The Conversation

A throwaway line in one of yesterday’s posts (“There’s an unmistakable energy out in the community right now, and I feel sorry for the people in our field who have yet to jack into it”), prompted a couple of comments which, as is common on this page, were more provocative than the putative original content.

D’Arcy shares his recent experience orienting new faculty (presumably relatively young and not-so-set in their ways): “out of 32 of them, 1 put up their hand to say they read blogs. Nobody knew wtf a wiki was.”

Being scheduled myself to give a talk to new faculty next week, I found his report a little chilling.

And Gardner added (among other pointed remarks) that “This is indeed the new digital divide: between faculty and students. If we wait for a generational change, we’ll be waiting until today’s 19-year-olds get their Ph.D.’s and join the academy–if there is an academy by then.”

Gardner references Udell’s justly renowned Heavy Metal Umlaut screencast as compelling proof of concept, or as he puts it: “Maybe Mr. and Ms. Jones will wake up and see that something is happening here and we’d better be wondering what it is.” (BTW, if you want to see a tour de force full-length riff about another rock legend on this, the 28th anniversary of his death, I urge you to check out Dr. Campbell’s lecture on Elvis here.) For what it’s worth, I’ve been using the Wikipedia Animate Greasemonkey script in demos with faculty, and though I can’t make any solid claims for persuasive effectiveness, it always prompts a reaction.

D’Arcy and Gardner are pointing to what is in my opinion the essential problem facing emergence-oriented ed tech practitioners and enthusiasts — communicating the benefits of a set of fairly extensive philosophical and behavioral changes to a population whose self-identity and professional status is defined by its intellectual prowess. It strikes me as something that’s simply impossible to do in four minutes or less (as D’Arcy was expected to do), especially since those of us among the converted have ourselves been learning in small increments over a significant period of time.

Among the things I find challenging to communicate to people is how weblogs can function as more than a simple publishing platform (which is what most new users, myself included, are attracted by), and instead become a means to engage an ongoing distributed conversation. The key, at least technically, is RSS. Even now, when I deliver workshops on weblogging, I often find it difficult to convince learners that a sense of how RSS works is every bit as important as understanding the basics of the Movable Type interface. Of course, people can only take so much information in a single sitting, which is why I increasingly find one-off workshops to be an unsatisfying experience, as my scope of ‘essential topics’ just keeps on expanding…

All this a very roundabout way of writing that I have found the distributed-conversation-on-distributed-conversations between David Warlick, Alan Levine (“blogging, in my humble mind, is also a verb, and the act of participating in others’ blog spaces…”), and Will Richardson (and undoubtedly others) satisfying and enlightening to eavesdrop on (and with publication of this post to participate in)… Here’s Will on the essential role of RSS:

Blogs capture the content, but RSS is where the conversation, the connection of the information is really made. I turn as much to other places (Technorati, Feedster) to find what people are saying back to me than the comments people leave here, precisely because of the distributed nature of the Read/Write Web. I could post this at David’s blog or Alan’s blog, but I post it here because a) I want to capture these thoughts in my own learning, experimenting space, and b) because I know they’ll find this piece of the conversation in their aggregator the next time they flip through it.

… Without a fundamental understanding of RSS glue, distributed conversations are fundamentally illogical. How can we call Alan and David’s separate posts on this topic a conversation? Conversations connect, and their ideas are in disparate spaces. To the un-rss-initiated, their ideas may potentially only come together on a hot-or-miss Google search a few hours after they’re posted.

(Did Will mean to type “hit or miss Google search”? I hope not.)

Update — Stephen observes: “Will Richardson makes an important point: ‘Without a fundamental understanding of RSS glue, distributed conversations are fundamentally illogical. How can we call Alan and David’s separate posts on this topic a conversation?’ But the results generated by RSS readers are not yet sufficiently robust to make this connection clear; we need RSS Referencing to do that.” I missed Stephen’s piece on referencing when it came out last month (must have been running through the cornfields shrieking high holy hell at the full prairie moon), so I’m glad he points to it here.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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