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.

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.