Blog for the course offered at Teachers College, Columbia University during Fall 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Issue Entrepreneurship project

Some of you have expressed the need for more clarity around this assignment. Marion suggested that I provide some examples, which I think is a good (although challenging) idea. You should keep in mind that the point here is not merely to duplicate the example, but to respond to it by framing the assignment in your own terms.

Let's look at Ethan Zuckerman. Granted, using Ethan as an example is perhaps setting the bar a bit too high, but I want to focus on the kind of involvement he represents, not so much the depth of the involvement.

Ethan Zuckerman has a blog, where he states that he is interested in "Africa, international development and hacking the media." As you can see, in his posts he presents research, analysis, reviews, and even a bit of his personal life.

But Ethan is much more than just a blogger. For starters, he is a research fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society (where your classmate Molly works). He also co-founded Global Voices (Steven shared a bookmark about this organization recently). Global Voices, as the name indicates, is an international community of bloggers. Ethan's profile is here.

Ethan also founded Geekcorps, an organization that "promotes economic growth in the developing world by sending highly skilled technology volunteers to teach communities how use innovative and affordable information and communication technologies to solve development problems." Now, I don't expect you to start your own NGO during the course of this seminar (unless you really want to!), but the point is that Ethan has found ways to balance his online and offline activisms. In fact, I bet he makes no distinction between the two (maybe I'll ask him)!

As an example of environments that facilitate this kind of involvement, I encourage you to look at, "where committed people worldwide assist local communities in developing countries shape a brighter future." This is not simply an online discussion board where people from the First World give advice to people from the Third World. As you can see in this example, there are things that people do in their own communities (such as finding donors or preparing proposals) that have a direct impact on distant communities (for a more generic approach, you may want to check out as an example of social software intended to bridge the gap between online collaboration and offline action).

Now, I realize that Ethan's example revolves around a very specific set of issues (mostly revolving around development). I encourage you to get involved in something you feel passionate about, even though the issues might be completely different. In the end, I want to see evidence that you have used social software to attempt to coordinate action and form solidarities at a local and global level. This evidence should be documented in your blog, and accompanied by self-reflection (which gets at the personal level of the assignment).

If this is still too vague, it's probably because there are no precise examples I can point you to that reflect exactly what I am looking for. You are pioneers! But if you still have questions, let's meet to discuss your ideas. I have office hours Tuesdays from 1PM to 3PM, by appointment only.

On reading and writing for this course

I just posted a couple of helpful how-to's to our feed that need a little bit of contextualizing.

This is a graduate course, and it's not the goal of the course to teach you how to read and write at a graduate level. Having said that, all of us (self included) can always use a couple of pointers.

First, I bookmarked a Guide to Reading Social Science: How to Work Through Long Reading Assignments (which I found a while ago in one of the courses offered though MIT's OpenCourseWare; if you've never heard of OCW, I suggest you check it out). This guide contains some good tips on how to approach reading assignments. I want to be very clear that I am not suggesting that you only skim through the readings for this course. Instead, I think these guidelines can help you approach ALL the readings in this course before deciding which ones you want to read more carefully.

The other resource I bookmarked is How to Write an Abstract. Some of this information might seem irrelevant, but I think it many ways writing for a blog is like writing an abstract: one needs to motivate readers and provide information that will let them decide whether the content is relevant to them or not. As someone once told me: Always assume an unmotivated learner/user/reader!

I hope both of these resources are helpful. You may also want to check out Alex Halavais' guidelines to a perfect blog entry.

Keep up the good work!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Week 3 Assignments

As we begin the third week of classes, you should be quite comfortable in your role as a member of our social software research community. I see that (almost) all of you are bookmarking, blogging, and (I assume) tracking all the RSS feeds with your aggregator. I realize that one benefit of being part of this kind of community is the asynchronous nature of the collaboration. But I must urge some of you (you know who you are) to try to keep up with the assignments. Falling behind by too much can disrupt the experience for everyone.

Someone from the University of Utah recently said: “I don’t read anymore; I just talk to people who have.” Sounds a bit like what we are doing in this class, doesn't it (except that we are ALL reading, of course!)? Do you find it useful, for example, to read Mariana's analysis of the Becker paper? Did it help you decide whether you wanted to go and read the whole thing?

On the other hand, as Robert says "Increasingly I am beginning to feel as if my knowledge base is one mile wide and one inch deep." How much of a problem will this be? How can one correct for this?

Overall, I am really impressed with the quality of the individual work and confident that we are beginning to see the fruits of our collective efforts. As more people begin to blog their assignments, I expect to see a more vigorous effort to comment on each other's posts. Meaningful and thoughtful comments are crucial to maintaining a dialogue. [Unfortunately, most blogs do not have a mechanism for subscribing to the comments. Is there a Blogger plugin to do this? If anyone can find out, that would be great.]

This week, you should continue to conduct 'distributed research,' bookmarking and tagging stuff. You should have the required texts by now, and you should be reading (for your Individual Analysis assignment next week I expect to see the texts being referenced). Remember, the point is to use the books to inform your analysis or critique of the stuff you find on the Web.

There are two additional things that I want us to begin working on this week:

1) Issue Entrepreneurship Assignment: I would like people to start thinking about the social cause they would like to choose for this project. Blog your ideas and ask for feedback from the class. For more information about issue entrepreneurship, please refer to the chapter by Agre in the Community in the Digital Age book. You can find an online version of this chapter here.

2) Brainstorming about the format of the Social Software Affordances Wiki: I have added a page on the course wiki, called SSA Wiki Brainstorming, to conduct a little group activity. In the next couple of weeks, I want everyone in the class to contribute ideas or metaphors about the shape/format that our final project, the Social Software Affordances Wiki, should take. I have gone ahead and contributed the first (lame) suggestion, just to give you an idea of what I am looking for. You can contribute as many ideas as you want. We will pick one later.

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Easy way to subscribe to all course-related feeds

UPDATE: Looks like everyone has a blog now! Thus, I have updated the OPML file, and replaced the old one. You can find it in the Page Files section of the Directory page, in the class wiki. I've also added a blogroll to the course blog with links to all your blogs.

* * *

Almost everybody in the class has created a blog, so I've gone ahead and created an OPML file. This file can be used to subscribe to all the RSS feeds at once, as opposed to one by one. For example, if you decide to try a different RSS Aggregator and don't want to subscribe to each feed manually, you can import this OPML file (provided your aggregator lets you import files of this format) and all the feeds contained in the file will automagically appear!

You can right-click to download the file here, or go the Directory page in our class wiki and click on Page Files, located on the left-side menu.

I will update the OPML file when Jonah and Nabeel create their blogs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Excellent introductory resource: 7 Things You Should Know About...

I posted it to the ccte feed, but I wanted to make sure you are aware of this resource. Basically, it is a very concise guide to some of the technologies we are using, including blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking (what I call distributed research). They come in the form of neat PDF files. Take a look!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Week 2 Assignments

There is a classroom meeting this week ONLY for new students or for those who require some help using any of the programs. I will see you Tuesday, September 20 at 1:00PM. The room number is GDH 177.

This week, I expect you to have all your social software tools up and running (see assignments for Week 1).

You should be bookmarking things on and following the CCTE feed with your RSS aggregator. Pick one of the links bookmarked (doesn't have to be an item from last week--there are many previous bookmarks that you can find at, and write your Individual Analysis #1 assignment, which you will post on your blog (see Length of Assignments in the Syllabus for more information). Since I expect that many of you don't have your books already, it's OK for this week not to reference the readings.

We were also supposed to start thinking about the structure for the Social Software Wiki that we will collaboratively produce as a final project. Let's wait on that. I will propose and activity next week to get us started.

Please leave a comment here if you have any questions, or feel free to email me.

Good luck!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Week 1 Assignments

Welcome to the first week of class!

There is a classroom meeting this week, so I will see you Tuesday, September 13 at 1:00PM. The room number is GDH 177.

Additionally, there's a lot of setting up to do (you may want to consult the Tools section in our class wiki for suggestions on selecting the software that is right for you--and feel free to add suggestions of your own!):

First, you should start your personal blog this week (if you don't have one already, or if you prefer to keep a separate blog for this class). Design and features are completely up to you, but make sure you choose a blog that can publish an RSS feed. Please post the link to your blog and to your RSS feed in the Directory section of our class wiki.

You should also get an RSS aggregator. Consider whether you will be accessing your RSS aggregator from your personal computer most of the time (in which case you can get an aggregator that you can install on your computer), or from a lab computer (in which case you may want to choose an aggregator you can access online).

As people start posting their RSS feed links, you should start subscribing to them in your aggregator. Try subscribing to other feeds as well (for some good ones, see here and here). You will find that this is a very convenient way of getting your daily dose of news and information.

Remember also to subscribe to the ccte RSS feed (right-click and copy this link and enter it in your aggregator).

You should also open a account. Follow the instructions on the site and post a couple of items. If you want to share them with the rest of the class (and the world), use the ccte tag.

Lastly, there is a small assignment to post to your blog this week: your (Techno-) Biography. The purpose of this assignment is two-fold. First, it is a way to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about who you are. Second, it is a way for you to reflect on the role that computers have played in your life: When were you first introduced to computers? How would you describe your relationship to them? What have you been able to accomplish with computers that you think would have been impossible otherwise? These questions are just to get you thinking. You can write your techno-biography in any way you want.

By next week, we should all to be communicating online through the sharing of links marked with the ccte tag and through our blogs/RSS feeds. If you have any questions or problems, reply with a comment to this post, or email me.

Remember also to order your books and start browsing through them!