Abram Anders

Research, Media, Flows

Tag: innovation

Jim Groom Interview: Open Innovation from Inside the Institution

Just watched a great interview with Jim Groom over on the David Wiley led Edstartup MOOC. Jim Groom and the DTLT team at the University of Mary Washington has been doing some pretty incredible things. From a WordPress-based community blogs platform, to the viral multimedia course and movement known as DS106, to their most recent project “A Domain of One’s Own.” In all these projects, the common theme is open source innovation for user empowerment and DIY enthusiasm. Groom provides great examples of entrepreneurial innovation happening inside public institutions of higher ed.

In his interview, he takes on directly the issues and dangers of outsourcing educational design expertise to corporate interests and venture capital. He makes a strong case for why funding for open-ended exploration and sustaining funding for successful innovation that “takes off” and “scales up” is essential for the future of public institutions and higher education more broadly.

Groom also discusses the value in the inherent messiness and chaotic-ness of his DS106 digital media courses. He argues that as a real community, engaging DS106 has a learning curve and requires new participants to “figure out” what it means to belong and contribute, but this is also why many former students have continued to participate and find the experience rewarding even up to 3 years out from their original course. Check out the Kickstarter campaign that successfully crowd-sourced over $12,000 of funding to maintain the rapidly growing DS106 community.

Another interesting point raised by Groom and host David Wiley is about the incredible power of basic blog and aggregation tools. These simple mechanisms are sufficient for the creation of robust experiences of distributed learning, collaboration, and community-building. In fact, many versions of the MOOC phenomenon are based on these basic tools. Groom contrasts this open, decentralized vision of networked learning with the push to create “monolithic learning” in the form of big-brand MOOCs and wall-garden LMSs. In these cases, we should be wary of normalizing massifications that eschew the messiness and situated challenges of growing communities that support life long learning and personal development.

Following from this leads to Groom’s most recent project: A Domain of One’s Own (see technical details here). In this project students at UMW will be empowered to create, administer, and to carry with them their own “personal cloud.” Groom contrasts the higher-cost of supporting a standard enterprise e-portfolio solution with actually providing students with web-space and teaching them how to use it to create their own custom designed web-presence. Ultimately, Groom is passionate proponent for empowering students, faculty, and staff to “learn how to learn” with technology: he argues for supporting grassroots experimentation for institutional development and the mutual integration of curricular and technological innovation.


usability connectivity interactivity application

When considering web applications and services and the emphasis on usability or user experience, I think one of the most interesting developments is that the demands for greater and greater interactivity is not limited the individual user’s relationship to single interface or application.  Increasingly, the most successful web services and sites provide each user interactivity with a community of users and with across a variety of other services, applications, and database domains.  More simply, the most successful web interfaces make a whole context of living more usable by facilitating greater connectivity.

A good example of this phenomenon is the web service: Mint.Com (http://www.mint.com/).  Users provide their financial account information and the site retrieves data across all accounts to provide a consolidated interface for reviewing and manipulating the financial data.  Mint.com has partnerships with over 7000 financial institutions.  Even though the site is likely to draw traffic away from individual banking sites, it is also likely to increase the individual’s likelihood of taking advantage of advanced e-features (like “bill-pay”) and increase overall volume of banking activity.  In this case, we see the demand for connectivity and interactivity across discrete company-client relationships leading to the erosion of traditional proprietary logics.  It seems that open standards, open connectivity, and the growing of the base of customer interest, knowledge, and engagement is good business for all parties.

Another interesting examples of this emphasis of inter-operability and open-connections is the Scheduling Service, Jiffle (http://www.jifflenow.com/) which promises to streamline the process of making appointments across a variety of possible modes of connection on the part of its users: email, various calendar applications (web-based and desktop-based).  It is an example of web service that facilitates the streamlining of customer activity in a way that does not require regular use of its interface at all.  Rather, the service works behind the scenes to coordinate and streamline existing structures and patterns of communication.

A final example would be the entire ecology of services associated with the micro-blogging service, Twitter (http://twitter.com/).  As a sheer phenomenon the service’s exponential rise in interest and traffic is impressive (http://www.google.com/trends?q=twitter).  Even more fascinating is the way the service’s traffic is largely provided through a surprisingly robust and differentiated crowd of 3rd party interfaces (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Twitter_services_and_applications).  Where some might dismiss Twitter as merely a fad or phenomenon, I think is a mistake to dismiss Twitter as popular way of announcing the inane activities of a unimportant people’s lives.  Rather it is an open source infrastructure for searching, finding, collecting, and aggregating social opinions, behaviors, and tendencies.

In terms of my own research interests and technology practices, I am increasingly interested in thinking of my course procedures and assignments “virtual machines” or “virtual applications” which operate by connecting web apps, textbooks, classroom spaces, schedules, specific instructions in useful ways in order to maximize outcomes for involved stakeholders (I pursue the best balance between student needs and capacities and my own technology/pedagogy research agenda).

Over time, my interest is to develop courses which facilitate student production of multimedia learning modules on topics in business communication and professionalization.  These modules will form a database, reference repository, and pool of examples which each successive course will be able to utilize.  Former students will be able to continue to access and use archive and benefit from the projects that build on their efforts.  The archive site would also act as a dynamic portfolio of LSBE student work for prospective students and employers.  In general, I am interested in developing course architectures which leverage the principles of crowd-sourcing, service-learning for the production of learning spaces and materials that are geared for multiple audiences, purposes, times, and places.  Ultimately, our current information age context requires forms of usability that emphasize increased connectivity, interactivity across multiple contexts of purpose, audience, interfaces, tool sets, and work flows.

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