Scholarship on the participatory web – a quick take on the OAH

I don’t know that I have anything really insightful to say about this example of scholarship on the read/write web, but when I clicked over to HNN’s Highlights from the 2008 OAH Convention this morning I didn’t have high expectations.

(For non-historians, OAH = Organization of American Historians. This is one of the two main US-based scholarly associations in history. The OAH is for any scholar who studies American History. The other one, the American Historical Association, is for any American historian, no matter what they study. Both organizations have made some great uses of the emerging web to promote scholarly communication.).

I like the idea of following conferences I can’t attend via blogs, but in practice I rarely find that it works for me. Liveblogs of conference sessions are usually similar to class-notes type writing, more reporting than analysis and idiosyncratic reporting at that. And I definitely get why – no one has time to write an account of what was said and an analysis of what it means at the same time. And at best, liveblogged analysis can’t go past gut, immediate reactions — ideas that might develop and change with time for reflection. But the analytical, more personalized “what I thought was good, bad and important” writing — that takes time. I know that even when I want to write up a conference later, I don’t get to it before the next conference comes along.

Which is why I enjoyed this coverage so much. Rick Shenkman, HNN editor, reported on the sessions he saw, placed the arguments in context, and told us what he thought of the sessions, the speakers, the reactions/discussions and the papers. It reads like one person’s account, but that’s one of the things I liked best about it – it didn’t have that blandness of objectivity. Best of all, almost every session and talk discussed is supplemented with a YouTube video from the session itself. So one guy’s analysis, and the opportunity to see for yourself.

Here’s Manning Marable:

Which is why this is the kind of coverage I think could be really useful for students new to the discipline to really get a sense of what goes on in a discipline, in a scholarly community. The videos alone, even if the quality was better than YouTube, wouldn’t do that — non-experts need the context and the analysis. The context and analysis wouldn’t be enough either — too much one person’s view. If there was a better discussion in the comments, that’d be ideal, but that doesn’t seem to be happening yet. Maybe next year.

What does social networking overload really look like?

Last year, Rachel and I reported on a survey we did the year before that looked at how librarians feel about different social software applications like blogs, wikis and the like (is that right? I think so – it’s a really long time ago now). We mainly found out that we should have asked some different questions, which is what always happens when I do surveys.

But there was one thing that was really, really striking – most people reported not doing a ton of social networking (and I’m talking about things like blogs and wikis, not Facebook. And this was 2 years ago so things have probably changed). But in terms of how often people have edited a wiki, for example, I bet things haven’t changed that much.

Anyway, most librarians weren’t doing a ton of social networking. AND YET –

Almost everyone (97%) reported that they liked exploring new technologies.

Almost everyone (85%) reported that they were encouraged at work to explore new technologies.

And this is the big one – almost everyone (70%) reported that they had enough time to explore new technologies.

And yet. They weren’t doing it. So we theorized that the reason for this was a time issue, but it wasn’t the time issue that people usually talked about. Setting up accounts, figuring out how tools work — librarians have time to do that. That part is easy. The hard part for most of us is the time it takes to actually engage with a new group of people (or put together enough of the old group of people to make it worthwhile).

And I’ve certainly found that to be the case.

Which is a long way of saying – I actually looked at my Twitter account today. I know, right? I have said in multiple presentations that I don’t use Twitter, and I don’t. But as is the case with many other things that require accounts – I have one. So the second Pengrin story launched today and there’s a Twitter component. That was apparently all it took. Just like this whole experiment means I can choose to just read stories and not really play the ARG, this story means I can just read stories and not really have to do all of that work that it would take to make Twitter fun.
I enjoyed the first story quite a bit but I’m expecting to really have fun reading this one. It’s blog-based (young character = LJ, parental characters = wordpress), the emo teen-ish character makes an Emily the Strange reference in her first paragraph and a Twin Peaks reference in the third — and as an extra added bonus for me there’s a slowly evolving meta conversation in the comments.

I don’t know the classic book it’s connected to – The Haunted Doll’s House, but Slice does have a creepy doll picture representing it on the main site, which is awesome.

So this is apparently what it takes to get me to invest some energy in Twitter, at least for today. It will be interesting to see if I feel like I “get” Twitter any better at the end of this week than I do right now. It usually takes real engagement with a social tool like this for me to understand its cool factor. That usually happens right about the time I start to notice that the tool is changing something about how I think about something on the web – whether that something is information, other people, or whatever. I suspect this won’t be enough to do it, but I’ve been wrong before.

It was this post today on Unit Structures that really got me thinking about all of these connections. Because this isn’t all to say that I don’t get why lots of people do like Twitter – I actually do. But I think there’s some truth in the guess Rachel and I made about our survey data — that sometimes even when the social or informational or educational or other payoff is there for the taking, developing new social networks takes work, and energy — and sometimes we have to pick and choose where to spend it.

digital stories/ digital study spaces, following-up

The word “follow” suddenly looks really strange to me.

A few quick follow-ups from last week’s posts:

The Ryerson student who was threatened with expulsion for administering a study group in Facebook will not be expelled.  There will be some fallout from this episode that sticks with him, but he was not found guilty of 147 counts of academic dishonesty.  There’s been a lot of talk around my corners of the web about this, with probably more people than not coming down on the side that the kid was cheating.  But nothing I’ve seen has really pushed me off my original position.

I agree that the invitation to the group (which, I believe, this particular student did not write) was badly worded.  But until someone can show me that the students were actually getting grades for work and learning they did not do – I don’t see the cheating.  And I still think that because this study group was virtual, if cheating had happened, the evidence would be there to collect and display.

The first experiment in digital storytelling from Penguin is up at wetellstories.co.uk.  The story, The 21 Steps, is a thriller by Charles Cumming, and the platform for the telling is Google Maps.  I’m only partway through -but I’m having fun so far.  If you didn’t see Adrian Hon’s comment on my previous post about this project (ooh! alliteration) — he’s written a post about this kind of storytelling that gets into some really interesting stuff about how the medium affected the creative process.

(I believe you might find a rabbit hole on the main project page as well)

digital publishing, ARG’s and collective storytelling – one stop shop!

Well, maybe. I don’t think we know for sure how all of those things are in here…

Anyway, I was talking yesterday with a group of colleagues from my library and across my campus about the potential for ARG-type things on a college campus such as, say, OSU. And one thing we kept coming back to was the importance of the narrative, or the story, to lift a game beyond “scavenger hunt” or “puzzle.” And even beyond this — the importance of creating an experience where the player (or reader) of the game plays an active role in creating that narrative. if:Book yesterday articulates really well what I mean by co-creating – it’s something more complex (and compelling) than allowing the player to choose between a set of pre-defined plot directions.

Which makes this project (also briefly mentioned by if:Book today – hive mind?) interesting, connected as it is to Penguin Books, home of lots of people who know how to tell stories really well. It seems like this project is going to launch in some form on March 18, but I wasn’t able to find anywhere that seems to know exactly what form it will take. What we do know –

The site itself has changed a few times over the last few weeks – initially displaying this quote from Alice in Wonderland, favorite resource for ARG designers everywhere:

Alice was very nearly getting up and saying “Thank you, Sir, for your interesting story,” but she could not help thinking there must be more to come, so she sat still and said nothing.

There was also an image of the Cheshire Cat with seven tails — very mysterious. The early developments and a little bit of speculation are easy to catch up on at the unfiction forum.

Now the image has shifted to focus on the first of the six digital stories that will launch here over the next several weeks. There’s nothing that immediately jumps out and yells ARG on this page – but there are game designers connected to the project and they’re calling it an ARG. Penguin itself is calling the site an experiment in storytelling, but they’re also highlighting their connection to the ARG community at unfiction.

So it’s looking like there will be some ARG component to this, beyond the digital narratives promised on the website, but one reason I’m pointing this out is that it might also be a pretty good first-ARG experience if that’s something you’ve been wanting to try out. Even if I don’t have time to get involved in the actual game, I can lurk a bit and still get the fun of reading the stories, right? And the fun of thinking about new ways to tell stories – what digital publishing might mean beyond e-books and Amazon Kindles — which I think is a useful thing to think about.

Six to Start, the group behind whatever this is, includes many members of the creative team behind Perplex City, which they call the first “self-sustaining” ARG. I’m going to talk about a couple of them for a few more minutes here, because they’re recently been discussing this question of writing for the web, or “designing” for the web –

Naomi Alderman was the main writer behind Perplex City, and she’s also a published novelist (by Penguin). She wrote an article in the Sunday Times (UK not NY) about the Kindle, but which really goes much farther than that in talking about what writing for the web could be – beyond the device we use to access it.

(For an interesting look at Alderman’s experience with ARG writing – look at this short article in the Telegraph)

(For a disappointing article about how she sees libraries – look at this short article in The Guardian.  I’m not sure it’s intended, but the subtext I’m getting is that she doesn’t see libraries as part of this new kind of storytelling.  And that makes me sad.)

Adrian Hon, another Perplex City veteran and Chief Creative Officer of Six to Start, picked up on the theme on his blog a few days ago. This is the part that jumped out at me:

While a lot of ’stories on the web’ today involve some interesting technology, unfortunately, they’re just not very interesting stories. This leads a lot of people to conclude that the format of a book is superior. Of course, I disagree; we need to put a lot more thought into designing stories for the web, and that needs to be a collaborative process between not just writers and programmers, but also people who design interactive experiences on the web…

That feels true – that the problem with some web stories is in the story, not in the web. And the idea that people are likely to blame the new delivery mechanism first also resonates. I liked his suggestion that designing interactive experiences on the web is something special itself, that we can’t assume is covered by “writing” or “programming.”

This sounds a little bit like what a lot of us are lacking when it comes to support for the delivery of instruction on the web. We have the content, we have the programming – but increasingly we know that there’s another special bit in there – the people who know how to do this stuff on the web. And we don’t always have the same access to that kind of expertise — and we probably should.

learning in public and other musings on higher ed

Two things this morning – both touching on issues of digital learning, learning communities, learning socially and the big question – is higher ed closing students off from the kinds of tools and skills they’ll need to be lifelong learners?

Writer Response Theory provides this exercise to help students find their Social Bookmarking Soulmates. Basically the assignment is really, really, really simple — the student finds someone who shares an interest with them on a social bookmarking site, and then writes a profile of that person on their blog. So I think it’s really more of a brain-mate than a soul-mate that’s the goal.

While the output of the assignment is the profile of “here’s my soulmate” on the blog, what they learn about that specific contact is really not the point – the point is to show students that informal, asynchronous collaborative learning spaces exist and that finding these spaces and making connections within them is a part of learning today. And tomorrow – this is a major part of how they will need to learn when they leave the academy.

From the blog –

During the assignment, students are at first skeptical that they will find anyone with similar interest. Usually it is not till they find a “Gem,” or exciting link, through someone else’s tags that they see the value in the exercise. More importantly, the assignment hammers home the ways in which social bookmarking can help them become part of a network of scholars, collaborating albeit indirectly at times.

That’s certainly how this worked for me — I didn’t “get” the value of my del.icio.us network until I found some of those gems, and noticed that those gems tended to come from the same people over and over again.

I don’t think this exercise works if it’s not done in public – in an open, public, virtual space. There was a related post yesterday on Blackboard’s blog about their Scholar product – the social bookmarking service that exists within the Blackboard walled garden. It does look a lot better than it did to me when I checked it out about a year ago — the social networking features are easier to see and use, and there are instructions for exporting your scholar bookmarks out to another service (which didn’t work for me when I tried it, but I didn’t try all that hard).

But I still don’t think that this assignment could work as well within the LMS. Nothing could compare to del.icio.us’ user base, but it goes beyond that. There’s something essential about making these kinds of connections out in the world – interacting with experts, hobbyists, other students, professionals and everyone all in the same place. And in learning how to find those people who are useful connections because they are useful. Learning how to do that kind of information evaluation is, I think, a necessary 21st century information literacy skill – and one that can’t be supported by the closed-off LMS environment.

Which leads me to this story out of Toronto. A first-year student is facing academic honesty charges and expulsion because he is (was?) the listed administrator for a Facebook study group connected to an intro Chemistry course at Ryerson. He’s facing 147 counts – one for each member of the group. None of the other group members have been charged. After the course professor found out about the Facebook group, he changed the students grade from a B to an F and recommended action be taken against him, citing a rule that forbids “any deliberate activity to gain academic advantage, including actions that have a negative effect on the integrity of the learning environment.”

First – what does that even mean? Doesn’t studying in ANY form count as a “deliberate activity to gain academic advantage” ? I mean, the next clause makes it clear that penalties won’t be limited to just those deliberate activities that have an negative effect. But that’s not really the point. The student in question is maintaining that what is being attacked here is the venue – that this virtual study group is no different than the face-to-face study groups you’ll find in any university library on any campus any day of the week.

And it looks like he might be right. The Toronto Star article linked above quotes the student advocate in the case extensively, and she’s clearly advocating one side. But no one has come forward with any evidence at all that students in this group were doing anything more than time-honored study group activities like “I can’t figure out this problem. Can you help me.” No one has shown any evidence (and given that this is a virtual space, you’d think it would be there to be shown) that students were exchanging answers, doing each other’s homework, or passing work they did not do off as their own, which is the main point of this statement from Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-Commerce Law (crazy title).

Beyond this, the students in this course were apparently given different questions to prevent exactly the kind of cheating this student is being accused of facilitating. What’s really dismaying here, is that these students – if these initial impressions are true – are engaged in exactly the kind of learning behaviors we should be encouraging. There’s no evidence here that the learning that a student would do when it comes to these chemistry problems would be better if it was done in solitude, and I think there’s a lot of reasons to think that the learning could be better with collaboration.

I’m biased here – in favor of social learning and study groups. The Collaborative Learning Center in my library is one of my favorite parts of the whole building.

the CLC in the Valley Library

Tutors and graduate assistants provide drop-in tutoring in the evenings, and during the day they’re joined by supplemental instruction tables where groups of students enrolled in large courses with high failure rates work with a professional tutor on a weekly basis.

Ryerson has more to say in this CBC article than they did in the Star. This quote jumps out –

[Ryerson spokesman James] Norrie said the university understands the nature of Facebook and its groups.

“This is not a bunch of old academics sitting around a table saying, ‘Oh, this scares us.’ That’s not what’s happening,” he said.

They say that, but given what we know so far it really looks like the opposite of this statement is true. Not just that the university doesn’t understand the nature of Facebook and its groups (though it looks like maybe they don’t) but that they don’t understand the nature of social learning online in a much larger sense than this. Which is what brings us back to the social bookmarking ideas above. When these students leave Ryerson, their ability to find groups of people engaged with the same problems they’re trying to deal with — whether they’re professional or personal problems — is going to be a fundamental part of their ability to learn and solve those problems.

And like it or not, a lot of that networking and learning is going to happen online. And it might be scary to think of a world where the number of resources available to students goes beyond a study table in the library or the answers in the back of the book, but that’s the world we have. And our students deserve the opportunity to learn how to learn in that world.

This is not turning into an ARG blog

I almost wrote about something else today, but I found out in time that something I thought was true was in fact false and therefore not worth writing about.

But there’s some really cool stuff going on in this Find the Lost Ring ARG that has my brain back at the question of what these storytelling/ chaotic fiction/ media experiences might mean for teaching and learning.  In our presentation, Rachel pulled out Sean Stewart’s phrase “search operas,” which gets at some of the connections between these games and information literacy.

Caleb connects ARG’s to learning really well – connecting the way that the narrative is discovered and synthesized and created in an ARG with the way meaning is discovered and synthesized and created in the research process.

And then there’s the social aspect – the idea that you put a whole bunch of brains with different knowledge and skills and experiences on a problem and you can get something richer and deeper (and certainly faster) than anything individuals could accomplish alone — put all of these things togehter and what do you see?  Well, I’m not sure that everyone sees learning theory but I bet I’m not the only one that does.

You’ve got the meaning-making of constructivism, and the social meaning making of Vygotsky.  It’s not only learning theory, but it’s learning theory that’s had a huge impact on our understanding of information literacy and the connections between information literacy, problemsolving and learning.

So check out what’s going on on this McDonald’s/ Olympics thing.  Trust me, you don’t need to read all of the blogs or forum posts to see the cool factor here.  It looks like the players right now have located six people around the world with a strange form of amnesia.  The first one, introduced via the rabbit hole is Adriane.  Since then, they’ve found Markus, Noriko, MeiHui, Diego and Lucie.  And there’s some stuff going on in Brazil as well.

The characters are all over the world, and so far they’ve been communicating with the players frequently and at length, by email, IM, and in a variety of social networking sites and blogs — but with a twist.  Some of them want to communicate in their native languages (so far – Japanese, Mandarin, French, Spanish, German and English).

(And in a nice T.I.N.A.G. moment – which highlights the potential legal complexity Michael mentioned yesterday — Lucie’s blog is on Skyrock)

Watching what the players are doing to try and deal with this is really fascinating and really cool.  They’re not just using online translators — they’re pulling in people with language skills, they’ve got a wiki page tracking the languages players have expertise in, they’re brushing up on languages they know and sharing the good online courses with each other, they’re learning Esperanto and encouraging the game characters to do so as well!

It gets at the multiple levels of learning going on when we explore to learn — specific knowledge/skills/concepts (here, the language skills) and the deeper inquiry those specific skills enable.  And it highlights the need for that deeper inquiry — something to give the acquisition of specific skills meaning and relevance.  I mean, these people are jumping to learn Esperanto!  Would this happen – ever – without a larger context?

It looks like the game will develop in Esperanto and English (the amnesiac characters all have a tattoo that says “find the lost ring” in Esperanto), so that this truly multi-lingual phase might not extend throughout – but it’s fun to watch.

Yes an ARG – and over there, and over there too

All of a sudden ARG’s are everywhere – it’s like when you learn a new word and suddenly it’s everywhere? It feels like Rachel and I presented on this topic ten minutes before the Internets done exploded with it!

Michael dropped me some great links in my del.icio.us about this — game designer Elan Lee presented about ARG’s at the O’Reilly ETech conference just yesterday. Most interesting to me was Cory Doctrow’s liveblogged notes on the talk – but his summary at Boing Boing is worth looking at – and there are comments! Three short things about this talk -

1. I love the magnet metaphor. I think that idea that magnets “push, pull and charge” resonated – I can’t wait to see more of the actual talk. But the “charge” idea seems to get at that essential thing about the ARG experience – that it is something co-created.

2. This from the Boing Boing comments got me thinking – “The only problem with ARG’s is once you’ve played one and know how they work it ruins the rest of them.” At first that kind of sounds true. Rachel and I spoke at length about how hard it was to try and go back and describe games that have already been played. As much as we could retell the narrative and show the websites, it was clear that we were missing something about the experience of having played the game. And those kinds of things are often best the first time you do them.

But I wonder if maybe this statement isn’t more interesting in that what it really does is show the importance of the narrative to the experience, as well as the social act of creating the experience with others similarly immersed. It might be hard to recreate one’s first transformative experience with a novel or a movie, but that doesn’t usually ruin the act of reading for the rest of time.

3. I need to think more about the scalability aspect at the end – and by that I mean “I need to see more of the actual talk.” This idea from Doctrow’s notes – “It can’t just be “let me use all the elements of your life to tell you a story. It has to be, ‘Let me look at all your channels (browser, phone IM, etc.) and find a way to turn that channel on specifically for you.'” I want to hear more about how this preserves the social aspect of ARG’s.

And then Wired yesterday speculates that this is part of the rabbit hole to an Olympian-sized ARG – with the Olympics and McDonald’s behind it. And asks – if McDonald’s is involved are ARG’s totally part of the mainstream? There is something simultaneously disturbing and fitting about the idea that McDonald’s couldn’t manage to keep their involvement quiet because they had to cover themselves with the law talk on the website. Some things are just more important than T.I.N.A.G, I guess.