Sunday, March 2, 2008
Bryan Alexander, Web Wiz
I learned a lot from Bryan Alexander, including how to cut a crusty baguette properly. Baking bread is one of Alexander's hobbies apparently, so he knows what's up. (For the Davies Forum delicious food is a must along with our enlightening speakers, so Alexander shared the spotlight with homemade Chili from this fellow Blake and there was bread to go along with it). I know the bread cutting skill will probably be with me for the rest of my life, and I think some other stuff he said will be too.
At times it was hard to keep up with him, probably because I am new to some Web 2.0 lingo. Which is understandable. Alexander pointed out how Web 2.0 language sounds like Dr. Seuss language (Wiki, flickr, twitter, tweet, blog...).
The first thing that blew my mind was this website twittervision.com. Twitter, and to tweet, are a noun and verb I did not know this context of. Anyone can sing up for a membership on twitter.com and create "friends" like on Facebook, and then "tweet" to their online friends via cell phone or computer all day long. One tweets about anything, like how they're feeling at the moment, or their view on the latest news. And on twittervision, one sees a global map of tweets happening right now all over the world! AKA, someone can log on and see how people are feeling right now all over the world! Yesterday I learned it was raining it Amsterdam. I could have gone to weather.com and looked up the weather in Amsterdam, but why would I be looking up the weather in Amsterdam? I don't know about you, but I think this is pretty cool stuff. The world is changing.
Much of this change is due to collaboration, collective knowledge and research, and connectivism- the idea that we learn in networks. These are all large factors in Web 2.0. Think Wikipedia, blog and Flickr commenting, and things like twitter.
Connectivism is a part of Clay Shirky's very interesting article "Ontology is overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags," that we read last week for the Davies Forum on Digital Literacy. Shirky writes about categorization and the Internet, and he says, "the only group that can categorize everything is everybody." He points out that current ways of categorizing are out-dated in terms of the electronic world. The connectivism is everyone making sense of the Internet together, each having a hand in what it is. This is done in part by tagging. For example, i can choose what tags to put on this blog, and that changes the Internet a little bit. "By letting users tag URLs and then aggregating those tags, we're going to be able to build alternate organizational systems, systems that, like the web itself, do a better job of letting individuals create value for one another, often without realizing it."
Alexander works for NITLE,- a nonprofit initiative dedicated to promoting liberal education. Their organization is "dedicated to advancing learning through the effective use of digital technologies" (www.nitle.org) and it seems like this is what Alexander is all about. Which is pretty cool. He mentioned the Pew Internet Study in December of 2007 about Teens and Social Media ( I think we felt cool telling him we had read this study already, in preparation for another speaker of ours, Mary Madden, of Pew). Anyway, Alexander mentioned from this study how more than half of teens are published authors now. He also said two years ago he thought by now most kids K-12 would have RSS feeds by now. Wouldn't this be great? Their feeds could be full of informational blogs about things they were learning in school. Alexander says he thinks kids don't have these because RSS feeds are "too geeky." I think the reason is that teachers don't even know about RSS feeds, so how would their students?
Alexander is also interested in Alternate Reality Games- computer games that involve real life and online experience to tell and create a story. One example of this is "Blood on the Stacks," a game created by Trinity University and their Coates Library. It was created in order to increase interest in the library and it has worked! It's a mystery game that takes place largely online but is also a real life treasure hunt. People have to be involved online to be able to enact the real life clues.
I asked Alexander how he thinks all of these new web technologies that enhance and multiply connection are changing the world. It seems he is positive about it but also recognizes that there are fears. Two of them are: Undermined traditional authority; and sexual predators. But that's a whole different blog post...