Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Notes on a framework for exploring aggregation and interlinking of social networking applications

To follow up on the previous post, here are some notes (from Allison L.) regarding a framework for thinking about how these applications can work together to enable knowledge construction of the sort that we were referring to:

"In my search through ecology texts I have gleaned the following gems. Please read with the understanding that a little knowledge can be a bad/misleading thing :-)

1) Ecology has been desribed as the 'science of case studies' and, as such, could be useful in consideration of a set of scenarios.

2) In the application of ecology to preserve conservation, knowledge of taxa is more important that theory. Bottom up consideration of taxa likely to be more fruitful that the traditional top down. (BTW this is akin to the sort of methodology one would use in scenario planning - so I presume all the pulling together of ecology theory and problem solving theories has already been done....)

3) A central theme of ecology is diversity-stability relationship. Ecologists do not agree about this relationship. The classic theories are based around the notion of diversity for stability (this is an interesting concept in relation to TEL. Should we all use the same applications, or a range of applications. This question is ultimately influenced by interoperabilty and accessibility issues).

4) The classic theory does not hold up in 'rockpool systems' where change in one species can change the whole bio-schema. This is probably the same in learning technology. However, it does surprise me that ecologists could EVER have suggested that such as simple causal relationship would not have exceptions in highly complex systems - now I'm beginning to doubt my source :-)

5) The starting point in examining any system is clarification of concepts including 'community', 'stability' and 'diversity'. However there is an underlying weakness in ecological theories in that the principals and assumptions relating these are not well understood (I find this quite mindblowing. Ecology started a long time ago, with Darwin!).

6) The basic unit of study is a system that reaches 'dynamic stability' . STudying a massive, complex system is difficult, so one solution is to dive the big system into smaller, more managable sub systems(this is 'island biogeography - developed by McArthur and Wilson in the 60s). For us, that probably means we study small, discreet networks of people as a first step, rather than trying to understand the collective. Hmmmm - I do have some doubts about this, though it may be a way forward if - and only if- one understands the relationship between the subsystems. But that adds another layer of complexity.

7) These systems and their interrelationships can be studies through taxa and change in taxanomic composition over time, colonisation and extinction rates. This is an interesting point when one considers that learning technologists tend to look for stable taxa in a rapidly changing field. I'm begiining to think that repository systems could, in theory, be viewed as 'islands' for study. However, the problem is that only some of them grow 'organically'. Most grow due to forced use (ie an LMS system students have to access whether they like it or not; JISC funding influencing use of reps etc). So I'm not sure any study would stand up under these conditions

Ecology can help look at applications and groiups of applications, but the use of these systems by people is another level of our study. We shoud draw on other heuristic methologies, from anthropology. Theories fro anthroploloy must be closely related to general theories of ecology."

Monday, 23 July 2007

On personal information vs knowledge environments and aggregation

Allison L and I are talking about personal knowledge management environments, and I mentioned Netvibes as one example. Allison disagreed:

"Netvibes seems similar to Google Homepage... It allows you to personalise a 'homepage' with news etc. Perhaps this system is more flexible, but these mashups seem pretty mainstream nowadays.

I would describe these as personal infomation environments rather than knowledge environments because I think these ideas of mashups are extremely limited. In my imagination a 'true' mashup is one where data from one source is fed into software at another source, ot, better still, two datastreams from different, unrelated sources are fed ino a single application to create something new, unique, useful and fitting a novel purpose.

From everything I've read so far there seems to be too much thinking about individual applications in isolation - ie perhaps twitter has a use, but so what? What if I could feed it into flugelbinder and the system could somehow automatically help to point me to links in ideas that would help me come up with new ideas rather than collections of small groups of thoughts. I think we should think about how these applications can work together."

I agree that aggregation and interlinking of these tools is the key. In realtion to the "wisdom of the crowds" metaphor which we have been exploring in the context of some research proposals that we have been working on recently, "aggregation" is also one of the four conditions that James Surowiecki says characterise wise crowds.

Ideas for RealWoRLD and Shell projects from CETIS meeting

Allison wrote:

"Was checking out the last CETIS meeting - prompted by this email from Charles. I think lots of the ideas discussed at the meeting are aligned with the Shell proposal, though they are, indeed, useful for Realworld.

Sheila McNeil's blog gives a summary of all the presentations. David Davies has been exploring 'mashups'. I think these have great potential, though they could unfortunately go in the direction most digital content has gone in so far - ie teacher control. David has some interesting ideas:

"David Davies (IVIMEDS, University of Warwick) gave an overview of the way he is starting to mash up content from various sources (including their formal repository) to create new and dynamic resources for students. A process which he described as being potentially both transformative and disruptive - for everyone involved. David gave a really practical insight into the way he has been combining RSS feeds with yahoo pipes to create resources which are directly embedded into the institutions’ learning environment. Using this type of technology staff area able to share content in mulitple ways with students, without the student having to access the learning object repository. David also strongly advocated the use of offline aggregators, describing these as personal repositories. As well as using RSS feeds from their repository and various relevant journals, Warwick are increasingly creating and using podcasts. David described how a podcast is basically and RSS feed with binary enclosures which means that they can do much more than just contain audio. At Warwick they are creating podcasts which include flash animations. So in this way they are again providing another way for students to access content.' ! (from http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/sheilamacneill/2007/07/03/joint-mdr-and-ec-sig-meeting-29-june/)

The ideas presented by Michael Gardner could be a useful structure around a 'collective'..."