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

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!


Blogger Steve said...

Ulises, Thanks for the helpful comments on my proposal. I am still putting my thoughts together as well as doing some web searches so as to find the best way to approach the issue.

1:19 PM


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