Exploring Networks of Communities: July 6-24, 2009

Over-emphasis on the technology side?

Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by John Smith -
Number of replies: 12
I have a nagging feeling that we're too focused on the technology side... on finding one or more tools that will bring it all together.

It seems to me that we need to develop a language for describing and supporting all the communities in such a system with policies, attention, and even support for community leaders / facilitators.

Just a gut feeling.
In reply to John Smith

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Paul Stacey -
John:

Agree with you. There is a tendency to focus first on the technology. Just plunk the technology for the community down, make it available, and let people come. In general this doesn't work.

For networks of communities I do think its worth considering how support, procedures, and even activities can be shared across them. We'll be better off if we don't just talk about integration of platforms but integration of activities.

Paul
In reply to Paul Stacey

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Sue Wolff -
Exactly! And not just integration of activities, but looking at goals and needs of the organization alongside goals and needs of constituents. What binds both in terms of available resources?... Time on the part of faculty (and threat to sense of competence, getting all their work done), and money on the part of administration (to purchase and manage the activity, technology, and space). But I don't think many administrations realize that the most important resource doesn't have the largest price tag, but is more of a human capital expense. A well-fitting online community design and support for its facilitation should be a good return on investment; it just takes longer sometimes to show until the network effect kicks in.
In reply to Sue Wolff

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Mary Burgess -
Sue, your point about ROI got me thinking more about the issue of success criteria Paul raised earlier. Is the ROI something tangible? Ultimately I guess, since we are in the business of student learning, there must be some benefit to them if we build a network of communities for faculty for example, but I'm having a hard time getting that far with my thinking. My gut feeling is that faculty who become part of the communities will become better practioners as a result of the activities of the group, and that is better for students, but there must be some way of articulating that more explicitly...
In reply to Sue Wolff

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Deirdre Bonnycastle -
Integration with other institution tools is a frequent issue for IT- for example our university wants online tools that automatically connect to our student management system so profs don't have to worry about manually adding and deleting students every semester.
In reply to Paul Stacey

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Diego E. Leal Fonseca -
Hi there!

I'm finally coming back online.. I had to deal with a nasty cold (bad enough as to raise some N1H1 paranoia :D) and a broken laptop... But anyway...

I have the feeling that it depends on the purpose behind the idea of network of communities... From what I've seen, in your case (Paul) it has to do with sharing community practices (and maybe getting some kind of 'scale economy'?) and getting people from different communities in touch with each other.

Now, to my particular context, it has to do with information serendipity. I'll try to explain my point. Let's say that people in this seminar are very good managing information overload, and they do know how to get access to new, unexpected, interesting and relevant information.

Now it's clear that (at least in the Colombian scenario) most of our teachers don't have this ability. Maybe some of them are e-mail power users, and maybe others use the educational portal we have, or some existing community platform. Add to this the different online communities and services many of them use, and it becomes apparent there are a lot of useful information that is not visible, just because people are part of networks that don't necessarily overlap.

That was a huge issue with Ning until a couple of months ago. Many of us were part of way too many communities, and the info was too dispersed to be useful. In April they made possible to follow network activity from a single entry point (sort of a personal page), which makes things way easier...

in my view (and for our particular problem), if we could get the info many of our communities are generating in some system, and get some single sign-on solution for all of them, maybe there could be a chance to add value to current users, suggesting relevant information placed in networks/communities the user is not part of.

I'm still having a hard time trying to make sense of all this (so it could make no sense at all :D), but such a system should be 'transparent' enough as to suggest the info and then lead people to the places where interactions are taking place. This means that, in my view, such a system is not really 'another network/community', but a personal hub where I get new pointers to relevant information, generated elsewhere.

This means that maybe such a system would not really require a facilitator, because the community interaction goes unaffected. Think of it as you would think of Facebook, for example. In FB, people create groups and communities, but there's no one from FB in charge of helping people to 'enhance' their community experience (which, by contrast, happens in some way in Ning).

What I'm seeing is that the things I'm talking about could be tied (or not) to an initiative like LTC. If a 'network of communities' means a new space for interaction, there are some things worth exploring ,like John suggests. If interactions happen elsewhere, there are a different set of issues to discuss.

There's something else I'd like to point out. Even in our case (Colombia) there are different approaches for the same thing. As we'll see later in the seminar, there are another approach (related to higher education online communities) closer to the LTC experience than the one I'm talking about. I'd say I'm more concerned with personal access to information, in addition to the community issues.

Happily, this is intended to be an exploratory seminar :D, so it makes sense to realize that there are a lot of subtle differences in our approaches, which is normal because we're coming from different needs.

I'm sorry about this long post... I guess I took advantage of you all to clarify my ideas a little bit! :D
In reply to Diego E. Leal Fonseca

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Barbara Berry -
Hi Diego and Everyone,
I have gone back a few times to re-read and consider the ideas on the emphasis of technology thread. It's complex.

You are reminding us of important elements that I believe we need to come back to if we are to deepen our exploration of meta communities and meta networks:
  • context
  • "space for interaction"
  • system
  • "personal hub"
  • activities
  • requirements
I am not sure that the "movement" of networked online learning communities is ready for a meta solution by way of technology infrastructure, systems, policies and standards. Are we at risk of formalizing, organizing, institutionalizing and problematizing learning networks and thus diminishing the "strength of the weak ties", the power of informal learning, the values of autonomy and collective empowerment among other things?

I have found an interesting article (attached) called "Realizing Wisdom Theory in Complex Learning Networks" by Ayse Kok of the UK. How does this inform our conversation about technologies?

cheers to all,
Barb
In reply to John Smith

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Peter Rawsthorne -
I agree, at this time I believe there is way to much talk in general about the technology or platform facilitating community. Over the last four years I have worked on the building of a number of communities (learning and otherwise) and every time the platform discussion comes up. I have come to the conclusion that the "Internet is the platform", tying a community (other that tagging) to any particular platform misses the point of community. IMHO community is about honoring everyone and their approaches, and once you decide on a specific platform (drupal, webct, WPMu, Moodle, ning, yahoo groups, wiki, blackboard, etc... many technologies here) you restrain the community from expressing itself. And how many times have I seen a key community member creating some other useful community node in a new or different technology. I used to get frustrated by this, you know, why didn't they just use the agreed upon platform! Well the platform obviously didn't meet their needs and they went a built somethig new, very relevant and useful somewhere else... So, once we decide the "Internet is the platform" then we will stop talking platform and we can get on with how to facilitate communities using the internet and its woderful set of integrated technologies.... sorry for the rant, but I think I made my point.

So this now goes back to the use of tagging. The use of tagging or the creation of a folkonomy within the community will tie it all together. We have done this with some success with our open gov't initiative on Bowen Island.
With the use of tagging we can get complete coverage of the community without being tied to any particular platform. Ahhh... the semantic web really is the 3.0...

Thanks for letting me lurk on this discussion. You chose a topic I am passionate about so I just had to speak up. I am also co-authoring a book chapter on this topic, funnily enough it is a very technical chapter... Collaborative Book: Internet is the platform.

Thanks for your time,

Peter

In reply to Peter Rawsthorne

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Jay Conk -
Hi, yep here we go web 3.0. The platform exists. I will deal with anyone outside this forum to discuss; although Peter is putting you on the right track. Where are all experts from education been???? Pointing you in different direction I'm sure. And honestly, most educators resisted this type of integration, IMHO, and from my experience, bitterly resisted it. Rabbit hole, after rabbit hole.

I have an MA id DL, strong background in education, digital technolgy. Not a good mix, I thought it was, but not in these realms. I proposed a system a few year ago to a vancouver island, have-not district, that would eventually allow educators to 'forget about the platform' not ignore it, save money, open doors for partnerships, increase their bandwidth potentials etc, etc, etc -- spent 8 months of my own time on it, got sponsors (big ones)-- not a cent for me, and it got the gov and died with no explanation. In keeping brief there are details, but the result is the result, I was left to hang out dry, which was fine, nothing new in these realms. I just wanted to finally see someone take real action, and produce a human communication platform -- I called it Community Area Networks I believe, would have look back.

Your leaders must have solid plan, if not oust them as they are just collecting public monies from the coffers for no justifiable reason; which are always bare in education apparently, yet that group wastes more time, money than I care to discuss. It is infuriating, and what caused me to abandon my passion of DL, formally, for the last two years. Learning, from my experience, has always taking a second seat to personal and political agenda. Let go of your ego, get educated, and demand more. The words are finally becoming tiresome for most and it actually cost less.

Kind regards to all. My plan is to rally people together here on Vancouver Island and start making our government and school districts accountable for their lack of action, and adhoc planning, especially when it comes to anything involving a computer. Should be fun.

JB
In reply to Jay Conk

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Jeffry Curtis -
I have not participated recently for a variety of reasons, but have lurked at various discussion topics for the past several months.

Jay's title jerked me out of my digital morass and has forced me to comment through the detritus of several failed (or failing) digital communities I have participated in. My opinion is that one cannot expect to force digital communities to be functional. There are too many folks that do not understand the possible power of these communities and fail to participate because of that lack of understanding. In a perverse inverse of "economies of scale", there often aren't enough participants to make make-it-happen.

Case in point. I belong to a digital community of over 50,000 talented, well educated individuals. A few months back, while considering another, less viable community, I asked the administrators (of the large group) what the participation-to-lurk rate was (thinking in the back of my mind 2% to 5%). Their reply was 2%-4%. Fully 96% to 98% never did participate; other than to read, i.e. the "hits" were there, but no other participation was.

This is a developing world community, not everybody is digital; even in so called 'developed' nations. For those of us comfortable with the technology sharing and participating is simple; for those not comfortable it is not. Our expectations and outcomes, those that participate, vary immensely from those who do not, will not, don't want to, see no value in, (insert another reason) this type of community building.

Jay, I feel your pain! Working to build a community and having it fail...I have miles of digital trails littered with attempts to build. It will come; it will happen. It must. But the people must want it. Not just us.

Thank you for you thoughtful post, keep up the good fight.

Kind regards,

Jeff Curtis ... across the water in Bellingham
In reply to Peter Rawsthorne

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by E.A. Draffan -
I have been lurking as well and it has been very interesting to read about the issues concerning which platform or what technologies to use. From my field of expertise in accessibility and assistive technology - it would be wonderful if one could think of it as a car and make personal choices that suit user preferences but the outcomes are that one travels along the same road smile
In reply to John Smith

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by Sylvia Currie -
I took the liberty of moving this discussion thread to a top level. There are many interesting issues emerging and I want to make sure it gets the attention it deserves!

I just listened to Stephen Downe's presentation: "Communities and Networks". delivered to VII seminari especialitzat en gestia del coneixement, Barcelona, online via Sclipo. The slides are also available on slideshare. In this presentation Stephen talks about the internet as the platform, as Peter introduced to the discussion yesterday. He also used the term dynamic CoPs, emphasizing that everything doesn't need to be brought to the centre.

Interesting ideas! I think many of our communities are expanding beyond the boundaries of a central platform, and we've certainly all experienced members being constrained by specific tools, and introducing new solutions.

And now we're talking about forming networks of communities. Whew!

I keep jumping back to John's original observation: "...we need to develop a language for describing and supporting all the communities in such a system with policies, attention, and even support for community leaders / facilitators."


In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Over-emphasis on the technology side?

by E.A. Draffan -
I could not agree more - how do we deal with the issue where for example - the main threads of a forum are on Blackboard but because they are so badly laid out and subject lines are poor, the students use the forum as a pseudo communication platform knowing they are marked on their performance? So there is much cutting and pasting or retyping when the actual discussions are happening on Facebook, MSN and Skype because they are so much easier to use and can cope with a synchronous discussion. Just one example of many platforms being used between a project group to negotiate an outcome on one organisation's VLE that can then be assessed!