What I learned at Dinner

Last night I had dinner at Brian and Keira’s house with David Wiley and Brandon Muramatsu. It’s hard to express what an honour this was for me, not just to hang out with some of my truly favourite people, but to be able to quiz David and Brandon for a few hours even after David’s marathon travels. You have to understand – I have never been in doubt about the social nature of learning, as I’ve long recognized that personally I learn best through conversation and inquiry. Yet I’ve always been a “difficult student,” sometimes my honest effort to comprehend through questioning is taken, unintentionally, as criticism, and so it’s even more amazing to be able to engage in such questioning dialogue with people whose wisdom and compassion leave them not just unfazed, but able to offer me gifts I’m needing, especially the ones I didn’t know I needed. I think that’s what’s also known as a “teacher.”

The list of things I learned over the evening is too long to really enumerate, but there is one piece I will share with you, and if I get it wrong it’s entirely my fault. Many of us are trying to innovate social software, open education and the like inside of institutions that aren’t doing either at all currently. And it is attractive to imagine that there are “baby steps” we can take “inside” the institutional silos to get them used to the ideas before proceeding to more full fledged implementations. But the real danger with this approach is that in taking these “baby steps,” we miss out on the power of the “network effects” that are in fact integral to the positive feedback loops of succesful social software. And in so doing, we end up potentially discrediting technologies and approaches that are absoolutely valid because the implementation details DO matter. Which is not to say we should start off small, but that we must start off in a way that right from the beginning we enable to power of the network effect to take hold. If you want to hear what I think is much the same message stated much better, please go listen to David’s talk yesterday at BCNet. Openness is a necessary condition for reuse. It took me a while, but I do get it now. Thanks for your patience. – SWL

11 thoughts on “What I learned at Dinner”

  1. Makes you wonder why we work inside organizations πŸ˜‰

    Another great get together at Chez Lamb? Darn, I gotta move north.

  2. Thanks so much for coming Scott, always a treat to have ya. I was overwhelmed at times by all the stuff flying around.

    And what a great excuse to eat Szuchuan takeout!

    And yet again, it would have been awesome to have you too Alan.

  3. please tell me that some of that conversation got recorded…

    I think we work within institutions because that’s what pays the bills… hard to work outside of an institution and still be able to pay the monthly internet bill to leverage the network effect…

    I’m definitely deep in thought about how to foster Openness and social networking within (and outside of) my particular institution. One of the difficulties there, is that I’m doing it as a (literally) lowly staffer, with no mandate or support, so I’m likely going to be starting out by doing my best Don Quixote imitation. I need to find a way to do what is needed a little more effectively than that.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this some more… If baby steps within an organization aren’t sufficient, what’s the alternative? Bypassing the Institution outright? How do we do that and maintain relevance within the Institution (and don’t say that’s not important, because at the end of the day, people still look to the Institution (rightly or wrongly) as the centre of educational activity). I agree that this is changing, and needs to change, but it’s not there yet. Starting with “first, kill all the profs” isn’t going to do it.

  5. D’Arcy, I think it’s my explanation that is at fault, let me try again. It’s not that small steps aren’t the way to start, but they need to be small steps that already have the potential for network effects to take off. It’s not a question of ignoring the institution so much as turning it inside out, maybe like a Klein bottle. So taking an example from my own experience, ahem, instead of creating a closed environment (the institution, a consortium) to test out content sharing but which isn’t large enough to get the positive feedback loop of the network effect happening, identify a little bit of really good content and share it right off the bat with the entire world, and you’re likely to have more success justifying expanding the experiment than if you took the first approach. Maybe it sounds obvious, but I’m a slow learner, and what it showed me is that one can still start small but boldly and aiming at the right target.

  6. Scott, thanks for clarifying. So, we’re on the same page then πŸ™‚ baby steps may be small projects or teams deciding to share openly with the world, eventually that may/should catch on by osmosis to their institutional neighbours, eventually bringing the entire institution into the light…

  7. Beth, I hadn’t seen that diagram you point to but really like it. I think it is a similar sort of idea, and definitely a strategy to use your social network to work out ideas. Thanks!

  8. I’m really interested in this idea of “stealth adoption” inside of institutions and the type of low-risk experimentation – and whether it fizzles as you say or can explode or help pave the way for change.

    I do a lot of training/workshops/speaking geared to nonprofits – and all this stuff is very scary, particularly the loss of control. I try the simple steps approach combined with low-risk experiments ..
    you can see some recent thinking here:
    and just remixed next week for folks who work at universities – taking the personal use approach first before even tackling the “enterprise 2.0”

    Now, I’m wondering how to rethink the technology stewardship angle – as that is what it is. But goes deeper into the technique of technology stewardship.

    I wonder if a renaissance in personal learning as some have described their web2.0 experience inside of institutions – if that can lead the revolution!

  9. Beth, I really like these presentations, they are great, thanks for sharing them.

    I think you are exactly right to point to the “technology stewardship” idea (I think you got the term from Nancy White, right, I like it!) as key here. This is also a big shift for many of us to undertake. It requires the kind of compassionate detachment that good parenting and good teaching require, to love your users enough not to totally proscribe what tools they use and how they use them and at the same time not to neglect or abandon them. Cheers, Scott

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