Full circle conversations

I had to explain to journalism students how to use social media (I only had one hour!). Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe the first stage is organizing your thoughts and listening. After that participate actively in conversations but don’t just broadcast your messages. So the sequence could be like this:

  • Organise your thoughts using mindmapping. There are lots of tools, I like to use MindMeister. The added benefit is that, in a later stage, you can turn your mindmap into a collaborative map, asking others to help you. There are free alternatives for online mindmapping but they won’t all allow for collaborative mindmapping.
  •  Head over to social media such as Twitter and Facebook to listen. Organize relevant people in Twitter lists, search for hashtags. Other interesting places for in-depth discussions are Reddit and Quora, and for each subject you’ll find specialized forums.
  • Use a good dashboard such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to keep stuff organized.
  • I still use RSS-feeds and RSS-readers, in my case that’s Feedly.
  • Make your own procedure for hunting and gathering important content. You can stock posts into Feedly and in social bookmark services such as Diigo. I use Diigo a lot, it makes it easy to use tags, descriptions and to work in groups.
  • Have your own blog, but don’t underestimate the technical hassle. An easy solution might be Tumblr or Medium. Or you could go for a fully hosted WordPress or Drupal solution.
  • Of course you also need social media to talk about your blog posts and to discuss with others. Don’t hesitate giving others credit for their posts and contributions and engage in real conversations, not in thin excuses to promote yourself.
  • This is where the circle closes itself: you return to the social media to tell people about your post and to reconnect. You can use the feedback to develop your mindmap even further and then you can publish the mindmap as a collaborative document where others can add their own thoughts. Maybe this will inspire you for a new post and a new cycle.
  • Chances are that you can invite people to form a small community on Slack, where you can work together – exchange bookmarks, organize channels for different aspects of the subject the community is interested in. A videoconferencing tool such as Zoom enables you to engage with that community into a weekly of monthly meeting. Or you can invite experts for short presentations and experiment with realtime collaborative mindmapping.

Social media in this classical sense costs time and effort (which I myself lack for the moment). A lot can be said about strategy – I recommended the students to focus on well-defined subjects. Specialized subjects and real-time communication also help to avoid the kind of brutal and rude social media fights one witnesses every single moment these days.

Organizing my Online Brain

So what have I been doing at the Think-Know course facilitated by Howard Rheingold?

These past few weeks we’ve been using Diigo extensively. This social bookmark-service is well-suited for group collaboration. While the course group is reserved for members, you’re welcome to join my own group about the impact of technology on society and the economy (apply and I’ll respond).

The next phase was mindmapping. This is an example of a Cmap I made of one of our synchronous sessions:

mindmap of an online course

(click to enlarge)

During that session we talked about TheBrain, which is a mindmap and database in one. The nodes of the knowledge plex are called ‘thoughts”, and some people have more than 100,000 thoughts in their online brains. This is the company-presentation of TheBrain 7:

This is a section of the Technology-thoughts in my online brain – the tools enables you to have this kind of random walks:

Now what are the benefits of using a tool such as TheBrain? It allows to get things done by externalizing a number of cumbersome brain processes. It generates ideas – e.g. I was integrating a thought about Andy Clark‘s Extended Mind and Natural Born Cyborgs, and through a link/association with another thought about the reproduction of traditional gender relations in the counterculture, I realized I should study Donna Haraway and her feminist thinking regarding cyborgs and minds. This is a typical ‘jump thought’ facilitated by these tools and which makes them so valuable.

mindmap with donna haraway as active thought

Disclaimer: I’m using the above mentioned tools on my own expenses, I have no ties with the companies involved.

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

How real-time collaborative mindmapping ended up being mind-amplifying

Should we give up things in courses because we need time to teach new media? It was a question on Twitter, in the #nmfs_f11 stream of the Digital Awakening course.

I think we don’t need to give up anything at all. It just boils down to doing what you already did, but on public platforms. Taking notes on a blog, bookmarking on a social platform, collaborative mindmapping, reaching out for ideas and help on social networks. As Howard Rheingold would say, new media are mind-amplifiers.

The three online courses I participate in as a student (see previous posts) all use some combination of blogs, social networks, social bookmarks, wiki and chat sessions. I’m getting the feeling (the hope?) this will become “the new normal”.

This picture of the latest session in Second Life of participants in the Digital Awakening course (#nmfs_f11) shows our virtual discussion space, a mindmap and other media, while the participants of course also blog and tweet.

course participants in second life

In Toward a Literacy of Communication, (#cooplit) the course facilitated by Howard Rheingold, we use collaborative mindmaps, working on them in real-time using the webconferencing tool Blackboard Collaborate (previously Elluminate). One clever aspect is that one sees in real-time how the map changes, but we cannot see which participant changes what – I have the feeling this helps people to experiment because they don’t have to fear ‘losing face’. It’s a very intense experience: working on a very rapidly changing map, structuring parts of the course as it unfolds and adding additional insights by the participants.

webconferencing session in progress

While in Second Life I more felt like sharing a space with the other participants – allowing for more informal meetings before and after the discussion – we did not (yet?) have a very intense group-mindmapping experience in that virtual world.

One of the texts we’re studying in the Digital Awakening course is The Computers as a Communication Device (1968) by J.C.R. Licklider.

His arguments for online communities, computer-assisted meetings and his thoughts about working collaboratively on the same screen are still very relevant today. It’s disappointing that these habits are not yet commonplace in many smaller and medium-sized organizations and companies.

In Toward a Literacy of Cooperation, we talked about game theory (prisoner’s dilemma, assurance game, chicken game…) and the notion of zero-sum game. People have this idea that life is a primarily a competition where one person’s gain is another’s loss. In reality there are plenty of examples of non-zero sum games, where collaboration makes all participants better off.

But non-zero sum does not necessarily mean “we all win”. As author Robert Wright explains, it can also mean we all lose. The same technology and learning practices which promise to better mankind, can also be used for destructive planning, especially in conjunction with nuclear, biochemical, biotech or nanotech technology:

Which means that our efforts are also moral issues. The visionary work of people such as Vannevar Bush and J.C.F. Licklider seems to be inspired by the fact that they realized we would have to make sense of a very complex, dangerous and rapidly changing world. Making sense of it, finding solutions and implementing them, needs a kind of augmented or amplified humanity.

Often the disruptive changes we study develop so rapidly that the usual scholarly research publication systems are getting behind. In yet another course, the Massive Open Online Course #Change11, Professor Martin Weller explained how the digital, open and networked world is changing scholarly research (while also provoking tensions in the academic communities).

Historically, we humans had to recognize the humanity of others in the context of a certain class in city-states, then broaden this to bigger entities such as what we call today nations, expanding to whole continental regions and finally arriving at a planetary scale. This recognition of the humanity of humans everywhere will hopefully be expressed and realized through the need for cooperation.

In this context experiencing the real-time collaborative making of a mind map by a bunch of course participants dispersed over the planet (Europe, North America, Australia) was a mind-amplifying experience in itself.

Roland Legrand