As usual I was MIA as a conference weblogger, and already I feel compelled to turn my attention to the mounting piles of tasks spilling over all over my desktop. So please forgive the mess — it’s late, I’m torn and frayed, but I want to get a few things down before the event recedes into fond memory.
John Seely Brown: He Will, He Will, Rock You
The opening acts had left the stage, and anticipation was high in the teeming crowd as it awaited the headliner, John Seely Brown. The lights came down, thick acrid smoke filled the air and amid a sea of exploding flashpots the man hit the stage with something to prove. Taking no prisoners, the crunchy guitars cutting through the room like shards of flying glass, he launched into “Rethink how today’s digital students learn”, with its’ catchy refrain “tap curiosities and passions/leverage peer communities” that had even first time listeners singing along at the top of their lungs. The pace didn’t let up, with Brown turning in an inspired performance of “Building, tinkering, learning, remix, co-creation”, with a nifty bassline complementing the lyrics reminding us that “a new kind of identity is being constructed / by what I build for others in my intimate community” — the mosh pit went crazy for it. A long drum solo preceded an irresistibly danceable “Atelier form of learning”, in which work in progress is made public, and learning is enculturation into a practice. An unplugged acoustic set followed — with a touching rendition of “Productive inquiry as active leisure”, vignettes describing how passionate workers surf the net for fun in their off-hours. He finished up the set and then, in a surprise move, dropped the rock instrumentation for a set behind the turntables. MC JSB spun some crazy grooves, with relentless beats pounding out “Remix (as serious play, building, tinkering)”. Underscoring the delicious grooves was a message: we as educators need to create “interlinked communities of co-creation.” We are moving from a “world of consumerism” summed up by “I am what I own” to one in which “I am what I co-create and others build on”.
And that was that. The crowd refused to leave for a while — sparking lighters and chanting for an encore — we wanted “Social Life of Information” or maybe “Smoke on the Water”. But the houselights came on, and we were informed that John Seely Brown had left the building. I suppose I was bit disappointed that he didn’t just play the hits — but an unwillingness to play it safe is what makes JSB a vital rocker after all these years.
Been digital so long it looks like print to me
After the JSB show my head was throbbing, my ears were ringing, and I was drenched head to toe in sweat, but I had no time to recover. I had to do my own talk — Been digital so long it feels like print to me. Essentially a tweaked version of a talk I had given last May at the University of Mary Washington, with one significant difference. To each wiki page I added a “serendipity wire” with an RSS feed (from del.icio.us, Yahoo! News or a selected weblog) rendering live. The idea being that I would be unaware of at least some of material until I delivered it. As it turned out, I didn’t use much of this stuff, but I think in the future I’d like to try a presentation wholly riffing off live feeds, with no prepared material at all — full-on remix improv.
Meta-note: as if I wasn’t nervous enough with David Wiley in the audience, who should be there up front but John Seely Brown himself. Thankfully he was gracious and supportive, going so far as to approach and compliment me when it was all over. Not only can dude kick out the jams, he’s a generous spirit too.
Hallway chatter, redux…
There were heaps of worthy presentations, and the big challenge was choosing the right session. I enjoyed learning more about DIVA (lost URL), Connexions, Wikipedia (very popular session), and Scholar’s Box, among many others. Cyprien led a good discussion on how content collections might apply lessons from Flickr. But as at all good conferences, the real action was in the halls. I had more stimulating conversations than I can begin to capture here, learning about exciting new developments of the NSDL, the KEEP Toolkit, and I got a tremendous private tour from Simon Buckingham Shum who is doing heaps of wild stuff with the Knowledge Media Institute — hopefully I will have time to work through it over the coming weeks. I took part in a vodka & Red Bull-fueled session in the wee hours that started as trash talk and actually got more high-minded as the damage mounted, discoursing on the need to teach pattern-recognition as well as information, among other themes.
As ever, I gotta hand it to David, Shelley, and all the other organizers and volunteers who gave it their all to make the event happen. It was a privilege to join this array of committed, talented, idealistic and collegial educators. Hopefully, we might be able to apply more of this stuff back home at UBC — it feels like something of a make or break moment, where progress on some fronts is more than matched by disturbing developments on others.