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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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”.