Archive for March, 2009

Extending the Ripple Effect

March 29, 2009

Recently WSU launched Ripple Effect a website that bills itself as “an easy and effective way to do enormous good with a single tangible gift for individuals, families and entire villages in developing countries.” The concept works like Heffer International, the WSU site allows visitors to buy various items (a goat, a beehive, a water pump) which are distributed by an NGO operating in Malawi, Africa.

Ripple Effect gathers financial capital
It could be extended to gather Intellectual Capital.

ThinkCycle (2001-02), as described in Nitin Shaway’s MIT doctoral thesis is an example for how to extend Ripple Effect into Intellectual Capital. The project asks “How can we create an environment that encourages distributed individuals and organizations to tackle engineering design challenges in critical problem domains? How should we design appropriate online collaboration platforms, support learning, social incentives and novel property rights to foster innovation in sustainable design? ” Cathy Davidson has coined the term “collaboration by difference” for this general idea.

A recent story in the Daily Evergreen describes WSU Engineers without Borders developing wind turbine for Africa. Their problem statement is “… to make a very cheap, reliable source of energy that won’t need a lot of maintenance.”

About five years ago, CTLT partnered to design a distance offering of Decision Science 470. The students brought problems from their lives and employment; students teams selected one problem of their peers problems to solve collectively. The results were impressive for the students and their employers.

Ripple Effect retains 19% of each donation for indirect costs. An Intellectual Capital version of Ripple Effect would also retain value for the WSU, but in a different way.

In Ripple Effect, capital is applied to problems that have already been identified and whose solution has already been chosen — the farmer without irrigation needs a pump to get water from the nearby stream. The Ripple Effect FAQ mentions that WSU students are involved, but its description is shallow. An Intellectual Capital Ripple Effect would gather problem statements, a la ThinkCycle or the Engineers without Borders, and invite a world audience to contribute expertise to developing solutions. As we learned in DecSc 470, the instructor, at the center would have visibility into problem statements, problem solutions, and other elements of the process. The instructor of DecSc 470 discovered that such access led to new ideas for his research — meta-ideas that arose from mentoring the process. These meta-ideas are equivalent to the indirect costs, a tangible benefit retained from participation in the problem-solving process.

The DecSc 470 process produced artifacts that were used to credential students in that course. Last year’s Engineers without Borders produced an electronic portfolio that could been a credentialing tool. DecSc 470 worked in a threaded discussion inside a course space. Now we might advocate the course use blogs (to recruit help a la ThinkCycle), and with that more public process, we could easily add a Harvesting Gradebook.

Starting to Twitter — and I think I know why

March 19, 2009

In Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age, John Seely Brown outlines some work at Xerox on training for copier repair technicians (the story starts half way down the page)

First of all, what happens is whenever a tech rep gets stuck he calls in another tech rep and then, standing around the problematic machine, they start to weave a story, a story that starts to explain some of the particular symptoms of the machine. And then some fragment of the initial story reminds them of something else which suggests a few more measurements to make which in turn produces some more data that reminds them of another fragment of a story, and so on. Troubleshooting for these guys is really just weaving together a narrative, a narrative that eventually explains all the symptoms and test data of this machine. And when they have made sense of all the data, the narrative is finished and the machine is diagnosed.

To make a long story short, what did we do? What kind of system did we design, because of course as a technologist I was expected to build a system? We created a beautifully simple system, one that involved using two-way radios and no computers. We gave everybody in our tech rep community-of-practice test site a two-way radio, a radio that was always on, with their own private network. Because it was always on, they were always in each other’s periphery. When a tech rep needed help, other tech reps in his community-of-practice would hear him struggling and if one of them had an idea he could move from the periphery to the (auditory) center, adding his fragment of “story” which usually suggested a new test to run or part to replace, and so on. And so basically we created a multi-processing, multi-person storytelling process running all across this initial test site. It worked incredibly well. In fact, it also turned out to be a powerful way to bring new people into the community since a novice could, as I mentioned earlier, lurk on the periphery and hear what was going on and in so doing could be a virtual cognitive apprentice. He could also move from the periphery to the center when he had something to contribute, very much like today’s digital kids are doing on the Web.

Another story comes from the description of George Hotz’ work in summer 2007 to hack the Apple iPhone. He blogged the work, but one can glean from the narrative that he was also on IRC with a group of fellow hackers.

In each case, there is a community of practice and it is communicating with a high bandwidth tool. In Hotz’ case, there was also a following on his blog, getting a lower bandwidth experience.

So contrary to the recent Doonesbury cartoons, the point of the examples above seems to be to have a community of practice and to use Twitter as a way to have your radio always on. So, Twitter’s tag line should be more like “What are you doing that matters to your community?” And in all likelihood, you won’t have a following of thousands, but a small read-write group, that links via its members to other small groups.

Had Twitter been a phenomenon when I did my analysis for Pandemic Flu preparations, I think I would have added it as another of the recommended tools for keeping track of the class during the diaspora.

For the record I’m NilsPeterson on Twitter.

Seattle PI switch marks the start of a new era

March 17, 2009

This item on the Seattle P-I website regarding the new era of online-only P-I has me thinking about the piece I recently read by Clay Shirky on the fate of newspapers.

Toward the end he posits the idea of using amateurs as part of the strategy. Perhaps this is a stringer approach. A number of comments on the P-I story are suggesting they not just copy the wire, the editors need to consider how to value-add to the wire, for example, with an original story that links to the wire and places it into local contexts.

There is an abundance of information out there, filtering, linking and contextualizing it could give it value. I’d suggest the P-I might also want to explore Yahoo Pipes and other RSS aggregators — either to feed to the page or to feed to editors who then write and link.

PS. Following this post I read Steven Berlin Johnson on changing newspaper strategies who suggests:

In fact, I think in the long run, we’re going to look back at many facets of old media and realize that we were living in a desert disguised as a rain forest. Local news may be the best example of this. When people talk about the civic damage that a community suffers by losing its newspaper, one of the key things that people point to is the loss of local news coverage. But I suspect in ten years, when we look back at traditional local coverage, it will look much more like MacWorld circa 1987. I adore the City section of the New York Times, but every Sunday when I pick it up, there are only three or four stories in the whole section that I find interesting or relevant to my life – out of probably twenty stories total. And yet every week in my neighborhood there are easily twenty stories that I would be interested in reading: a mugging three blocks from my house; a new deli opening; a house sale; the baseball team at my kid’s school winning a big game. The New York Times can’t cover those things in a print paper not because of some journalistic failing on their part, but rather because the economics are all wrong: there are only a few thousand people potentially interested in those news events, in a city of 8 million people. There are metro area stories that matter to everyone in a city: mayoral races, school cuts, big snowstorms. But most of what we care about in our local experience lives in the long tail. We’ve never thought of it as a failing of the newspaper that its metro section didn’t report on a deli closing, because it wasn’t even conceivable that a big centralized paper could cover an event with such a small radius of interest.

Seeking advice in a transition

March 10, 2009

Washington State University is on the eve of its 10 year accreditation visit by NWCCU and my sense from reading Standard 2 (teaching and learning) is that WSU appears to still be struggling with
what it means to close the assessment loop..

Concurrently, the university is proposing a 50% budget cut for its Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology that has produced this supplement, highlighted in the accreditation report as Transformative Assessment.

The University is proposing to re-organize the remainder of CTLT into the Office of Academic Efficiency. Looking around the web, it appears that other campuses are undergoing a similar transition. Awhile back I proposed creating the Planet’s CTL. Concurrent with that blog post, CTLT started a blog at WordPress, that has garnered considerable critical attention, and a group in Diigo. There are a several portfolios of our work hosted on CTLT servers that may need to be moved if CTLT servers are going away: ePortfolio of CTLT ePortfolios; a portfolio of our LMS work and its Web 2.0 directions prepared for a Gartner visit; two ePortfolio contests 2006-07 and 2007-08 using SharePoint with some important lessons about Workspace vs Showcase and the recently produced Transformative Assessment site for the accreditation visit.

What would you recommend?