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!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
Monday afternoon: while I’m in a chat session on one screen, I watch my finance twitter list on the other screen. The tweets about Europe are rather apocalyptic, like this one by the investment banker Dan Alpert:
Developed econs sinking on oceans of easy money. Dragged down by debt overhang, austerianism and excess global supply of labor and capacity.
It reminds me of cyberpunk – a sci-fi genre which combines hightech with low life – the collapse of the social order as we know it. The story is in the near-future, or even in the here and now – but told in such a way that it seems like the future. After all, the famous movie Blade Runner is situated in Los Angeles, 2019:
We are mostly very positive about technology because it seems to empower us as individuals. From mainframes we went to personal computers, from desktops to laptops and now to smartphones and maybe even more transparent wearable devices. Those devices provide us with enormous computing power because they are part of a worldwide network of very powerful computers.
‘A new Renaissance’ it is often said, and once again the individual is in the center. But then again, that same individual can abuse this new power for mass destruction. There will always be groups of young males – ambitious terrorists so often seem to be both young and male – who feel their purpose on earth is to provoke mass destruction and generalized mayhem.
Well, it seems that they have increasingly the means to do so – a rather unintended consequence of this empowerment of the individual.
On the other side we have the authorities, linked with corporations which are useful for their needs. Splunk had an impressive IPO. The company collects and analyzes massive amounts of data. In this Big Data industry we also find a company such as Cloudera, and one of the investors is In-Q-Tel – which was created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the Intelligence Community and new advances in commercial technology.
Big Data often means running software on hundreds and even thousands of servers, looking for patterns and visualizing economic and financial trends, but also possible criminal and terrorist threats or the outbreak of infective diseases.
The financial crisis is, in a way, a data crisis – money after all travels as bits and bytes. But other layers of the massively increasing data traffic are potentially about life and death of world cities. Big Data and the dystopia of cyberpunk are not that far apart.
Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in het human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…
To be precise, it’s not necessarily Gibson who says this. It’s a voice-over in the device the protagonist is using, calling it “kid’s show”.
For those who never read any of Gibson’s books, do not fear, he explains some of his key ideas in the last chapter, such as the ‘cybernetic organism’:
There’s my cybernetic organism: the Internet. If you accept that “physical” isn’t only the things we can touch, it’s the largest man-made object on the planet, or will be, soon: It’s outstripping the telephone system, or ingesting it, as I speak. And we who participate in it are physically part of it. The Borg we are becoming.’
The interface evolves toward transparency, so he explains. The one you have to devote the least conscious effort to, survives.
So the sci-fi cyborg with brain inserts and bolts in the neck already looks slightly quaint. It’s a kind of steampunk version of what actually develops. Even Vannevar Bush, the author of the 1945 article As We May Think in The Atlantic Monthly, did not see this coming: that we would create libraries in common by linking up what Bush called “memex” and what we called later on “personal computer”.
The real cyborg is a global organism and it’s so invasive that the bolts in the neck look medieval.
The real-deal cyborg will be deeper and more subtle and exist increasingly at the particle level, in a humanity where unaugmented reality will eventually be a hypothetical construct, something we can only try, with great difficulty, to imagine – as we might try, today, to imagine a world without electronic media.
Which reminds me of the other book I’ve been reading, Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation by Beth Coleman, in which she explains her notion of “pervasive computing”:
(…) I use the term pervasive media to describe a global culture that engages a spectrum of networked technologies. I am speaking of technical affordances of platforms such as virtual worlds, voice-over-Internet protocol, mobile rich-media and texting, and microblogging formats such as Twitter.
She goes on mentioning YouTube, Facebook and blogs. Her assessment is that networked media, as a whole, simulates presence.
If a medium has a message, as McLuhan famously pronounced, then the message of the increasingly real-time, visual and locative media we engage is: “I am here”‘
She is not saying that a lived, bodily experience is the same as our experience of being filtered through an avatar (who are not just virtual world phenomena, but “our networked proxies”). Coleman is arguing for recognition of porous spheres of engagement that meet across a continuum of the actual.
And here is what Gibson says when he discusses the meaning of “the physical”:
The physical union of human and machine, long dreaded and long anticipated, has been an accomplished fact for decades, though we tend not to see it. We tend not to see it because we are it, and because we still employ Newtonian paradigms that tell us that “physical” has only to do with what we can see, or touch. Which of course is not the case. The electrons streaming into a child’s eye from the screen of the wooden television (RL: he refers to television sets of the fifties) are as physical as anything else. As physical as the neurons subsequently moving along that child’s optic nerves. As physical as the structures and chemicals those neurons will encounter in the human brain. We are implicit, here, all of us, in a vast physical construct of artificially linked nervous systems. Invisible. We cannot touch it.
Watch Gibson reading from his new book:
Now let’s switch to co-presence in yet another sci-fi masterpiece, Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge.. One of the most fascinating appearances in this book is the Rabbit, a person (or an AI entity) taking part in a conversation in Barcelona in the form of a rabbit. Others can see him – as a rabbit – and he (she?) can look around. Also featuring in this quote is effortless instant messaging:
The rabbit sipped its tea. Its gaze slid in a very un-rabbity way to take in the noisy crowds that swept past the tables, to
scan the costumes and body-plans of tourists and locals. “Ah, is it that Barcelona is a place for the beautiful and the
bizarre, one of the few great cities of the twentieth century whose charm survives in the modern world? (…) ” He stared at Braun and at Keiko Mitsuri. Mitsuri was frankly masked. She looked a bit like Marcel Duchamp’s
nude, built from a shifting complex of crystal planes. The rabbit shrugged, “But then again, maybe you two are
thousands of kilometers away.”
Keiko laughed. “Oh, don’t be so indecisive,” she said, speaking with a completely synthetic accent and syntax. “I’m quite
happy to be in Parc Güell right now, feeling reality with my very own real hands.”
Mitsuri –> Braun, Vaz: In fact, I’m in my office, admiring the moonlight on Tokyo bay.
The rabbit continued, ignorant of the silent messaging byplay: “Whatever. In any case, the real reasons for meeting
here: Barcelona has very direct connections to wherever you’re really from, and modern security to disguise what we
say. Best of all, it has laws banning popular and police snooping … unless of course you are the EU Intelligence Board.”
Mitsuri –> Braun, Vaz: Well, that’s one third of a correct guess.
Braun –> Mitsuri, Vaz: Mr. Rabbit himself is calling from some distance. An EU real-time estimate hung in the
air above the little creature’s head: 75 percent probability that the mind behind the rabbit image was in North America.
Now connect this with a non-fiction setting, the GigaOM Roadmap conference. Om Malik reports on GigaOm:
Mathew Ingram. The thread I was most interested in that came out of RoadMap was what Jack Dorsey called “the arc where technology meets humanness.” The Twitter and Square founder talked about using technology to help us connect more with what makes us human, Tony Fadell of Nest talked about making devices that respond more intuitively, and Mark Rolston from frog design was really passionate about getting the computer out of the way, to the point where we barely even realize there is a computer at all. Put together, all those make for a very powerful message that I wish more technology companies would pay attention to.
Understanding what is distinctive about human reason thus involves understanding the complementary contributions of both biology and (broadly speaking) technology, as well as the dense, reciprocal patterns of causal and co-evolutionary influence that run between them. We cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as nature’s very own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space radically different from those of our biological forbears. The hard task, of course, is now to transform all this from (mere) impressionistic sketch into a balanced scientific account of the extended mind.
So the computer becoming human-like is not something external, which happens “out there” and involves just one of the many tools we humans use. It actually is another evolution of our extended mind, our becoming increasingly cyborg-like.
Of course, we generally don’t like being assimilated by the Borg. But then again, this is not what seems to be happening. The connectedness of our extended minds does not lead to an organism which obeys one set of rules and follows one single common belief system. As one of the participants at a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) said on Twitter, MOOCs are communities with smaller communities within. We do connect beyond geographical limitations of course, and it seems we respond to affinities. Beth Coleman in Hello Avatar:
The Pew Internet study tells us that affinity groups are thriving, but the connections are configured along new lines that often defy the demarcation of territory or blood. We find the dissolution of traditional frames of community and society, even as we relocate ourselves across networks of affiliation. The critical aspect to grasp is the value of networked engagement in moving toward a better understanding of society in the twenty-first century.
Fandom culture is a very interesting topic to study in order to understand this “networked engagement”. I’m reading Fandom Unbound now (see my previous post) and Lawrence Eng, in his contribution about Anime and Manga Fandom as Networked Culture, explains about radical fandom (“otaku” in Japanese):
Contrary to the stereotypical image of the otaku as socially isolated, anime fan communities are highly social and networked, relying on a combination of online and offline connections.
Just consider the possibility of amplifying the concept of “otaku” to the curation practices we talks so much about these days, and one can easily understand these studies are relevant for web culture as a whole, while web culture studies are not just about “the web”, but about where humanity is going.
Professor Henry Jenkins published the second part of his interview with his colleague Beth Coleman about avatars and the x-reality (the thing we live in when we constantly switch back and forth from digital space to what we used to call the ‘real world’). I also read Coleman’s book Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation.
About everything in the interviews and the book is very important to me (also have a look at my Storify of the interview). It’s a deep meditation about the power of co-presence in participatory culture:
Telepresence, or what I am calling copresence (the sense of being present with someone via mediation), is huge for participatory culture. We are moving unerringly toward a more graphic and increasingly real-time mediation. One of the things I underscore in the book is the idea that people in their everyday engagement of networked media create all kinds of innovation and intervention.
Beth Coleman puts all the stuff I care about in a very rich context of the history of gaming, virtuality, but also of cultural studies and philosophy (yes, even the French philosopher Jacques Derrida is mentioned as is the French thinker Jean Baudrillard).
I was just recovering from the book and the tremendous interview when I noticed that Jenkins posted yet another fascinating post, about Otaku culture:
(…) the culture of a technologically literate segment of the population which is characterized by their impassioned engagement, skilled reworking, and intellectual mastery over elements borrowed from many aspects of popular culture, including not only anime and manga, but also games, popular music, digital culture, even history or trains.
Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the Web. There is something profoundly postnational about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the postmodern world, whether we want to be or not.
Jenkins now reports the publication of Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, edited by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji, and bringing together works by leading Japanese and western researchers interested in Otaku culture as both a national and transnational phenomenon.
I’ve the impression many people who are knowledgeable in all kinds of web and mobile technologies often are no longer aware of the culture and literature of ‘cyberspace’ – which is a shame, as I think it’s crucial for creativity to combine technical expertise with in-depth knowledge of the humanities (literature, philosophy, sociology, anthropology…) as it relates to the disruptive change toward a networked society. Not just creativity in the sense of inventing yet another location-based social network, but the kind of creativity which gave us the iPhone and the iPad.
Anyway, here is a nice video about Otaku which you can also find on Aca-Fan, Jenkins’ site:
Over at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour people seem to have a really great time. I’m just lurking at their P2PU site, but go there too and have a look at pictures about the game EVE Online which is a a player-driven, persistent-world Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) set in a science fiction space setting.
Interesting stuff I noted: the MOOC uses Google+ for orientations in Second Life and MMORPGs. Google+ is also being used by the community of co-learners around Howard Rheingold and even though there are limitations (one cannot participate in a Hangout with more than 10 people), it’s really a very interesting collaboration platform, enabling audio, video, screen-sharing, text chat… for free.
Read also: Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)