Digi-learning: maximizing the benefits of social economies

The value of collaborative development is widely acknowledged (see proprietary software development release dates versus those of open source programs – guess which advances more rapidly). How can these proven techniques be leveraged to advance education?  Recent studies by IBM (reign in your scepticism, please) show : “hours spent playing online can hone skills related to collaboration, self-organisation, risk-taking, openness, influence and communication”.  In the article Gaming the System… Herz opines “the networked eco-system of online gaming is vastly more multidimensional than the 19th-Century paradigm of classroom instruction” due to its provision of a greater array of challenges to its users. A single player can be faced with learning the game, coaching newbies on its use, and working collaboratively to solve or further develop the game. Not only do students engage in the content, then, but are deep into “conventions of interpersonal interaction that define status, identity, and affiliation”, or “social ecology”. Doshi notes the need stated by students and staff alike to make sessions in Libraries more interactive; lectures should be molded into “knowledge quests” (Walter Scaachi, quoted by Doshi). Herz presses further: “to become meaningful, online content needs to leverage the social ecology that drives networked interaction.” Yet this does not support the incursion of adults into teen-defined social networking sites, which only reduces the amount of space left to teenagers in which to participate in their own social ecology. Students may benefit more from operating in online environments unmediated by educators’ imposed rules; like Danah Boyd riffing about MySpace, Herz recognizes the importance of defining and enculturating their own norms. (See my earlier notes on this topic.)

Instead, educational models need to develop means in which information learned should be reinvested in projects of benefit to the group. Benefits include not only the gathering of new information, higher rate of encoding in long-term memory, and advanced social interaction development, but recognition from peers (see my earlier posts citing egoboo as it relates to the collaborative activity of social bookmarking). Given the collaborative nature of the gaming world, social recognition of one’s efforts is very high; Herz contends the classic model of education lacks such effective models of team-building. [Herz sends us to Slashdot for a great performance model.]

Herz grabs my attention with the suggestion of a more nuanced model of grading: “instead of a binary framework where… requirements are either met or not met, they might be considered attributes that are continuously strengthened.” In the North American model of public education, students are graded on scales and continually throughout the academic year; the framework isn’t binary. But I appreciate his suggestion for the way in which it could serve to increase the current systems pedagogic influence. Tying grades into group performance, ongoing collaboration, as well as observed effort and demonstrated performance may not be that far from being actualized in the mainstream; after all, instructors of well-designed distributed education courses are already making great inroads into collaborative learning. Web 2.0 tools such as social bookmarking, RSS feeds, and online social networking arenas can equip learners with opportunities for sharing and reinvesting their new knowledge and derive greater results with a wider variety of learners than before.


Completely Biased SN Recognition Awards 2007

MISU [Most Interesting Sign-up]:  Second Life.  Becoming a resident entails selecting a last name from a provided list.  How about that:  Vonnegut’s Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain was on to something.

IFF  [Instant Friend Factor]: 
Facebook.  Invitations from fun folk I actually know were waiting for me when I signed up.  MySpace takes a second for creator and autofriend Tom.

Tom’s profile serves as a behavioural model for those new to the SN, and reading “Tom’s Friends [sic] Comments” gives one access to users’ shared behaviours.  He’s fairly good-looking, so pouty-faced young females post flirts frequently.  There are also comments like this morning’s from Dezz Da Sh!zz:

” saw you in cosmo girl mag yesterday =P  i like how they said your display pic is the mona lisa of mysapce so true! cant belive how famous you are,i trully love this site,im addicted,ive made new friends in my area cause of you,you odnt know how happy i am!”

and this from **2 Tha World Ur 1 Person,But To Me Ur The World**:  “hey tom….myspace has really effected my life, i found the love of my life on here, i fell in love with the girl of my dreams because of you….if it wasnt for myspace, we woulda never met….so i just wanna thank you for creating this website and helping me find the girl that im going to spend the rest of my life with..”

FAF [Friend Addition Factor]:  Facebook.  The greatest online accumulation of people I want to be in touch with since Tribe.

GCS  [Group/Community Selection]:  Orkut.  Finding new communities/interest groups was very easy.  [Should I be surprised that a Google  product has great search functionality?]  Facebook takes second for its feed of friends’ actions, including their sign-up to new groups.

LaF [Look and Feel]:  Second Life.  It’s sooo bee-yoo-ti-ful.  MySpace should come second for its HTML, but I’m more interested in staying in touch than getting my page dressed to impress.  Next highest honours go to Facebook instead.

WPI [Worst Public Image]:  MySpace.

MySpace has weathered a lot of bad press in the media; adults concerned for the safety of children in a space where adults can prey upon them have well-publicized their fears, crusades, and sometimes the confirmation that a tragedy has befallen.  Yet Danah Boyd opines online environments are are crucial for youths as they offer “youth space”, a place where youths can gain experience with “popularity dynamics”.  Public spaces enabling youth interaction “provide the framework for building cultural knowledge.”  Boyd says those not familiar with the workings of social networking programs like Facebook are wrong to be dismissive, as “popularity dynamics because [are] how we all learned the rules of social life, how we learned about status, respect, gossip and trust.”

L8R [Don’t Look for Me Here]:  MySpace.  Too many artfully-posed shots of teens seeking sexual recognition (at least) from peers.  I feel creepy here.  Online sex and sexual interactions happen – great, keep unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STD’s down, learn how to socially interact gracefully.  Moving about in Facebook was just too reminisent of being the straight female who wandered into the “blackout room” at a gay bar.  What goes on in there?  Things that should remain known only to those whom are meant to be there.

And the most coveted of all the Completely Biased SN Recognition Awards, the lovable “Artie”:

RT [Rocket to the Top]:  Facebook, with its unfair advantage of having been created for my demographic, is my number one pick for social networking site.

User-designated tagging and Libraries

I’m a big fan of social tagging and the fabulously handy results one gets from pairing subscribing to tag streams. Sharing search results amongst others is so simple; no longer do I have to write explanatory emails and address them appropriately for whomever I think might be interested. Instead, tags can help to ensure the information is categorized and that other like-minded researchers will find it. My online time, always more limited than I want it to be, is now more effectively used; I’m generating a greater number of returns for the searches I do, because I can run them over a longer period of time through the wonder of RSS.

In this week’s readings I was impressed by Sam H. Kome’s Master’s paper Hierarchical subject relationships in folksonomies (2005). While he did not cite Peter Merholz’ 2004 work Metadata for the masses, I think they share some complementary beliefs. Merholz opined, “once you have a preliminary system in place [i.e., a naming system], you can use the most common tags to develop a controlled vocabulary that truly speaks the users’ language.” Kome mentions “several decades of research into human cognition and categorization activities have found that categorization is fundamental human activity” and identified an existant hierarchical naming structure within his sampling of user-designated tagging.

Other favourite quotes: John Udell, Conucopia of the commons: “Self-interested use leads to collective abundance.”

Joshua Porter, The Del.icio.us lesson: “Personal value precedes network value.”

Rashmi Sinha, A social analysis of tagging: “All good systems need to serve the individual motive. Tagging works because it strikes a balance between the individual and the social.”

Together with an awareness of contemporary librarianship, these works help me to believe cataloguing can be revolutionized to be more meaningful for the end-users and yet still maintain an organizational structure.

Atom, ASF, APP

Here’s a handy piece from Computers in Libraries, April 2007 issue. It’s from an article entitled, “A Dozen Primers on Important Information Standards”.Atom

Just a bit more information to follow up the RSS presentation.

[Atom, ASF, and APP all = Atom syndicatication Format, Atom Publishing Protocol]

RSS (Group Presentation)

What is RSS?

Who is Oprah Winfrey? What is an RSS? Most people know the first answer but have no clue about the second one. Here is an article that explains RSS “the Oprah way”. To make RSS much easier to understand, Oprah defines the acronym as standing for “I am ‘Ready for Some Stories’.” Is it cool? I think most people have already got the point and would like to explore more about what is an RSS.

RSS, Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, is an XML-based format widely used by bloggers and commercial industries to distribute web content. From an article on Rogers Cadenhead’s blog “workbench” in which he discusses the variety of icon links, here common icons that you may see on web pages that are linked to RSS.


History of RSS

Timeline (RSS History & Web RSS History):




Dec. 1996

Pre-XML MCF (Meta Content Framework)

Ramanathan V. Guha at Apple

Mar. 1997

CDF (Channel Definition Format)


Jun. 1997

MCF (using XML)


Oct. 1997

RDF (Resource Description Framework)


Dec.27 ,1997


Dave Winer at UserLand

Mar.15, 1999

RSS 0.90 (RDF Site Summary)


Jun.15, 1999

ScriptingNews 2.0b1

Dave Winer at UserLand

Jul.10, 1999

RSS 0.91

Dan Libby at Netscape

Aug.14, 2000

RSS 1.0

The RSS-DEV working group at O’Reilly

Dec.25, 2000

RSS 0.92

Dave Winer at UserLand

Sep.18, 2002

RSS 2.0

Dave Winer

Jul.13, 2003

RSS 2.0 specification

Harvard Law School

RSS Feeds and Feed Readers

RSS Feeds work similar to a Bookmark in a web browser. Content providers publish content summaries in a RSS feed to their potential readers. RSS feeds are “a spam-free, quick and efficient way to read news and weblogs” (Brian, Introduction to RSS).

A feed reader or aggregator is a client software used to retrieve syndicated web content such as news, blogs, podcasts, etc., through web feeds. There are generally two types of RSS readers (RSS Specifications). One is a self-contained program such as SharpReader, the other one is web-based such as Google Reader. Some web browsers, such as Firefox, Opera and Safari, are also capable of tracking RSS feeds.

Top RSS readers include READ3R.COM, Google Reader, FeedDemon, NewsGator, NetNewsWire, Bloglines, Blog Navigator, SharpReader, NewzCrawler.

How Does RSS Work?

Basically, RSS keeps track of the changes of content or webpages posted on the Internet and delivers the changes to users. The following describes how RSS works:

  1. Users download RSS reader;
  2. Information sites publish content summaries in RSS feeds;
  3. Users selct summaries and content; and
  4. Users add URLs of RSS feeds to RSS reader.

 Users are not confined to access RSS feeds by using a computer. They can access the feeds through their mobile devices such as cell phones and blackberries.


I have some personal experience with RSS readers. The time-saving feature of RSS is what I appreciate most. I believe that many of you have some bad experience in finding what you want across various web sites. Pop-up ads and slow downloads are really annoying. Even worse, you are very likely to get lost in some poorly organized web sites. However, with a RSS reader, all you have to do is just a simple click. Also, RSS feeds save you the time of going to check a website to see if information has been added or updated, as the information is sent directly to you when content changes. No searching is required beyond the initial set-up; having already identified the news areas of interest to you, information from the same source will continue to arrive as it is created.

RSS in libraries

Many libraries adopt RSS for distributing library related information such as library news (e.g. Reno Libraries), subject blogs (e.g. Georgia State University Library), new acquisitions (e.g. University of Alberta Libraries), book reviews (e.g. Colorado College Library), catalog search queries and personalized circulation information (e.g. Hennepin County Library), and staff communication (e.g. Oregon Libraries Network) (Yue and Greene, 2006). Reno Libraries offer RSS feeds of electronic journals to patrons.

As some of you may already know, RSS is available through the Western Libraries. Western Libraries offers information news on all the campus libraries. Other academic libraries offer other types of information through RSS like the University of New Brunswick Library, which offers “e-resources status”. McMaster University Library offers a variety of information ranging from instruction, new books, and trial e-Resources. Universities’ Libraries can use RSS feeds in different ways in order to keep their community informed on all fronts.

Other good applications of RSS could be associated with electronic journals as they are usually updated regularly, monthly, semi-monthly, bimonthly, etc. Also, RSS can be applied to e-books. For example, there could be a feed of new titles of an author or even subject related feeds for patrons wanting to know about specific acquisitions rather than getting a full list of all the new library acquisitions. They could choose their areas of interest, and get those titles. RSS could also be used for informing patrons of their upcoming due dates on loaned material, as a warning could be sent in advance.


The Future of RSS

Internet Explorer 7.0 released this year implements RSS. Since it is the market leader, it is very likely that more and more users will be exposed to RSS. We can expect a fast growth of RSS user group.

The use of RSS for current awareness groups can be particularly useful and important for libraries working in fields that have a rapid changing environment such as science and technology, research or medicine, as the need for up to date information can be crucial and important to clients. Another substantial advantage with RSS is that it can save users a lot of time from going back and forth to sites, when they are looking for new information. As we all know, time is something that is very valuable, and RSS offers some help with managing time better as it saves users from going to sites looking for the new updates, RSS feeds bring the updates to the users, saving them the time of going and looking for the information, which may or may not be there. New programs such as Feed Digest even make it possible for you to group all of your feeds together into one site and re-publish them according to your own interests.


Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary is a valuable communications tool that serves information providers and consumers alike. In making it simpler for web users to consistently find new information via self-customized feeds, users are better able to find the answers they require and save time in doing so. As information and knowledge managers, Librarians can dramatically increase their effectiveness in serving web-abled clients by providing RSS options on their institutional websites. In order to maximize the value of those feeds, however, Librarians must also provide clear instruction like The Common Craft Show’s “RSS in Plain English” and attractive, easy-to-comprehend displays for the less computer-literate on how to access and use the technology. Finally, it is imperative that Librarians and their institutions never assume that any one form of communication will be so effective as to obviate the need any other. Various means of disseminating information should continue to be used in reaching one’s user base; adding the RSS into that array may benefit many.

Xian Liu, Qingyi Su, Jeremie LeBlanc, Shannon McAlorum