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Beating the drum in Barcelona

One week after Open Education 2010 conference and the Drumbeat Festival both wrapped up in Barcelona and I’ve finally cleaned off my desk enough to write about it, just in time to discuss some negative comments that are going around.

I had a lot of fun at the Drumbeat festival. I met a lot of interesting people, showed my work to many interested people, and the “festival” structure of the event (part-conference, part-un-conference, and part-makerfaire) encouraged a lot of mixing and interaction I would not have experienced at a traditional conference where I would have been sitting with other wiki people getting past the narcissism of small differences all too common to such highly-focused gatherings.

There has been some talk over the past week about all the things the conference was not. It was not a pure un-conference open to all, it was not multilingual, it was not a revolution. I understand the disappointment that gives rise to these criticisms. The intersection between education and technology can be both an exciting and a depressing place to work.

Technology is rapidly changing how we communicate and store information but institutions in general, and educational ones in particular are slow to change and even slower to re-engineer their basic principles of operation to incorporate outside changes. No conference was going to resolve this systematic tension, nor would it have been wise to pretend to solve it by excluding everyone with money or everyone with business-friendly leanings.

What Mozilla did instead was facilitate a discussion between parts of the community that don’t often come into contact with each other. While the Open Education conference held earlier in the week had a number of interesting talks, I did not meet the wide spectrum of people there that I did during the Drumbeat festival. This was a hugely useful to me in my work. I got lots of different perspectives on what I’m doing, learned a lot about what else is going on in the field, and made some great connections for future collaboration.

Would I have liked more of a multilingual focus? Sure! I run a language instruction non-profit, and spent the opening night of the conference showing everyone how easy it is to make Catalan lessons. I’d love for people to focus on language all the time. But I respect how hard it was just to get everyone into the same space and get everyone excited about working together.

More than anything, that is what I see Mozilla Drumbeat doing. They pull us together, they get us moving, they beat the drum. It is even in the name! It is great work and work that Mozilla is uniquely positioned to do.

Everyone seems to agree that lots of great people went to the festival and everyone had some great interactions there. To me those are signs Mozilla is doing their job well and making these productive meetings of cultures more commonplace. Getting us together is what drummers are for and you can’t blame them for the structural tensions that cause us to have different viewpoints and priorities when we get there.

Lessons just for you

Last week we explored how to use collaboration inside the Wikiotics community to build better lessons for each other and we saw how this can produce great results for material like weather vocabulary. But what about the parts of language that are more complicated? What about concepts like “beautiful”, “fun”, “boring”, and “interesting”? We each have different ideas about what these concepts look like and we are unlikely to be able to come to a consensus opinion.

Different worldviews welcome

This week we are shifting the focus from consensus to individuality and asking everyone to build personal lessons based on some shared vocabulary. We want to see your take on some common concepts, your viewpoint. Don’t worry about making lessons for someone else, build a lesson as practice material for your self and at the end of the week we will take a look at the different versions people have built for themselves and see how useful moving away from consensus can be.

How To Participate:
1) Log in.
2) Go to the lesson: and click on "Copy" at the top.
3) Enter "user:YourUserName/Adjectives" into the copy box and hit enter
4) Click on "Edit" at the top and change the images using the "find new image" link next to each page. That will let you search on flickr for a better picture. If you are getting too many results, try clicking the "Restrict to project's Flickr group" box when you are searching.
5) Save your new lesson and add a link on the Adjectives talk page.

As always, thanks for being part of the community!

A note on user pages

If you want to know more about User Pages and how to use them, our User Page Instructions has what you are looking for.

Crosposted with the Wikiotics Foundation blog.

Pictures keep you honest

One week later I am proud to announce that our weather lesson is both more attractive and much more effective thanks to some great collaboration by our users.

Weather lesson (after)











You can see that the new pictures are much easier to tell apart, especially the raining and snowing ones. In addition, the sun is now clearly visible in the “sunny” picture and there is no Eiffel tower in the “cloudy” picture to cause confusion about subject.

Lessons of the collaboration

It was great to collaborate with some other users on this lesson, try out our tools for working together on a single lesson, and all the other things this push was designed to accomplish, but the best part for me was seeing how the structure of the lesson helped to keep us honest and keep our work useful.

The original weather lesson contained three types of vocabulary: words to talk about light (cloudy/sunny), words to talk about precipitation (raining/snowing), and words to talk about temperatures (hot/cold/cool/warm). As we all tried to find better pictures for the lesson, it became clear that this last group, the temperature words, was giving everyone trouble.

The problem was simple, we fell into the native speaker trap of trying to combine too many concepts in a single lesson. Temperature is much more easily illustrated as a property of things, like foods or beverages, rather than by pointing a camera outside and trying to capture the essence of “cold”. When we tried that, we all came up with different representations, some were animals in the sun, some were people outside surrounded by fall foliage.

Instead of depending on these personal cues, we broke temperature out into a separate “Temperature lesson and moved combined all of the best weather pictures into a Best of Weather lesson. The result is much more grounded and easy to incorporate into other lessons through shared vocabulary.

Temperature lesson

Teaching what they need to know

It is all too easy when trying to teach someone material that you know very well, like your native language, to gloss over the complexity underneath and forget just how much information there is to share. Breaking that material apart and illustrating it are great ways to keep your lessons useful to those who are coming at them with fresh eyes. If you are interested in trying such a system, give wikiotics a try.

Special thanks to jchan, Qalthos, stevensne, colannino, and trose, for building their own versions of the lesson and making the collaboration possible.

Wikiotics week 2: Talking about the Weather

Last week

Great job last week everyone! We got the Introduction lesson translated into 14 new languages and made five more languages available for Wikiotics users building lessons. This week we’re focusing all that effort on one lesson, talking about the weather:

This week

Talking about the weather is a daily activity in people’s lives, but many of the concepts are difficult to represent in pictures. “Cold” vs “Cool” or “Cloudy” vs “Overcast” for example. The pictures we have right now could use some help, and that’s where you come in. Please take a moment to help us clear up the weather lesson by finding better pictures.

How To Participate:

    1) Log in (we’re going to use some special abilities of logged in users to make collaboration easier). 

    2) Go to the lesson and click on “Copy” at the top.

    3) Enter “user:YourUserName/Weather” into the copy box and hit enter

    4) Click on “Edit” at the top and change any of the images you want to replace using the “find new image” link next to each page. That will let you search on flickr for a better picture. (If you are getting too many results, try clicking the “Restrict to project’s Flickr group” box when you are searching.)

    5) Save your new lesson and add a link on the Weather talk page.

    As always, thanks for being part of the community!

A note on user pages
    Think of user pages as a wiki section just for you.  No one else can edit pages in your section so you can build or collect lessons there and know that they will always stay as you left them. Now that you know how, feel free to copy any other lessons on your user pages and tinker with them, or build your own material to share with students and colleagues.

Crossposted with the Wikiotics Foundation blog.