The Only Way is Ethics Ep 2

The second issue brought up was that of online harassment and the balance that needs to be struck between censorship and freedom of speech. The causes of cyberbullying were seen as the cyberdisinhibition that comes with being online, particularly when people are anonymous. However, there is still some bewilderment at the mentality of people who do harass others online, and there was seen to be a need to understand more the reasons why people do it. Steve raised the phenomena of harshtagging and tweckling, that there is a kind of feeding frenzy that occurs when people begin to criticise others and we recounted occasions where we had seen this take place in conferences, where because everyone sees a criticism, there are sufficient numbers in the room who agree that join in and others outside the room also then become involved. Previous experiences of cyberbullying are another reason why some students may be reticent to participate, and this can expose them to renewed harassment or cyberstalking. Confronting the behaviour can be counterproductive – feeding the trolls – but sometimes there can be a desire to address it. There are pros and cons to both. The problem of harassment can be constrained by removing anonymity, but then this runs counter to the needs of pseudonymity stated in the previous post. These two conflicting needs driving the nymwars we’ve seen in many social media.

3. Intellectual Property. The third ethical issue discussed was that of IP of content in social media. Who owns anything placed in social media and how do we protect the intellectual property of students who use it? There is the precedence of shareware within online interactions, and creative commons, and perhaps IP is not as big a deal as it used to be, because we are more accepting of the concept that ideas are free. We all noted that it’s the colleagues who are more reticent to share that are the weaker ones, the fewer ideas you have, the more jealously you guard them. Accrediting ideas in social media is also more difficult, and it’s more likely to fail, but it was noted that people are more forgiving of accidental misuse and inadvertent plagiarism in social media.

4. Authenticity of voice. There were also issues about knowing who is whom online. There is spoofing of identities, sometimes inadvertent, and false claims of experience, sometimes for fraudulent reasons, sometimes to be part of a group, sometimes because of a syndrome known as Munchausen’s by Internet (a version of Münchausen‘s by proxy),  nearly named after the fictional character Baron Münchhausen who was prone to lying, but for some reason people have dropped one of the aitches (although kept the umlaut). I noted however that actually for many people having an online identity that is different than their offline one can mean it’s more authentic, not less. Many people only feel they can be themselves when online because their sense of self is at odds with their physical form, or because their immediate peer group cannot accept their true nature. Again another reason for protecting pseudonymity. In the discussion later, it came up that there are a range of cultural reasons why people may need to perform in a particular way online (not using their real names, not using their image) and we should not enforce particular behaviours, since it’s impossible to anticipate what all of these issues may be.


The Only Way is Ethics Ep. 1

A year or so ago I was involved in the Ethics of Web 2.0 roadshow, led by John Traxler, which we took to ALT-C, Educa and one or two other places. Steve Wheeler attended those too, and today we got to revisit some of those issues in the final session at the seminar. The plan was that the people who attended the session get into groups of three, identify the top three ethical issue of using social media, then report back to the group. We went round the table and each group came up with their top one that hadn’t already been taken. This is what we got:

1. Code of conduct or legislation – People felt exposed as educators without guidelines for how to use social media. With a code of conduct then, even if problems occurred then they would have the safety net of a code of conduct to point to and say, well we abided by that, so it’s not really our fault. Steve brought up the idea of a digital tattoo, rather than a digital footprint, since our digital trail is something we’re stuck with and are inscribed with, it’s not something that just washes away next time there’s a high tide. I suppose we could have digital laser treatment to remove it, or is that over-extending the metaphor? The potential of being permanently tagged with our digital trace is the reason why some people resist the use of social media, and therefore is it fair to impose interaction with social media on our students, as there is the risk of them being exposed. I raised the possibility that society will respond to repeated exposure by social media, and that we will be more accepting of behaviour that we all commit, but prefer to pretend that society doesn’t. The teaching profession is particularly bad at this, primary school teachers are supposedly not allowed to fall down drunk on a Saturday night, as if this out of school behaviour reflects badly on their ability to do their job. My suggestion that we may see a reduction in hypocrisy was deemed to be optimistic (although everyone was kind enough not to point out my inability to spell it). The other suggestion was that actually if we become more accepting of outlier behaviour, then people may respond by becoming more extreme, and so perpetuate the issue, a sort of conservation of deviancy. Alternatively, as technology becomes better at tailoring our social networks and our internet searches to the types of things it’s already identified us as being interested in, we become more and more subject to a filter bubble, and anything that doesn’t adhere to our very select peer group as far as behaviour goes, is considered to be inappropriate. These issues therefore raise the importance of pseudonymity in online interactions and presents the importance of balancing our representations of professional identities versus authentic identities.

Still trying to upload my presentation

OK problems with tech 1) Firefox had remembered the wrong account details. I have two Slideshare accounts, the reason being that I’ve previously had the same problem logging into Slideshare. My email and password combination that I had stored (and written down) didn’t work, and I couldn’t retrieve my password because the “request reset” didn’t work. So both Firefox and Slideshare had screwed up. The interesting thing was that as soon as I set up my second account, Slideshare recommended the first me as someone the second me should follow as he had the same interests as me. So that worked. Now I’m logged in though, I can’t upload my presentation because Slideshare can’t see the file when I browse the directory it’s in. <shakes fist> damn you technology. <Update> One mystery solved. The resets finally came through this morning – so it was my email playing sillybuggers not Slideshare, so I can now access my original Slideshare account. At some point I should merge the two accounts I suppose.

Using social media to support online collaboration

Today I presented a session at Teresa MacKinnon’s seminar “Realities of social media in learning and teaching” part of the HE Academy’s Changing the Learning Landscape seminar series – more details at

Most of my research at the moment is in online collaboration for design, but I wanted to support the seminar, so looked for an overlap between what I’m doing and social media. Online collaboration involves social media, but on reflection I realised the link is closer than that. Social media really forms the safety net for collaborative design.

The argument I was putting forward is that online collaboration can be as effective as offline collaboration as long as trust is maintained in the team. When trust diminishes (usually because one part of the team fails to fulfil allocated tasks) then the difference between online and offline collaborations becomes apparent. If you’re working in an offline team, then you can collar the weaker links in the corridor, or drag them off for lunch, and re-establish the sense of social commitment that underlies most effective collaborations. If you’re working online there are no real ways to do this.

However, research going back to the 1990s shows that trust is developed in online computer mediated communication by socialising, disclosure, joking around. By encouraging usage of social media, then the online teams would have a social recourse to re-establishing trust. However, the students we’ve worked with in online collaboration don’t actually socialise within the groups online. One of the reasons raised by the participants in the workshop was that maybe they don’t want to – which is true – if you’re falling out with someone over work, the last thing you want to do is swap funny cat pictures. However, doing this is (according to the literature) the way to re-establish rapport.

It might seem odd that digitally literate students (and they are) don’t use the communication platforms to socialise. They do create Facebook groups, but these are nearly always purely functional, they are just there to arrange meetings or discuss work. Partly this is because they felt the necessity to maintain a professional demeanour online, since their perception was that this is what you’re supposed to do. With more experience of the world of work, I think it becomes evident that being too professional is counter-productive – peers want to see an authentic online personality. I think another reason, and this was confirmed by the students in the room at the seminar, is that there is a generational difference between people of our generation and those who are younger, one that we see particularly in evidence in virtual worlds. For the middle-aged, we conduct a lot of our relationships online, we have jobs, families, employment patterns mean we’ve moved apart from our peer groups, and so we are comfortable with having online relationships that are solely online. For students who are usually of a younger generation, online relationships are almost exclusively extensions of their face-to-face ones. They usually don’t get to know people only online. They’re not seen as “real friends”. Encouraging students in online collaborations to form these social bonds online therefore can’t be left to chance – the process needs to be scaffolded with activities to facilitate the online socialising process.

There is a link to my presentation on slideshare following. At the moment it won’t let me in because it doesn’t seem to recognise the password that my browser has stored. So either Firefox has let me down on remembering the password, or Slideshare has screwed up my login details. Either way, this technology is not as easy to use as it should be. If I get the reset email (which hasn’t arrived yet, so either my email account is playing sillybuggers or Slideshare is way too slow at sending out my password reset link) then it will appear in my next post.


BIM Level 3 compliance

Still blogging about the BIM-Hub project from at the website As we’re half way through the PI and I have started looking at follow-up projects and one of the grants going round at Loughborough at the moment is Enterprise funding. So we were looking at commercial exploitability of what we were doing. Throughout the project we’ve been looking at a range of things, one of these is how to set up collaborative projects between multiple universities, and what needs to be in place for the students to conduct them effectively. On top of that are the skills that the students need to collaborate. Breaking those down though we can see that some of these aren’t specific to online collaboration, they are generic skills for any type of collaboration, meeting deadlines, planning activities, that sort of stuff. However all of them need to be in place, and not all of them can be assumed to be amongst the skillsets of the students. Well in fact you shouldn’t assume any of them. For me though, the most fascinating are the skills that need to be acquired to make the online synchronous interactions work effectively. It ties into my work on presence a great deal, and has been called by one of my colleagues situational awareness. You can see in the recordings of early meetings, there is little in the way of an online situational awareness, and this really gets in the way of an effective collaboration.

Looking at commercial exploitability the PI on the project was talking about a new version of BIM that is being introduced. BIM is Building Information Modelling, which is a kind of transactional online space in which architects’ plans, building models etc are all shared, together with timelines, deadlines and so on (OK that’s a given if we’re talking about a transactional online space, but this is specifically for the Built Environment sector). Level 3 is introducing realtime collaborative manipulation of 3D models to facilitate online co-creation of digital artefacts. The technology will be in place, but experience indicates that the skillset in order to make this work effectively won’t be thought about until people start screwing up. It was the same with videoconferencing. The trainers and techies would come in, set up the link, explain which button to press, and leave people to it, assuming “well they know how to teach”. Thing was, the skills needed to teach in a videoconferencing environment are far different than a classroom. You have to emote more, you have to pay a lot more attention to backchannels, you have to take your own level of participation way down (because the cognitive load of watching a lecturer on the screen is way higher than following them in a lecture room) and you also need to give them stuff to do in classroom, to bring back to the videoconference, so they get a break from it. And you also need to find little tricks to create a stronger link between the two ends (matching physical artefacts, that sort of stuff). There’s other techniques too.

So teachers would come in, use the videoconferencing kit as they’d been shown, but with no training in the specific skills on *how to function in that environment. The session would be a disaster and they’d go back to travelling a day or two to do a two-hour lesson.

So, the dangers are that BE businesses are going to use Level 3 BIM, not realise there are a load of soft skills they need to apply to make the collaboration effective and deem the whole thing a failure. What we’ve realised we’ve done in the project is to dry run the whole Level 3 BIM thing with students in a working simulation, with similar software, and identify what the issues are in order to provide guidance for anyone using Level 3 BIM. There may be some more once it gets used in the commercial sector, but we have a strong evidence base for what needs to be done.

So … even if the bid for further funding isn’t successful – putting the bid together has been useful because it clarifies the value of what we’re doing on the current project. I’m a big fan of utilisation evaluation, you just find out the stuff you can use. On the project we’ve now got a really good idea of what we need to find out, and for whom. And … that it will have a real practical use.