I don’t normally shout (in typing, at least. I am known to noisy in person, though), but I sincerely feel it is appropriate this time around. During the last week, I’ve encountered several related issues, which I don’t fully understand. Or, to be more precise, I understand them, but they worry me a great deal.

Or, to be more precise, I understand them, but they worry me a great deal.

Earlier this week, a quite popular Danish site and forum for people working with media and communication (and hey, who isn’t these days?) known as “Kommunikationsforum” featured an article on Twitter. Despite some very reasonable personal conclusions from the author towards the end the article, it mostly painted a bleak picture based on the very small userbase in little Denmark. Because there are few of us on Twitter, numbers are ridiculously low when looking at traffic generated, and also the general activity level on Twitter (which just reinforces my existing belief, that English is lingua franca in this respect).

My earlier musings ought to make it very clear, why I disagree with a reduction of Twitter to a simple generator of traffic and hits. Not only does this quantitative, metrics-based analysis not say much about the real potential of Twitter, it ends up being just another example of trying to understand one service in the light of, or even worse, as an extension or copy of what came before. This, to me, is certain to lead to misunderstandings and a shallow understanding of, in this case, Twitter.

This brings me to my most recent and eye opening experience (in all its simplicity).

A couple of days ago I participated in a small workshop focusing on the many international (or EU, at least) collaborative projects to improve education. I’m in one of those projects, and I wholly support these initiatives. The day was all fine and good, visited by very passionate and dedicated people, who obviously were all eager to make the famous difference. What struck me as surprising – frightening, even – was one very tiny exercise, where we each had to tell, why we attempt to distribute whatever we learn in our respective projects.

I may not have been entirely clear or persuasive myself, but I do hope that I managed to convey, at least partly, my huge passion and belief in sharing. I don’t mean to do projects for the project itself, just for the involved institutions, or for entirely egoistic purposes. I want to do projects, because I sincerely believe, that they can contribute to a better world – however microscopic this contribution may be. Frankly, if that’s not the purpose, I don’t care.

Several other participants looked at this quite differently. As they said, they share because they must. Because EU (or whoever is funding the project) tells them to.

In the current upshot of talk on motivation, this is clearly extrinsic. We need the idea of sharing to be intrinsic and meaningful to everybody.

I’ll be very quick to point out, that I’m not targeting anyone here. It’s not that these are not good, competent, inspired people with the best of intentions – I am completely convinced, that they are. It is merely a symptom of a challenge, which is to be found everywhere in society.

We need to challenge and change the firmly rooted culture fuelling the perception, that sharing is secondary, tertiary or even completely undesirable altogether. This holds true in education, but also in society in general. I’ve been there several times, but never stop repeating myself on this matter. Sharing does not undermine your own position. Sharing is not like sawing off the branch, on which you yourself are sitting more or less comfortably. On the contrary. By sharing you make yourself relevant, and move into an even more lucrative position of being someone people want to consult in the future.

I don’t have any final solutions (I never do, mostly because I think that’s an illusion; nothing is final at a macroscopic level). I don’t claim to be particularly good at it myself, but I keep trying, keep exploring new and (perhaps) better ways. This is probably also my primary recommendation – don’t fear experimentation. Try different methods, tools and approaches. Mix online with offline, writing, talking, showing. Be a little more ad hoc’ish (anarchistic if you like).

Also, sharing should not be thought of as something we do once the project is over. Don’t wait for the build-up of a large body of work before you start talking about what you’re fiddling with. Think of the process as an open, iterative one with a constant feedback loop influencing decisions and directions. Sharing is just one part of reciprocal relationships, where you talk, other people listen and talk back. It’s not always as simple and well ordered as this – far from.

We really do need this change of culture, and we need more transparency.


Why I love Twitter (and you probably should too)

However, to make it possible for nations to benefit from the experience of others and to avoid mutual misunderstanding of intentions, free access to information and unhampered opportunity for exchange of ideas must be granted everywhere.

Niels Bohr

Having recently reread Niels Bohrs famous letter to the UN, I was immediately awestruck by the foresight of his visionary thoughts on exchange of ideas. Suggesting such a transparent approach must have been radical and controversial back in 1950; heck, it still is today.

Tim Berners-LeeEven so, I’m completely convinced that Bohr was and is right.

His vision was later mirrored by Tim Berners-Lee, who, working at CERN in the 1980’s, argued that only by sharing knowledge could the institution and the level of research see radical improvement. Upon realising this, he eventually went and developed the World Wide Web.

Inspired by these incredibly important thinkers, I truly-sincerely believe in sharing knowledge, ignoring or breaking down any possible barriers or boundaries along the way. It is a mandatory prerequisite of change/improvement/reform/revolution, or whatever we like to call it these days.

We simply cannot do without sharing. No one person can perform fundamental and lasting changes on their own (yes, we see exceptions, but they’re seldom and far between).

This holds true in every corner of society, and very much so within education (and also so within the field of video games, as eloquently argued by Michael Abbot). As I see it, not sharing enough is one of our pivotal barriers in initiating change. Thousands of educators across the world is constantly wrestling with all kinds of challenges, from smaller practical issues to momentous questions about purpose and direction.

This work is gargantous, and worthy of the utmost admiration; no doubt! …but what if no one never hear about it? What if good ideas and invaluable experiences remain in isolation, secluded from everybody else?

The true value of the effort, the real potential breakthrough, is only going to happen if good experiences and ideas are distributed far and wide.

Sharing really needs to be at the heart of education and at the core of our actions.

Enter Twitter

Brian Kotts on TwitterIn a series of inspiring exchanges on Twitter some time ago, @briankotts elegantly made the following declaration:

Sharing is the new currency! Educators have moral obligation to do it.

I really couldn’t agree more, and Twitter is great at this.

Being active on Twitter requires you to share and probably also to continuously revise your opinion of sharing. I would not hesitate to recommend every single educator in the world to immediately run off and create a Twitter account and start taking part in the global community of users, that constitutes the real value of Twitter.

I have grown extremely fond of Twitter, this charming little microblogging service with such surprisingly versatile possibilities, and by now I consider Twitter my tool of choice when engaging in networking and communication.

At first, it appears to be heavily limited by the core concept of only allowing messages to span across 140 characters. This limitation, however, only works to the advantage of Twitter, and it encourages users to be reflective, precise and to continually follow up on discussions.

Technology is not the goal however; readjusting our individual perceptions of value of sharing is. Twitter is all about sharing – thoughts, ideas, images, videos, links – and thus serves to not only allow sharing, but very actively encourage it. If you don’t share anything, or don’t share anything of value, you’re unlikely to build a following and thus also unlikely to really harness the potential of Twitter – the interaction with other users.

Where’s the uniqueness?

I’m clearly very preoccupied and infatuated with Twitter, but why is that so? Most people wouldn’t hesitate to reduce Twitter to nothing more than the trivial status updates on Facebook.

I would certainly disagree with such people.

Twitter is much more; or rather, it is something different altogether.

Twitter vs Facebook

Facebook is, by nature, a closed network. Precedential use is limited to connecting with people, whom you already know. Friends, family, colleagues, and more peripheral acquaintances as well, but still – people you know one way or another.

Twitter is not like that. Twitter is open, encouraging interaction independently of the mutual obligations in the “Facebook friendship” (however that friendship is interpreted). You can follow people without their consent, and no reciprocity is required. If you think Twitter is full of nonsense, you’re simply following the wrong people.

This allows me to follow all the interesting persons working within my fields of interest (games, digital media, learning & education – in short), and over time (perhaps) build a relationship to those people through meaningful interaction and discussion.

At the end of the day, what keeps me tweeting is the dynamics; the fact that there’s always something going on. Twitter never sleeps. The chance to not only peek into the minds of really smart people, but also to enter immensely inspiring discussions with said people.

Get in the game

If you’re entirely new to Twitter, Mashable offers a very elaborate guide. In short, go create a profile, start writing updates (tweets), follow interesting people, initiate or participate in discussions, provide relevant content. Accept that it may take some getting used to, and that people don’t start following or communicating with you right away. Keep at it, be resilient, tweet your ideas, good experiences, provide links to articles, videos, comment on other peoples tweets – be active, be relevant; and please, speak English. Anything else is too excluding, effectively hindering communication across borders.

Besides following and communicating with people, #hashtags is one of the keys to really harnessing the potential of Twitter. Roughly speaking, hashtags are used to categorize topics, just like the tags on this blog serve as a container for specific subjects (go here for a more detailed introduction).

Here’s a brief selection of interesting hashtags as seen from an educational perspective:

  • #dkudd – a newly established hashtag used for tweets on education (uddannelse) in Denmark.
  • #edgames – my attempt at introducing a hashtag for games in education in general
  • #gbl – a widely used hashtag for tweets about game based learning
  • #gameliteracy – another attempt by me, meant to tag tweets specifically on game literacy
  • #edtech – a very popular tag for tweets on technology in education
  • #edchat – also very popular on education in general

I’d be a fool not mentioning the fascinating phenomenon that is the Twitter chat sessions. These sessions probably take place all the time, and really show the true potential of Twitter. Often such an event is scheduled, but sometimes people spontaneously initiate discussions as well. Again, the hashtag is central, as the only thing connecting all participants is a hashtag. These may be one of the above, or #UKEdChat is another popular example. For a relatively comprehensive list of educational chats, visit Cybrary Man.

Purpos/edAs if all of this was not enough (regarding possible time spent, it’s much more than enough, rest assured), another marvelous initiative has recently been launched; purpos/ed. As clearly indicated, this project is about purposes. More accurately, it’s about trying to explore the purpose of education. If this in itself sounds ambitious, how about nailing this immensely difficult question in 140 characters?

Follow me on TwitterPlease, don’t just take my word for any of this; go, sign up, and immediately take part in the multifarious and dynamic discussions taking place all the time. If you’d like, follow me (If not, don’t).

…but do start sharing.

Transparency as an ideal

Sharing knowledge = sawing off your own branch?

Some people might consider it stupid to tell the world everything you know. Those people would probably argue, that as knowledge is an important and valuable asset in society today, why should you give away your knowledge for free? They might even posit that doing so would be like sawing off the branch, on which you yourself are sitting comfortably. If everybody knows what you know, how can you make a living?

Well, these are just possible positions based on common assumptions, but assumptions with which I passionately disagree.

In line with the “open source” movement within the world of software, I believe in open sourced knowledge.  I would rather tell it all to everybody than know things just for myself. Where’s the fun in that?

Transparency as a business model

This is not (only) because I am a naïve idealist trying to make a difference, even though it is probably part of the explanation. Idealists are somewhat egoistic, too, and on a personal level it is just immensely satisfying to see problems solved by the knowledge and ideas you share. In addition, it is simply easier to manage in day-to-day activities if I am not required to withhold some things, while strategically distributing others.

I live to share!

At the same time, though, I whole-heartedly believe that sharing everything is the best way to position yourself as someone relevant and valuable. In a way it has become my business model; the way I do business. Right from the beginning I was convinced that – in the long run – I would benefit the most by not focusing on earning money fast, but by distributing solid and relevant knowledge. This is not to say that all my activities are top notch, far from, but I allways aim for them to be. My ambition is to distinguish myself, make it clear what I can and do, and how I can possibly contribute to various projects.

But am I not just making myself expendable by constantly giving it all away? Well, no, it doesn’t seem so. The explanation is probably that knowledge as a commodity, something you can “give away”, is static and not in itself what makes the difference. Everybody can find most of what I know right here on the internet, and much of it is probably even on Wikipedia. I focus on the dynamics, on bringing knowledge and ideas into play in new contexts, thus trying to solve problems in new and creative ways. I am always trying to be analytic, looking for patterns and areas to be combined. These things I can’t just hand over, and thus I am not putting myself out of business by sharing and striving for transparency. Well, it might be part of the explanation, at least.

Examples on this “school of thought” are ample, and an increasing number of people are adopting this way of working and sharing in one continuous process. Transparency in communication, leadership and organizations is becoming an increasingly popular dogma, and digital media (especially the internet) is reinforcing this tendency.

Sharing in education?

In continuation of this line of thought, I am always arguing for increased sharing and transparency in the world of education. Many highly competent teachers, instructors, consultants and researchers are working hard, doing experiments and achieving great things, yet these achievements are rarely sufficiently shared with the greater community. I would claim that we could move forward faster if sharing was more widespread, and if everybody pooled in their valuable experiences.

I am always trying to provide different ressources to promote the ability to share ideas, but inertia is strong, and things are moving quite slowly. Too slowly for my impatient taste, in any case. It is very hard inspiring people to comment on blogs, participate in forums etc.

Got good experiences? Tell the world!

I guess that, in general terms, teachers, practitioners and other “inhabitants” of education are not really used to this approach. This is a rude assumption, I know, as a large number of teachers are great at telling what they do. Many others, however, are never heard, and could perhaps be labelled “the silent majority”. Traditionally, perhaps, the classroom was considered something “private”, and your own practice was…well, your own. Not something for others to nose into. Why would it be someone else’s business what you do?

Because your good experience could actually make a difference for the greater good of education.

Maybe you just had a general discussion about games with your class , maybe you calculated the size of an area in World of Warcraft, maybe you analyzed the story in Heavy Rain or maybe you compared games to other media like books or movies. It might be easy to write off these examples as mere trivialities with no value for anyone but yourself – but this is a serious misunderstanding. The value of sharing can’t really be overstated, as we are in dire need of just the experiences showing how the abstract talk about innovation can be turned into concrete practice.

I want to stress that I am not accusing anyone here. I am just trying to figure out how to further support an ideal of sharing in order to strengthen necessary progression.

How do we nurture a culture of transparency in education? How do we make it not only feasible, but attractive to share?

Knowing it all?

I am always trying to stay updated in the fields of video games, digital media and learning.

This is truly a daunting task, which in itself makes for more than a full-time job, and quite often leaves me with the feeling of not knowing anything at all. This, of course, always reminds me of Socrates, turning the lurking feeling of defeat into the joy of knowing nothing:

The only real wisdom is knowing you know nothing.

Anyway, however appealing  (and appeasing) this seems, I can’t just leave it at that. I need to know something and thus returns to the “information overload” immensely reinforced by the abundance of information and knowledge available to us on the internet.

Luckily, a wide array of tools have been developed to help us overcome this fundamental challenge.

Most of you probably know RSS (Really Simple Syndication), the oldschool, yet indispensable service allowing us to subscribe to and gather (syndicate) “feeds” from relevant sites in one place. For some time now, I have been using Google Reader to syndicate feeds from a large (and always growing) number of sites:

Now I have a dynamic collection of frequently updated feeds all in one place. Curious as I am, this is really a treat (even though the acutal process of reading these feeds demands more time than I can currently afford!).

So far, so good.

However, I am the kind of person, who more than anything believes in sharing knowledge. I am not really interested in knowing things just for myself, considering the process of exchange to be the what truly adds value. Of course, I am already trying to share knowledge right here, on Twitter and a number of other places.

Even so, I would very much like to create a fast, low-barrier entrance to the different articles and blog posts, I read and like. Google Reader actually allows me to share articles from all the feeds I subscribe to:

Share posts with Google Reader

It is quite simple, really. Read a post, share it and attach a short comment, if desired. That’s it. I am not completely convinced, however, that this is the best possible way. As the list of shared posts grow, it seems like a chaotic mess.

Well, I will try it out, and here are my shared feeds from Google Reader: