Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Marketing in the Social Age

On December 7, 2010, I am meeting with student’s in Sherry Kitto’s class to discuss marketing and social media. I’m using this post to keep a running list of resources for them to explore further after our discussion.

Some of the topics I think will be addressed:
  • Trust
  • Transactional vs. relational economies
  • Indexing for better web findability
  • Location-aware technologies
Please leave comments!

Short URL to this page: http://bit.ly/eed4TG

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blogs, Wikis, and Other Online Writing Processes

Note: I will use this blog post to support a presentation I'm doing for my EDUC638 class on October 19, 2010. It might or might nor be of interest to my regular audience. Short URL to this post: http://bit.ly/EDUC638-blogswikis

For those who don't know yet, I've finally decided to start using my fee waivers and enrolled in EDUC638 Learning Technology Across The Curriculum. As a part of my coursework, I have to present on the topic of blogs and wikis, and how to use them in education.

I have always felt weird that blogs and wikis are bunched together all the time. In my opinion, they are completely different technologies. My presentation will address that, and go beyond the traditional notion of blogs and wikis to explore other online writing technologies and context.

Blogs wikis
View more presentations from Mathieu Plourde.

My Wiki Report:

Resources Cited in Slides:

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Branded to Learn: Leveraging Social Media Conversations

    On October 5, 2010, I have presented at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Delaware about the use of social media for learning. I don't think I'm an expert in this (anyone who claims to be a social media guru is a poser, in my opinion), but some might see some of the things I have experienced in the past as "social media micro-successes", for lack of finding a better term...

    Before I dig into a laundry list of slides, videos, and resources, I'd like to use a quote from Clay Shirky's most recent book, Cognitive Surplus. Describing the ever-widening gap between him and his NYU students...

    They can understand the shift from scarcity to abundance, since the process is still going on today. A much harder thing to explain to them is this: if you were a citizen of that world [before the Internet], and you had something you needed to say in public, you couldn't. Period. Media content wasn't produced by consumers; if you had the wherewithal to say something in public, you weren't a consumer anymore, by definition. Movie reviews came from movie reviewers. Public opinions came from opinion columnists. Reporting came from reporters. (page 61)

    Now that any cellphone becomes a means of self-expression and a public conversation device, it's hard to imagine what it was like, even 10 years ago.

    This presentation is a mix of my personal experience with social media, how I got introduced to it, used it, and tailored it to make me aware of the world and make the world aware of me. Social media is a weird new space, where you need to brag a little to get noticed, and where it's not always frowned upon to do so (see Self-Service: The Delicate Dance of Online Bragging for more on this subject).

    Below is a list of links pointing to tools I referred to in my presentation. Have fun exploring! 

    Personal Productivity Tools

    Social Networking Tools

    Enhanced Reality Tools

    Content Hosting and Creation

    Short URL to this page: http://bit.ly/branded2learn

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Use EtherPad Variants to Enhance Classroom Discussion and Group Work

    This is a guest post from Tim Handorf. I don't usually do this kind of things, but I saw what he wrote elsewhere and thought I'd give it a try. Please comment on both content and practice please! BTW, I use TitanPad all the time. Mathieu

    When I was a student at the university, I was often struck by how out of focus and bored myself and my peers were during lecture classes. It was very rare for most or even a few students to be enraptured throughout any given lecture, and the only time this occurred was when professors encouraged open classroom discussion. Unfortunately these instances were few and far between.

    The reasons for lack of discussion were various, but the most common problem was a logistical one. Small classes were conducive to discussion, but larger ones are simply not. In these stadium-sized classes, it simply wasn't possible for everyone to get their voices heard, and it was very easy and tempting for a student to get lost in the crowd and use the time as an excuse to nap.

    One class that I took, however, employed a remarkable tool that actually made large classroom discussion possible. In fact it wasn't only just possible, but it was enjoyable and invigorating. Welcome to the wonders of EtherPad. EtherPad was a wonderful online real-time text editor. It was simple in design and utility, such that anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Microsoft Word could learn how to use it.

    The way that this one professor used the tool was by setting up a pad on a projector with his lecture notes. He invited everyone in the class to join the pad, and students who brought laptops to class could then add comments, ask questions, and even have instant messenger-type discussions while the professor lectured. Everyone, including the instructor, saw any added questions or information in real-time posted on the projector. In this way, the class could have a full discussion without even speaking, and the professor could answer questions from students who would usually be to shy to speak up in class.

    Although the original EtherPad is now defunct, after being bought out by Google, the code was open-sourced, so various EtherPad-like tools do exist, one of which is PiratePad. Although EtherPad may not necessarily work for your personal classroom structure, its capabilities rendering collaborative work and open discussion possible and efficient can definitely be a boon for those professors who want to energize and shakeup lectures that have become a bit tired and old.

    This guest post is contributed by Tim Handorf, who writes on the topics of online colleges. He welcomes your comments at his email Id: tim.handorf.20@googlemail.com.

    Thursday, August 5, 2010

    You Can Book Me

    There, the web has beaten me at coming up with this solution, as it always does...

    There is a new service called You Can Book Me (http://youcanbook.me/) that allows you to let others see when you are available and set an appointment with your through your Google Calendar. It's from the same guys who manage WhenIsGood.net.

    Wouldn't it be great if instructors could set up office hours and have students fill them out themselves, and that this appointment would be added to their (electronic) calendar automatically? Well, stop dreaming, it's now possible!

    By the way, sorry to bring this up, but this is exactly the feature request I have made about a year ago for the Sakai Schedule tool (http://jira.sakaiproject.org/browse/SAK-16756). Anyway, now someone has done it for us, so it's yet another proof that if you ignore a problem long enough, it magically goes away! No hard feelings, Sakai folks ;-)

    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Intro to Social Media and Web 2.0 Tools Through Faculty Practices

    In the "self-promotion" department, I'd like to invite folks who are interested to join me on Ustream this Thursday July 22 at 1:00 p.m. EDT. I think that this workshop I'll be moderating might be on interest to a lot of Sakai folks who attended my Unsexy LMS session at the Denver conference.

    The purpose of this workshop is to present a bunch of different ways instructors have used free web resources to enhance their student’s learning.

    See http://bit.ly/smpractices0710 for more details. Hope to see some of you on the backchannel (use the #smpractices hashtag during the workshop)!

    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    Sharing the Obvious

    This week, I had a conversation with a colleague about sharing ideas. I tried my best to explain that blogging and tweeting was about giving a new spin to information, to share with followers stuff that they might find interesting, to open up our minds to the world.

    We had a conversation that went something like this (this is a very short extract from a longer discussion, the way I somewhat recall it):

    Colleague: I helped someone today with extracting an email list from a message he got. I explained how to copy and paste the email addresses in Word and clean up the list by using the "Find and Replace" feature. I didn't share this with anyone, people in IT all know this stuff.

    Me: Yes, it's obvious to you, of course. But that process and knowledge just ended here with you now.

    Colleague: Hmmm... But the process is so easy. What people who do troubleshooting need to know is not the answer, it's getting the user to really define the problem.

    Me: You have obviously internalized a lot of processes and information to troubleshoot users. What you're describing is implicit knowledge, stuff that can't really be taught to someone, values, beliefs, instincts. Since it's not always easy to share those instincts, maybe a collection of those stories could help other understand that process better?

    That discussion made me realize that my use of social media and my blog is mostly about sharing what's obvious. Even if it's clear and obvious to me now, it doesn't mean it will later. My blog posts, evernotes, tweets, wall posts, youtubes, and flickrs, are just traces of where I've been, of what I've read, learned, and internalized at one point in time.

    I recently read a book called Made To Stick. They refer to this issue for experts to explain something to novices as "The Curse Of Knowledge", the difficulty that comes from remembering what it meant not to know in order to speak the same language as the learner.

    So, please bear with me as I'll continue to share stuff that seems trivial to me. I'll do my best to try to explain it in a way that makes sense to people who don't know.

    Well, duh...

    Friday, July 9, 2010

    The Long Tail of Academic Technologies

    This post has been inspired by a lot of different sources and event. As some of you know, I'm the Sakai Project Leader at my higher education institution. And as most of you know, I'm a huge social media and web 2.0 junkie.

    But something has started to bug me a while ago. It seems to me that as time goes by and that we become more engaged with web 2.0 technologies in our everyday lives, more and more workers are shifting their attention away from centrally supported IT systems to really take advantage of free web services. And who can blame them, I do exactly the same thing myself:
    • I use Evernote for all my meetings and to dos.
    • I use Dropbox to keep current files at hand.
    • I use Diigo and Delicious for my bookmarks.
    • I publish blog posts here, in addition to my professional blog that I just started a couple of months ago.
    • I publish pics on Flickr and videos on Youtube.
    • And many more...
    Numerous studies show that social media is here to stay and make people more productive. See The Cost of Social Media Phobia and Millennials will make online sharing in networks a lifelong habit.

    There is most certainly some good and some bad in this, as described by Michael Zimmer and Bruce Maas in their Educause Live Webinar called "What Do Newer Generation Faculty Want from IT Services?" But good or bad, the shift is happening, and how central IT units will react will determine if workers will continue to see us as problem solvers instead of red tape addicts.

    My Understanding of What's Happening

    I think that the Long Tail model, as made popular by Chris Anderson, is a good way to visualize my take on this. First, here's a very loose representation of what I believe are the most commonly encountered technologies in higher education institutions.

    The Long Tail of Academic Technologies

    Now, traditionally, central IT has supported the most commonly used technologies, which is the right thing to do.

    The Long Tail of Academic Technologies - Traditional Model

    As more technologies become available, and as computing power and bandwidth become better and cheaper thanks to Moore's Law, some very common technologies are becoming very common.

    The Long Tail of Academic Technologies - New Model

    Under the new digital economy, some vital services have become commodities, i.e. they can be outsourced for a fraction of the cost of supporting them internally. It's happening right now with email (e.i., Microsoft Live, Google Apps), and there is no reason to think it's not going to happen to other technologies as well. The newly liberated central IT time can be allocated at supporting technologies that have some potential for widespread adoption further down the tail.

    George Siemens, in his excellent post called "Well Played, Blackboard", explains how this company's survival is down the tail. By acquiring Elluminate and Wimba, they have gained access to a niche market that still has potential for growth, as the traditional LMS features are becoming more of a commodity.

    What Does This Means?

    I think that what this means is that higher education institutions will have to revisit their old ways of supporting technologies to figure out what is obsolete and find new ways to leverage internal resources. Educators are becoming more web-savvy and will drift their own way if we can't offer something that has value to support academic work and make our institutions special.

    This can also be applied at a macro-level, as discussed during my session at the Sakai conference in Denver last June. The Sakai community has to focus on what adds value to the institution, and integrate with emerging technologies instead of trying to compete, because that's just an ever losing battle.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    Intro to Social Media and Web 2.0 Tools Through Faculty Practices - Workshop

    On April 15, 2010, at 1:30 p.m. EDT, I moderated for the first time my new training session on the use of social media and web 2.0 tools in higher education. I have spent a considerable amount of time preparing for this and hoped to be able to draw some people in from my personal learning network during the event, which did happen.

    On June 4, during the Summer Faculty Institute, I will moderate it again, but this time on a tighter schedule (only 30 minutes). The live stream will be available on Ustream: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ud-workshops

    This TinyURL will point to this workshop gateway page (this page you're reading right now):


    I had to use a date stamp at the end because I used /smpractices before for my dry run... A downside of URL shortening...

    Please monitor the #smpractices hashtag on my Twitter account (@mathplourde) for more details. Since this will be a one man show, I probably will not be able to monitor Twitter during the presentation but will try to take pauses to discuss when appropriate. I will also prepare tweetbites in advance using SocialOomph to send automated timely updates during the presentation.

    As I work on which practices to showcase and on the flow of the presentation, I will edit this blog post to add links and embeds to specific resources.

    Session Support Links
    Faculty Practices
    In no particular order, here's the list of practices that might be used during the presentation:
    Comment from Stéphane Gauvin, Professor of Marketing, Université Laval, about his use of Facebook as a LMS:

    For me, as a teacher, it turned out to be the best environment, by a mile. More and better interaction. It may not provide the easiest way to manage some chores, though, as culling assignments and integrating graded activities is not as easy as it is in a customized [LMS]. Many students were skeptical at first. Most liked it. Some were overwhelmed by the amount of information; some were uneasy with the friends/colleagues mix. I'll very probably use it again next year (keep in mind that this is for an eMarketing [graduate] course -- my assessment is less enthusiastic for support to regular courses).
    Professor Gauvin also uses Dropbox to share files and have students drop their assignments.

      Still Didn't Get Enough?

        Thursday, April 8, 2010

        Faculty Practice: Use of Blogs in Anu Sivaraman's Marketing Classes

        I recorded a short interview with Anu Sivaraman, Professor, Business Administration, about her use of blogs in her IT in Marketing classes. We tried to keep the video as short as possible and were able to keep it down to 5 minutes.

        I think this practice is really smart, since marketing graduates tend to get entry-level jobs that requires them to maintain or publish to blogs, and be involved in business social media from the get-go.

        I am going to use this video during my new training session on social media and web 2.0 in higher education that's coming up next week. Although it is targeted at UD faculty, I'll Ustream it as well. Check my Twitter account for updates (@mathplourde)!

        Monday, March 8, 2010

        From Smartphone to Smart Device, Please Steal These Ideas!

        Back at Thanksgiving, I bought a smartphone to replace my dino-phone. Since then, I realized how amazing it is to have all of that computing power in my pocket, and after attending the ELI Spring Focus Session webinar last week, it reinforced my belief that smartphones are going to rule the world in a couple of years. I think the first reason is because of their price.

        Being relatively cheap computing devices, people who can't affort a real laptop will still feel the need to get a cell phone. It's cheaper, and everyone needs to be connected now. Thanks to Moore's law, powerful devices will become relatively cheaper every year, and the wireless carriers will (hopefully) come up with affordable data plans.

        Figure 1 below is your typical modern smartphone (pick yours: iPhone, Blackberry, Android).

        Figure 1: Smartphone

        Now, imagine what would happen if you could actually use the computing power of your smartphone with better more ergonomic environments. Figure 2 below shows how a smartphone could be dropped on a powermat to be recharged and connect automatically to the desktop "dumb shell" (I have seen this concept before on blog posts, will try to find the reference), an inexpensive set of peripherals that would kick in as soon as you dropped the phone on the mat via the magic of BlueTooth or something. All of a sudden, you have a decent work environment that can be replicated everywhere you work the most: at home, at the office, at airports, in an hotel room, etc. So now what do we have? A decent workplace experience when working for real, and a portable convenient experience the rest of the time.

        Figure 2: Dumb Shell

        Now that the desktop has been sent to the landfill (or wherever you're supposed to send an old computer...), what about my wallet? Figure 3 will take care of this. Based on the principle of the Bump iPhone and Droid apps, you could simply bump you phone on the cash register at your favorite fancy coffee place to complete a transaction. In addition to the convenience of paying electronically the way you want (debit, credit, some sort of limited cash amount, recharged regularly like an EZ-Pass, etc.), this would allow the coffee shop to go paperless by transmitting your receipt to your phone, would could then relay it to your banking software for your records. Sweet, eh?

        Figure 3: Bump to Pay

        A little more far-fetched is the idea of a dumb laptop, a portable processor-free, cheap, and light portable workstation. See figure 4.

        Figure 4: Dumb Laptop

        An then, there is the ultimate social media junkie couch potato's dream: the dumb living room (figure 5). By simply slipping your smartphome in a pouch next to the recliner, your whole living room becomes your computer and smartphone. Someone calls? Press "Answer" on your TV remote and the microphone hanging from the ceiling will put you in communication.

        Figure 5: Couch Potato

        So, Nokia, Motorola, HTC, (not Apple), please make my day and steal these ideas. All I ask for is my name in fine print somewhere. Deliver us from our laptops!!!

        Creative Commons - Attribution

        Wednesday, February 24, 2010

        Using Social Media and Web 2.0 for Higher Education

        I'll be doing a dry run this Friday for a new training session I am working on for faculty at the University of Delaware. I'm trying to collect as many faculty practices around the use of social media, including free web 2.0 tools like social bookmarking, video streaming, etc., in the context of course support, in-class, hybrid, or pure distance.

        I have already found some examples, but it seems like I have a hard time finding higher education ones (or at least education ones in general). So here's my current list:
        I will modify this post to add relevant examples, but basically, I think social media and web 2.0 resources can be used in multiple ways to enhance student learning. Different tools will serve different purposes, like collecting, commenting, discussing, doing mashups and remixes, immersing, creating, archiving, etc.

        Please share any good examples I should consider for my workshop as comments below, and I will share them back in this post. Make me proud of my personal learning network so I can brag about how you guys rock! ;-)

        UPDATE: I have created a tag in Diigo/Delicious to keep track of these examples and the new ones I will find: http://delicious.com/mathplourde/SMPracticesTraining

        I also recorded the video of a brainstorming session about the content of the final workshop and used Wallwisher to move stuff around.

        Friday, February 19, 2010

        Managing Filter Failure

        This blog post is a follow-up to Liz and Lisa's awesome workshop at Educon 2.2 (January 31, 2010).

        Educon 2.2

        This should be no surprise to anyone who knows me even remotely: I like social media and I like to try new shiny toys on the internet. I try to spread the joy as much as possible about my discoveries, because I'm a Sniff (that's a "Who Moved My Cheese" reference)...

        But every now and then, I hear this:

        • I don't know how you do this, you must not have kids I suppose...(I don't)
        • There is just too much information, I can't follow all of this...
        • My e-mail is already out of control, and now you want me to use what?
        Yes, I admit it, there is quite a lot of information out there. And finding the right one for you is a daunting task. And doing it day after day is, well, tiring.

        How Big is the Problem Anyway?


        Do we really understand how big the internet is... This clever infographic demonstrates the scale of the damage.

        A Day in the Internet
        Created by Online Education

        And then, think of it this way: If you get cable or satellite television at home, you probably have access to roughly 150 channels of continuous programming. This means that if you wanted to watch all programs on all channels (excluding reruns), you would need 150 hours every hour.

        The point here is that you have millions and millions of information channels competing for your attention, but, as a normal human being, you can only tune in to one channel at a time.

        So I guess everybody else is right, and there's no sense in even trying to absorb it all! Even if you would spend all your days reading and learning, at the end of your life, you will have been exposed to only a grain of rice in the universe of knowledge, and you would be falling behind even more at every instant.

        My Social Media Inventory


        Beyond just letting go, there must be a middle ground to try to get exposed to the right information. A couple of months ago, I decided to create an inventory of my social media tools and strategies. Although it might look like a lot, all of these tools are just a part of my routine now.

        At the heart of my social media strategy is social bookmarking. Social bookmarking is probably the activity that I do that has the most value to me, and projects the most accurately my professional persona. Below is a diagram of my discovery and sharing workflow.

        My Sharing Loop

        I have created a chain of events that happen every time I find something relevant on the internet. Everything that at the left of me is what I call my "Personal Awareness Network" (that's the new term I just coined to refer to what I consciously expose myself to by subscribing to it). Whenever something finds me and catches my attention, I start reading it, determine if this is something I need to read in detail, try to find a paragraph in the text that summarizes the content and highlight it, click the Diigo bookmark button in my browser toolbar, enter the relevant tags, and hit save. This simple action triggers everything on the right side.

        Am I cheating my followers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn? Not really, since they have decided to pay attention to my stuff. They opted-in to my social stream, the same way I have opted-in to the stream of others. Anyone annoyed with my behavior is allowed, no, hold on, INVITED to unfriend/unfollow me. That includes Facebook, yes. Don't make your life miserable because of me.

        I don't really read everything I bookmark, I get myself exposed to it and save it for future reference. If your labeling strategy is efficient, you should be able to retrieve a lot of the articles you have been exposed to using this technique, even as your list grows bigger and bigger (I have almost 3,000 bookmarks in Diigo - try fitting that in your browser's favorites just for fun).

        My Learning Style

        All of this thinking about my use of social media got me reflecting on how I learn. I am not the type of person who remembers everything word for word. I use to hate reading for the longest time because the only time I read when I was young was when I had to study for an exam. I always feared that I would forget something, so I read, highlighted, and re-read everything to be able to regurgitate enough information on my exams to get a good grade.

        Now, I read to make myself aware of stuff. I am not afraid to forget details, since details are a couple of keystrokes away, stored in my personal knowledge base, safely backed-up and available on the web, away from my potentially virus-infested PC.

        I believe my mind is like a sponge. Once it gets full, it drips. The smaller chunks (information and data) drip away, and the bigger chunks (wisdom, experiences, knowledge) form patterns and clusters of assumptions, attitudes, and values that can guide my behavior when faced with familiar and new situations in life.

        Remembering everything is plain utopia. The cloud does it better than you, so don't fight it.

        Selecting Your Channels


        As Chris Anderson exposes it in Free, when it comes to information, I embrace waste. If I stumble upon an interesting blog post or article, I usually look for the profile of the writer and look for the RSS orange button to add the feed to my Google Reader. If the blogger hit a home run on the article I have read and doesn't follow-through with new good ones, I simply unsubscribe. I also always try to follow them on Twitter, look at the people they have conversations with, follow them, etc.

        Even if I'm a thousand articles behind on my Google Reader, I don't panic. I read whatever catches my attention, and go with the flow. At some point, I mark everything as read and move on. If something is important enough, it will find me again, because I have set my personal awareness network that way. I'm doing my best in making my grain of rice as pertinent as possible for my own professional development needs.

        Technology only does a part of the filtering. This whole opt-in strategy is fine to do the first rough pass, but your real filter is in your head. Any learning is good learning. My advice: Don't let the hugeness and absurdity of the universe of information prevent you from at least trying.

        Filters can also be people. As you learn new stuff, you can always bounce off the information with a colleague you trust to get their view on it. That is something Liz explained about her relationship with Lisa during conferences, and I think that's a pretty decent practice.

        And What About the Outbound Information?


        So far, I have only exposed how I manage inbound information. That's great, because I can develop my own self, but what about my colleagues and friends? I find stuff daily that my colleagues should be interested in, yet I don't share everything with them. This is a tricky and sensitive subject, and here's why: opting-in is a personal choice. This means that I can't push too much information to my colleagues, I have to respect their choice. They might have other ways of developing their skills, and nagging by sending them links every day will not help them feel compelled to establish their own personal awareness network.

        And then ask yourself: Would you follow yourself? With the quantity of web artifacts you leave online, can you expect anyone to pay attention to every little detail? You also have to be a filter for your colleagues.

        One strategy is to accumulate resources just-in-case someone asks for it (I grabbed that one from Beth, who I did not know before and happened to be sitting right next to me). If you know that your boss will someday be interested in [insert topic here], then start tagging your links with his/her name, or a tag that is unique and makes sense. When the time comes and that he/she pops the question, send a link to the stuff you have tagged for that occasion. That will make you look smart ;-)


        So, what's your strategy to manage filter failure? Please share your ideas and experiences by commenting to this post!

        Thursday, February 4, 2010

        A Serendipitous Social Media Story.

        You know how we always think of the Internet as a web of facts that are interconnected to one another? Well, here's a story of random interconnected stuff that led me to step out of my comfort zone. Warning: This blog post jumps from one thing to the other a lot.

        About 2 months ago, I finally got rid of my dino-phone (circa 2007) to make a leap into 2009 and bought a Motorola Droid (I know, the Droid is SOOOOO 2009). I have been enjoying my new smartphone a lot since I got it. I don't usually play around with computers and social media, preferring to do productive stuff with them (I have a PS3 at home to play after all), but one silly thing I have been playing around with is Foursquare, a new location-based social application.

        I must admit that I don't really use Foursquare for anything serious, and definitely not to meet drinking buddies (although I would have enjoyed that back in my college days). I just like tagging my surroundings and racking up stats about my whereabouts. I aspire to become the Uber-Mayor of Newark, DE, but some local users are taking this way too seriously for me to be a contender...

        Since I don't know many local folks using Foursquare, I became friend with my various conference geeks. Foursquare has a feature to see where your friends have recently checked in, but I rarely pay any attention to it.

        On a Thursday night, finding myself slightly bored because my wife just left for Europe (she recruits international students to come learn English in Delaware), I took a look at my friends' list, just for fun. I noticed the following information next to Alec C's avatar:

        Alec C. @ Fogo De Chao

        ... which got me thinking. Alec C. is Alec Couros, a Professor of Education at the University of Regina who's social media expertise is so deep that he's making a living out of it. Alec was our keynote presenter at our last Summer Faculty Institute.

        Since my wife travels so much for her work, she racks up frequent flyer miles like crazy, so I accompanied her last September for one of her student fairs in Brazil. Brazilians are very big on fire-grilled beef, and they have all-you-can-eat restaurants called Churrascarias, where the meat comes to you until your belly explodes. Anyway, I went to Fogo De Chao in Sao Paulo, so I got even more curious. Could Alec be in Brazil?

        Then I clicked on his avatar and figured out he was at the Philadelphia's Fogo de Chao. So I direct messaged Alec on Twitter to understand why the heck he was in Philly and not freezing his butt in the Canadian Great Prairies.

        He told me he was in Philly to attend Educon starting on the Friday night. Having no idea what Educon was, I googled it and found out about it. It seemed like a decent education conference, but with a strong focus on K12. After a couple of back and forth messages on Twitter, Alec said he would keep me in touch of any social events so I could join him to catch up.

        Friday night arrived, and I left work pretty late. I saw that the opening panel discussion was streamed, and I didn't pay too much attention to it, but Twitter was on fire! Tweets tagged with #educon kept coming left, right, and center, so I guess I did know a lot of people attending this conference after all. I thought to myself: "Who's crazy enough to attend a conference that happens during a weekend anyway?"

        My Saturdays are always extremely lazy and unproductive. This one was not exception. I kept an uninterested eye on Twitter to see if Alec would send me a message about the plans for Saturday night. We finally figured out that Educon folks were to gather at a place called Rembrandt's in Philly at night, so I decided to just drive there for the evening, packing the bare essentials just in case I had to spend the night anywhere, since it was snowing and i would need to drive back pretty late (Philly is 45 minutes from my house on a clear day).

        So I drove to Philly to meet Alec, and ended up meeting a bunch of my friends on Twitter, bumping contact information and bouncing ideas about education and technology. At that point, I realized that even thought educon was K12-focused, the people there made the conference, and spending my Sunday there would not only be beneficial, but also fairly entertaining!

        So I made sure I could register with Chris Lehmann, the conference organizer and driving force behind the Science Leadership Academy, a kick-a** high school in Philly where students are actually motivated and learning real-life skills, and then checked in the Windsor Hotel to spend the night.

        The next morning, I showed up and registered for the conference's last day.

        So what's the lesson in all of this anyway?

        I think the lesson in this chain of events is that surprising stuff can happen now that we have a location-based layer over social media. Beyond only being aware a conference was happening somewhere, I now knew where it was, and could manage to get to it for some awesome spontaneous conferencing.

        The other lesson is that technology and real-life are now so interconnected that they are becoming harder and harder to decouple. Is that a good or a bad thing? I believe it is a good thing, since social media is opt-in all the way. Alec decided to share his location and to friend me, I made a conscious decision to have a look at Foursquare. It just seems to me that my serendipitous discovery potential has now gone up significantly, and expanded to the meatspace!

        And, of course, I found a use for Foursquare ;-)


        As a follow-up from Educon, I will blog at least twice after this post, so be sure to subscribe!

        Disclaimer and Copyright

        The ideas and opinions expressed on this blog are mine, and do not necessarely reflect my employer's point of view.

        Creative Commons License
        This work by Mathieu Plourde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.