sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘Clay Shirky’ Category

new technologies bore the crap out of me.

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on January 24, 2010

Despite what you may have heard, I’m not really all that into new technologies.

Typically, I find out about new technologies long after they’re already old news. This is a constant source of shame for me. (‘Hey,’ I said in late 2009, ‘this cloud computing thing sounds interesting. What is it?‘) As much as I would like to join the ranks of early adopters, I simply lack the constitution. (‘Now, what’s this DROID thing I’ve been hearing so much about this year? Oh, it’s been around since 2007? Well, who makes the Droid? Oh, it’s a mobile operating system and not actually a phone? Can you tell me again what a mobile operating system is?’) My buddy Steve, who likes to find out about new technologies when they’re still in prototype form, regularly subjects me to conversations I don’t really understand about technologies that don’t make sense to me. (Here I would insert a sample conversation if any single representative discussion had made enough sense to me to stick in my memory.)

Technologies bore me. I don’t care about 3-D printers or 3-D TVs. I’m not interested in transparent computer screens. I don’t want to know how my analog watch was made, and I don’t care how light bulbs–even the new, energy-efficient ones–are manufactured.

Though I don’t care about how things are made, I am interested in finding out how things work. This is a subtle but important distinction. I want to learn how lean, mean websites are built, and I want to build some of my own, even though I have absolutely no idea how my computer is able to translate hypertext markup language (html) into artifacts that humans can interpret. I don’t know what a “3G network” is or how my new Droid phone uses it to give me constant access to its features, but I do want to know how to set up my phone so I can quickly access contact information for the people I communicate with the most. I would also like to know how to set up my calendar for weekly views instead of daily views.

It’s not the technology that interests me, but its uses. And as long as I’m thinking about uses for a technology, I might as well think about how to manipulate its features to support practices that meet my needs.

Clay Shirky, despite his recent unfortunate foray into gender politics, is actually pretty smart when he’s talking about things he’s qualified to discuss. In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, he wrote that “communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” And he’s absolutely correct: For socially interesting things to happen, widespread adoption of a technology is the first requirement, complemented by widespread use of the technology. The automobile has led to a reshaping of our roads, our communities, our attitudes toward travel–has, in short, become socially interesting–because its novelty has long since worn off as car ownership has inched toward universal. Cellphones have supported uprisings, protests, revolutions, because we’ve had them around long enough to know how to leverage them for purposes for which they were not originally intended.

In general, I’ve made uneasy peace with my apathy toward new technologies, with one caveat: It’s early adopters who get the earliest, if not the most, say in how technologies are taken up as they become more widespread. And early adopters tend to be young, white, male, college-educated, and affluent. Which is fantastic for them but not so great for people whose needs and interests don’t align with the needs and interests of the rich-young-educated-white-guy demographic.

Still, you just can’t do things your body wasn’t meant to. I don’t guess I’ll ever be able to force myself to care about 3G networks, but it’s easy enough to start thinking about the social implications of a tool that’s 3G-network enabled and pocketsized. Now we’re talking about the possibility of near-limitless access to information and communication: the building blocks for fostering and supporting civic engagement, community participation, and the chance to dance up alongside those early adopters, join them for a while, and modify the music to make a tune that’s easier to dance to.

Now we just need to figure out a way to get everyone dancing. We start by lowering the actual cost of admission (this is one way that early adopters help support the social revolution: They pay $499 so you don’t have to!), then we start pounding down the perceived cost of admission:

  • technological Woody Allen-ism, the fear of trying a new tool for fear of looking stupid and / or causing irreparable harm to oneself or others;  
  • technological Pangloss Syndrome, the perception that the uses built into the tool are the best possible uses for that tool; and 
  • technological Morpheus Syndrome, the sense that uses for a tool have already been predetermined anyway, so even if there might be better uses we might as well just stick with destiny.

And–hey!–I think I just gave myself fodder for my next three blog posts.

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Posted in Clay Shirky, patent pending, social revolution, technologies | Leave a Comment »

I’m kind of appalled by Clay Shirky

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on January 17, 2010

You may have read Clay Shirky’s recent post, “a rant about women.” You may also have read, heard, or participated in the chaos and conversation that sprung up around it. And rightly so, given this representative chunk of Shirky’s post:

Remember David Hampton, the con artist immortalized in “Six Degrees of Separation”, who pretended he was Sydney Poitier’s son? He lied his way into restaurants and clubs, managed to borrow money, and crashed in celebrity guest rooms. He didn’t miss the fact that he was taking a risk, or that he might suffer. He just didn’t care.

It’s not that women will be better off being con artists; a lot of con artists aren’t better off being con artists either. It’s just that until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.

There is no upper limit to the risks men are willing to take in order to succeed, and if there is an upper limit for women, they will succeed less. They will also end up in jail less, but I don’t think we get the rewards without the risks….

And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it. They aren’t just bad at behaving like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks. They are bad at behaving like self-promoting narcissists, anti-social obsessives, or pompous blowhards, even a little bit, even temporarily, even when it would be in their best interests to do so. Whatever bad things you can say about those behaviors, you can’t say they are underrepresented among people who have changed the world.

There are enough smart people out there responding to this piece that I don’t need to add more noise to the cacophony. But I do want to speak up as a dues-paying member of Women Who Run With The Arrogant Self-Aggrandizing Jerks And Sometimes Behave Like Arrogant Self-Aggrandizing Jerks Themselves.

Did I mention I’m a dues-paying member?

Because it’s not easy to self-promote. It’s not easy to stand up and say things that might be seen as stupid–or worse, dismissed because they come from a woman. It’s not easy to announce to people “You should listen to me because I am awesome and the work I do is also awesome.” It’s not easy, in part because it takes extreme confidence (or at least something that looks to other people like confidence) to stand up and ask for attention, respect, recognition; and it’s also not easy because the backlash is often so great, and simultaneously so subtle, that it sometimes feels like a one-step-forward, two-steps-back kind of deal.

My experience, in academia anyway, is that the tradeoff is this: If you want respect, authority, and platforms for broadcasting your ideas to a wider public, you have to self-promote; and if you succeed in gaining respect, authority, and platforms for speaking it’s often at the cost of personal and professional relationships.

Let me say it more clearly: If you’re a woman and you want to be heard, especially in academia, you have to knock on every door, announce your presence to everyone, and holler your qualifications at everyone in earshot. And if you do it right, people will hate you.

It will be harder to get daily work accomplished, because your colleagues will be stiff and formal with you. Male colleagues will challenge your knowledge and authority, and if that fails they will simply demean you in front of others. Female colleagues–and this is the really painful part–will shrink from you because in speaking so loudly, you’ve drowned out their voices. Some women, in an attempt to ally themselves with the people in charge, will also attempt to challenge and demean you.

(Another way to gain respect and authority, by the way, is to ally yourself with the people in charge, who in this case are primarily white guys. The backlash that comes out of this type of effort, though, is that you risk losing your place at the table the minute you misbehave. Then you have to come grovelling back, apologizing with downcast eyes, and take what scraps you can.)

Sure, men who self-promote risk hostility and resentment–but it’s a different kind of hostility and resentment than what women experience. As members of the dominant cultural group, men who self-promote may be seen as a threat to specific people, but they certainly don’t represent a threat to the established social order.

Women who are aware of the social positioning of women as a non-dominant group (and not all women are aware of this positioning, which is fine but sort of sad) develop a complex relationship to the decisions they make in crafting their public personae. They may engage in the kind of “arrogant, stupid” behavior that Shirky says is the best way to get ahead, but they do so knowing that some people (including, apparently, Shirky) will see this as “behaving more like men.” They may choose to self-promote far less aggressively than Shirky would probably find useful, and to either accept that they will have trouble getting heard or find platforms for speaking where less self-promotion, less arrogance, is perfectly okay.

Or–and this is what lots of women, including me, do–they may adopt multiple identities, more identities, with more complicated politics, than those that men choose or are forced to adopt, in order to manage the competing demands on their behavior. This is not, lest I be misunderstood, the kind of identity cultivation that allows people to say “I have multiple identities! I’m an academic, and I’m also a mother, and I’m also a sister, and I’m also a friend.” This is something much more complicated: It’s “I’m this sort of academic-mother-sister-friend in this type of context, and I’m this sort of academic-mother-sister-friend in that type of context, and I’m this sort of academic-mother-sister-friend in that type of context with this person removed” and so on.

I don’t quite know how to end this post, except to say that lots of people I like and respect think that Shirky is right on the money. And to add that my opinions are mine alone and not necessarily representative of all women, and that–and this is really important–I’m speaking from a position of relative privilege, since I’m a white, well-educated woman. I’m also thin, young, and not in any way physically disabled. I can’t imagine how much more complicated this gets for someone who’s even one step further removed from the dominant group than I am.

Posted in academia, bigotry, celebrity, Clay Shirky, culture, feminism, gender politics, human rights, politics, social justice | 7 Comments »

what is learning (in new media)?

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on September 9, 2009

Alert blogtrollers may have seen multiple posts recently with titles identical to the one accompanying this post–that’s because we’ve been asked by learning scientist and new media researcher Kylie Peppler to address this very concern. The question–what is learning in new media?–is too broad for anyone to address within the context of a single blogpost, but if we all set to work, we might get that turkey stripped down to its bones by the end of the night.

My chunk of the turkey is time.

When I joined Twitter, I lurked for months and months without tweeting a thing. When I finally did join the community as a good, earnest citizen, I started out slowly and picked up speed as I learned to negotiate the community’s norms and embrace the valued practices of the space. Now, a year and a half later, I can communicate fairly clearly the spoken and tacit norms of the Twitterspace.

I did the same thing with Facebook, Wikipedia, and blogging–looking around for months before joining the community. By doing so, by taking the time to consider the space I was entering, I was able to reflect on others’ practices before offering up my own. I read thousands of blogs before starting my own. I worked with friends to learn how to edit Wikipedia. And I was coerced by another friend to join Facebook; the rest was up to me.

I recently spent some time working with Scratch, a simple visual programming language designed for young learners. As the site explains,

Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.

I’ve designed exactly two projects in Scratch; the first was about a year ago, when a colleague spent the morning helping me work up a little thing I call Jimmy Eats World.

To play this project, click the green flag in the upper right.

I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t make the flying hippo actually disappear at the end of the project, and if I wanted to I could open up the program and make it so. Or I could turn the main sprite, the walking cat, into a hammerhead shark announcing my blog’s url.

I could do that if I wanted to, because I am a highly resourceful independent learner who has the passion and the time to devote to projects like this. I find them personally and epistemologically meaningful–I feel enriched, and I feel that the time I devote to these kinds of projects makes me a better, more useful and proficient blogger and educational researcher.

Time, the friend of the highly resourceful learner, is the enemy of teaching. Time: There’s never enough and even if there were, it couldn’t be spent on tinkering. There’s content to cover, and not just in the name of high stakes tests. A teacher’s job–one made ever more challenging by the social revolution–is to equip learners with the knowledge, proficiencies, and dispositions that will suit them well for future learning. There comes a time when the teacher must say, It’s time to stop with Scratch and start on something else.

Which is a deep shame, because it’s the tinkering, the ability to immerse oneself in participatory media or a learning platform, that fosters a real fluency with the space.

This is a key feature of what it means to learn in new media: the choice to engage with certain tools, to join up with certain affinity spaces, beyond the time required by schools. Clay Shirky writes that the days are gone when we could expect to do things only for money; we’re in an era when the greatest innovations emerge not for money but for love.

If learning in new media takes time, passion, and some combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, then on its surface school seems to run anathema to a new media education. In fact, it may be that engagement with participatory practices is exactly what schools need at a time when they are struggling to remain relevant to the real world needs, experiences, and expertises into which learners will ultimately emerge.

Posted in academia, academics, blogging, Clay Shirky, creativity, education, Facebook, graduate school, MIT, new media, Ph.D., schools, shark attack, social revolution | 10 Comments »

stop saying ‘ATM machine,’ and other exhortations of a participatory culture theorist

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 21, 2009

I hate grammatical redundancy. Some of the best examples of this are:

  • ATM Machine (Automated Teller Machine Machine)
  • PIN Number (Personal Identification Number Number)
  • ISBN Number (International Standard Book Number Number)

There’s actually a term for this: RAS syndrome, or Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome.

“But,” said my buddy Dan, with a look of pure glee, “you say ATM Machine like everyone else, right?”

“I do not,” I answered. And I don’t.

“That’s a dilemma,” Dan said, still gleeful. “The English major part of you conflicting with the participatory culture theorist, who says that whatever the people decide is right.”

He was ribbing me, but in truth it’s a fair enough critique. After all, some of the most influential books on participatory culture and the social revolution include the following titles, all of which intentionally fly in the face of common attitudes toward morality, ethics, and human progress:

Here Comes Everybody (Clay Shirky)
The World is Flat (Thomas Friedman)
Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Don Tapscott)
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (Seth Godin)

And, I’ll just admit it, my blog is absolutely peppered with sweeping declarations: Print journalism isn’t viable. Young people are leading the social revolution. The question isn’t ‘is it moral?’, but ‘is it popular?’

Why, after all, isn’t the question ‘is it moral?’ Simply put, most of the time when people ask that question about aspects of the social revolution, what they’re actually asking is more along the lines of ‘is this better or worse than the experiences and culture I’m used to?’ This is a matter of personal preference, and there’s no accounting for taste.

Some of my friends think wearing a wristwatch makes it easier for them to make it to their meetings on time; some of my friends think watches just make them more time-conscious and anxious. If suddenly a critical mass of people started wearing watches and pressuring the rest of their culture to wear watches too, some of my friends would be thrilled (everybody will have to be on time now!), some would be upset (we’re all going to start caring more about the time than about each other!), and some wouldn’t care at all (*shrug* it’s just another tool to help me get through my day.).

Some people think online social networks signal the decline of community. Some people think new, valuable community structures have emerged around these networks. And some people just think online Scrabble is a fun way to spice up a boring work day. All of these people are right, but arguing about whether we’re better or worse off (or the same) is pointless, because is a wristwatch-bearing culture better than one that uses sundials? Your answer depends on a lot of things, like: whether you make your living off of sundial manufacturing; whether you can personally afford a watch; whether you were someone who cared a lot about keeping track of the time in the first place; and whether you think a watch looks good on your wrist.

Please don’t accuse me of absolute moral relativism, though; even participatory culture theorists have their limits. It’s wrong to force everyone to wear wristwatches, for example, just as it’s wrong to ban sundials. If democracy, freedom of the press, or free speech falter when print journalism hits its death throes, I will be among the throngs calling for social change. Participatory media platforms tend, as all previous platforms have, to silence certain groups (nonwhites, nonstraights, older participants, less educated [formally or informally] participants); this is painful and wrong.

And RAS syndrome will always be wrong, no matter what percentage of the population adopts the phrase “ATM machine.”




Footnote upon the construction of the masses:
some people are young and nothing
else and
some people are old and nothing
else
and some people are in between and
just in between.

and if the flies wore clothes on their
backs
and all the buildings burned in
golden fire,
if heaven shook like a belly
dancer
and all the atom bombs began to
cry,
some people would be young and nothing
else and
some people old and nothing
else,
and the rest would be the same
the rest would be the same.

the few who are different
are eliminated quickly enough
by the police, by their mothers, their
brothers, others; by
themselves.

all that’s left is what you
see.

it’s
hard.

(Charles Bukowski, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses over the Hills, 1969)




Posted in Clay Shirky, collective intelligence, cults, culture, journalism, language, participatory culture, social media, social revolution | Leave a Comment »

we’re kinda like the doozers, kinda like the fraggles: tweeting as identity play

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 28, 2009

I haven’t smacked the New York Times down for a woefully outdated take on new media in, oh, several weeks at least. But a recent column on how Twitter prevents us from making real connections with people forced my hand.

The piece, by novelist Lucina Rosenfeld, describes Rosenfeld’s attempt at joining the Twitter revolution. She joins but doesn’t know what to tweet, despite her editor’s advice:

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party, she said. The things you’d say to people you met there — those are the kinds of things you should tweet. Also, people like links.

I kinda thought we were past the “I don’t know how to tweet!” confessional fad. Apparently not. We’re apparently not past the “social media is ruining our ability to connect with others” fad, either: Rosenfeld goes on to identify what she suspects is our dirty secret:

that no one actually wants to see anybody anymore. It’s too much work. You have to dress nicely. And make actual conversation. And there’s a recession. It’s cheaper to stay home — and e-mail old friends about how “it’s been so long it’s criminal,” and “we really have to get together.”

Except we never do anymore. Which is kind of sad when you start to think about it. It’s hard to pour your heart out in 150 characters. It’s hard to have a great time, too, when the most you can hope for from a friend is LOL (note to Mom: that’s e-mail shorthand for “laughing out loud”) vs., say, being bent double over your bar stools while comparing notes on a mutual ex.

Last week, my friend Katie took me sailing for the first time ever. Afterward, over drinks, a young sailor named Aurelian turned to me and said “Why do you Twitter?” I paused, taken aback. Katie knew exactly what to say, though: “That question suggests twittering needs justification.”

What she meant was that people don’t ask “why do you go sailing on Thursday nights?” or “why do you take taxidermy classes?” or “why do you go to singles night at Kevin’s Pub?” They’re all just excuses for making a connection with others, just some basic scaffolding to hang our social impulses on. Rosenfeld’s caution, her resistance to engaging with participatory media for social purposes, is a throwback to the days when we still thought people got online to feed an addiction and not because of the deep social connection they felt by engaging with others across deeply personal, deeply social affinity spaces.

Twitter is one of those sites–like Facebook, which Rosenfeld acknowledges that she both understands and enjoys–that provides a platform for users to manage their friends across multiple affinity spaces. On Twitter, I follow Clay Shirky and John Seely Brown, two people who I’m sure do not yet know I exist; I follow (and am followed by) Henry Jenkins , Lance Speelmon and Mark Notess, colleagues who do know I exist; and I follow (and am followed by) Katie, my friends Clement and Stephanie, and my sister Laura.

Rosenfeld struggles with figuring out anything worth tweeting about. She couldn’t, she writes, figure out anything interesting to say or any link worth posting. That’s because she’s following the letter of Twitter and not the spirit. Posting updates and links isn’t a simple matter of finding interesting things that others might care about or figuring out what your followers might be interested in hearing; it’s a complicated dance both with and against the established norms of the space. Any twitterer worth her salt is both creating and constantly tinkering with her identity. Each link, each post, becomes part of a public persona both more simplistic and more complicated than the one we present in the physical world to the people we interact with in face to face encounters.

This is not, despite Rosenfeld’s implications to the contrary, a lesser social experience than those that call for face to face interactions. It’s actually not a greater experience, either. It’s simply different.

When faced with different, we have a couple of choices: We can react with caution and angst, as Rosenfeld does in her piece. We can embrace without caveat or trepidation the trappings of different, as many believe I do here. Or we can embrace different with intelligence, enthusiasm, and an analytic eye toward both its affordances and its constraints. When the NYTimes starts heading for that final category, I’ll start extolling its innovative approach to participatory media.

I also feel a nagging impulse to notify Rosenfeld that tweets are limited to 140 characters, not 150.

Posted in Clay Shirky, Henry Jenkins, social media, Twitter | 1 Comment »

Comment is Free (and bloggers are cheap)

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 13, 2009

For all my bluster about how traditional media outlets are no longer economically viable, I was still taken a bit aback when the Guardian, which pays me to contribute to CIF America, sent out notifications that budget cuts would result in a decrease in payments to commissioned bloggers. The decrease amounts to about a 30 percent pay cut per piece.

My first thought was: This is exactly what I deserve for mouthing off to Big Media. My second thought was: I wonder what I should write about next.

You see, I’m still so surprised–stunned, flattened, overwhelmed, overjoyed–by the prospect of somebody actually wanting to pay me on top of giving me what I wanted anyway (an international platform to broadcast my ideas) that even after the pay cut I still feel like I’m getting away with highway robbery. I’ve been a writer for most of my adult life, beginning as a beat reporter for a local newspaper (you get paid, but not very much, and nobody really cares too much what you think as long as you tell them how the school board voted last Thursday), then drifting toward creative writing (poetry; and no, you don’t get paid) before landing in the world of online reportage. I’m young enough to be electrified by the seemingly limitless potential of a good blogpost to draw in traffic and responses, yet old enough to not completely accept that blogging is a real, authentic form of journalism (and many of the commenters to CIF, as I’m sure they will point out, agree with me on this).

Technology guru Clay Shirky writes that “the future belongs to those who take the present for granted.” He argues that young people are better poised than any previous generation to take advantage of new media platforms “not because they know more useful things than we do, but because they know fewer useless things than we do.” I’m old enough, for example, to know for sure that the privilege of broadcasting your opinions to thousands of readers is the sacred domain of the elite few. I’m old enough to believe in the scarcity model of knowledge: The right to speak is reserved for the privileged few, because if we all had the right and resources to speak then nothing would be worth saying at all.

And now I’m unlearning all of these things, because they’re less true with every new blog that gets tossed up, with every new online forum, with every drop in price of video editing software and word processing technologies. It’s not, after all, knowledge that’s the scarce commodity anymore; everybody with Internet access has a passkey to approximately the same information as everybody else, regardless of credentials, experience, or IQ. Now, the commodity is the ability to filter that knowledge, to identify key ideas and spin them in an interesting way for an information-laden audience that’s waiting to hear something new.

When we do it well, we become the touchstones for hundreds of others to weigh in and have their voices broadcast to the thousands. That’s what the Guardian commissions its writers to do. That’s why it pays. It may not feel like work to me, but then again, I suppose the best jobs never do.

Posted in awesome, blogging, Clay Shirky, creativity, journalism, recession | Leave a Comment »

Sakai 09 Panel: Closing the Deal

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Closing the Deal: Seeing Sakai Adopting as a Sales Process
Sarah “Intellagirl” Smith-Robbins, Senior Director of Emerging Technologies, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
Roger Henry, Instructional Technology Consultant, Indiana University


Roger and a Back Story

Roger is, first of all, awesome. He started his presentation by trying to figure out what kinds of support people at IU would need to adopt OnCourse, which is what Sakai is called at IU. He met with faculty, administrators, deans, and staff to try to find strategies for encouraging adoption; and he also reached out to Kelley Executives affiliated with IU’s Kelley School of Business. He explained that he presented some of his ideas about the results of this at last year’s Sakai Conference in Paris.

Also, Roger added that there’s more backstory to last year’s Sakai presentation in Paris–he was trapped there for three weeks.

“But don’t worry,” he added, “I consoled myself.”

Sarah’s Presentation: The difference between higher ed and executive ed

First of all, Sarah is awesome. She points out key aspects that differentiate traditional higher ed from executive education. Here are her key points about the differences:

  • The “students” are different (for one thing, they don’t want to be called “students”).
  • The learning goals are different. in a traditional classroom, the instructor defines the learning goals; in executive education, students come to the program with needs.
  • The courses are different. The topics are usually very narrow and specialized to a specific business issue. They also bring their own culture, instead of integrating into the IU culture that’s already established.
  • The expectations for Return on Investment (ROI) are different. If you have students who are working adults and paying for their own education, they have different expectations than the typical undergrads. In executive education, the transaction is linked to economic value. “I think we’re going to see more of this kind of expectation among students, as well,” she added. “We’re already seeing students push bak and say ‘This isn’t directly related to the job I want, so I’m not going to take it.'”

The Circumstances

  • Exec ed clients aren’t students in the university system.
  • Most companies are looking for online learning solutions and have failed. (Sarah explains: People find software, then try to solve a problem instead of identifying the problem first and finding software to solve it.)
  • Exec Ed courses are short and constructed on short notice.
  • University faculty aren’t typically able to build unique settings for Exec Ed

OnCourse: The Solution

  • Supported by a large university system
  • Available globally 24/7 (and also scalable)
  • Familiar to faculty
  • Flexible enough to accommodate a range of learning experiences

One significant shift, Sarah said, was offering a new kind of learning experience. Typical corporate approaches align with the “death by PowerPoint” approach–everybody sits in a room while somebody talks at them and everybody just tries to get through the day.
“So the first question people ask,” she said, “Is ‘Can I upload my PowerPoints to it?'”
This is one of the key issues they address on a regular basis.

Sarah tosses up Here Comes Everybody and I swoon with joy. Seriously, you guys, read this book.

“Promise Tool Bargain,” she says. At which point I link you to every blogpost I’ve written on exactly this framework.

Sarah points out the promise of OnCourse, and Roger stands up to talk about the tool. He is, he explains, a choral conductor by training, and his research focuses on how the tools we use shape our practice.

“Most of the problems I hear at IU,” he said, “are tied to using the tool.”
A lot of questions, he said, are also about what will happen when things go wrong.

He points out that a big part of offering the tool is linked to ensuring people that when problems arise, they will be resolved as quickly as possible (and gives the example of a flurry of emails that went out last night at 11:30 about a problem somebody was having; it was solved by the morning).

Another key, Roger said, is managing expectations: “We’re not selling a perfect tool.” It will break, it will slow down, it will go down for maintenance, and the key is to be as responsive and communicative about these things as possible.

The Bargain
Sarah speaks to the bargain: “Faculty have to engage with learning the tool in a new learning paradigm. They can’t use a lecture format and expect it to be as good as or better than a classroom.

“Using a tool that is so transparently requiring participation can cause some issues with the expectations, both of faculty and exec ed students.”

Another part of the bargain, she said, is being honest about the weaknesses and problems with the tool as well.

Sarah said she uses the “promise, tool, bargain” paradigm to approach faculty issues.
Example: When faculty says “my students are not participating” Sarah asks where did the bargain break down.

Did you not promise they would be evaluated on their participation? Are you giving them lame questions? Are you using the wrong tool to facilitate the discussion? Have you explained to them the requirements and the energy required to put in in order to get a good conversation out of it?

Another example: If a CEO says he talked to someone on the phone and got an unprofessional interaction, she asks: Did we promise to offer professionalism at all times?

***my thoughts***
Of course I’m thrilled to hear Clay Shirky mentioned–and, especially, the “promise, tool, bargain” paradigm that I love so well. Though Sarah and Roger pointed to the value of this framework for engaging executive clients, this approach has tons of potential for bringing people in to the open education movement that Vijay Kumar pointed to in his opening keynote this morning.

Posted in Clay Shirky, conferences, liveblogging, sakai | Leave a Comment »

seeding and feeding your educational community

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 7, 2009

My sensei Dan Hickey’s recent post on seeding, feeding, and weeding educators’ networks got me thinking, for lots of reasons–not least of which being that I will most likely be one of the research assistants he explains will “work with lead educators to identify interesting and engaging online activities for their students.”

This got me a-planning. I started thinking about how I would seed, feed, and weed a social network if (when) given the chance to do so. As David Armano, the author of “Debunking Social Media Myths, the article that suggests the seeding, feeding, and weeding metaphor, points out, building a social media network is more difficult than people think—this is not a “if we build it, they will come” sort of thing. Designing, promoting, and growing a community takes a lot of work. People will, given the right motives, participate in the community for love and for free, but you have to start out on the right foot. This means offering them the right motivations for giving up time they would otherwise be spending on something else.

A caveat
First, know that I am a True Believer. I have deep faith in the transformative potential of participatory media, not because I see it as a panacea to all of our problems but because participatory media supports disruption of the status quo. A public that primarily consumes media primarily gets the world the media producers decide they want to offer. A public that produces and circulates media expressions gets to help decide what world it wants.

Social media, because of its disruptive and transformative potential, is both essential and nigh on impossible to get into the classroom. This is precisely why it needs to happen, and the sooner it happens, the better.

But integrating participatory media and the participatory practices they support into the field of education is not a simple matter. Too often people push for introduction of new technologies or practices (blogging, wikis, chatrooms and forums) without considering the dispositions required to use them in participatory ways. A blog can easily be used as an online paper submission tool; leveraging its neatest affordances–access to a broad, engaged public, joining a web of interconnected arguments and ideas, offering entrance into a community of bloggers–takes more effort and different, often more time-consuming, approaches.

Additionally, while social networks for educators hold a great deal of promise for supporting the spread of educational practices, designing, building, and supporting a vibrant community of educators requires thinking beyond the chosen technology itself.

Five Tips for Seeding and Feeding your Community

With these points in mind, I offer my first shot at strategies for seeding and beginning to feed a participatory educational community. (Weeding, the best part of the endeavor, comes later, once my tactics have proven to work.)

1. Think beyond the classroom setting.
In the recently published National Writing Project book, Teaching the New Writing, the editors point out that for teachers to integrate new media technologies into their classrooms, they “need to be given time to investigate and use technology themselves, personally and professionally, so that they can themselves assess the ways that these tools can enhance a given curricular unit.”

The emerging new media landscape offers more than just teaching tools–it offers a new way of thinking about communication, expression, and circulation of ideas. We would do well to remember this as we devise strategies for getting teachers involved in educational communities online. After all, asking a teacher who’s never engaged with social media to use it in the classroom is like asking a teacher who’s never used the quadratic equation to teach Algebra.

Anyone who knows me knows what a fan of blogging I am. I proselytize, prod, and shame people into blogging–though, again, not because I think blogging is the best new practice or even necessarily the most enjoyable one. Blogging is just one type of practice among a constellation of tools and practices being adopted by cutting edge educators, scholars, and Big Thinkers across all disciplines. Blogging was, for me, a way in to these practices and tools, and I do think blogging is one of the most accessible new practice for teacherly / writerly types. The immediacy and publicness of a blogpost is a nice preparation for increased engagement with what Clay Shirky calls the “publish, then filter” model of participatory media. This is a chaotic, disconcerting, and confusing model in comparison to the traditional “filter, then publish” model, but getting in synch with this key element of participatory culture is absolutely essential for engaging with features like hyperlinking, directing traffic, and identifying and writing for a public. In a larger sense, connecting with the publish, then filter approach prepares participants to join the larger social networking community.

2. Cover all your bases–and stop thinking locally
One of the neatest things about an increasingly networked global community is that we’re no longer limited to the experts or expertises of the people who are within our physical reach. Increasingly, we can tap into the knowledge and interests of like-minded folks as we work to seed a new community.

Backing up a step: It helps, in the beginning for sure but even more so as a tiny community grows into a small, then medium-sized, group, to consider all of the knowledge, experience, and expertises you would like to see represented in your educational community. This may include expertise with a variety of social media platforms, experience in subject areas or in fields outside of teaching, and various amounts of experience within the field of education.

3. In covering your bases, make sure there’s something for everyone to do.
Especially in the beginning, people participate when they feel like they a.) have something they think is worth saying, b.) feel that their contributions matter to others, and c.) can easily see how and where to contribute. I have been a member of forums where everybody has basically the same background and areas of expertise; these forums usually start out vibrant, then descend into one or two heavily populated discussion groups (usually complaining or commiserating about one issue that gets up in everyone’s craw) before petering out.

Now imagine you have two teachers who have decided to introduce a Wikipedia-editing exercise into their classrooms by focusing on the Wikipedia entry for Moby-Dick. Imagine you have a couple of Wikipedians in your network who have extensive experience working with the formatting code required for editing; and you have a scholar who has published a book on Moby-Dick. This community has the potential for a rich dialogue that supports increasing the expertise of everybody involved. Everybody feels valued, everybody feels enriched, and everybody feels interested in contributing and learning.

4. Use the tool yourself, and interact with absolutely everybody.
Caterina Fake, the founder of Flickr, says that she decided to greet the first ten thousand Flickr users personally. Assuming ten thousand users is several thousand more than you want in your community, you might have the time to imitate Fake’s example. It also helps to join in on forums and other discussions, especially if one emerges from the users themselves. Students are not the only people who respond well to feeling like someone’s listening.

Use the tool. Use the tool. Use the tool. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. You should use it for at least one purpose other than seeding and feeding your community. You should be familiar enough with it to be able to answer most questions and do some troubleshooting when necessary. You should be able to integrate new features when they become available and relevant, and you should offer a means for other users to do the same.


5. Pick a tool that supports the needs of your intended community, and then use the technology’s features as they were designed to be used.

Though I put this point last, it’s the most important of all. You can’t–you cannot–build a community with the wrong tools. Too often, community designers hone in on a tool they have some familiarity with or, even worse, a tool that they’ve heard a lot about. If you want your community to refine an already-established set of definitions, approaches, or pedagogical tenets, then what you’re looking for is a wiki. If you want the community to discuss key issues that come up in the classroom, you want a forum or chat function. If you want them to share and comment on lesson plans, you need a blog or similar text editing function.

Once you’ve decided on the functions you want, you need to stick with using them as god intended. Do not use a wiki to post information that doesn’t need community input. Don’t use a forum as a calendar. And don’t use a blog for forum discussions.

It’s not easy to start and build a community, offline or online. It takes time and energy and a high resistance to disappointment and exhaustion. But as anybody who’s ever tried and failed (or succeeded) to start up a community knows, we wouldn’t bother if we didn’t think it was worth the effort.

Posted in Clay Shirky, convergence culture, Dan Hickey, education, new media, participatory culture, public schools, schools, social media | 2 Comments »