Voices Carry

I was feeling really restless early last week about our ability to run and manage new and emerging services in a World where change happens at a pace that is nearly out of control. I thought my post, Why Run a Service would be a signal that I’ve come to a conclusion that there are real reasons to try and keep up. I didn’t honestly expect it to strike the chord it did, but when you ask people interesting questions you sometimes get more interesting questions in return that demand to be explored. Lots of killer conversation going on in the comments of that post … one particular thread emerged about how encouraging open writing and blogging can generate greater depth of connections within our community. That last word is the really important piece to us — how we work to engage our community to embrace these emergent trends is what we think will ultimately make what we do more interesting and important. The more they participate, the more we can contribute opportunities to change teaching and learning.

So back to the Blogs at Penn State … as Brad and I sat there we realized we are sitting on a river of data that is built entirely on people right here at PSU. Now that we are reaching the 10,000 user milestone with the service we are seeing an explosion in the understanding and use of tags for filtering content. Courses are using them to aggregate student posts together, students are using them to mark portfolio entries, departments are using them to pull information/knowledge about initiatives into focus, and so on. Once we realized that we started to realize that we could begin to act a little bit like Twitter and use our data to see trends and ultimately predict the future as it unfolds. With this in mind we’re working on a few new and interesting ways to not only tap into the community but also ways to let them move the state of the University around a bit.

So, as Brad Kozlek wrote yesterday about the birth of PSU Voices and our friend The Reverend, Jim Groom linked to today is now in the wild. Is it done? No, but it has huge potential to draw in community engagement and connect academic use to real world context. The Voices project is really just taking advantage of a mashup of our own tag aggregation for blog posts and collections of related items from across the social web. So, if I use Brad’s example, one were to do a tag search for democracy they’d see all the posts from across the public side of the Blogs at PSU mashed up with items tagged with democracy from YouTube, Flickr, and Delicious … they’d also see a running Twitter stream that uses that same term. What it means to me is if I am a Political Science student in a class using a shared tag, in this case democracy, I get to not only instantly see everything my classmates are writing about, but I get to be exposed to an explosion of opportunities from across the social web. I might see an amazing photo that challenges my notions of the concepts associated with democracy, or a grassroots documentary that makes me want to grab a Flip HD and create a response, or it may open my eyes to a whole series of sites that people from all over the World have tagged. To me, it is the opportunity to be engaged beyond the walls of the classroom that is the primary thing here. Exposure to open resources and the thinking of my peers is a powerful mixture that has me really excited.

So the vlaue in running a service like the Blogs at PSU means we can leverage our investment in the platform and reinvent opportunities within the framework of our local environment. It means that our primary audiences can trust the identity of the local content and be exposed to the massive contributions from across the Internet. It means we can invent … and that rocks.

PSU Voices

PSU Voices

Accidental Openness

I was reading my friend and colleague Jim Groom’s blog and came across another one of his spectacular posts … this one wasn’t long and detailed, just short and to the point. Jim, or the Reverend as he is nicknamed, is the mad genius behind the Blogs at University of Mary Washington, the EduPunk movement, and so much more incredibly cool stuff. I was lucky to get to present and hang out with him at the ELI annual meeting and I can tell you he gets this stuff. He gets it a level that is hard to describe … and he does it with his own style. His post, What I Learned from UMW Blogs Today …” calls out two interesting little facts he learned by reading posts on the Blogs at UMW about Salvador Dali and his work and influence on animation in the 1940s … to be honest I don’t really care at all about the topic, but the fact that he could learn that by browsing the Blogs at UMW is a wonderful little happenstance that needs to be explored further.

The same kind of thing is happening at Institutions all over the place — content that has been locked away in the LMS/CMS of choice is now being freed by the easy publishing enabled by Institutional blogging platforms. I find the notion that there is this vast sea of open content being generated without the official blessing of the Academy a wonderful incidental benefit to it all. Let me put it this way … MIT made a huge splash with a “real” open courseware initiative several years ago that cost millions of dollars. The money went to invest in content management systems, convincing faculty it is good, developing models for openness, to support faculty development, pay for marketing, and all sorts of physical and virtual infrastructure. No doubt MIT’s initiative is amazing and has been successful for lots of reasons, but the fact of the matter is that this information inherently wants to be free … so the bottom up community-driven approach I am seeing is a wonderful thing.

Here at PSU our own Blogs at Penn State environment is working to free content in new and interesting ways. Faculty who until recently would not have bothered writing and engaging students openly are doing so. I wonder if it is the toolset or the times we are living in? There is an unprecedented acceptance of technology in our everyday lives and I can’t help but wonder if we are a part of a larger movement in general … a movement in which citizen journalism is reaching into otherwise fortified verticals. Our own vertical, Higher Education, has been one that has promoted locked content for some time now … but what is happening is the convergence of easy to use platforms, social pressures and acceptance, and an interest in participation. It is amazing to watch it unfold. Can it continue in the absence of administrative blessings? I hope so.

Philosophy 298H Course Site

Philosophy 298H Course Site

I am seeing a day rapidly approaching where many of the major Institutions provide platforms that empower open content and scholarly activity … a place where the next LMS/CMS is simply a browser, a social bookmarking toolset, and perhaps a social recommendation space (like Times People). Imagine how amazing it will be when the best content is published in the open where debate, conversations, and discourse happens at the micro and macro level. Think of how concepts will be brought to life when a single blog post could generate a decades worth of comments from millions of people! Will it be like attending a Symposium on a single post where perspectives are shared from all corners of the globe? I can see how it will allow an individual to see the thinking of the author and react to it and the comments of the community … can that happen? Perhaps.

No matter how one looks at all of this, it is impressive. There will always be the need for closed environments for testing and grades, but why lock away original thoughts? The fact that there are open accidents happening all over the educational blogosphere gives me hope. Anyone care to chime in on any of that insanity?