Think-Know tools in a Webbrain…

There is this idea that Facebook is just for entertainment, friends and family contacts. Robert Scoble already demonstrated that in fact Facebook can be used to create great lists, even more so than Twitter. Of course you can find interesting groups about any subject on Facebook, or follow media. I am aware of the privacy discussions and I don’t want to suggest Facebook is the ideal network, far from it. But it’s like a huge city, and while one can object to the policies of the city, huge cities remain places for innovation and creativity.

Anyway, what I really wanted to tell: Howard Rheingold shared via Facebook a Webbrain-version of his upcoming course Think-Know Tools.

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Build your own course

I’m looking at Course Builder – as it is explained on https://code.google.com/p/course-builder/ it packages the software and technology used to build the Power Searching with Google online course.

The guys at Google say:

We hope you will use it to create your own online courses, whether they’re for 10 students or 100,000 students. You might want to create anything from an entire high school or university offering to a short how-to course on your favorite topic.

Some familiarity with html and JavaScript is needed, but it seems the wiki is very informative and well-structured.

I plan to give it a try and include my experiences in the peeragogy.org handbook.

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Think-Know Tools with Howard Rheingold

I’m pretty excited to learn that Howard Rheingold is offering a new course. I participated in his earlier courses about Introduction to Mind Amplifiers and Toward a Literacy of Cooperation, and of course there is the ongoing Peeragogy Handbook project.

The new course runs for six weeks using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, concept maps, Personal Brain,  and synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

More about the course:

Think-know Tools dives into both the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management. Now that we have access to powerful mind-amplifying devices and self-evolving collective intelligence networks, we can benefit ourselves and improve the commons by learning how knowledge technologies work and how to work them:

Modules on Roots & Visions of Augmentation and The Extended Mind establish a basis for understanding and discussing both the origin and future of tools specifically devised to magnify thinking capabilities and group problem-solving capacity.
Modules on Social Bookmarking, Concept Mapping, and Personal Knowledge Management introduce tools and practices for finding, storing, refining, sharing, exploring knowledge.
Learning activities include group bookmarking as focused collective intelligence, concept map-making for understanding systems, construction of knowledge-plexes with Personal Brain.

I do like mindmapping (I use MindMeister) but I’m not familiar with Personal Brain, which seems to be very promising (‘it may be the closest thing to an extra brain’, PCWorld says). We’ll also use Cmap for concept maps and VUE, which I guess is a ‘a flexible visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information.’ Other crucial tools are about social bookmarks (Delicious, Diigo…).

However, Howard does not limit the course to some practical tools, but we’ll discuss the first visionaries who initiated the creation of intellect-augmenting technologies (think Engelbart, Licklider, Bush… see also the New Media Reader book) and we’ll look at mind-amplification in a broader and future-looking context.

This course is not free. In contrast to courses at Coursera and Udacity for instance, this kind of course has a limited number of participants, and there’s a lot of direct interaction with the facilitator (Howard). More information about the course (which runs from October 17 till November 30) can be found at the social media classroom.

Here you see Howard during a Massive Open Online Course-session, talking about Net Smart:

Howard Rheingold on 'Net Smart' for Change11 MOOC

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3D printing changes the world

These last few days I read some articles about 3D printing in major mainstream publications. Talking about ‘mixed realities’, 3D printing fascinates me as it seems to make it so easy to translate digital constructs into physical ones, or physical ones (through scanning) into digital ones and than back into physical ones.

Izabella Kaminska at FT.com/alphaville points out that in the future manufacturing will be relocated to the demand or resource point. She concludes her post about the ‘3D printing: rise of the machines‘:

Low-cost production techniques could soon become so advanced and so low cost — thanks to developments like 3D printing — that even the tiniest salaries in Africa will not make it worthwhile to employ human beings at all.

Kaminska also posted about ‘how technology is killing the Asian growth miracle‘:

We’ve noted on more than one occasion that economists may be missing a trick when it comes to how technology is changing the global economy. More so, that developments like 3D printing, could even pose a black-swan risk for Asia in their own right.

Read also Vivek Wadhwa in Foreign Policy, who claims that the future of manufacturing is in America, not China – 3D printing being one of the driving forces for this to happen.

At The Economist, the Babbage column says that 3D printing could very well become the PC all over again:

WHAT could well be the next great technological disruption is fermenting away, out of sight, in small workshops, college labs, garages and basements. Tinkerers with machines that turn binary digits into molecules are pioneering a whole new way of making things—one that could well rewrite the rules of manufacturing in much the same way as the PC trashed the traditional world of computing.

But the column warns these tinkerers, quoting Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at Public Knowledge (advocacy group in Washington, DC):

There will be a time when impacted legacy industries [will] demand some sort of DMCA for 3D printing,” says Mr Weinberg. If the tinkerers wait until that day, it will be too late.

One of the issue to consider is what role virtual environments can play in facilitating 3D-printing and international collaboration in that sector. I’m sure that will be one of the topics at the upcoming MetaMeets conference in the Netherlands.

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We’re back, with learnstreaming!

I recently discovered the blog Learnstreaming where Dennis Callahan demonstrates the practice of learning based lifestreaming.

I find this really interesting as I learn quite a few things these days: I’m still working on the peeragogy.org handbook, I participate on forums at The WELL and brainstorms.rheingold.com, not to mention my Google+, Facebook and Twitter-activities. Oh yes, there are also my social bookmarks at Diigo and Delicious. And of course I learn a lot in my newsroom, experimenting with new media and participating in our newspaper community.

I could also mention Tumblr and Quora, and many other services (some of which I might have forgotten about).

A lot of those services can be considered as part of my personal learning network. I’ve been wondering how to stream at least part of the learning which is going on there. I considered platforms such as Tumblr or Posterous, Google+ and Facebook. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I think I prefer good old WordPress.

I somehow trust WordPress more than some commercial company which will inevitably merge, disappear or change essential policies in function of considerations which are not necessarily in the interest of its users. I also want to avoid walled gardens – in fact, I want to publish some of my thoughts and experiences which I discussed previously behind closed virtual doors.

Just to warn you that this blog will become far more active. I’ll post about online education, the interaction between digital and physical environments, games (more specifically gamification and serious games), near-future science fiction and other crazy stuff. Watch this space!

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Cloud Party needs a party and some fun games

There is a new kid in the town of the virtual environments: Cloud Party. I visited the place regularly since Wagner James Au posted about it a few weeks ago on New World Notes. He explains:

Cloud Party is a new 3D virtual world on Facebook now in open Beta that’s described as “a world built by people like you”. It just apparently went online, so I’ve only explored a few minutes, but as you can see above, it’s got the look and feel of Second Life circa 2003. That’s no surprise, because Second Life co-founder Cory Ondrejka (who’s now with Facebook), and Cryptic Studio’s ex-CTO Bruce Rogers, who founded a startup called Walletin with Cory before also joining Facebook with Ondrejka, are investors and advisors to Cloud Party.

There’s a wiki with tutorials for residents and builders. People are building pretty awesome stuff:

a view on a cloud party world

The world of Lilli Thompson at Cloud Party

I enter the new environment on a daily basis as it fascinates me. I can do this in our newsroom, the firewall does not prevent me from entering Cloud Party, it is effortless as it’s just using an url. There seem to be always some people at the Beginner Zone, where avid builders experiment continuously. It’s exciting to watch, as it looks like the beginning of a kind of new Second Life. I visited the forums, one of them is called “What lessons from other virtual worlds do you want Cloud Party Inc. to know about?”

I did have some lessons in mind, but I refrained from posting them there as they are not really very constructive. However, I did react on a post by Wagner James Au on the New World Notes, about SL artists like Aristide Depres creating interactive experiences in Cloud Party. This was my reaction:

It’s fascinating and yes, the fact that it could eventually interest some Facebook-users is great, as is the fact that no downloads are needed.

However, I guess I’m still a bit traumatized by the Blue Mars experience, the Lively-failure and the Metaplace shut-down.

As it happens, many of the users of Blue Mars and Metaplace were already part of the unfortunately smallish group of people who are interested in open-ended, user-generated virtual environments.

Often they belonged to the even smaller group of ‘builders’ in those environments.

However, at the end someone asks tough questions about ROI and things like that, and projects which only gain traction among some hundreds of participants are not very likely to be interesting business-wise.

So, visiting Cloud Party and counting there about twenty to thirty people, I have my doubts, even though the project is still very young. Of course, I do hope I’m wrong and that the project will succeed.

So my first reaction was rather hesitant, but I’ve to confess I’m going more often to Cloud Party these days than to other virtual worlds such as Second Life. I had some interesting in-world discussions (which continued via Facebook), helping me to reflect about my stance regarding virtual worlds.
I’m still fascinated by this stuff, but no longer convinced it’s the cutting edge of the web or the internet, and not convinced at all it’ll gain much traction – which explains why my blogging about virtual worlds has slowed down considerably.

What really interests me is how virtual stuff can find its way to the physical world (via 3D printing or augmented reality-style mobile apps for instance). These days it’s all about local, mobile and social. While these open-ended environments are very social (but not necessarily involving the people you do know already in the physical world), as yet they are neither local nor mobile.

There is somehow a link between Cloud Party and the physical world because participants are linked through Facebook and their ‘real identities’, but what lacks is a reason for non-building and non-scripting people (let’s say the overwhelming majority of mankind and the people on Facebook) to give it a try. I guess that the people launching these worlds are software wizards, and they tend to sympathize with other coding and building enthusiasts, which is all right of course – as long as they don’t forget most people don’t consider building or coding as party-time. I remember statistics about Second Life, showing that a majority of residents are socializers rather than builders, and Cloud Party urgently needs something to attract those socializers – by organizing events maybe (no, I did not mean a workshop about Blender, Maya or 3Ds Max), or by promoting some simple but cleverly designed game. Maybe, at the very least, they should introduce some more gamification elements to incite people to learn how to build and script.

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Help us write the Peeragogy Handbook!

Suppose you want to learn everything about medieval sword-fighting. Or about Python programming in some specific context. Or about alternative currencies – maybe there’s nobody to join or help you in your town or village, but somewhere on the web there’ll be others who want to collaborate in your learning-effort.

We call this peer2peer learning, and just as we have pedagogy (how to teach children) and androgogy (how to teach adults) we have peeragogy (how to teach each other). The word has been coined by Howard Rheingold, who also gave us the expression “virtual community”.

Howard also facilitates the project “The Peeragogy Handbook”. A few dozen people contribute in this project and it’s a pretty amazing experience. Most of us never met each other, and yet, from all over the world, people discuss in our forum, contribute on wikis and  social bookmark services, meet up during synchronous sessions and post on a WordPress-blog.

The link to the handbook is http://www.peeragogy.org. Be warned: this project is very much in beta. As it is explained in the introduction:

(…) you want to learn how to fix a pipe, solve a partial differential equation, write software, you are seconds away from know-how via YouTube, Wikipedia and search engines. Access to technology and access to knowledge, however, isn’t enough. Learning is a social, active, and ongoing process. What would a motivated group of self-learners need to know to agree on a subject or skill, find and qualify the best learning resources about that topic, select and use appropriate communication media to co-learn it? Beyond technology, what do they need to know about learning and putting learning programs together? What does a group of people need to know to use today’s digital resources to co-learn a subject? This handbook is intended to answer that last question and provide a toolbox for co-learners.

Do you want to contribute? You’re very welcome to do so! We need people to write and edit articles, to help out with the technicalities of WordPress or to give feedback. On the wiki you find a project description and also how to contribute. New
contributors can use this guide:
http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/peeragogy/wiki/for-newcomers-peeragogy-project-how-get-started. You can comment on the draft by asking to join
http://groups.diigo.com/group/peering-into-peeragogy.

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The WELL interviews Howard Rheingold, and maybe you should join us

There is a fascinating discussion going on at The WELL, where Howard Rheingold is being interviewed by community members about this book Net Smart.

The discussion is wide-ranging. Howard provides plenty of links to useful resources about crap detection, journalism, education, and all things helping people to thrive online. The interview goes beyond the “howto” stuff (as does the book), and interviewers also ask Howard about the vision of early internet pioneers, whether or not some of these not yet fulfilled visions are being realized now, and about the internet as an augmentation of our capabilities. There are even stories about Gorbachev at a time long before he came to power.

The WELL is one of the oldest web communities. Wikipedia:

The WELL was started by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant in 1985, and the name is partially a reference to some of Brand’s earlier projects, including the Whole Earth Catalog.

One can read the discussion for free. I’m a member, and I find the conferences (discussion forums) most compelling – I can be found most often at the conference about virtual communities (in the broad sense of a discussion of the social consequences of online communities and networks) – and in that conference I try to contribute regularly to the topic about digital culture. The WELL is not free and members use their real names. There is an intimacy which is very special. Even though this is a text-based, asynchronous forum, I experience a certain co-presence which matters a lot to me. Anyhow, if you decide to give it a try, give me a shout!

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Playing around with Spreecast

I’m testing Spreecast, a service which allows you to run a videoshow, to invite people, to get reactions in text chat and to embed the whole thing wherever you like. Robert Scoble published an interview with co-founder Jeff Fluhr:

I’m a strong believer in synchronous communication and the co-presence it enables – whether one uses virtual environments, text chat modules, videoconferencing (such as Blackboard Collaborate or Google Hangout) or hybrid forms (video plus text chat, video plus video by guests plus chat text, podcasts with a live session).

So here I’ll embed my brandnew Spreecast-channel – and watching it myself I realize I should have looked more into the camera (and should have used a better headset) – but hey, it’s a learning experience!:

Just wondering how they will eventually monetize this – all of the video is being recorded now for free. I can imagine all kinds of ad-driven models, but then again I remember how Seesmic tried a video-chat format some years ago – and failed. Maybe we are further in the internet evolution now, with more and better connections… But then again, it’s also a matter of cultural acceptance: people tend to be shy on camera, IT-departments don’t think it’s necessary for people to have full audio and video capabilities for office computers or even have firewalls in place to prevent this kind of communication.

However, I can imagine Spreecast succeeding in the media sector – it’s an affordable way to organize talking-head kind of formats, and the audience can react using text, they don’t need to use their cameras. But just suppose it’s a success – what prevents Google from tweaking its Hangout service so that is offers the same features (recording, embedding etc)? One needs to be brave to be an entrepreneur in this industry…

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MOOCs and their differences

I started the Computer Sciences 101 course taught by professor Nick Parlante (Stanford University) as a massive open online course (MOOC) on the Coursera platform. Nick says there are not enough people on this planet with computer skills, so he hopes that this introductory course will incite some of us to deepen their knowledge and skills.

During 6 weeks we’ll do small coding experiments in the browser (using JavaScript) to play with the nature of computers, “understanding their strengths and limitations.”

My impression is that the course is cleverly designed. The lecture videos are broken into small chunks, sometimes containing quiz questions. There are also standalone quizzes and programming assignments.

The participants meet each other in discussion forums. There are discussions about the format (which seems to be much appreciated – even though some complained this first week was too basic), the assignments, introductions… Students also organize themselves in an impressive variety of study groups along national or language lines.

Coursera provides the platform for the course – it’s a “social entrepreneurship company” that partners with top universities to offer courses online for free. In fact, Coursera has been created by Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng.

We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundres of thousands of students.

Coursera offers courses in a wide range of topics – not only programming and science but also the humanities. Right now they work with Princeton, Stanford, Michigan and Penn.

It’s interesting to experience the differences with other MOOCs such as the connectivism courses facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. In my experience those courses are more distributed – they take place on various platforms even though the blogposts, discussions, social bookmarks and synchronous sessions are being aggregated on a site and a newsletter. They also seem to be more open-ended, every participant picks the stuff she is particularly interested in and connects with people in function of her own objectives and interests. Stephen Downes was interviewed about MOOCs by the independent journalist Kevin Charles Redmon and gives an interesting overview of the MOOC-history and the success massive open courses seem to have today.

The MOOCs organized by Downes and Siemens leave it to the student to define what counts as success. This does not mean that Stephen is not interested in assessment. He explains what the two basic approaches are:

The first is the Big Data approach – instead of using a few dozen data points, which is what the testing regimen does, you track a student’s activities and construct a profile from the full spectrum of his interactions with the material and other learners. This is the work of a field called ‘Learning Analytics’ (which should be ‘discovered’ by the Stanford-MIT nexus any time now). The second, which is my own approach, is a network clustering approach – the idea is that in a network of interactions in a community, expertise constitutes a ‘cluster’ of activity, and a person’s learning can be assessed as a form of proximity to that cluster. The Learning Analytics and Network Analysis approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately it’s about empowerment:

It’s about actually empowering people to develop and create their own learning, their own education. So not only do they not depend on us for learning, but also, their learning is not subject to our value-judgements and prejudices. We (those of working in MOOCs) have also been clear about the influences of people like Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire. And it’s not just about ‘flipping’ courses. It’s about reducing and eventually eliminating the learned dependence on the expert and the elite – not as a celebration of anti-intellectualism, but as a result of widespread and equitable access to expertise.

None of this happens by magic. There isn’t some ‘invisible hand’ creating a fair and equitable education marketplace. The system needs to be built with an understanding that personal empowerment and community networks are the goal and objective.

It could very well be that participants at the Udacity and Coursera-courses discover this along the road. That some of them will return – even after having completed the program – to help out others. This will be more like a process of self-discovery – I’m sure that right now people participating at the CS101 course just want to learn about computers. But maybe they’ll end up realizing it’s actually about teaching yourself and the others.

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