Saturday 30 June 2012

UCT CFMS FAM3008S volunteers needed to assist with school's website development.

Written for University of Cape Town third-year Online Media Production students.

A government secondary school* that I'm doing research at is getting ready to launch its official website and is interested in being helped by UCT CFMS student volunteers:

The school.
The school is proud of its rich sporting, cultural and academic traditions. It also has an interesting history in which its educators played a key role in the anti-Apartheid struggle for a democratic education system, being particularly active from 1976 to 1985.

Its website.
The school has developed a website template that volunteers can work within (and improve, if necessary). The site will be hosted on the school's server, which select volunteers can be given access to.

Support on offer to your website development group.
The school's ICT Manager is keen for a group of the media production students to assist from August. Should your group decide to do it, he can commit to providing the following support:
  • He will setup an introductory meeting with the school's Principal (if possible), its PR manager, the template's developer, your group and I to scope your contribution;
  • He would like to meet with your group on a weekly basis to give them feedback on their progress and authorize any major changes your group may want to make to the live site on the Principal's behalf;
  • He will provide access to a scanner, so your group can digitize material sourced from the school library's historical archives;
  • He can sign-off improvements that your group recommends for the school's other online presences (such as its Wikipedia page) as well as any new services (such as a school 'YouTube' account) that your group develops and which the school agrees to sustain;
  • He will also work with your group to organize a handover to the relevant staff once they have completed the project.
I will supervise your group and liaise with Dr Marion Walton if there are any major issues during the website's creation and maintenance this year.

This is a rare opportunity for students to develop an official school website with an already-existing archive of photography, press-archives and high level of support. So, if you are keen to assist, kindly email Dr Walton ASAP: the first UCT group to email her, the first to secure!

Please note that I must keep the school's identity private in this post to protect the privacy of my research subjects.

Monday 11 June 2012

More changes I'd like to NVivo 9.

Written for NVivo 9's developers, QSR International, and their future NVivo users.

In 2011, I wrote Six key changes I'd like to see in NVivo 10. As NVivo 10's development nears completion, here's a further nine improvements for QSR International to consider implementing:

7. Provide a program execution status
It is useful for the user to know whether NVivo is initializing, running or shutting down. If the software seems to be unresponsive, seeing a status message, like: 'initializing', 'running', 'paused' or 'shutting down' would be helpful to the user and a better alternative than using Windows Task Manager to double-check.

8. Show closing down status messaging
Further, if NVivo is slow in closing, it would be useful to show how it is progressing. This is very important; if the user thinks that it has stalled, he or she may "force quit" the program when it prevents Windows shut down. As failing to close NVivo down properly can corrupt the project file, thereby costing the user much more time, the value of accurate status messaging (and even warning the user 'do not force quit') should not be underestimated.

9. Provide better communication when there are errors
Just as Microsoft impresses with problem messaging linked to solutions via its Solutions Centre, so too should NVivo consider linking its error messages to online help. For example when I was trying to fix an NVivo installation,  the message "Database component did not initialise" could have been made far more helpful by linking straight to an FAQ page with possible solutions.

Nvivo error message: 'Database component did not initialise' (10 April, 2012)
Given that NVivo users are qualitative researchers, it is unlikely that many of them have experience troubleshooting software. Providing us with more thorough and helpful error messaging will provide an improved user experience just where we experience most difficulty.

10. Report on third-party interference
I have noticed that NVivo's timebar may be paused (at 67%) for several minutes when an important Windows 7 process runs (such as deleting a backup snapshot, running a backup, et al.).

NVivo stalled at 67 percent progress (6 June 2012)
It would be helpful if the user could be shown that third-party software has interrupted NVivo, ideally in the software itself. Even a notification from Windows OS would be helpful.

11. Offer a back-up file option
Just as Apple's OS X Lion introduced Versions to protect users' files, so should NVivo consider adding a 'backup' option in addition to 'auto-save'. For users whose files became corrupted and had failed to create a back-up, this prompter could be very beneficial. 

12. Provide a video rewind shortcut
For researchers working with many video interviews, a rewind F button shortcut would be great. I recently started work on a PC laptop and simply having the F7 (play/pause) shortcut available is a real timesaver {after moving from Mac, where I did not have this option}.

13. Allow the user to set a volume limit
The user should be given an option that sets a limit to NVivo's volume. In working with listening to mobile phone videos of varied audio-quality through headphones, this would be useful to protect my hearing as I move from soft, low-quality files to very loud, high-quality ones and forget to change volume.

14. Offer a pseudonym generator
As qualitative research invariably involves the ethical requirement to protect the privacy of one's subjects, it would be a nifty value-add if NVivo added a pseudonym generator.

15. Provide an auto-save that does not auto-interrupt
I find auto-save very useful, and appreciate that this is probably an impossible request given the requirements of the 'save file' process, but it would be helpful if accepting the auto-save function did not automatically delete the incomplete timesheet entries a user was busy with. It would also be useful to be returned to the transcription block one was working on post auto-save, rather than being sent to the top by default. This can be irritating if working with a long interview and auto-save is set to be frequent.

I trust these ideas are constructive and helpful. Please let us know your thoughts in the comment box below, thanks.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Five ideas for Apple Mail to better accomodate 'rules' troubleshooting.

Written for the software developers behind Apple Mail's 'rules'.

Using rules to automatically sort out your Inbox is similar to baking a cake; just one poorly-judged ingredient can ruin the batter. One of 360 rules used to manage my Mail inbox was created in haste and had been placing nearly all the email messages I received into the wrong folder...  As testimony to how good Mail's search functionality is, this had happened for months and I only noticed my mistake last week!

To say it was a serious time-suck to resolve is an understatement. Rather than write on how I fixed it, here are five functionalities that would make it relatively easy for users to troubleshoot their badly-defined rules in Mail. Mail's software developers, please consider adding these ideas under Preferences > Rules, thanks!:

1. Show how often a rule has been actioned.
If the user can see that a rule is actioned with every single message, regardless of origin, it is likely that the rule is problematic and should be changed.

2. Show the date that each rule was created.
By seeing when misplaced messages were first placed, it is generally easy to spot the date at which the wrong rule was created. The user could then simply see which rule was created on, or just before, that date, then correct it.

3. Allow the user to sort rules by date.
It may be a problem local to my system, but I cannot sort the rules and am unsure how Mail goes about ordering them. It would be useful if users could sort the rules by their name and/or the date they were created.

4. Allow the scroll window size to be maximisable.
Scrolling through many rules in the small window, below, is an eye-straining, slow process.

Apple Mail Preferences' Rules (10 June, 2012) 
The user should be given the option to maximise the rules window to speed it up.

5. Allow the user to define a default option for Mail 'rules'.
A new Mail rule currently defaults to whatever was last applied. However, it would be safer for users to given the option to create a default rule and choose whether it should be re-applied after every new rule is created.

I enjoy using Mail and it makes rules simple to create. However, if a user creates a poorly defined rule {amongst many other well-defined ones}, it can be difficult to identify his or her mistake. Here's hoping that Mail's developers will support 'occasional dummies' like me with better rules troubleshooting functionality in the not-too-distant-future.

Let my blog's readers know your thoughts in the comments box below. Ta.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Introducing the 'Coding index for Social Media Use 4'.

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

After reviewing first year students' initial and second interviews in the fourth phase of the ICT Access and Use project, Laura Czerniewicz and I have prepared a fourth index to code conversations in which the following themes were discussed:
  1. Representations of self;
  2. Friendships and social media;
  3. Social media affordances;
  4. Personal social media rules;
  5. Students’ feelings in relation to social media;
  6. Other roles of social media.
These discussions are outside the scope of the previous coding indices, which looked at students' past, current and future use of ICT.

In this posting, I describe the codes we decided on, their definitions, and then provide some examples of each code.

1. Representations of self.
Students spoke about how they chose to represent themselves online as themselves (their real names), using personas or with fake identities:

4.1 Identity representation
This is about stating who they are online, who they represented themselves to be, literally.
Not all students used a 'genuine identity' online, but some chose an online profile type that was a 'persona' or even 'fake identity' online. Three examples were:
  1. Student V used his “real” profile to publish writing on
  2. Student O used another name (or persona) when she published her online diary to, as she did not want her intimate thoughts traced back to her by those who could recognise her handwriting.
  3. Student S and her best friend used a fake profile of a handsome guy to stalk prospective boyfriends' other potential girlfriends on

4.12 Type of username
The naming convention students used in selecting usernames would follow from their choice of identity. Most used some variation of their first and last names, while others chose a 'pseudonym': a pseudonym is different from a fake name as there is often a link between it and one's real name. Two examples of pseudonym use were:
  1. Student S' last name is an isiXhosa one, but she chose an English pseudonym at University that was easy for non-Xhosa speakers to use and remember.
  2. For his Facebook account, Student V uses a nickname of a film character he was given by his school friends and has not changed it as he believes that his friends would search for him using it.
The only examples of a fake name's use was in a fake account created for Facebook stalking. Student S said that she used to use it a lot. She would not like it if someone did that to her, but she would not accept a friend request from someone she did not know. So, the fact that girls will accept a friend request from a guy they do not know says a lot about how they feel about their privacy, 'Why close your Facebook if you will accept a friend request from some random who does not even exist? Some (girls) will even write on his wall and it's like, this guy does not even exist!'

4.13 Self disclosure
Another aspect of self-representation lay in the degree to which students were prepared to share the information they publish to social networks with all of its members or select groups of members. Student S was very selective about the people she chose to be her Facebook friends and said that she was comfortable with being very personal on it, because; 'For the people that are on Facebook, I feel as if I can share anything'. It is likely that she would not choose to limit the information that her Facebook friends could see by specifying a "limited profile view" for some groups of them.

By contrast, a researcher commented that she would not allow her parents to be Facebook friends with her. However, now that she could use Facebook's 'limited profile view' option for them, she might as she could then share select updates with her parents. Student R described the importance of knowing what your social network audience might see with the example of how a former high school prefect left his school and then his homosexuality was 'outed' by “Facebook Friends” who had used the photograph tagging functionality to identify him in gay bars.

Another aspect of self-disclosure is whether students allow their information on social networks to be searchable in these services' local search engines and/or external ones. The coding "Search settings for the Web 4.13.2" was added to cover instances where this was discussed.
2. Friendships and social media.
Students described the relationships between their face -to-face friendships and those existing online in these relatively open-ended codings:

4.21 Face-to-face versus online friendships
This code addresses the value students perceive online friendships to have, and how “real” they perceive them to be. Some students, like Student R, expressed a 'preference for face-to-face contact'. He would prefer someone to get to know him face-to-face than via his profile, 'The profile is an extension of oneself; it is still really important to be in touch with the real person. Facebook gives you many links and you can communicate with someone that is far away, but if you make Facebook your reality, then you sort of lose touch with actually sitting down and just having a glass of wine with someone and just chatting.'

A few students described the 'benefits of online friendships'. For example, Student K said that he believed his online friendships are real. There are people that he feels he can talk to and share with. There are other people that really encourage him. He felt that the relationships are realistic, rather than virtual. Student N said that she goes onto the internet to relieve her stress during her exams. When she relieves her stress, she does talk about the exams a lot with her friends on Facebook.

4.22 Friendship types by contact type
This coding covers the types of friends a student has on Facebook and on other types of social networks. For example, Student S said that only her closest friends and family are on BBM, while most of her friends are on Facebook and anyone can follow her on Twitter. So different levels of closeness are associated with different social networks.

4.23 Online social capital and self-esteem
This coding covers student feedback on the importance that online activities play in developing their social capital and self-esteem. Some students commented that when they joined Facebook, they felt under pressure to have 1,000 friends or more, to match their peers. Student K said that most people at are at the stage where he was on Facebook, when he first started. He noticed that many people had 1000 friends and he had a few, which he thought was a crisis. So, he went to Facebook pages that allow one to easily find new friends. He would go onto these pages and write 'Hi, just add me as a friend.' Then his Aunt told him, 'For real now, you need real friends, it's not cool to have many friends; who you don't know, who don't care and you won't even talk to.'

4.24 Types of exclusion
This coding deals with the extent to which students feel included or excluded from particular social networks due to them not having access to particular tools. A common example for South African students is those who do not have Blackberry phones and therefore feel left out of BBM conversations between their face-to-face friends.

3. Social media affordances.
A category for social media (software) affordances is useful to code student discussions about the distinct affordances that social media provides them. Since the most commonly discussed social networks were MXit, Facebook, Twitter and Google+, the categories reflect this by covering:

4.31 Facebook status updates
This code covers the types of updates students made as well as the reasons for the updates.
Many students spoke about their use of Facebook's status 'update' affordance and described the frequency with which they made updates. Student S said that on Facebook, you cannot have five status updates back-to-back as you need to give time for friends to comment. She normally updates her status on Facebook at least once every two days

Students also spoke about the reasons for updates. For example, Student K uses his updates for religious purposes; he comments on the challenges that people face and testifies on what God is doing for them.

The type of Facebook status update feedback they desired was also discussed; Student V, wanted his 'Facebook friends' to discuss the updates he made, as he is a lyricist and interested in what people think of the thoughtful updates he wrote.

4.33 Facebook: number of friends
This code deals with the number of friends affordance and the meaning this has for students.
As a 'social network' software, Facebook offers the affordance of allowing its users to view their friend's social networks or those which users have not set to be private. It also provides the total number of a user's "Facebook friends". Student Y wrote that she has 900 friends on Facebook, which came about, because she went on exchange. She met many groups on rotation. There are also family, friends and South Africans on exchange everywhere else. She emphasised that this was not by 'accept', 'accept', 'accept'!

4.34 Lists and circles
This code deals with the role that “friends’ lists” plays, either in Facebook (lists) or in Google + (Circles). Facebook offers an affordance for users to create "friend lists" and manage which lists get to view a user's updates. In speaking about how Student O's friendships online could be sustained, she stated that the fact that you are 'on their list, or that they are on hers, shows that you consider each other friends'. Even though you don't communicate with people often, you can still use the 'Family', group views. People will ask questions and one still feels that they are part of your life.

Google+, the social network that pioneered the concept of lists, shapes these as 'circles'. Student S spoke about this affordance, saying: In Facebook, Google+ believes that this is an add-on, while in their service one has to choose who one shares content with. You have "Circles"; a work circle, then school, then family. You separate (your contacts into) these groups and when you share something you can tick who you do, and don't, want to share with. People do not know what Circles you put them in.

4.35 Twitter affordances
This code looks specifically at how students understand Twitter affordances, and how they perceive these affordances to be different to other social media. While Facebook offers the affordance of 'friending' other users which they may approve or decline, Twitter offers "following", which is automatically accepted. Whilst "tweeting" is similar to updates, this does have its own syntax and benefits. Students discussed these affordances, for example. In discussing the merits of Twitter versus Facebook, Student R said that at least on Twitter, the people that he is following and the tweets that they put out are basically what he is looking at. So, at least he is following it, and it's not a lot of nonsense that one is not looking for (like on Facebook). By contrast, Student K stated that he finds Twitter "a bit dry" and prefers Facebook as you can see his profile and "meet me", while with Twitter, you just see who a person corresponds with, but do not get a good idea of what is going on.

4.36 MXit affordances
This code looks specifically at how students understand MXit affordances, and how they perceive these affordances to be different to other social media. Popular because of MXit's affordance of free messaging, this service was spoken about by Student R, who said that part of the reason that got him off MXit is that when you logon, there is probably a group of people he wants to chat to, but when you show that you are online, you get all these random messages. He related this to his concerns around asynchronous messaging: he has never really liked the realtime conversation where it is just all at once, and one has to do a relay; from someone to someone, come back... answer, answer, come back. It is too dispersed for him and he finds it difficult to follow these conversations.

4. Personal social media rules.
Some students spoke about developing rules that they used to govern when, where and how they would access social networks. For example, Student S said that she 'has her own rules for the different social networks'; there was a stage on Facebook when she would accept all friend requests and it reached a stage where she got to 1,500 friends. But they were all commenting on her wall, commenting on her personal pictures and asking her personal questions and she did not like this at all. So, she decided to clean up her Facebook and she would only have people that she knew personally; from primary school, high school or university. Not someone that she has never met before.

These codes are the indicators of the different social media rules:

4.41 Information flow control between services
In theory, students can publish a new tweet, blog post, picture, et al. and share this information after linking these services within their social media accounts (for example, this blog post is tweeted about via my Twitter account and that tweet is then published to my Facebook feed). This coding tracks student mentions of this practice.

4.42 Student media management
This coding is used where students speak about managing the types of media they select for publication to social media services. For example, Student S stated that when she updates Facebook it is for an audience. She always says, if you have a picture, keep it, why put it on Facebook? She only puts it up on Facebook if she wants other people to comment, so it's definitely for other people, to get their attention. Another example is Student R who spoke about regularly updating his profile; he had stages where he wants to update everything on his profile. When he sees a new movie that he likes, he will go under under information and add it. The latest thing he has done was with his CVs, he just went it to re-shuffle them around as he likes to place them in order of importance. He was having quite a bit of a Gossip Girl prediction. So he did not quite revamp it, you can see the influcence coming in as these characters pop-up. His profile will start to reflect what is going on in his life; before this his statuses were like about Vampire Diaries, his profile picture, his information reflected what he watches and stuff. This has become like a part of him and he updates it as he goes along; very regularly.

4.43 Social media terms of use
This code refers to student mention and understanding of social media terms of use; different terms of use apply to different social media services. For example, some will retain copyright of the material users submit, while others will share copyright or leave it as the users. When asked 'How does it work, in terms of copyright, do you know? Do you have any functions, settings or stuff? Or, do you basically go on the idea that somebody else is a writer and will respect your...)' Student V replied, 'The thing is that I have not checked it out. I have just been, like WOW!, 'writing site', bam, thrown it on there. And because there are so many people, I assume that the copyright means you get to keep your own work. Especially, because you can actually sell your work through this site.'

4.44 Privacy
This code deals with mentions of privacy and privacy settings on social media. Students described their perceptions of the privacy controls that social network software afforded them. Student S said when she first used Facebook, her profile was open and there were not as many privacy control settings. Now, if you go on, you will just see her name and what she is studying; no photos, most of her wall is 'off'.

Students discussed their concerns about privacy issues. Student S stated that she is big on 'Facebook stalking' other people. She knows that other people will stalk her and she does not want strangers to have access to her personal information.

It also includes students' descriptions of being searchable (or unsearchable) on a particular service or external ones. For example, if they talk about selecting settings on social media services that would make their profile searchable via that service and other search engines.

5. Student feelings in relation to social media

This cluster of codes refers to spoke about students feelings about or 'relationship' to one, or more, social media services. It was clear from the interviews that students form a relationship with different types of social media. There is at times a kind of personification happening.

4.51 Relationship to a social media service
For an example of a relationship to Facebook, Student S said that she definitely feels that because Facebook is so personal to her, that when they (Facebook) make a change to it, she feels like they are messing with her (personal) space!

4.52 Rationale and benefits of a social media service
Students did talk about their reasons for using specific social media services and their benefits. Student N said that Facebook was useful for support during University exams: She does feel that because all of her friends are in the same boat, that she gets support. One of her friends is writing and he also does Economics, so, you know, he was telling her the other day "you know, you better read...". So, it helps to know that there is someone going through what you are going through, not to just tell someone you are learning for exams and "Sorry, it will all work out". It helps a lot.

4.53 Understanding of services' use of personal data
Students could also describe their understanding of how social media services used their data:
For instance, Student K said that he was doing a course called 'Evidence-Based Management' in which they spoke about Facebook and Google. On Facebook, its Privacy Terms & Conditions state that you must update your account within 18 months or it will be terminated. So, they always want you update your infromation as they are making money off your profile and one's account details are provided to advertisers and they are making a lot of money from us using it.

4.54 Termination of service
A few students spoke about terminating their social media membership. Student S wrote that there was a time in the holidays that she was 'hating Facebook' and even deleted it for a couple of days. Facebook can be a way for people to ignore you; so she was not getting many wall-posts, she was updating her wall, saying things in status updates, but no-one was commenting. She felt a bit ignored, so she deleted Facebook. She got angry at it. Student K wrote that he wanted to 'stay away from Facebook for ever'; he finds Facebook draining as he was addicted to it. He would wake up with Facebook and go to sleep with Facebook. He wasted a lot of time on it; it has many applications and he received many invitations from dating sites which sent you profiles every day to your email. He needed space, so he stopped for three weeks and deleted his profile.

6. Other roles of social media
Code 5 covers the examples which emerged which demonstrated other roles played by social media in students’ lives.

One example is Student R, who spoke of the school that he went to, about 150 years old and tradition means a lot. One of the traditions was that prefects could lash their skivvies. Obviously now in modern times, this is counted as assault, so it was banned. However, it was happening behind closed doors. Someone had taken a video (of a beating), whatnot, and had threatened to go to Carte Blanche. The head boy was de-prefected, but then the rest of the prefects-body threatened to throw their badges away and there was this huge drama. This found its way onto Facebook and then the school said they would block Facebook and if you wanted to use it, you must go off campus. As a border, being at school during the week, there was not much Student R could then do with Facebook.

Hopefully, this introduction to the index is so thorough that you don't have any questions :) ! If not, please add yours as a comment below, thanks.

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