Emergent reflections

A space where I can digest some thinking through the writing process - liminal, emergent and reflective.

Using web services to revisit conference themes: a test case

Margaret.OCONNELL's picture

Last time I blogged, I mentioned again the efforts of Beth Kanter. Since then I've been snowed under with a major project at work, and have really just "resurfaced"!

One activity I was recently involved in was a conference, the Moodle Moot AU. Moodle Moots are run around the globe and provide an opportunity to show and tell experiences of using the open source online learning platform, Moodle. The one I attended was held in Melbourne just a couple of weeks ago, at the Convention Centre in Southbank (a very nice conference venue I must say!).

In continuing my blogging theme of using social networking services to bring people and ideas together, I want to briefly highlight my use of such 'tools' at this conference, as a 'test case' or 'discussion catalyst'.

First off, I presented at this conference and happily received specific presenter notices by email as to further developing the online area in which our abstract had been included, in preparing for my (co-)presentation. I was also provided with detailed information on getting set up on the day and who could assist, and how. I have to say that this has been the first conference where I haven't faced ICT problems! Such a pleasurable experience! With free broadband too!

In addition to presenter-only emails, we received (semi)regular delegate emails and were warmly invited to contribute to and make our introductions on the conference website (a site that was built on the Moodle platform, obviously!). This meant delegates could start networking prior to face-to-face at the event itself, and pre-select sessions to attend, a good thing for busy people. As I was with a small group from my institution, we were able to 'divvy up' the sessions we thought most interesting between us.

Finally, after preparing for our presentation (and doing some of this by distance while on holiday overseas), I was able to alert co-presenters to some changes made only hours before we presented - truly 'on the fly' (as much teaching is!), we even included a third speaker at the last minute!

Then, after our presentation, two things occurred in addition to delegates talking to us afterwards and exchanging contact details:

1) Delegates who had attended other concurrent sessions heard about our session from others who had 'tweeted' comments in our session. These tweets were tagged with a conference-wide tag (i.e. mootau10) so that all conference-related comments could be retrieved using this tag as a keyword search.We were able to connect with these delegates afterwards too.

mootau10 example of tweets

2) We were asked by some delegates to provide the presentation notes for the session (our session wsa highly interactive with little use of slides). I did this within the hour, by converting my "back-up" slides to a series of images and loading these to my Flickr account and running these as a slideshow to effectively provide an auto-running slideshow of the session! I checked these at the end of the day and the slideshow had already received close to 50 views! This was also useful as the conference website was not a permanent site, so I could not rely on loading our slides to that space for too long. And this is not all - I can go back to my sldieshow and include audio and other notes if I wish - a reuseable and 'volatile' resource!

Flickr slideshow from mootau10

As the conference progressed, I myself took up tweeting as I attended various session over the 2 and a half days. This brings me to one of Elaine's comments and Diane's follow up question from my last blog post:

How, ...do you see online collaboration changing 'how we communicate and organise'?

Perhaps my online activities at the conference may provide some fodder... As I tweeted and made comments generally about sessions, I tagged these with the conference tag, "mootau10". In addition, I also used some contextual tags such as "assessment", "Moodle2" (the next version soon to be released) and "citfln" which is my own insitutional twitter network tag. This tag, especially, meant that those who had 'subscribed' to the citfln twitter account would 'see' my comments in their twitter feed/list. So too, when I saw a comment from another delegate that I liked or thought important, I either re-tweeted it (again so my own network would see it), or saved it as a favourite.

Saving a tweet as a favourite is a bit like notetaking (as one delegate tweeted in fact!). It means that after the event you can select your favourite tweets and then search within those for certain keywords that may spark further comments, writing, or follow up with others. For those librarians or data analysts out there, this is much like metadata, allowing for quick and immediate retrieval of information based on context and activity that is meaningful to the individual.

This brings me to the second of Diane's questions:

How do you see such change 'restructur[ing] our conceptual frameworks,
mode of interaction, knowledge management and cooperative strategies'?

What I had to be conscious of as I undertook these online activities during the conference, was how might I re-use this information and in ways that would be meanginful to mine and others' learning and development? I wasn't just projecting statements out into the atmosphere, I wanted to generate some cohesion in mine and others' thinking, especially where a session really had me questioning an idea, approach, theory or process. Conferences always seem to be overwhelming mentally, and by the end you've had enough of the brain dumps and need a break. Well, I felt that through using such services as Twitter, that I could make a comment then leave it and contnue to make connections beyond the event in a measured way that didn't feel like I was going to "lose the thread" or meaning behind the message!

Finally, another observation when I returned home and reviewed the twitter feed from Moodle Moot a few days later, was that I could quickly scan the screen and get a sense of the main themes or "narrative arcs" that dominated the conference itself. These meta-narratives help us to retain the experience in our body and mind, so even if we find the details may blur, we still 'sense' those themes for the most part.

I'm not an incessant user of Twitter and I am not a regular blogger, but I find the urge and meaningful use of such tools when events such as these (re)connect me to those themes and ideas that energise my thinking and draw out these thoughts. Which brings me to Elaine's meaty question!

How do we build a capacity to manage issues which are simultaneously
"wicked" (addressing one issue exacerbates another), systemic
(pervasively interactive), evolutionary (our own non-linear,
self-organizing social dynamics are implicated) and trans-disciplinary
(multiple interpretive frames are endemic)? 

We need to be conscious of the liminality of the Web and the ways in which we can subvert the designers' intentions when providing us with web services such as Twitter, or others like Facebook and Blogger. David Squires (1999) calls this subversion based on volatile design and encourages teachers and learners to make the most of such designs, and likewise designers to ensure flexibility in their designs that enables the user to use the application in ways that they wish, rather than be dictated to. Education has inherently subverted many technologies for use in teaching and learning activities, from PowerPoint to pencils and the Internet more broadly!

Lorrie raised a good point in her comment to my last blog post,
saying that the use of such technology is best left up to the
individual users - I have to agree, especially if you are seeking
authentic and meanignful connections with people and with ideas and information.

I'd be keen to share others' thoughts at the upcoming World Congress in Melbourne and pick up the baton Elaine has laid down
and open the discussions around how such technologies influence our
ways of connecting, conceptualising and transforming knowledges! I'd
love to share in others' experiecnes of ways of using technology in
practice that may provide us some test cases from which to critique Elaine's and subsequently Diane's, questions.

...and a final thought again from Elaine, goes to the heart of my own questioning in terms of how we expand ALARA's online connectedness:

I think we should be recognizing "crowd-sourced" transformative
learning and online action as a distinct stream within ALARA, which
sometimes operates counter-intuitively to "received wisdom" in the
ALARA community.   

...Over to you! :o)