Category Archives: PLE

fedwiki as notebook and a style guide for the coterie

When I first started using a traditional wiki (c. 2002, I think), I mistakingly saw it as a form of wide-ranging publication – a hypertextual companion to the blog. I was looking for a universal notebook-cum-database; a one-stop shop for drafting, revising, and publishing; a elegant – because it was the smallest database that would work – hypertexual support system; the realization of Vannevar Bush’s memex and Ted Nelson’s literary machine. I thought of the wiki as a magic workshop: a place where I could collect and store and organize hypertexually my notes, commonplaces, links, and drafts; with a workbench space to assemble these things into more formal hypertexts; and the capability of publising those hypertexts in progress. A universal reading and writing and learning and broadcasting space.

Wikipedia not withstanding, the wiki isn’t a publishing medium so much as a medium for coterie circulation, something closer to manuscript circulation than world wide circulation of a National Literary Review. The wiki is a medium for neighborhood circulation of notebook-like works in progress, notebooks being closer to manuscripts than blog posts or PDFs or Word docs watermarked DRAFT.

I’m borrowing the idea of coterie culture from Laura Mandell’s recent monograph Breaking the Book. She sets coterie culture next to more contemporary print culture in order to highlight the meeting of scribal and print cultures in 17th and early 18th century England. Coterie publishing of small print runs circulated among a small group of readers “with the same expectation as manuscripts: educated, elite readers would write in them, correct them, modify them” (121). Sound a little like fedwiki? Breaking the Book is worth a read. (I could not find any good reviews of the book yet, so here’s a link to the publisher, Wiley Blackwell.)

I made the early mistake of identifying wikis wiith blogs. Blogs are a publication medium. They are written for and seek wide and anonymous distribution. A blog post is published and may be commented on, but it is more or less finished. But wikis are notebooks, continuously revised and adapted, and in fedwiki revised and re-distributed. As notebooks, they become sources for further work and distribution by other means, such as blogs.

Reconsider the memex. As Bush conceived it, the memex was designed for personal scholarly use and coterie distibution. The trails through memex libraries, as they were conceived, were not meant to be distributed as a set of bound texts distributed to anonymous readers. The idea was that the scholar would reproduce the microfich and hand around to other like scholars – mostly who knew each other. The small group would not need a detailed textual context because it would be a small group, a neigborhood. The NLS seems to have been concepualized in a similar scholarly group context rather than as a worldwide, anonymous mass.

So: a fedwiki as notebook.

Thoughts along this line are circulating in the fedwiki neighborhood as Fedwiki as Memex-Journal. The memex was designed to address the problems of wide dispersal of information and the index. As it’s being discussed on Fedwiki, the problem of integrating sources is being addressed with links to collections and notes on Pinboard, and the problem of indexing is address with RSS feeds and tags.

Along with Ward I imagine a Pinboard-ish community around the product. Sites would have a setting to say where they publish to — RSS feeds, Pinboard, etc. But there also might be a fedwiki specific community that provided better integration.

Wikis would also have certain tags associated with them, and by default would publish new material to feeds and community sites under those tags. Tags would help alert you to new wiki content from anywhere, consistently good wiki content would prompt you to subscribe to all updates of that wiki.

The distribution is not wide but takes place within a specific community surrounding a topic, discipline, problem, interest. Distribution of link trails is more rapid than snail mail but still takes place within a small group, a coterie. I think of these coteries not as pre-conceived audiences that are being passively addressed but as active publics that organize themselves around the content and interests of the group.

I like the name “Steno”. It conveys the notebook idea, but technically stenography is “narrow writing” (steno=narrow) which fits the idea of a collection of small thoughts connected. It doesn’t capture the networked wiki element, but I think that’s OK — it’s easy to say “Steno is your networked notebook”.

Once I have the notebook and coterie distribution in mind, the advice behind a style guide, like this one Mike Caulfield designed for Fedwiki, becomes clear. The guide lists the usually unstated practices of the coterie: the Fedwiki neighborhood.

First, abide by the general conventions of federated wiki:

  • Avoid overlinking
  • Minimize in-paragraph formatting
  • Where possible, write short paragraphs, with one idea per paragraph (to facilitate reuse and rearrangement).

Second, write primarily in a descriptive style. Wikity is less an editorial page, and more a sort of Hitchiker’s guide to the galaxy. Short articles based around a single idea, formula, concept, fact, or dataset are best.

As a notebook, fedwiki is not a reading but a writing platform. Material in a notebook is mined for use in other contexts, and smart practice (both for the notebook and the note taker) is to develop note-making habits that reduce the friction for collecting and mining. Links inside the notebook and outside the notebook take on a functional rather than an aethetic or rhetorical value. Prose chunked into short paragraphs make it easier to move around and circulate within the notebook – easier to assemble into constellations, easier mine, easier to add to. Bullet lists are less valuable than they might be in static publication; the idea of a notebook is to expand ideas, not reduce them to a set of bullets.

throat clearing

Time to get back to the classroom, and that means breaking in some new software, including an updated blogging app, Blogo. It was out orignally in 2009, if my old license key is accurate, but went dark for a while. It’s been released as v 2. It seems roughly the same as I recall it back in 2009: single window, with what seems to be a better image editor. It’s far more pleasent to work in than, say MarsEdit. I was going to say it’s more limited than MarsEdit in handling images, but it’s not: It just handles them differently. Embedding images from Flickr, for instance, is done by clicking on the image and selecting Send to Blogo from the service menu. The embedded image can be tweaked in Blogo, and it’s done.

Reduced face time in three courses

I’m trying out reduced face time in three courses: Tech Writing. A&E, and E-Rhetoric. The last also has an online-only grad section – a design I’m also trying out. All the content I typically generate – aka lectures and my notes – will be online. Activities will be similar to what I’ve used in the past: no tests but lots of notes and making. Deadlines for work are firm to promote timeliness. The idea is to reduce face to face classtime to one session per week and to focus that session tightly on a seminar discussion, or class tutorial, or individual tutorial, depending on what we need that week. Sort of what I remember from attending UCL, crossed with activity and sharing techniques from cMOOCs. As at UCL, face sessions are voluntary: Attendance isn’t required. Rather than a final exam, however, weekly work will verify whether the student might be better off attending the weekly session. Students can use the other class session time to meet and work together.

This design might not sound novel, but it is to me, and I have some apprehensions about it that I hope to work out this semester.

What else? No discussion board. Instead, discussions or exchanges will be attached to wiki pages: Keep the exchanges close to the content. Some collaborative work probably in Google Docs. No video lectures from me: I find them too slow and dispersed for the purpose. Lectures are what students are not coming to hear, right? All reading, for the most part. Some step by step tutorials using Clarify 2. Perhaps some screencasts if absolutely necessary.

All of this places a lot of responsibility on the student for technical skills, so I expect to use a bootcamp approach in the first set of requred meetings (bootcamp borrowed from ds106). Those online only will have to google their way into the technology. Eg “Go to Google and use its tutorials to set up a Google Docs account. Whe you have a Google Document created, email me the link .…” And “Google the term rss. Find out what it is and how it’s useful to you. Sign up for an RSS account online or using an RSS reader on your own computer. From there on, add the RSS feeds to wiki pages for this course that you want to monitor or are working on.” And “Register with Twitter. Use #ENGL2152 to request help or feedback from others ….” I probably need a checklist.

It all adds up to dynamic syndicated learning:

[PDF] Discussion board: A learning objectK Harman, A Koohang – … Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects, 2005 – editlib.org… The discussion board thus may be used as a “context board.” For example, the concept of usingthe discussion board as a “context board” fits well within Downes’ (2003b) recommendation forusing syndicated learning content: … Using syndicated learning content. …

Or will it be federated?

Existing online learning experiences lack the social dimension that characterizes learning in the real world. This social dimension extends beyond the traditional classroom into the university’s common areas where learners build knowledge and understanding through serendipitous and collaborative exchanges both within and across traditional subject area boundaries. A next generation virtual learning environment (VLE) can address the limitations of current online systems by providing a richer social context for online learning. We describe the end-user properties of … VLE that fosters dynamic group learning experiences and the development of communities of practice. This proposed VLE provides the capacity to merge the institutional infrastructure for academic computing, enterprise-level networks, Squeak/Croquet-based content authoring, and the educational principles of constructivist pedagogy.

Or another model?And I will need a statement of openness, revised from this, which I’ve use regularly.

Most of the writing we all do for this course will end up on the wiki. Notes, notes on notes, my comments, more notes, group notes and projects. As the course progresses, you’ll find that we can begin to link up these nodes, developing them into topics, and further developing topics over the semester and across semesters. The wiki becomes more valuable (to us, to the next group, and to whomever looks in) the more we develop topics over time.Writing the wiki is an integral part of this course and your learning for this course. As your notes progress, you will begin, I hope, to cross link to the notes and observations of others. University students and professors are now in the business of making their course work in progress available to those interested; it’s another new rhetorical practice of digital space.

I would rather have students work in their own spaces, to set up and use their own PLEs, and then aggrgate their work by linking materials they are submitting for evaluation to a wikiname page. But that’s for later.

And, one final device for this design: A weekly update, in the form of a blog post or wiki page, as appropriate. Downes et al used these in a couple of cMOOCs I participted in, and they worked to highlight substantive work and directions for students. Much as a face to face lecture signals what the instructor sees as important, so the weekly highlights helps students define a focus.

And Blogo?

because I’ve used this post to evaluate it. It has a few idiosyncrasies – and so it should! – in how it imports from the web to the draft, but those became useful quickly. It may be my machine, but Blogo doesn’t seem to be spell-checking. Minor, really. I’m looking forward to using it this semester.