I’m here at the EU eLearning 2006 conference in Espoo, Finland. This time around I’m helping them to organize the social web aspect of the conference. There is great potential in Social Software to increase conversation before, during and after a conference.
To support interaction through the social web, the participants can upload photos to Flickr, post links to del.icio.us and write blog posts with the tag euel06. Our conference aggregator will catch content from the social web. Participants can also edit the conference wiki, which has proven to be useful. Frappr map was used to display where people are coming from to attend the conference.
I arrived late to the conference, just missing the opening plenary. Fortunately the session was recorded and is online for viewing (just looked through, the last presentation was very good I think).
The various topics covered at the conference were interesting but the content lacked substance, at least in the sessions I participated in. I saw a lot of buzzword-filled slides with references to things like service oriented architecture, blogs, wikis, folksonomies, tagging and informal learning but practically not much was said. Overloading slides with bullet-points full of empty words just doesn’t cut it for me. How are these things related to the topic of the conference (learning) remained a mystery in the middle of all the political-latin I was hearing.
I consider the conversational social web, shifts in industrial production logic and post-industrial knowledge work practices as important issues in understanding what is going on and to take us from vision to practice. Unfortunately it seems a lot of people are still clueless on how emerging practices (new literacies in the social web among people of my age) will affect learning in the future. They see the vision of what needs to be supported (for example digital literacy) but not what it includes.
One session gave me reasons to blog about and that was the “Digital literacy for all” session in the afternoon.
Prof. Tapio Varis (Chair of Media Education, Finland) presented some of the trends in how the world is changing around us and affected by new technology and how these are promoting new social media with new practical skills and literacies. He emphasized collaborative development rather than “providers” and passive “users. No one wants to be a passive user, but rather an active participant. He talked about something he calls the new renaissance of education: His point was that study of complexity has bought science closer than ever to art. Art deals with the sensual world (media as extension of senses) and the holistic concept of human being. Knowledge has gone from non-specialism to specialism and back to interdiscplinarity, even transdisciplinarity.
Euan Semple was 21 years in senior position at BBC. He gave a presentation on how BBC grew to include 16,000 staff using online forums, 2,500 wikis, RSS, social networking and hundreds of weblogs.
I recorded the talk, the MP3 is here:
He started his talk by referencing to Cluetrain manifesto and how there is a global network of person to person conversations.
To support these conversations inside BBC, they implemented online discussion forums (I see RSS icons as well). The forums provided a great platform for intercourse. First time ever they had a tool to collect the conversation. He have an example of how the conversation helped to shape conflicting points of view.
Connect.gateway was created for people to find other people. It was built around profiles and interest groups (communities). He points out that people formed the communities themselves and managing them was the last thing they would do.
Then came blogs. Euan explains well what a blog is: how is it structured and how it provides a rich linking environment resulting in rich patterns. Commenting possibilities turn passive sites into active ones. His example is Richard Sambrook’s Global news blog (he works as the director of the BBC Global News Division). Blogs gave power to the individual voice. They even had four members of the management staff as bloggers.
Wikis was the next thing big thing. He explains that wiki enables the wisdom of the crowds to emerge (there is a good book by the same name written by James Surowiecki). Their wiki provided a space to explore leadership and management within the BBC and it was totally structured by their users. When the content grew, people took different roles: some people were writing, some were editing and some were organizing the wiki. RSS was adopted to filter the massive number of sources and handle the information flow.
He ends his talk by explaining user-generated metadata (folksonomies) and how tagging works in Flickr and del.icio.us.
He left BBC in february. Part of the reason was that old media business models don’t go very well together with the new social media. In his blog he writes that it’s scary that most people who really understood the web have already left the BBC. Just in time when they plan to clone MySpace…
On the 2nd conference day I will talk about how the social web supports informal learning, so I will revisit some of these topics.
A good transcript of Euan Semple’s talk is here.