Subversive lecturing – coopting social software to promote real learning

Subversive Lecturing: Chat Room or MOO activity. Wonderful! I wish we had the ability to do something like this back when I was in university.


This is a bit of a weird one, it rests on the premise that sitting in a lecture making notes isn’t the best way to learn and that if you are actually able to ask questions, express reactions and participate in conversations about the material being presented while it’s being presented you’ll be more engaged and learn more.

It’s basically an easy way to turn a boring old lecture into a pretty dramatic learning experience.

It can work well in a distance learning setting but you can see it much more effectively if you’ve ever attended an online conference or participated in a conference where participants can chat to each other through wireless technology while listening to presenters.


1. You need to schedule a time that you will be delivering the lecture (for example, using Macrimedia Breeze or perhaps even better, Yahoo messenger – free!)

2. The software you are using may work alongside a chat environment or you may need to create one, for example at (which is eeeasy if you have email addresses)

3. When starting the lecture tell your audience that they should use the chat room to raise questions and have brief discussions relating to what’s being talked about. Stop every ten minutes or so to deal with these questions… you’ll get FAR more questions / ideas and thoughts than you would in a regular lecture.

4. After the lectures finished you can pose a couple of questions, leave the group to continue discussing or participate yourself in a discussion related to the topic.

5. As a reflective tool for your teaching a great great great thing about this is that you can then copy and paste the conversation into Word and save it. All the information gaps and relevant issues to that cohort and a hell of a lot of useful stuff for the next time you cover this will be there! I guarantee it!


[Roland Tanglao’s Weblog]

Roland points to a very well thought through plan for how to integrate instant messaging and weblogs into a conventional lecture based teaching strategy. Better yet, it turns out this leads to wonderful new weblog, incorporated subversion, full of other creative plans and ideas for ways in which multiple social software tools might be blended with conventional teaching and learning strategies. Even better, these plans and ideas are all wonderfully concrete and actionable. A new addition to my subscriptions (RSS feed)

Reducing friction in knowledge work

Marc Orchant picked up on my labeling one of his recommended tools as a “frictioner reducer.” I thought it might be worth taking a few minutes to be a bit more explicit about how I use that term in reference to knowledge work.

Unlike physical processes or information factory processes, knowledge work processes aren't readily susceptible to conventional reengineering/industrial engineering approaches. You can't impose industrial structure and control on these processes without destroying the fluidity and adaptability that characterizes them as knowledge work processes.

That raises the question of what can you do to make those processes more effective and possibly more efficient. I have a series of concepts I use as heuristics to make a knowledge work process better. I find them helpful for my own thinking. I'd be curious to hear whether others find these helpful as well as what else they find useful when attacking knowledge work.

This all grows from my notion that knowledge work is better thought of as craft work rather than factory work and that there is more traction in seeking to improve knowledge work than in grand schemes for knowledge management.

I look at four things when I look at a knowledge work process; friction, visibility, indirection, and granularity. Today, I want to focus on friction; we'll come back to the others in later posts.

In conventional process design work, you look for bottlenecks; places where work backs up. Break the bottleneck and move on to the next one. I think of friction as the things that create bottlenecks or slow knowledge work down. It's a bit more subtle than just focusing on obvious bottlenecks.

Let's start with some examples of some friction reducers I currently take advantage of in my own work.

My preference for using RSS aggregators can be viewed as one example of attacking friction in knowledge work. New items show up in my aggregator soon after they are posted. If there are no new items, nothing shows up. I don't waste time going to sites that have nothing new to see. And for sites that do have new information, I don't have to go through the effort to surf to the site until and unless I want to. Consequently, I can monitor an order of magnitude more material than I can by trying to manage and visit sites via a blogroll.

I've been a long time proponent of ActiveWords because of its ability to attack knowledge work friction in so many ways. Not having to remember a web address or not having to type out words and phrases I use frequently smooths my day. Moreover, I am better off using ActiveWords as a single application than I am in using the various shortcut tools embedded in specific applications. Email signatures are a simple example. I use Outlook for my work related email and Eudora for my personal email (a point of friction I tolerate for other reasons). Instead of defining signatures in each application, I have a set of shortcuts defined in ActiveWords. I can adapt the tools on my PC to my needs, instead of adapting myself to the tools.

Software isn't the only way to attack friction in knowledge work (as often as not software solutions add friction). Good ideas by themselves can help. David Allen's Getting Things Done approach is full of ideas that attack friction. One of his ideas I like best is the notion of to do lists that are organized around the context of where they can be used. Instead of a master to do list that you need to review in depth to find useful next steps, Allen convinced me to segregate the lists by where I could use them; such as a call list I can use anytime I have a few minutes free vs. a list of things I can't do unless I'm at my comptuer. Trade a bit of extra set up time for much less friction in action.

Thinking in terms of friction can be helpful because it lets you identify opportunities for improvement without having to redesign or replace entire processes. I don't need to rethink my entire information scanning process to get benefit out of using RSS and news aggregators.

I'm not sure I have any deep rules to identify friction. It's more a function of tuning in to points of irritation and asking whether there are tools or some simple process steps I might take to reduce or eliminate the friction. It helps to be at least aware enough of what is going on to see ways that you are repeating yourself and to scan the kinds of tools and techniques that others use and promote.

Although the examples I've used all operate for individual knowledge workers, the same mindset applies for groups and teams. Here, organizations are adept at creating all sorts of friction to be attacked. Finding frictions that can be attacked and reduced is easier, although the barriers to reducing friction are much more likely to be institutional than computational.

Christensen's Innovator's Solution – 50 Book Challenge

I committed to the 50 book challenge last month. I'm moving along with the reading, now I'm trying to get current with writing about it. Here's the first write up. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to organize this, beyond the posts themselves. We'll see what develops.


The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
Christensen, Clayton M.

Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma was easily one of the best business books I've read in the past 10 years. The Innovator's Solution is in the same category. I suspect we'll look back in a few years and place this work in the same seminal category that Michael Porter's books on competitive strategy acquired in the 80s.

Christensen's work sytematically addresses the problems I wrestled with in working with Porter's conception of strategy. Porter's work is rooted in classical industrial economic analysis, which by and large focuses on questions of equilibrium. I could never see how to connect that work to the dynamic, technology driven environments I worked in. Christensen addresses that in very powerful ways.

One of the aphorisms I took to heart from The Innovator's Dilemma was “markets that don't exist can't be analyzed.” In this book, Christensen begins to lay out how you can take the notions of disruptive innovation and use them to design a reasonable course of action in the absence of the kind of analytical data strategy consultants desire.

He returns to his original distinction between sustaining and disruptive innovation. As he takes pains to repeat, these are not synonyms for “incremental” and “breakthrough.” Christensen is interested in the market impacts of an innovation, not in its technological pedigree. Regardless of its technological difficulty, an innovation is sustaining if it is designed against the performance criteria of existing customers and markets; particularly the criteria of the most advanced and demanding customers.

Disruptive innovations attack either the lower ends of existing markets where there are customers willing to settle for less performance at less cost, or new markets where a new packaging and design of available technologies creates an alternative to non-consumption. The example I found easiest to understand here was Sony's invention of the portable transistor radio. Compared to vacuum tube radios the first transistor radios were crappy, but good enough for teenagers and others on the go whose alternative was no music at all.

A well concieved disruptive innovation attacks a market that existing competitors would happily abandon (customers who complain that your products are too complex and expensive for their basic needs) or do not see. This keeps you off the radar while you build a market and improve the performance of your product.

Christensen's approach also suggests some counterintuitive approaches to launching innovations intended to be disruptive. In particular, he argues convincingly against trying to get big fast in favor of seeking profitability early on. I need to think some more about that and see how you might account for something like Amazon in his framework. Which would start with deciding whether you would consider Amazon to be a sustaining or a disruptive innovation. I think I could argue either side. Regardless, I suspect that this is a book that like Porters', I will read several more times before I figure it all out.

The spreading virus of IP law

the spreading virus of IP law. So after being battered down again and again, the database bill is back. Congress is again being pressed by IP extremist lobbyists to “solve” the “problem” of “inadequate legal protection” for databases by adding a raft of IP lawyers into the mix. This is an awful law, and were the attention of good people everywhere not focused upon the many awful things happening in DC, it would be dead on arrival. But unfortunately, it lives. PublicKnowledge is doing its part to stop it. Please do something to help stop it again. [Lessig Blog]

Do you ever wonder whether any of our legislators were awake in their Constitutional Law classes?

Rational ignorance

Rational ignorance.


Rational Ignorance

Academic life is ruining the internet for me. An example: Today I read Joi Ito s wandering entry on money, economics, and physics, and the first thing I thought of doing was to post a bibliography of all of the reading that should have been done before that post was made. And then I realized that posting such a bibliography is the equivalent of shouting at the television. It doesn t matter what I say about it. The TV (and the internet) can t really hear me.

Lago reacts to an interesting point that I in fact pondered yesterday before posting my thoughts from my lunch with Seth. Is it better for me to post my superficial musings with Seth in the one hour that I had before I needed to move on to the next thing, or do I scribble them in my notebook and write a more rigorous treatment with references. I decided, as Cory often says, that my blog is my notebook and that even though many of my thoughts were half-baked, it was better to write early/write often than to back burner the thoughts and probably never get around to posting them.


I don’t want to ignite a academic vs non-academic flame-war here. I’m just trying to point out, as Lago does, that we are all making decisions about how much to study in order for us to make the right decisions. I don’t have the time or the ability to do “all of the reading that should have been done before that post was made.” Having said that, I would encourage people to post “a bibliography of all of the reading” since I am interested and so are many other people.

By Joichi Ito [Joi Ito’s Web]

Interesting ruminations from Joi Ito on how to strike a balance between getting something out the door and thinking some more about it.

I feel that I tend to err in the other direction of sitting on things too long instead of putting something out there, although the experience of weblogging over the past two years has helped immensely in moving toward Joi’s position. It’s something I find myself thinking about explicitly far more than I used to.

Peter Drucker in Fortune

peter drucker at 94….

Brent Schlender writes an article for Fortune in which 'Peter Drucker Sets Us Straight.' The following is a excerpt from that article, the balance is available by 'subscription' to Fortune's online service.

…You can always count on Peter Drucker to provide a new way of looking at things. After all, he is the man who first recognized that management is a discipline worthy of deep and formal study. Long before anyone else – in the early 1950s, no less – he predicted how computer technology would one day thoroughly transform business. In 1961 he presciently called attention to the rise of Japan as an industrial power, and two decades later he warned of its impending economic stagnation. And we can thank him for coining the concepts of “privatization,” “knowledge workers,” and “management by objective.”

At 94, Drucker is still full of insights that seem to elude others, and he is as opinionated as ever. His interests range from economics to psychology to philosophy to opera to Japanese art; his experiences include consulting with literally hundreds of companies, governments, small businesses, churches, universities, hospitals, arts organizations, and charities. To this day, leaders of all stripes make the pilgrimage to California to learn from the master, who continues to lecture at the management school that bears his name at Claremont Graduate University…

[judith meskill's knowledge notes…]

Drucker is always worth paying attention to. Here's a piece of the interview I found particularly relevant:

Nobody has really looked at productivity in white-collar work in a scientific way. But whenever we do look at it, it is grotesquely unproductive. As you know, most of my work these days is with universities and hospitals and churches, which are three of the biggest knowledge-worker employers, and their productivity is dismal. In part this is because knowledge work by definition is highly specialized, and that means that the utilization of the knowledge worker tends to be very low.

The inefficiency of knowledge workers is partly the legacy of the 19th-century belief that a modern company tries to do everything for itself. Now, thank God, we've discovered outsourcing, but I would also say we don't yet really know how to do outsourcing well. Most look at outsourcing from the point of view of cutting costs, which I think is a delusion. What outsourcing does is greatly improve the quality of the people who still work for you. I believe you should outsource everything for which there is no career track that could lead into senior management. When you outsource to a total-quality-control specialist, he is busy 48 weeks a year working for you and a number of other clients on something he sees as challenging. Whereas a total-quality-control person employed by the company is busy six weeks a year and the rest of the time is writing memoranda and looking for projects. That's why when you outsource you may actually increase costs, but you also get better effectiveness.

Engelbart profile in Wired and tools for knowledge work

The Click Heard Round the World. Fifteen years before the Mac, Doug Engelbart demo'd videoconferencing, hyperlinks, text editing and something called a 'mouse.' He tells Wired magazine writer Ken Jordan about his part in the point-and-click revolution. [Wired News]

Great overview of Doug Engelbart's work from Wired. Alan Kay once told me that you could explain most of the history of personal computing as people trying to work out the implications of what Engelbart demoed in 1968. Here's Engelbart on how they framed their approach:

Our approach was very different from what they called “office automation,” which was about automating the paperwork of secretaries. That became the focus of Xerox PARC in the '70s. They were quite amazed that they could actually get text on the screen to appear the way it would when printed by a laser printer. Sure, that was an enormous accomplishment, and understandably it swayed their thinking. They called it “what you see is what you get” editing, or WYSIWYG. I say, yeah, but that's all you get. Once people have experienced the more flexible manipulation of text that NLS allows, they find the paper model restrictive.

We weren't interested in “automation” but in “augmentation.” We were not just building a tool, we were designing an entire system for working with knowledge. Automation means if you're milking a cow, you get a tool that will milk it for you. But to augment the milking of a cow, you invent the telephone. The telephone not only changes how you milk, but the rest of the way you work as well. It touches the entire process. It was a paradigm shift.

One key notion of Engelbart's that I don't think has been sufficiently investigated or thought about is the time investment in learning to use new and powerful tools for working. The industry, by and large, has gone down the path of initial experience and ease of use out of the box. Very often this is at the expense of long term ease of use.

Take something as seemingly simple as outlining software, a category “Dave Winer” contributed to greatly. The earliest outliners like ThinkTank and More devoted considerable thought to using the power of technology to let you do things with outlines that weren't possible on paper. But the marketing forces driving software led mostly to the vestigial capabilities for outlining left in Word or Powerpoint. There are some promising developments such as MindManager for the PC and OmniOutliner for the Mac, but they are niche applications. Few seem prepared to invest the time to learn how to make effective use of these tools to think. Engelbart assumes that you will invest considerable time to learn to use the tools. For those with well defined work worlds (think AutoCad or Excel or programming), there is an expectation that it takes time to become effective using new tools. Not so in the world of general purpose knowledge work. There's opportunity there still to be exploited.

Paul Graham on What You Can't Say

Paul Graham: What You Can't Say. “The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. … Draw a sharp line between your thoughts and your speech. Inside your head, anything is allowed. … But, as in a secret society, nothing that happens within the building should be told to outsiders.” [Hack the Planet]

More provocative thinking from Paul Graham. Some bits and pieces that particularly caught my eye, although it's all worth reading and thinking about:

A good scientist, in other words, does not merely ignore conventional wisdom, but makes a special effort to break it. Scientists go looking for trouble. This should be the m.o. of any scholar, but scientists seem much more willing to look under rocks. [10]

Why? It could be that the scientists are simply smarter; most physicists could, if necessary, make it through a PhD program in French literature, but few professors of French literature could make it through a PhD program in physics. Or it could be because it's clearer in the sciences whether theories are true or false, and this makes scientists bolder. (Or it could be that, because it's clearer in the sciences whether theories are true or false, you have to be smart to get jobs as a scientist, rather than just a good politician.)

Or this:

Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.