Monday 30 April 2012

Avoid NVivo 9 installation interference from antivirus software.

Written for those struggling to install the embedded SQL software in an NVivo 9 installation.

The ICT Access and Use project recently purchased a PC laptop to work with a NVivo 9 project file I'd previously run on my Mac Pro desktop (running Parallels and Windows 7). I thought the installation of NVivo 9 would be simple on a laptop configured to operate within the University of Cape Town campus' network. However, there are three important actions that must be taken to avoid seeing this error message during your installation:

NVivo 9 installer "File is corrupt." error message. 29 April 2012. 
First, read the NVivo 9 software installation tips FAQ, which clearly states: "You should disable Antivirus, Antispam and Firewall applications (such as Norton Internet Security) before installing NVivo 9". I now know that an NVivo installation is not so simple and doing some preparation with background reading would have saved me much time and travel troubleshooting!

Second, un-install your Antivirus softwares: on our laptop, McAfee Anti-Virus was blocking changes to system files, which SQL was attempting to make as part of creating a virtual server to run SQL's databases locally. Once McAfee and NVivo were uninstalled, the fresh installation of NVivo installed Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R service pack 64 successfully.

Third, after successfully installation, reinstall your anti-virus software. In the case of a UCT laptop, the McAfee agent remained on the laptop after un-installation, and I contacted ICTS for instructions on how to reinstall the Antivirus software.

While you can successfully install NVivo without completing the SQL installation, you will not be able to run your project files locally. NVivo's open file function will ask you to connect to an NVivo server or will show the following error message when you try to launch NVivo from a local project file:

NVivo 9 standalone local connection error message. 29 April 2012.

Special thanks to Ferdi (from Fimex - Softec) for identifying that anti-virus software was causing this problem and to Michael Harris (UCT ICTS Acquisitions Department) for fixing it.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Online portfolio profile page guidelines for Visual Arts learners

Written for Visual Arts learners about to create online portfolio profiles and for the educators guiding  them.

Introducing the structure of guidelines for your online portfolio profile.
You typically enter three types of information into the profile you create for your online portfolio: a brief "(auto)biography", your "contact details" and "abilities". So, although the guidelines below are showcased with Carbonmade, they should still apply to any other service(s) you use. Once you have followed these guidelines, kindly read the assessment criteria at the bottom. Then take the time to reflect on whether your online portfolio meets these criteria and is truly appropriate for its audience(s). It's a good idea to ask your friends for constructive feedback on what you could improve...

Assumptions on which these profile page's guidelines are based.
These guides are based on ones used at an independent school, where learners are taught to develop a showcase electronic learning portfolio (e-portfolio). As such, the guidelines assume that you want to create a profile that reflects your genuine identity. This has many benefits:
  1. It should add credibility that you are willing to identify yourself as your portfolio's creator;
  2. It makes it easy for viewers to search for you using your real name;
  3. Your curricular artworks are done in the Fine Arts genre, where artists typically use their real-names;
  4. Using your real name should encourage you to have a sense of personal ownership and, hopefully, continue using it after you matriculate;
  5. In "The Facebook Effect", David Kirkpatrick quotes its creator, Mark Zuckerberg, as saying; "Having two identities for yourself if an example of a lack of integrity." By openly acknowledging who you are online and behaving consistently over different web services, you may actively develop not only a more coherent identity online, but off-line as well.
However, you may still prefer to create an online profile in which you use a nickname, pseudonym, a fake or a corporate identity. This can serve as a distinct online persona or corporate identity, which can be used in addition or as an alternative to your genuine one.

Here are four examples for creatives following these types under Carbonmade's featured portfolios:

Graeme Metcalf's "grabbins" nickname example (1 April 2012)

Pasquale D'Silva's PSQL pseudonym (1 April 2012) 
Cecilia Puglesi's "carbonomonono" portfolio header  (1 April 2012)
Agni Interactive's corporate identity logo (1 April 2012)
The downsides of using a nickname, pseudonym, fake or corporate identity is that it may make your portfolio difficult to search for by friends or others interested in you, personally. It may also be perceived to lack credibility when assessed using criteria commonly used by your Visual or Fine Arts educators. Lastly, it leaves you open to identity theft; unscrupulous learners may use your real name to create a fake profile  and portfolio for you!

1. Biographic information guidelines.

1.1 Portfolio title: The title of your portfolio is very important; it is not only shown on every page of your portfolio, but is the first thing displayed by search engines and is the bookmark title for other people saving your site. You should consider using your first and last name in the title, as well as a short descriptor for the type of online portfolio you have created. For example; "Severus Snape's E-portfolio" or "Pippa Riddle's School Art". 

1.2 Name: While you should use your regular name in the title, you should not use your middle names (i.e. "Severus Malcolm Payne Snape") as the benefits of this are generally outweighed by potential threats to your identity's security (middle names being typically used for official purposes).

1.3 About:  First decide whether you are writing in the first, or being written about in the third, person (click to see good examples of this). To kickstart your profile, consider adding an appropriate salutation to welcome viewers; for example “Welcome, stranger.” Not quite, but you get my drift...

While it is then tempting to write many, many words, please remember that your audience may be willing to only give you a short time. So, try to stick to 350 words as a rough guideline. It is also a good idea to first write your creative profile in software that spell-checks and gives you a word count. You can then cut-and-paste your text into your "about" section.

In writing a creative profile, do your best to stick to discussing your; creative aims, artistic interests and how these relate to your portfolioJust as Facebook shows your profile primarily to friends, Carbonmade provides yours to those interested primarily in your visual creativity. They are probably not interested in the fact that you play first team, like to party, are a chess whiz, etc. Remember, if your interests are not shown by your art, it's probably of limited interest to them. So, avoid going off topic; only discuss your sporting, musical, political, school or home achievements if relevant to your portfolio's artworks. Also avoid duplication of content; such as your name, which already appears in the page's "portfolio title" and "name".

As a learner, it's particularly important to protect your privacy: avoid putting in your age and information about your school. This information has NO relevance to your audience and could attract the wrong kinds of attention. Rather be general and say that you are a "secondary school learner from Cape Town".

You should update the "about" section of your profile repeatedly as you develop and mature. Read your "about" description aloud. What are the salient points? Does it flow well; with no repetitive or otherwise irrelevant information? Make the effort to rewrite your profile several times; checking that there is correspondence between what you write and what is in your portfolio. For example, if you mention that you are passionate about a particular style of art, artworks in this style must be featured!

1.4 Linking: You may already have other online presences that you want to link from within your "about" description. If so, you can add hyperlinks from their web address text under "about". You must check that each link works well, though. It is inconvenient for your viewers if they don't, whilst making you look seem incompetent.

1.5 Profile picture:  Here you need to choose whether your photo is for communication or for "art". If you want to communicate to your audience what you look like, it's probably easiest to upload a self-portrait photo of yourself. If it's for art, take the time to create something that is clever and well-executed. Whatever your choice, it will be displayed under the search results for your portfolio, so encourage your viewers to click further by using quality imagery, not a poor quality short-cut. P.S. Google search "worst profile pictures" for examples of what not to do, or watch "Link's Golden Advice for Single Guys". Girls, it'll help you too!

2. Contact detail guidelines.

2.1 Location: Letting people know that you live in the Western Cape Province, Cape Town (for example) is sufficient. Providing them with anything more is too much information, i.e. Suburb: Nobody needs to know. Street address: Especially you, Mr Stalker!

2.2 Contact details: The same applies with your contact information; if you provide your email address for viewers to get in touch, let your educator and parents know. While email contact may be safer than publishing your mobile and/or home phone numbers, your viewers do not need your contact details upfront, so why make them available for abuse? Rather wait for an email query, whose legitimacy you, your educator and parents should check, before providing phone numbers.

3. Abilities guidelines.

3.1 Available for freelance: While it is tempting to show this button, you need to do a reality check that (a) you produce work good enough to freelance and (b) you have the time to do school work, homework and freelance work? In the unlikely case that you answered "yes" to both questions, go ahead.

3.2 Areas of expertise: List the basic disciplines you are being trained in (or are exploring in extra-mural activities), here. Your school-based areas of expertise may be: "drawing", "painting" & "design". If you do "photography" as an extra-mural activity, list it here. Similarly, if you have done a printing workshop, you could add the discipline ‘printmaking’, too.

3.3 Skills: Under the ‘Skills’ heading, list the specific techniques/media/tools you are well-versed in using. This could include specific media/techniques such as "acrylic painting", "drawing in charcoal", etc. As you learn and master new techniques/media/tools, etc, you should add them under skills.

4. Important assessment criteria that your online portfolio's profile should meet.

4.1 Searchability: Carbonmade features over 470,000 individuals portfolios. If you want to increase the chances of yours being viewed by others, you need to check that your portfolio is easy to search for AND produces an attractive search result that a viewers would want to click. If not, you need to modify your profile's "name", "picture" and "expertise" to improve it:

For example, check out the search result for "Grame Metcalf" below:

First, it's interesting that you cannot search for him by his portfolio title's name ("grabbins" does not produce a result), but only by the real name "Grame Metcalf" he uses under his profile's "name" field.

Although his work has been selected as a Carbonmade featured portfolio, he can still improve its search result's appearance: to do this, he should experiment with a new profile picture which would display better behind the "name", "projects", "images" and "expertise" texts.

4.2 Credibility, integrity and honesty: By ensuring that your profile is thorough and informative, you build credibility with your viewers. Your portfolio's honesty is enhanced by ensuring that the content in your profile page corresponds with what you've uploaded in your project folders. Lastly, by featuring only information that is relevant to your creative work and giving due credit to your influences, you can also simultaneously increase the credibility of your online portfolio and its profile.

I trust that these guidelines proved useful to you? If you have any questions or suggestions for improving them, I'd appreciate you adding them in the comments box below. Thank you.

Kirkpatrick, D. (2010). The Facebook Effect: the Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World. Virgin Books, Great Britain.

Allen, B. & Coleman, K. (2011). The creative graduate: Cultivating and assessing creativity with eportfolios. In G. Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown & B. Cleland (Eds.), Changing Demands, Changing Directions. Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011. (pp.59-69).

Monday 2 April 2012

New codings for the ICT Access and Use Research Project's fourth phase.

Written for researchers interested in the ICT Access and Use Project's coding indices' development.

Three months after making the initial coding indices for the fourth phase of the ICT Access and Use project publically available, I have just updated indices for "Past -", "Current -" and "Future ICT Use" to reflect the subsequent additions to our NVivo 9 project file's nodes (as illustrated below). These coding additions were necessary to reflect new insights from our research subjects' first and second interviews. They are described below under their relevant index:

Personal ICT Use coding index changes

Scribbled changes to the previous coding index for Past ICT Use 1 (30 March, 2012)

Nodes were added for "Other ICT exposure 1.15" and "Self-taught 1.16" as not every student received formal schooling in ICT: for an example of 1.15; A Fort Hare university student had never had professional or formal classes in computing. For 1.16, the only training a Rhodes University student had was teaching himself; he fixed his family's computers himself. And a University of the Free State student "used to touch the home computer" to teach herself.

I thought it was a bit old school for freshers in 2011, but was suprised when MS Dos was mentioned as a first operating system! So, the node "MS Dos 1.26.4" was added.

One student accessed computers outside school and home at secondary school (hence "Internet cafe 1.43"), two students volunteered information on why they got mobile phones ("Why get a mobile phone 1.21.3"), another spoke about one's first computer tablet ("First tablet 1.28").

Current ICT Use coding index changes
Marked changes to the initial coding index for Current ICT Use 2 (30 March, 2012)

The largest index saw the most revisions. Given the research project's interest in the use of mobile phones, the most important change was adding nodes that would allow the research team to track the most common platforms used to access online services and apps ("Platforms used in access 2.26" included "Computer 2.26.1", "Laptop", "Desktop", "Mobile 2.26.2" and "Tablet 2.26.3").

I also added the online services ("Webmail 2.21.13", "Music downloads 2.21.14",  "Whatsapp 2.21.15", "Online forums 2.21.16", "YouTube 2.21.17", "Snap2 2.21.18", "Shazaam 2.21.19", "Online radio stream 2.21.20") and mobile phone apps ("Cognician 2.22.10" and "ToGo 2.22.11")recently mentioned by students. I also added the node "Does not use apps on mobile 2.22.9" to cover those students who explicitly stated that they did not download and/or use mobile apps.

Given the prevalence of iPods, I had to add "Music players 2.15.4" under the category "Other ICT owned"! Some students mentioned that they had "Access to ICT at home 2.17", while "Multitasking 2.23.9" was added as a theme that kept cropping up in students' use, for example of social media in the background as they worked on assignments.

The line between the use of social media for social and academic use is becoming blurred, as students report using social networking tools for both formal and informal academic work. This seems largely to be due to social media's affordances for ease of communication, efficient creation of academic groups and even saving money on MXit. This was reflected in student interviews and nodes for "Status update 2.24.10", "Messaging 2.24.11" and "Friending 2.24.12" were added, which could be applied to tracking affordances typical of social media.

Some first-year students also volunteered a fair amount of information on their preferences for response times ("Availability and feedback speed 2.25.11"), what they preferred to access services on ("Service preference 2.25.12"), how they felt about losing network access ("Mobile network access 2.25.13") and whether they experienced any limitations from their cellular provider ("Service limits 2.25.14").

Several students described having problems when using photocopying equipment for the first time ("Photocopies 2.31.7") and the importance of formal provision of either analogue and/or digital course material ("Textbooks and course reader 2.31.6").

Interviews revealed a wider range of actions with university software than initially identified, so the following nodes were added: "Group practicals 2.33.10", "Lecture notes 2.33.11", "Catch up missed classes 2.33.12", "Read announcements 2.33.13" and "Question and answer 2.33.14". And the following nodes were added under phases and types of academic use; "Frequency and duration of use 2.35.7", "Desired use 2.35.8" and "Self taught 2.35.9".

Future ICT Use coding index

Changes drawn on the coding index for Future ICT Use 3 (30 March, 2012)

Due to having recently upgraded mobile, laptop or other ICT technology and/or experiencing financial constraints, some students indicated that they did not want an upgrade ("No new mobile phone upgrade desired 3.11.2", "No new laptop upgrade desired 3.12.2" and "No other ICT desired 3.13.2").

Some students spoke about their ambitions at university ("University ambitions 3.24"), as well as the services they wanted to be on ("Academic services 3.31.1" and "Personal services 3.31.2"). Another University of Cape Town student mentioned his community involvement and promotion of ICT, so the node "Community involvement 3.4" was added to reflect this.

Lastly, a node "Play at Conferences 4" has been added to track the most interesting segments of student interviews. These are intended to be exported and formatted for playing at conferences by the project's research lead, Laura Czerniewicz, or principal investigator, Cheryl Brown.

Sunday 1 April 2012

10 tips to lower your student costs.

Written for students, tightfisted or otherwise...

After 11 tips on getting the most value for your PhD, here's 10 easy ways to reduce select costs in your student budget. If, like me, your grant barely covered your living expenses; your part-time pay always arrives too little, too late; and everyone confuses you with a social worker holding a "will work for nothing" placard, it's time to make like Tony and fight back. So, I'm kick-starting celebrations of "National Tighfisted Students Day" with a list of all the low-cost options cash-strapped students should take full advantage of:

1. Get recharged.
I'm not promoting squatting close to the campus and stealing from its electrical supply, but you should at least ensure that you your laptop, mobile phone and all else electrical and portable gets recharged at your campus, daily. Frankly, if it's good enough for the well-paid domestic worker to do at Mom's, it's good enough for us low/no- income scholars. And with the way local electrical prices are rising, it may make the difference between that hot date happening at the Wimpy... or, heaven forbid, Engen corner bakery {that's at year end, of course!}

2. Cheap, but cheerful food.
Eating off campus is like traveling around the EU and choosing to eat in its most expensive country, Switzerland. Just plain stupid; who wants to feel guilty about pooing R 500 down a loo? Fortunately, you're not going to spend even a twentieth of that as you take a long walk around your sprawling university campus to find out where the best subsidized food and drink is.

3. "Free" lunch, coffee and tea.
The person who says "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" (or TANSTAAFL) is a smart economist. YOU can enjoy a few free lunches at no financial expense, if you try hard enough. Whether it's an important donor's talk, an open conference or a university workshop open to the public, you can find events where you'll spend your time, but leave with a full tummy and wallet, too. You can also find places where coffee and tea is free; such as student information office or research area. So, hunt these down to enjoy the "free" benefits of you student fee and VAT contributions.

4. Market your University, for less.
Yes, you can declare your allegiance satorially, and be cheap at the same time; freshers' week is not the best time to buy University clothing for less... please contain yourself until year-end exams; prices tank as stock is cleared and you score.

5. Save on textbooks.
It may be convenient to buy all your textbooks at the local bookshop, but it's expensive. "Time is money" and since you've probably got a lot of the former, you should dispose it by sourcing your textbooks from less expensive sources, including; your campus' second-hand book store, noticeboards and online (simply ordering new textbooks online can save you stacks). You should also see what's available under open educational resources; such as free course materials, and check-out your libraries.

6. Free computer internet access.
If you live in the developing world, a nice perk of University life is internet access at speeds that are faster {at the very least in theory} than many entry-level subscribers get outside the Ivory Tower. Plus, your available download sizes are probably larger, too.

7. Free entertainment.
As all study and no play makes for a dull student life, it's important to take advantage of the free entertainment you can. Fortunately, you are in the right place; plenty of bandwidth, many "academic" servers and loads of time for techies to crack on, means that free entertainment (via peer to peerintranets and other services) is easy to obtain; you just need to know who to ask... Of course, copyright infringement is not endorsed by me, your academic institution or your country's laws. So, understand its consequences. If its scary, you can always take out music and films from your university library...

8. Free condoms.
Speaking of risks, it's not funny to pay a hundred bucks for that Contempo Rough Riders or Durex Natural Feeling Lubricated box, when you can get free condoms @ your local university toilet? Since they are no longer stapled onto flyers, nor come in Chinese sizes, you can be confident that they will work as well as the ones you previously paid for (you know, 98 times out of 100, IF perfectly used).

9. Student card freebies.
If you absolutely have to buy something, be pro-active and find out whether you get a student discount. It never hurts to ask. Just keep flashing your student card for a bit more credibility.

10. Free transport.
Save your travel money; use your university's buses or vans when traveling from campus to campus, or places nearby...

11. Free water.
While it's unlikely to see the sharp price rises like electricity, it's always useful to fill up your water bottle at the start of the day and do a number two at its end.

I hope that this has helped you gain a few new ideas to cut down on your student expenses. Please use the comment box below to suggest any others (especially those relevant to South African students)? Ta muchus.

P.S. And if you need more, there are 50 tips on; mostly geared for those in the US. I could not Google anything for ZA locals, so this is my contribution!

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