Saturday, March 31, 2012

Twitter-like Video Conferences

Recently I have been considering why real-time online education using video conferencing (called "synchronous online learning" by education theorists) works so poorly. The tools today seem little better than video conferencing from 15 years ago. While more bandwidth and more reliable links may help, I suggest that the technology is trying to solve the wrong problem, because a group discussion is not like a one on one conversation.

One thought was to accept that communication in a group of people, such as a class, is not like a one-to-one conversation. If we assumed that only one person can talk at a time (half-duplex) and only can say a little and then pause for a reply, that will make the technology easier and allow for more computer mediation.

A time limit of about 30 seconds, being the speaking equivalent of an SMS message, would seem reasonable. Breaking a conversation up into 30 second packets might seem very unnatural. But Twitter has been very successful, breaking text conversations up this way. While that makes the conversation less free-flowing, it adds many advantages.

But is 30 seconds a good length for an audio message? I started searching to see if there was any research on how long people talk for continuously in a conversation. After a couple of web searches I found there was a whole area of research devoted to the "length of utterance" and this is used to measure language proficiency.

The "turn length" for Small-group Discussions (Li & Nesi, 2004) discussions has been reported to be from 23.1 to 71.5 seconds. This suggests that the maximum length for an audio/video message needs to be longer than 30 seconds, perhaps 120 seconds.

Also interesting is that discussions between students finished after 5 minutes 49 seconds to 6 minutes 31 seconds. This is much shorter than the typical 30 or 60 minute business meeting or education class. Perhaps if we had a way to organize meetings and classes more easily, they could be of this more natural short length.

In addition the researchers noted differences in the structure of discussion between Chinese and English speakers. They also noted the frustration when the groups mixed and while they spoke the same language, they used different discussion techniques. Perhaps explicit cues could be built into the Computer Medicated Communications system, where something like emote-icons would indicate if the speaker was Reformulating a point, Endorsing, or so on. Also it may be useful to teach students about different discussion styles.


Li, M., & Nesi, H. (2004). Exchange Patterns in Small-group Discussions: a comparative study of Chinese and English discourse in peer group, divergent discussion tasks. The East Asian Learner, 1(2). Retrieved from:

Friday, March 30, 2012

Supervising Postgraduate Research at University in the 21st Century

Greetings from the Australian National University where I am attending a workshop on how to supervise postgraduate research. Staff from other universities are also attending. Charles Sturt University are providing a Online Research Student Supervisor Workshop which will be conducted via the Internet.

The ANU has detailed Guidelines for "Candidature and Supervision of Higher Degree by Research Students". Other universities have similar guidelines. One issue is how the funding for the supervision is allocated. Different universalities have different approaches, which can cause problems with cross institutional panels.

ANU requires a panel of three people for research supervision:
  1. Chair: The Primary Supervisor
  2. Supervisor: A Secondary Supervisor who works closely with the student and the Chair.
  3. Advisor: Assists with the supervision of the student
Traditionally universities do not pay supervisors, apart from the normal salary which staff receive. However, the increasing focus on financial viability of universities may see this change.

There are issues with the social prescence of the members of the panel. That is the student may never meet, or ever see the members of their panel, other than their supervisor.

The "Vancouver Protocol" provides guidelines as to who should be listed on student papers as authors. provides tables to help work this out in practice. A related issue is how supervisors make their contributions: should drafts be sent to everyone at once? A modern option is to put the document on a distributed auhtoring system, such as Google Docs, which allows multiple contributions, which are all tracked.

One issue is a suitable environment for meetings and mutual support between students.

An issue is completion rates and length of time required. There is also a distinction made between withdraws early in the program (first year) and later.

My current university studies are about how to use some of the techniques from e-learning in research supervision. This could be applied to small undergraduate projects up to a PHD.

The area of supervision is subject to intense analysis, with changes to the way universities are funded. Just as all universities are looking at how to make courses higher quality and more effective, this applies to research as well.

University Teaching: strategies and techniques

Australian educational designer has started a new blog: "University Teaching: strategies and techniques". While aimed at higher education, many of the tips are applicable to school and vocational teachers as well. For the heavier theoretical aspects of education, see Deborah's other blog: Educational Reflections.

Australian DNS Warning

This morning I was interviewed on Network Ten Australia about the ACMA media release: "Is your computer infected with DNSChanger?" (17/2012), 29 March 2012. This refers to a warning from the FBI Learn about DNSChanger malware and how it can affect your computer. The FBI have put in a temporary fix, but this is due to expire 9 July 2012, thus the need for urgency. The Australian government has provided a DNSChanger Diagnostic to check if DNS service has been rerouted. But if your ISP has redirected the redirection, the check will give a false negative.

ps: As I said when interviewed by Channel 10 about it this morning, "Don't Panic". ;-)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Making Sense of On-line Conferences

Greetings from day two of "On-line Learning Futures Festival", being held online world wide. The first session today was moderated from USQ in Queensland, Australia but presented from the University of the South Pacific in Fiji on Shingle teaching. The challenges of teaching in a second or third language with campuses spread over a large part of the Earth are daunting. In 2005 I spent a week in Apia, Samoa, teaching web design for Pacific museum staff and saw some of the challenges first hand.

Yesterday I spent much of the day "at" the futures conference. This caused much amusement from my colleagues, who could see me sitting there with a headset on staring intently at my screen and occasionally furiously tying comments. They threatened to hang a sign on my back saying "Rocket Scientist".

The slides and presentable audio worked very well with the "Blackboard Collaborate" software. The live video of the presenter did not work so well. USQ had only one fixed camera, with no zoom function. As a result there was just a wide shot, showing the presenter and some USQ signs. What would have been better would be to zoom into a closeup of the presenter after the initial introduction.

The text chat function worked well as a back-channel to handle routine questions. There were major problems with audio questions from participants. The moderator had to keep reminding participants to turn on their microphone and turn it off leftwards and their video. I could not understand what the problem was until I tried it myself this morning. Blackboard Collaborate has a button for talk and one for video. However, it is very difficult to tell when these are off or on. This is a serious flaw in the design of the software's interface which caused considerable difficulty.

It is remarkable that the web based video products are little better than the video conferencing software I (tried) to use 15 years ago: at one government agency we had a very expensive video conference system which was mostly used a jukebox for playing CDs at Friday afternoon drinks. ;-)

Recently I have been thinking about the way what educators call synchronous online education can be combined with what they call asynchronous. I concussed that this terms are technically incorrect and misleading. The terms used in computer science of "real-time" and "store and forward" would be clearer. It may be that educators have asked their software developers for a synchronous tool and the result is the problems experienced with Blackboard Collaborate (and similar products). This is partly a technical problem, in that the Internet service can't keep up with the real-time requirements, but partly a conceptual one, in that the face-to-face events being emulated are not purely synchronous.

Most of the time a live event is a combination of near real time and store and forward. That is participants are all listening to one person speak but are each doing other things on their own. I suggest that if the requirements for real-time were relaxed for the software the result would be something which coped with network problems better and also better matched what actually happens at an event.

I suggest that an online collaboration product could be designed which only supports half duplex commutation: that is only one person could talk and transmit at a time. Speakers would have to take turns. Also a delay of at least a second could be inserted between speakers and a time limit would be set for how long someone could talk without interruption (perhaps 30 seconds, being the speaking equivalent of an SMS message). This would make for a very stilted conversation between two people, but not impede a presentation where one person is talking much of the time and then takes questions. The system might also automatically queue the speakers.

Another function would be to have the ability to pause the session, rewind and jump to any point in the past, or the future. Current systems seem to do recording like an old fashioned VCR: you have to wait until the session is over before you can replay the recording. If each audio/video item from a person is limited to less than a minute and there is a pause between each, this would make it possible to compress, index and store each and make it available for instant replay.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

International Education Conference On-Line

Festival format
Greetings from the "On-line Learning Futures Festival" at University of Southern Queensland (USQ), Australia. I am not actually in Toowomba, where the USQ is, I am in my office in Canberra, taking part online. USQ, University of Leicester (UK) and Athabasca University (Canada) are running this "Follow the Sun", event continuously over the next 48 hours. Each institution is located in a time zone approximately equally located around the world, with each taking turns. Registration if free and you can follow the Twitter stream at: #fts12

The festival is using "Blackboard Collaborate" (previously called Elluminate Live!"). I have used this before and it works fine at dial-up speed on a low cost netbook computer.

It happens I am a student at USQ, studying on-line teaching. My literature search is due in today. Perhaps I can have it very up to date by citing some of the speakers at the conference. But how do I cite an on-line event which is still happening? ;-)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick Guide to the National Broadband Network

The Internet Society of Australia (ISOC-AU) and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) have produced the "National Broadband Network: Guide for Consumers". Unfortunately this 34 page PDF document (558 Kbytes) is much more than the average consumer needs. For example, the consumer does not need to know why the NBN was built, just why they might want to use it. Details of Licensed/Public Spectrum are not relevant.

I did a quick search and found ACCAN also offered an "NBN: Quick Guide", which is more suitable for consumers. But there were so many options (Word Document, Adobe Acrobat PDF, Printed Version), that it was all a bit confusing. I expect the average consumer would give up at this point and look elsewhere.

Here is the text of the quick guide, which is readable, but lacking in color (I converted it from word processing to web format):

NBN: A Guide for Consumers

NBN: Fast Facts

  • The National Broadband Network (NBN) is public utility infrastructure that will cover all premises in Australia.

  • It is being built by NBN Co Limited – a wholly Government-owned company.

  • The NBN will consist of fibre-optic cable to 93% of premises. The remaining 7% of premises mostly in rural and remote areas will get fixed wireless or satellite connections.

  • You will still buy your phone and internet from service providers such as Telstra, Optus, iiNet and Primus. You won’t deal with NBN Co.

  • Connecting your premises to the NBN doesn’t mean you have to sign up immediately for a phone or internet service if you don’t want to.

  • The NBN will be used first for the internet and for carrying phone calls, with more services such as TV, movies, video telephony, smart metering and health monitoring becoming available in the future.

  • If you are happy with your existing phone handset, in most cases you can keep it.

  • The existing copper-wire telephone network will be disconnected in stages as the NBN is rolled out. In wireless and satellite areas, the copper network will be maintained for at least 20 years.

  • You will get a Network Termination Device or “NBN box” inside your premises or in a few cases on the outside wall.

  • NBN Co will provide a one-off back-up battery to people who get connected. This back-up battery will power a regular phone plugged into the NBN box for up to five hours in the event of a power failure.

  • In apartment blocks, some equipment will be installed in a central location such as a basement and then each apartment will have its own NBN box.

So what is the NBN?

The National Broadband Network, known as the “NBN”, is a high-speed telecommunications network being constructed by NBN Co Limited, a company set up by the Commonwealth Government in 2009.

The NBN gives everyone a high-speed link between their premises and their service provider. Today this type of high-speed broadband is only enjoyed by a very small number of Australians. It is expected that the NBN will be fully completed by 2021.

What is the technology?

NBN Co will use three types of technology to deliver broadband to all Australians:

  • Fibre-optic cable capable of delivering speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) or more to 93% of premises;

  • Fixed wireless and satellite connections delivering 12 Mbps to the 7% of premises that are unable to be connected via the fibre-optic cables.

Fixed wireless and satellite will be used mostly in rural and remote areas.

Will I deal with NBN Co?

NBN Co won’t deal directly with consumers, except during the first-time installation of your NBN box. NBN Co deals with service providers and is required to allow all service providers to plug in to the network for the same price.

You will deal with your service provider as you do now – i.e. companies such as Telstra, Optus, iiNet, Primus, TPG and others.

Will I need a back-up battery?

NBN Co will provide a one-off back-up battery to people who get connected. This back-up battery will power a regular phone for up to five hours in the event of a power failure. The battery will have a life of around three years and it will be the responsibility of everyone to replace and maintain their own battery.

It is important to note that many people have cordless phone handsets that already rely on the mains power. You can continue to use these but the NBN Co back-up battery won’t power these phones in the event of a power failure.

What will the NBN be used for?

The NBN is public utility infrastructure that will cover all premises. Think of it as similar to the power grid. A hundred years ago, the first electricity network was built for one purpose: street lighting. Much later, it started being used for indoor lighting in homes. Later still, it started being used for new appliances like electric stoves, heaters and refrigerators.

In the same way, the NBN will first be used for high-speed access to the internet and for phone calls. But soon it will start being used for a range of other services which are separate from the internet. In the future you may get TV delivered over the NBN, or you might have video consultations with your doctor, or a range of other in-home services.

Will fibre cables be installed overhead or underground?

If your current phone lines are underground then the NBN fibre cables will probably also be underground. If your current phone lines are overhead then the fibre will probably also be installed overhead. NBN Co will make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, so we can’t be sure what will happen in each case until the rollout is more advanced.

  1. What if I live in an apartment or other multi-dwelling unit?

In general, NBN Co will install fibre to every dwelling it can. Because there is a lot of variation in the layout and facilities in apartment buildings, the installers will check the buildings in advance and figure out the best way.

In some apartment buildings, they may need to install equipment in a central location, such as the basement of the building. This equipment will be owned by NBN Co, not by the building owner.

  1. Should I connect now or later?

There are advantages in having the connection to your premises done at the time the network is first being rolled out. Advantages may include:

  • Saving money on the installation. Connection is free at the initial rollout. It is uncertain whether people will have to pay if they decide to connect later;

  • Avoiding hassles. Remember that around 18 months after the NBN fibre-optic cable is rolled out in your area, the existing copper-wire telephone network will be disconnected. When that happens, being connected to the NBN will be the only way to have a fixed-line phone service. To ensure you have an uninterrupted service, it makes sense to be connected at the start.

Want to know more? The full report, NBN: A Guide for Consumers, can be found at

ACCAN is the peak body that represents all consumers on communications issues including telecommunications, broadband and emerging new services. We provide a strong, unified voice to industry and government as we work towards availability, accessibility and affordability of communications services for all Australians.

The Internet Society of Australia (ISOC-AU) is a non-profit society founded in 1996 which promotes Internet development in Australia for the whole community – private, academic and business users. ISOC-AU is a chapter of the worldwide Internet Society and is a peak body organisation, representing the interests of Internet users in this country.

From: NBN: Quick Guide, Internet Society of Australia (ISOC-AU) and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Repositioning the ANU Online for Excellence

Professor Ian Young, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University has issued "ANU financial repositioning: ensuring ongoing excellence" (26 March 2012). This envisions recasting the ANU budget, to increase the surplus to $35M (4 per cent of revenue), so there are funds for growth. It is proposed to make $40M savings from: changed business practices ($15M) and reduction in staff expenses ($25M).

My suggestion would be to implement on-line support for administrative processes and learning at ANU and draw on industry to help with the teaching. As well as reduce costs, this will also improve the quality of service and education for the students.

As an example in the business practices area, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system with a web based interface will improve the service to students, while reducing the need for counter staff.

In the staff expenses area, use of better assessment practices, would reduce staff costs and improve the quality of education. One example is to use online submission of assessment, less reliance on paper based examinations and the use of rubrics for marking assignments. ANU already as the on-line infrastructure in place for this, with the Wattle system, but it will require some retraining (or training) of staff in 21st Century assessment practices.

An increase in the use of adjuncts, such as myself, would also improve the quality of teaching, while reducing costs. We adjuncts are happy to help, in return for a fancy title, access to ANU facilities and perhaps a modest amount of cash.

These changes can be made while improving the university experience for staff and students. No one likes waiting in a queue to ask a question about enrollment and no one likes to be the one answering the same questions over and over again. Similarly nether staff nor students like the tedium of handling paper based assessment. Students value receiving tuition from adjunct staff who who have current real world experience.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Software for Qualitative Data Analysis

I am on a half day course on software for Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) to supervise research. Recommended as an overview of what software is available is the CAQDAS project at University of Surrey. It is decades since I worked with statistical analysis software (actually SAS) and then it was very quantitative (numbers). The workshop is concentrating on NVivo from QSR International. This could be useful for my studies in education and how to supervise research on-line. Rival produces are MAXQDA.

Of particular interest to me is Transana, a low cost product for analysis of video and audio:
Transana lets the user analyze and manage your data, transcribe it, identify analytically interesting clips, assign keywords to clips, arrange and rearrange clips, create complex collections of interrelated clips, explore relationships between applied keywords, and share your analysis with colleagues. The goal is to find a new way to focus on the data, and manage large collections of video and audio files and clips. ...

From: Transana,Wikipedia, 2012.
An interesting point was that whatever the software used, the researcher still needs to know what the software is doing and be able to show that what comes out is consistent with the data put in. At a technical level NVivo is developed using the Rational Unified Process (RUP).

It occurred to me that as QDA is mostly about labeling items and finding relationships between then]m, this might be used for the analysis and making of student assignments. This could not only look a what is in the assignments of one student but relationships between them and other works. This could look at how students have done group work (or if they have been plagiarizing).

The workshop got on to some often overlooked practical and ethical issues. Research data may contain information about people which needs to be protected. The software may contain encryption to help with this. Before storing the data in "The Cloud" work out where it is actually stored and if this is sufficiently secure (ANU is building its own ANU Cloud Storage). Removable storage devices can be a problem, particularly flash drives, which are easily lost (can be secured with a lanyard).

One point is that using software can assist with supervision. The supervisor can look at what the student has been doing and when they did it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Preparing a Paper for an International Education Conference

The first course for my "Graduate Certificate in Higher Education" was hard work, but I managed to get through it okay. So I thought I had better have some published papers to my name, if I was to do more tertiary teaching. Something I noticed was that most of my academic IT colleagues are not that interested in the details of teaching and most of my fellow students of teaching know little of IT. So I suspect there is not much competition for papers on IT in education.

It happens the "International Conference on Computer Science and Education" (ICCSE 2012), an IEEE sponsored conference, is on in Melbourne, Australia, 14 to 17 July 2012. So I reworked the two assignments from my first teaching course and some material from talks I had given, into a paper for the conference. The hardest part of this was not writing the paper (I have spent years working on the topic I selected), but using the Yeedao paper submission system. The conference organizers are in China and most of the papers are coming from China, so it makes sense to use a China based system. But the English language interface for the system key slipping into Chinese, making it difficult for me as an English speaker. However, this was still much quicker and simpler than a process using email.

After submitting my own paper, I volunteered to review some of the others. This proved a very educational experience, in terms of not assuming what the reader knows. The Chinese authors had used some education terms not common outside China and some words which seemed to have a different meaning in China (such as "democracy"). I suspect I had also used some terms in my paper which would be difficult for those outside Australia to understand. But it was good to see that most issues with tertiary education are common between nations.

My paper got a reasonably positive review, but one comment was that I had not used the IEEE template. I thought this odd as I had used the IEEE Microsoft Word template (which worked okay in the open source LibreOffice word processor). But I then realized that there was another step in the process I had not done, to run my word processing document through the IEEE PDF eXpress system. This system carries out checks on the document and turns it into PDF. The PDF I had created directly from my word processor did not meet the publishing requirements. I found a code the conference system and used that to upload my document to the IEEE, where eXpress converted it to PDF after a few minutes.

While there were no errors detected in my document, I noticed my email address was formatted as a hypertext link (blue and underlined) but did not work. The IEEE converter strips off any hypertext links in a paper (and then puts links to papers cited papers in a separate step). But the conversion had not removed the hypertext link look from the text. I had to edit the text to remove the blue and underlining.

You get ten conversion attempts with the IEEE system. That sounds a lot, but it took me three attempts to try to remove the hypertext underlining (it is still there).

Having the paper camera ready, I had to use a separate IEEE system to lodge the camera ready paper.

This is not the end of the process as I then had to register and pay for the conference. Having a paper at the conference costs only $150, but you have to register as well. The registration process was a little complex, as it has been designed for someone in China. As an example I was provided with the international SWIFT code for a bank in Sydney. But as I am in Australia I had to work out which part of the account code was the Bank's Australian BSB code.

Mobile Learning in Canberra

The Gaggle, an informal group of educational designers in Canberra, ACT will next meet Thursday 29 March 4:30pm in Building H137b, Bruce Campus, Canberra Institute of Technology , on the theme Mobile Learning. I will be showing how I designed my ANU ICT Sustainability course notes to work on a mobile device.
We will be looking at snippets of how teachers are using Mobiles in the classroom. We will also be looking at mobile apps that can be used to support the teaching and learning process.
4:30 to 5:10 pm Mobile learning snippets.
  • Nina Allen “Moblogs in Marketing
  • Sam Mills and Harry Stevensen “Integrating Mobile Phones in the Commercial Cookery kitchen”.
  • Felicia Zhang Record audio with mobile phones and upload to Moodle
  • Janet Harris Using mobiles with ESL learners”.
  • Other examples from ANU and UC?
5:10 to 5:40 Demonstration of Mobile apps useful for teachers.
  • CamScanner which enables you to scan multipage documents and send to email in less than a minute.
  • Evernote – notes and task manager which can be accessed from your PC, tablets and phones.
  • Livescribe pens. (Felicia Zhang).
  • Others include Paper Camera, Summly, iMovie, Instagram.
  • Other useful apps?
5:40 to 6:15 Networking
Time and Place
Thursday 29th March.
H137b Bruce Campus (above the library).
Go in the main entrance near the flag pole on Vowels Crescent.

Senate Committee Recommends Electronic Health Records

The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs has reported on the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011,19 March 2012. Despite privacy concerns expressed in evidence to the committee, the report largely supports the implementation of eHealth records.

The committee made three recommendations:
  1. (2.24) The committee recommends that the review of the operation of the Act that will occur after two years pursuant to Clause 108 specifically consider the issue of the appropriateness of the vesting of the System Operator responsibility in the Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing as well as possible alternative governance structures.

  2. (2.46) The committee recommends that the review of the operation of the Act that will occur after two years pursuant to Clause 108 consider the opt-in design of the system including consideration of the feasibility and appropriateness of a transition to an op-out system.

  3. (2.85) The committee recommends that the bills be passed.

From: Chapter 2 - The bills, Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011, Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, Parliament of Australia, 19 March 2012.

An overview of the PCEHR system

2.5 The PCEHR system will enable any Australian to register for an eHealth record and at the time of registering choose who will be able to access their record and the level of access that those parties may have. Consumers who elect to register will also be able to nominate a representative to help them manage their PCEHR.[5] ...

2.11 Submitters to the inquiry have been in favour of the benefits that will result from the implementation of the PCEHR system, many recognising that it is time that such a system were implemented. ...

2.18 Part 2 of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 (PCEHR Bill) sets out the governance arrangements for the PCEHR system.[19] Part 2 identifies the System Operator and specifies advisory bodies to the System Operator.[20] ...

2.21 The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) went as far as suggesting that implementation of the PCEHR system should be delayed until the governance arrangements set out in the bill are changed. Implementation on the basis that after two years the System Operator role would be transitioned to an independent body was not enough to allay their concerns ...

2.22 The Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA) also 'believes the System Operator (as described) is impossibly conflicted with roles as System Operator, System funder, and NEHTA Board Member.'[26] ...

From: Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011, Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, Parliament of Australia, 19 March 2012.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Defence to Use More IT Contractors

Greetings from the ACS Canberra Branch 2012 Conference, where John Hilvert has reported that Defence CIO was "struggling to get the people we need". This may well be the case as I went past the Defence booth I was offered a job (by someone I used to work with). Recruitment and training seems to be one of the issues at present for IT, with not enough students selecting to undertake IT degrees.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Australian Technologies Curriculum for Comment

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has issued a draft "Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies" paper for comment by 3 June 2012. This was prepared by Professor Lyndon Anderson and the Technologies Advisory Group, to set the direction for technologies curriculum to years 12 in Australian schools, with release of a final document by the end of 2013. Unfortunately I could find little actual content in the document to comment on. This contrasts with "Computing: A curriculum for schools", and other documents prepared by the UK Computing at School Working Group, which contain concrete proposes for education, supported by the British Computer Society, Google and Microsoft.

Students to Work on Humanitarian Software at 2012 Google Summer of Code

The Sahana Software Foundation (which I am a member of) is participating in the the 2012 Google Summer of Code (GSOC). Students volunteer to develop computer software for use in disaster relief around the world. More details are on the 2012 Sahana GSOC Program Page , with student guidelines and ideas pages.

Offshore Support Vessel For Australian Navy

ACV Ocean ProtectorThe Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith announced the purchase of the 6,500 tonne Offshore Support Vessel (OSV) MSV Skandi Bergen for $130m. Alongside the HMAS Choules , recently purchased second hand from the Royal Navy, this helps fills the gap in amphibious military transport until the first of two new Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships arrive from Spain. Australia got a good deal with both Skandi Bergen and Choules, due to the downturn in the global economy.

Skandi Bergen is sister ship to the Australian Customs Service's ACV Ocean Protector and will be transferred to Customs when the new purpose built amphibious transport ships are delivered in about three years time. The offshore support vessels are built for supporting oil rigs in harsh polar waters, and so will be useful for patrolling Australia's southern ocean, but are not designed for amphibious warfare. They have a helicopter pad, but this mounted high above the bridge and cannot be used for moving heavy cargo or vehicles, just personnel. But the ships have a useful cargo deck and crane for transshipping supplies.

Media reports indicate that the Minister for Defence rejected the option of purchasing an Australian made military transport, from Incat Tasmania or Austral WA, on advice from the Navy that these were not suitable for extended periods at sea. This is a curious decision as the purpose of a transport ship is not to spend extended periods at sea, but to get cargo from one point on shore to another as quickly as possible. This is a contentious issue in the US military, with the Army acquiring its own ships as a result. The US Army and Navy have both used high speed ships from Australian suppliers, including the Fortitude class Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) from Austral.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Two Submarine Designs for the Australian Navy

The Australian Defence Department's Future Submarine Project (SEA 1000), envisions a vessel larger and more capable than the current Collins Class submarines. Political considerations would favour construction of the submarines in Australia. However, the Collins class submarines proved beyond the capabilities of Australian industry and a larger more complex conventional submarine may be beyond the capabilities of even an experienced overseas shipyard. The only technically viable option to meet the requirements as currently set down would be a nuclear powered submarine from an established US or European manufacturer. However, nuclear power would create considerable domestic and international political controversy for Australia. Also it would be difficult for the Australian navy to recruit, train and pay for the large crew needed for nuclear submarine.

One alternative would be to build two different classes of submarine to less demanding requirement. The first would be an enhanced Collins class submarine and the second a smaller overseas procured vessel.

The Collins class submarines suffered problems with engines and electronic systems. In comparison the Australian made hull of the ships was relatively successful. The ships have had limited service and so could be refitted with new sensors, engines and batteries. This would provide local works and a relatively low risk interim vessel. As an example of a relatively low risk upgrade, new lithium batteries could be fitted in place of lead acid batteries, suing similar technology to that of electric cars.

At the same time the Collins class vessels are being refitted in Australia, a new class of vessel based on a proven overseas design could be ordered from a proven overseas shipyard. The standard weapons fit of the submarines would be reduced to increase their range and allow accommodation for special forces. Four of the the six large torpedo tubes would be replaced with smaller tubes suited to self defence, limited warfare against smaller ships, but still capable of disabling large surface combatants.

Progress with On-line Tertiary Teaching for Research-Led Education

After looking at the Postgraduate Certificates in Tertiary Teaching available in Australia and on-line internationally, in November 2011 I commenced study for a "Graduate Certificate in Higher Education" at the Australian National University. Due to my interest in on-line teaching I obtained agreement from my ANU supervisor to take two of the four courses required on-line by distance education. The first course at ANU's alliance partner, the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), November 2011 to February 2012, was "Assessment, Evaluation and Learning " (EDU5713). I recommend this USQ course to those interested in tertiary teaching.

USQ use the same Moodle Learning Management System, which I have used to run postgraduate courses at the ANU and Australian Computer Society. The USQ on-line course is structured as standard university unit, run over a semester, with the same holidays as the on-campus courses. The course typically covers one topic a week, with a chapter in a supplied e-book to read each week, extra readings and on-line weekly forums for discussion. The assessment was by mid semester and end of semester written assignments, submitted online.

Good points of the USQ Course

USQ is set up for distance education and this shows in the excellent on-line support for student queries. Using a central system I can ask a question and this is routed to the relevant area. The system tracks progress with the query and records the details, so I do not need to keep asking the same question of different staff and wondering what is happening.

The enrollment process was relatively simple and quick. There were only two pieces of paper involved in the whole course, with everything else, from start to finish, being online.

The course is provided using Moodle in a similar format to the one I use for my ICT Sustainability course for ANU and ACS students. The assessment tasks and an eBook of notes is provided at the beginning of semester, along with contact details for the tutor. The tutors have both academic and practical experience in education, are enthusiastic and helpful, but at times seem a little overworked (a situation any educator can relate to).

The course topics are revealed on Moodle week by week, with tasks, forums, extra readings and help with the assessment. This process helps prompt busy part time students to keep working, while avoiding overloading them with detail.

The assessment tasks are realistic and relevant to those teaching at university. I have already been able to use work from my assignments in my own teaching (and prepared a conference paper from the assignment material).

Areas for Improvement

The USQ course notes are excellent. These have a brief summary of terms and concepts and introduction to the literature, along with exercises and suggested readings. But with my first course the notes cut out half way through and just a collection of web links where provided for the remaining weeks. The notes cutting out made me feel a bit lost.

While the text of the course notes are well formatted, some of the diagrams are unreadable, as they were provided as low resolution bitmap images. However, in many cases the diagrams were derived from published works and references were included, so I could find a readable original.

The course provides extensive suggested readings and these are offered in electronic form with links to the university library. However, about three times as many readings as it is feasible for a student to read are provided. Many of the electronic documents provided by the university are difficult to read. I got into the habit of not using the links provided to the university library and instead looking for papers online and books in other university libraries.

Some documents provided are scanned in from paper, with the pages skewed and marked with highlighter pen, making them hard to read. The university also uses an eBook service which provides digitally created documents, but these appear to have then been converted into bitmap images to prevent piracy. The quality of the documents on my screen were so poor that I could not comfortably read the materials. Instead I located the books in local Canberra university libraries (with excellent service provided by the libraries of ANU, University of Canberra, ADFA and Australian Catholic University). In most cases I read the paper copies of the books, but in some cases eBook versions superior to those provided with the course were available from other libraries.

The course notes include questions for students to discuss in on-line forums. However, there was little participation by the students. The lack of student discussion may be because there are no marks awarded for it.

It was difficult to find where to post forum contributions to, as the forum names did not always not match the topics in the notes.

While the USQ tutors help when asked, there is no regular individual feed-back to students as part of the course format. Communication with the tutor was by email, without the use of the Dialogue tool built into Moodle. As a result, course messages could get lost in amongst other email. USQ provide a Google Gmail account for each student, which may not meet Australian privacy standards.

There was an additional $15 fee at the end of the course for a paper copy of the results. No electronic certified copies are offered and the paper transcript lacks effective non-copying features.

Overall, these are relatively mild criticisms, with the USQ course far superior to the formal postgraduate tertiary education I have previously undertaken, both online and face-to-face. For comparison, see:
  1. Reflections of an Online Student, Parts 1 to 6, August 2010
  2. Learning University Teaching, June 2011

Is the iPad Killing Academic Publishing?

The new ANU Librarian, Roxanne Missingham, will speak on "Is the iPad Killing Academic Publishing?", at the Australian National University in Canberra, 11am 4 April 2012.

Is the iPad Killing Academic Publishing?

Roxanne Missingham (Scholarly Information Services, ANU)


DATE: 2012-04-04
TIME: 11:00:00 - 12:30:00
LOCATION: Seminar Room (N101), CSIT Building (Building 108, North Road)

In the twenty first century we are using i-pads, online data and digital resources for so much of our study and research that some postulate the end of the book. I will argue that new forms of knowledge creation and sharing can only be successful because of our book culture. Reading is the most vital skill for all of us in the twenty first century and criticisms of books have been part of our culture for decades. Print is vital for access to knowledge, and the new digital environment sees a shading or greying of published knowledge and data. This means we need to look at knowledge and scholarly information in a completely new way. I hope to be quite provocative.

Roxanne Missingham is the new University Librarian (Chief Scholarly Information Officer). Until February, she was the Parliamentary Librarian for the Parliament of Australia, and prior to that was an Assistant Director-General (Resource Sharing Division) at the National Library of Australia for five years. She has over twenty years of senior management experience in Australian public sector libraries, and brings with her a wealth of knowledge of enabling technology to provide scholarly information. Roxanne has also written extensively on the role of contemporary libraries.

Linux Australia Conference 2013 in Canberra

Linux Australia will hold 2013 in Conference 2013 in Canberra, from 28 January to 2 February, at the Australian National University. The organizers are looking for volunteers, ideas and sponsors. I have suggested a theme of "Open Source for Open Government: Defense, Education and Government".

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gov 2.0 For Chinese Political Reform

Occasionally I am asked to speak to Chinese government delegations visiting Canberra, about eGovernment. The latest was in February on "Framework for e-Government: Security, Green ICT and Data Management" (安全,绿色ICT和数据管理). Last week China's Premier, Wen Jiabao, called for pushing ahead with political reforms ("Wen to carry on reforms", China Daily, 15 March 2012). I suggest that Chinese political reform could be furthered using electronic government (e-Government or Gov 2.0) techniques. In particular public sphere techniques (公共领域) can be used to involve citizens in policy making.

All governments, regardless of political system, worry about public consultation, as this may be a platform for criticism of the government. However, there are techniques to focus the discussion on positive outcomes. On a visit to help with the Beijing Olympic 2008 Website, I visited the offices of the People's Daily newspaper, which has a studio equipped for live web casting. Clearly the facilities and technical expertise are available for policy consultation online, what is needed are the administrative procedures and training.

Captioning Digital Video Using Web Standards

Greetings from Barcamp Canberra 2012 where Christopher Giffard is reprising his excellent talk on captioning digital video, (including his own too a tool Captionator.js) from the Web Standards Group this week. The short version of this is that webvtt is likely to be the supported format for captions for subtitles for videos on the web. Within a few months this should be supported by the major browsers as part of HTML 5. This will make captioning videos much simpler. It will also be possible to provide a table of contents to allow the viewer to jump to a part of a video, which will be very useful for education.

eLearning at Barcamp Canberra 2012

Greetings from Barcamp Canberra 2012 "un-conference"at the ANU in Canberra. I gave a talk on eLearning, which worked okay.
We have enough computers and telecommunications for a digital education revolution, but it is not just about connecting schools to the Internet and buying tablet computers for students. Teachers need to learn a new (or old) way to teach and students need to take responsibility for their , own learning. As a society we need t invest in the skills and systems to do this. ...

Gamification of open source software development

Greetings from Barcamp Canberra 2012 "un-conference"at the ANU in Canberra. Where Melanie Rooney from open source software company Suqiz is talking on their internal "roadmap" product. Tis is an internal online service which the management use to get the views of staff and clients on what the company should work on. This has elements of Gamification: using features of a game in non-game software. But what I found more interesting was that there are also aspects of e-democracy, with staff and clients debating the value of various options for new products. This could be useful for government.

2012 Cyber Defence University Challenge

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy, has announced the 2012 Cyber Defence University Challenge. This is a cyber security competition for undergraduate university students, to be held over 24 hours starting 3 April 2012. There are prizes from Telstra. The details of the challenge are unclear, with no web site provided for the event. Students have been encouraged by the minister to register with their university, but I was unable to find any registration details on any Australian university website. But there is an email address for further details:
The Minister mentioned the Government’s Cyber White Paper, due out by June 2012, which I helped write the Australian Computer Society National Cyber Policy Proposals for.

Date: 16 March 2012
Media contact: Suzie Brady 0408 258 457

Media Release
Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity

The 2012 Cyber Defence University Challenge

The Gillard Government, in partnership with Telstra and Australian universities, has announced Australia’s first national cyber security competition, the 2012 Cyber Defence University Challenge.
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy said the Challenge would test the cyber problem-solving skills of teams of Australian undergraduates in a virtual computer network scenario.
“The Challenge will raise awareness of the importance of cyber security, particularly in the university and business sectors, while also showcasing the diverse career opportunities for ICT graduates,” Senator Conroy said.
“The need for greater awareness of cyber security issues and for more high-skilled ICT graduates were two of the key themes to emerge from the public engagement process associated with the Government’s Cyber White Paper, due for release later this year.
“The Challenge is a positive example of the Government partnering with industry and academia to enable Australia to overcome the challenges associated with being a modern, digital economy.
“The Government is committed to working with industry to develop a safe and secure digital economy for Australians. We are also committed to increasing the skills and expertise necessary to protect online environments from cyber crime such as data theft.”
The ultimate prize, sponsored by Telstra, is travel and entry to the Black Hat 2012 Conference in Las Vegas, USA, in July 2012. Black Hat conferences are much sought-after technical information security congresses and briefing seminars which bring together trainers and speakers from corporate, government and research sectors worldwide.
“By engaging government departments, universities and the private sector, the Challenge also aims to highlight the variety of career opportunities available in the ICT fields,” Senator Conroy said.
“The Challenge is an exciting and unique event for Australian students and I encourage university undergraduates across the country to take part.”
The Challenge will run for 24 hours on 3 – 4 April 2012. University undergraduates across Australia who are studying computer science and related degrees are encouraged to register a team in the Challenge via their university.
For further information, please email 2012 Cyber Defence University Challenge. ...
From: 2012 Cyber Defence University Challenge, Media Release, Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Australian Government, 16 March 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Draft Australian e-Waste Standard

The draft Australia/New Zealand standard "Collection, Storage, Transport and Treatment of Used Electrical and Electronic Equipment" (AS/NZS 5377) is available for public comment until 15 May 2012. The document covers computers and telecommunications equipment, as well as other electrical equipment. The contentious issue of estimating the rate of recycling is covered in appendix C of the document. Release of the draft is timely as my ICT Sustainability students at the Australian National University are studying e-Waste this week.

This Standard sets out principles and minimum requirements for the safe and environmentally sound collection, storage, transport and treatment of used electrical and electronic equipment in order to maximize reuse and material recovery, reduce or eliminate the amount of waste from this equipment going to final disposal operations such as landfill, safeguard worker health, and minimize harm to the environment. This Standard covers electrical and electronic equipment, as outlined in Appendix A, designed for a supply voltage not exceeding 1000 volts for alternating current and 1500 volts for direct current. ...


1.1 SCOPE 5

2.1 GENERAL 11
2.3 ACCESS 11

3.1 GENERAL 14

4.1 GENERAL 16

5.1 GENERAL 18


From: Collection, Storage, Transport and Treatment of Used Electrical and Electronic Equipment, AS/NZS 5377, draft Australia/New Zealand standard

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Web Folksonomy 2.0

Elly Liang will talk on "User profiling based on folksonomy information in Web 2.0 for personalized recommender systems" at IR and Friends, in the CSIRO ICT Centre Seminar Room, 4pm, Monday 19 March 2012, CIST Building, at the ANU in Canberra.
"This thesis proposed novel approaches to use the emerging user information in Web 2.0 to help users solve the information overload issue. The user created content description and classification information-Folksonomy was used to find users' interests. Based on users' interest profiles, personalized recommendations can be generated for each user.
This thesis contributes to effectively use the wisdom of crowds to provide more accurate user profiling and recommendation approaches."

Bandwidth and Data Usage of On-line Education

Marshall Cowan, Operations Manager at NetSpot Pty Ltd complied very useful estimates of "Bandwidth and Data Usage of Wimba Classroom". These estimates are likley to hold for other real-time ("synchronous" in education terms) on-line education products. Four cases are presented, all for a typical 40 minute session:
  1. Just listening, not video: 4kBps, 9.4MB.
  2. Just listing and watching video: 20kBps, 46.88MB.
  3. Just listing to a prerecorded session, with no video: 2.5kBps, 5.9MB.
  4. Just listing and watching prerecorded video: 16kBps, 37.5MB.

An interesting aspect of this is the lower bandwidth and total data for prerecorded sessions. This is because better compression can be used. Just as students can assimilate information better if given more time, so can computers. ;-)

ANU E Press Information Sessions for Authors

ANU E Press is holding Information Sessions on online book
publishing. Researchers, students, academics and readers are invited to learn about digital publishing and ebooks at the Australian National University in Canberra:
  • 1-2pm, Monday 26 March 2012, or
  • 2-3pm, Wednesday 23 May 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The accelerating universe by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Professor Ian Young Vice-Chancellor is introducing Nobel Laurette Professor Brian SchmidtProfessor Brian Schmidt, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics will speak on "The accelerating universe". Professor Schmidt started with a tour of the universe, as measured by the speed of light: the sun is 5 light seconds in diameter and 8 light minutes from the earth. He went on to explain different models of the universe as an introduction to his work on measuring the rate of change in size of the universe. He used Type 1A Supernovas as benchmarks to measure the rate of change and concluded the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate published as "Observational Evidence from Supernovae for an Accelerating Universe and a Cosmological Constant".

Professor Schmidt explained that apart from more powerful telescopes, it was high performance computers which allowed for observations. He also mentioned the role of competition, with two groups of astronomers. One team concluded the universe was slowing down, as expected and then changed their minds, causing the two teams to rush to publication.

Professor Schmidt's presentation was interrupted by a problem with the presentation from his laptop. This was a useful reminder that technology being used in education needs to be reliable. In this case the computer built into the lecture theater could be used as a backup and continue the presentation.

In answer to a question Professor Schmidt said he is now working on "SkyMapper", a relatively small 1.35 metre telescope, but with very fast image processing, recording 100 Megabytes of data per second. This can then be used to detect rapid changes in the sky.

In answer to another question Professor Schmidt speculated the Large Hadron Collider may discover dark matter.

Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan 2010 - 2015

The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities have released two agency case studies along with very useful guidance materials to complement the Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan 2010 - 2015.

Case studies

  1. Australian Crime Commission (PDF - 186KB)
  2. Defence Housing Australia (PDF - 365KB)

Six Guidelines:

  1. ICT equipment environmental standards (PDF - 249KB)
  2. ICT equipment and ENERGY STAR® (PDF - 172KB)
  3. Product take-back, reuse and resource recovery (PDF - 140KB)
  4. Recycled content office copy paper (PDF - 152KB)
  5. Used packaging requirements (PDF - 165KB)
  6. ICT Suppliers and Environmental Management (PDF - 192KB)

Fact sheets

  1. Glossary (PDF - 77KB)
  2. Responsible ICT suppliers (PDF - 75KB)
  3. Evaluation measures and weightings for procurement (PDF - 26KB)
  4. ICT Sustainability Scorecard (PDF - 108KB)
  5. Strengthening agency management systems (PDF - 72KB)
  6. EPEAT Silver and equivalent eco-labels (PDF - 76KB)
  7. EPEAT Criteria (PDF - 86KB)
  8. ICT Sustainability Initiatives (PDF - 104KB)
  9. Incorporating sustainability principles and practices into procurement (PDF - 72KB)
  10. Agency actions (PDF - 71KB)

Australian Government ICT Sustainability Plan 2010 - 2015 ISBN: 978-1-921733-15-4

Table of contents

Web Video Standard to Revolutionize e-Learning

The first Web Standards Group Canberra meeting for 2012 was in the DEEWR conference centre. This has a very useful 300 seat theatre, with an area outside for breaks and some smaller rooms. This has a separate entrance from the DEEWR office, making access easier.


First speaker was Christopher Giffard on problems with "video", in terms of interaction and accessibility. Assistive aids for the disability, such as closed captions, are considered excessively time consuming. He pointed out that HTML5 could be used poorly to support accessibility.

Christopher advocated the use of "timed data". This is interesting as I have been considered the issue of synchronous and asynchronous online learning. Many of the issues are the same: how do you allow for events which happen at a particular point in time, and others which do not.

There is an emerging standard for the use of <track>, which is similar to <source>. However, there have been few implementations. Track can be sued in <video> or <audio> to provide subtitles and captions. The captions are stored externally and then specifies an algorithm for synchronising this with the video or audio. Track can be manipulated with Javascript. Track works by specificity a source file for the caption content, a language and a data type (such as text/vtt) and a kind (such as "captions").

Christopher built a tool Captionator.js to support track, using the Media Text Tracks JavaScript API.

Christopher recommended WebVTT (Web Video Timed Text), a new caption specification language. This is a flat text file format based on SRT. It has lines of text starting with start and stop time codes, followed by text captions. There can be limited HTML type mark-up in the text, for bold, italics and the like. There are also "Chapters" to tag segments of video (with sub-chapters).

These features could be very useful for educational videos, for all students, not just those with accessibility requirements. Videos can be given a table of contents like a book.

In 200 I experimented with using synchronized audio with slides for education. See "Tips and Traps With Electronic Presentation Tools":
  1. Text,
  2. Slides (in OpenOffice format),
  3. Audio Slideshow (in Real Media Slideshow).

However, this material took considerable effort to prepare and depended on proprietary formats for playback.

It would be interesting to see if this could now be automated for recordings of presentations where slides are used. In multimedia equipped classrooms, such as at ANU, it should be possible to automatically create chapters in the video labeled with the title of each slide. If the slides in turn match a set of course notes, it should be possible to link the video to the sections in the notes. This could then be used to automatically create an "enhanced" eBook, with text, slides and video all cross referenced.

It should be noted that the technology is not limited to linear video. Christopher pointed out that not only can closed captions be displayed, but they can automatically pause the video to allow time to be read.


The use of a formal language to synchronize text and video suggests that perhaps something similar for learning. At present an educational designer will describe what the student needs to know and have done at the beginning and end of a course, but not in detail in between. In effect there is only synchronisation at two points: the start end of the course. In contrast a computer programmer will specify precise details as to what a process has to have done which it reaches a point to exchange data with another. This would get around the problem of students not knowing what they need to do or when they need to do it.


Christopher pointed out that support for video synchronization will be available in web browsers within a few months. Mozilla are "making progress" with Firefox. IE10 will support WebVTT, TTML and the JavaScript API.

Christopher demonstrated using a video of "Minister Garrett Introduces the School Funding Review". With this the transcript introduces each speaker and allows the viewer to click on a line of the text and play the relevant clip. He also showed a media management system to keep track of how accessible videos are.

Online Social Network Analysis for Education, Marketing and Information Warfare

Professor Amr El AbbadiProfessor Amr El Abbadi, from University of California, Santa Barbara talked on "Information Diffusion in Online Social Networks: From Analyzing Trends to Stopping Misinformation" at the Australian National University in Canberra, this morning. He started by discussing Everett Rogers work on Diffusion of Innovations, and Malcolm Gladwell's popular book "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference", before new in depth analysis of how trends spread on-line. This work has very wide spread application: it could be used to design better on-line courses by understanding how information about a topic is diffused within a class, it could be applied to an on-line political campaign, it could be applied to marketing a product. More worryingly, the same techniques could be used by an oppressive regime to identify and neutralize opponents. This could also be used as a key part of information warfare, to identify an attack and counter it. Presumably the DSD Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) are working on this as part of their Cyber Event Management and Reporting System , along with the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). There is more detail in the paper "Information diffusion in social networks: observing and affecting what society cares about".

DATE: 2012-03-14
TIME: 11:00:00 - 12:00:00
LOCATION: RSISE Seminar Room, ground floor, building 115, cnr. North and Daley Roads, ANU

Social networks provide great opportunities for social connection, learning, political and social change, as well as individual entertainment and enhancement in a wide variety of forms. Online social networks also provide unprecedented amounts of information about social interaction and provide opportunities to study social interactions on a scale and at a level of detail that has never been possible before. In this talk, we will consider ways of systematically exploring the vast space of on-line social network problems. Namely, we will consider three dimensions; understanding, managing and reporting on social networks and focus on example studies relating to these dimensions. We will focus on two applications: limiting the spread of misinformation in social networks and trend analysis. In the former problem, we study the notion of competing campaigns in a social network, and explore the spread of influence in the presence of such competing campaigns. In particular, we develop protocols whose goal is to limit the spread of misinformation by identifying a subset of individuals that need to be convinced to adopt the competing (or "good") campaign so as to minimize the number of people that adopt the "bad" campaign . The second problem is motivated by the critical role the identification of popular and important topics plays in better understanding societal concerns. We propose two novel structural trend definitions referred to as "coordinated" and "uncoordinated" trends that use friendship information to identify topics that are discussed among clustered and unconnected users respectively. Our analyses and experiments show that structural trends are significantly different from traditional trends and provide new insights into the way people share information online.

This work was done jointly with Divyakant Agrawal and Ceren Budak.
Amr El Abbadi is currently a Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received his B. Eng. in Computer Science from Alexandria University, Egypt, and received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Cornell University in August 1987. Prof. El Abbadi is an ACM Fellow. He has served as a journal editor for several database journals, including, currently, The VLDB Journal. He has been Program Chair for multiple database and distributed systems conferences, most recently SIGSPATIAL GIS 2010 and ACM Symposium on Cloud Computing (SoCC) 2011. He has also served as a board member of the VLDB Endowment from 2002-2008. In 2007, Prof. El Abbadi received the UCSB Senate Outstanding Mentorship Award for his excellence in mentoring graduate students. He has published over 250 articles in databases and distributed systems.