and longitude. Everything there to identify where I am. Even the most careful of us can still be caught out like this is we’re not careful. What I can see is that, for some photos, where I’ve used an app like PhotoShop Express or Prisma, much of this data is stripped. This is good, but often the lat/long coordinates are still there as well as the IP Address. All pointing to where I was. Example below I’m happy to share as it was Barcelona airport on the way back from a work trip.

Scare #4

Messages I’ve sent or received are there in the download too. I can’t quite figure the order out as it doesn’t look to be all of them, certainly my most recent ones aren’t there. It was a surprise to read the one at the top of the list as I don’t remember ever seeing it before. It was from a friend of a friends trying to find each other again. 

Well …?

All in all this wasn’t the big massive scare I was maybe waiting for or been told to expect by the media, but it’s still an eye opener on the massive amount of data I’ve shared willingly over the years. In isolation this data isn’t really outstanding … but link my profile to the profiles of my friends you’ll get a bigger picture of me and my emotions (which advertisers would love to know about to target their ads to me in times of stress or need). Mix my data to that of others who like similar films or sports or go to the same events or watch the same films, you’ll get a different picture. You get the picture now? This is why 50 million profiles is a big deal!

The scare will probably come in the next few weeks or months when we get to hear more about what goes on with this data in the Facebook data centres. Processing, cross-checking and tagging, etc. through friend lists, photos, locations, likes, messages, adverts clicked, etc. This is where the likes of Cambridge Analytica make their mark, by taking the data and using it to profile an individual, a community, a nation, etc. This is where the power in the data lies, this is where we have been taken in recent years and where we ought to be very closely monitoring what is done with our data.

Will this stop me using Facebook? No. Not yet anyway. I’ve always been wary of anything free and what I share openly or privately. I have thought about deleting my profile and account for a few years and will probably continue to procrastinate a while longer. It might be different if I wasn’t already aware and careful of sharing too much online, if my privacy wasn’t already set quite high. 

Will this stop others using Facebook? No doubt about it, it seems many are shelving their accounts in droves, but will it affect the network in general? What kind of volume would Facebook consider enough to warrant worrying about? Many more millions than we think would be my guess. While there’s talk about ‘the end of facebook’ I think as a company and social platform it’ll continue onwards and will recover. Many of us, me included, will never trust them again, like we haven’t really up until now, and will be even more careful than before. But for many many many more they will carry on regardless or even in spite of the Cambridge Analytica expose.

As part of my previous work with students and their use of social media I used to ask them “when was the last time you Googled yourself?” Perhaps that’s too old now (but still relevant), perhaps we should be asking ourselves “when was the last time you reviewed you social posting history?”


'When was the last time you Googled yourself?' is old news. We should be asking 'when was the last time you reviewed you social posting history?'
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Image source: Kārlis Dambrāns (CC BY 2.0)

Social Media zum Lernen nutzen

Im dritten und letzten Teil des Dossiers „E-Learning“ geht es um den Einsatz von Social Media in Lehr-/ Lernkonzepten. Drei Checklisten informieren über Vor- und Nachteile und geben Tipps zum richtigen Einsatz. In den Handlungsanleitungen wird es dann konkreter: Es werden Facebook-Gruppen, das Social Bookmarking-Tool Diigo sowie Pinterest und Scoop.it näher vorgestellt. Für Einsteiger.
wb-web, News, 5. März 2018

Bildquelle: mohamed_hassan (pixabay)

Sharing

Recent themes to my work has been the nature of how, and what, we share. I wanted to reflect a little on my own ‘sharing’ here, and try and split the sharing from social media, if possible. 

There are obvious easy ways to write about my sharing (per platform) but also I want to think about the why? So, why? I can’t deny one major factor is to reach a wider audience than just those I immediately work with on a day-to-day basis. By sharing my ideas or thoughts or projects or interests I’m obviously creating and managing my brand (me) but I also hope to be of some influence to others working in the same sphere as me.

Blogging

Obviously, there’s this blog. Back when I started writing here I used to write about the day-to-day tasks and tools I used. The last few years has seen me change direction, mainly due to possible conflict of interest with where I’ve worked and the need to keep some commercially sensitive things private. I’ve developed it more recently to be about the why I do things and how I develop myself or my work, my attitude to learning and technology and how use them both. I write here to share experiences and ideas, books I’ve read and reviewed, books I’ve written and curated, etc. I write to have a brain-dump, drop ideas or stress, I write to see what you all think … What do you think?

Twitter

I share my blog posts on Twitter so I can reach more people, and engage the wider field of learning technology. It reaches more people this way and I can engage in conversations beyond my own understanding, therefore helping me widen my appreciation and knowledge for my work. My Twitter activity involved my blog but also other aspects of my work, and sometimes home life too, but mainly my work. I save tweets to my ‘like’ (although I still don’t use it as “ooh, I like this tweet” but rather as a save feature to go back and read or reply to something after the fact) and add people to my lists. Twitter is my go-to place all day and pretty much everyday. My network or followers and those I follow grows and changes all the time, therefore my exposure to new ideas or tools does too.

LinkedIn

I’ve been and gone on LinkedIn before and, at the moment, am back and engaging here again. The audience is different to Twitter, less chat and more ‘sharing’. Perhaps it’s because it’s viewed as more of my online CV, or perhaps because there’s different mechanisms for comments, etc. I don’t know, but LinkedIn is an acquired taste. Currently I like it, but I take it each day at a time with all my sharing. 

Pinterest/Flipboard

I use both these platforms more for searching and reading different themes, less so for my own sharing, but I appreciate the work others are putting into their sharing activities here. For some these are important channels for sharing their work or ideas, and that’s fine.

This is, after all, about what works for you or me. There is no rule that will work for everyone, we are each individual and have different perspectives and needs and likes, and this is what we each bring to the wider community. THIS is what makes our personal (learning) networks so vibrant and interesting. This is why I love to share .. I take so much from the community on all these platforms, I want to add something back in the hope (need?) that it makes a difference to someone like something I’ve just taken. Isn’t sharing great!


Sharing: why and how. It may be a tweet, a blog post, an idea, a photo. This is sharing. For me.
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Facebook

I suppose I ought to add this here too although I’m still thinking of dumping my account here. Facebook has only ever been about family and friends. I dabbled in having a work-type account but realised the audience was the same, but smaller, than my twitter audience so decided it wasn’t worth the extra time to manage and curate it. 

Above all I try and keep my sharing professional. I have interests that creep into my sharing every now and then, mainly on Twitter. Yes, I have two kittens, I drink tea not coffee, I love Lego. But it’s still shared with a view to what my audience may be interested in. I don’t follow celebrities, for the most part, as I’m just not that interested in what they’re doing. Unless they are the kind of people I think are celebrities like Steve Wheeler, Stephen Heppell, Sue Beckingham, Amy Burvall, Maren Deepwell, et al (see the people I’ve been lucky to work with on my books, these are the celebrities in my world!). Then, of course, I’m a groupie and will follow them anywhere I can.

What about you? What is your strategy (if you have one) for sharing?

Image source: iSchumi (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Facebook in der Bildung

Über Facebook in der Bildung kann man natürlich lange diskutieren. Nicht nur weil es Facebook, also ein kommerzieller Dienst, ist; sondern weil wir es in der Bildung halt mit unterschiedlichen Zielgruppen und Lernzusammenhängen zu tun haben. Vor diesem Hintergrund versucht der Artikel, möglichst viele Perspektiven und Bedenken aufzunehmen: von der Frage, was Facebook ist, wie es funktioniert, bis zu ersten Ansätzen und Beispielen für die Bildungsarbeit. Pros & Cons sowie Leseempfehlungen schließen diese Einführung ab. Was vielleicht fehlt, sind “O-Töne” von Nutzern, die aus ihrer Sicht die Bedeutung des Netzwerks in ihrem Lebens- und Bildungsalltag einmal zurückspiegeln.
Lea Schrenk, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 17. März 2017

So long Instagram, it was fun

Yesterday I switched off another network, Instagram.

There are a few reasons for this. It was inevitable, really. So how did it get to this and why?

  • Whilst I used to love the filters, and making my relatively mundane photos look fun or interesting, I am fed up with seeing everything else through a filter.
  • The search was pretty useless; you couldn’t save a search, there were accounts or #hashtags I wanted to keep track of but not follow, etc.
  • The app would regularly hog over 1GB of storage, and on a 16GB iPhone that’s a whole heap of space I could use for something else.
  • Until this last week there was no two-factor authentication, and lots of stories of people hacked and locked out of the accounts.
  • Facebook owns it, therefore we’re all feeding into the Facebook approach to security and data access.
  • Spam. At the end I was getting 5-10 likes per photo from spam accounts selling 1000’s of likes or followers, usually using a busty woman as their avatar, and with a randomly generated username. I was also blocking 2-5 accounts per day who started following me. They were inappropriate or accounts (not people, they were mostly bots fishing – of phishing – for followers and likes) I didn’t want to be associated with.
  • I don’t ‘do’ selfies. 
  • Instagram T&Cs state it can use my photos whenever and wherever it wants.
  • Ads. Oh, the bloody ads and promoted accounts. And the fake accounts.
  • Everyone I know/knew on Instagram I am also connected with on either Twitter or Facebook, so I will probably see their (your) filtered snaps at some point.
  • The pressure to post something interesting. Regularly.

I deleted the app a week ago. Initially I missed it, really missed it, as I used to search for things of interest: motorbikes, lifestyle, research places, etc. But I can find the exact same things elsewhere, I don’t actually need Instagram for that. I can still see their Instagram photos using the web interface anyway [wink]. Examples: here and here.

I started using Instagram probably about 6 years ago (I can’t check the exact date now, the account is deceased), shortly after it launched, and used it mainly for conference and workshop activity. Over the years I do less of that now, but still took more photos of family, locations, food, etc. (like everyone else). But, and here’s the real reason, I was becoming more and more desperate to try and find something new to do or somewhere new to go just so I could check-in (I dumped FourSquare back in 2012) or tag myself there, and share a photo even I found pretty boring. My phone stored the original photo and the filtered version so, unless I deleted them off my phone in a vain attempt at recovering some lost storage, I’ve still got the photos.

It’s kind of sad really, this is all that’s left … “Sorry, this page isn’t available.” I kind of wished I had the option to ‘leave a message’ when I disabled the account, leaving one photo as some sort of tribute to the 2.5k or so photos I created in Instagram.

What do other people say about quitting Instagram? Read this and this and this and this. Most search results are of the likes of Bieber (I can’t believe I’ve just included him on my blog. I feel dirty) or Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley, but for reasons of harassment. This is another reason I am considering my online activity. I’ve not been the subject of anything like this – I’ve had a few ‘tough’ tweets from someone who didn’t agree with me, but that’s part and parcel of a generic conversation, not only online activity, so I accept that.

So, if I’ve taken this step, is any other network at risk of being culled? Well, yes, I’ve already written about my (current) mood and Twitter. I’ve also talked about deleting my Facebook account too – I deleted the app a year ago and only use a browser to access it now. I’ve not deleted FB, yet, because there are friends I keep in touch with only through FB. But let’s be honest, it’s not really keeping the friendship alive, it’s just keeping in very-lose touch, stalking them almost. I might just take the plunge, posting one last update saying

“I’m going to delete my Facebook account. if you want to stay in touch you have one week to send me a message or reply saying you want to stay in touch. We’ll exchange phone numbers, email and postal addresses, and stay in touch the nice old way. And arrange to chat and meet up more regularly too. How about it?”

Here are some articles about breaking up with Facebook: here and here

Image source: Pexels (CC0)

Dear Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you

Here’s a confession … I’m not as enamoured by Twitter as I used to be. Unlike a traditional break up argument (is this the case, I don’t know?) where one party says to the other “it isn’t you, it’s me”, I am most definitely saying “it’s not me, it’s you [Twitter]”.

Twitter, at its core, is something that merely reflects us, either individually or culturally. It’s a free tool and subject to very few rules and regulations. And I don’t like what I see there these days. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be in a position anywhere I would be called, or call myself, anything other than Avid Twitter User (ATU), but today I find myself a Reluctant Twitter User (RTU). I still use Twitter because I have made some amazing friends and contacts there, I have some fabulous conversations and networking, and the like. I’ve had ideas, shared them, allowed them to grow, collected and collated articles and books, all from Twitter. And I want to continue that. For the most part my use of Twitter hasn’t changed in the last year. But the way other people use Twitter has. Let me explain.

I have never used the ‘trending‘ or ‘moments‘ features of Twitter. I’m not interested in the latest celebrity news, I don’t care what who said to whom, or which talentless so-called celebrity is on the cover of some over-priced glam-mag, or whatever they’re called. And don’t get me started on the ads … all I’ve learned from Twitter ads is that the more you interact with them (either blocking the accounts or clicking the ‘dismiss’ option) just means you get more. The last time I tried dismissing or blocking the ads I ended up with a ad every 5th or 6th tweet in the iOS app. Now I ignore them, just gloss over them, and I get far far fewer! Annoying, oh yes, but fewer of them.

No, these are mere annoyances. What is causing me to think twice about Twitter is the way, as I said earlier, the way it reflects ‘us’ and how others are using it. In the last year the world has changed, it’s quite difficult to have not noticed. For my UK and European friends, it’s been Brexit. For the US and, frankly, rest of the world, it’s Trump. My Twitter feed is now full of political commentary and all sorts of negative content that wasn’t there before. Don’t get me wrong, and I’m not making a political statement here, the world feels like it’s on the edge of a very precarious precipice, and I feel like we’re toppling into the abyss on the other side we may never recover from. But that’s not the Twitter I want, or rather not what I look to Twitter for … this is why I ignore the ‘trending’ and ‘moments’ features, it doesn’t represent the Twitter (and my network) I want. 

I admire those who are vocal and active in bringing the ‘new world’ to our attention, to bringing the elite few to task for the masses who are not as able or represented (freedom of the press is powerful and ultimately the only thing capable of bringing balance to current affairs, by holding those in power to account for their actions), but I want to read and hear about it when I choose, not somewhere where I go to learn about my work, my network, my interested and passions, etc. Twitter has always been, for me, about learning, learning technology, etc. because those I choose to interact with and choose to follow are also tweeting about that. The world has changed, and all of us with it.

So, here’s what I need from Twitter, in this new world – I don’t want my Twitter timeline/stream to be controlled by algorithms, but I do want more control (note: I want the control, not for it to be done for me) over the kind of tweets that fill my timeline. If the 1,300 or so people I follow on Twitter want to share and discuss current affairs and Brexit and the like, then I am happy for them and don’t want to stop them, or unfollow them either. I just want some way to filter those out, until I want to read them. Twitter is acting against the rise (and rise) of trolls and the nasty side of the internet (some say too late).

Some might say I shouldn’t’ blame Twitter, it’s merely holding the mirror up to reflect society as it is changing, and it’s that reflection that I don’t like, but Twitter has changed – not just how it’s being used but also how it’s allowing itself to be used. Twitter, I believe, has a responsibility to balance how it is used. An analogy would be to not blame the car manufacturer for the people the drivers kill in accidents where their cars are involved, but we still hold them responsible for either false or misleading advertising features or safety they don’t have, as well as holding them responsible for the safety features they ought to have (so your car can go 200mph … how good are the brakes? Good enough, or the best they can possibly be?). So, Twitter needs to hold itself to account and deal with trolls, deal with the abuse of the verified icon, deal with the abuse of the global audience every tweet can have (whether it’s from someone with 3 followers or 3,000,000 followers), deal with (deliberate) misinformation from those who are in a position to affect so many, etc. Twitter has a responsibility. I don’t know how it can do any of this, but hiding or ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. Inaction to deal with these problems, by association, is the same as allowing them to happen, almost to the level of making it approved behaviour, almost encouraging it?

Am I breaking up with Twitter? No. Or rather, not yet. But I am very conscious of trying hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Oh yes, Facebook. Don’t get me started on Facebook …

Image source: “Twitter” by Pete Simon (CC BY 2.0)

Is LinkedIn still relevant?

I have a LinkedIn account and profile – here it is: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/davidmhopkins

I think it’s OK – nothing special, nothing outstanding. I’ve put a little effort into making it what it is, making sure it’s up to date, professional, and that I have appropriate and relevant connections. I am fully aware of how this ‘shop window’ into my work can work for or against me at any time, even when I’ve been ignoring it for months on end.

Those who know me will know that I moved from Bournemouth University to the University of Leicester in 2012, and again on to the University of Warwick in 2014. I am certain that online professional persona was used as part of the interview/hiring process (let’s face it, they’d have missed a trick if they didn’t use them!) as well as my CV and application forms – my Twitter feed, my LinkedIn profile, my (under-used) Google+ stream, SlideShare presentations, published books, etc.

This is why it’s important to spend a little time keeping your profile up to date, trim the connections (or not accept those you don’t know in some way), post updates and projects, etc.

This LinkedIn Snakes and Ladders from Sue Beckingham is just perfect for anyone who has a LinkedIn profile, student or staff. Sue makes important suggestions on what will help or hinder your profile, like adding projects, publications, and a professional photo (help) or sharing trivia, posting insensitive or unprofessional updates (hinder).

LinkedIn snakes or ladders? from Sue Beckingham

My question is, do we still need LinkedIn? Are those of use who are active elsewhere (Twitter, FaceBook, Google, blogs, etc.) doing enough already, or do we need this ‘amalgamator’ that is LinkedIn to pull our work together? Do you use LinkedIn to find out about people you encounter?

Note: I don’t use the LinkedIn Premium. Does anyone?

Image source: Patrick Feller (CC BY 2.0)

Don’t give it to me unless I can customise it

My first car was a 1993 Rover Mini Cooper 1.3i, in British Racing Green (obviously). I bought it second hand in ’97 from John Cooper Garages (JCG) in West Sussex, and the legendary John Cooper himself handed my the keys (and made my mum a cup of tea while I did the paperwork).

Like so many people who own a Mini it didn’t stay ‘standard’ for very long, as I read through the Mini magazines on the kinds of things I could do to personalise the car. I went to Mini events, like the London-to-Brighton Mini Run and the 40th anniversary party at Silverstone, and looked over the show cars and private cars that were parked up, as well as the stands and auto-jumble traders. I bought the whole set of JCG brushed aluminium door furniture (window winders, door pulls, etc.) and chrome accessories (bling!), as well as doing more mechanical upgrades like vented discs and four-pot calliper for both front and read brakes, and a full-length straight-through (manifold to rear ‘box) DTM-style exhaust system (ooh, that was awesome!).

This was the start of my love affair with tinkering and messing with anything that’s standard to make it personal for what and how I like it. 

At the same time as mod’ing my Mini I also started to work in web design. Here I worked with HTML code and WYSIWYG editors. I constantly tried new designs and different approaches to layout, colours, structure, brand implementation, etc. I was customising what I could, using tools and ideas around me. If I saw a website I liked I’d look at the code, see how it was done, and try it for myself. Then I’d improve it to work how I wanted it to, where I wanted it, and why I wanted it.

Fast forward to 2007 when I joined Bournemouth University (BU) as a Learning Technologist and started working with the likes of Blackboard, TurningPoint, Echo360, etc. Note how I use names of the companies rather than more generic tool names like VLE, audience response, lecture capture? These were systems I had to use out-of-the-box (i.e. no personalisation or customisation), as were other systems within BU. I had opportunities to be more creative and enterprising in other fields and other aspects of my work, but these were highly controlled and locked-down systems that offered little ability to personalise or customise.

For something like Blackboard I had to work in the defined structure and implementation of the installation, but I settled in to it because I had the ability to use it creativity when it came to different approaches to presenting learning materials, online activities, offline resources. I worked with some amazing people in the Business School to develop innovative (for us, at least) assessment techniques (group working, case studies, multimedia, time constrained papers, Box of Broadcasts, etc.) and different ways to utilise and customise Blackboard within the structure of a defined and prescribed ‘default template’.

Today I still have to work within constraints of learning management systems, both internally at Warwick and externally with, for example, FutureLearn. Sometimes the rigidity frustrates me (whilst I fully appreciate the reason for it) and sometimes it’s a welcome boundary with which I can fall back on as a base-line to build on/from. I use WordPress on a number of hosted and self-hosted websites (like this one and my 100 books project), which gives me some freedom to customise how and what I present, although I admit to leaving the innards well alone in case it gets messed up with the next WordPress update.

Customisation, for me, has been key to my own development and understanding of what kind of learning technologist I want to be. Yes, a defined and rigid system is needed in order for it work for everyone, all the time. Yes, the boundaries are required in order that, for example, students. Yes, it annoys me when systems change without warning or without input from the users (e.g. Twitter ‘like’ option), whether they’re free social systems or expensive VLEs (has anyone ever had timely updates to problems identified in Blackboard? How long did you have to wait for the next ‘patch’ which would fix it? Months? Years?).

This customisation has spilled over into other aspects of my life too. I’ve customised by smartphone with a custom cover, I’ve got stickers over the back of my tablet, but this isnt’ really customising the device, just changing the look of it. Yes, I can move apps around and group them together how I think I want to use the, but this isn’t customising it, is it. I think the last time I customised a computing device was when I opened my old ZX Spectrum and did something inside (add extra RAM, I can’t remember).

I’ve loved reading about projects recently where people have ‘hacked’ furniture and repurposed them. Over the festive break this year we’ll be doing this too as a present to our boys (aged 5 and 6), using Ikea Kallax shelving units as base and storage area under a bed, also providing a play space underneath for the kids. For my other boy we’re going to hack his bunk bed and make a fort (like this, but not as full-on – I know my limits). We’re also looking at different ways to create outdoor living space in the garden from different structures – how about a railway carriage (within reason, not sure my neighbours want a full-size one in the garden, even if it did fit!)?

Something else I’ve customised is the humble photo frame. Taking a standard 3-photo frame I removed the glass and stuck a couple of flat Lego base-units in each frame. Each month, sometimes more often, we take it down and the boys make something new to put in each aperture. Again, it wasn’t something I thought could be customised, but now I know I can I love it and see other standard objects in a way that makes me think about how I can customise it, make it work better, for me.

I have also customised my own learning. I use my network (PLN) on social sharing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to not only source topics or articles or research or courses that interest me, but also to engage with them (you!) as I read, learn, interact, engage, and progress through the resource(s). I’ve taken part in a number of MOOCs now (#OpenBadgesMOOC and #ocTEL and #EDCMOOC) and have enjoyed the experiences, both positive and negative. I can pick up these courses up pretty much when I please, and drop them if something else takes my attention. Being flexible allows me to fit more into my life. You might say it diverts my attention too much (you could be right) but if it works, and I’m learning new things about new subjects that benefit me personally and professionally, then why not? Shouldn’t more of us be doing it? I haven’t taken a formal course since my PG Cert in 2010, and that was the first real formal training since I graduated in ’96. I was planning on taking the MSc in Learning Innovation from Leicester, but was actually glad it didn’t run in the end; I’m just not ready ,or interested enough, to dedicate that much time to a formal course. Plus the fact I don’t think I want the formality a course like that dictates anymore.

I want / like the informality of connecting with people through online networks – it’s become a standard to how I think, being able to take something and mould to my needs. Finding new people or resources that go someway to fulfilling my needs is almost expected these days, and the ability to take it and adapt it (with proper attribution, of course!) is the norm.

That’s me: customising what I can to make it ‘work’ for me.

Image source: Daniel Go (CC BY-NC 2.0)