#FLWebSci Week 1

13 11 2013

FutureLearn is a new UK-based online learning platform that offers ‘MOOCs’ (Massive Online Open Courses). The platform was launched a few weeks ago with the backing of a number of well-respected universities, who have made free, interactive educational courses available for anyone in the world to study.

I’ve signed up for a MOOC offered by the University of Southampton called ‘Web Science: How the Web is Changing the World’. I thought this would be interesting because the web certainly has changed *my* world, and I am learning every day how it continues to change the world. The web allows me to conduct my business, connect with people, shop, bank, research, play, chat, and much more, in ways that were not possible just a decade or two ago.

In fact, as part of Week 1 of the MOOC, I have been asked to try and visually represent ‘my web’. Please excuse the very primitive graphic design skills and slight blurring!

How I use the WebMy graphic attempts to show how the different ways I physically connect to the internet affect the way in which I use the internet on that device. I realise that I am probably quite abnormal in ‘only’ using three devices! I do also have a smartphone, but apart from texts and phonecalls, I only really use that for Angry Birds on long train journeys…

Each of my three devices has some exclusive uses, but there are cross-overs with the way I use my University (work) laptop compared to the way I use my personal laptop, and my Nexus tablet. For example, I use the Feedly app on my tablet to read craft, cookery and personal interest blogs when I am on the go (or on the loo!), but the Feedly Cloud website is also useful on my work laptop for feeding me science news (not usually on the loo…).

I run my freelance business using my home laptop, not my University one, but LinkedIn crosses over both of these uses. Social media tools tend to infiltrate all three of my devices to some extent, particularly Twitter, often via Hootsuite, which I use to manage @lisaamartin1 when at home, @GARNetweets when at work, and both for relevant uses when out and about (such as live tweeting at the recent SpotOn London conference I attended).

When I think back, the internet really has changed (my) life. My dad worked in IT during the 80s and 90s, so we were lucky to be one of the first people I knew to get ‘the internets’ at home. It seems a lifetime ago that we used to dial in, via a modem, to use ‘America Online’s’ chat rooms and games, while frustrated friends and family members hit redial in vain as they struggled to get through on the phone!

I remember the internets being installed at school in the mid to late 90s. Before then, IT lessons (at least that I can remember) consisted of touch-typing practice and a game called ‘Gorillas’ in which you had to blow up a very pixelated gorilla with a very pixelated banana. (OMG! Found an applet for it here!)

At university in the early 2000s, many students had a laptop, but they were still really expensive. My mum and dad bought me a second-hand one that had once belonged to a water company, so they had a little plaque made with my name engraved on it to cover up where the company logo sticker had left a mark (cute!). This thing was the approximate thickness and weight of a heavy-duty paving slab. However, having my own access to the internet opened up new possibilities – leaving my laptop running overnight to download a single mp3 from Napster, for one thing!

In my first job as a teacher, I became more aware of how the internet could be used not just to find information and download episodes of Mysterious Cities of Gold from P2P software, but as a teaching and learning tool. I used to develop ‘internet scavenger hunts’ and started to regularly use sites like BrainPop and YouTube to introduce interactive content to my lessons.

And Facebook. I joined Facebook before I went travelling in 2007. Before then, I had barely heard of it, but thought it would be a good  way to keep in touch with people from wherever I was in the world. Thanks, in part, to Facebook, I was able to keep in touch with a cute boy I met in Argentina – who I will be marrying next September!

I guess, realistically, it is only in the last few years that I have started to view the internet as an enabling tool, rather than just an information-finding tool or one big entertainment network. I work with people, mostly scientists, all over the country and indeed the world: web technology is routinely used to communicate, to carry out research, to collect, store, share and collaboratively analyse data. At the conference I mentioned last week, I don’t know why but  I was stunned at the number of people live-tweeting! Every conference session had it’s own hashtag, and rather than fighting for buffet food at lunchtime, people were fighting for plug sockets to recharge their devices!

We rely on the internet so much more than we realise – it is just so ‘normal’ these days, and I guess having grown up over the last 30 years my peers and I are well placed to realise this. I swear babies are born knowing how to ‘flick’ pages on an iPad these days!

I wonder what would happen if the internet was to suddenly disappear? Looking forward to learning more at FutureLearn!




2 responses

13 11 2013
Simon Cumming

Excellent Blog Lisa, got your address from FutureLearn. Hope you are enjoying the courses as much as I am. By the way my wife and I travelling to Buenos Aires in June/July13. Can you advise on places to visit?

14 11 2013

Thanks Simon! Glad you like the blog post. I’m only halfway through week 1 and finding the course really thought-provoking – loving it!

BA is an awesome city – it was 6 years since I was there so things may have changed but there are plenty of things to do! Off the top of my head, I recommend visiting Recoleta cemetary where Eva Peron is buried, browsing the antiques market in San Telmo (think it’s on a Sunday?), watching a football game at La Boca stadium, going to a tango show (or even taking a tango lesson!), and doing a walking tour of the Caminito area. Eat steak – it really is the best!! Try ma-te, the tea that everyone drinks in funny cups through a straw. And Quilmes, the national beer. If you venture further afield in Argentina, you can’t miss the Iguazu falls and of course a wine tasting tour!

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