Blog Pile

LearnMobs? DoShops?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by JoseJose

I read this morning via Shareable about a growing movement called “Crop Mobs” – rather sounding as much like barn raising, it speaks to people with a shared interest doing things as groups rather than isolated individuals. As described in Shareable….

In the fall of 2008 a group of 11 young farmers living and working in North Carolina’s Triangle Region got together to talk about issues facing young farmers –things like healthcare, wages, access to land. As they talked, one young farmer, Adah Frase, squirmed in her seat before deciding to speak up. “I’m tired of sitting in meetings just talking about things. It feels like a waste of my time. Why can’t we go out and work while we meet rather than just sitting around a table?”

Frase believed you could build stronger relationships with people by working side by side rather than just sitting around a table talking. Her fellow farmers agreed. “The idea emerged that we’d come together to build community, help each other out, and share a meal,” explains Rob Jones, one of the farmers in attendance that October night. “We decided we’d call it the Crop Mob.”

One more time for emphasis– “I’m tired of sitting in meetings just talking about things. It feels like a waste of my time. Why can’t we go out and work while we meet rather than just sitting around a table?”

This pretty much sums up my feeling of, in our field of education, even education technology, our forms of professional gathering is more sitting and talking about things rather than doing them.

Conferences are old school.

I can here you nodding in agreement, yet at the same time… we refuse to let go of the old model.

I yearn to travel to a place with colleagues were we decided to do something, create something, make things, build stuff. “Workshops” are a bit of a misnomer, you do a little work, but its mostly about an exercise in training, not with a goal of creating something.

Something more like a maker fair. A Hackathon. Do we have too many degrees and philosophical mindsets that we don’t think its worthy to put ideas into action? Too grown up to do what most kindergarteners know is important (being social, sharing, making things)?

One place this seems to be blossoming is at George Mason University- e.g. One Week One Tool:

Generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, One Week | One Tool is a unique summer institute, one that aims to teach participants how to build an open source digital tool for humanities scholarship by actually building a tool, from inception to launch, in a week.

During the week of Sunday July 25 ““ Saturday July 31, 2010, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University will bring together a group of twelve digital humanists of diverse disciplinary backgrounds and practical experience to build something useful and usable. A short course of training in principles of open source software development will be followed by an intense five days of doing and a year of continued remote engagement, development, testing, dissemination, and evaluation. Comprising designers and developers as well as scholars, project managers, outreach specialists, and other non-technical participants, the group will conceive a tool, outline a roadmap, develop and disseminate an initial prototype, lay the ground work for building an open source community, and make first steps toward securing the project’s long-term sustainability.

Another format busting event I’ve heard a lot of (via the tweetosphere) are THATCamp.

Likely what I am dreaming of would be a bit more local, like the reach of the University of Mary Washingting’s Faculty Academy. What if people with various skills (graphics, coding, instructional design) descended on a selected institution and focused on one project for a week? Revamp their web site, implement an online portfolio tool, set up a word press multiuser service? I dont know what would be done or how to organize it, but I’d bet, that not just the host location benefits, as people would share ideas, learn from each other.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by JoseJose

I for one, would be more energized perched on the roof driving nails than sitting in rows listening to talks.

C’mon, we’re smart people. We can create a better gathering experience than 50 minute lectures.

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An early 90s builder of the web 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.


  1. Not to wander too far from what I think is a great idea but I wonder if the labor has to be anything directly related to the intended conversation. I get why it would be but I had great conversations with my father-in-law while helping him re-shingle his roof. Those conversations were not about shingles.

    It’s interesting to me to think about mixing chunks of “learning/conversation” with chunks of labor. You could also have conversations during the labor time but it could serve as down time for subconscious processing. Simple things that could be good for the community could be done – clearing lots, working at Boy’s and Girls clubs, rebuilding trails, fighting off Visigoths etc. etc. I like doing simple hard work to give me time to think. I also wonder how it’d impact attendance. Smaller but more interesting is my bet.

    1. No rules, Tom. And I am not sure it needs to be built around labor. I was more struck by the power of the difference between what was described as “sitting around talking” versus “doing”.

      At conferences we mostly just talk about ideas and projects.

      If such gatherings were done around local projects, there could be a labor time and a talk time.

      I’m not even sure what I am advocating, I am continually hungry for a different, more meaningful experience.

      Know where I could slay some Visigoths? I’m in!

  2. This is a brilliant idea with concrete suggestions. I love it and am going to cross post this on my blog as well. Building on your thoughts, I like the idea of having a conference in a place around a few problems of practice that schools are working on. Participants would sign up for the problem of practice that appealed to them and come on board at the school to help the school leader and his/her school community make progress along the problem of practice. At the same time the end product would consist of documentation addressing this problem of practice in a smart and flexible format. Perhaps something along the lines of the work I’m doing at

    Now all you need to do is get some innovative educators on board like Chris Lehmann, Kevin Jarret, Mary Beth Hertz, Will Richardson, Tom Whitby, Jeff Branzberg, etc. and I think we’ve got something.

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