Monday, 30 March 2009

Blogphilosophy: Ten reasons why sharing what you learn/research will add to your life's quality

A lot has been written on the ups and downs of open source software and movements and building on that philosophy, the topic of open source content in education (not umbiased I linked to 'old' - read March 2003 - comprehensive article on the topic by George Siemens and building on a discussion with Stephen Downes. I believe in open content sharing) . But fear for sharing keeps existing in the hearts of a lot of people.

This topic of sharing content rekindled because I attended a 'writers day' (basically a day in which you could choose to augment your writing skills). During the day many people raised the question "What if I send my manuscript/column/text to a publisher and that publisher gives the idea to another writer?" Many beginning writers seemed to be afraid that their work would be kidnapped. My friend replied to them: “as long as people think their idea is brilliant and they do not want to share it, they are no thread to me”, I can only agree.

So here are ten reasons why I think sharing is winning

Keeping your idea to yourself will kill it
Say you have a world changing idea, you do not know how to mold it into something useful, so you keep it to yourself hoping you will get the means to develop it one time or another. That idea will either be picked-up by someone else (ideas float through space, anyone can pick them up and develop them) or it will die. Nevertheless, it is a sad result.

Going for an idea will make you smarter
No matter if the new idea will work out, you will have learned a lot anyway. Ideas can look fantastic, but trying to develop them can be a painstaking process that has some result at best (ideas are not always useful – unfortunately). How do you know an idea has potential? By either relentlessly going for it because you belief in it (think Edison) or by discussing it to an amazing extend with people who’s views you value (think Plato). Afraid your partners in the discussion will run away with your ideas? Stay cool, just say to yourself “Who is mad enough to belief in it as much as I do?”

No one is brilliant
No one person is brilliant. No one has ever been brilliant, not even the greatest minds (Newton, Marie Currie…). They all build on the knowledge of others. Of course they were great minds, but it was not the idea that was going to make them cross into a new scientific frontier, it was their analytical thinking, there vision. And a vision never just floats in space, it is built on past ideas, simple things your mind is superimposing on.

Great ideas arise all over the world
If an idea comes into your head, you can bet you are not alone with the idea. Both Steven Jobs and Bill Gates saw a niche, but the one with the best (diverse) network won the (economic) race.

Informal learning is on the rise, for this you need to share
Locking content behind doors prevents people from informal learning or increasing their personal learning space. If your network is deprived of knowledge, your network and yourself will loose out.

Let go of your ego for the better good: give your too difficult idea a chance to live
You might have a great idea, but no means to go for it. You either post your idea, send it out into the world or you try and find like-minded people that might be able to help you. Nevertheless sharing will give extra energy to the idea and its development. As Blanche Dubois said in ‘A streetcar named Desire’ “You can always rely on the kindness of strangers” and I like that thought.

Sharing ideas is like sharing peace and energy
Looking at ways to fuel positive brain functions seems to me much more interesting than promoting the idea of improving. Sharing ideas is like building good karma, giving is good.
Even if some of your ideas get taken: let go of that frustration. If you are indeed a creative mind, more ideas will come. No matter what age, where you live, … your time will come.

Sharing knowledge is what brought humanity to where it is today
Networking, discussing, sharing and non-sharing build our history and made scientific evolution possible (or not depending on the era). I wrote on some of the ethical issues of sharing a couple of months ago during the CCK08.

A brain likes to play, so do not stop it
If you keep an idea and protect if from others, your brain will most probably not be that thrilled. A brain likes to think, likes to share. So if you keep your knowledge closed up, why should your brain search for a new thrilling idea? It's like kids, if you stop creativity, they just stop all together and become passive. For me I need to feel the playfullness of my brain, it keeps me happy.

So I share my ideas gladly with anyone and I like to pick-up other ideas as I go along. Feel free to add additional benefits of sharing ideas and knowledge.

And to top it off... the tenth reason: it even gives you an advantage over your competitors says Jason Fried of 37 signals.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Call for Papers: Mashups for Learning (MASHL2009)

A contemporary way to get people's attention for a call of papers coming to us from Austria and send to us by Martin Ebner (Graz University of Technology, Austria) and Sandra Schaffert (Salzburg Research, Austria).

It is nicer than the more traditional calls for paper.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Big Question of March: a Belgian/Indian/American two cents of a human/machine interface

Tony Karrer challenged us all with his Big Question for March, he asked how we see workplace learning in about ten years time. While I was searching for an additional comment that was not mentioned before by any of the other bloggers, I saw the movie underneath and .... the answer suddenly became very easy. (I am having a movie rush in my blogs lately.)

In the year 2019 the office space will look different because there will be an augmented human/machine interface bringing us closer to the internet of things.
Jay Cross embedded the Microsoft Office Labs vision of technology, but I would like to add a real life update to that vision.

To illustrate this future change, just take a look at this TEDtalk featuring Pattie Maes (a Belgian YEAH) and the genius Pranav Mistry.

For a more elaborate description of the Sixth Sense project, you can look at the website of this fluid interface. For me training departments will indeed still be there, someone has to be the content gatekeeper or building latest invention/usage tutorials that no one has build before, but the environment will be different (and at the same time, more natural).

So for me, workplace learning ten years from now will be based on:
  • human/machine interfaces (much more mobile);
  • mixed/added reality that enhances learning.

mobile projects and crowdsourcing in developing countries

Thanks to Ellen Trude (blogging in German), I got hold of this 38 minute video on mobile phone use in developing countries (focusing in this video on the sub-Saharan part of Africa). If you are into mobile applications, this is worth watching.

Nathan Eagle (MIT) teaches computer scientists in Africa how to program mobile phones at first, but is now involved in mobile crowd sourcing projects. What is nice about him is that he is always looking at the interaction between human and machine.

Some interesting facts from the movie:
Developing world uses 59% of the cell phones in comparison to 41% in the developed world. But the mobile applications in Africa are most of the time disconnected from the mobile users in Africa. So African companies are refurbishing mobiles and material adding to the real need of Africans.
There is a ubiquity to using mobile phones and if the users are more aware of this the applications that are developed will be more tailored to the user’s needs also.

Examples mentioned:
  • How prepaid cards can be used to get water in Kenya, electricity in Rwanda…
  • Real time monitoring of blood supplies;
  • Day laborers organizing themselves through sms.
And 21 minutes into the speech he gets into mobile crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is interesting and feasible in a region were a lot of people are unemployed.
Some examples are mentioned: citizen journalism, translating (a lot of languages across Africa, so if by crowdsourcing you can build a dictionary, the phone companies can use this data to develop localized mobile interfaces – this is something that might be useable in education).
All these mobile crowdsourcing projects got some money in the pockets of the users.

Nice movie to keep in touch what is going on in Africa on the mobile side.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Informal learning short-cut: alerts bring your interested parties closer to you

Yesterday I twittered that I was looking forward to the release of the Nokia N97. Nothing special there, but my tweet got intercepted by Nokia and within a couple of hours the twitter account of Nokia N97 (not a bot the twitter account assures me) was following me.

Than it dawned on me that I have never been writing a post on alerts. Alerts can be very helpful if you want to keep in touch with what people are saying about a certain topic.
The alerts that I use are Google alerts and Twitter alerts, aka Tweetbeep. With these two free tools I can keep track of what the web (and/or forums) is producing and what could be of interest to me.

Let’s say you are interested in self-regulated learning? Then you put in these words in Google alert (you have to open an account first) and you wait. The search bots will keep track of new content and if the proposed set of words is encountered, you are informed. So it is a time saver as well, as you do not have to surf the Net. Once you are alerted, you can look the post, comment… up that returned your words of interest and learn more about the context. You can of course also use it to keep track of what people are saying on the Web about yourself or your company.
By looking up the returned links, you might find people that are also interested in your speciality, hence opening up a door for solid content-related networking.

This has great informal learning potential, because informal learning happens when you meet interested parties. For example, if I am at a conference, I stroll around looking for people with the same interest as I have. So I open my ears and when I pick-up a word that interests me, I turn to that person or set of persons and I ask if it is okay if I engage in the ongoing conversation.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Network aspects: communication, a whitepaper on Networks in Organizations' and why social intelligence is an asset (also in business)

One of the difficult parts of eLearning is to get a community going. The separation of students, the cultural differences and the loss of non-verbal communication can affect the learning network between learners (be it students or employee learners). Networks and communication is becoming increasingly important, but networks have many dynamics working within them. This post combines insights on working within a network as a person, the dynamics of networks in an organization and a suite-and-tie movie from Harvard Business on the topic of social intelligence.

(picture from Neuronal Networks, post Neurons Firing)

Keeping everyone involved (title taken from Steven Egan's post on the subject)
Steven Egan is a blogger who combines new technology - mainly games for playful learning - with new networking community spirit. Building on some comments he gave, this post took shape, so I am very grateful for his input.
He takes a closer look to conflict resolution: dividing it into 'ask before you explode!' on keeping communication going, 'be nice to everybody' on keeping your language respectful no matter what or who. Things to do: 'Don't sweat the big stuff' on giving room to long term goals and creativity, 'sweat the small stuff' (this idea is nicely put). And the ever important Show and Tell: 'make it always available' and 'make it easily available'.
I really liked this post because it is simple, yet if I look at my days and communications, I sometimes forget the simple rules. I really liked Steven's rules to keep a network interested.

Whitepaper on networks in organizations
A more formal and management approach, but still linked to networks can be found in this whitepaper. Jeffrey Stamps and Jessica Lipnack have just published their whitepaper on 'Applying the New Science of Networks to Organizations', which focuses on when and how networks are formed within organizations and corporations.

There intro to the paper goes like this: "NetAge Working Papers set out a new theory and practice for organizations. We feel compelled to publish these technical papers now as an urgent response to the collapse of traditional hierarchies and bureaucracies as evidenced by the current economic debacle. As the economic crisis deepens in 2009, we believe that now is the time for new ideas, new concepts, and new theory to come forward, approaches that will allow all kinds of organizations whether large or small to reorganize in smarter, better, and faster ways."

And although not everything they mention is as clear to me as it would be to experienced managers, it does make sense. Especially if you are a knowledge worker in a growing institution. So if you are interested in natural networks within organizations, this might be of interest to you. The whitepaper was brought to my attention by Johanna Bragge from the Helsinki School of Economics.
The only thing I wonder about is whether this hierarchy is also forming in informal networks? I mean, would certain persons be (unconsciously) given a different place in an informal network because of the dynamic that naturally looks for people with certain responsibilities. Or as Klingon history recalls: 'Great people do not seek power, they have power thrust upon them'; taken from the Deep Space 9 episode Tacking into the Wind (I did change the 'men' into people).

The importance of social intelligence
For those doubting if social skills mean anything in this new economically challenged year, a ten minute movie on 'Social Intelligence and the biology of Leadership', a movie delivered by Harvard Business interviewing the psychologist Daniel Goleman.

If you look at the interview, you do feel a bit of old school dynamics going on, not really new talk here, but it is nice to see it against a background of this new communications era.

From David Hockney to Photosynth: applications that build on social media content

During the latest mobile learning conferences, I was frequently surprised by the surplus of mobile learning possibilities. One of which is that the user would use her/his mobile phone, not just to capture the environment (whether it is audio, video, picture), but also to add to the reality s/he is experiencing.

So forget the virtual reality goggles that can be so heavy your head tilts if you were them, mobile learning is getting us all into a new realm of reality. In the coming weeks I will be posting some of these reality enhancing mobile solutions. Before going into mobile, I feel it is good to first see at what has been build two years ago and started some mobile researchers thinking.

Before diving completely in mixed reality, I feel that a first glance into adapted reality building could get you in the right mood. If you have not heard of it yet, I think you will like this application: photosynth of Microsoft. It is an application that builds on the result of social media applications that all of us help build together. This is an application that falls back on mobile devices or mobile learning in which the mobiles are used to capture pictures and add it to the group repository. The collected pictures of a certain topic are used by the software to get a more in-depth feel of that topic or material.

The below application is actually what I was dreaming about when I was a child. As a child I was overwhelmed by the photo collages David Hockney made. It just felt right when I watched those pictures. They mixed proximity with art. He combined detail with vast spaces in such a way the viewer could not help but get emotionally involved in the photo collage. And so I almost fell off my chair when I found Photosynth which is a free software that actually makes it possible to put a 3D feel into your flickr pictures or any type of pictures.

Photosynth is a software developed by Microsoft in collaboration with the University of Washington. It is a free software and it installs quite easily.

I first learned about it by a TED movie featuring Blaise Aguera y Arcas:

The photosynth promotion speaks of: "Imagine being able to share the places and things you love using the cinematic quality of a movie, the control of a video game, and the mind-blowing detail of the real world. With nothing more than a bunch of photos, Photosynth creates an amazing new experience." So I downloaded it, tried it and it rocks!

A quick demo on how to photosynth you can find here. You install the software (they do ask for your live messenger ID), take pictures of your interest in as many angles as possible (avoid reflective surfaces) and load them up to the software.

How does it relate to education? It brings (nearly) any environment closer to home, it opens up group work possibilities (each group gets a room in a museum to photosynth).... oooooh, I like it a lot! I should try to combine text with pictures, so to enable learners to find both visual and textual content. I like it though, if as a teacher you think through it you can liven up your classes easily.

Just to give you an idea, below you can find my first endeavor. I just took 46 pictures of a water fountain at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium (ITM) and loaded them to synth. Underneath you can see the result. I definitely need to fine tune my photosynthesizing, but it gives an idea of how quickly you can start it (you must have the software installed first to be able to watch the complete synth in motion).

If you have used great synths in your learning environment, let me know.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Informal learning in everyday practice: getting to know a city and its symbols

What a couple of weeks! Combining formal learning, with speaking at conferences, informal learning and a full time job is just not my idea of great time management. Nevertheless I did order my own agenda, so I can only blame myself for cramping it in such a way that I had to give up blogposting just to keep my mind sane. Barcelona and Bremen were inspiring though.

But I must admit I learned an enormous amount of new stuff, which I will gladly share with you the upcoming weeks. The main topics will be on mobile learning, informal learning, mixed reality, learning theory and new stuff that is worth checking out.

First off: informal learning in everyday practice! Everytime I meet people that are more of the formal learning kind, I get questioned on the benefits of informal learning. They either laugh at the concept (worthwhile learning can hardly be called informal) or the expected result (informal learning is done by kids, yes, but as a grown up we exceed the educational needs of kids. Informal learning just does not give me the specialist edge I need) and so on. I am sure – like many of you - that informal learning builds careers, keeps a knowledge learner on top of her/his field and will result in more visionary ideas and minds than formal learning would.
So I decided that I would make a list of informal learning stuff. A set of posts related to informal learning that everyone is more or less familiar with; starting from simple stuff everyone does, up into what only of few of us do and which work well (or at least for most of the time). Starting of with the one we all know: getting to know a city or new area of the world. You have two choices to explore a new area: formally (you follow a guide) and informally (you rely on people you meet in the street, your own street smarts and your brain). The latter is my preferred travelling method.

Let me call all the immigrants, wanderers and casual visitors of all the cities in the world the new nomads. And as new nomads most of us fall back on informal learning to assimilate and explore the new region we visit or start to live in.

Preparatory work
I am not the bravest of nomads. In fact my friends know I am a neurotic - yet ever curious - traveler. Although I will look up certain details in advance of any mission abroad (google, listening to peers about their encounters in that area …, gathering information adlib); I cannot help but feel an urge to go out and explore it on my own. Basically I will obtain a city map, yet feel too much like the perfect well-oriented city pigeon to use it. I have this idea that if I only glimpse at a map, my memory will guide me across the mazes of any town without any problem (ahum). Who told me how to read a map, I wonder?

Understanding the bigger picture
The architecture of any city is the framework for understanding its atmosphere, priorities and sense of direction. New nomads get around by assimilating buildings and marketing boards or remarkable strangeness that sticks to the mind (at least I do). If you are in a part of the city were there are a lot of suits marching up-beat, you know you strolled right into the business part of town. If the houses and streets get smaller you might be in a artistic area or – when bottles fly around your ears and people ask for hand outs - chances are you wondered off in a less economically strong part of town. As a new nomad you know these areas and you know why you visit them at different parts of the day or during your stay.
For instance, in Barcelona they hang curtains outside on their balcony and not inside the house before the windows as most of my neighbours do in Ghent, Belgium. This makes good sense as it is hotter and by including your balcony you keep the outside air flowing in your house and you increase your living room size.

Building my own translations
Urban planning is the big picture, the hardware, but on a second level you learn about the language that accompanies the architecture. Although more and more regions start to look similar (the down part of globalization), every city does have its own icons and symbols. If you are a lucky nomad, you can read the language that accompanies these symbols. If you are not familiar with the language, the challenge will grow. But with or without language, symbols and icons will guide you wherever you go in a city or what you might expect.
This bus stop sign in Bremen for instance resembles the hospital icon in Antwerp (accept for the colours).

Why would you choose to explore a city informally? Because
  • you will find parts of the city that matter to your interest;
  • you will have to talk to natives;
  • you are human and being lost and finding stuff makes life exciting;
  • you want to use your brain actively and not just follow a sticking-up talking umbrella;
  • visiting a city is not about seeing what needs to be seen, but knowing what the city is all about
  • and of course any reason you have encountered that added to the experience of visiting a new area ...
Anyone have ideas on informal learning in everyday practice?