Social Implications of Social Computing #5

Because the way we use social computing is changing the means, times and places by which we interact with other people this gives rise to issues around boundaries. 

It also means that we are dealing with a radically different set of expectations – from our learners on the one hand and from their parents on the other hand.  Most of the parents were socialised in the old non-digital world; while our learners are the digital natives.  It’s going to be an interesting balancing act between those different sets of expectations.  
And in dealing with issues about boundaries (and different perspectives on what the boundaries are) we can expect discussions about: 
  • the times and places of learning;  
  • the nature of educational content;  
  • and the authority to decide all of this.  
And the interesting thing is, that what we think is becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Just try to get a 15 year old to do something they don’t value or feel like doing.  
This notion of boundaries in a hyperconnected world is another challenging concept. But it is worth remembering that many of our most interesting discoveries are made at the boundaries of the currently known world.  
But some of the questions that arise are:
  • Why does school have to be at whatever the set time has been for generations?
  • Why does school have to be in the one place all the time?
  • What is legitimate content of learning? And how can we effectively assess it?
  • What about the role of authority? Who has it & why? How do we feel about that?  Is it generational?
A lot of what we seek to achieve in education comes down to sensemaking.  Dan Russell provides a nice definition of sensemaking: “Sensemaking is in many ways a search for the right organization or the right way to represent what you know about a topic. It’s data collection, analysis, organization and performing the task.” 
To a certain extent these changes mean that we need to become co-participants in the learning experience.  Become facilitators of the process rather than the experts.  This does not mean that our experience and empirical knowledge is not valuable.  But in the world we face we need to get learning back to our ancient tribal roots where a teacher was linked with the learner as part of a community or village.  We need to establish mutual respect and open dialogue. And luckily now we have the technological tools to facilitate that dialogue.  

Social Implications of Social Computing #4

Technology is very seductive and it is easy to fall in love with it rather than viewing it dispassionately as a tool with utility for various tasks.
It is really important for us to avoid getting caught up emotionally in the technology.  This is important because the technology is changing every nanosecond.  What was cool two years ago seems unbearably slow and lame today.  We need to be strong and not fall in love with the technology so that we are ready to change when new technologies arise.  But we also need to be open to new ways we can use technology in different contexts.
Instead we need to retain our focus on what is important, not technology but people.  
This new technological landscape and its cultural and practical implications are going to create challenged for educators and their institutions.
The institutions of learning in this country are pretty conservative and slow to adopt new fangled technology – usually quite sensibly on the basis of cost.  
But now with social computing (sometimes called web 2.0) and open source the main arguments against new technology adoption are being destroyed.  The argument that institutions of learning should develop closed and proprietary information systems is no longer valid.  Why are we locking away access to educational information behind firewalls and security?  When institutions like MIT open up much of the courseware for free this should really make us think about our own institutions. 
Individual educators are embracing change. But sometimes these visionary folks seem more like revolutionary cells rather than part of the institutional mainstream.  
But the learners will eventually force our hands by disengaging if we do not respond to the shifts in their cultural practices.

Social Implications of Social Computing #3

  • Growth of knowledge
  • Too much knowledge to keep in our heads
  • No more epic poetry
In our tribal past there was a need to keep knowledge in our own heads for use by the individual and for sharing with others, hence the popularity of oral learning such as epic poetry.  For example, great literature as we know it today, but in their time the Iliad and Odyssey were spoken verse.  And that tradition was an important part of learning.
But now we have far surpassed the ability of any human to retain the sum of useful knowledge in their own head. This means that our learning practices need to change.
This gives rise to two things related to knowledge and our access to it. Firstly, the storage media for knowledge is changing – from oral to paper to digital (and here I include text, hypertext, audio, video and whatever gets invented next.)
Secondly, there are still some essential knowledge frameworks that must be resident inside our heads for us to be able to decode the storage media. For example, the ability to read is critical.
Thus we still need to equip people with the basic tools of literacy.  But those tools we need to use for broader sensemaking are changing.
Perhaps it is time to consider adding some tools for thinking to our educational repertoire  – Getting Things Done, goal setting, lateral thinking? Also perhaps time to consider how we can meet affiliation needs by offering collaboration opportunities via technology tools – such as wikis, blogs, social networks?

And how do YOU decide how/what/when to blog?

GirlTUB mafia

Unlike the esteemed SilkCharm who tapped me to answer this question my blog is essentially self-indulgent.

This blog is called Aide-mémoire for a reason, primarily because I wanted a place to record my musings and ideas that seem interesting to me.  It’s a personal blog. For some reason I cannot think while writing on paper so an electronic medium is more effective.

Usually my posts are sparked by a conversation (either online or offline), something in the media, an RSS feed, or on Twitter. Generally the inspiration is from a person or a relationship of some kind (the picture above shows some of the people who’ve inspired me to write stuff – photo credit @Trib).

Because it is a personal blog focused on things that interest me there are a variety of themes. Including – LOLcats, social computing, the changing nature of traditional and new media, people, communication, politics, technology and humour.  But since I really am a bit of a geek the themes tend to revolve around technology.

The how is easy. An idea hits, I think about it, discuss it with friends, research it a bit if necessary and then write it. This can be anything from a 5 minute to a 5 week process depending on the idea. I don’t pay any attention to SEO or analytics.  I am really happy when another human reads these posts and engages in a comment or tracks me down on another channel, like Twitter (@kcarruthers), for a constructive conversation.

Now there’s a bunch of great blogs in my RSS reader – here’s a few worth a look:

  • Sramana Mitra – where I go to learn about tech business
  • ChiefTech – he is da man for enterprise RSS
  • Stilgherrian – always charming & erudite [Update: @PeterBlackQUT rejects this characterisation & suggests “offesive or provocative” is a better fit.  I respond that @Stilgherrian can be charming but that I make no warranty as to when he might do so. No debate was entered into regarding the term “erudite”.]
  • Meterand – serial entreprenuer & all round nice guyCatherine Eibner – Microsoft geek guru girl

I wonder how these folks will answer the question (shoulder tapping here) how do YOU decide how/what/when to blog?

Social Implications of Social Computing #2

Consumption of media is now happening on the user’s own terms.  I can access what I want when it is convenient for me, and in the media format that I prefer on my preferred device.  This means that the consumer of today has a lot of personal discretion, and this has implications for expectations of learners.  We are moving away from the passive consumption model of my youth and moving towards a demand driven culture.

Anyone who knows a teenager probably already knows about Bit Torrent – people can download their preferred shows and watch them when they want and on their own terms.  In the music space iTunes and LImewire have done the same thing.  No longer do we have to buy the whole album for just one song.  There is bandwidth being chewed up at a great rate to satisfy these demands.

We are wired to deal with smaller groups and wired for small chunks of information.  The fact is that we seem to retain our tribal brains.  And we often seem to work best in small groups – like basketball teams or football teams – who join together with a common purpose.  

This is a critical construct for addressing some of the challenges facing us.    There have been many studies of human working or short term memory and many are familiar with Miller’s idea of the ‘magical number seven’ – being the number of items we can hold in our working memory.  We used to need skills like remembering oral information to keep us safe and transmit important information to others.

But now this is no longer required as we can just Google the information or phone a friend.  There was even a recent example at PLC school in Sydney where the exams were not merely open book  The students were allowed to use any materials, even mobile phones or the internet.  This is how we would undertake a task in the real world anyway.

Since we are still tribal creatures we are stuck with limits on how many people we can meaningfully interact with.  Many cite the Dunbar number of 150 people as the limit of effective group size.  And we can already see the answer to the question of how we deal with being connected to large groups of people all the time.  We chunk up our larger groups into subgroups based on common interests, habits or physical location.

Ultimately we are social creatures and want to create social networks either online or offline. A good example is Facebook where ordinary people of all ages and with little technical skill are routinely creating affiliation groups.  These online groups are even creating real life relationships – for example the Twitter community in Sydney often meets up physically with most of us having met online originally.