Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cloudworks

I've been following the work of Gráinne Conole from UK's Open University for some time. I believe the first time I corresponded with her was during the Shaping Our Future conference in May, 2008 at SCoPE where we invited her to provide an international perspective on e-learning research, policy, and practice. Then later that year I participated in her remote presentation on Cloudworks at the 2008 Tech It Up conference at Thomposon Rivers University in Kamloops.

That Coudworks presentation really sparked my interest. At that time the website was still in the very early phases of development, but the potential was obvious. It reminded me of some of our early 90s work done in the Virtual-U project lab at Simon Fraser University when we were busy mocking up designs that would provide a way for instructors to share their online course activities in a way that provided implementation and iterative design context.
Cloudworks is a site for finding, sharing and discussing learning and teaching ideas, experiences and issues. The aims are to:
  • enable people to find, share and discuss learning and teaching ideas
  • connect people with similar educational interests through social networking
  • provide inspiration on designing learning activities and developing resources
  • showcase the work of individuals and communities who want to reach existing but also new audiences
  • provide a place for different communities to discuss, collaborate and aggregate relevant materials, ideas and designs
  • encourage sharing, especially among people who have not shared learning and teaching ideas and experiences before.
The appeal of Cloudworks is that the focus shifts away from sharing course resources (repositories) to representing teaching designs, practices, and resources in a way that is context rich and reusable by others. Moreover, members' contributions are open and available for others to build on in a number of interesting ways.
Unlike many existing educational repositories, the emphasis is on building a dynamic collection of ideas and experiences; via a variety of educational content (learning designs, case studies, resources and tools) plus active discussions about the use and effectiveness of this content in different contexts. The voice of users of the site, their experience, reviews and reflections on the content of the site is a central feature.
Last month I had the pleasure of spending some time with Gráinne at the ETUG Fall 2009 workshop in Vancouver, on an unexpected road trip to Kamloops because our flight was cancelled, then briefly at the TechItUp conference where we live-blogged John Seely Brown's keynote together. I was able to get immersed in Cloudworks and also experience Gráinne's enthusiasm. It was a great combination.

First... the ETUG Fall workshop. Gráinne Conole treated participants to a full-day workshop and plenary talk on learning design. She was also an extremely active participant in the 2-day event overall, first by helping the planning committee by creating a workshop 'cloudscape' at Cloudworks ahead of time, then by continuing to populate the various clouds with links, live blogs of sessions, comments, and keeping workshop the #etugdesign twitter stream active.

Aside from helping us to build a fantastic online resource for our 2-day event that we can continue to revisit and build over time, Gráinne really modelled for our community how we can (and should!) collectively create artefacts of our activities, and find ways to involve members who are unable to travel to f2f events. And it was very interesting to see Cloudworks in action!

Second...the unexpected road trip. We had a very early flight out of Vancouver I was returning home after the ETUG Workshop and Gráinne was going on the the TechItUp conference. We caught a 5:30 a.m. cab to the airport only to find that the flight had been cancelled due to fog. We're actually still trying to figure out why the flight was so early! We thought it was because Gráinne needed to be at the TechItUp conference. Anyway, we retrieved our luggage then headed off to the car rental area. No cars left! We tried one company after another. Then in the last line-up we started chatting with Jarrod Bell from School District #60 in Fort St. John. It turned out he was also heading to the TechItUp conference AND we found out there was a car available. So we all drove up together. What a terrific experience! We felt like we were playing hooky -- stopping at coffee shops, checking out the views, fitting in a little fine dining, and having a fantastic conversation.

Third...John Seely Brown's keynote at the TechItUp conference. Thanks to Tara Murray from School District #73 (Kamloops/Thompson), one of the conference organizers, I was able to pop in on Saturday morning just for the keynote. By this time I was very familiar with Cloudworks, so was able to quickly find the cloud Gráinne had created and start live blogging within seconds of opening my laptop.

I think this last point is what will really contribute to the increase in Cloudworks membership and the growth in valuable resources and opportunities for dialogue. It is so easy to use, and there are many ways to contribute. The idea is to:
  • Ensure a low barrier to entry for new contributions. We believe that one of the main barriers to contribution to other repositories is the level of detail and metadata required, cumbersome quality control processes and issues around ownership.
  • Give the site a people-orientated focus. It is conversation and shared experiences that will draw people to contribute to the site and make it sustainable. Finding the right person to talk to is often as important as finding the right resource.
When I returned home after my few days with Gráinne I began to think about how Cloudworks could be used for other projects I'm involved in. One that came to mind was an Improving Conferences (and other events) project I've been hoping to get off the ground with colleagues in BC as we gather ideas and feedback from the events we organize. We have so much material, but it needs to be brought together somehow. And obviously this won't be a static resource; we need to continue to build on it. Cloudworks! I fired up an Improving Conferences Cloudscape and a few clouds to get going. The next day I noticed that Martin Weller had started a cloud called Changing nature of conferences so I snapped that into my Cloudscape. I'll continue to look for other clouds related to this theme. I'll also continue to get the word out that the cloudscape exists. I haven't even mentioned it to my colleagues, and they might not be as keen to jump in. But that's okay. Even if we end up with A MANUAL , it can still be included in the cloudscape. And hopefully I'll bump into new people in the clouds who interested in this topic. In any case, I'll just pick away at this project, adding #improveconf to relevant tweets, links to interesting resources, questions and new clouds as they come to mind. Suddenly creating a good resource on improving conferences feels very manageable. :-)

Interested in learning about Cloudworks in a community of practice context? Mark your calendars for a Virtual Field Trip organized by SCoPE and CPSquare, November 16
November 16, 2009 12:00 PDT 20:00 GMT (your time zone). More details will be posted soon!

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