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The Word is Out: Small Technologies Loosely Joined – NMC 2004

Diffusing through blogspace, beyond our control, goes an upcoming “presentation” at the June 2004 NMC Conference, what we have cobbled together is called “Small Technologies Loosely Joined: Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control” that I am doing with colleagues Brian Lamb and D’Arcy Norman.

Here I will talk a bit about what we have in store, and idly speculate on what may happen. But first and foremost, what we are doing is hopefully blowing the sides out of the box labeled “Dull Conference Presentation”– for those there in Vancouver, come and get a seat early because this will be hands on and likely out of control. But you do not need a bus ticket to participate, we have set up a loosely joined set of technologies (wikis+blogs+chat) that will allow anyone online to step up and actively participate, and the gates are open now.

Read on…

Anyhow, the details of what we plan are detailed in the AboutSmallPieces portion of our wiki site– the gust is for us to (try to) show how a collection of discrete, free, technologies can be tied together with virtual chewing gum, scotch tape, and rubber bands to be effective at net based collaboration and communication. it’s the stuff D’Arcy, Brian, and I use daily, and things we are trying to get educators excited about in our respective institutions.

Rather than locking into large monolithic technologies, these “small technologies” can be used where needed, discarded when they do not work, and pushed to do things no one else may have considered. In tossing out the presentation proposal months ago, we decided to thrust two metaphors together- David Weinberger’s book on the frabric of the web- Small Pieces Loosely Joined and the mad genius of people portrayed in the film Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.

Hey, once you have a great title, everything that follows is gravy.

Well not exactly.

What we will not do in Vancouver is stand in front of a passive audience and talk about technology over screen shots– we are putting the technology in the hands of the in-person (and remotely participating) audience. We have developed an activity that is surficially silly- we each will lead a different “camp” that will use these “Small Technologies” to research and advocate opposing positions on instructional technology- we have the Centralists who support that centralized technologies are the most effective way to maximize resources, the De-Centralists who want the freedom to use any tool at hand, and the Fence Sitters who either believe a mix is more healthy, or just cannot decide.

Hopefully you can see that these “positions” are ludicrous, and none are outright advocated by any of us (I think). We are doing this for the process of using the “small technologies” not to prove who is right. We wanted ones that can easily polarize people, and provoke them to speak up ( we could have easily done “Mac” versus “PC”).

So here is how it works. Each camp has its own weblog that will be used to “publicize” ideas, findings, resources, etc and (this was not planned) are using three different tools, each of course with RSS feeds:

(note- we flipped a lopsided Canadian coin to take on these groups- do not tie them to our own philosophies!)

The blogs may or may not have specified authors- we each are taking different strategies on how the weblogs will be used, and they are open for comments. But each group also has a space inside our conference wiki- and this is the place that anyone can edit, add, submit resources that support a position, post a commentary, create a new wiki page.. it is open.

I have also posted a web site that aggregates the feeds from the 3 blogs side by side.

During the conference session we will be forming three groups, faciliated by each of us, and for the bulk of the session we will use the wireless net access, the blogs, the wiki, to do some quick collaboration in support of our position. In addtion to these tools, we are also going to try and contact a set of virtual, remote “experts” by video or text chat so they can provide live statements or ideas that can molded into each group’s work.

And we are asking bloggers out there to post their observations, thoughts on what we are doing on their own weblog. And here is the kicker– if you include the key phrase “NMC 2004” in the title of your post, Stephen Downes’ EDU_RSS will gather that entry and collect into a special conference “aggregator” he created for us – more or less harvesting weblog posts related to our session from other weblogs out there (Note if your weblog is not presently accessed by Stephen’s tool, please register it now. It is easier to see in action than explain…

So how can you participate? Let us spell out the ways…

  1. Come to Vancouver! (we are out of bus tickets, sorry…)
  2. Read the intro materials on the wikis and each group’s weblogs. Post comments in the blogs.
  3. Hit the wiki now. Edit the pages, add new information, opinions. Go wiki wild on it. Create new pages. Add new data, ideas.
  4. If you can add an entry on our session to your own blog, please list yourself on our ParticipantList.
  5. If you have a or an AIM handle, and you can be available live June 17, 2004, 4:15 – 5:30 PM Pacfic Coast Time (use the World Clock to find local time), sign up to be listed and accessed as one of the Virtual Chat Experts. We will be calling you!
  6. Add new technologies we have not mentioned to the list of our “pieces”

We have zero idea what will unfold, or flop. That is the excitement of this. And it is also the point- that loosely joined network spaces like these are only controlled by the actions of its participants- and we ought to understand it as another mode of group collaboration, distinct from the confined boxes of discussion boards and course management silos. They are not the panacea for anything, but we feel it is worth looking at and more importantly, experiencing first hand.

The wiki part is of interest to me– I am an advocate and a skeptic of them at the same time. From experience, I know they are wonderful spaces for remote collaboration. At the same time, wikis are rather mind bending in concept, and while as a techie, I find them easy to use and edit- each one has its own variation on how the editing works. I also find the lack of automatic navigation (e.g. breadcrumbs??) difficult to work with– as new wiki pages are added, if you enter directly on that page, there is no context to find related information besides going to the “home”. Finally, I think people are not always clear what to do once the click the “Edit this Page”– do they add? Do they delete? Spray grafitti? re-arrange? write “I agree” or “you suck”? There is little instructional aid for a novice.

And for the final part of the tale, the three of us had this grand plan to email a few key people in the educational technology world we wanted to definitely participate, and today we were supposed to each, at the same time, make the first public announcement on each of our respective blogs. Well, the wheels fell off of that cart, and that is just fine with us. Stephem Downes went and checked out the site, and added to the wiki the text our our email invitation – and then he blogged us out early— since about a gizzilion people read Stephen’s OLDaily and its feeds, well the word spread wide and people began jumping in. This pretty much demonstrates what we think is at the core of our idea- that this informal, shifting collection of social networks is outside anyone’s direct control.

So spread the word, and step into the middle of our Small Technologies Loosely Joined— the door is open and the keys are left aside.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as