Sunday, June 03, 2007

2007 Workshop notes, continued

Some more thoughts about the second day of our workshop. See this post for the first installment.

Simon led off the morning of the second day with a presentation on where he (et al) is going with the Cohere project, building on all the (amazing) work bringing together ScholOnto, ClaiMaker, Compendium, Memetic, OpenLearn, and Clara Mancini's research. Listening, I was thinking that there is a distinction between the idea that a particular approach and/or software tool will (in and of itself) achieve some positive goal, and the realization that achieving the goal is always and only a product of human effort and engagement (and expertise, and luck).

This doesn't limit or trivialize the role and potential of tools and methods, but rather says that they always need to be coupled with the human side. Human intelligence, performance, and creativity are always a (or the) chief ingredient for the tools and methods to be successful and provide any value, at least in domains outside the purely computational. Even Google doesn't do anything in and of itself, it's only what someone does with the search results that matters in terms of achieving a goal (other than the enrichment of Google and its AdSense and other beneficiaries).

We often tend to talk as if the tools and approaches bring the benefits by themselves. It almost seems to be a bias in the software world to do this. But they don't. They need us and the right situation. It's like with poetry. Some people have the assumption you can just read some great poem and immediately get the meaning and the 'value'. I know I can't, I'm not good enough at understanding poetry to do that. I have to work at it (with the exception of, very occasionally since I'm not much of a poetry person, of hearing a poet reading their (or others') work out loud, and with the resonance and emphasis they can give it from their own artistry, I can get something more immediate).

After Simon, Jeff spoke on 'Lessons learned from NASA Lunar Dust Workshop' (this may be slightly out of order, I'm going from the published program which has it differently, but this is how I remember it). This led to a very engaged discussion on what does and doesn't go well with a) using Compendium for discussion capture, and b) how best to move from facilitation/maps to reports/documents and what some of the common pitfalls are. It seems that at that workshop and among the facilitators, there were a lot of pushes and pulls of Compendium vs conventional transcription, whether or not Compendium added value, etc.

I don't want to recapitulate that discussion here, but it points for me to the need to move towards collaborative artifact construction as the emphasis. I don't say that it is the only successful mode, but having spent hundreds (probably thousands) of hours trying to use Compendium as an alternative focus for conventional discussions in meetings, I personally am ready never to go that way again. As I've tried to write about here, here, and elsewhere, what works is getting people to engage in the construction of the maps themselves, not to try to change the way they talk to each other or how that works in meetings (especially when there is no clear buy-in on using an alternative meeting approach in the first place, from participants or sponsors of an event).

After that, Ale Okada presented the OpenLearn work in the context of eLearning, and Anna de Liddo spoke on using Compendium as a method for participatory, multimedia project memory with public policy groups in Italy. This got a lot of positive reception, especially in the integration of FlashMeeting video recordings with Compendium maps so that the maps became indexes into the video record. This seems like a very promising approach. As Maarten put it, a step towards true knowledge management.

Following this I gave a brief presentation on the work Maarten and I had done at NASA Mission Control/Johnson Space Center last year, doing collaborative modeling with launch controllers, making extensive use of stencils and templates to construct process flows and activity models on the fly in two intensive day-long sessions. Diana Brooks spoke about her experiences using Compendium for her work with public water policy. Jack Paulus presented his TruthMapping work, Jack Park talked about the work he will shortly pursue as a fellow KMi doctoral student, and Simon talked about... something else... will have to add that sometime!

The last session of the day was a spontaneous brainstorming facilitated by Jack Paulus on the topic of how best to promote Compendium in a short video (I mapped, will have to upload those maps somewhere eventually). More on that at another time.

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