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

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Assignments for Week 7

I am posting this a bit early because I will be away next week, and probably not able to post and comment as much as I usually do.

Here are the guidelines for Week 7:

As always, you are supposed to continue conducting distributed research. Post an update about your IE project, as well.

Also, if you haven't stopped by the 'Brainstorming' section of our class wiki lately (or ever), please do so and contribute to the discussions on what our collective wiki project is supposed to look like. This will be particularly important because next week we will get together for a face-to-face classroom session (Tuesday November 1, GDH 177 at 1PM).

The agenda for that session is to discuss the various proposals on the table, finalize a plan of action, assign roles and responsibilities, and agree on a timeline. There seems to be support for Jonah's proposal to merge efforts with the Social Software in the Academy group (please refer to his email, which he has also copied on the course wiki), so we will talk about the best way to go about it. If there is time left, we can also talk about IE projects!

BTW, is there someone who is good at taking notes during meetings, and who would like to volunteer for that task? I will then post the notes on the Class Blog for future reference.

See you Nov. 1, if all goes well!

Issue Entrepreneurship: proposal feedback (part 3)

Again, we have very interesting proposals in this batch. My comments follow:


I think ubiquitous Wi-Fi is going to become an increasingly important issue, so I'm looking forward to seeing what you do. Providing answers to the questions you've outlined will be useful to people planning to bring Wi-Fi to their communities. But how exactly will you use social software to make a contribution to the cause? In other words, putting together a knowledgebase is more of a research project. The interesting question, from the perspective of the assignment, is how to use social software to transform that information into something people can use to promote the cause. Also, how do you intend to use social software to link local and global groups interested in this issue? I'm sure your ideas about this will evolve as you continue to research the organizations involved in this field, and get a better sense of what opportunities there are to get involved.

(FYI, there is a doctoral student in our program, Lara, who is writing her dissertation on municipal Wi-Fi. It would be great if she could share some of her research with you. Sarah might know how to get in touch with her.)


You've put together a very detailed proposal, combining both the what (the issue) and the how (how you are going to use social software to make a contribution to this issue). While the connections with the local are clear (all of this work is happening within communities at SHU), I think it is important to keep in mind the global dimension of your project. In other words, how will you use social software to build bridges with other groups in other institutions around the country or world that are interested in similar issues? Surely, they can benefit from your work, and you from theirs! Part of the appeal of social software is that it can put us in touch with others in the same field, so that we don't feel like we are reinventing the wheel or working in isolation. I think you can do some things to integrate the efforts of your initiative into a larger (global) Community of Practice. I look forward to hearing about your experiences.


Disclaimer: Jonah, who is taking this course for 1 credit, talked to me about turning our final Wiki project into his IE initiative. Thus, as you can see from his recent email, he is approaching this project as an attempt to facilitate a social software-enhanced community (consisting at this stage of us and some folks from the Annengberg workshop). That's good news for us!

Jonah, I think that as you continue to explore the best technological solutions to our community requirements, you should keep in mind the social aspects as well: We have here two groups of people who share a similar interest, but who have had no conversations about the methodology or the end goals. You should also keep in mind the requirements of the external audience that (we hope) will benefit from our efforts, and possibly contribute to them as well.

I think you should go ahead and set things up, and we will have a discussion on November 1st about the actual shape that we want this project to take.

Good luck to y'all!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Assignments for Week 6

This week's guidelines: You are supposed to continue conducting distributed research (sharing bookmarks through the ccte tag). Additionally, you are supposed to post your Individual Analysis #3 (where you take an article from the ones shares and discuss it from the perspective of the books we are reading). However, I have a proposal to make: Why don't we skip this Analysis (if you have started it, you can simply save it for publication as Analysis #4), and instead concentrate your efforts this week on providing feedback to blog posts or IE proposals by your classmates. I think that will give everyone a chance to hear from their peers.

Have a good week!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Social software stuff

I thought I would share with you some of the things I've written previously on social software, in case you are interested (in other words, this is shameless self promotion).

On wikis:

Social literacies: Some observations about writing and wikis: Talks about what it means for a text to be co-authored by many people.

The Unfixedness of Knowledge: Discourse, Genre, and Mode in Wikipedia: Discusses some of the textual aspects of Wikipedia, including the 'tone' that articles reflect, etc.

On social bookmarking:

A study: A 'mini-ethnography' of my first attempt to get people to use the ccte tag. Includes a nice 'literature review' on folksonomies and distributed classification.

Tag Literacy: Divided into two: the first part is a theoretical discussion of social agency in systems like, and the second contains some guidelines for creating useful tags.

Other stuff:

Facilitating the social annotation and commentary of web pages: Summary of some previous work I'd done on a model to facilitate online discourse, and a review of some tools that facilitate the annotation of web pages.

Telepistemology, Combat Robots, and Human Pacman: This probably doesn't have much to do with social software, but the first part is a very quick summary of some of the issues I try to address in my own work. There's some stuff at the end on smart mobs and using technology to enhance social contexts.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Issue Entrepreneurship: proposal feedback (part 2)

We have a new batch of great IE proposals!

Before presenting my comments, I'd like to share something. In a recent comment to Dan, I was just pondering the need in these projects to balance the work of promoting a cause with the work of contributing to it. Although Agre's point is obviously that the two can be the same (promoting = contributing), I think it is important to sometimes differentiate between them when it comes to the application of social software. While one level of the IE projects could involve figuring out ways to use social software to 'spread the word' about a cause, a more complex level could be to figure out how social software can be used to actually DO something to contribute to the cause (whether it is you personally doing something, or figuring out how to use social software to allow others to do something). I just thought this was an important dimension to try to keep in mind, although how it relates to each different project will vary, I'm sure.

Below are my comments to the recent proposals:


I think both of your ideas have potential. Personally, I find idea #2 closer to what I had envisioned as the goal of this project (since it involves a social cause and the use of social software to advocate for the cause). However, you should do what you feel more passionate about.

As far as idea #1, I think that a lot could be learned from similar projects in other cities. Did you ever see the Nokia ad where kids in Finland where using their phones to get information about arriving buses in a manner similar to what you describe? (in the ad, it turns out that those pesky kids were not trying to avoid standing out in the cold unnecessarily, but merely wanted to better coordinate their snow ball attacks.) The ad presented this as an actual application, and I am sure similar things have been done elsewhere. BTW, I was in DC recently, and the Metro stations there have panels that display how long before the next train arrives - it's amazing how little it would take for the MTA to address this problem. I do share your concerns about getting people to start doing this. The adoption curve might take longer than the semester!


As an outsider to US culture in many ways, I appreciate the importance of the cause you have chosen. Because of present power structures, what the world thinks of America is definitely not as dangerous as what America thinks of the world.

Apart from the possibilities you have already suggested (which I think are good ones), you could also:
  1. look at how current social software tools can increase cosmopolitanism or a sense of global citizenship, and try to figure out how to promote such uses of social software;
  2. look at current initiatives to internationalize the curriculum or even popular culture, and figure out how social software could contribute to raising awareness about these initiatives;
  3. look at how social software can be used, in activist fashion, to challenge negative stereotypes about other people in the world in the media or public sphere
  4. join or start some sort of effort to develop new social software systems to promote cross-cultural dialogue.
The possibilities are endless! I think your next step is to do a bit of research on what is currently being done, and then find an opportunity where the application of social software can take it to the next level.


The topic of mobile computing and education is a hot one, although in my opinion we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. I think your project could contribute to our better understanding of the applications of mobile computing in education and its potential, but I think you still have to do some thinking about the exact way you will go about doing this. I think in particular you need to think about how to turn your interest in mobile computing in education into an issue entrepreneurship project. In other words: what is your issue, and how do you propose to become an advocate of that issue through social software?

For example, are you approaching this from a digital divide perspective, and advocating that more schools need to be wired and more students given access to the tools? Are you looking to join a community of people interested in studying this issue, with the goal of promoting better practices in the use of mobile computing in learning? These are just suggestions. You need to come up with something that interests you. Ask yourself these questions: How can mobile computing make a difference in education? How can I help spread the word about the benefits of mobile computing in education using social software? And how can I use social software to contribute to the realization of these benefits?

On a separate note, one thing that confuses me whenever people talk about mobile computing in education is that they seem to center the discussion around the application of these technologies in the classroom. If we are to consider the true potential of mobile computing in education, I think we need to discuss its role beyond the classroom; that is, what it can do to facilitate the collaborative work of groups beyond the confines of the classroom walls.


I think your project has a lot of potential and promises to make an important contribution. I think you need to continue to think about how to best structure this community to guarantee its success. A lot of research has been done on what it takes for people to make an online community thrive (apparently, it's not just enough to supply the technology!), so I suggest you start by doing some research and learning from the experiences of others who have gone down a similar road before.

I like the idea of starting a blog. However, it was not clear from your proposal if you intend to start an individual or a group blog. As you probably saw from my comments to Robert, there are significant differences between the two. I think a good place to start would be to blog as an individual, and (like I suggested to Marion) link to other blogs of people with similar interest. By engaging these people in a dialogue through your blog (and comments), you will become part of a community. Later, if you find a group of people that works well together and bring complementary skills to the table, you can create a new blog and collectively write about the issue you are all interested in.

Also, how about using a wiki, not a blog, to archive resources and materials? Blogs are not really ideal to organize resources, because things are archived chronologically and not thematically. I think it would be more effective to start a wiki or use some other form of content management system to organize the resources that you and your community find.

Lastly, I think you should keep in mind that perhaps your greatest challenge will be to get people whose level of comfort with technology is already low, to adopt new technologies such as blogs, etc. It might be that blogging provides an easy entry point for this people, as it has for millions of other bloggers who are not necessarily technology experts. But even blogging can be intimidating to people who do not have access to and familiarity with these resources. That's why I suggest you start by finding other people who are already blogging about this issues. Sometimes, starting a community is merely a matter of bringing together disjoined parts.

Good luck to all of you, and I look forward to hearing about your progress!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Course Participation

Based on your feedback about the course, I've put together the following FAQs addressing some of your concerns about participation.

How often should I participate in the course (read bookmarks, post to my blog, etc.)?
As Nabeel suggests, different people have different requirements and schedules. One of the benefits of online learning is that it allows each learner to set their own pace (within certain parameters, of course). If you want to check your RSS feeds daily, you can do that. If you want to do it a couple of times a week, that's fine too. There is no single model of participation. The only thing that is really disruptive to the class (and detrimental to you) is non-participation!

Should I be reading every bookmark submitted to the ccte feed?
Not only do I not read every bookmark, but sometimes I do not read the whole article before bookmarking it! The point is to make the information available and let users decide what to read and when.

This class is generating a lot of links (as it should), and reading every one one of them would consume most of your time. But what you are doing is also contributing to a database that will be available after you complete this course! Tags in are important because they will allow you to retrieve all this information later: Even if you are not reading every article tagged with the word 'identity' right now, you know you will be able to find those articles later by looking up that tag.

Should I think carefully before bookmarking an item?
Not really. Reviewing an item in the feed and deciding whether to ignore it or access it can literally take only seconds (specially if the summary or extended description is helpful--hint hint). Therefore, you are not wasting a lot of people's time by submitting something you are not sure any of your classmates might find useful (as long as the item has something to do with computers, communication, technology and/or education).

Should I be reading every blog post contributed by my classmates?
Yes. Blog posts are not bookmarks, and I expect you to read those carefully. We function as a research community, and your peers depend on you to evaluate their research, just as you depend on them.

Should I spend a lot of time carefully crafting my blog posts?
That's kind of tricky to answer. Some people are better writers than others. Blogging is supposed to be informal, but because we are a research community, your posts should still be well written and organized. Hence all the advice I've given you before about writing 'the perfect blog post.'

Whereas the mainstream opinion is that bloggers are self-centered, good bloggers actually write for their audience, not just for themselves. One thing is for sure: blogging will make you a better (and faster) writer.

How much feedback should I provide to blog posts?
In commenting, strive for quality, not quantity. Part of this means being selective about which posts you feel you have something meaningful to say.

Blogs are not discussion boards, where each post should generate a lengthy threaded exchange. It's OK to leave a comment after a post to provide some focused feedback. But a more appropriate strategy is to reply using your own blog! You can compose a post by 're-mixing' (to use a buzz word) what some of your classmates have said and then making your own point. Blogs are more monological than discussion boards (c.f. this), but they can still facilitate dialogue!

I posted something yesterday and no one has commented on it. Is there something wrong?
This class is comprised of multiple asynchronous conversations. Most online classes propose a topic for the week, everyone discusses that topic, and then the class moves on to the next topic. This class is different in that there are various conversations happening simultaneously. What does that do to our concept of a conversation? The asynchronous nature of online collaboration is another aspect of social software that needs to be researched...

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Week 5 Assignments

Here are some guidelines for what you should be doing this week.

Distributed Research
Please continue bookmarking and sharing. However, there is no Individual Analysis due this week.

SSA Wiki: Collective Synthesis of previous week's blog posts
I was perhaps too optimistic in thinking that we would be already working on this. That's OK, we can take some time to plan it right. I encourage you to visit the Brainstorming section on the class wiki and contribute some ideas about what shape and form this wiki should take. There are some interesting ideas there already. I'm hoping we can agree on one idea soon. I'm planning on using our meeting on November 1 to talk about the design, assign roles, etc.

Blog Post: Issue Entrepreneurship update
If you haven't shared your ideas and submitted a proposal, now would be a good time to do it ;-)

Additionally, I should remark that I haven't seen much activity in some of the blogs lately. You know who you are! ;-) It is my job to make you feel guilty and encourage you to keep up.

Issue Entrepreneurship: proposal feedback

As promised, what follows is a review of the IE proposals submitted so far. My goal is to help you move to the next stage in conceptualizing your project by giving you some feedback, and at times challenging your assumptions. I hope this is also useful for the rest of you who have not submitted proposals yet.

Anthony: I find your issue selection, knowledge accessibility, a very pertinent one. Your proposed approach, the building of a Distributed Community Bookshelf, might be a bit more on the software development side than what I had envisioned for the assignment, but if you can pull it off, then go for it!

I agree that the strongest aspect of a DCB is not managing the allocation of resources, but the allocation of knowledge. For example, I am currently struggling with Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition. What I would like a DCB to do is not just to tell me who has the booked checked out from the library, but who is a resource (i.e., has some understanding) about that book. If I could go talk to that (those) student(s) or professor(s) about the book, it would help me tremendously. Now, because I am in Ithaca and not near the TC library, if I can find some people in my area that would be even better. I thought you have been posting a couple of links to systems that already do similar things, so maybe you already have some ideas.

I have two main concerns about your project. First, will you have enough time to build such a system during the semester? And second: how do you intend to show that you have used social software to 'make a difference' at a global level? Keep working on this. I think the DCB can be a great resource.

Mariana: I think focusing on something of importance to the CU student community would be a good strategy, as long as you can find something that is also of concern to the global community at large (which shouldn't be a problem, I think). The question is: What issue, exactly? You need to choose something and then start thinking about how to use social software to promote that issue. Maybe a good place to start is to look at organizations on campus and see what internet or social software resources they are already using.

Marion: You've done a great job of selecting an issue, researching it, and identifying the potential for using social software to promote that issue locally and globally (disclaimer: Marion met with me to discuss her ideas). As far as where to start, I would suggest you already have! By blogging about the issue, you have claimed a little piece of cyberspace to promote it. Search engines will list your blog when people do searches on Extell, gentrification, etc. You could now start linking on your blog to other resources and other blogs. Soon, they will start to do the same and link to yours, specially if you continue to post research, opinion, and other valuable resources. This means that you are using social software socially (!), and becoming part of a local and global community [Note: Marion and I discussed whether she should start a new blog for this project. My own advice was to use her class blog, which will now reflect her multiple interests and give visitors a more complete picture of who she is.] As far as using other social software to help West Siders for Responsible Development or other organizations, I will let your classmates suggest some ideas. Good start!

I think the goals of your project are very well defined, and I'm glad that Agre has been such a helpful tool in conceptualizing the rationale for your project.

I think maybe part of the reason why student participation has been low is because they do not feel connected to other people interested in the same issue. If they knew people were reading their blog, would they feel more motivated to blog? Of course, to get people to read your blog means that you have to read theirs! Students need to find blogs of people interested in similar issues, and start posting comments, linking to them, etc.

Another reason for low participation could be that your blog is 'too communal.' Although collective blogs are useful, individual blogs can be more powerful vehicles of expression. Think how different this class would be if we were all contributing to just one blog. As I told Heidi in a comment recently: "Blogs allow for a more constant formation of identity and the creation of a more personal space: their look and feel reflects the personality of the author, and all the author's content is collected in one place (as opposed to being dispersed across a discussion board), which gives a sense of ownership and responsibility." I think people can contribute to group blogs once they get a sense of what it is like to blog as an individual. And of course, sometimes it just helps to require that students contribute to their blogs, but don't tell anyone I said that. Seriously, participation needs to be integrated into the curriculum.

So while your rationale is clear, I think you still need to think about the specifics of how you are going to use social software to promote proactive citizenship though the use of visual media (which, if I understand correctly, is your issue, correct?). I can see your plans for the local level (i.e., use of the class blog), but what about the global level? I think answering that question will actually give you ideas for increasing participation. Has looking at the other projects been useful?

UPDATE: Just shared a link to that is right up your alley!

On Comments

You get what you pay for. One disadvantage of working with free blogging services like Blogger is that there is no way to subscribe to the comments (only authors can be notified by email when there is a new comment, a feature which I urge you to activate if you haven't already).

Having to check each blog to see if there have been any new comments sort of defeats the purpose of RSS aggregators, but unless I force everyone to use a service that allows people to subscribe to an RSS feed for comments (such as Anthony and Michael's blogs), we are stuck.

But there are a couple of things we CAN do. One option is to provide a link at the end of your post to a Quicktopic, a service that lets users subscribe to comment feeds. That's the way Boing Boing used to do it in the old days. Another (better) option is simply to bring back the discussion to your blog, which we are all subscribed to (that's why bloggers spend alot of time blogging about what other bloggers have said, instead of just leaving their thought in the comments section).

For example, my next post will be a review of some of your IE project proposals. Instead of leaving my comments on individual blogs, I thought that this is something all of you would benefit from seeing, so I am blogging it (you could choose to blog a collective review of various proposals, as well).

Sometimes it's appropriate to leave a comment for the author of a post, knowing that they will be notified by email. But when you want to make sure that the rest of the class reads your comment, consider 'kicking it up a notch' and posting it on your own blog!

(It's still a good idea to check the comments on people's blogs once in a while. There are some hidden gems there!)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Agre on Issue Entrepreneurship

In case you haven't seen this buried in the comments, Michael found an interesting piece by Agre discussing Issue Entrepreneurship (thanks, Michael!). The whole piece, which focuses on the life and work of Czech activist Vaclav Havel, is interesting. But the following paragraph might be particularly helpful to you:
The pattern in Havel's life is what I call issue entrepreneurship: pick an issue, gather a network of people with an interest in it, and organize activities among them. In the case of the Thirty-Sixers, the issue concerned the distinctive experience of a generation and its literary expression; in the case of Charter 77 it was human rights; and in the case of the Civic Forum it was the creation of new political structures to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of communism. Successful people, in my experience, engage in a great deal of issue entrepreneurship, repeatedly evolving their issues and expanding their networks as they go along. A well-chosen issue will identify what sociologists call a structural hole: a bunch of people, preferably already well-connected in other ways, who ought to know one another but don't. By identifying such an issue, the issue entrepreneur spots an opportunity to become centrally located in newly emerging social networks -- a position that can generally be converted to some kind of advantage, even if the details of that advantage are not necessarily clear at the outset. There is nothing wrong with this. It is a powerful way of understanding the world, and I wish that everyone knew how to do it. Yet this central skill of social life is a mystery to almost everyone, with the result that society is filled with misguided theories, e.g., that power is completely seamless and static, or that success is simply a matter of hard work or else entirely arbitrary. Issue entrepreneurship is rarely taught, and until recently it has scarcely been codified. So the real puzzle is how anyone ever learns it at all.
The way I see it, this class is an attempt to 'teach' issue entrepreneurship through the use of social software. Except that, because there is no pre-defined pedagogy for doing this, we are going to try to figure it out together... Some interesting ideas are starting to emerge, and I look forward to our discussion around them.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Feedback about the course (so far)

This is a quick reality check. How are you feeling about the course so far? Are you having any problems? Are there things you like or don't like about how the course is unfolding? Is the workload too heavy, too light, or just right? Do you feel you are learning something? Is there anything I could be doing to make this a better course?

Please leave your comments below (feel free to do so anonymously, if you prefer).

Week 4 Assignments

It might seem like I've been asking you to do too many things during these first three weeks, but at this point we've started on all the projects you'll be working on during the semester. From this point forward, it's just a matter of managing your progress for each one. Easy! ;-)

This week, I expect you to continue doing distributed research. Hopefully, you will be posting your second Individual Analysis assignment (which will include, as we agreed, references to the readings).

I've seen some good comments on people's blogs. Let's keep that going.

Some of you have started to contribute great ideas for the Social Software wiki. I'm looking forward to seeing more of those, or at least some comments about the current ideas (I added a Comments section for each idea).

I haven't seen any posts on the Issue Entrepreneurship projects, but I am assuming you are all thinking about it! It's a difficult project to conceptualize, I know. Don't feel like you have to present a very polished proposal. Your ideas about this assignment will probably continue to evolve in the next couple of weeks.