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