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WE/ME in epedagogy design » 2006 » December

Archive for December, 2006

Memexies: beyond the electronic portfolio

Here are some thoughts based on a reading of Cohn and Hibbitts paper, and on the paper by Chris Dede. I will post them on my site later, in a slightly amended form.


Last year I began to explore the consequences of combining a blog and a wiki. This project initially seemed to consist of two related problems: one conceptual and one technical. It soon became clear, howeer, that they were simply two approaches to the same problem.

Both blogs and wikis were created by individuals wanting to answer a personal need, and only later spread across the web and became standard methods for organising and presenting information. Blogs were created out of a desire to keep a journal online, and to make it easy to add entries to the journal from anywhere with web access, and to read the entries back in a way that made sense. Wikis were created as a way of making notes that linked together. The original wiki was created to make it possible to add notes on a topic in any order; to link them as easily as possible; and to have those links appear within the individual notes so that a trail could be followed later by a reader.

Now that both of these formats have become quasi-standards, and are quoted approvingly in documents about education and pedagogy, my problem was to work out what advantage, if any, would accrue from combining blogs and wikis into a single piece of software. This meant finding out what they actually did, as opposed to what there were often discussed as doing. This meant looking at how they actually worked. The technical issues were simply manifestations of the conceptual assumptions that the programmers had made.

Received wisdom suggests that the difference is that blogs are sorted choronologicaly and reflect one point of view, usually passionate; and that wikis are sorted by topic or category and are designed to allow whole communities to work together on building knowledge. If this was ever true, then it is ceetainly not now.

There are, of course, many blogs where passionate individuals write chronological journals in which they assume the role of committed expert within their chosen field. There are also many group blogs, however, in which communities of interest document their progress towards goals. Some of these are official documents, used by companies to present themselves to their customers. Yahoo and Google both have many official blogs in which various teams within the companies keep users up to date on developments. Linden Labs use their company blog as the only official way in which they communicate about developments, upgrades and technical issues in the virtual world Second Life.

There are many wikis that followed the much-discussed path of Wikipedia and seek to become self-correcting repositories of group knowledge. There are also many individual wikis, where people gather togather material they may want to use later, just as there are company wikis which serve as online manuals and instruction guides.

Ralf suggested that one crucial difference between the two was the way that they pointed. Links in blogs tend to point outwards to other blogs, and other websites. Links in wikis tend to point inwards to other pages in the same wiki. In other words, blogs tend to be seen by their authors as nodes in a much larger network, and it is this network (the so-called blogosphere) that gives individual blogs their importance. Wikis tend to be seen as complete documents: everything you want to know about Subject X in one place. These differences are as much decisions of choice as technical constraints. It is perfectly possible to place lots of internal links into a blog, and there is absolutely nothing to prevent a wiki being filled to the brim with external entries.

The question of what benefit we could derive from combining the two cannot, then, be answered by simply trying to combine the current uses, for then we would simply have something with links that pointed inwards and links that pointed outwards: a standard website in other words. I would sugest that the question needs to be rephrased: what activity can we imagine undertaking that would require both a blog and a wiki to be successful, and how can we realise it. To ask this is to move beyond “blikis” (hybrids built to deomonstrate that we can build them) to human activity – business, learning, entertainment – and to ask how activity can be enhanced.

One answer to this question is the central subject of Beyond the Electonic Portfolio: a lifetime personal web space, a paper by Ellen R Cohn and Bernard J Hibbitts. Their arguments provide a concise summary of my own thinking, in that they address the issue of what people want and what tool they could have to help them meet that need.

They suggest that in a knowledge society there is a need for an individual, networked personal harbour for everyone in which they can store both data of their own creation and links to material found elsewhere. They suggest borrowing the term memex from Vannevar Bush to describe this. I feel strongly that this is a mistake, for two reasons. Firstly it confuses the issue by making it difficult to differentiate between the hardware Bush was referring to and the software we are talking about. Secondly Bush’s project was grander than the scope of what either Cohn and Hibbitts or I have been discussing. I am therefore proposing to call my personal harbour a memexie: a cute derivative term that implies it is less than a memex and different from one. This leaves us free to discuss the differences without confusion.

A memexie can be seen as a portfolio taken to its ultimate extreme. Cohn and Hibbitts envisage it including junior school reports, high school sports certificates, class photos, every essay that author has ever written since she learned to write, an ongoing journal, and links to every online resource the author has ever used. It might be worth pointing out that Buckminster Fuller would recognise the value f this even more than Bush, since he created just such a repository for his own life. His even included every receipt for every item he bought during his lifetime.

The value of the memexie is simple: it is the externalisation of the author’s mind in a form that allows for total recall.

What was the name of the girl I met in Manchester when I was 16? Which novel of Jules Verne did I quote from in my first term at university? Questions that may now be unanswerable will become instantly acessible. There are difficulties with this approach to one’s life, though, in that it presupposes that privacy in the conventional sense is an artefact of an industrial age and will change or disappear as many other aspects of industrial life have.

To some extent this has already happened without much comment. Mobile phones have completely altered the landscape of privacy and availability. Being out of contact is now a choice people can question rather than an inevitable side effect of getting the bus tothe city centre. Arrangements are now infinitely malleable where thirty years ago a decision, once made, (to meet at the cinema at 19.30, say) might prove almost impossible to rearrange.

However the problems that might arise in redefining the notions of privacy, availability and transparency are nothing compared to the problems the use of a memexie will pose for education, training and pedagogy. These issues are raised by Chris Dede in his paper Planning for Neomillennial Learning Styles, in Educause Quarterly. The arguments in this paper become more powerful once one imagines every learner and every teacher having a fully-charged, networked memexie of their own, and using it as a hub for communication of al kinds. They will become linked centres of what Dede calls “co-instruction” and a key mechanism for “infusing case-based participatory simulations into presentational/assimilative instruction”.

Once we get beyond the issues of privacy there will be no need for manufactured simulations because my life will become your case study, just as yours becomes one of mine. It is here, in truly transformative pedagogy, that e-learning starts to become a new kind of discipline, rather than simply a new way of doing what we already recognise as “education”.


VLE – tomorrow 20th or thursday 21st ?!?


I just noticed in Mimerdesk that there is a posting lebeled “Skype Meeting” that simply says “Thu 21 December 2006 14:00 – 15:00”.

I was under the impression that we were meeting the same time this week as last week: that is at 21:00 Helsinki time on Wednesday evening. Did I miss something, or is this an old post that has been overtaken by events?

Looking at the calendar for December it seems that this is part of the series that were originally planned and then changed but unfortunately one of the limitations of Mimerdesk is that it doesn’t tell me who posted the event or when – or of it does then it hides it very well 🙂
If we ARE meeting on Thursday then I suppose I should ask: whose 14:00 will we be talking about? If not then I will see be ready at 21.00 my time on Wednesday 20th.

Finally, I should apologise for not posting my essay for this week’s meeting yet. I have been swamped by extra teaching work that had to be done before the end of the year. I will post it tomorrow morning so please check here or my website (www.owenkelly.net) at midday. It is not too long so you will have time to read it!


Comments (1)

International seminar Helsinki

The number of students who either can or can’t cope with suggested date in March is almost the same. My intention is of course to have a gathering with all of us and the “newcomers” as well. Thus I would like to postpone the Helsinki seminar for a few months.I would not mind to go for a convenient date in June, e.g. week 23. Please comment.

Comments (6)

out of VLE

Dear fellow students and Jaap,

i have to announce, that i will not take part in the course ‘analysis of virtual learning environments’ anymore. At the moment it affects my normal studies to much and they are the absolute priority for me. As i have already mentioned during the international seminar, i am just in the 3rd year of my Magister-studies and as an effect of the soon comming study-fees i need to finish some courses there. I will still participate in our VisualKnowledgeBuilding groupwork and keep doing some research for that (as it also collides with my studies in Ethnologie…) but i think i will need more time to study the courses in eped full-time and at the moment it is to much and also i don’t know whether the VLE course will finish in time, so it doesn’t make sense for me to do half a course (because from february to april i won’t be here to study…).

ok, that’s it. i’m sorry and i wish everyone all the best and a good christmas-time, new year… we still keep in touch 😉

cheers Antje*


ePortfolio and Transparency

As in the VLE course a discussion on ePortfolio and transparency arose – which is pretty much related to our panopticon-groupwork – I wrote something about this problem on the panopticon blog. Just my first thoughts on it. Perhaps the VLE-participants would like to contribute and comment on it, as it is a central point in our course? I could have done this in our forum to make in more internally, but I have put it in our blog because this is a topic I would like to do more research in the other project…


VLE – Skype time?

Dear Jaap and the other course participants,

Something in our communication seems to go wrong… Chris(tine), Chris(toph) and Chris(tina) were online this evening, wednesday 06/12, 8pm cet – but we were missing the rest. We used the time for talking about problems in orienting in our study program. This was interesting, Christine wanted to start a discussion topic on this in this blog because this seemed to be an interesting topic for all students.

We now agreed on meeting again next  Wednesday, 13/12/06, 8pm cet. We hope to see you all?!


Christina 🙂

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