Learning technologies overview from down under

Another excellent resource courtesy of Stephen Downes on technologies in learning.

Emerging Technologies: A Framework For Thinking , Education.au.
This sweeping and forward-looking report commissioned by the Australian
Capital Territory Department of Education (ACT DET) to look at the
impact and potential of emerging technologies in learning is a
must-read for decision-makers in the field; it also serves as an
excellent introduction to emerging technology in learning for anyone
interested in the field. While the authors nod toward traditional
learning technology, such as learning management systems, they also
capture well the larger trends impacting the field: mobility,
interoperability, collaboration and communication, creativity, and open
source. They also note that many of the technologies that will be used
to support learning “are currently banned, or otherwise highly
restricted, by schools,” an indication of the cultural and management
challeges posed in the emerging environment. While on the one hand
conservative (look at the layers of intermediary between students and
internet postulated by Figure 2 (section 6.1) the authors nonetheless
capture the practical value of blogs, wikis, podcasting and vodcasting
(to name only a few). Don't miss this one. PDF. [] [] [OLDaily]

What is an information system?

A nice little reminder from Espen on the value of keep design simple and local.

As much as many of us like shiny toys, it can be too easy to lose sight of the real objective of an information system.

Some years ago (December 1998, according
to my email archive) I participated in an online discussion on the
ISWORLD mailing list, about what an information system really is. I
posted this story, which I had heard told somewhere but never found a
source for:

CEO with hotel chain A found himself having to spend a night in a hotel
from hotel chain B. Naturally, he was very curious as to what kind of
information systems they had, and resolved to keep an open eye for
competitive use of IT. As he approached the reception for first time,
the woman behind it smiled at him and said “Welcome back, Sir!”

he said “But…it is 12 years since I was here last! How could you know
that I have stayed here before, what kind of advanced information
systems do you have that can store and find the fact that I was here 12
years ago?”

“Well, it is really very simple”, she said. “When
the doorman opened the door to your cab, he asked if this was your
first stay with us. You answered no, and as you walked through the
door, the doorman looked at me through the window and touched his nose.
That told me that you should be welcomed back….”

Moral of the story: Information systems don't have to mean information technology….

was going to use this story in a paper I am writing, did a Desktop
Google search for it – and found it not only in my email file, but also
on a number of web pages (here and here, in addition to a previous story here).

It is kind of fascinating to see how these things move, but I still don't know the real source of that story – does anyone?

(And incidentally, this story is an excellent teaching device…)

[Applied Abstractions]

Building a personal knowledge management environment

Just a quiet little pointer from Dave Winer this morning on the idea of his that has ended up driving a huge amount of my experimentation with creating an environment for personal knowledge management.

1/4/01: “In the centralized model for the Internet, your browser makes requests of a server that could be very far away, or slow for other reasons. Now imagine that the server is very close and you don’t have to share it with anyone, it’s yours and yours alone. It would be fast!” [Scripting News]

My work means that I am frequently not connected to the web for significant chunks of time. Ten years ago, the solution to that problem was Lotus Notes as both an email and document management environment that understood the problems of intermittment connectivity. Unfortunately, Notes got hijacked by the IS group and locked down behind layers of complexity that prevented amateur programmers from rolling their own solutions.

That was followed by a period where Outlook and Microsoft Office were almost the only tools I used on my notebook machine. For all its strengths, Office, IMHO, is fundamentally focused on the production aspects of final deliverables and is either weak or an active hindrance in the earlier stages of creating and developing knowledge work products. Nor do the components of Office do much helpful to support the real issues of producing final products that are the joint collaborative efforts of a team (compare Word’s Track Changes against any reasonable version control system that software developers would take as a necessary tool in their world).

Somewhere around the time Dave wrote this, I started playing with Userland’s Frontier and Manila and then began to use “Radio” as my< blogging platform. One of the key value added features for me was the built in outlining capabilities hidden inside Radio. Unfortunately, they are a bit too well hidden even for someone who loves outlining as a key thinking tool. Also, the innovative energy around Radio and Frontier dropped off from my amateur's perspective. I no longer have the time or the skill to do major development. I am fundamentally a technology user. What I can do is take advantage of the efforts of others and tweak and adapt what they do to my needs. That works best if you can plug into a thriving environment of developers and users. I've posted elsewhere (Experimenting with Web 2.0 on my laptop, Details of my Windows/LAMP Environment) about my current practices, but I wanted to make the connection back to the original ideas that drove my approach.

To date, most of this experimentation has been about improving my own knowledge work effectiveness over time. Moving that to the level of project team and work group has been more difficult. First, because you need to overcome the blinders imposed by the marketing investments of most software vendors who generally promise more than they deliver and who actively ignore the organizational change issues of new work practices. Second, there are the barriers imposed by IS groups who tend to be more focused on managing the risks introduced by users who are unwilling or unable to understand the technology they already have than they are on helping a handful of mavericks push the envelope. In a world of worms, viruses, and Sarbanes-Oxley that’s an entirely appropriate focus, of course. I work hard to keep the folks in IS informed and happy.

Today, even though I’m making less use of the specific tools he’s developed, I continue to make very productive use of Dave Winer’s insights and perspective.

BlawgThink: Powered by MindManager

This is an exciting addition to the upcoming BlawgThing conference. I've been using and advocating mindmaps
for years (I have one 26-year old hand drawn mindmap near my desk that
I used to organize my studying for exams at the end of my first year of
business school). MindManager was the first, and in my view still the
best, tool I found that made mindmapping on a computer a useful and
productive practice.

Jack Vinson and I have
already been exchanging MindManager mindmaps as we develop our session
for Blawgthink and will likely use it for anything we choose to present
as part of the session. I'm definitely looking forward to having the
tool and the technique be a core part of the experience.

Mindjet is excited to announce the first “Powered by MindManager” conference. BlawgThink 2005,
to be held Nov. 11-12 in Chicago, will be the first large conference to
use MindManager as its central organizing principle. Breakout sessions
will be run with MindManager, conference “scribes” will take notes in
MindManager, the main conference room will feature a large map of all
the thinking going on, and there will be presentations on using
MindManager in the legal field. The event organizers plan to use
MindManager’s External Linker” (available for free in the Mindjet Labs)
to instantly pull information from the breakout sessions into the main
conference map. And they have a lot more ideas in mind on using
MindManager to create the perfect conference environment.

you have any interest in how MindManager can be used in the legal
arena, this one conference will probably tell you more in two days than
you would learn in two months. Go to the BlawgThink site for more information on this first-ever “Powered by MindManager” event as the date gets nearer.

please let us know if you have any thoughts on how MindManager can help
improve the value and quality of conferences. Think of BlawgThink as a
bit of a test lab for using MindManager to build the perfect large
interactive event. How would you do it?

Fourth blogiversary at McGee's Musings

I've now reached four years of writing in this space. Curiously, I missed my
first blogiversary, but did manage to post this item: Doonesbury on

Obviously, the rewards and benefits continue to outweigh the costs. I still
get a kick out of meeti ng someone who's read something here. I continue to meet
new and interesting minds because of my presence here and I get to stay in touch
with many of the others that I've met along the way. It continues to amaze me
that these words find their way to all sorts of odd and unexpected places around
the planet.

To the following blogging friends I have managed to
acquire because of blogging, thank you for making this an experiment I intend to
continue. Let's see who else we can invite to the party.

Jenny Levine, AKMA, Terry Frazier, Betsy Devine, Buzz Bruggeman, Denham Grey, Marc Orchant, Cameron Reilly, Marjolein
, Ernie Svenson, Judith Meskill, Jack Vinson, Ross Mayfield, Lilia Efimova, Jeremy Wagstaff, Matt Mower, Ton Zijlstra, Eric Snowdeal, Rick Klau, Greg Lloyd, Chris Nuzum,
Jordan Frank
, Halley
, Jon Husband, Dina Mehta, Shannon Clark, Bruce MacEwen, Espen Andersen, Hylton Jolliffe, Stowe Boyd, Francois Gossieaux, Jim Berkowitz, Eric Lunt, Dennis Kennedy, Matt Homann,
Jim Ware, Elizabeth Albrycht, Regina
, David Gurteen, Rik Reppe,

If I've forgotten someone, my apologies. Ping me and I'll update the

I remain interested in the challenges of making organizations better places
for real people to work in and still believe that the effective use of
technology makes a difference. I suspect that large organizations are nearing
the end of their useful life and that the evolution toward new forms will
continue to be painful and noisy. I worry about leaders and executives who
choose to ignore facts and who can't or won't distinguish between the theory of
evolution and the theory of who shot JFK.

In the long run, I still put my bets on the value of curiosity. There is deep
truth buried in Dorothy Parker's observation that provides this blogs

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There
is no cure for curiosity.”

Becoming a better quick study of new markets and technology

Tim Oren offers
his process for coming up to speed on a new market or technology.
Although it's oriented towards his specific needs as a VC evaluating
potential investments, it is general enough to offer an excellent
starting point for any of us whose lives are characterized by having to
make sense out of new environments on a regular basis. Certainly, there
have been times in my career as a consultant when it seems that the
primary skill requirement is to be an adept quick study on anything.

Here's Tim's key graf:

There are two observations behind this methodology. First, every
technology and market has a private language. It's built of terms of
art, but also names of landmarks such as products, famous papers and
projects, labs, and researchers and other experts. To begin to
understand the market you need to learn this language. Fortunately,
such a distinctive use of language and interlinkage of people and
information artifacts is the very best thing you can have to feed
Google or other modern search tools. The second observation is that the
best way to learn a field is to watch experts argue about it. [Due Diligence]

I would add two suggestions to his approach. First, give some thought
to using a mindmap or something similar to manage your growing
knowledge base. I'm a fan of MindManager for
this kind of effort, and the newest version adds a number of new
features to support this kind of organic research strategy. Jerry Michalski is a fan of a product called Personal Brain.
I used it a few years back and, while I liked it, ultimaely concluded
that mindmaps suited me better. Second, give some thought to how you
want to manage the collection of electronic resources (links, captured
webpages, pdf files, etc) you will ultimately collect. Lately, I've
been having success with a combination of MindManager and Onfolio.

The Art of the Fast Take.
Earlier this week I was in a skull session at the Institute for the
Future, hosted by Howard Rheingold and nominally about bite-size
classes that could be held in real space or virtually in a multimedia
network. As a reflection… [Due Diligence]

On the Menu at BlawgThink

Matt Homan and Dennis Kennedy are putting together a really interesting
get together next month. Jack and I are planning to put together a
highly interactive session to tap the collective interests and
experience of everyone who chooses to join us.

Jim McGee and I are going to host a session on knowledge management / collaboration during BlawgThink 2005, here in Chicago. LexThink! Blog – Speaking of BlawgThink

Q: What do Matt Buchanan, Ben Cowgill, Dennis Crouch, Fred Faulkner, Peter Flashner, Brandy Karl, Cathy Kirkman, Rick Klau, Jim McGee, Steve Nipper, Kevin O’Keefe, Evan Schaeffer, Doug Sorocco, Ernie Svenson, Jack Vinson, and J. Craig Williams have in common?

A: They are all speaking at BlawgThink 2005. We’ll have a few more additions to this list by the end of the week.


A visit from Buzz

Buzz came through
Chicago last week on his trek
across America
. I was on my way back from a day of interviewing and
recruiting at the University of Illinois in Champaign and found Buzz in a
Starbucks in Glenview. From there, Buzz followed me home in his new Saab. In
typical Buzz fashion, he charmed Charlotte once again and proceeded to demo ActiveWords and a series of other
software tools and tips to her. We also showed off Skype by calling Jeremy
Wagstaff in Jakarta using Buzz's laptop as an impromptu speakerphone. Of course,
I will now be installing ActiveWords on Charlotte's computer when I get back
tonight (I'm in Boston today). Charlotte was suitably impressed and happy to
discover someone who knew things about his computer and its applications that
was news to me as well. Her reaction was the typical one I have come to expect
when a non-technical knowledge worker sees ActiveWords for the first time – “why
hasn't Microsoft bought this and made it part of Windows?”

The next day Buzz and I went on into Chicago where he pitched ActiveWords to
my CIO. We also spent some time with some of my colleagues as we started to
think through how to do a pilot evaluation that would let us demonstrate the
potential value of ActiveWords within our day-to-day knowledge work efforts.

I've been an ActiveWords user now for four years and I still learn something
new about how to make use of this tool whenever I watch Buzz show it off. It is
the kind of tool that can be hard to fully appreciate until you see it in the
hands of an expert. I came away with a number of ideas for new things I would
like to do. I think we have the basis for an initial pilot and should find a
number of user groups for whom ActiveWords will become part of their knowledge
work toolkit.

PC marketing has played the productivity card from day zero. Early on,
however, the marketing message skipped over the part about the behavioral change
needed to realize the potential of technology. Few of us have the time or
inclination to observe and think about how we work, much less think through how
we might go about making our work easier. We still don't have the tools we need
to really address the challenge of improving the
productivity/effectiveness of knowledge work
. One way to think about
ActiveWords is that it is the smallest first step you can take to begin making
your PC a tool to extend your effectiveness that gives you the quickest payback.
With luck, it may also help sensitize you to the notion that you can get more
value out of your tools if you learn how to use them and take the time to
observe your work and look for ways to make it more effective.

We finished the day with a blogger dinner at Reza's hosted by Shannon Clark
of MeshForum. We had a nice turnout and
lots of good conversation and food. I'll post more about the dinner later.