Thursday 26 November 2015

Online Content Creation. Looking at students' social media practices through a #ConnectedLearning lens.

Written for researchers interested in students' social media practices, creative content production and how both can reflect indicators of the Connected Learning educational framework.

Cheryl BrownLaura Czerniewicz and I wrote 'Online content creation. Looking at students' social media practices through a Connected Learning lens' for the Learning, Media and Technology journal. Our paper contributes to closing research gaps concerning: the Online Content Creation (OCC) practices of African university students; how indicators of the Connected Learning (CL) pedagogical framework are present in university students' non-formal creative productions; and the potential benefits that becoming digital creators might have for supporting students' social trajectories.

While previous studies have addressed creative production by university students for specific purposes, there is a research gap concerning OCC in the everyday lives of African university students. In analysing both the formal and informal ICT practices of 23 first year students at four South African universities, the use of online networks was pervasive. However, just three undergraduates described developing and/or using online presences to pursue interest-based activities.

We followed "Jake", "Vince" and "Odette" into their third year and learnt about: the social media they utilised; their trajectories; their linkages with career interests; and the types of online presences they created, maintained or discontinued. The pedagogical framework of CL proved an appropriate heuristic since all case studies spanned digital practices that, although non-formal, were: peer-supported (PS), interest-driven (ID) and academically oriented (AO). The cases also demonstrated the production-centred (PC) and shared-purpose (SP) of using openly networked (ON) new media for self-expression. PS, ID, AO, PC, SP and ON are all important indicators for CL.

There has been a tendency in CL literature to focus on secondary school youth, aged 12 to 18. We show how this emphasis can be extended to university, as students are likewise engaged in forming new interests and emergent social identities. By engaging in OCC, Jake, Vince and Odette could expand on the academic creative production interests they were formally taught. We describe how each student leveraged non-formal OCC practices for orientating towards new learning opportunities and social trajectories. Complementing these three student's formal production interests with rare OCC practices, seemed likely to give them an edge in our globally competitive society, as digital creators:

Jake used his productions as a student journalist, editor, poet and book writer to develop an online presence as a writer. He currently works as a communications trainee for a state agency. Vince's successful video production in an extra-curricular, online Ghetto Film School of LA course resulted in him being sponsored to present his short at the Sundance Film Festival Showcase. He currently works in multimedia and directs video-productions. Odette strategically developed separate online presences to promote her availability as an actor/model and scriptwriter. She also shares productions as a fiction writer, poet and personal journal diarist.

For more on African students' online content creation and social media use and how both reflected Connected Learning indicators, click on

Thursday 25 June 2015

Introducing the portfolio genre to first-timers from under-resourced schools and homes

Written for educators in minimally resourced environments that are interested in teaching novices about the role of digital portfolios; particularly to help justify tertiary education access to visual creative disciplines and bridging courses.

Although online portfolios are increasingly used to secure educational and vocational opportunities, anecdotal evidence from South African secondary schools suggests that electronic learning portfolio (e-portfolio) production is rarely taught. The costly infrastructures required to support e-portfolio syllabi most likely restrict these those schools with high levels of economic and cultural capital. 

Although such schools may readily support young people's participation in visual arts and/or design subjects, such facilities support a mere one percent of young South Africans. Ninety nine percent do not have formal opportunities to study; visual art, graphic design and/or computer studies. The vast majority of young people are thus excluded from formal opportunities for developing digital or analog portfolios and self-presentations related to their creative productions.

However, it is possible for educators at minimally resourced sites to expose students to three important portfolio uses, namely:
  1. applications for select tertiary disciplines (in particular; architecture, design, fine art and media production);
  2. supporting access to bridging courses (such as the Cape Peninsula University of Technology's or Michaelis' School of Fine Art's portfolio workshops);
  3. and for creative professionals' and amateurs' digital self-presentation, curation and sharing practices.
I covered these using specific examples in a two hour lesson with Creative Code students at Ikamva Youth's Makhaza computer lab in Khayelitsha last year. Associate Professor Marion Walton had invited me to speak at her educational outreach project, which introduces dedicated teenagers to computer coding. Marion's lessons aim to make coding and visual design more accessible through youth media, gaming and mobile phones. She asked me to do a short introductory workshop that introduced newcomers to the portfolio genre's use, particularly in education.

Like most Capetonian teenagers, her volunteers have never formally been exposed to portfolios. I chose to start with its use in professions delivering visual creative work. To orient learners, I first provided an overview of the types of careers in which portfolios are important. I took students through the Wanna Have a Designer Future? design careers booklet by the Cape Craft and Design Institute. These volunteers were shown a typical art student's analogue portfolio, before being introduced to how visual creatives specialising in different genres use Carbonmade to present themselves and their creative work. In discussing important differences between online portfolio services for visual creatives, Deviantart and Behance were briefly introduced. The former offers additional social networking functionality, while the latter is integrated with Adobe's varied software subscriptions. 

Portfolios may also be very important outside visual creative domains; I showed a Cape Times headline concerning my father, Professor Noakes', recommendation that eating animal organs is better for impoverished children than sugary, high-carbohydrate alternatives. As an academic whose scientific contribution spanned over forty years, I showed how his research contributions to sports medicine and science (in Challenging Beliefs) ranged across many media formats (video, articles, publication lists and other resources). To further buttress his reputation online, it was helpful that a consolidated resource be created with links to the Prof's varied intellectual contributions.  

Each learner then completed a brief self-reflection on portfolios questionnaire, which aimed to stimulate individual reflection on what they had just learnt and catalyse contemplation on applying this knowledge in developing one portfolio, or perhaps more. These might range from; hobby showcases to school and co-curricular portfolios intended to support tertiary study and workplace applications. 

I hoped that using an open approach focused on the resources that teenagers access in school and outside it could encourage this audience to appreciate that showcase portfolios are worth pursuing for sharing one's vocational and/or leisure interests. Feedback from these students suggested they had many. I trust that they will leverage their emergent coding, design and photographic skills for creating portfolios that serve the important uses introduced by the workshop.

Monday 25 May 2015

Replacing a MacBook Air battery in Cape Town (and solving an NVivo for Mac 10 software license issue)

Written mostly for MacBook Air users in Cape Town and NVivo for Mac 10 users anywhere.

After replacing my MacBook Air's hard-drive, the next project to support its longevity was battery replacement. Mine was lasting just two hours, a far cry from the initial nine. Apple recommends that battery replacement be done via an authorised service provider. Although online tutorials suggest that is perfectly feasible to do a MacBook Air battery replacement oneself, EveryMac has identified difficulties in sourcing batteries of sufficient quality for post-2009 models.

Since I required speedy and safe replacement in a later model, I followed Apple's advice: Digicape Cape Town were prompt to respond with a quote after I provided them my MacBook Air's serial number. A battery (from Europe) plus installation came to just over R 3,100, including VAT. Although not cheap, the peace-of-mind this provided seemed well worth such expense: Digicape did an MRI/Apple system diagnostic to confirm the fault and to validate the order. After confirming the quote, it took just three days for the battery to arrive. I then dropped off my laptop and the replacement took just over an hour.

A surprising benefit of this replacement was fixing an NVivo for Mac 10 software issue: I was using this qualitative research software to code 25 journalist transcriptions for South Africa's contribution to the 'Journalistic ethics and work practices in conflict societies’ MeCoDEM project teamwork. After installing NVivo 10.2 and running the software, it showed the error message: 'Your NVivo license has been cancelled', then 'Your NVivo license has expired'. After QSR Support fixed this via a remote help session, I was surprised to experience the same error a few days later. The options under the licensing menu were all low-lighted, so there was no way to enter my institution's registration key to authorise the software. With an NVivo project file submission deadline looming, this repeat problem was a potential showstopper...

In messaging a QSR technician during the second fix, he recommended that I get my laptop's CMOS battery checked. When the laptop runs out of battery, CMOS behaves as a backup of the system's date and time. If the CMOS is faulty or not working the time gets set to default which was likely to cause the expiration and cancellation of one's license. Post-battery replacement, I am pleased to say that I have not experienced this problem again, so I'm hoping his explanation is optimal!

Monday 4 May 2015

Extend a MacBook Air's life by upgrading it with an SSD drive from Other World Computing

After nearly four years, my MacBook Air seemed nearing the end of its lifespan. Despite using MacPaw’s CleanMyMac to clear unwanted files and Gemini to identify and remove duplicates, it had become impossible to keep the recommended 15% free diskspace available (or 36GB of 240). My MacBook's performance seemed to be slowing and less reliable.

An important benefit of Mac's high-quality hardware is its longevity, but there is minimal support in South Africa for Apple users having more than basic maintenance done (such as upgrading existing hardware). Apple's laptop design focus is on making them attractive, disposable consumables, but providing lighter, thinner options is being done to hackability's detriment. Local Mac consumers are only afforded the option of buying-up {with a trade-in, if lucky}; I could not find any Cape Town company promoting Apple laptop upgrades. Apple's sole South African authorised distributor, The Core Group, has a history of uncompetitive, exorbitant pricing and I was surprised that no local companies promote reasonably priced upgrades. Given the steeply-priced new options available via The Core Group's monopoly, there must be a market need for upgrades that is not being met.

In the absence of local upgrade support, I explored the import options: Other World Computing's (OWC) online store was prominent in Google search for the wide range of Mac upgrade and expansion products it offers. OWC's Mercury Aura Pro SSD and Envoy storage solution upgrade kit promised an impressive upgrade solution that would almost double my hard drive’s space (to just under 480GB), while increasing my laptop's speed up to three times (to 570 MB/S). It's not an inexpensive solution; around R4,050 ($338), which includes US shipping, and R625 on SA Post Office collection. Add in one's time, travel and related additional expenses, this could easily sum up above R 6,000. Still, that's much, much less than a new MacBookAir!

Before ordering, I checked out the installation video to see that I could install the Mercury Aura Pro SSD easily (given that I am far from being a computer technician). It looked to be simple and after collecting my order, the extraction-and-installation process went very smoothly. It took the ten minutes suggested for laptop memory card replacement. Next, I moved the old storage to an external OWC Envoy USB holder. Again, OWC's thorough guidance, this time in a brochure, was easy and quick to follow.

The next phase was to migrate my previous Mac OS X settings and files to the new drive, which took just over a day... I restarted my Macbook Air in a mode to re-install Yosemite. This clean install necessitated downloading OS X {24 hours via entry-level ADSL}, followed by a migration process to import my data {2 hours}. I then ran a software update and repaired the new drive's disk permissions {2 hours} as advised.

This left just four minor issues to sort out; 
1. Microsoft Office required a Java download and re-entry of its product key to launch;
2. I logged out of Google Drive and resynchronised it so that it could re-locate its local files; 
3. I reinstalled my Canon printer's core driver;
4. Backup failed, so Disk Repair's verify-and-repair option was used to fix the back-up drive.

After checking my most heavily used applications and some recent files, I am pleased to report that OWC's marketing promises were spot-on. My hard-drive now affords a capacity of 478GB (much, much more than the latest Mac Air laptop's 256GB!), my laptop starts faster and its speed seems far more responsive.  I'm hoping that the enhanced durability of an SSD drive adds a few years before laptop replacement is necessary.

Hopefully, this post helps confirm to local Mac users that it is possible to save money by taking the initiative to do upgrades. This reduces one's frequency of laptop consumption and can add to those examples helping make 'green computing' somewhat less of an oxymoron.

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