Tuesday 21 December 2010

2010 End-of-Year Research Review

Inspired by Steve Vosloo's end-of-year review, here's what I have done (or catalyzed) whilst putting the "pro" into "professional student" during 2010!

E-portfolio research project's scope 
When Web2.0 portfolio sites, like Carbonmade, are adopted into curricula, they become electronic learning portfolios (e-portfolios). Although these are based on Web2.0 technology, they need not be social networks as users do not make their connections with other users explicit (for example, Carbonmade's users do not "friend" each other, unlike Facebook's).
With the support of the WCED's curricular specialists, Leon Buchner and John Cowan, e-portfolios have been adopted at 11 Secondary Schools. As the innovation proved easy to disseminate with DOE buy-in, the project's focus changed from examining the diffusion of the innovation to focusing on sustainability factors: in particular, students' use of software affordances in class, educators' satisfaction that use meets curricular goals, plus other in-school and out-of-class factors likely to prevent sustained adoption.

An appropriate methodology defined

Activity theory frameworks, including pedagogy, technology support and school management  will be used to understand the factors at school and out-of-class most likely to affect sustainability. To understand in-class use, frameworks for pre- and post e-portfolio adoption will be combined with a semiotic explanation of software affordances to best understand specific examples of e-portfolio's use and positive and negative outcomes.

"Create your E-portfolio"
 curriculum successfully launched
In my role as researcher, I provided sufficient support for the curricular adoption of e-portfolios to take place. This year a "Create your E-portfolio" curriculum was successfully trialled by a private school's educator; all grade 10 students had created e-portfolios by year-end and over 60% had uploaded most of their grade 10 artworks.

Initial short-term benefits of 
e-portfolio curricular adoption identified
Although literature suggests there are long-term benefits of e-portfolio adoption in a well-resourced, tertiary educational context, these may not translate in a different environment. Pilot research has shown benefits at a well-resourced, secondary school. These include: improved monitoring of year-end exhibition progress and better feedback to parents regarding marks they view as problematic. Preparing a full list of these benefits is likely to prove useful to those curricular advisers and decision makers wishing to promote the curricular adoption of e-portfolios to educators and school management.

E-portfolio adoption 
became a policy of the private school's Visual Arts Department
The benefits of e-portfolio adoption contributed to the Visual Art educator's decision as Head of Department to make e-portfolio use official policy for staff. E-portfolio curricula will be launched early in the year to emphasize the importance of e-portfolios in the Visual Arts syllabus. 

"Use Your Favourite Online Portfolio Service" curriculum developed

Next year the private school educator's launch of this curriculum to his grade 11 students will be researched. Students that have used Carbonmade to create a thorough e-portfolio of their 2010 artworks will be given the opportunity to select an online portfolio service that best suits their future creative interests (for example, students interested in photography might use Flickr or Picasa, while those interested in fine art could use a creative network for feedback such as Behance or Deviantart). In grade 12, students will use their favorite online portfolio to prepare for post-school opportunities (such as applying for access to tertiary education, securing freelance work or pursuing creative hobbies).

Approval obtained for e-portfolio 
curriculum launches and research at public school
The "Create your E-portfolio" curriculum will be launched by a public school Visual Arts educator to grade 10 students next year. If it proves successful, the "Use Your Favourite Online Portfolio Service" curriculum will be launched to grade 11s.

 e-portfolios to educators
Presentations at Visual Arts educator workshops, CPUT's MA and PhD in Technology and Education lessons, UCT's "Multimodality" colloquium and "Technology in Education" mini-conference have helped raised awareness amongst local Visual Arts educators of Web2.0 portfolios. One result is Jolande De Villiers Morkel's successful adoption of a curriculum that introduces third year Department of Architectural Technology students on her "Principles of Architectural Technology" course to using a Facebook Group to collaborate and using Yola, Carbonmade or blog software to publish showcase portfolios. This has been a pedagogical success and may serve as an example for other tertiary educators to follow.

Asked to investigate e-portfolio curriculum design for
under-resourced settings
John Cowan believes that every Visual Arts learner should be encouraged to create an e-portfolio. However, there are no curricula that could support this in the majority of South Africa's secondary schools which are under-resourced. He has asked me to define a curriculum that would give students with access to Khanya labs and mobile phone cameras an opportunity to create e-portfolios. I am exploring funding opportunities to support this research at a local secondary school.

This progress would not have been possible without the assistance of the following people: 
thanks to Dr Marion WaltonProfessor Johannes Cronje and my research colleagues for helping me clarify my research questions and methodology. I also greatly appreciate the support of the private school educator and the WCED's John Cowan and Leon Buchner, who have made research in secondary schools possible. I'd also like to thank the National Research Foundation, whose funding supports this research project. It has resulted in a successful example of e-portfolio curricular adoption that other Visual Arts educators can learn from. Here's hoping that I can research another successful example next year!

Friday 19 November 2010

Some Key Findings, Plus My First Podcast!

I gave a summary presentation on my research at the University of Cape Town's mini-conference on "Technology in Education", yesterday. After discussing the research problem and rationale, I covered my research questions and findings from 2010’s pilot study in the private school. Some interesting points were:

The emotional intelligence of a Visual Arts class' learners should be a key deciding factor for the type of social media platform an educator chooses. If it is low, giving learners the ability to comment and rate each others work, and interact with audiences outside class, could prove problematic . 

The out-of-school support learners' have should be considered upfront in curriculum design. For example, encouraging learners from well-resourced homes to use scanners and cameras at home to digitize their art, could address bottlenecks in class and free-up equipment for use by less-privlidged learners.

Online portfolios could be a useful reference for exam moderators in the event of learners taking advantage of different schools' exam schedules to exchange work. This is a suprising instance of digital media actually helping to combat plagiarism!

There is considerable scope for the DOE and/or WCED to use training in Web 2.0 technologies and online communities to promote a Visual Arts educator community of practice that could share curricula, best practice and insights into how to teach and benchmark ITC literacies relevant to the post-school realities of modern creative professionals. Unfortunately, given the government's poor record in educational innovation, support for such an initiative is highly unlikely.

Given the support Visual Arts educators in Secondary School need to teach Web2.0 literacies in class, it is magical thinking for the government or school management to think that such initiatives could spontaneously "bubble-up"! The school executive and curricular advisers must get involved in thinking how to bridge the participatory gap between educators and learners AND how best to support learners with developing ICT literacy skills (like e-safety, information assessment and digital citizenship) that now arguably cut across ALL subjects.

All conference speakers' talks were recorded for podcasting by the CET's Lovemore Nalube. I'm sure mine will show how challenging summarizing over a year's research in forty minutes was :).

While feedback to the presentation was enthusiastic, I know I can do much better as a speaker. I also learnt a lot from Kevin Sherman's talk on creating memorable presentations. So, my resolutions for next year will include taking my public speaking to the next level AND simplifying my slides to be more memorable. I trust that this will make my second podcasting appearance so much better!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Using Activity Theory for E-Portfolio Research

Yesterday evening I gave a presentation to my co-supervisor Professor Johannes Cronje's Education and Technology MA and PhD students on how I'm using Activity Theory to study aspects of  sustained curricular adoption of e-portfolios in Secondary Schools:

As this environment is very complex, it is important to relate understandings at a micro-level (such as the individual learner's use of e-portfolio software operations in class...) to the macro-level (... and how learners' goal-directed activities meet or subvert the educator's curricular goals). Describing and relating these levels is useful for writing a rich description to cover the most salient issues related to learner and educator use of new curricula.

Activity Theory also affords an opportunity to study the tensions and obstacles of sustained curricular adoption from multiple perspectives; such as pedagogical, IT and school management. By describing how these perspectives affect a subject's activities through each community's rules and division of labour, the researcher can identify sources of tension and conflicting goals (for example, an IT perspective might want to control bandwidth costs, while the educator's pedagogical perspective would want no bandwidth cap for extensive e-portfolio use). By listing all the potential challenges, the researcher can assist Visual Arts educators and other key decision makers with identifying any "showstoppers" and defining steps to avoid them.

Feedback to the presentation was very positive and my co-supervisor felt that it showcases the value of closely following a theoretical model. Good suggestions were also made on improving in it: in particular, I need to add two slides; one that gives a theoretical justification for Activity Theory's use, the other an overview of its limitations. These will be added to this presentation's next version.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Using Apple's Time Machine to restore a backed-up hard drive to a new one

Written for the MacBook Pro, Time Machine software user interested in replacing a hard drive.

My hard drive was emitting a slow, nasty, scraping noise which had steadily increased in volume over the past few weeks. I (thought I) knew from painful experience of un-backed-up-hard-drive-death that these near-rasping sounds were the last gasps before a drive's death. The sudden freezes, unusual for a Mac, had also been increasing, like my good-to-deadly blood pressure at these times, so it was time to bite the bullet and pay for a new hard-drive and bin the old (or so I thought).

I took my hard drive to repairs.com (no website exists, sorry) in Paarden Eiland, where I knew I could get it serviced in one morning for the best price in Cape Town. Denis restored my OS and files to a new hard drive via Time Machine, as I had wisely brought my freshly backed-up external drive with me. This was used in plan B, which had to be followed as installation off the old hard drive had stalled after an hour. It was long morning: 230GB of information and OSX Snow Leopard took about 5 hours to restore.

On leaving, Denis advised me to run a security update and install the latest software. King Solomon himself could not have said wiser words: I started running Software Update, and it told me that there were two hours remaining until the latest Security Update would be downloaded.

Excited as I was that my OSX was starting and running like Usain Bolt, I decided to check that all the most important applications worked post-restoration: I could open and download email from Mail, which was a good start. However, whenever I clicked to view an email's content, Mail crashed :(! After checking all other applications, I learnt that there were problems with software reliant on web-access; Safari, Dashboard Client, et al. were crashing repeatedly. 

Back in the day, I dealt with online support queries for Virgin Life Care's LifeZone; knowing that too-much-information is infinitely better than too-little when requesting technical support, I copied each error message and saved it using Notes.
Given Apple's dismal record of support for South African clients, I hoped using these notes would not be necessary... Less vexing were two other problems: all shortcuts to my user directory's folders did not work from the Finder sidebar; so, I recreated these. Also, I received questioning emails from two people asking about emails they had just received from me. I had struggled to send these months ago… clearly, a very odd database issue in Mail!

Good new was that once Apple's latest security update had installed, I could run all internet-dependent applications. As a bonus, Denis had advised that although reading my old hard drive had slowed, it could still be used as an external drive once placed in a USB SATA HDD housing shell. I bought one from Universe Direct downstairs and used Apple's Disk Utility to erase the old drive. After two hours, I was very pleased to have an easily portable drive with  loads of memory.

It had taken a day, but I was happy that I now had a speedy hard drive and a portable one at great value-for-money. Thanks to repairs.com, Universe Direct and Apple's Time Machine!

Saturday 18 September 2010

My revised research proposal, in one post.

Written for Visual Arts educators and curricular advisers interested in the adoption of social media for e-portfolio creation:

The introduction of software affordances into Visual Arts curricula: educators’ curricular adoption and learners’ use of Online Portfolio Social Network Software for e-portfolio creation.

Online Portfolio-focussed Social Network Sites (OPSNS) are being adopted as e-portfolios into the curricula of 11 Western Cape High Schools in 2010. However, how their software affordances are used, the consequences, educator engagement and factors influencing sustained adoption are not well understood. Without an understanding of this new medium’s use, impact and sustained adoption, Visual Arts educators may be unprepared for some aspects of this curricular innovation and less capable of sustaining it. By describing the outcomes of OPSNS use in class and relating this to outcomes, educator understanding and adoption factors, the researcher hopes to improve our understanding, thereby supporting appropriate diffusion and sustained adoption. As a Digital Arts graduate and creative professional, the researcher is interested in exploring aspects of online software’s diffusion and sustained adoption in Visual Arts education.

Research problem
This project aims to describe the aspects of a new medium’s adoption in the Visual Arts curricula at High School. There is a gap in the literature on OPSNS’ inclusion, as these Web2.0-based technologies are a recent phenomenon. By investigating this gap, we can better understand aspects of social media’s use, outcomes, educator-interest and sustainability. Educators and other key decision makers can use this knowledge to support appropriate diffusion and sustained curricular adoption; through maximising positive outcomes and minimising hazards.

Research question (and sub-questions)
What must be considered when introducing a new medium's software affordances into Visual Arts curricula in South African schools?
1.  What are the operational affordances that learners use when creating and maintaining e-portfolios? (Software Affordances, Activity Theory {Tools})
2.  Does the learners' tactical and strategic use of online affordances meet the outcomes set by the educator in his or her curricula? (Software Affordances, Activity Theory {Outcomes})
3.  What impact does mentoring educators in OPSNS use have on their views on the potential of web 2.0 software affordances' role in Visual Arts education? (Activity Theory {Outcomes}, Diffusion of Innovation Theory {Consequences})
4.  What are the key factors that must be considered for sustained use of e-portfolios in the Visual Arts in South African schools? (Diffusion of Innovation Theory)

Aim of study
To explore aspects of OPSNS use as Visual Arts e-portfolios, outcomes, educator engagement and the key factors affecting sustained adoption.

The research project seeks to understand the use of a new medium (OPSNS)’s software affordances for Visual Arts e-portfolio creation and the experience of High School learners and educators using OPSNS-related curricula.


This research explores OPSNS’ novel curricular adoption for High School Visual Arts e-portfolio creation and maintenance. This study may resonate with others involved in similar adoptions, thereby aiding diffusion and sustained adoption.


A Visual Arts syllabus that introduces learners to OPSNS should help them to improve digital literacy; supporting better use of ICT and preparing learners to participate in the knowledge society as aspirant visual artists. Educators and relevant decision-makers may benefit through having novel curricular examples to refer to that resonate with their practice; helping them to be better prepared. Government’s curricular advisers could benefit from understanding aspects of this curricular innovation’s adoption. This may help them with diffusing it more appropriately. Researchers may learn from this project’s contribution to a gap in the literature.

To partially reflect South Africa’s three-tiered educational system, fieldwork will be done at one private and one public High School in Cape Town. Audio-video recordings of Online Portfolio-related classes, research notes, learner questionnaire feedback and an OPSNS progress-tracking spreadsheet will be used to better understand student use of OPSNS’ affordances in class. Interviews with educators, their curricula and progress spreadsheets will be used to understand the consequences of learners’ strategic and tactical use of affordances. Feedback from educators to questionnaires and interviews will be used to understand the impact that use of OPSNS has had on their views about web 2.0 software affordances' role in Visual Arts education. Educators and curricular advisors will be interviewed to understand key factors that do, and could, influence sustained use of e-portfolios in the Visual Arts in South African schools.

Sunday 12 September 2010

My research proposal in a one post nutshell!

Understanding aspects of a new medium’s, Social Network Sites, use and sustained adoption as e-portfolios in High School Visual Arts' curricula.

Online Portfolio-focussed Social Network Sites (OPSNS) are being adopted as e-portfolios into the curricula of 11 Western Cape High Schools in 2010. However, how they are used, the consequences of use and the supporting factors for sustainable adoption are not well understood. Without an holistic perspective on this new medium’s use, impact and sustainability factors, educators and key decision makers may be unprepared for some aspects of this curricular innovation and less likely to sustain it. By richly describing the aspects, the researcher hopes to improve our understanding, thereby supporting appropriate adoption and use. As a Digital Arts graduate and creative professional, the researcher is interested in exploring aspects of social media and e-portfolio use in Visual Arts education.

Research problem
This project aims to describe the aspects of a new medium’s use at High School. There is a gap in the literature on aspects of Web2.0 OPSNS’ inclusion in Visual Arts curricula, as this is a recent phenomenon. By investigating this gap, we can better understand aspects of social media’s use, impact and sustainability. Educators and other key decision makers can use this knowledge to support sustained curricular adoption through maximising benefits and minimising hazards.

Research question
What are the aspects to consider when a new medium (OPSNS) is adopted into the Visual Arts and Design Curricula at High School?
  1. How do learners use OPSNS in class? (Software Affordances, Activity Theory {Tools})
  2. What are the consequences for educators of OPSNS’ use as e-portfolios by learners? (Activity Theory {Outcomes}, Diffusion of Innovation Theory {Consequences})
  3. Do the outcomes of OPSNS-use as e-portfolios meet the expectations of educators and learners? (Use-In-Practice Methodology; Activity Theory {Outcomes})
  4. What must be considered for sustainable adoption of OPSNS as e-portfolios in South African High Schools? (Diffusion of Innovation Theory)
Aim of study
To explore aspects of OPSNS use as Visual Arts e-portfolios and factors affecting sustained adoption.

The research project seeks to understand the experience of High School
Visual Arts' learners and educators, once a new medium (OPSNS) is adopted for e-portfolio creation.

This research explores aspects of OPSNS’ novel adoption as High School e-portfolios. This study may resonate with others involved in similar adoptions, thereby aiding sustained adoption.

A Visual Arts syllabus that introduces learners to OPSNS should help them to improve digital literacy.
In particular,  ICT proficiency could help learners participate in the knowledge society as aspirant creative professionals. Educators and relevant decision-makers may benefit through having novel curricular examples to refer to that resonate with their practice; helping them to be better prepared. Government’s curricular advisers could benefit from understanding this curricular innovation's aspects. This will help them to be better informed and give more appropriate advice to educators interested in launching similar initiatives. Other researchers may learn from this project’s contribution to a gap in the literature.

To partially reflect South Africa’s two-tiered educational system, fieldwork will be done at a private and public High School in Cape Town. Audio-video recordings of Online Portfolio-related classes, research notes, learner questionnaires and OPSNS progress trackers will be used to better understand student use of OPSNS affordances in class. Educators will be interviewed to understand the consequences of learners’ OPSNS use. Educators and learners will answer questionnaires to understand whether the outcomes of OPSNS use as e-portfolios met expectations. Educators, curricular advisors and other key decision makers will be interviewed to understand what must be considered for sustainable adoption of OPSNS as e-portfolios in local schools.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Improve your online presence

For my first tutoring session in the "Online Media Production" course, I prepared a presentation on the importance of students using their practical internet work to improve their online reputation. This is highly relevant in Film and Media, where examples of a student's practical work are critical when searching for employment in industry.

This presentation has been amended for a broader audience at http://www.slideshare.net/TravisNoakes/improve-your-online-presence-2010; I hope you find it interesting!

Tuesday 3 August 2010

A private high school's staff responses to a Web 2.0 and "abundant digital media" presentation

Written for South African High School educators and decision makers.

My latest presentation sums up questionnaire feedback from fourteen South African private high school staff. This follows a talk I gave on "abundant digital culture" and its potential benefits and hazards for their school. 

One educator made an important point on terminology; "abundant culture" could be misconstrued as promoting an affluent, materialistic bias. I now use the term "abundant digital media" to avoid this association. Plus, it better reflects the concept. I hope other researchers follow suit!

The biggest challenge the questionnaire feedback reveals is that while educators surveyed believe that  Web 2.0 and allied technologies should increasingly impact education, most teachers do not currently have the support they need to prepare for this in their curriculums. Without the time, assistance and incentives to learn new software, it is unlikely that educators will be able to help learners develop new media literacies in class. 

Unless school management decides to prioritise such support, many educators will not be able to provide the learning advantages that abundant digital media could offer from 2013. They will also be unprepared to help learners with avoiding its hazards. It is now up to school management to weigh-up the costs of helping its educators versus the risks of procrastination.

Hopefully, the opportunity-cost proves worthwhile; resulting in clear directives, policy support, training and appropriate incentives. These should encourage all the school's educators to "bubble-up" curriculum innovations whose Information Communication Technology knowledge and skills-development can better prepare learners for the post-industrial economy.

Friday 16 July 2010

Let me bore you (AKA early 2008 Apple Macbook Pro Airport problem fixed)

Written strictly for fellow and sister "early 2008 Apple Macbook Pro Airport problem" sufferers.

My blog is still not changing its name to "Cr-Apple", despite this being the fourth post about a certain 'Macbook Pro early 2008 airport problem' that would not go away. If this problem was an embarrassing relative, he'd be the type to pass-out drunk at your Christmas party, then ask to be your house guest until Easter. Too polite, you accept, only to realize the depths of your error; awoken at 2H00 for quite possibly the tenth Sunday in a row by his porcelain-god-chunking. Only, in my laptop's case, it's like needing to restart ten times before you are internet-connected, and then only for a few minutes. In with anger, out with "AAUGH!" :( , and repeat... ad nauseum.

After considering the lower costs, but lengthy time and cognitive capital load required to switch to a new OS and hardware; I've decided to keep my Apple network going and eventually add a Google one (once a decently spec'd OS Chrome netbook is out). That's another problem with buying Macs; once you're in, it's hard to switch back. It's like Apple has a global monopoly on two-ply toilet paper. While one's head might object to the monopoly, in one's heart it's so hard to go back to a one-ply, itsy-bitsy computer experience, no matter how bad Apple's support of you (the South African customer) is AND an "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Apple-switched Mind" not being an option...

Having decided to stick with Apple and organize a fix of this technical/software/demonic problem whatever it takes, I googled whether any Apple customers have experienced the same technical problem. http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=574096's final post showed the most promising suggestion, which boiled down to; "replace the LIO/Audio Board with Insulatior". repair.com agreed that this could work, so it was off to Paarden Eiland for more repairs this morning. Two replaced boards later and my airport network is now stable. I hope to be again soon, too ;). I'm sure we're all really looking forward to my Isabel Jones (RIP) stint on Apple ending. Cheers to this being the last post on the topic for 2010!

P.S. My "plan B" is to order an Mvix Nubbin 802.11 N USB Adapter, which actually has OS X 10.6 drivers (unlike most others). I'm hoping this won't be necessary, since (Cr)Apple (SA) has "got my back". No pun intended. NOT!

Tuesday 6 July 2010

What to do with a good Apple gone bad in Cape Town…

For any Capetonian Apple Mac user who has ever been told to "replace a processor".

If you ever hear the dread words from your local Apple resellers' technician;  "Sorry, you need to replace your processor", you may be forgiven for translating this as "Holy Smokes, Batman. Another three months in the salt mines to pay for an Apple stuff-up? DOH! Why am I doing this to myself. I should have bought a PC like that tightwad friend warned me to!"

To help you defeat that negative voice, know that being told "you must  replace your broken processor" may (especially in Cape Town) mean:
  •     "I could try to fix this, but if I broke something, my crummy boss would take the repair costs out of my salary."
  •     "I've got too much work already. Why don't you just buy a new laptop and save me some time, alright?"
  •     "I really don't have a clue how to fix this and my boss wants us to boost sales. Let's create a win-win situation; only, you don't!"
  •     "Sending this off to Apple (Europe) and back is so expensive. It's not even guaranteed to fix your problem. Buy new and we'll get it right, first time."
So, do not let the veiled command; "... replace ... processor" fool you into hurling your bad Apple onto the heap. Rather, get a second opinion (i.e. call Denis at repairs.com on 021 510 5517) and hope the technician's words prove false and your bad Apple goes good!

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Some problems a future Apple (South Africa) should tackle.

Written for South African Apple Mac users and prospective buyers.

Thinkertoys is a book with many "thought experiments" one can practice to improve one's creativity. An exercise I've found particularly useful in management is "drawing a trouble tree". The idea of this exercise is simply to list all the problems one could potentially face in a situation and to identify those that should be tackled first. Ideally one would work through all the branches until the tree is just a
"trouble-free" trunk :) .

As an Apple user, I've begin to wonder whether its benefits are worth the high premium one pays for it locally. Particularly given the difficulties one faces in finding well-priced, compatible accessories and appropriate, speedy technical support. If Apple ever plans to represent itself directly in South Africa, here are the trouble-tree's branches I humbly suggest it hacks away:

1 High premiums for products that do not offer the same advantages for users from developed markets: 
  • Whether its thanks to the taxman, transport fees or a greedy local distributor, it's a lot more cost effective to order a Mac in the US and courier it to SA than to hope to find a reasonably priced Mac in your local supplier's shop.
    Once you've got your Mac, some Apple software offers limited functionality in the local context:  
  • iTunes South Africa only offers iPhone apps, so iTunes only offers value if you own an iPhone and are interested in purchasing its widgets.
  • You have to organize a foreign iTunes account if you want to buy music, videos, etc. While this results from local licensing problems, the fact that Apple does not communicate about its intentions to improve this locally is a silent PR problem. 
  • Like the Macs themselves, .Mobile Me membership is completely over-priced for the local market. The fact that the price shown to customers is in Euros simply reflects how little Apple is interested in pricing .Mac for locals. This is particularly problematic, given that the "freemium" competition from Google (and other web2.0 services) and Apple's seeming disinterest in providing a competitive "tiered" service that offers users lower prices for less use.
2 The availability of technical support for Apple products is weak.
  • Apple only offers technical support for the iPhone in South Africa. If one has a problem with any other product one can only rely on support from local resellers. 
  • If a reseller (or third party) cannot fix the product you bought for them, you effectively have to find a backyard Mac repair specialist... or pay for a new product. 
  • Effectively, this means that Apple may not deliver on its brand promise of high reliability to you, since the high premium one pays may not include a warranty and/or a maintenance agreement.
My bad experience in the branches of point 2!
The motivation for this post is my recent poor experience with a Mac laptop I bought locally online, just two years ago: in the past month, my laptop's airport network service inexplicably began either to turn itself off or simply disconnect from my home network, refusing to reconnect. Since I'm a researcher, being connected to the internet is highly important and its a big time-waster to have to power down and restart several times, just to have web access!

Since I occasionally saw error messages indicating my laptop could not see my airport card, I organized that my authorized Apple reseller replaced the card. This took two weeks, but did not fix the problem. My reseller then offered to reinstall my Operating System. Again, this did not fix the problem. The reseller's technician said that "a circuit on the motherboard has lost integrity". He suggested three options to me: 
1. Replace the motherboard for about the cost of new laptop.
2. Pay a technician to replace and/or re-solder the faulty processor chip.
3. Organize a wireless adapter.

Since I assumed that the last option would be the cheapest and simplest, I bought a Linksys wireless adapter, as recommended. Unfortunately, though, its boxes claims to be Mac compatible only extended to pre-Snow Leopard versions of the Mac OS! The reseller then organized a more recent Linksys wireless adapter. Although this one claimed to be compatible with my laptop, it did not produce readable packets when the technician tested it. The reseller is currently trialing another wireless adapter; while I hold thumbs and hope I don't have to try the 2nd option...

As a South African consumer, I blame Apple's lack of consideration of the local market for this brand failure; not its resellers. While I have enjoyed the benefits of being in Apple's walled garden (especially great product design, durability, no viruses and automatic back-up), this experience has led me to question whether I am being reasonable in only using one operating system at home. I'm now giving serious thought to a new option 4; buying a netbook running either Canonical's Ubuntu or Google's Chrome OS!

Tuesday 20 April 2010

An introduction to my Online Portfolio Social Network research project.

I presented about my current research into Online Portfolio Social Networks (OPSN) to a private high school's* grade 10 Visual Arts' learners, today. I introduced my talk with the exciting example of Berlin-based Michael Kutsche: who had published an online portfolio using the Computer Graphics Society's CGPortfolio and eventually wound up working for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland as a result!

I then explained that an OPSN is an online community that's primarily focused on online publication of visual art, design, photography or videography. Each OPSN offers different options in accordance with its online objectives.
Basically, they provide different interfaces and services tailored to the needs of the user groups they aim to attract:

For example: Carbonmade promises a "hassle-free, online portfolio" and allows one to easily publish a portfolio of around  30 of one's best works for free. behance.net delivers on its promises "creative portfolios, projects and collaborations" by offering the online collaboration and commenting and tagging of portfolio pieces. Similarly, Flickr.com offer these options to photographers and deviantart.com to a wide range of creatives and their fans.

Today's learners are very fortunate to have access to free OPSN services, due to three key trends: cheap Information Communication Technology (ICT), "freemium" storage and faster bandwidth. These trends result in learners at well-resourced High Schools now being able to easily: publish their work, share and co-create knowledge, rate and share reviews, label content with personal meanings (or tags) and define content they want delivered to them. Most importantly, they also allow learners to create an online creative Curriculum Vitae (CV), publish portfolios and experiment with building an online reputation.

They also offer many new learning opportunities that educators can take advantage of, ranging from the least exciting (from a humanities' perspective!); software evaluation and aspects of digital literacy to very important opportunities for improving emotional intelligence and exploring out-of-school opportunities.

As an action research project, I explained that my study aims to help educators understand the factors influencing the adoption of OPSN and related social media in school. In particular, I am adapting the research questions posed by Cronje and Barras-Baker (based on Collis and Verwijs' research) for the high school context, to answer, "Will Online Portfolio Social Networking software be accepted by the school?". To answer this, I must examine:

Does the software have the support of relevant staff?

Does the software support significant events at school? 
Does the software benefit the school? 
Which individuals adopt it and what are their roles?

Are the costs of adopting the software acceptable to the school?        
What does the software cost to establish?        
How much does it cost to train new users?        
Is the equipment to support the software’s use readily available?        
Are appropriate support materials in place?        
What does the software cost to maintain and update?        
What are the costs (personell, hardware, etc.) in supporting the software’s use in the curriculum?

Will the software be accepted by the users?        
Is the software useful?        
Does it fit in with the personal work needs of educators? 
Does the software add value to the learning content?
Is the software usable? 
Is the user interface easy to use? 
Is the software easy to learn? 
Does the software handle errors well?

Does the software make education easier and better?
Does it fit in with the classroom environment?        
Does it fit in with educational procedures? 
Do educators and students have the time needed to use the software and does it support a better educational experience?

By answering these questions at a well-resourced private and public high school over a two-year period, I hoped to cover the only two schooling environments that OPSN education could be relevant in. I concluded my talk wishing that that two well-explained, successful examples of OPSN adoption would assist other educators, with my PhD thesis being good for more than just a doorstop :) !

Learner feedback to the online portfolio curriculum was mostly positive, which may result from a generally favorable attitude to social media: it was notable that all learners said they had Facebook accounts, with some even having uploaded videos to YouTube. Here's hoping that this interest in non-school use also translates into positive online portfolio creation.... watch this space.

* Excuse the secrecy, but this is confidential in accordance with UCT's Research Ethics Guide.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Learners should use Web2.0 portfolios to showcase their best-works.

I'm not singing Kodachrome, but; "When I think back to all the data I lost at high school, it's a shame I lost completely all". Back in the 80's and 90's, every time my computer was upgraded, I lost all my files. These simply went to the scrap heap with my old computer's hard-disk :(. Although I could have backed them up, the cost was prohibitive and I simply did not think that my work had value outside the marks I got for it. Stupid me.

While there's not a significant amount I'd like to have kept, wouldn't it be nice to at least have a portfolio of one's best school essays and artworks readily accessible? Seeing how far one's progressed, identifying recurring themes or just a new memory aid, would be some of the personal benefits to this.

Educationally, there are also benefits to schools encouraging students to showcase their best work online. These include: 
- Highlighting practical achievement... and by implication, teacher achievement, too,
- Showcasing the potential value of an educational investment,
- Supporting collaboration with partner schools on outcomes of mutual interest,
- Assisting benchmarking by your students, moderators and other schools.

Before the advent of web2.0, the cost of providing students with the ability to digitise their works, upload them and make them publicly accessible would be prohibitive for almost every school. However, the prospect of an abundant digital media in South Africa by 2013 (we hope!) should make this affordable to most.

Individual students should be encouraged to take a long term view on the personal value their best works may hold and to store them with cloud computing. While it will be interesting to see how the Department of Education, school principals, educators and others facilitate this, the adoption of web2.0 technologies by schools will inevitably be slow. Given this, I would suggest to any learner that the responsibility of creating a best works portfolio starts with you. If you want to benefit from an online showcase of your talents; take the opportunity afforded by today's technologies to create best works online portfolios in your favourite subject(s). You might even find that your example motivates your peers and even your teachers!

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Let the field research begin!

Way back when I studied at Michaelis, some wag named the Theory of Art course the Dreary of Art. This witticism encapsulated how the boredom of attending art theory lectures contrasts to the excitement of making art. Like a student who prefers his studio to the lecture theatre, I am pleased to shortly begin my PhD research fieldwork. Hopefully, this fieldwork increases our currently very limited understanding of the adoption of online portfolio social networks by visual art and design educators in high schools :). I am working with grade 10 learners at a well-resourced, private school, from Monday. They will be learning how to digitise their art, write creative CVs and create online portfolios using Carbonmade. All in 7 lessons! 

If this new curriculum is a success, new modules will be launched for the learners when they reach grades 11 and 12: Next year, they will be encouraged to choose appropriate online portfolio social networks (OPSN) that suit their creative interests. For example, a learner interested in photography might choose Flickr, while another focussed on illustration, behance.  With sound justification, multiple portfolios could be chosen, too!

In grade 12, learners will prepare an online portfolio that's focussed on out-of-school-opportunities; ranging from admission to architectural and fine art at the University of Cape Town to informatics and design at CPUT through to entering online competitions, like Springleap's t-shirt designs. Like the grade 11 module, learners will be encouraged to motivate their choices and experiment with what works best for their creative strengths.

I hope that this year's grade 10 project is a success: selfishly, because I do not wish to spend the next two years writing a dreary thesis on the module's failure! Unselfishly, because a successful example of an online portfolios' use at high school has the potential to assist visual arts and design educators with addressing the participatory and relevance gaps in South Africa's educational system. Now, that's a topic well deserving it's own blog post... 

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