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Articles for the European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL)

ECIL 2013

The first European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL) took place on 22-25 October 2013, in Istambul, Turkey. I proposed two papers for this conference and I had the opportunity to get both accepted. This was an important milestone in my career to have two papers selected for the same conference, among the quite impressive sample from Iberoamerican works, Alejandro Uribe Tirado counted 23 contributions, in a conference with an European focus. Athough I could not attend the conference, both these papers were presented by my coauthors and they got published by Springer in the conference proceedings ‘Worldwide Commonalities and Challenges in Information Literacy Research and Practice’. In the following paragraphs you will find the information of both articles and some bullet points about them.

9783319039183

1. Machin-Mastromatteo, J., Lau, J., Virkus, S. (2013). Participatory action research and information literacy: Revising an old new hope for research and practice. Worldwide Commonalities and Challenges in Information Literacy Research and Practice: Communications in Computer and Information Science, 397, pp. 48-53.

  • Slides available!
  • Tracks and rebuilds a research agenda integrating information literacy with participative methodologies (E.g. action research).
  • It deals with some topics that are also dealt with on my own PhD research, although on a meta level
  • Develops and presents a questionnaire for worldwide experts that is being answered at this moment. You can still answer this questionnaire and share it with your colleagues!
  • It studies the future contributions of this perspectives for the advance of information literacy
  • Sheila Webber wrote a nice post about this research on her blog, thanks!

2. Machin-Mastromatteo, J., Virkus, S. (2013). Doing Online Relearning through Information Skills:  A Mutual Shaping Perspective for Information Literacy Research and PracticeWorldwide Commonalities and Challenges in Information Literacy Research and Practice: Communications in Computer and Information Science, 397, pp. 380-385.

  • Slides available!
  • It’s part of my PhD research, it integrates social media in a learning experience, discovering the role of information literacy in such integration.
  • The research and methodological framework ‘Doing Online Relearning through Information Skills’ is presented.
  • It advances a conceptual, epistemological and methodological understanding that is important for online learning activities.
  • This particular article discusses the conceptual idea of mututal shaping in this research

International Colloquium on Alternative Models of Learning and Access

Coloquio

On September 19, 2013, CETYS Universidad hosted the International Colloquium ‘Higher Education: Alternative Models of Learning and Access’ and I had the opportunity of moderating its second panel ‘How to successfully swim in learning new schemes Info – skills, MOOCs, ICT and other technologies’. I dedicated some words of introduction to this interesting topic from my perspective as a librarian and as an academic and I also presented the panel’s speakers: Alison Hicks and Jesús Lau.

I wanted to share with you some of my notes of introduction to this session:

  • Although my background is in Library and Information Science, I have been interested in technology and education since I graduated from my bachelor studies on Librarianship, as you may see if you read this blog. I have not been able to study or use Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), although they are perhaps one of the most important conceptual and technological innovations regarding alternative models of education.
  • MOOCs are massive, imagine having hundreds or thousand of students; they are open, as they follow the philosophy of openness; and they are online, after all they are courses, online courses.
  • MOOCs are quite interesting as an alternative model, as they may provide universal access to the university, which might have lost its way regarding its uni prefix.
  • I see that MOOCs have plenty of opportunities and challenges for those teaching them and learning from them, some of them have to do with the competences individuals must develop to deal with them, to develop a strong discipline when it comes to study and for managing one’s own time.
  • Information and digital literacies play a very important role when dealing with MOOCs as well as processes of academic certification and rigor, which acquire a new and perhaps more demanding dimension because MOOCs differ a great deal from classic courses.
  • I believe MOOCs must be oriented and grounded on research and problem solving assignments, and that takes a very special academic to lead them. A special type of course needs special teachers and special students and they can be taught special competences for dealing with them. Training would involve various university departments, such as research, the academia, and the university libraries.
  • It is interesting to point out the importance of the focus of this panel, where we have two librarians as guest speakers, Jesús Lau and Alison Hicks, as well as myself, the Learning and Information Development Librarian of CETYS Universidad, having the honor of introducing the topic in discussion and our distinguished guests. I believe that this configuration of speakers is quite a statement from CETYS’ part, because it means that libraries and librarians must be integrated as part of the engine of educational innovations. One clear path to follow is through information and digital literacies but we must question and enhance libraries’ role in breaking educational ground.

You can take a look at the whole session, which was recorded. I also prepared a Spanish/English bibliography on MOOCs, higher education and skills for this Colloquium.

Participatory action research in the age of social media: Literacies, affinity spaces and learning

PAR NLW Machin

Past November I published in the journal New Library World my article titled ‘Participatory action research in the age of social media: Literacies, affinity spaces and learning’, today I’m pleased to offer everyone an open access version, courtesy of the publisher of the journal, which allows an author version to be published in a repository, so of course you may find it in E-LIS. You can find the journal article here as well.

This article is very important for me, as it is the first time I present officially the research framework from my PhD research ‘Doing Online Relearning through Information Skills’ (DORIS). This research framework is originally intended to study the roles of information literacy, digital literacy, and new literacies in technology mediated (specifically social media) education environments. The abstract of this article is as follows:

This article summarizes the developments, methodological design, and some of the theories framed within a PhD research about the integration of social media in higher education. Its aims are to determine significant issues, challenges and opportunities that emerge when social media are integrated into learning environments in higher education. ‘Doing Online Relearning through Information Skills’ (DORIS) is proposed as a research framework to address the aims, objectives, and research questions of this study. It was conceived from a Participatory Action Research perspective. This approach is intended to help discover and reflect upon teaching and learning practices in a technologically mediated educational setting. Furthermore, the concept of affinity spaces is discussed, together with its distinction from the concept of communities of practice. The data collection methods planned to conduct the study are: diagnostic questionnaire, blog, social learners’ input and reports, a second questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews. The theory of affinity spaces offers a powerful way of thinking about teaching and learning processes mediated by different technologies. The heuristics that will focus the data collection and analysis are: a) on the function of content, and b) on the function of participants’ interactions with the content and/or with one another. DORIS is proposed as a powerful way to organize learning interventions through the structure of information literacy skills. It is grounded on action research and on constructivist, blended, and problem based learning. Researchers, librarians or educators can adapt this model for teaching, learning and researching about and with social media or for other technologically mediated learning environments, or could be adapted for information literacy programs.

On a second half of a course in Gothenburg

This post is a sequel to On a first half of a course in Gothenburg

I came back from the second meeting in Gothenburg for the course on participatory media. It was very nice because I could take Doris with me this time, so she could see a piece of Sweden in person.

I’m really thankful to the University of Gothenburg and all academics associated with this particular course (and another one I took in 2010), as it was the fourth time I went to Sweden for academic affairs and swedes have really made me feel at home, enhancing my motivations to go on, sharing interesting ideas, and overall spending a good time as colleagues.

For this meeting I prepared a paper (which was a little messy) about the concepts of engagement and affinity spaces (James Paul Gee) within my own PhD research. An interesting fact is that I got to meet Etienne Wenger in a seminar in Tallinn University just before leaving for Gothenburg, it was nice to present to him an extremely short overview of my research, however, and perhaps most importantly is that I got his blessing to detach my research from the theory of community of practice and use affinity spaces instead. I mainly decided towards this course of action as Gee really makes good points into when it’s good to go for one or another.

The most promising direction to go with for this course paper, is to further develop this paper with the concept of affinity spaces, which I am doing now. I believe when I’m done I will look to publish it, but more on that later…

Next, I will just share some interesting and disorganized ideas I wrote down during this second meeting:

People lack concepts to describe social media practices, this is pretty evident if you do practice oriented or behavioral research with people on social media or other technological topics. I believe that nearly everything you do with technology tends to be under an automatic “pilot function” of our brains. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we mostly learn by doing in our connected lifestyles. For example, tell me how do you search for further information for some piece of news you just saw on your social sites… there is no straightforward answer to that, and you might run into more obstacles with one topic than with another. Or for example, speak to me about how you decide to share something with one friend or another, and what is the best way you could do it. This statement relates to my research in some way, and there are two ways to do this research at a conceptual level regarding my interactions with the participants, I can either give no concepts at all and have them explain to the best of their knowledge what they are doing and what are their challenges, and then try to figure out of the data, where do every bit of their answers fit into a conceptual framework. The other direction, which is the one I would take, is to initiate participants to concepts, but not in the sense that they have to accept these concepts. Rather, to mediate them and reach a common understanding with them about the concepts. For example, we need to speak on similar terms about information literacy, digital literacy, and new literacies. I have to figure out where on the Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky is the quote: “concepts are tools to reflect and act”, as none can say it better.

Really funny statement: “KGB style VLEs, as they see data about everything” what can I say? It’s funny that I am meeting people who dislike VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) aka LMSs (Learning Management Systems) just as me. And I finally found out an article which don’t speak highly of them. I love this quote so much in said article: they “attempt to render the online learning space familiar through a conservative dependence on predigital metaphors.” Apart from the fact that they are basically surveillance systems is the fact that their design is top down, usually made by IT guys who have little or a really huge imagination, often disconnected with any criteria of accessibility, usability, and/or information architecture. Too many clicks, clumsy, labels don’t make sense, all operations are overly redundant…

Another cool quote: “technology is there to suck the information out of us”, this is a very interesting statement about social networking technologies, because really, this technology is put into place to get information from you, everything is based on your real life profile (the use of the real life you is encouraged anyway). Interestingly, and within my research, where I have to discuss on one side the content I organized for the study and the interactions among participants, I find that the difference between content and interactions is very fuzzy when it comes to social media (and by extension a research on social media), you could almost say that one is another! Funny how we could see The Matrix metaphor on Facebook, where you are the product.

Web 2.0 is a technical concept/descriptor which refers more to the technological platform and the technical aspects of the net which makes it 2.0, and this term is less and less visible in the literature. Rather, we can use a wide variety of names, like social media and remix culture, participatory culture, which are more social oriented or content terms.

Remnants of the old media/old culture survive/clash with new media, I have said before – though I’m not sure if in the blog- that this is a very interesting time to live in because of these tensions, among other things of course. More than once we can take a look at how television is trying to be a social media or to emulate web-like devices. When, at the beginning, Youtube was somehow modeled after old media. We can see this tension also looking at the relevance of newspapers and newspaper-like old media in front of news blogs, and specially RSS, which can be tailored to suit any taste. Digital devices which, for many reasons, can be more effective/likeable ways to get your news. Also thinking about this, it’s very interesting as Rick Falkvinge points out the fact that young people “take sharing in the connected world so totally for granted, that they discard any signals to the contrary as ‘old-world nonsense’”

The issue that “educational research doesn’t get done because of the issue of informed consent.” This is a big challenge, of course I’m not saying that you should jump over ethical and privacy considerations. This challenge is present in any kind of research with people, and it’s funny how social science, information science or educational research doesn’t involve any blood sampling or anything, but anyway it’s difficult to get volunteers for it. I know it very well, as some differences of opinion and organizational policies proved catastrophical for my research and delayed it for some months. And it’s something that some of the literature on action research on education talks about: the difficulty to do traditional research from education, the design of research, consent from the participants, to do it without compromising your time as a teacher, the difficulty of documenting it, and let’s not talk about how badly some circles view action research. However, it’s a shame if research in education can’t be done easily, as academia needs to be researched on and renewed. An action research perspective is extremely important, as critical practice leads to understand power and oppression. Perhaps (and I have faith in this) by really telling students what and why you are researching, you will get some students to participate in your studies sooner or later.

If there is informal learning, then there is informal teaching! This was an interesting discussion within the course. If you could learn informally, say, reading Wikipedia articles, then, I believe that for example people guiding others in forums or teaching how to play guitar on Youtube are informal teachers. They are not necessarily doing this while attached to their regular duties within an organization, they are mostly doing this for free, because they like to (or just ’cause). The motivations of these kinds of users might be a very interesting topic to research.

Two distinct narratives regarding the nature of social media, one as a real communication media (different than one way media like TV or Radio), really connecting people, with an emancipatory potential, enhancing and encouraging collaboration and sharing; the other a dark one, being a covert instrument of control and surveillance. Funny though, these two narratives are not mutually exclusive. We can see that, either in eastern and the western countries, governments have been enforcing control (or censorship) over the Internet, over different things, and for many different reasons (Falkvinge summarizes this last point wonderfully) BUT, governments tend to be not as tech proficient as people, and their protection from harm can have serious privacy and ethical implications. Which takes me to the next point.

V for Vendetta, I can’t take it off of my mind when dealing with this topics of control and surveillance, this comic book is perhaps as important for these times as 1984 has been for more than 50 years. Even if V is pre-social media, it’s a great textbook for this age of social media, activism, whistleblowing, Pirate Parties, and the awakening of the people in general.

This got a little too long, what do you think?

On a first half of a course in Gothenburg

I’m participating in this course about participatory media which brought me for its first half again to the nice city of Gothenburg (Sweden).

It has been very interesting for me to find out that most of my colleagues have a Library and Information Science background and that so many of them are researching the use of social media for educational purposes. I have myself seen this trend to increase in all the international courses and workshops I have attended in the recent years. I think the most important questions posed on this matter within these days are:

  • Why are you doing it?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Which tools are you going to use and why?
  • Philosophical/Epistemological/Theoretical background is extremely complex
  • Of course, you mustn’t ignore that technology is but a tool and does not shape change by itself.
  • The question of how to assess the learning of students is a big question, no easily answerable. It’s one of my concerns in my study, although is not one of the important ones.

I was curious that one colleague is studying the divide between the social media and the real world within a higher education environment, as myself I found in my research that you could have pretty opposite opinions on it from the students “suffering” with these experiments that we researchers do. On one side I have seen that it has been very positive as in such a way that students have told me that they didn’t think about using social media in education before (young participant), that it’s inspiring in a way to enrich his own practice (senior participant); and on the other side, one student (young participant) getting really pissed off because I sent all participants a message about our activities through Facebook’s private messaging system.

Also of note, was the “scientific dinner”, meaning a dinner where colleagues and senior professors gather and speak about research, and well, of course some miscellanea and jokes. I kind of miss that… In any case, I am very happy and grateful to have the opportunity to meet my international peers and have this kind of exchange. It’s incredibly helpful.

I was very glad that after the short presentation of my research I got some of the few and nice words I have myself received towards my choice of research method: Participatory Action Research. Together with an appreciation of the challenges it poses, the resistance in some academic circles to accept it as a valid path, and its peculiarities in how it’s a study of subjectivities, emancipation and the enhancement of human knowledge, practices and experiences.
As it has happened in recent times, I feel the limitations I can have as a member of a research community because of the financial factor. But it’s part of this whole learning experience that I started when I left my country in pursuit of my professional career. Perhaps the best lessons in humility are learned by going through situations of need.

Librarianship in Venezuela, Personal Experiences in Information Literacy and Information Science Research

This article has been published in “Raamatukogu” (Library) nr. 6/2011, pp. 32-34. Reproduced here with the Editor’s permission

In this article, I am going to offer some very brief insights into the librarians and librarianship in Venezuela, as well as some of my personal experiences in an information literacy (IL) program. Also, I comment briefly my experience as a Library and Information Science (LIS) student in Europe, as I took my Master in Norway, Estonia, Italy and Switzerland. Finally I present some notes on my PhD project, currently taking place in Tallinn University.

The Central University of Venezuela and the School of Librarianship and Archives

In Venezuela there are two major schools where LIS is taught, there are located in the Central University of Venezuela (CUV) and in the University of Zulia. I studied the five-year Bachelor in Librarianship in the former. The CUV, located in the capital city of Caracas, was founded in 1721, making it the oldest university in Venezuela and one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. This university has been the alma mater of many of the most notable scientists, humanists, intellectuals and even some of the presidents of Venezuela. Its current location, the University City of Caracas, built between 1940 and 1960, is comprised of around 40 buildings in 2 km2, designed by Carlos Villanueva, with collaborations of international avant-garde artists of the time. In 2000, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.

The School of Libraries and Archives was founded in 1948, it offers five-year Bachelors in Librarianship or in Archives. This school also offers two possible postgraduate degrees: a one year specialization in Networking Management and a two year master degree in Information and Communication for Development. Sadly, there are no PhD level studies in the LIS field in Venezuela.

Some Notes on Venezuelan Librarians

Venezuelan librarians who are motivated enough are some of the most committed, serviceable and friendly professionals in the country. In many libraries it is possible to find employees who are librarians by vocation, not by academic degrees, this is due to the fact that some abandon their studies often in their thesis stage or because they could not enter the university. However, in most of the cases I have found that nonetheless they are an invaluable human resource and sometimes they are very eager to go back to the university or take courses taught by “official librarians” and they really profit from them. I can say that I have benefited a great deal, at a personal and professional level, from meeting and working with them along my career. Librarians in Venezuela advocate with conviction for reading the promotion, users’ instruction, to provide the friendliest service ever and to make the most with the few resources we have. However, we struggle every day with many different challenges. The most recent being some measures imposed by the government, such as the currency exchange control that drastically reduces the ability of libraries to acquire new books and journals, as most of them must be imported. Also, there has been a reduction in the national production of publications, partly due to some erratic policies of the few privately owned editorials and, in the other hand, the government owned editorials have not escaped the political situation in the country and they are part of the same social divide. So government owned editorials only publish authors that are well regarded by the government because of their work or their favorable ideas towards their political truths. Materials published by these editorials are usually of an extreme left wing thought, to say the least.

My First Steps into the IL World: Program for the Development of Information Competencies in the Metropolitan University

Perhaps the most important contribution I could do to the LIS field in Venezuela was while I was working as a Reference Librarian in the Pedro Grases Library of the Metropolitan University (MU). This library was named after one important bibliographer, historical and cultural researcher of the country. The most important contribution of Grases is the edition of the complete works of Andrés Bello, who wrote his influential Grammar and was one of the mentors and professors of Simón Bolívar. This library was established from Grases’ personal collection and has been enriched with further donations of the whole collections of many other important intellectual figures in the country.

While I was working as a Reference Librarian, it came a time when IL started to become a popular subject. From a LIS perspective it was already customary, although in a limited fashion, to provide user instruction; and from the government, there were some initiatives labeled as “literacy”. However, were based on providing access to the Internet through museums and libraries, and educating illiterate people (to overcome analphabetism). These attempts although plausible, were missing the point of IL. So, it was an important moment to start developing IL initiatives in the country, and the libraries had a good chance to gain attention, hopefully recognition as well, if the libraries could provide guidelines or at least experiences on this field. At the time, I was reading about the topic and I attended an online-transmitted inspirational lecture on IL (this lecture was given by Jesus Lau, who would later become one of my mentors and inspiration in achieving higher accomplishments), and I was also doing some learning interventions in some lecturer’s (whom I started to call “allied lecturers”) courses that were intended to help students to know how to use the library’s online resources. So, because I had such contact with the topic, I had the opportunity and the honor to coordinate the development of an IL project. There, I drafted a rough proposal, which was discussed with the other librarians working at the library. We also sought advice from some professors, especially from the allied lecturers.

The IL program was called Program for the Development of Information Competencies (the program). In order to correspond adequately to the university, the program was first and foremost modeled after the educational model of the MU, which in a nutshell, is comprised by the concepts of blended learning and the development of competencies. So the program would include class activities/lectures and also online activities/resources, in order to complement the class dynamics. To fulfill the second requirement, the program was based in the development of certain information competencies. The theoretical framework in which the program was based, although not very extensive was very simple, and I believe that in such simplicity lies its beauty and applicability. This framework, apart of having its roots on the mentioned elements of the MU’s educational model, was also based on the International Federation of Library Associations IFLA core information competencies, that are divided among the headings of: access; evaluation and use of information. There were other important influences when creating the program and its modules, which are detailed on the documentation that I produced about it, available in E-prints in Library and Information Science (http://eprints.rclis.org) and in some international conferences proceedings, such as the IX ISKO Congress.

The core of the program lies in its three modules, which were created from its objectives, contents, assessment forms, activities and resources. These modules are the following:

  • Module 0 Introduction to Information Access and Searching: in this module the students were introduced on the creation of searching strategies, Boolean operators, keywords, ways to limit their searching and the use of the library catalog.
  • Module 1 Development of Information Competencies and Internet Searching: this module would familiarize students to the core information competencies they can develop, they were also taught the principles for the evaluation of sources and to make the best possible use of internet search engines for academic purposes.
  • Module 2 Introduction to Academic Databases: three academic databases were introduced in this module. The choice of the databases, examples and activities used were determined by the specialty of the students.

These three modules were taught in different levels, corresponding to different moments in a student’s career. The first application of the program was in three of said moments: to first semester students, to students of methodology courses (around 5th semester) and students taking the thesis seminar (10th semester). This applied to all bachelor students of all the careers taught in the university. There were also sessions arranged for groups of postgraduate students and lecturers who were interested, all this with varying levels of complexity and difficulty.

Apart from the modules, there was a tradition in the library to create Powerpoint presentations about the use of the electronic resources of the library. In order to make them more attractive, we started to develop animated tutorials, which would replace the old ones and would include voice and music. These were done by combining different software applications: for audio and movie editing, and screencast software. Most proudly, these resources were made with equipment owned by the library and all production was made in house.  Around 8 tutorials of this kind were made when I was in charge of them. Finally, a 10-minute video podcast was made, in order to explain our first experience and promote the program.

There were many things left to do with the program. However, I am happy that I had the opportunity and the experience derived from leading a project of this kind, seeing its full first implementation, and be able to assess it. I consider it was a success, although it can be further developed including more modules, new multimedia resources, perhaps follow the lines of some social projects of the MU where the university offers free courses to the communities in need around it. Simplifying an IL program of this kind for these people in need who are living in the slums is imperative, as an important way to contribute in sensitizing and raising awareness on the use of information for their lifelong learning, culture and recreation. Hopefully to promote the culture of peace, democratic values and for this people to be able to perform more informed choices regarding their rights and duties as citizens and to improve their own lives. Finally, there is the need to open a space for dialog among other colleagues of the country to try and achieve consensus and produce a national set of guidelines, competencies or policies in IL.

While I was working in the MU, after a university wide application and assessment of the program, I found the website of the International Master in Digital Library Learning (DILL), with a call for applications for students from all over the world. Thinking that was a wonderful opportunity, even too good to be true, I decided to take every step necessary in order to apply. Overcoming every challenge natural of my country and any Spanish speaking one was not easy, I had to travel to another city in order to take the English exam, to translate every academic and legal document I had, which is no easy task, in a funny way and after seeing European documents I must say we may have some of the longest documents in the world and it seems that official translating has become a very profitable profession in Venezuela.

The European Years: International Master in Digital Library Learning (DILL)

DILL is a two-year master course that takes you to at least three European cities: Oslo, Tallinn and Parma. In my case, for academic affairs I also visited Pisa, Corfu, and I did an internship period in Geneva, which can be the subject for another article, as I had the authentic pleasure of working almost a month in the library of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). In retrospect and now with a broader understanding of my own knowledge and situation, I think the most positive aspects that DILL brought to my professional life are: to get to know and have good relationships with some of the best LIS professionals and professors from all over the world; DILL also opened my mind to a wide variety of current and innovative subjects in the field, where the only difficulty is to get to choose what you want to study next. At a personal level, I got to study with 20 colleagues from 17 different countries. I got to put my English language skills to a much needed field test, as I got used to the wide variety of different accents and ways of speaking. It was also priceless to be exposed to such a wide variety of cultures and ways of thinking. As with the researchers and professors I met during those two years, I still maintain contact and friendships with some of them.

When it was time to make up my mind regarding the topic for my master thesis, I discussed a very wide variety of topics with Sirje Virkus (who would later be my supervisor) and at some point we agreed that I was going to research on information behavior and social networks. The topic of the master thesis got me a bit away of my previous research, which as I wrote above, was in IL. However, that choice has shown to be quite satisfactory, as I was awarded with a second prize commendation in Tallinn University for it, and I recently published a revised and expanded version of it in the form of the book Exploring Users’ Information Behavior in Social Networks: A Contribution to the Understanding of the Use of Social Networks.

Moving on: PhD studies and the merging of old and new ideas

The months after DILL were moments of decisions and timing. At the end I decided not to turn back and return, instead I applied for the PhD in Information Science in Tallinn University and I got accepted. Now other are the challenges: there is more independent work, the application for more permits and financial aids, normal of living in Estonia for a longer term. My current research is at the same time a logical step up from my master thesis but also a mix of other ideas and interests I have had during my career. Studying the Influence (or Mutual Shaping) of Social Networks in a Learning Experience takes as a starting point the insights I found out about users’ behavior when using social networks. In this research I designed a series of class activities and lectures in order to find out: a) some insights into how do students experience learning when they are engaged in a learning experience that uses social networks; b) to study the challenges and opportunities of using social networks in higher education; c) to discover how does the students’ different literacies (with varying levels of development according to each individual) affect how successfully/unsuccessfully they respond to such a learning experience; and d) how there is a mutually shaping phenomenon between the use given to the social networks and the learning experience itself; meaning to find out how the response of the students may shape changes in the design of this learning experience for further applications and to reshape the design of social networks from educational applications. This means that the use of social networks in education might introduce or ask for modifications in the design/features of social networks, just as the networks can produce changes in the design of the learning experience. Hence, mutual shaping, one influences the other and back again.

I chose to speak about literacies in this current research, instead of just only about IL because there are an almost indeterminate number of literacies, depending on the field where different researchers that have used a literacy associated concept come from. And also, we may put different literacy based terms together under the umbrella term of literacies, or even IL, as I explain below. Consider the following working definition of literacies, as the varying degree with which an individual possesses or has mastered competencies or skills for handling information of different nature or information in different media or format, such as: new literacies, digital literacy, media literacy, numerical literacy, scientific literacy, musical literacy and so on. What all these and other sorts of literacies have in common is that they define the ability to handle a certain kind of information. This is why I state that they all belong under the terms literacies or information literacies. However, for practical reasons and because I am interested in information handling as a general purpose skill and also in the handling of information technologies (social netwoks), I am going to limit this research to information literacies and digital literacies. I expect to redefine my methodology and conduct my final study in the upcoming months.

RSS is dead… long live RSS! How to replace your Google Reader shared feed

If you don’t use or like or know what RSS is, maybe this post is not for you, sorry. I don’t know many people who uses RSS and it’s importance in some situations is not clear, for example in the last sites I designed I feel was tasked with setting an RSS just for the sake of it; and very few of the students I have taught in my “social media” lectures actually use RSS. However, I use RSS very actively as my primary channel of receiving information, instead of having to remember every site I have to visit every day to get news. The way to do this is to subscribe to the RSS feed of a site and then I get all the new in my Google Reader. RSS with Google Reader is also a good option to use if you do content curation or dissemination of information to a determined audience.

The problem is, some weeks ago Google changed radically its RSS reader “Google Reader”, in order to support “better” its Google+. The main consequence in the changes they made is that you cannot keep following what the friends whom you follow share, as users’ “shared” feed was killed. We still have Google Buzz for this kind of sharing of our RSS, but Google will be killing it soon as well. The main problem with this change of Reader for me involves the feed (Cool Stuff) I have right here in the blog (upper/right side). This feed was a Google Reader shared feed, the same my friends could use to input on their RSS readers to follow the items I share.

That’s for the rant, now I will tell you how I fixed it. I use many social networks where I post diverse/personal things depending on how open/close I have their privacy settings. So, I had to seek for an option to get the items I want to share out of Reader and into an RSS feed. Currently, Reader has moved all your shared items into “starred” items. It is possible to send every individual item in your feed to Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. The problem with Google+ is that it doesn’t have the possibility to express updates as RSS feeds, the same goes to Facebook. Then, the solution comes from Twitter or Tumblr.

The twitter address for your feeds ishttp://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/[user].rss The problem is that when you paste this anywhere, every item’s title starts with your username.

So, Tumblr it is, the address for your feed is http://[user].tumblr.com/rss

What you need to do is to go to Google Reader, Options, Reader Settings, then click the “send to” tab and check Tumblr. This activates the option to send an item you read to Tumblr and then it gets into that RSS feed and into wherever you want to paste that, being your blog, site, or back again into your Google Reader. BTW you need a Tumblr account also.

Then, every time you read something in your Google Reader you want to share, click the “send to” option of the post, and select Tumblr, then a new window opens where you can arrange how it is published (for example you can paste an embed code if you want to share a video), then it’s done, it’s published immediately in that feed I just told you how to set up.

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