Northern Voice 2007 in a Nutshell
Northern Voice was a big day. By the end I was wiped out in every way. We had walked in the Vancouver rain until it soaked us through, my feet were sore and tired, stomach was empty and my mind was stuffed. And I loved it all. The conference was great. I was prepared for a total blog love-in but what I got was a bunch of great ideas, some good technical advice and support from being around like-minded people. After the keynote by Anil Dash opened the conference, we went in to a session on social software in learning. The university scene has changed drastically since I was a full time student. There are a lot of web-based programs to help bring education online. The reason I know this is that most people in the session seemed pretty fed up with them all. D'Arcy Norman talked about success using Drupal to get students blogging and using forums as an extension of the classroom. Specifically, Drupal can remove a lot of the administrative formality and busy work if it is configured well. This allows engaged students to self-organize. I've tried Drupal as an admin and a user and I have mixed feelings about it. I definitely believe that with the right person managing it, Drupal can be the right backend for a lot of different content management applications. Specifically, it does seem well-suited to the field of education. With the wrong admin though, users can be locked out of features unnecessarily and quickly get turned off. I guess that's like any good tool - users make good things great. The interesting thing was that a Jon Beasley-Murray (a later presenter in the same session) knocked the Drupal set up and pretty much all the class extension stuff. He had students go out and make their own blogs and submit some of the coursework via public posts. He showed us an example online where a student was critical of an academic paper and received comments from the author of the paper. That's the kind of interaction that you just can't get with any scale but the web. His opinion was that it also doesn't happen under the auspices of a school. Admittedly, there's a big danger in this kind of involvement, the author of the original paper could have taken offense or tried to claim libel. I think that's what we need though. We need to get students interacting with the rest of the world so they know that they're not "just an undergrad" or "just doing a course." And if a bunch of students get sued frivolously, then that's the cost of having real education and not just lip service to some ideal of people getting excited by reading a book alone in the library. There's a cost for the students and the teachers to get more involved in the education though, and that's time. So it's only going to progress as much as people make the time for their education and that means they have to care about the subject more than they do about other things they could do with that time. The feedback students can get by letting a wider audience read their work, however, fans the flicker of interest that they had when they signed up for the course. So yeah, I got a little excited by the education session. Then I moved on to Dave's podcasting session. I have to admit that the Uncle Weed persona did put me off a bit. I guess I'm a stiff. So the subject matter of his podcasts doesn't excite me, but the session did. Dave knows his shit. He cares about what he's doing and it shows. So he had some great pointers and interesting presentation covering everything from getting a concept through recording and producing all the way up to promoting your podcast once you've got a few in the can. I only went in to the session with idle curiosity - but when he started in about how to vet an idea to see if it's worth starting a podcast, I started to get inspired. I've done a couple podcasts, well they're not episodic so some say that's not a podcast ... so I've recorded a couple audio file of me speaking which were syndicated in the RSS feed from my blog... But anyway, I've done a couple of those and I think I might like to do some more over a limited time, like a short series around a topic I like to talk about. One of the reasons I identified with Dave's attitude was the focus on getting it out there. Get good audio quality but don't go overboard buying equipment before you start recording. He recommended starting with a laptop if you already have one and showed the M-Audio device he uses (a Microtrack 24/96). It looks pretty sweet - two channels of audio and a CF slot. A far cry from the crap RCA puts out (which, by the way, doesn't use any normal formats for files or connectivity). After the podcasting session Candace and I walked all over God's green acre looking for food in the rain. Being a Saturday, nobody on UBC wants to try to sell food. We saw a Subway sign and headed for it like an oasis in the desert. So I have to ask: why leave the signs on if your business is closed? We ended up finding a pretty good bagel place that was open and had a vegan option. After lunch was Vlogging session. I don't have much good to say about it. I think the citizen newscaster is in for a big surprise when they realize that big media's not blind - they can applly a lot of the same techniques to dominating online opinions that they have to dominating offline opinions. Yes they've tried and failed a couple times, but each TV network has piles of money to burn through figuring this out. We live in an interesting time and the conditions that exist now won't last for ever. It's important for individuals who get it to use the advantages they have now, while they last." I liked the rest of the afternoon a lot better but don't have so much to relate about it. The session Darren Barefoot led on why people blog was interesting and inspiring. As a long-time blogger he's got some good insight and some good stories to tell. Both Jeff Henshaw and Catherine Winters were interesting in the virtual worlds talk, but XBox Live and Second Life seemed almost juxtaposed rather than complementary. So, to sum up: glad I came, wish you were here :). If it sticks then you'll see a lot more blogging out of me and maybe a couple more of these introverted blogging-about-blogging posts too.
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