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April 2007

I like this

Robin Good: The Future Of Learning Is Informal And Mobile: A Video Interview With Teemu Arina. A *must read* (there's a transcript). The core topic? Informal Learning. From the transcript:

Teemu Arina: If you try to support informal learning it easily becomes formal learning. I think you can invest in a sort of structures that support informal learning. Say, you can build piazzas like here in Rome, where people can meet and share informal conversations. But you can’t really draw a map or a clear path on how people are going to learn informally. It’s just about building an environment that supports informal interaction. … Along with social software, wikis and blogs are very often considered informal learning tools by educational technology experts. When I look inside organizations I see these tools as something that counter taylorist technologies like groupware and intranets, where the control is mainly on the management side (for example the IT department). I am more into considering social software as something that can support informal interaction: it can help getting things done when the formal processes fail. From that point of view, I see blogs as tools that support reflective practice. When you do something you have to stop and reflect, you have to learn something: wikis are about putting those reflections together in the collective action. That’s important for building new knowledge, new ideas and understand what to do next.

Robin Good: What about mobile learning? What is it? Is it coming?

Teemu Arina: … I think it’s coming. I think it’s integrating with the informal learning space, because being mobile means that the context is around you. You are not saying things in a classroom out of context, you are not sitting in a formal course within an organization but you are actually there, where you need to be. You need to apply the context to the context itself. I think that’s what mobile learning does: it enables us to utilize the context in a better way. … connecting the virtual and the physical spaces … that’s where I think informal learning is currently failing in the educational technology field: we are not giving enough importance to the meaning of physical spaces and piazzas for meeting. When we see mobile technologies, social technologies and physical spaces intersecting very well, I think that’s when we see what true learning is all about.

Robin Good: You're basically advocating something that would appear to be normal life as it should be?

Teemu Arina: Kind of… But I think the role of teachers is still there: they help people learn more quickly than they could without them. They are guides with a lamp showing the right path to follow. We are going back to the ancient times of platonic-style conversations, which means having conversations with people who help you come out with ideas by asking the right questions. When mobile learning and informal learning intersect it’s like typical life and I think it’s the direction we should go to. The industrial revolution generated the need for structures that were useful: but in the future I think we have gone too far, seeing people – as Max Weber would say – as cogs in machines. People like little cogs trying to get into larger cogs. We need to integrate the human in the machine as well. It’s not really people becoming machines but the other way around: it’s the machines being more human. That’s different, that’s not just life, it’s also technology… And I think the right use of technology is for social interaction.

Robin Good: … How could I drive ahead of the curve within my organization so that this type of thing starts to happen also here?

Teemu Arina: I think there are certain things you need to do. One is to increase serendipity, which is accidental interaction between people, perhaps by creating very effective “third places”. I mean places between the home – which is the first place – and work or school – which are second places. The third place is where you can escape school, the demands of your family and the demands of your manager to share meaningful conversations. A place which is not connected by technology, in which people meet each other and are able to interact on topics over different fields. If you invest in such environments where you can have such conversations with your employees, that’s when you start to come up with ideas from different mindsets than your own. It’s very easy to have a tunnel-shaped vision of thinking when you are looking for rational argumentations inside your organization. You have to look for new environments existing outside your organization and let people go there and share different conversations. …

Robin Good: If you could magically make a miracle, what would be the one thing you would change in the world of learning?

Teemu Arina: Just one thing: probably the mindset of learners, shifting the mindset from collecting points and collecting rewards to actually learning things. I see universities and school full of people who are just there, not really interested in what they are doing but just considering the school system an interruption of their lives in order to get what they really want. When they are there they are wasting their time on things that they are probably not interested in. So the major shift I want to do is that people could work on what they are interested in and understand the value of it.

So much here that has been on my mind for months and months. Great gratitude to Robin and Teemu for this.


Edging the enterprise forward

Thinking about schools, enterprises and intranets, I wanted to jot down here some things I've been reading in the last few days that make a lot of sense to me.

Headshift (1):

I am sure organisations will eventually be able to create, within their online spaces, the sort of interaction, collaboration and sharing that takes place in the "wild world" of the Internet. Until then, we just have to help them make the most of the tools they have (or get) and provide them ideas on how to, slowly, start rethinking their internal processes, culture and view of the world. 

That is one of the reasons developing the system is just one of the steps in the work we do. Engagement is the other big one.

Headshift (2 — Lee, 'Last week, a group of us at Headshift spent a day at the Blogging 4 Business 2007 conference'): 

In addition to the tools, success is also about: 

  1. concrete business use cases
  2. engagement & people support
  3. a connected infrastructure

This is why we focus primarily on use cases, and the mapping between a task and information analysis of these use cases and the behavioural characteristics of the tools, in order to find the right blend of social modes in each project we undertake. During the session, we announced that we are about to open source the use case library that we use internally to capture these examples, so hopefully this will help others get to grips with the many practical applications that currently exist for enterprise social tools.

Blogging 4 Business (via Lee's post and covering the same conference): 

Got to applaud Bryant for saying all this technology is really all about the people at the end of the keyboard. "With social tools, you get immediate payback because you use lightweight tools to organise information in a way that means something to you." Example - social tagging (picking your own keywords to identify and structure the information you post, not having to adhere to a hierarchy picked by those know-nothings in the IT department).

Representative of BT asks if all this new stuff means "the end of internal communications" as we know it (and I feel fine). Paraphrasing Lee Bryant: "Every generation of technologists see themselves as Luke Skywalker zooming in to destroy the Evil Empire" - but it's more about "layers".

Mike Butcher asks how the existing knowledge in company intranets can be adapted to new wikis. Fitch says we'll all move to "using the web to create communities of collaboration" - from a situation where companies have relied on static intranets for the last eight years.

Bryant says out-of-date material will simply naturally "fade in to the background".

Perfect Path (again, same conference): 

Q: MB: Lots of companies have huge intranets - should we just wipe them away?
DF: very familiar with this - there’s a huge wealth of material that’s useful but just couldn’t be found - so we did some work about improving search and findability but also looking at using lighter infrastructure to start again, which will involve some pain, people will have to go back and look at relevance for example, but that change is going to deliver the benefit that we’re moving towards creating communities and connecting people rather than just producing static content.
 

Q: GC: How do you deal with info that becomes out of date?
A:LB: different approaches - the most interesting is that in a mature implementation anything acquires its own context, tags etc so out of date stuff falls down as sediment in these systems. So then you need some sort of review system, but it’s more about letting more timely stuff come to the fore.
DF: it’s also so much easier to keep your stuff up to date, even for lawyers :), so just using lighter tools helps a lot.

Many things link to/flow from all this, but there's a core here — about people, concrete use cases and change-through-engagement — that I wanted to highlight and remember. 

And, to round off on the intranet theme, this from Read/WriteWeb

Finally I mentioned intranets - and how ContentExchange will integrate or complement them. Mark [Suster, Koral founder/CEO and now in charge of Salesforce ContentExchange] quoted me a stat from Forrester that only 44% of people can find what they want on a corporate intranet, whereas 87% can find what they want on the Internet. So ContentExchange will help raise that 44% figure, says Mark.


Tumblr: keeping the croutons coming

I can't make up my mind about Tumblr.

Tumblr FAQs:

What's a tumblelog?

To make a simple analogy: If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.

You can also look at tumblelogs as slightly more structured blogs that make it easier, faster, and more fun to post and share stuff you find or create.

Is Tumblr better/worse than Blogger, TypePad, FaceBook, etc.? 

It's totally different. That's why we built it, and why we love it so much.

Blogs are great, but they can be a lot of work. And they're really built to handle longer-form text posts. Tumblelogs, on the other hand, let you easily and quickly post and share anything you find or create.

I'm playing around with a Tumblr scrapbook here. I like the idea of a scrapbook — something more impromptu than a blog, where stuff that just catches my attention (often my eye) can go. Unlike del.icio.us, this is stuff I'm not seeking to tag — but when the day comes, as it surely will, that I need to search for something in my tumblelog then its tag-less-ness will be a weakness. (So this morning I stuck the photo of Will Self's room from today's Guardian in my Tumblr scrapbook, but also del.icio.us'd the Guardian piece.)

Tom Carden, whose Tumblr site is here, and from whom I nicked the first couple of things I Tumbled — to get me started, wrote earlier this week:

I’ve got a lot of personal enjoyment and utility out of posting links to del.icio.us, and it seems like a lot of other people get value from reading them - either directly, or on aggregate. I’ve been trying out Tumblr recently and I’m thrilled that it’s allowing me to do the same thing but with images and videos, and the occasional quote. It’s a very free and easy way to keep track of things I think are noteworthy.

A great part of Tumblr's appeal is its brilliant ease of use. Tumblr comes from 'a smallish web-development company in New York City called Davidville' and they have a Tumblr-related blog here. (They also make Senduit.)

Now, if Google Notebook (which is continuing to develop very well) could acquire more Tumblr-like features … Or if del.icio.us could …


Freesheets: growing like Topsy

Last August, Bruno Giussani wrote:

The rapid growth of free newspapers in European (and, for now to a lesser extent, American) cities is one of the most interesting phenomena in recent publishing history.

His post is dense with information about this phenomenon, the newspaper and advertising industries and the subversion of both traditional newspaper economics and editorial mix. He concludes:

… many of the freesheets do not shy away from writing about that scarecrow of many traditional newsrooms: products and commerce. It always amazes me how a gigantic pan of our daily life is fenced out of most traditional newspapers because "it would constitute free advertisement": we buy clothes, use cell phones and cameras and tons of other gadgets, go to restaurants, play videogames, want to be informed if a new grocer opens in the neighborhood or a new Apple store opens in town or a new route is opened by a low-cost airline, but most of this stuff never shows up in the editorial pages of most dailies, or only within specific columns. Books and movies and music pass muster because they're "culture", but cell phones apparently aren't, and "serious" newsrooms want Nokia and Samsung to appear only in the ad pages. Free newspapers don't care about this: they know that most of us spend more time using our cell phones than going to movie theatres, and when a new cool model comes out, they deem it newsworthy. In this sense, free dailies are way more modern and in tune with the times than most traditional newspapers.

That's one take on the freesheet phenomenon. Here's another … On 12 February, 2007, the FT published this letter:

Sir, Surely by now every last Londoner has been approached on the street by a distributor of one of London's "free" daily newspapers. These papers may be free to readers, but they also carry real costs for other social groups in the city.

Free dailies externalise their production costs in at least three ways. They clutter and detract from the appearance of our streetscapes and public spaces (costs to all Londoners); they generate great volumes of rubbish which then become the disposal problem of boroughs (costs to borough residents); and they create extra cleaning costs for Transport for London when papers are left behind on trains and in stations (costs to TfL and therefore transport users). 

Given that 400,000 copies of each paper circulate daily (19m pages), these costs are not insignificant. We might be wise to ask whether free London dailies are really free - and if they are not, then who pays? 

David Grover, 

Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics, London

The letter was reprinted by Roy Greenslade who, today, highlighted Justin Canning's Project Freesheet. Firstly, here's Project Freesheet ('We want to see an increase in the number of freesheets being recycled and we want to see the freesheet publishers paying for the waste they are creating'), drawing on and quoting from an article published in The Ecologist by Jon Hughes (linked to below):

In 45 different countries around the world there are 35.8 million freesheet newspapers being printed every day. The environmental impact of a product that has a designed life span of 20 minutes is being seriously overlooked. (what's it all about?) …

The more sinister side of the freesheet phenomenon is its ultimate impact on paid for newspapers. The current crop of freesheets are aimed at those who are too busy to read a newspaper or have no inclination to buy one. Rather than address the reason why the paying public is shunning their products, newspaper publishers are seeking to create revenue by numbers alone. Advertisers will be seduced with the argument that while only half a million editions of say, Metro, are published, readership will be well over a million because it is dumped on the public transport system.

Freesheets such as Metro et al operate on very tight margins. As they become more nationally embedded, whole elements of them will become syndicated, beginning with TV pages and pop gossip through to national and international news. They might tell you the what, but not the why or the how. Investigations and campaigns will become rarer than they are now. Coverage of politics above the tittle-tattle of personality, less and less.

To supply the newsprint on which all this trash is printed, whole swathes of Europe are being turned over to plantation forests, which is wiping out bio-diversity. (the knock on effect)

Roy Greenslade (today):

Canning's major concern is about the environmental impact. He cites an article in The Ecologist magazine that deals with London's 1.5m daily freesheets. That equates to the felling of 400 trees every day after use of recycled pulp. Then, using those figures as a guide, he contends that 8,000 trees are being felled every day "for a product that has the attention span of about 10 minutes. That doesn't seem very good use of valuable resources." 

He continues: "On top of that, the product is not being recycled... [because] papers do not have any retention value. The second reason is the sheer volume that are being circulated. Most end up as street litter and go straight to landfill. Westminster council has said that it will need to spend an extra £500,000 over the next two years just to keep up with the quantities involved." 

Canning writes: "We are living in an age when corporate responsibility is supposed to be being addressed. Is it possible to carry on letting the newspaper publishers of the world churn out a product that serves no real purpose other than to provide opportunity for advertising? Basic economics is one thing. Stupidity and irresponsibility is quite another."

The Ecologist article dates from last November and claimed then that the London freesheet facts were:

… 1.5 million … are being given away in and around the capital’s Tube stations each day. The breakdown is as follows: Associated Newspapers’ Metro 540,000; London Lite (also published by Associated Newspapers) and News International’s thelondonpaper around 400,000 respectively, and City AM 65,000. Soon to be added to this is a free afternoon paper to be distributed, like Metro, on the underground system, rather than outside Tube stations like the other three. And on the last Friday of September, two free sports newspapers were unleashed on an unsuspecting public. This is a problem that is growing like Topsy, which has an unchecked motion all of its own.