I owe Chris Lott this blog post, having watched him this week grow tired of the PLE flak, bust out a brawl at the twitter bar, and then for me, state clearly what his interest was (he probably said it much earlier, but I miss things).
So I get it, now, he wants to have a sense of what people do, use for tools in the network, how we go about doing it. A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is not a thing, so I cannot keep railing about it only being diagrams. Good. But I wont even tray to sketch it out, because for me, it is n-dimensional and defies mapping in 2-D.
But I still groan over the name. The environment I learn from, exist in, is not per se a “Learning Environment” – it has no such boundaries- it is my network I do learn from, but the same that I work from, play in, create in. I think Chris would say it’s the pieces that might pertain to an application in learning, but to me it is not a “learning environment”. I dont know why this nomenclature bugs me, maybe its an allergy.
And yes, Chris, while I am really into visual communication (more so with images and metaphor), I am not excited about the stick and node network diagrams. I have trouble with the visual simplicity and the complexity I sense is where we operate.
I think of the way we learn about atomic and molecular structure being these simple models of balls and sticks, and is the same mode of drawing our network maps. Nice neat lines.
Yet, and bear with me as I am not an atomic scientist, from what I understand, there are not little balls of electrons circling like moons around a planet, that atoms are really some sort of cloud where locations of the electrons are based on probability. So to, these node and stick diagrams we create for networks are a too simple abstraction.
A cloud of probability is then my model- so my “environment” is in flux and not always the same at a give moment, but as a whole some things ought to emerge.
So Chris is asking me whats in my cloud. And I have dwelled on this a while and find it hard to encapsulate, but will try to do (since he asked, and I’ve tossed him way too much snark) in Plain Old Text format.
Inside the cloud is a core of tools I use on a frequent basis. Before January 2007, this would have started with my RSS reader. It is about the one technology that I can confidently admit saves time. I tell my audiences that every time some techno geek gets up and talks about “technology saving time” that those are code words for “I am lying” — except when they are talking about RSS.
I have noticed an important difference in the way I read feeds. A year or so ago, I would click through each source at a time, and scan what first D’Arcy Norman wrote as a list, then move on to another blog feed. But once I started using Google Reader, where you can “tag” feeds, I know scan an aggregated view of new stories from multiple sources, so its more of that river of news approach. The different may be subtle, but to me it is significant. Using the shortcuts, I can plow through feeds very fast. That would be “j” key. I love the keyboard shortcuts!
I have maybe 145 feeds and my “tags” or groups are just a few. There are “Aussies” which are blogs I was subscribed to in prep for my trip in October. I keep them because I get news items, resources that dont bubble up in my North American sources. Next group is “big picture” general high level blogs like Many to Many,TED, Joi Ito. Then, is my “ed-tech” group for all those blogs and “info-visual design”, general emerging tech news in “techie” and a “virtual worlds” group. So I read feeds en masse, not blog per blog.
There is a private “dogs-only” set of feeds, like comments to my flickr photos (so I can reply) and a tweet-scan search on my twitter handle so I don’t miss tweets directed my way from people that I dont follow. There is a feed there from a 2nd year student in Australia I am “mentoring” by adding comments to his blog.
Another set of feeds monitor Technorati searches of NMC projects and publications. I also have feeds for recent changes from my MediaWiki sites so I can eyeball spam activity. I also mark feeds with the Share flag, so I have a selected set of items that also appears on the sidebar of this blog.
I probably scan the feeds 2-3 times per day. On some infrequent basis (2-3 months) I look at which feeds I might prune. I don’t worry about “missing” things by not having more feeds, I feel the feeds I read cover ground I am not doing myself directly.
The feature I wish Google would spit out is the ability to generate a public list of my feed sources that could be a blog widget. So what I do is to export my feeds from Google Reader as OPML, then use a Bloglines account to import that file, and use Bloglines as just a place to store my “blogroll” which then can be displayed back on my site. Follow that?
But it’s Twitter that has become the center of the core (don’t tell the Chronicle) because I honestly, among that chit chat and cat updates, get a lot of just in time resources, ideas, etc. But a crucial difference for me is that with tools like RSS, I am consuming content, but in Twitter, I can easily put a call for participating in a demo, or ask for a book reference, and get a near immediate response.
Yes its messy, but a key element is that the power of Twitter is not in the inane ability to publish what kind of pizza you ate, but in who you select to follow. If Twitter is full of crap, well, you maybe are not following good sources? And I for one, enjoy the silliness of it, and use it as a periodic release from doing intense work. Often, I hit it several times a day, but also go for days stretches without looking.
Pretty much I use twitter via the web, I think Twitterific is a very cool app, but I really don’t want it blinking at me all the time (easily distracted) so I choose when I want my doses.
I’m pretty selective on followers- i ignore most requests unless I know the person, so maybe 100 some people I follow. I prune off ones that dont update much or just get on my nerves (ones where they tweet 12 times in a row, jeez). I track people I dont follow by using Tweetscan to search on my @cogdog handle and put that feed in my reader.
A small but important I use with Twitter is the TinyURL link creator in Firefox– can turn any page in view or hyperlink into a TinyURL (see my description), and not rely in Twitter to do this (often URLs are mangled).
Twitter is one that you cannot really convince the value of w/o diving in. I keep accounts on the twitter wanna bes, Jaiku, Pownce, etc, but rarely use.
If my blog is my outboard brain, than del.icio.us is the part of my cortex that stores my web memory. I tag and bookmark several times on a daily basis- using the extension in Firefox. My tagging scheme has some method to it, though folksonimic as it is.
The ways I use it are long, of course, at the basic level I track tech resources I want to be able to locate. I am also tagging resources to get syndicate into other project pages, such as the Second Life links or tagged resources for the Horizon Project. This is to, me, almost the best way to use del.icio.us, as with but 3 clicks in about 60 seconds, you can update a resource which dynamically updates on other web pages.
The most subtle feature of del.icio.us is using the for:xxxxxx tag to share a site with someone else. I don;t send to a lot of people, but regularly tag stuff I think would be of interest to several of my colleagues. Again, there is almost overhead to do it (if you use the Firefox del.icio.us extension, they appear as tag choices).
Core: Google Apps
I use Google tools so much I forget how much they are essential. I’ve had iGoogle has my home page for so long I cannot remember- and use the Google Browser Sync tools to keep my Google experience the same across my 2 computers or should I use someone else’s.
My main use includes Gmail (my cogdogblog account is the one I use for 90% of my web registrations), Reader (see above), and Calendar. When I joined NMC I got them to move from a single shared Yahoo calendar to a collection of individual shared calendars (so our principles can schedule their appointments, travel, etc), and common NMC staff, event calendars, probably about 10 in total. We run a public calendar of our Second Life events which we can syndicate to our NMC Campus Observer.
To a lesser degree I use Docs for collaborative writing. We have a few internal spreadhseets at NMC to track our Virtual Worlds projects.
Heartbeat: Blog Commenting
I write every year on my week off from blogging to only post by commenting in other people’s sites; I do this on a regular basis (daily?) but the week off makes it a focused activity. I maintain it is an essential of blogging; its not only about what I publish but how I participate, connect, provide feedback to others.
If you need any incentive, just connect to that blood rush when you get a (non-spam) comment that connects to your work, even if it is critical, but also when they share related information. But the real rush, is getting a comment from someone you do not know… and of course, the reaction is to follow a link to their blog, and thus, more connections are built.
Nervous System: IM, Synchronous Communication
I regularly use AIM or Skype to have direct contact with colleagues and friends and consider it part of the nerves that permeate the cloud.
It is the most effective way to get an answer or share something with a specific person, and my chat windows are open all day long. I don’t have a long buddy list. Skype is profoundly amazing when you consider what it is doing, and I also use the conference call features and ecamm call recorder software to record our interviews for NMC Conversations.
Old Bones: Email
Even with spam and ridiculous exchanges that are more efficient in other platforms, email is of course essential for being part of my cloud. I am only on 1 or 2 listservs.
A curious habit I engage in sometimes is exploring links people choose to put in their footer. They are often sites I have not heard of, and it tells me something about a person I may not know well, to see what is so important they would put in their footer. At one time I was keeping track of the best sites I found via this accidental exploration, but alas, tis not there.
Appendage: Second Life
Here is a thing about Second Life- I cannot build a thing beyond plywood cubes (I had the hardest time convincing Bryan Alexander of this)- what I do in SL is interact with people, run NMC events, publish our blog. And the biggest payoff in SL was expanding my professional network with colleagues all over the world, and those sometimes spin back out to the web or even real world (got to meet many SL “avatars” in RL in Australia last October).
So for now, it is in my cloud, but not a core of what I do or like to explore. But there is something there there. Sometimes I think it is the ultimate place to be a snarky smart-ass- I can do this in chat, in voice, by my choice of appearance (I am a dog, doh), by animations, etc.
In The End
I’m looking back on my list and nor seeing anything really startling or that far out there, and there are all kinds of nuances and small bits in the cloud not here. And I think Chris has moved on to other blog topics, so I am going to shrug my dog shoulders and click publish.
This is my cloud, and have no idea or care whether it is a TLA.