22 April

Open interview with Jack Dorsey; is Twitter useful for education?

Learning Technologies

Jack Dorsey, CEO and founder of Twitter, toured Spain recently for several days. During his visit to Barcelona, we had the chance to share a conversation with him.

The idea was to make an open interview, based on the questions sent to us by Twitter users. After writing some questions of our own and selecting the most appropriate ones from the received ones, we met Jack Dorsey in a Barcelona Hotel on March 2nd.

Both sets of questions took as a premise the fact that Twitter is a very useful tool for educational purposes. During the documentation process for the meeting, we consulted some blog posts, lists of uses and articles analysing its educational uses.

The surprise came on the talk with Jack Dorsey. He is not specifically interested in education, and isn’t aware of the specific strengths or problems Twitter has in that field.

Alright, may be it is unsurprising for the CEO of such a valuable company. Even so, the rest of the story is on the video, please feel free to embed it on your web site using this code.


05 March

My UOC's main page: design your own learning experience

Learning Technologies

Guest author: Xavi Aracil
Learning Technologies – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya


Xavi is a graduate in Computer Science (Technical University of Catalonia 2002).

In his professional life, he has been a software engineer and has worked at the Learning Technologies Office of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) since 2004, where he has specialized in distributed applications and interoperability. He is presently the Product Manager of the Community Lab (ComuniLab), working on the evolution of the learning environment to a e-learning community.


The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC) has been evolving its actual learning environment under the name of MyUOC. MyUOC is a modular open source online campus to help faculty and students design their own learning experience.

One the components of MyUOC is the main page, once shown when the user logs in (some applications call it Dashboard). The goal of this page is to show at a glance what’s happening in the Virtual Campus. MyUOC’s main page does a step forward being itself a widget container.



“Widgets are full-fledged client-side applications that are authored using Web standards” [1]. They can be executed inside a web page, giving specific functionality. The most famous widgets web containers are NetVibes (http://www.netvibes.com) and iGoogle (http://www.google.com/ig). But widgets are not web only, there are widget containers for the desktop, like Yahoo! Widgets (http://widgets.yahoo.com/), Apple Mac OSX Dashboard (http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/), Google Desktop (http://desktop.google.com/) or Windows Vista Gadgets (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-vista/features/sidebar-gadgets.aspx).

MyUOC’s main page enhances personalization and flexibility. Both students and faculty can organize their main page as they want, adding and removing widgets, dragging them around the page, minimizing them, change the background, etc.

The widgets’ directory is divided into three sections: UOC’s widgets (widgets created by ourselves giving information for the internal tools of the Virtual Campus, such as Calendar or Mailbox, Courses, etc), external widgets (widgets from other container such iGoogle) and subscriptions (a collection of UOC’s news). Furthermore, users can create their own widget giving the HTML code and they can add their own subscription to any RSS feed.


We’re working to make it multimodal. The core of MyUOC’s widget container is RSS (Really Simple Syndication), so we can create different visualizations of the main page specifically for the device we’re on (such iPhone, TV, eBooks, RSS clients).

MyUOC’s main page is available nowadays to UOC’s faculty as an option. It will be released to students this semester. You can find more information at http://macedonia.uoc.es/wordpressmu/edtech/my-uoc/

1: http://www.w3.org/TR/widgets/#introduction

17 February

Networked knowledge: a new platform for the UOC’s online content

Learning Technologies

Guest author: Cristóbal Zamora
Strategic Marketing – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Cristóbal is a graduate in Journalism (Autonomous University of Barcelona 1997) and Audiovisual Communication (University of Barcelona, 2001) and has completed postgraduate studies in Digital Technologies and in Information Management.

In his professional life, he has been a journalist and has worked at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) since 2000, where he has specialised in communication strategies for digital environments. He is presently working on the development of UOC’s brand image and its presence and awareness strategies on the Internet.


The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC) has produced a new tool that lets users surf semantically through the online content relating to the University and interact graphically with the information: UOC – networked knowledge. The platform has been developed in collaboration with Bestiario and offers an innovative system for exploring and working with the web.

The new platform provides access to 350 resources through a search system based on tags. The idea is to offer content linked semantically to other resources. The result is an interactive tool that intuitively connects users to networks of content similar to those they have accessed.

The basis for the whole knowledge system is the tag. Each resource is given a number of tags to define it and link it to other content. Thus, a given combination of tags creates a network of resources and highlights the relationships between these in terms of their semantic likeness, ie, in terms of the tags they share.

The graphic representation of this network and its browsing helps users find new contents that are relevant to their search criteria. According to Santiago Ortiz, member of Bestiario and an expert in information visualisation, “the proliferation of the use of tags linked to different content and sources has led to another non-hierarchical sub-network that can be taken advantage of to share content and knowledge.”

The basic idea behind UOC – networked knowledge is to highlight networks of similar resources, grouped in terms of a series of criteria, and to help generate new knowledge. Santiago Ortiz describes it in the following terms, “The idea of grouping is of vital importance on the internet, as the web is rich in small and isolated content. Smart correlation of a range of content can produce a complex message, a canon of knowledge.”

UOC – networked knowledge is the graphic interface for the UOC’s online resources and structured around the uoc_net delicious account. The software used to graphically represent the content networks and links is 6pli. The result of applying this software to the online resources relating to the UOC is an interactive environment for the articulation of content.

According to Santiago Ortiz, UOC – networked knowledge “lets you create bodies of content with important interrelations between them. It is a space that lets you create different groupings depending on a number of criteria which you can combine together. It makes the networks of relations visible, letting you surf through them while maintaining an associative context for the content based on a literal and spatial idea of the web.”

UOC – networked knowledge is also available in Spanish and Catalan.

11 December

Howard Rheingold: On line social networks

Learning Technologies

Howard Rheingold (U.S.A – 1947) is one of the most important writers and critics focused on the economics and sociocultural aspects of the internet. Rheingold, which is the creator of the “virtual community” term, started publishing his books in 1982. Smart Mobs, his greatest hit, has always been the reference title for any talk about Internet born social movements since it was released on 2003.

Notes on Howard Rheingold’s roundtable at the Open University of Catalonia. Organized by UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning.

Howard Rheingold
Online Social Networks — a more comprehensive term than virtual communities — enable people to co-operate. Social networks have always existed, but now they’re empowered, enhanced by ICTs, so communities of practice can form.

Online communities: promote social capital, support lifelong teaching and learning, connect people and build relationships, grow a searchable communitye memory (knowledge sharing).

Participatory media (e.g. blogs, wikis, mobile phones with cameras) have totally changed the landscape, enabling broad participation by making it easy to share any kind of media (image, video, text, software…). Media allow learning, sharing, debate…

New media require media literacy: understand the media, know how to send and receive, then be able to produce.

Social Cyberspaces Connect People

People join through affinities and shared interests, that can be social, practical, interest-based, technical…

So, you have to start with a plan, a plan that includes social, marketing and technical infrastructure. You have to think on how to attract people towards the network, but then think alson on how to make them come back.

Marketing is essential: build it and they won’t come if it does not fill an important need (they’re too busy); start with enthusiasts (if there’s any, just don’t start); build a critical mass with enthusiasts first, then let the others join; start small, learn, redesign, grow organically: follow an iterative redesigning.

Civility is essential; online facilitation is a skill and a body of knowledge; weed, feed, transplant: gardening, not architecture; encourage emergent leadership, regardless on who you said that was in charge.


César Córcoles: how institutions can face the changes that social networks bring (e.g. teachers).
Howard Rheingold (HR): the actual teaching model (Paulo Freire’s “banking model”) is inadequate for online social networks. The responsibility of the reputation of the “text” (the basis of actual teaching models) has shifted from the editor, or the teacher, towards the consumer: it’s now up to you to determine the reputation of what you’re reading, as the offer is huge. Participatory media, nevertheless, is absolutely compatible with students being more active in teaching, as some pedagogical theories have been stating in the last years.

Oriol Miralbell: how do we manage leadership in big online social networks? Can it be both distributed and centralized?
HR: It’s not either or. Indeed, power and authority are quite different things. Communities, individuals, are normally reluctant to take authority when a reputed person is participating in the community: authority comes naturally, and is provided by the rest of the participants.

Oriol Miralbell: experts or teaching experts?
HR: Teaching skills are the key. If there is a trade-off between being an expert in a field and a good teacher, you might prefer the good teacher, as they will be leading the group towards debate and knowledge sharing in better ways.

Francisco Lupiáñez: how do deal with complex processes (bureaucracy?) when there’s an urgent need for flexibility?
HR: Online, ironically, allows more direct communication with the student, which is really time consuming. So, planning and, more important, seeing how what you are going to build scales is crucial. To be able to scale up, bringing the students agency, and let themselves discover than you discovering for them is one of the most important changes of mindset required to build a successful social community.

César Córcoles: isn’t this kind of working putting more stress on students (switch from passive to active attitudes)?
HR: Is it a problem of stress management… or attention management? Focuss on questions, issues that matter.

Joe Hopkins: how does the work with the wiki works?
HR: I don’t expect them to delete. Context is a must for anything added to the wiki. And if given the opportunity, students will end up finding out things that the teacher did not know… in any kind of media support: text, video, etc. Have to give the students ownership of their participation.

Ismael Peña-López: what are the minimum skills required to engage someone on an online social network?
HR: Collaborative working is new to the students right now, it’s a new way of thinking. The students already live on Facebook, they manage their digital identities, but they might not really be aware on how this impacts their lives. And we have to teach them too these issues: to distinguish between the “know hows” and the “know ho nots”.

Ismael Peña-López: is there a minimum threshold of digital awareness to be achieved before being able to positively contribute into an online social network?
HR: Yes, of course, there are. There’s a set of rhetorics to be learnt to be able to engage in a virtual community. And blogs are a perfect gateway towards this understanding on how things work in the digital world. The ability to link.

Oriol Miralbell: IT tinkering a need? or digital natives already know everything?
HR: digital natives master some tools, but they do not know at all about the whole rest (i.e. 99% might use Wikipedia, 1% might know they can edit it). And this might change… but it might not if we don’t address it within the education system, integrating the training of this skills in the syllabus.

Rosa Borge: virtual communities a need? or can smart mobs be a better option?
HR: We don’t really know yet. Smart mobs are ephemeral and happen after a particular event. Do they stay? Do they turn into a crystallized movement? Doesn’t look like it. This does not mean that smart mobs do not achieve results, but they are on the shortest run… and when there’s more impact than that, it’s because there was an actual movement behind.

Max Senges: quality, control and scalability is a Bermuda Triangle that is difficult to manage. How to mitigate or give away control while keeping the institution happy? How to scale up? HR: Giving up control is not bringing anarchy in, is just defining the boundaries of the project, which is quite different. Peer evaluation is also a way of not exactly giving control away, but distributing it. Meritocracy might be a good option to both keep some kind of rules (not real control, but keeping rules) and also being able to scale the model bit by bit, by shifting some responsibility (and authority) to the “best” students. e-Porfolios, self-reflection, self-evaluation is a very powerful tool too, as it raises motivation, self-management, ownership of your own contributions, self- and third party assessment.

Oriol Miralbell: How to learn to be an online mentor? Should we first learn some particular dynamics before online teaching? How to keep authority?
HR: Tell the students: you’re going to be able to teach this course. This triggers leaders and really engages them, and makes leadership emerge, as the possibility/chance to be the teachers is real.