I suspect this is the last iteration of Cancerland, since I don’t think the land its sitting on will be around too much longer. So I really went to town with it. Building it and sharing it has been a great experience.
So: new job title (“Emerging Technologies Librarian”). Definitely something that I wanted to see happen. I feel like it reflects what I actually do a lot better. Though I have pangs of regret when I think about instructional technology, but the lines are still blurry. Now I deliberately look at emerging technologies in teaching and learning, or maybe ones that haven’t quite emerged at all yet. Also emerging technologies as they apply to libraries in general, and our library in particular.
It’s exciting to have a job title that reflects what I’m already doing anyway, but it’s also kind of intimidating. I mean, keeping up with the trends was something I did as a bonus. Suddenly it’s in my job title.
So I was thinking about what trends I’m currently tracking, and I wonder how they fit into the whole “emerging” thing.
Second Life/Virtual Worlds. I’ve been on this one for a while, but I still think it’s emerging. Mostly because I think no one’s popularized the one true way to use virtual worlds in teaching and learning yet. In fact, there are so many wrong ways in practice currently that many people are getting turned off using Second Life in teaching. I’m still interested in it. I’m a builder, I’m interested in what you could use the environment for to build things and have students build things. A giant collaborative place filled with student-created expression of course content would be awesome. So I’m holding on to this one.
Twitter. I can’t believe I’m putting it on the list, but I am. Mostly because I’ve been talking about how great it is at a conference for some time now and I’m starting to see the argument come back to me from much larger places. People complain about what people twitter during events (“Too critical! Too snarky! The audience is the new keynote!”), but that’s pretty much exactly what would make things interesting in a classroom. I want to install the open source version and try it out with a willing instructor. I’m also interested in it for easy website updates, but most people would tell me that that’s a total misuse of the application. (Too bad!)
Ubiquitous Computing. I’ll say that instead of mobile devices. The hardware will come and go, but the concept of ubiquity for computing is fascinating. It’s coming in fits and starts; I want to see how I can push this one in small ways in the library. Computing without the computer. Ideally without a cell phone either. This is something I’m going to track for a good long while. I have this ubiquitous future in my head that seems like a perfect setting for a cyberpunk novel. (I might get around to writing it one of these days.)
Cheap Storage. As a rule hardware isn’t my area, but I’m interested to see what it means that storage capacity is getting so crazily cheap. If I can carry 120 gb in my pocket without even noticing it, what does that mean for computing in general?
Cloud Computing. This goes along with the cheap storage. Jeremy tells me we will never be affected by the cloud because we are a locked down environment for the most part, but I think he might be wrong. Even if we can’t fully employ the cloud because of security and legal limitations, I think the concept of cloud computing will sink into the consciousnesses of our users. We will need to be prepared to offer services as easily as the cloud can.
Netbooks. This fits in with cloud computing and cheap storage; if we can have tiny little computers with us at all times, massive amounts of physical storage and powerful applications coming down from the cloud, what does the world end up looking like?
Social Networks. Embracing the networks you have, on facebook, on IRC, on Twitter, on IM, wherever. Accepting that we are no longer a culture that uses its brain for information storage; we are processors, connectors. We store our knowledge in machines and in our networks. While social software may look like too much fun to be productive, those social networks are what’s going to scaffold us through most of the rest of our lives. Learning how to respectfully and usefully employ our networks as part of our learning (and teaching, for that matter) is an important skill.
There are some other pieces that are just never going to go away: blogging (for librarians!), wikis for everyone, IM: I think we’ve finally reached a point where we can intelligently choose the best tool for the task at hand from an incredible range of options. So I think part of the emerging trend is to use what’s best, not necessarily what’s most powerful, most expensive, or most popular. Things like twitter and netbooks are evidence of that: sometimes you don’t need all the bells and whistles.
So that’s my emerging update of the moment.
Another follow-up to a tweet, posted in response to David Silver’s attempt to use a Geertzian theory on twitter:
I appreciate someone trying to apply thick description to tweets, but I’m not certain David Silver hasn’t missed the mark a bit here.
First: isn’t it frustrating that every time we experiment with web applications, there’s someone somewhere trying to tell us how to do it right? Case in point, back from 2005: “I just spent fifteen minutes clicking through about 20 Xanga sites and I CANâ€™T FIND ANY BLOGGING GOING ON! Is it me?” (my response). We like these applications to fulfill a pedagogical role, often to improve the profile of the use of the application to other academics and departmental chairs. Current case in point: some researchers/educators using Second Life don’t want to be associated with the “debauchery” of the Second Life Community Conference, and want to break out on their own in order to set the “right” tone.
So now we get to the “right” and “wrong” kinds of tweets. This is a challenging thing, since a tweet is only 140 characters long. Silver encourages students to “pack multiple layers of information within 140 characters or less,” and those layers are defined by links, primarily. Also by shout outs. And mentioning names.
I don’t think thick description is a good way to evaluate a tweet. A tweet’s value isn’t in how much information it’s conveying, it’s in the basic value of the information itself. Personally I quite like funny tweets, regardless of whether they’ve got links in them or not. The context of tweets doesn’t come from the tweet itself, it comes from the environment around the tweet, the news of the day, the location of the user, the user’s other tweets, the user’s blog, flickr stream, employment history, and the live events the user it attending. Tweets are ultimately snippets that don’t necessarily make sense in isolation. I’d suggest that to evaluate them individually is to miss a great deal of their “thickness”.
Some of my favourite tweets:
These tweets don’t really fulfill Silver’s “thick” requirements, but I find them interesting and valuable. They give me things to think about. How do you quantify the pithiness of 140 characters?
Everyone I know has already seen the first video, but after watching it myself a few times, I realized what pieces were missing from the build itself. To start: why didn’t I put labels on the spaces? I had names for the pieces, like the hall of terror and the scar display room, so why don’t I put proper labels on things? I also stopped making good use of audio after a certain point in the build. I didn’t want to be a one-trick pony, but I think the audio is very effective. So I added some more. I added some more interactive pieces into my office recreation too.
It’s all a big learning process, that’s for sure. Building something like this isn’t exactly instinctual, that’s for sure, even though I think it’s hitting on some very basic communication methods.
On a tangiential note: I love youtube’s high res options. You can actually read the narrative text through it. Awesome.
I was launched awake at 4:30am this morning thinking about something I probably won’t be able to approach in the next six months, or even possibly not within the next year. Or ever. And yet.
I’m on a small team at work set on getting a brand new website. No facelift; something totally new. We’ve opened up the floodgates and are interested in anything we could do with a good web presence. Mostly I’m dreaming up more interactive things, which is a bit of a pipe dream. Library websites are usually not interactive on the level that I’m thinking about, but I’m still dreaming about it.
So this morning, out of nowhere, a very simple idea pings me and throws me out of bed. Virtual building. Videos. Navigating services and resources.
I’ve been talking about building a replica of our library in Second Life for some time. I want to do it less to get people interested in virtual worlds or in Second Life in particular, but more as a more interesting way to think and talk about the building and its purpose. I don’t want to lure people into Second Life (one of my pet peeves: people judging projects in Second Life by how many people who experience it stick around in-world). I’d rather they glean what they need from the experience and move forward in whatever way makes the most sense to them.
I want to have it more like an exhibit, a thing you look at and interact with in public places.
But then I was thinking: it would be dead easy, once you have such a replica build, to create short videos about how to get places. For instance: on our new website, we will probably have a section on reference services. Well, why not have a short video that shows you how to find the reference staff? It’s not exactly crystal clear in the building itself. Or how to find the technology centre, or the smart classroom, or the fiance learning centre. Or places for quiet study. Or places for group work. Bathrooms. Gosh, anything! Not a map: we already have those. But actually watching a person do it. Going down the stairs, turning right after the elevators, chosing the door on the left rather than on the right. Going up the stairs, turning left at the water fountain. The details that non-map people use to navigate their world.
Well, that’s not the idea that woke me up. The idea that woke me up was about videos that create themselves. I don’t know much about video, but I presume that’s not impossible; a video that is generated from pieces of existing video and strung together based on the circumstances of a particular set of variables. Does this take forever for a system to accomplish? What woke me up was this: wouldn’t it be awesome if you did a search for a book or journal, and the system showed you a video of an avatar walking up to the stacks and moving toward exactly where that book should be? If we had RFID on all the books this would be even more precise, but we should be able to roughly guess where a book (that isn’t checked out) ought to be. To the shelf, at least. And I got thinking about it because I was thinking about mobile devices, and having such a video play on a mobile device to help you navigate the stacks. A little bandwidth-heavy, but it was just a half-awake sort of thought.
Jason and I are doing a webcast on Wednesday, January 14th as the discussion arm of our article, Hacking Say and Reviving ELIZA. The article is our first attempt to consider our prior work in virtual worlds (text-based MOOs) in light of developments like Second Life. We still have a lot more thinking to do on the subject, as it’s a big one; we learned a lot back in the 90s about using virtual worlds in teaching and learning, and in constructing immersive experiences, and we want to bring our knowledge forward in a thoughtful, considered way.
Please feel free to join us to talk about these things. The article is really just a starting point for us, both professionally and as part of this discussion; we’re interested in a lot of topics re: immersion in virtual worlds, the lessons from MOO/MUD/MUSH, the directions we’d like to see virtual worlds heading, discussion of current projects, etc. Second Life is the darling of the moment, but we’re interested in the tools generally, not so much the company specifically, and even discussing what a future education-based virtual world might look like based on what we sense right now. Would there be one, or several, or would every school maintain their own? What’s the right thing? What about informal learning? How do we find the right blend to ensure the richest possible tools and experience?
Want to join us? The webcast is at 6pm EST, and you can find us here.
I finally managed to get a video of Cancerland. This way you can get a sense of how the audio fits in with the visual. The text remains a mystery in this format, unfortunately. I’ll have to find some other way to get that information across. The narrative is really held together by the text.
I built an abandoned church building to use as a meeting place. Wanna visit? It’s here.