Scott's Workblog

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February 09, 2007

Distributed conversations in context - again!

Brian is blogging about blogs vs. email; usually the topic is blogs vs. forums, but I think the issues and solutions are pretty similar.

This is a topic I've written about before, especially within the context of elearning, where discussion context plays a very particular role. Actually I seem to have blogged on this topic three times now! Oops, make that four!

To summarize: a distributed conversation can still be contextualized, this is not an inherent property of centralized systems such as forums, but it does require a mechanism that supports contextualization of distributed posts. I've analyzed some of the candidates in the posts linked to above that go beyond using basic hyperlinking, although that in itself is a powerful, and well-understood mechanism. The fact I've used it here, as has Brian in the post this is a response to, is some sort of indication. Within an elearning context, email has considerable issues with regards to the workloads and attention of teachers and students, and so distributed conversations have a very important place; one can see the emergence of forums as crucial component of VLEs/LMSs as part of the effort to replace email with a more manageable conversation system. Distributed blog-based conversations are, I believe, the next step in that evolution of learning conversations.

Within an elearning context, I think the most promising current strategy is to use a combination of blogrolls and tag-based aggregators to enable context-specific conversations to be picked out from the collection of posts made by a set of people (e.g. members of a particular course, or network of people with a common interest or goal). This enables both learners and teachers to be able to gain an overview of, for example, what their colleagues have said regarding a particular topic of learning. Social bookmarking services provide this type of mechanism already, and also enable individualization (in the cybernetic sense) to take place by broadening the context to include the wider population as well as a specific network.

Brian's blog is well worth the visit - he's casting a fresh, reflective view over his blogging, which is interesting in itself coming from one of education's original web pioneers!

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