Recently, I joined the Mentor Team at Mozilla. Each team has their own, slightly different way of working – even if we all tend to use the same tools. Something I really enjoyed during my inaugural Mentor Team call was the period of ‘silent etherpadding’ that it began with.
For the uninitiated:
Etherpad… is a web-based collaborative real-time editor, allowing authors to simultaneously edit a text document, and see all of the participants’ edits in real-time, with the ability to display each author’s text in their own color. There is also a chat box in the sidebar to allow meta communication. (Wikipedia)
At Mozilla we usually use an etherpad as an agenda for our calls. We use one for the Web Literacy Standard community calls, for example. I’ve found using etherpads usually makes for collaborative, democratic experiences.
I like writing. I like writing and commenting in real time even more. But I only ever do it for work-related things. So I had this idea last night:
How it works:
Every week there’s a new main etherpad where people sign in (being anonymous/pseudoanonymous is fine)
Each person creates a new etherpad and adds the link next to their name on the main weekly etherpad.
Everyone writes for an hour. Or more. Or less.
During that hour people can stop by other people’s pads and comment, chat, etc.(anonymously/pseudoanonymously if you want)
Only one rule: NO DELETING (of your own or other people’s stuff)
In this month’s Wired magazine regular contributor and comic book writer Warren Ellis entitles his column ‘Five things I’m thinking about right now.’
Whilst I often share what I’ve been thinking about in my weeknotes, I thought I’d share what’s been on my mind more generally recently:
Innovation seems to be predicted upon standardisation. This can either be distributed (in the case of Open Source Software) or due to an individual or small group’s previous efforts that have led to a core of good practice.
2. The atomisation of society
Even when events are held and people are gathered together they are increasingly not interacting with others who are physically present. Whilst there is some mediated interaction via social networks most of the interactivity is, in fact, controlled by brands and organisers. These exert power and control even in seemingly-informal situations, such is the power of mediated communication.
That’s not to say that there is anything new to this, per se. It has ever been so through television, books and the power of institutions. People seem to like hierarchies.
3. The media
Whilst a lack of gatekeepers and the extremely low cost of entry allows blogs like this to reach a modest number of people it can, depending on the critical faculties and method of presentation, lead to a situation where all ‘news’ is seen as equal.
Perhaps the zenith of this is newsmap.jp, a service that constructs an uncritical visual representation of the top stories from Google News. Stories from the barrel-scraping TV show ‘X-Factor’ are juxtaposed and, depending on the time of day/week, sometimes overwhelm events of immense historical, political and economic importance.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the public broadly considered believe news to be apolitical and unbiased. One has only to witness the number of people in obviously well-paid jobs crucial to the country’s successful functioning who eschew quality news reporting for the fast-food ‘reporting’ of free newspapers.
There’s a paucity of historical metaphor, especially within the educational sphere. As I hope to point out in a forthcoming post, grasping for new metaphors and making seemingly-tenuous connections is vital for sustaining and enriching language.
I’m currently at the stage of laughing at authors whose imaginations (or perhaps basic knowledge) cannot stretch further than hunter-gatherer or industrial revolution metaphors. That laughter may well give way to frustration sooner rather than later.
Design is the planning that lays the basis for the making of every object or system. It can be used both as a noun and as a verb and, in a broader way, it means applied arts and engineering.
Creative Ambiguity (my definition):
Creative Ambiguity is brought about when an intangible idea, process or way of thinking is defined in an imprecise way. It is a delicately-balanced conceptual space in which the very nature of the ambiguity leads to creative outputs.
So if Creative Ambiguity is a good thing, how do we go about planning and designing for it? I suggest 3 guidelines:
Avoid using precise language if your understanding of a idea, process or way of thinking is imprecise.
View other people’s opinions in an and/and/and way rather than either/or. Embrace the greyness!
When coming across a new idea, process or way of thinking, find out if it has been previously defined. If not, come up with a new term and throw it out there for people to comment upon.
According to Pragmatism, things don’t have to ‘exist’ they just need to be ‘good in the way of belief’. Is Creative Ambiguity good in the way of belief for you?
Copyright is a “right” in no absolute sense; it is a government-granted monopoly on the use of creative results. So let’s try calling it that—not a right but a monopoly on use, a “usemonopoly”—and then consider how the rapacious expansion of monopoly rights has always been counter to the public interest…
So, how to protect your ideas in a world where ideas spread?
Instead, spread them. Build a reputation as someone who creates great ideas, sometimes on demand. Or as someone who can manipulate or build on your ideas better than a copycat can. Or use your ideas to earn a permission asset so you can build a relationship with people who are interested. Focus on being the best tailor with the sharpest scissors, not the litigant who sues any tailor who deigns to use a pair of scissors.
Apparently I’m ‘hard to buy for’. I probably don’t make it easier for people by proclaiming – quite rightly, I think – that if you have to ask people what they want for a birthday or Christmas then it’s not really a ‘gift’ as such.
I usually relent (slightly) by pointing family and friends to my Amazon wishlist. As you can see, I’ve been adding a lot of books related to infographics recently. But what about if you know someone a bit like me – someone ‘hard to buy for’ who’s into education, technology and the like? What should you go for? Well, my wishlist is a start, but here’s 10 definite recommendations. I’ve placed them in order of how much they cost – clicking on the image will take you Amazon to purchase them.*
1. Indexed (Jessica Hagy) – £4.58
Jessica creates graphs and diagrams on index cards ‘weekday mornings as the coffee brews’. A great book to have either on the coffee table or, dare I say it, in your toilet for casual reading. I find her blog hilarious at times.
2. The Power of Less (Leo Babauta) – £5.21
The author of this book writes one of my favourite blogs, Zen Habits. If the book is anything near as good as the amazingly practical advice Leo gives on his blog then this will actually do what it says on the front – i.e. ‘change your life’.
3. Ignore Everybody (Hugh McLeod) – £10.03
Hugh McLeod is a great guy. Acerbic, but great. Many of his gapingvoid cartoons adorn both my office and home study. In this book he expands on the ideas that he draws on the back of business cards.
4. Very Short Introductions (The Picture Box) – £12.47
The Very Short Introductions series is excellent. Concise, scholarly, readable introductions to topics that would usually take a university course to even begin to comprehend. I highly recommend them. I’m into design and infographics at the moment (which is why I chose this one) but I haven’t read a bad one yet!
5. Logitech Alto Express Laptop Stand – £12.99
It’s a piece of curved plastic with rubberized ends, but one of the single best accessories I’ve ever bought. I use a Macbook Pro as my main machine and it really does make using it so much more comfortable!
6. Hitchcock DVD box set – £17.99
This really is such a bargain – 14 classic films for £17.99! This is the only item on this list that I already own. Quality. (N.B. Amazon say this will take ‘3-5 weeks’ to deliver – just go for one of the ‘Used & New’ options, which may be even cheaper!)
7. Colloquial Icelandic (Audio CD) – £23.67
Not only does speaking a rather random language mark you out as ‘interesting’, but learning Icelandic means being able to read the sagas in their original form! But seriously, this was recommended to me as a fantastic example of how to structure learning and teach difficult concepts and content.
8. The Complete Far Side (Gary Larson) – £62.72
Despite it being almost 15 years since Gary Larson retired from drawing his Far Side series of cartoons, they’re as popular as ever. This compendium includes all those Larson has drawn. According to the Amazon reviews it’s impressive both in form and content!
9. Flip Mino HD camcorder – £119.99
This really is the world’s easiest-to-use camcorder. One big red button for start/stop recording. Preview on wide screen to rear, then press the button to ‘flip’ out the USB connector to attach it to you computer. I’ve got one similar to this at work. It’s legendary.
10. Asus Eee PC 1008HA ‘Seashell’ netbook – £280.52
I’ve had a few netbooks in the time they’ve been available, and the Asus Eee range has always been the most reliable and aesthetically pleasing. The 1008HA ‘Seashell’ is no exception – gorgeously thin and very mobile. Oh, and you can always ditch Windows and go with Linux. :-p
I first came across 12seconds.tv last year when it was in ‘Alpha’. It was an interesting diversion at the time, but I didn’t use it much and quickly forgot about it. Recently, I’ve noticed my email inbox filling up with notifications that people were following me on 12seconds.tv.
Thinking it was worth another look I’ve put together this ’12 ways of using 12seconds.tv in education’. Please feel free to add your own! 🙂
Searching for the name of your subject plus the word ‘forum’ in a search engine should bring up some promising links. Alternatively, try the excellent Shambles.net. Links galore! 🙂
What about if you want do something original or obscure, though? That’s when finding websites that previous visitors have marked as especially useful would help you on your quest. Enter social bookmarking services. There are many of these, but the two main ones are Delicious and Diigo. The former has been discussed on elearnr before, but in a slightly different context.
The idea behind social bookmarking sites is that instead of saving your ‘favourites’ or ‘bookmarks’ in the web browser of one computer, you store them in an account online. You can then ‘tag’ these with keywords and make them visible for others to see. These sites then, as you can imagine, become very useful as hotbeds of links to fantastically useful websites.
Have a go right now. Head over to Delicious and Diigo and type in the name of your subject followed by resources. Click to enlarge the images below which show the results I obtained when entering history resources!
The ultimate targeted resource and lesson idea finder
All of the above are great ways of using the power of communities to help you find something, but what about if you need something very, very specific – and fast? Enter Twitter.
Twitter is a micro-blogging social network. It’s like text messaging meets Facebook in that you have 140-characters to send a message. Educators worldwide use it en masse to share good practice, ask questions and find fast answers. A future E-Learning Staff Session and elearnr blog post will tell you all you need to get you signed up and interacting. 🙂