Lots of interesting and angst-ridden writing flowing around of late about the “conversations” happening in the edublogosphere, set off in some measure by a recent post by Doug Belshaw.
The edublogosphere has changed from being about â€˜the conversationâ€™ to being part of â€˜the networkâ€™. It all smacks a little too much of â€˜keeping up with the Jonesesâ€™ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps.
The comments thread holds flashes of all sorts of emotions: frustration, resolve, anger, intimidation. It’s one of the more compelling “conversations” that I’ve read recently and worth taking the time to sift through. John Larkin captures much of it, but centrally, he says “The conversations are limited to a few but cloned by many.”
Graham Wegner weighs in as well, taking a more expansive tact:
But thereâ€™s a lot of conversation out there – one can choose to connect to the visionaries and push for meaningful change or extend oneâ€™s global staffroom to gain support, inspiration and resources in equal measure. I tend to dabble in all camps on this blog anyway – no issueâ€™s too big for me to have an uninformed go at and I want to improve what I take into the classroom tomorrow as well.
And then there was Doug Noon, compelled in some part by the “conversation” above to dive into Twitter after showing some resolve not to.
The interesting thing, and the thing that moved me to set up the Twitter account, was that with the Diigo stampede, Graham Wegnerâ€™s post about edublogging and the bigger conversation, this post about filtering Twitter so that it works more like Del.icio.us, and Miguelâ€™s expansive vision for using Diigo to build a multipurpose networking application, I began to give some more serious thought to what seems to be a changing blogscape.
And, finally, there was Chris Craft in a short little dig in the comments on my “Tweaking Twitter” post where after reading that I was trying to filter out the links from my Twitter feed he asked simply “So what you’re saying is it’s about the links, not the conversation?”
I’ve always maintained, and still do, that the bulk of my learning these days comes in the conversation, that the publishing piece, the putting myself out there in a blog post (or video, or stream or whatever) is only the first step and, in reality, is not where I learn the most. I learn when my thoughts get pushed, when I read what others have written about other ideas on their own blogs, when I engage in the conversations about those ideas. And these “conversations” are different; they are not synchronous (though they are getting moreso), they are not linear, and as just the short sampling of link above conveys, there is a lot of complexity in the distributed nature of how we “talk” in this realm. In fact I think that might be the biggest frustration that newcomers to these tools experience. It’s random, seemingly aimless, and requires a whole bunch of other skills to navigate effectively.
And now, the conversations are morphing further. There are more voices. While it’s humbling to get 160 comments on a blog post, is it better? Now I have 300 Tweets a day to make sense of, and talk about raising the frustration level. What do you do when a Tweet comes by that say “@whoever45 I am so, so sorry to hear that! What can we do?” Or “@whoever 36 Great link! Thanks!” No context. No thread to speak of. The “conversation” has to be remanufactured, or in many cases, simply let go. And Twitter just feels like the bridge between true asynchronous dialogue and the emerging, constant backchannel that crops up on streams and at Chatzy during presentations, pushing the “conversation” further. To be honest, I think I’m most off put by the backchannel not because it can be a distraction to whatever it is we’re backchannelling about but because it totally strips the reflective, thought mulling-over part from the “conversation” process.
Guess I’m getting a little angsty myself.
Doug links to a Wired post by Bruce Sterling who quotes Stowe Boyd, and his assessment doesn’t make me feel any better.
Basically, conversation is moving from a very static and slow form of conversation — the comments thread on blog posts — to a more dynamic and fast form of conversation: into the flow in Twitter, Friendfeed, and others. I think this directionality may be like a law of the universe: conversation moves to where is is most social…The way I am getting tugged to blog posts is increasingly as a mention within a conversational bite in Twitter or Friendfeed. I then click out of the flow to see the larger post, and offer my view in the flow — not on the blog — and then I return to the flow, where I will be spending most of my time. This makes sense: I want to talk about the blog post with the person who brought it to my attention, more so that with some group of strangers at the blog, or even the author, who I may not know at all. I also don’t think we can expect the fragmentation of the social experience to slow down: it will get a lot worse before it gets better.
Funny thing is, I like the stranger’s voice. Doesn’t that sound like it just perpetuates the echo chamber we all seem to be trying to get away from?
At the end of the day, I’m just flailing around in here like the next person trying to see how if all makes sense for myself and for my own children. The conversations are shifting, both in form and content. In the process, it gets more challenging to help others make some sense of it for themselves. But I wonder as we continue to spend more of our online conversation time in the moment if we aren’t losing much of the value that the potential of conversation with these tools can bring.
To me, it’s about both the conversation and the network. I depend on the network connections I have to filter and find and share and provoke, but without the deeper conversations among the nodes in that network, it’s feeling like the connections lose value.
(Photo “Flowing Systems” byÂ exper)
Bill Ferriter says
Interesting post, Will—I can definitely see the nature of conversations changing as new digital tools become a larger part of the conversations that we have….
But I wonder if our struggles with the changing nature of digital conversations really come from our tendency towards “either/or” thinking. We want one forum for our conversations and grow frustrated when we have to switch between tools to get the “complete package.” Then, we mourn what we don’t have rather than celebrating that which we do.
I take all digital forums for networking for what they’re worth….Some are places to pick up quick ideas. Others are places to have powerful conversations. Knowing the difference and respecting the value in each has helped to keep me sane, I think!
That and an effort to stream all of my conversations and interactions—from Twitter streams and blog entries to Del.icio.us links—through my feed reader!
Doug Belshaw says
Thanks for picking up on my post, Will. It’s heartening to see your optimism that ‘the network’ and ‘the conversation’ can survive side-by-side.:-)
Janice Stearns says
Sometimes, I miss just reading blog posts, reflecting about the thinking, and making comments or connections to my learning. The new, fast conversations on Twitter and elsewhere make me feel like I can’t get enough now, and sometimes make me feel frustrated. The good thing is that I can simply go back to the “old” way of reading blogs and reflecting, going slower. Then, when I’m ready, I can join the conversation again on Twitter. The network and the conversation are important.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
I think it all boils down to one’s perspective on tools (Web 2.0 apps). Many today grab the tool and have it go search for an application or problem to solve. Example- Wow! Diigo/Twitter/Chatsy is cool- what can I use it for with my students? Or how can I make it my new tool of choice?
What makes more sense is to choose the right tool for the task, which doesn’t always include technology. Example- Hmmm, I have a student who has a passion for circuits and inventions- how can I get him in a conversation with someone who is a subject matter expert in this area or help him to find and organize information around this topic. Sometimes the answer is a parent in my class who is an electrician and arranging a time for this parent to talk with my student. Sometimes that might be a SME/inventor in Asia, and we will use technologies as communication and collaboration tool to interface with the guy in Asia cheaply and quickly.
I tend to reserve my conversations for my various communities of practice where I have established trust and have chosen the voices I listen to- wisely.
I feed my hunger for information from my networks, however, I do not let the network or the technologies control me. For example, I have a friend that if the cell phone rings, she answers- no matter what. I take a different approach- if the cell phone rings and it is convenient, I answer. If not, I wait. Same with Twitter or any other tool I use.
I follow 300+ on Twitter so that when I need something or want to share something “in the moment” I know where to turn. I do not even try to manage Twitter as a source of conversation and read all the Tweets. I do not want to have a deep, reflective, meaningful conversation on Twitter. I want “just in time” information.
My blog posts are different. I author them for an authentic audience, much like I would when writing an article or book. I have conversations on my blog with folks who reflect on my messages (usually in posts that take much more than 145 characters.)
The tools are sexy and a great diversion. Writing well and having meaningful conversation takes time and effort. It is an art. Tools are concrete and very *now* in terms of ROI. Conversations not so much, however they yield much more long term ROI.
Learning in these changing times is messy at best. However, there are great conversations to be had while riding in constant whitewater! I network, I find a voice that intrigues me, I have a conversation or two via a blog or Skype and if the intrigue turns to someone I can learn from I bring that person into my community of practice– or in extreme cases enter into a business with them (smile).
Thanks for getting me going this morning. Glad you are in my trusted community.
Harold Shaw says
Will – I like the conversations on Twitter and the links. What I especially like is the notifications of Web meetings, that I can join in on and have more conversations.
I have found the conversations extremely enlightening, but I am beginning to see a pattern of the “herd mentality”, and “add-on speak” that to me is rather interesting. Is it any different than what happens in the “face-to-face” world, I do not believe so. So the web is beginning to mirror our “real” lives and that is beginning to bother some? Would be a great research project, I would be very interested in the results.
Like Clay told me when I first joined Twitter (paraphrasing) only “sip from the waterfall” (I will add) if you try to drink too much you may fall in and drown.
So take what you can use, enjoy the camaraderie and leave what you don’t need. But have fun and learn in Web2.0 as I am just beginning to.
Catherine Parsons says
What amazes me still to this day is that I read that entire post and not a single person you quoted (or yourself) looked to the research about patterns of human communication or suggested studies on the impact of the mediums. It is all feeling, thought, threaded emotion and personal belief – but at no time pointed me to a justification or foundation. Learning is a blend of evidence based practice and reflection, as noted by the Higher Education Network of Europe. “a profession must take team responsibility for the body of knowledge and skills over which its members share control through continuous evidence based and reflective practice”. Jasko (1997) noted strongly, â€œ…we must clearly, explicitly, insistently articulate the parameters and the limitations of assessing education as a commodity to and for ourselves and all our constituencies. The need to formulate a clear, cogent, and defensible methodology becomes both possible and crucial at this pointâ€ (p. 20) Want to be taken seriously? Show responsibility for the thought. Define learning outcomes, gather data, and PROVE this is right rather than jumping up and down and reflectively contemplating the cool new toys. Other professions evolve because of their ubiquitous application of evidence-based practice, maybe education should finally take the hint – stop solely reflecting, and start showing through research that what you believe in your heart to be true actually is.
Miguel Guhlin says
Catherine, thanks for sharing your perspective. A gut reaction to your comment was, “If researchers wanted teachers to cite the relevant research, then they’d publish in open access journals.
Better that than locking them up in peer-reviewed pieces that you have to pay hundreds of dollars to subscribe to.”
As to your point, though, you are right on target. Maybe the reason we’re jumping up and down, like kids with a new hula hoop, is that it is fun to learn together. Somehow, maybe we’ve lost that with our peer-reviewed journals and expensive publications. The artificial, even contrived, nature of such valuable work pales in authenticity when you compare it to real people learning and sharing with each other just in time.
Research is more valuable than ever, though…I just hope we are more “ethnographic” and qualitative.
Bill Ferriter says
What amazes me still to this day is that I read that entire post and not a single person you quoted (or yourself) looked to the research about patterns of human communication or suggested studies on the impact of the mediums. It is all feeling, thought, threaded emotion and personal belief – but at no time pointed me to a justification or foundation
And you know something, it’s the first time in a long time that I actually felt like a learner!
Digital tools have given me the opportunity to tap into knowledge without having to sit at the feet of “scholars” who don’t seem to know much about what it is that I do each day.
They’re the great equalizer, I think—and that’s what makes them beautiful. “Learning” and “Knowledge” don’t rest behind a university degree or a formalized research process. They rest in the hands of those who challenge what I know and who force me to articulate what I believe to be true.
That process of challenge and articulation is true learning to me—and it happens far more often now that I’ve engaged in a digital network of likeminded peers.
That’s all the evidence I need….
Bill—> who is feeling a bit empowered today!
Suzanne Wargo says
I remember being part of online conversations with teachers back in the good old days when NEA partnered with AOL and gave us our own teacher chat room in the early 90’s. I lived for the 2-3 days a week I would be connected to other teachers who wanted to use the new tools of the day. Often you worked for administrators who had no idea what you were doing or cared… Wait a minute it’s 15 years later and I still have the same issues. What happened? I LOVE the conversations (blogs, Twitter, RSS.) Sometimes it feeds the immediate joys and frustrations and sometimes it inspires. There are times that I see things that are so over my skill set. But there are times I read and converse like now that I feel like I am part of the bigger picture. Often there are teachers like myself who are solo practioners and have little support to do techie things. For example: any prof dev is done on my own time. Last year I had to use sick time to squeeze in things that mattered to me. So when there are respondents that read posts like mine and gloss over them, realize some of us would LOVE to be doing what you all get to do. I would LOVE to feel supported and appreciated for my vision of where my media center should be going. But a lot of teachers just aren’t, be it money, training, or appreciation. So keep talking and posting and just maybe one of these days I’ll be person who has done something cool.
Steven Kimmi says
To me, this whole argument seems the basis for the “Why?” people ask when they find out what Twitter really is. Why would you want to know what I’m doing every second of the day? An idea like that fills up conversations with semi-meaningless details. However, was Twitter really designed for the way educators are using it? Yes and no. As someone new to this whole thing, Twitter is important for me, because I feel like I am so far behind, it in a way let’s me see what others are doing and talking about. And no, I don’t really see a quality conversation coming 140 characters at a time. I could be wrong, I am new to this, but shouldn’t Twitter be a place where a conversation starts, not takes place. Once the discussion begins it has to go someplace else, where there is room to do yourself justice.
Doug Noon says
I approach all of these things like an experiment. Not taking a stand, just watching and thinking about what happens when something else happens. I’m not feeling real enthusiastic about “the conversation.” Just dialing in on it to see for myself what’s there.
Scott Merrick says
Woowoo, heady stuff. All this talk, all this talk. We’ve most of us been espousing “get into the conversation” sort of as an end unto itself for so long that I agree the hurdy gurdy man’s monkey is spinning his instrument faster than any of us might have dreamed possible. Harold Shaw says it in his Clay paraphrase, Like Clay told me when I first joined Twitter (paraphrasing) only â€œsip from the waterfallâ€ (I will add) if you try to drink too much you may fall in and drown.
I find it funny how we’re starting to pick pet flowing-water metaphors–mine is dipping my toe in Information River: if I have time to do so I know I’ll learn something useful; if I don’t, sure I miss stuff, but it’s only “stuff.” There are worse things than a dry toe.
If I’m away from the river setting up a ball return net in the front yard for my boy’s lacrosse practice, or walking my big purebred Tennessee Black Dog Mutt, or reading Cormak MacCarthy while practicing mandolin scales, well, that’s cool, too.
Will, Will, take a deep breath, keep thinking and sharing so eloquently, and don’t despair. That’s too easy and it’s what’s gotten us into this fine pickle, isn’t it, Ollie?
The desperation in the fallacy of “keeping up” or “being in control” of the tidal wave should be a lesson to embrace the network to help us maintain the conversations that matter. Not that I have mastered it as all… but until we can give up notions as individuals we can make sense of all the flow, and rely on our network to do so… we will be frustrated.
I firmly declare I am not an expert, know nothing, and am just a happy little connected node.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for stopping by Alan. So is it all about network optimization then? And if so, to each his own? And if so, what are the implications for teaching my kids?
A random aside: All I know is that all blogs I subscribe to that post a detailed description of how they fortuitously met someone or had some great epiphany through Twitter are summarily getting yanked from my RSS reader.
Miguel Guhlin says
Alan comes closest to my perspective when he writes, “I firmly declare I am not an expert, know nothing, and am just a happy little connected node.”
Robert Quinn (“Deep Change” author) shared a story about 3 professors. When one of them got tenure, he confessed to his colleagues that he didn’t know everything people thought he knew. He felt like a fake.
When people write and say, “You’re a great edublogger,” sure, a part of it is thrilling. But the truth is, I’m open to new experiences and share that with others. When people ask me, “What have you learned?” I realize that what I thought I learned–how to use Diigo better to connect with others–isn’t the real lesson.
Instead, I gained some insight into my own learning approaches, how I handled new ideas that challenged my thinking (e.g. Simplicity is the way to go with Web 2.0 tools and I only have 5 slots. To get a new one, toss an old one). My father often shared, “The wise person learns from other people’s experiences.” He cited that when the experiences you had to learn from were negative, but a roller coaster ride has its ups and downs…without the “downs,” the “ups” wouldn’t be that thrilling, right? So too with experiences.
The impact for our children isn’t that the challenges presented by new learning have changed, but that we have become a bit more transparent in how we confront those challenges. We start to realize that transparent learning enables us to bring value to what might have otherwise been perceived as a negative, isolating event.
Learning is an experience we go through, not a well-choreographed event with worksheets. That experience comes with emotions, feelings of confidence or inadequacy/fear, and it’s alright to be open about those…at least, in the classroom.
How might we have evolved differently with our focus on transparent learning? Oh…wait…in small communities we formed at the dawn of time, wasn’t everything one did, pretty much, laid bare?
I’m not worried about keeping up with 80,000 tweets, I just enjoy the experience and I’m grateful for the gift of learning from people I never would have met. It’s the artificial nature of schools that I find increasingly repulsive.
As a Read/Write Web, enhanced educator, you (everybody reading these comments) can’t tell me that you haven’t felt the change when you walk on campus. You facilitate, interact with other people differently, don’t you? You feel internal pressure to implement research and to advocate for learning as an experience that happens when we connect with others, don’t you?
If you don’t, I certainly do. The question for me is, Can I overcome my own feelings of inadequacy/fear to accomplish change in my own situation, or will I have to walk away, seeking greener pastures (there aren’t any) and the freedom of being a perpetual learner (very tempting)?
It’s a challenge, but the greater one is “Blooming where you’ve been planted.” Now, I’m writing about me. Please don’t interpret this for yourself unless it fits you.
Powerful beyond measure,
Around the Corner
Will Richardson says
@Miguel And here is the crux: “…advocate for learning as an experience that happens when we connect with others…” More and more for me, at least, it’s not about schooling. It’s not about teaching. It’s all about learning in the context of making connections that extend beyond physical space. That is what is so foreign to us, so different, the ease with which we can do this and the compelling positives and negatives that go along with it.
Miguel Guhlin says
Doc Searls has a neat post on this subject here that is relevant to your post:
Blogging vs Flogging…funny. Did I mention I’m Catholic and self-flagellation is part of the fun?
Running for cover,
Sylvia Martinez says
I think it’s just growing pains.
Lots of people found new purpose in what we call web 2.0. It reawakened professional passion. Then time passes and we find the world isn’t following us in our glorious quest.
It’s not a crisis, just reality. Some people will not get past this realization and give up, some will just integrate things into their normal life.
I don’t consider our conversations to be random at all but merely asynchronous. Like txting, it is often clearer because one as more time to consider the appropriate reply than f2f conversations.
Will, your post and Doug’s, and the long comment threads on both, reinforced some of the feelings I’ve had for a while. Since I’m on the periphery geographically (I’m in Turkey) and “blogically” (my small readership is mostly colleagues who read no other blogs, and mostly don’t even click through my links), I often feel pushed out of the way by the big time bloggers (no offense) and the ever growing masses (of which I’m just one).
I still keep reading the leaders because I’m learning a lot, but it’s daunting to try to add my own two cents because (1) I barely have time to punch out a couple blog posts a week, along with a few comments on others’ blogs; watching some people post a dozen times in a week makes me wonder why I should even try; (2) by the time I read through a long thread and think about commenting, fifty others have already basically said what was on my mind; and (3) I don’t identify closely with the idea that the edublogosphere has some collective unifying purpose as people seek meaning in its history.
As for my own blog, I’m trying to make it my own voice, not an echo. While I’m always happy if someone else benefits from my blog, I realize that my location on the periphery means that its impact won’t exceed more than a handful of people. I’ve had to decide that the stats don’t matter.
Because of some personal issues last year, I had to take a hiatus from many things, including blog reading/writing. When I got back into it in January, I wrote a post to summarize the 7500 posts that had choked my feed reader. It’s kind of spooky to see people cycle through the same conversations (and conversations about the conversation) over and over.
I couldn’t agree with you more about standing on the periphery and the view one has from there. As a classroom teacher I feel the need to stay connected to the blogosphere and stay abreast of new tools that will work in my classroom, so here I am, at the end of a long Twitter trail. Your comment about folks cycling through the same conversations is so right on. Take a break for a few months for report cards, holidays, tests and when you come back you really won’t have missed all that much. If a new tool has hit the scene it is almost better to stand back and wait for the dust to settle and practical applications to surface. Twitter is a perfect example for me. The ordinary classroom seems so very, very far away from what happens in conversations like these. What practical applications does Twitter have for an elementary classroom like mine? Where does it fit in my district’s efforts to move teachers to basic integration? I am still firmly on the sidelines regarding Twitter!
Back to the conversations, I still listen and learn and can’t imagine not accessing them. However I have cut way back, deleted dozens of rss feeds from my feed reader and feel all the better for it. When I have a tech question or problem I can’t figure out I can always go back and find a conversation stored somewhere that can help me and the teachers I work with. And, not feeling the need to stay on top of the latest words I find that I garden more, read more, and spend more time with family!
John Larkin says
Will, thank you for picking up on my post. Much appreciated. Bit pressed for time here and quickly scanned through the comments. Something that did resonate for me was Sheryl’s thoughts on choosing the right tool. I agree. I have written and spoken on this before. It is deep inside me. When you are seeking to achieve a goal reach into that teacher’s backpack and choose the best tool. Whether it be a piece of chalk, a field trip, a quiz, a debate, role play or a quick dip into that technological pool.
I agree. However, I’m just starting to “join the conversation”:
Sometimes I think that the larger, longer? Deeper? conversation within ‘comments’ is lost when observations are made within 140 character of a twitter or notes in a skype IM. Shame to loose that, I guess we have to ask ourselves ‘is the instant conversation empowering our learning or is it merely instant-gratification?
Rodd Lucier says
Knowing that many educators face challenges in developing their personal networks, I’ve started a project to engage Twitter as a way to help like-minded teachers find and learn from one another.
The EDUTWEET Project has the potential of introducing previously unknown nodes to one another… If you find it to be relevant, it would be great to see the idea expand beyond my own limited network…