Howard Rheingold on the Social Media Classroom

Flickr CC image by vagawi As part of CPSquare’sConnected Futures” workshop exploring the use of web technologies in the service of communities of practice, we (John Smith and I!) asked Howard Rheingold to share a little bit about the Social Media Classroom (SMC) he developed as part of a MacArthur Foundation Award (A HASTAC award specifically).

We were interested to hear about the development both because we are using a hosted version of the SMC as our “home base” this iteration of the workshop, and because Howard’s project is a nice example of community technology stewardship. Every platform has its lineage, the experiences of the designers that inform design choices during development. What needs is it trying to meet? How can it do this in the simplest and elegant manner?

SMC is created on a Drupal base but customized to reflect what Howard thought would be useful for educators. But it is not just a technology platform. There is also a rich library of new media literacy resources and a community of practitioners.  From the SMC website:

The Social Media Classroom (we’ll call it SMC) includes a free and open-source (Drupal-based) web service that provides teachers and learners with an integrated set of social media that each course can use for its own purposes—integrated forum, blog, comment, wiki, chat, social bookmarking, RSS, microblogging, widgets , and video commenting are the first set of tools.  The Classroom also includes curricular material: syllabi, lesson plans, resource repositories, screencasts and videos.

For communities picking or even building platforms for themselves, there are some nice pearls from Howard.

Click here to listen in: 30 Minutes with Howard Rheingold on the Social Media Classroom… and other stuff!

Some of the things Howard talked about included:

  • the importance of an on-ramp to new media – with integration of tools being an important early experience that helps us be more confident when we start using tools in a more “free range” manner.
  • the need for a new media literacy – just because we are all online doesn’t mean we understand and know how to use it. What are the essentials that make a difference?
  • the origins and inspirations of some of the tools in the SMC
  • Howard’s exploration of teaching at this phase in his career and the importance of a constructivist, participatory approach.

If you are interested in SMC for your learning context, you can download the software to your server, or if you don’t have access to a server or IT help, the project is offering a limited amount of hosted space. If you want to learn more and engage in the SMC c ommunity, join the community of practice.

Photo credit:vagawi

Unfinished Business: Cluetrain Manifesto plus 10

Cluetrain coverRebecca Leaman had a blog post today the reminded me of unfinished business. Do you have any of that? Projects started, but never finished?

Well, this unfinished business feels worth revisiting this week to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.  Great book! I was wildly inspired by their 95 theses, but a bit turned off by the business focus, as my attention is often on the organizational and non profit sector. So I thought, HEY, why don’t I write some non profit annotations for each of the theses. Wow, never finished. Big surprise. But the theme crept into my writing and work many times over.

Today Rebecca, who also cares about non profits and NGOs, found them and wrote:

Back in 1999, Nancy White checked in on The Cluetrain from a non-profit perspective, and saw that the conversation needed to go further and deeper:

People are tired of being inundated with selling messages. They have become cynical about them, which is frightening for those trying to deliver health education and community building messages. TV campaigns and government pamphlets are treated with suspicion and disdain. And they are responding to word of mouth more than ever.

This has significant ramifications for the nonprofit or “third sector.” For the few blue ribbon organizations that are well-connected to the big business circuit, life is sweet and the cash flows. But for the majority, especially the smaller and community based organizations, life has changed and it is time to get a clue.

An emerging trend is actually a throwback to a familiar model that has been embraced by unions, religions and, gasp, even cults. Develop a constituency. Serve them. Listen to them. Work with them, don’t have them work for you. Give them power and control and then fasten your seatbelts because all the rules change.

White’s response to The Cluetrain Manifesto was never completed, and I can certainly see why. The whole book is a bit of a wild ride into Utopia, some of the points so prophetic that today we take the power of online conversations and communities almost for granted; others so outright bizarre that critics can’t be faulted for laughing in their sleeve.

Still, like the wide-eyed idealism of the hippie era, The Cluetrain has left an indelible mark. The Internet may be led today by bright young adults who were still preoccupied with acne and prom dresses when The Cluetrain first rolled through, but the online world they grew up into is a fair reflection of that original call to action.

I always enjoy a wild ride into Utopia. But clearly  completion of that ride never happened. I guess I just started living into many of the ideas of the Cluetrain gang. As I reread them, one thing I really notice is the negativity of many of them. A fun project would be to rewrite them in an appreciative way, recognizing the potential instead of berating.

Anyway…. today, in honor of the anniversary, I want  to pick two of the theses and dust them off.  After all, the Cluetrain guys are about to publish their 10th Anniversary version. My informal contribution to the anniversary, which is being more formally recognized here. My interpretation is from the international development/NGO perspective. Each offering will have an appreciative reframe. Be forewarned.

61. (original) Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false—and often is.

Reframe: Your staff hold knowledge and speak more of  my language than your  formal spokespeople and reports. By giving us access to each other, we will learn and do more together. Thanks for removing the smokescreen.

International development is often its own worst enemy because it often “officially” speaks in a language  divorced from the experience both of the people the are intending to “help” (patronizing, assuming the “helpers” have the answer, out of context of the actual system, etc.).  and instead pitched at donors and investors.  Opening up data, reporting mechanisms and utilizing social networks to connect people to get information and learn from each other is now possible. It takes a risk – to risk saying something inpolitic, to risk sharing of unvetted data. But the reward is far higher than the risk.

79. (original) We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.

Reframe: We who you are “serving” welcome you as partners and colleagues. We know a great deal, and we want to share that with you and learn/apply what you know. Come join us.

International development is often driven by ideas of donors. There are a lot of great ideas – not just from donors, but from people who want to change and improve their own lives. Developing entrepreneurial partnerships, financing mechanisms that are networked, have roots in local systems and incentives challenge traditional development paradigms, but may be a new path to sustainable and scalable development. (I learned this from a dear colleague who is trying to help her organizations see this vision!)

Rebecca also reminds us:

You can still read The Cluetrain Manifesto online (free) at, and it’s worth doing so if only for a nostalgic sense of the breathless excitement that ushered in the first whispers of Web 2.0.  And if you find it a bit heavy-going, Michael Mace and Rubincon Consulting have boiled down the best of The Cluetrain message into Ten Commandments for Communicating with People Online, which is both easier to absorb than the orginal, and arguably more readily applied by the kinds of slow-moving organizations that The Cluetrain aimed to reach, ten years ago today.

Social Media in International Development Workshop

Do you work for an international development NGO? Then sign up now for the next Social Media Workshop offered by the ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR. Here are the details:

After a successful pilot online event (See blog posts about the event), the CGIAR, through its ICT-KM Program, is pleased to offer an online Social Media Workshop from May 25 to June 12 2009.

Moodle space

“Social media is using the Internet to instantly collaborate, share information, and have a conversation about ideas, and causes we care about, powered by web based tools.” – [We Media]

Social media offers a move from “push” communications towards a place where we can interact with our constituents and engage with them in ways we never could before. It enables us to network with colleagues and some stakeholders.

Objective of the workshop: Introduce researchers, communications professionals and knowledge sharing practitioners to social media tools and support their social media strategy development. As a participant, you will:

Obtain an understanding and appreciation of the role and value of social media.
Learn how to apply social media concepts and tools to both gather information and increase the dissemination of your information.
Learn how to apply social media concepts and tools for collaboration and interaction with your organization’s staff and partners.
Learn from participants of mixed professional and organizational backgrounds.

Outline of the 3-week event

Week 1 – Introductions, conversations and assessment of your communications needs and goals.
Week 2 – Social Media Tools wikis, blogs, twitter, file and photo sharing, and many more. You can join the exploration of a range of tools or start a new discussion on tools of your own choice.
Week 3 – Social Media Tools and strategies. How these tools can help you to achieve your knowledge sharing goals. Develop your strategy.

Number of participants: minimum 22,maximum 30

Language: English

Dedicated time: A minimum of one hour per day, asynchronous you decide when you go online, as well as two telephone conversations, one during Week 1 and the other during Week 3. Optional synchronous calls or chats may be offered if there is an interest.

Open to: CGIAR staff, partners, agricultural and development organizations

Platform: Moodle, Skype and/or telephone. If you choose to use a landline, you will be responsible for long-distance costs. You should have regular access to the Internet. Some tools may not be accessible for those with low bandwidths. You may need to check with your IT department, as some web-based services you wish to explore may be currently blocked in your organization and you may need to seek support to access them.

Facilitators: Nancy White (Full Circle Associates), Simone Staiger-Rivas CGIAR-CIAT, Meena Arivananthan CGIAR-WorldFish

Cost: USD 500

Please write to Simone Staiger-Rivas ( for questions and subscription by May, 15 latest.

Monday Video: What are you paying attention to?

Thanks to Lyra Halprin at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at the University of Davis, I was able to see this amazing young artist at work. link.

This young man has an extraordinary ability to see. While we all don’t have his gift, we all can see. We can all notice. What are you noticing? What are you choosing to pay attention to?

If you are a facilitator, what are you trying to help people notice or attend to? What brings attention? Focus?

Coming out of the Graphic Facilitation Closet

Well, I guess it is time to walk my talk and declare I CAN DRAW. After doing it on the side, teaching it to others, I realized it was time to declare this part of my practice on my website.

Today I put up a page on the workshops I’ve been doing, as well as outing my own graphic practices page. I hope to more formally structure the visual online offerings I’ve been playing with as well.  I say this also as I prepare to send in my registration to this years International Association of Visual Practitioners gathering in Montreal.

Here are the workshop offerings. They make nice additions to existing meetings, especially if you need to break up all the talk talk talk! What do you think?

Graphic Facilitation Workshops

Beyond doing graphic recording myself, I offer two kinds of workshops on the practice of graphic recording and facilitation. One focuses on the use of visuals associated with specific facilitation techniques and group processes, and the other is a simple, hands on introduction to graphic recording, also known as “I CAN DRAW.” I can also customize a workshop for your needs either alone or with one of my collaborators. (Image courtesy of Pen Machine)

Using Visuals With Group Processes & Facilitation Methods
This workshop originated at NexusU/Nexus for Change at Bowling Green State University in 2008. It offers an overview of how visuals can enhance group facilitation processes and methods such as World Cafe, Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry, and other methods, including interactive drawing methods that can be used to break the ice or open up thinking about an issue in a non-verbal manner. This workshop is part lecture, part conversation and a short hands on experience.

Description: Are you the kind of person who loves working with groups, who is interested in finding new ways to apply your listening and recording skills, and who learns best from doing and reflecting? Are you intrigued about the role of visuals in our group interactions and learning, especially in the context of whole systems change methods such as The World Cafe, Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space? This workshop is designed for a group of people to play and learn together to develop your their practice in graphic recording and facilitation in the context of group processes. (You can see some examples here ). Graphic recording at its most basic is capturing what is happening in a group or presentation. (To learn more, see )

We’ll take a glimpse into the world of graphic recording, provide time to experiment and play with a range of tools and techniques, and explore how they can support a variety of whole systems change methods.

If you are looking for more of the “how to” part, pair it with the “I CAN DRAW” workshop.

Length: 2 hours minimum up to full day paired with “I CAN DRAW”

I CAN DRAW – Hands On Writing on Walls

This playful experiential workshop takes place almost entirely at the drawing surface, ideally in a room where we can hang large paper all around the room or use constructed 4×8 foot drawing boards. This workshop can start with very introductory level work for those who are reluctant to draw, and can be customized up to a full day graphic recording/facilitation workshop which includes not only the recording, but preparation and follow up with digital images. For those who want more in depth techniques, I usually bring in another artist to show the advanced work. Then people can see a range of styles and expertise. I’m still on the “newbee” side of the practice. This can help make the reluctant more comfortable. We can look silly together safely.

Description: Want to draw your notes instead of write them? Visually capture what is happening at a meeting or in a classroom? Engage people beyond words and text? Then come learn to write on walls, the practice of graphic recording and facilitation. Learn some basic techniques and tricks that enable any of us to draw as a way of capturing and communicating ideas with each other. This is a playful, hands-on experiential workshop. You do NOT need previous experience or have to consider yourself an artists. We can ALL draw. Come prepared to get your hands dirty. Bring a digital camera to record the fruits of your labor.

Length: 1 hour minimum, ideally 2-3 hours. Can be paired with “Using Visuals With Group Processes & Facilitation Methods”

For a sense of a very short “I CAN DRAW” session, here is 6 minutes from a lightening fast 45 “taste of” workshop at Northern Voice in 2009.

Nancy White, on Graphic Recording 101 from jmv on Vimeo.

Testimonials and Blogposts About My Work

Learning to Draw Perfect Circles and Starfish People: Capturing Collaborative Energy

Meg Whetung, Communications Designer

(Used with permission)

Nancy White’s session on graphic recording (or visual note taking) had an approachable mood and her exercises engaged participants in exploration. Standing up with markers and pastels in hand, there was laughter and the letting go of any preconceptions we carried about drawing. As a graphic designer, I draw every day, yet I left this session with many new ideas.

Observing Nancy’s approach, friendly tone, funny anecdotes, and her detailed yet simple explanations and the effect she had on the group taught me how to encourage people to relax and participate in an activity they may not ordinarily be comfortable with.

Collaboration has definitely been a buzzword in our office over the past few months, and as a designer I’m interested in opportunities to collaborate with non-designers (clients, editors, web programmers). Nancy’s session made me think about getting everyone together at the start of a project, equipping them all with pens and paper and generating initial ideas together visually – potentially a fun and effective way start to a project.

Check out Nancy’s Online Facilitation Wiki for tools and discussion of these visual methods. While explaining the benefits of taking a visual approach, she notes that visuals are “open and inviting to meaning-making (while text can be experienced as more declarative).”

I think this makes a great case for using graphic recording techniques during brainstorming meetings, where the goal is to explore possible meanings and outcomes together.