My Tech Learning Journey

I have so much to say about my experiences and learning in IFN612 this semester that it is hard to know where to start. So perhaps I will start at the end and say straight up that I think this may well have been the best subject I have ever done – a big call, I know, but there it is.

On Expectations and engagement:

I learned so much, and had the opportunity to play with a lot of technologies I would not have thought to explore on my own; e.g. editing Wikipedia, or making an infographic. Who would actually do that, unless, for example, it was set as a task in a university course? And this was deep learning, too, involving hours of my time immersed in these activities. I edited Wikipedia for so long, I didn’t get out of my pjs all day!

And I would never have found out about:

And I would never have come to terms with the phrase “personal brand”.

Now I might go back to the start, and think about what I was and wasn’t looking forward to in Week 1. I am sure I had a whole host of worries (because that’s what I do – I worry… a lot. I have had help for it though; so I guess you could say I am a recovering worrier, still subject to the occasional relapse). I was probably worried that:

  • I wouldn’t be able to do the play activities
  • I wouldn’t “get” the emerging technologies
  • I would be forced to join up with another social network that I had no wish to belong to
  • I wouldn’t be able to do the blogs
  • I wouldn’t be able to meet the community participation requirement
  • I wouldn’t be able to do the persona poster

But what was I looking forward to? (This may be a shorter list than my list of worries)

  • And, so it is. I can’t remember what I was looking forward to.

Well, as you can see from my first paragraph (that IFN612 was the best subject ever), the reality of the subject certainly exceeded my worried expectations. (I guess it wouldn’t have been hard to do that).

On the learning environment and assessment:

The learning environment worked for me.  This is what I liked:

  • I felt like this subject worked really well for online students.
  • I liked the mix of fortnightly lectures and workshops and the online learning resources and learning activities to do in our own time.
  • I thought that the learning resources provided good coverage of the topics and issues presented.
  • I loved the variety of resources, especially the video resources, as I could fold washing or do ironing while viewing.
  • I liked that there was always a variety of play and reflect activities to choose from. There were some that I would have liked to try, but didn’t get to (e.g. MOOCs – I have downloaded Coursera, just waiting until I have a bit more time to explore and enrol in something)
  • I liked the balance between practical tasks and thinking tasks.
  • I liked that the tasks we spent most of our time on, i.e. the play and reflect activities and blogging about them, made up the bulk of our assessment.

This is what I didn’t like:

  • I don’t know whether it was WordPress or my lousy internet connection, but WordPress takes forever to load on our computers at home, and sometimes loads only partially or not at all.
  • Group assignments:  difficult for all students, but I feel that there are additional barriers for online students, particularly when you don’t know anyone else in the course.  After doing some research on issues arising in distributed / virtual teams (for the group assignment, ironically enough), I found that Jang (2013)  cited the development of trust as essential to collaborative work. Trust develops with repeated interactions between participants, and lack of physical proximity makes it much harder for virtual team members to communicate and coordinate with team members and build the necessary trust relationship to collaborate well.

I collaborate willingly in my work life, with people I know and trust, who know me.  I know their strengths and weaknesses, and we work together just fine because I know these things. But it took time to develop those relationships. It is difficult to put people together who don’t know each other, and expect them to work together successfully.

That’s how I feel about online group work as a university student, but I do understand that it is probably considered an important learning outcome for graduates, and an important component in gaining accreditation for the course overall. I did have to do group work in my first degree as well.

These are minor criticisms. Overall, the positives of the unit far outweighed the negatives.

On challenging activities:

I found that designing the infographic was definitely the most challenging play activity I did. I didn’t set out to do the most challenging task; in fact I thought it was going to be easy.  I only found out after I was committed to the task that I was sadly mistaken. Despite the difficulty of the task, I was successful in the end, and I felt a real sense of achievement for wrestling with PiktoChart and coming out victorious. I felt like I really benefited from the experience, and learned a lot. You can read about my experience here: Playing with Infographics.

Another activity that I found really challenging was Week 2’s Reflect Activity, in which I tried to work out who I am and who I want to be online. Did I have a digital footprint? No. Did I want one? Maybe, but I’m not ready yet. There is still a lot l have to think about and work out – how much am I prepared to share online, and what will remain private? I am fairly confident that my personal online identity will remain private, but what of my professional identity?  Will I have separate professional identities for Michele Smith – Speech Pathologist, and Michele Smith – student / fledgling Information professional?  I am still working these things out. As I said in my blog post that week, “You can’t rush the evolution”. It will be an ongoing, developmental process.

One good thing to come out of my Week 2 reflection is that I have had a turn-around on the concept of “personal brand”.  I had a real issue with the concept, as the meanings I associated with “personal brand” were about selling yourself, promoting a product or business, and presenting something slick, commercial, and to my mind, fake.  Now that I have thought about it a bit more, I’m coming to an understanding of “personal brand” as the way you present your professional identity online.  Because you do need to think about how you are going to present yourself online, and you do need to spend time constructing that professional online identity.

I probably still won’t use the term, “personal brand”, because there is the risk that others will have the commercial product marketing meaning in their minds (as I did).  Perhaps it needs to be renamed “Professional brand”. I think I would be more comfortable with that. (I thought I just came up with “Professional brand”, but as soon as I googled it, a blog came up from Alison Doyle “How to create a professional brand”, so I can’t claim to be the first in line to come up with that gem. Are any thoughts original anymore? )

Ethical issues of the information age:

I found that the ethical issues of accuracy and access most resounded with me this semester, and I did think about these issues a lot. I’m not sure why I’m not as bothered about privacy and property.

Accuracy:

Misinformation on the internet was the aspect of accuracy I found most powerful, and a bit scary, particularly in terms of the rise and rise of pseudoscience, and the psychological effects of confirmation bias that works to prevent people changing their misinformed beliefs.  I don’t believe that information literacy skills will help to change misinformed beliefs that people hold very closely, due to their distrust of science and expert opinion, or confirmation bias.

Access:

I thought that access was an important ethical issue, too, and mainly considered access to technology and the internet, rather than who has access to our information. As Kathleen pointed out to us, it’s not all about the advantages that the bright and shiny new tech will bring; the digital divide / digital exclusion is everywhere there is disadvantage, including here in Australia, a first-world country where most of us have a fantastic standard of living, but where almost 4 million of us are not online.

There are several aspects to the ability to access technology and online content:

There’s physical access in terms of people not being able to afford the technology; and also about people with disabilities (e.g. vision, and physical impairments) not being able to interact with the technology and online content because they can’t see it or use the keyboard/input method – it is not in an accessible form for them.)

Another aspect of access is intellectual access:  people may not have the skills to use the technology or access the content due to lack of education, literacy or learning skills, or technological skills.  I discussed the issues surrounding access in my “Playing with Infographics” blog.

Digital exclusion brings me to Manuell Castell’s theory of “informational capitalism”, particularly his words about countries and communities being excluded from participating in the global economy because they lack the infrastructure (social, cultural, educational, technological, and physical) to support the development of information technology to enable them to participate in the global economy.  This has the effect of delaying their development, and keeping them disadvantaged, poor and excluded.  I liked his wish for a “global solidarity” to bring everyone along to share the benefits of the information age.  I would love to see that happen.

Final words and thanks

I really enjoyed “The Game”, so thank you Katya for facilitating the activities for us.

And thanks Kathleen for providing us with so much engaging, current content. I was surprised how often something we had just covered in lectures and learning activities came up in the news the following week. You were really on the mark!

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Gamification will save the world!

GAMIFICATION!!  I feel like this is a concept that needs all caps, because clearly, gamification is going to save the world… according to Gabe Zichermann and Yu-kai Chou, anyway.

Gamification rules!

Achievement badge for showing up!; Author: Steven Johnson; Source: https://goo.gl/ucHKXE; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Achievement badge for showing up!; Author: Steven Johnson; Source: https://goo.gl/ucHKXE; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I watched this Google talk by Gabe Zichermann “Gamification Revolution”; and this TedTalk by Yu-kai Chou “Gamification to improve our world”; and these guys talk about an amazing gamified world in which elements of game design will be used to provide us, in our real lives, with the intrinsic motivation we receive from games! I can’t wait!  There will be no more divide, in Yu-kai’s words, “between what you have to do, and what you want to do”.  Zichermann also suggests the need to fix and help our “slow, grey world” (reality), not the reinforcement-filled, “fun, friends and feedback” world of games.

I needed a cooling off period after watching all of that.  It was so persuasive to hear them talk about how gamification could change the world.  It sounded utopian, and just the place I would like to live.  Could it be possible to get that kind of rewarding experience in real life?  Zichermann and Chou clearly believe that we can, but it is just as clear that we are not there yet.

Why aren’t we there yet?

Zichermann noted that not

Gamification; Author: Jurgen Appelo; Source: https://goo.gl/W6V02u ; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Gamification; Author: Jurgen Appelo; Source: https://goo.gl/W6V02u ; License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

many employers have embedded gamification as a strategy in their human resource management processes to date.  Chou also said that true gamification is not just a matter of using the technology to put game design elements onto an experience (e.g. work). He said that just adding badges, levels and leaderboards won’t work; and I have a feeling that those obvious markers of gamification would be the easiest for employers to add to an employee’s work day to increase motivation.

Chou said you needed to engage with people’s motivational drivers, and went on to list 8 core drives that motivate people, even dividing them in to black hat (more externally focussed) and white hat (internally focussed) motivators.  So, it sounds like true gamification is harder to achieve and implement than it seems.

But is gamification new?

Gamification  isn’t new; it’s based on well known behavioural techniques.  I use these techniques myself, every day, in my job as a speech pathologist (although I wasn’t aware it was called gamification – is that a term confined mainly to business enterprise, I wonder?)

Deterding, Khaled, Nacke, and Dixon’s (2011)  definition: “Gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts”; fits what I do – i.e. the use of reinforcement, rewards, and motivation in speech therapy to motivate my clients to engage in therapy, and produce the multiple responses required for them to learn a new speech sound or language skill.

The right reinforcement

The right reinforcement may be different for every child, and also for every adult.  Some reinforcers I have used include:

  • iPad games
  • physical games: skittles, bean-bag toss, ball games
  • favourite toys: e.g. cars, dolls, potato head
  • novel toys: e.g. cause-effect toys, jack-in-the-box
  • board games
  • stickers, stamps
  • puzzles
  • favourite foods
  • praise
  • high 5s
  • tickles
  • music
  • dancing
  • bouncing on a gym ball
  • bubbles (you have no idea how much I hate bubbles after being a speech pathologist for 15 years – it tends to be a very powerful motivator for kids; but eww… it makes my fingers sticky!)

Why do I need to use reinforcement?

The children I see mostly don’t care if people don’t understand their speech, or if they have an error pattern in which they substitute a “t” for “k” (e.g. “tat” for “cat”).  Their parents care, because they can see what might happen a few years down the road if that cute speech error isn’t fixed (teasing, ostracism, behavioural issues, withdrawal); but without an intrinsic motivation in the child for learning and behavioural change, I need to provide the motivation to encourage them to participate.

Speech Therapy with Ben; Author: Wayne Hilber; Source: Personal photo; Used with permission.

Speech Therapy with Ben; Author: Wayne Hilber; Source: Personal photo; Used with permission.

See the photo above? That’s double high 5s right there, and Pop-up Pirate.  My philosophy is to give the child something to make it worth their while to participate. I want them to have as much fun as possible in their sessions with me because changing a motor pattern in speech is hard work – really hard work.  Take a minute right now, grab something to read, and start reading it out loud.  Now, every time you see the letter “k” or “c”, say “t” instead, and when you see a “d” say “g” instead.  You will see that it takes a lot of conscious thought and effort to insert a new sound into words and sentences in everyday speech.

In speech therapy with children, there are many steps along the way to mastery (e.g. target sound in isolation, target sound in nonsense syllables, target sound in words, in phrases, in sentences, in everyday speech).  Clearly, there is a need for a lot of motivation during speech therapy, because it can take a while to generalise those new speech sounds to everyday speech.

But where is my motivation and reward for going to work?

The Bait; Author: nist6dh; Source: https://goo.gl/Hm2RIZ; License: CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

There is also a need for a lot of motivation during work, too for many people.  Sometimes (often-times) the money is not the be-all and end-all.  However, if I had someone next to me rewarding me with my favourite things every time I did something work-related, that would be pretty awesome.

Habituation is the enemy!

But as Zichermann says, “habituation is the enemy”. You don’t want to overuse that reinforcer, or it will lose its effectiveness. In speech therapy, I have to be on the lookout for waning motivation, and switch activities before I lose the child’s engagement.

But can you ever stop providing reinforcement?

Well, that depends.  Of course it would be great if I didn’t need to provide all of that reinforcement during speech therapy.  It would save me a lot of time.

But it wouldn’t be a lot of fun for the child, and I would run the risk of losing their willingness to participate and work hard.

And their parents would find it pretty hard to get their children in my door.

And I don’t think I should expect a child to do this hard work for nothing.

There are many reasons for always being reinforcing!

One cool thing I have found is that I can often reduce the amount of reinforcement I provide as the child experiences more and more success, and suddenly becomes internally motivated as they achieve mastery! Of course, then I usually need to move on to another target, and the process starts over again, with the requirement for more motivation at the start when it’s really hard going, then gradually decreasing again as the internal motivation kicks in, and the successes start adding up.

Maybe that’s how motivation should be provided in the workplace. Maybe I need that person sitting next to me showering me with praise and tangible rewards when it is hard going, but then once I get going, they can tiptoe away.

Accuracy, misinformation and pseudoscience on the internet

Climate change doesn’t exist.

Immunisation causes autism.

Fluoride is poison.

Scientists and governments don’t want you to know.

These are some of the things you might read on the internet.  They may be quite persuasive, depending on your particular set of values, beliefs and knowledge. But are they true? How do you know? How do you find out? Today’s blog post will discuss some of these issues.

What is accuracy on the internet?

Author: ClkerFreeVectorImages Source: ttps://pixabay.com/en/bull-s-eye-aim-arrow-target-hit-297805/ License: CC0 Public Domain

Bull’s Eye; Author: ClkerFreeVectorImages
Source: ttps://pixabay.com/en/bull-s-eye-aim-arrow-target-hit-297805/
License: CC0 Public Domain

Accuracy on the internet refers to the truth of the information: true or false, right or wrong, black or white.  We know that there is no guarantee that the information we find on the internet is accurate. Anyone can publish anything they like.  There may be no review process or fact-checking of the information prior to it being published, as there is for other published information, such as newspapers, journals, books and magazines.

Evaluating the quality of information on the internet

The notion of “accuracy” is limited because it refers to information that can be held up to some objective notion of “truth”.  This may work for some kinds of information, e.g. science (more on science later), geography and mathematics; but there is a lot of information on the internet that is not fact-based, but based on someone’s opinion.

We are talking about a bigger concept than simply whether the information we are reading is accurate or correct. We are referring to the quality of the information, which has many dimensions, of which accuracy is one.  QUT’s Study Smart Research and Study Skills Tutorial uses the following 6 criteria in evaluating internet resources:

  1. Reliability of the source: the credentials of the author and the publication are used to establish authority and credibility of the information.
  2. Validity: documentation of research methods, and inclusion of references.
  3. Accuracy: facts are cited and referenced; spelling and grammar is accurate.
  4. Authority of the author: Information is provided about the author, as well as their affiliations to organisations, their qualifications and experience.
  5. Timeliness: refers to information about when the information was created or published, and whether the information is updated. Currency of information is important in areas of rapid change, such as information technology.
  6. Point of view: Information is evaluated to decide if it is biased or unbalanced.

People need to evaluate internet resources based on a number of criteria to determine whether it is good quality information. The skills involved in evaluating information are part of a larger skill set referred to as “Information literacy”.

What is information literacy?

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) defines information literacy as the abilities that enable individuals to “recognise when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the required information.”

5 Components of Information Literacy; Author: Seminole State Library Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ronp6Iue9w License: Creative Commons Attribution License (reuse allowed)

5 Components of Information Literacy;
Author: Seminole State Library
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ronp6Iue9w
License: Creative Commons Attribution License (reuse allowed)

Determining the accuracy of information on the internet comes into the “evaluate” part of the definition.  People need to have the skills to critically evaluate information. This is really important! Many adults don’t have the skills to do it, taking for granted that the information they read on the internet is correct.

What is misinformation?

Misinformation refers to inaccurate or false information that is spread intentionally or unintentionally.

Author: Dave Haygarth Source: https://goo.gl/93g2hg License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Utter Bull; Author: Dave Haygarth
Source: https://goo.gl/93g2hg
License: CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Misinformation on the internet is a bit scary.  Read some of the stories on What’s the Harm?   and listen to this episode of Ockham’s razor on ABC Radio National if you don’t believe me.

In this episode, Tory Shepherd, Senior Writer for the Advertiser in Adelaide, worries about today’s kids, wondering how they will ever be able to determine truth, logic and reason, when truth is your own opinion, experts are hiding the truth, and science is no longer an objective, observable source of truth, but a belief system, which you can choose to believe in, or not.  She discusses how powerful the pseudoscience on a number of issues has become, and how resistant to extinction; particularly the pseudoscience on climate change, the anti-vaccination movement and fluoridation.  Her concern is that these movements can have such strength that they actually influence public policy.  She mentions a couple of politicians who believe that fluoride is a neurotoxin that politicians want to put in the water to poison the population.  She discusses the danger of people doing their own research, distrusting experts, and not knowing the limits of their own knowledge.

Why is misinformation so effective?

I found out that there are a few interesting psychological explanations for the power of misinformation; including:

  • It takes cognitive effort to evaluate the plausibility and source of a message. If you don’t really care about the topic, or you don’t have time to think about it or evaluate it, you may be more likely to accept the misinformation as fact.
  • When people do evaluate the message, they mainly consider whether the information agrees with what they already believe (confirmation bias).

When efforts are made to retract misinformation, often times they don’t work, and may even increase the person’s belief in the misinformation.

Cousins’ article states that there are real dangers of misinformation; particularly in terms of misinformation of the majority possibly influencing political decisions; and misinformation of individuals potentially causing them to make poor decisions with serious consequences.

Cousins believes that misinformation is worse than ignorance.

Is there a solution?

Education in critical thinking and information literacy skills are very important.  But I wonder if that is a complete solution.  Education won’t help everyone. Education may not unseat the misinformed beliefs that some people already hold, due to their distrust of science and expert opinion, or confirmation bias.  And what about vulnerable people who have limited cognitive, learning, intellectual or other impairments; with concomitant poor literacy, poor reasoning skills, and inability to conduct a critical evaluation of internet information?  Children are another vulnerable group, who potentially risk being harmed by carers with misinformed, pseudoscientific beliefs.

I don’t have the answer.  But I can envisage an ideal world where there might be a benevolent, independent global community of editor/s (maybe librarians? Maybe Wikipedia editors?) who would asterisk potentially suspect internet sources and indicate why they may not be the most credible, reliable or accurate source of information.

Playing with Infographics

I selected option 2: Data visualisation for this week’s play and reflect activities.

I had a vague idea in my mind that an infographic was simply a graphical representation of data like a bar graph or a pie chart, so I thought this task would be a piece of cake.  I didn’t understand that an infographic told a whole story of data.  I didn’t understand that this would be a time consuming and difficult task.  Nevertheless, with the optimism of the ignorant, I watched Kate Davis’ DIY Infographics video (which was very helpful), looked at some data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Survey 2014-2015, and began.

I was very impressed by the ABS summary video of the survey results, which includes animated data visualisations of a very high standard.  It’s a short video, and definitely worth clicking the link.  It clearly represented a summary of the findings obtained from the survey, and communicated it to me, the viewer, in a way I found very easy to understand.  Much easier than going through the Excel spreadsheets I downloaded from the website, which contained the survey data, and lovely statistical terms such as “relative standard error of proportion”.

I used Piktochart to make the very basic infographic below.  Kate Davis recommended Piktochart as one of the easiest Infographic Makers to use.  I would also like to give Canva a go, as it looked good, too.  Kate also recommended Infogr.am, Visme and easel.ly.

I found this activity really difficult at first, but was slowly getting the hang of it by the end.  There are some things I didn’t work out, but I was working on a windows 7 tablet with a touchscreen, a keyboard, and no mouse.  (I’m away from home tonight for work, in a tiny motel room, eating Smith’s chips for dinner, doing my homework and can’t believe I forgot my mouse! I miss being able to point and click!) I think this made operating some of the program’s functions a bit more difficult. (That’s what I was telling myself anyway).

I was very happy when I worked out how to do the graphs…in fact, I was very happy when I worked out how to do anything on the program!  Although my infographic is not perfect, I am happy with the result, because it represents several hours of hard work and frustration, and a learning process like that is always satisfying when you have a finished product at the end.

I think I would become a more competent user of the programs, and produce better looking infographics with more practice and familiarity with the tools, and a clearer purpose for visualising the data.  I did find it a bit difficult to choose the data to analyse.

This activity has definitely piqued my interest in using infographics to represent data.  My powerpoint presentations could be so much more interesting!

I would definitely use one of these programs in the future to create a poster or infographic…I only wish I had watched Kate’s video before I completed my persona poster!

National Health Survey Infographic: Weight and Exercise

National Health Survey Infographic: Weight and Exercise

So, yes, I think that infographics are definitely a wonderful way to visually represent a data story … as long as you have vision, and intact learning abilities.  A comment from Kathleen prompted me to think about accessibility of infographics on the internet for people with disabilities; particularly those who are blind /visually impaired, and those with learning disabilities.

There are a couple of things to address: access to a device (input), and access to the content of the webpage (output).

I found this website, Web Usability, that discusses how people with disabilities use assistive technologies to access computers / devices and the internet.  Most work has been done to improve accessibility for people with physical and visual impairments, but a lot of work is still required.

There are a lot of issues. Not only does the person need to be able to access the device with an input device (e.g. alternative keyboard, switch, head pointer, eye-tracking, voice recognition), but the website needs to be accessible, too, to output the information to the person with a disability in a way they can access it; e.g. through screen-reading software for someone who is blind / visually impaired.  A lot of work exists for website designers to think about how to make their website compatible with screen-reading software, and how to include alternative text for images / infographics, otherwise, your beautiful infographic is simply an empty space on the webpage.  This Gizmodo blog post discusses some of the issues of designing spoken websites.

I think that there is still a very long way to go to make the internet accessible for many people with intellectual disabilities.   Generally speaking, the internet is a very wordy and confusing place, which effectively excludes many people with intellectual disabilities, as they may have difficulties with literacy, language (especially abstract language), conceptual development, attention, memory and learning.   The task of understanding an infographic on a webpage may be conceptually too difficult for the person with an intellectual disability, particularly if it represents abstract concepts that are not meaningful for the person.

But see this Spectronics blog post for how iPads are being used with students with intellectual disabilities.  Touchscreens may help a person with an intellectual disability interact with computers / apps, because the person can directly touch what they see and  make the link between something happening on the screen as a result of that touch.  This article talks more about suitable apps to use, rather than assisting the person to access the internet, though.

I could see the possibility that web browsers could be modified / developed to have picture symbols representing favourite websites or search functions, that speak when touched to let the person know what they are, and then used in combination with a touch screen device to enhance internet access for people with intellectual disabilites….

Hang on a minute – doesn’t the Google search page already look like that if you are signed into Chrome?  See my screen shot below, that has all my most used websites right there, waiting for me to select them.  With a few more tweaks, something like this could really work for people with intellectual disabilities (and probably is being used as we speak – I can’t be the first person to have thought of this).  Maybe people with intellectual disabilities aren’t as far away from accessing the internet as I thought. 🙂

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission.

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission.

Health and fitness tracking: Good for me, good for humanity!…(maybe)

This week’s play and reflect activities took me on a circuitous, complicated, and sometimes uncomfortable learning journey that began simply enough with tracking my physical activity for 3 days using my GPS watch, heart rate monitor and Garmin Connect; the application that collates and displays all the data collected during my physical activity.  My journey began in a very self-focused way, but expanded to something much bigger than I anticipated before I was done.  I took a journey through the Quantified Self and self-awareness, narcissism, technology reviews, medical reviews, sharing of health data and privacy issues, issues surrounding ownership and management of all the data being collected, and every divide or inequality you can think of, including digital / socio-economic / generational / educational.  This journey led me to question some of the things I had not thought to question previously, self-focused, self-quantifier in pursuit of self-knowledge that I am.

So I’ll start with me, and end… somewhere else.

Do I track my behaviour?

I track my physical activity (I track running, but any physical activity can be tracked) using Garmin Connect, a Garmin GPS watch and a heart rate monitor. I started using a GPS watch about 5 years ago, and that’s when I got started on Garmin Connect.  At times I track my eating using My Fitness Pal, to drop weight prior to a long-distance event. I use a digital scale to track my weight, but this is a bit old school, because it doesn’t connect digitally to anything, and I need to either remember the number, or write it down somewhere.  If I was more Excel savvy, I could put it in a spreadsheet.

Why do I track my running? 

I track my running because it gives me the data on my running.  For each individual run, I can see how far I ran, how fast I ran, how long I ran, what the temperature was, my average and maximum heart rate, calories burned, where I ran, the elevation gain/loss, cadence (i.e. how many steps I took per minute – who knew that was important in running?).

Garmin Connect Distance Graph for week

Garmin Connect Distance Graph for week

Garmin Connect can also give me reports that show me how far I ran during a week, a month, a year.

Garmin Connect Distance graph for year

Garmin Connect Distance graph for year

I can see when I don’t run (winter – it’s so cold outside!), and I can see my volume increasing over the months as I train for a long-distance event.

I can compare runs from different times to see if I am improving – if I am faster/slower, if my heart rate is higher/lower, if the temperature was higher/lower.  An extra couple of degrees Celsius can slow you down and increase your heart rate significantly.  I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t tracking my running using Garmin Connect. I would probably look at my time and think how slow I was, and go into a spiral of negative thoughts that would sound something like this:

“I’m so slow! I’m not getting any better at running – why do I even bother? I might as well give up!” This might then result in a prolonged period of time lying on the couch eating chocolate and potato chips.

Couch Potatoes, Daniella Urdinlaiz, https://goo.gl/c6rL0R; CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Couch Potatoes, Daniella Urdinlaiz, https://goo.gl/c6rL0R; CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

However, with all my data at hand, I can see that I probably ran slower because it was 27 degrees outside with 89% humidity at 5:00 am, and not take it so personally.  It allows me to take a step back and objectively view the various factors contributing to my performance.

How does tracking my data change the way I behave?

Tracking my running gives me a sense of power and control over my running training, and a sense of satisfaction when I see that graph of my total distance going up, or my heart rate going down over time, indicating that my aerobic base is improving.  Alternatively, if things are not going that well, I can look at the data and try to work out why.

I suppose that tracking my data on Garmin Connect keeps me motivated to continue running, and continue striving to improve my performance and achieve my goals; whether that is to run 60 km this week, or 240 km this month, or complete that marathon in July.

Ok. That was the easy part. Now, come with me down the rabbit hole.  I don’t know if I can do it justice, but here goes.

Down the Rabbit hole; Valerie Hinojosa; https://goo.gl/lIwroY; CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Down the Rabbit hole; Valerie Hinojosa; https://goo.gl/lIwroY; CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

How has the quantified-self movement influenced me?

I had not heard of the Quantified-Self (QS) movement until it was introduced to us in our lecture and learning materials.  I wonder if a movement can influence you if you don’t know that it exists. Perhaps it can, if the tools and paraphernalia associated with the movement permeate everyday life, and you accidentally stumble over them and start using them as a result of something you are doing (e.g. running and trying to drop a bit of weight).

I thought I should examine the QS movement to find out a bit more about it.  This short TED talk by QS founder, Gary Wolf in 2010, explains why we might want to quantify ourselves.

According to Wolf, Self-Quantification is about self-discovery, self-improvement, self-knowledge and self-awareness.  I love his last quote: “If we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to know ourselves better”.  This self-knowledge seems to refer to tracking all of one’s bodily functions, including (but not limited to) heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, sleep, weight, food intake, mood.  It does seem to be a particularly self-focused past-time.  In the TED Talk, Wolf jokes that his narcissism score is a healthy 0.31.

I started to wonder if Self-Quantifiers are narcissists.  I started to wonder if I was a narcissist. Wolf, however, says “No” – see his response to the criticism here ; so I let this one go, but I still wondered.

Now, if I make the assumption that the act of tracking certain of my behaviours using technology implies that I have been influenced by the quantified-self movement, then yes, I would have to say that the quantified-self movement has influenced me, and that I am a self-quantifier.

Evaluate a quantified-self tool: Garmin Connect

In taking a more objective approach to evaluating Garmin Connect (rather than simply stating my opinion), I read a couple of reviews.  Wareable gives Garmin Connect 3.5 out of 5 stars in its 2015 review,  and Best Company rates it 8.3 out of 10 in its 2016 review.   Overall, these were very positive reviews.

However, the reviews pointed out (something that I had not considered) that you can only use Garmin devices with the Garmin Connect software, and many of the devices are high end, thus excluding the average person who wants to track their steps.

It seems that this software and the devices that go with it may not be the most accessible option for people just starting out on their fitness journey, and is probably aimed more towards dedicated sportspeople.

In addition, even though the Garmin Connect app is free; the cost of a device to use with it may be prohibitive for many.  So, this particular tool may exclude people on a number of levels; based on cost and activity level.

However, Best Company notes that Garmin does have an all-purpose fitness tracker, the Vivofit, which records steps, distance, elevation, duration and calories burned, which is cheaper than the high-end devices (although still more than $100) and could be used for entry-level fitness.

I could envisage that Garmin Connect, in combination with a wearable device such as the Vivofit, would be more accessible and suitable  to the general population than a high end GPS watch, and could help people improve their health by allowing them to track their physical activity.  Obviously, there are a wide variety of other fitness trackers available which may be more suitable to individual circumstances, and the individual would need to make that determination.

Discuss how Garmin Connect could impact a group of people. For example could this tool help people with mental health issues or chronic illness?

There is a lot of evidence that exercise is beneficial in the treatment of many different diseases.  See this comprehensive 2015 article by Pederson and Saltin,  which found that exercise is beneficial for the prevention or treatment of 26 different diseases, including: depression, anxiety, stress, schizophrenia, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, heart failure; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.

So, if it is established that physical activity and exercise is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of a range of diseases, including mental illnesses and lifestyle diseases; and a tool such as Garmin Connect with a wearable device enable the tracking of the physical activity that is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of diseases; then surely it is intuitive to say that Garmin Connect and a wearable device could help people with mental illness or other chronic conditions improve their health?

Yes, of course!

Well…not necessarily.

There is some anecdotal evidence  of individuals with health issues having used tracking devices to improve their health; however, Ellis and Piwek, writing for the Conversation  report that there is little research that shows that fitness trackers make people healthier.

What has been found is that fitness trackers are more likely to be bought by people who are already healthy and want to track their progress. Surveys have found that more than one third of users stop wearing their device after six months and half stop using the device within a year.

The authors point out that devices are sold on the assumption that they will help improve fitness, even though there is currently a lack of evidence to support this.  They go on to say that research should be conducted into device effectiveness before they come to market.

It seems that my assumption that the use of a tool such as Garmin Connect to track physical activity could help people with chronic conditions improve their health is currently unproven, even though intuitively it makes sense.

It is also important to remember that all of these fitness trackers are only tools.  The real work of behaviour changes in diet and physical activity still needs to occur so that health and fitness can improve.  The tool by itself is not going to make anyone healthier or fitter if that work is not undertaken at the same time.

So, now that I was feeling let down by fitness tracking, I turned to look at how health and fitness tracking could be used by organisations to ‘monitor’ us.

Obviously the huge issues here are around the safe storage and privacy of our health data, but there are also questions of who owns the data.

safe for package storage, ecos systems; https://goo.gl/QoWvSF, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

safe for package storage, ecos systems; https://goo.gl/QoWvSF, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

People are accustomed to sharing personal information regarding health and fitness with their health practitioners; e.g. doctors, physiotherapists, dietitians.  Sharing health and fitness data with health practitioners has obvious benefits for the subject, as their health practitioners will have access to accurate, objective information about the subject’s health and fitness, which will enable them to make appropriate recommendations for treatment.  Health practitioners also have codes of ethics that ensure that patient information remains private and confidential, and the organisations they work for have privacy and confidentiality policies and procedures, so people feel that their information is safe.

Karen Weintraub, writing for BBC Future, discussed the issue of doctors not yet knowing what to do with all of this digital information that people want to share, and that analytic software is currently in development to allow doctors to collate and make sense of it.

Allowing health practitioners access to our data is one thing; but I don’t believe that everyone and anyone (e.g. employers, insurance agencies, health funds and marketing companies) has the right to access that information, as there is obviously a risk that the information shared or not shared could be used to the detriment of certain groups of people.

Think of the following groups of people:

  • Those who do not exercise or track their health and fitness
  • Those who do not have access to the technology or the ability to use the technology (think of digital exclusion), due to a host of barriers including educational, socio-economic, age, culture
  • Those with privacy concerns who do not want to risk the security of their information
  • Believe it or not, there are even those who see no reason to track their health and fitness!
  • And what if you are sharing your health and fitness data with your employer, health or insurance fund, and you stop exercising and eating well?

These groups could be penalised by employers, insurance agencies and health funds in the following ways:

  • increased premiums
  • exclusion from rewards programs
  • They could even be refused cover.

These are real concerns, and many writers have pointed them out:

  • Kelsey Munro, writer for SMH Digital life, discusses rewards programs and cheaper insurance premiums in the following blog post.
  • Kate Kaye of the Advertising Age, raises concerns re: people being penalised on the basis of their health data
  • Parmy Olson of Forbes Tech  warns about how employers could use employees’ fitness data to reward or penalise, how valuable fitness data would be to health insurers; and that people may be pressured by employers to use devices to monitor their health.
  • Nadia Cameron writes about MLC health insurance company giving health insurance customers the opportunity to lower the cost of their premiums in return for data on their exercise, sleep and lifestyle patterns.

And what about the safety and security of your data?

Ellis and Piwek state that a consumer typically doesn’t own the data collected by their device, and that this data is stored by the manufacturer and regularly sold to other organisations.  There appear to be no clear guidelines about whether the data is stored securely, or if it has identifying information removed; raising concerns that the data could be lost, stolen or altered.

So not only do we have to worry about the privacy of our health and fitness data and who owns it; but the safe storage of it, and management of it are also issues.

People are reluctant to store this information in “the cloud”, because they are concerned that it may be easily hacked.  Almalki et al (2013) discuss some of the issues surrounding management of the information, particularly the vast quantities of data being collected, how quickly it is growing, and how data like this is “difficult to manage in terms of organising, accessing, using, sharing and analysing in aggregate form”.  The authors discuss standards for dealing with the data, and big-data analytical tools that could be used to manage the data.

I’m not sure that I came out of the rabbit hole unchanged, or that I did justice to my journey, but it’s clear that a lot more work needs to be done in the areas discussed above to address these real concerns. I don’t have the answers, so I might finish with the wise words of Josh Cohen, writing for Prospect Magazine in his article “Quantified Self – the algorithm of life”.

Cohen questions the premise that self-knowledge can be achieved through tracking and technology.  He questions how effectively we can live our lives if we are simultaneously tracking them; suggesting that “perhaps the self you really want to know, and that always eludes you, is the one that can’t be quantified”.

You can’t rush the evolution

Who am I online? What is my digital footprint?

Apparently, I don’t have a digital footprint.  I have a really common name, and when I google “Michele Smith”, I do not make an appearance, and I am ok with that.

Here is the first page of results

There are quite a few famous Michele Smiths who do appear on the first page of results: a softball pitcher, a politician, an Irish swimmer and an actor.

None of them me.

I am anonymous and incognito online.

  • I have an account on MFP under a pseudonym
  • My Garmin Connect account is private.
  • I do have a Facebook account, but I do not use it socially. I signed up last year because it was highly recommended that we do so for a couple of subjects in this course.
  • I have a Google + account that I use for uni purposes, not socially.
  • I have a twitter account (again, highly recommended by lecturers in this course), but don’t yet participate in the “Twitterverse”.

Who do I want to be online? My answers:

  • I don’t know yet how to represent myself as an information professional online
  • I’m not yet sure what I am ready to share
  • Can I just be a student for now, and have some more time to evolve into…something else?

It takes me a long time to consider and deliberate before I put something online.  This is my default position:

Caution Tape, Eugene Zemlyanskly, https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictureperfectpose/76138988; CC BY 2.0

Caution Tape, Eugene Zemlyanskly, https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictureperfectpose/76138988; CC BY 2.0

I think it is important to be conscious of a critical audience at all times; and realise that people will not necessarily interpret your comments in the way you intend them to be interpreted.

The written word cannot convey your tone or facial expressions (speech pathologists refer to this extra information as paralinguistics) and is extremely vulnerable to misinterpretation.  When we write, we speak in our heads at the same time, adding the intonation and emphasis, perhaps even the facial expressions; however when we post that comment, we strip away that extra layer that conveys so much meaning, and are left with just the words.  People will read it with their own intonation and emphasis, and it might not sound anything like the way you said it; hence leading to misinterpretation.

Emojis go some way towards remedying misinterpretations.  In her blog, Andrea Ayres discusses how people overestimate their ability to communicate clearly using email, and how beneficial emojis can be in adding the emotion back in.

I think because I am a speech pathologist, I cannot bear the thought of miscommunication, so I think I must attempt to embrace emojis if I am to have a successful time online (insert relevant emoji here).

Although I don’t seem to have many ideas about what I want to be online, I probably have more ideas about what I DON’T want to be online:

  • I don’t want to be someone with a personal brand. Shama Hyder’s Forbes article recommends that you start thinking of yourself as a brand, and lists “7 things you can do to build an awesome personal brand!”

Uhh…no thank you, that’s not how I want to represent myself online.  I associate personal brand with companies and business people; people who have something to sell.  I don’t want to sell anything, online or in real life.

  • Well, I guess that’s really only one idea.

Am I worried about how organisations use my information? 

The short answer is “No”.  But should I be? Maybe. If I could be bothered.

What are they going to do?  Try and sell me stuff? That’s ok.  Steal my credit card details? I can cancel my card.  Steal my identity? I would LOVE someone to go to work in place of me.

Perhaps my imagination is too small; but I can’t truly imagine that anyone would be that interested in me personally that I would need to worry about what they do with my information.  Although, clearly, Identity theft is a thing.

How will I present myself in this unit?

  • I have an idea that this unit will give me the opportunity to express my fledgling student identity in a protected, supportive environment.
  • I will engage in the play and reflect activities and learn all I can about emerging technologies
  • I will present myself honestly, and I will be respectful and supportive of others.