Syndication-Oriented Architecture: a Solution to Problem of Coherence

I’ve been preparing a talk that I will be delivering this afternoon for Campus Technology’s Virtual Leadership Summit. Given the session will be moderated by Gardner Campbell, I figured I’d take the opportunity to try and frame out the broader vision behind Domain of One’s Own that goes well beyond the education sphere. In fact, it’s remarkable how much of the vision is encapsulated in Jon Udell‘s 2007 talk “The Disruptive Nature of Technology.” For this presentation I have take seven clips from this talk—each roughly two minutes long. I’ll be using them as a touchstone for various concepts I want to try and demonstrate why it is essential at this moment to be encouraging people (and for the purposes of this talk faculty and students) to take control of the work they do online.

So, in order to both prepare for the talk and “narrate my public agenda”simultaneously, I’m going to link to the seven clips and contextualize each of them as part of a larger narrative centered on  how new methods of instruction can be augmented by an architecture that defines learners and faculty as personalized, connected nodes within the networked world of the web. We’ll see how this goes.

1. The Problem of Coherence

Udell recognizes early on in this talk that despite all the great and magical qualities of the web to connect people and ideas, there remains an enduring issue and one which remains just as problematic six years on: a sense of coherence to the work we do online. In the following clip, Udell frames the issue of coherence in terms of what universities are used to in terms of monolithic IT systems that provide a sense of organization and structure that is anathema to the loosely coupled properties of the web, but endure because they make the interactions and exchanges fairly coherent, but using crude, outdated tools that accrue back to the university system rather than the individuals who actually created within them.

For example, you can do work within your school’s  content management system (CMS) or learning management system (LMS) but there is often no effortless way  (or even possibility) to allow people to port that work into their own personal archive. So while you might have some semblance of coherence in these systems, they lack any of the any the affordances that make the web the web (these are the limitations xMOOCS still seem to operate within monolithic systems with none of the affordances of the web). On the other hand, the loosely distributed spaces for creation like blogs, wikis, twitter, tumblr, Facebook, etc. allow for greater interaction, collaboration, and promotion of what is happening at your university, but often at the cost of coherence. There has been no quick and easy way to aggregate that work within the university’s existing CMS. So, in some ways the two are at “loggerheads.” Let’s listen to Udell first:

The Problem of Coherence

2. Hosted Lifebits

But in good form, Udell doesn’t offer a problem without a solution. He suggests the problem of coherence might be addressed if we start looking at the ways in which we publish and republish our work online somewhat differently. Rather than continuing to use monolithic systems that people are asked to create on, we need to focus our attention on actually designing an architecture that can syndicate (or simply republish seamlessly) the work people are already creating on the web in their own various online spaces. What institutions and communities can then do is use a syndication-orientated architecture to place that work within the proper contexts. In other words, build a republishing system that takes the work happening in these various individual spaces and make it part of a  larger, coherent community web presence. The shift is from monolithic, institutional systems to more atomized, individualized publishing that is reconstituted as a whole through its myriad, distributed parts—not unlike Britian’s technological revolutions during the Spanish Armada: build smaller, faster, more agile ships to overcome the monolithic, sluggish Spanish navy.

Read more from Udell about this one here.

Hosted Life Bits

3. A Personal Lifetime Digital Archive

This next audio clip is why I decided to include these clips in the first place. I ‘d been presenting for the last four or five months using Udell’s ideas as a framework for my talks, but every time I listen to this talk again I was frustrated at just how much I butchered his examples. But, alas, I refuse to give up, and I figured this format gives me a bit more help 🙂 The idea behind the Personal Lifetime Digital Archive is very compelling to me on many levels. The idea that we all have a ton of digital work both locally and online across various platforms means that we are going to have to continually grapple with the issue of archiving our stuff. I love the example of Suzy in this clip, and following her through what a personal digital archive might look like, and how understanding our digital lifebits as something we can both control and share feeds into a syndication-oriented architecture. What’s more, it changes the axis of how a student might work across various instituions they come into contact with during their lifetime. We should be thinking of their time at school as one in which we are helping them understand the changing nature of publishing and online identity, and helping them understand this in a more nuanced, complex way, but more on that shortly.

Personal Lifetime Digital Archives

4. Not a Federation of Schools

Continuing on with Suzie’s personal digital archive, I think one of the things Udell understands intuitively about the web that most universities fail to understand is that it’s not just about them (another space wherein the xMOOCs are misguided). I guess as a university it’s hard not to be self-centered, but the bottom line is that the idea of a personal digital archive goes well beyond schools, in fact it has to in order for it to be relevant. But, when you think about how most university IT infrastructure is setup right now, it is the absolute opposite. Once you leave, your access (and by extension your archive) is gone. What does this mean for helping the people we educate maintain a coherent, enduring personal archive of the work they’ve done while attending our university? Isn’t making this easier part of what we should be doing?

Not a federation of schools

5. Narrating Your Public Agenda

And while the personal digital archive and the concomitant syndication-orientated architecture cannot be limited to a federation of schools for it to be relevant, at the same time personal publishing and personal archiving remain central to the academic enterprise. The idea of consistently and regularly narrating the work you do is the premise of an intellectual community. In that regard the web provides us to publish in a space of immediacy that enable a community to help each other refine their thinking—kinda sounds like college, right?

Narrating your public agenda

6. Digital Identity

At UMW we have spent a lot of time considering how the work a student might do as part of their college career may be one way to get them thinking responsibly about their digital identity. Just how much the web is becoming integral to how the world beyond understands who you are is a central question for us. We want them to realize that from the start of their career at UMW,  and hep them use their time at UMW to shape an online identity that reflects their best selves. And that is exactly what Udell is arguing for in this next clip, rather than parents and teachers abdicating the responsibility of helping students understand the web, it is our responsibility to show them how to use it responsibly. And that is not a simple matter of rules and protocol, rather it is best done through practical experience and conceptual possibility.

Online Identity

7. Networked Minds

“How effective are you going to be able to be?” This is where Udell brings back the vision behind the syndicated architecture, personal digital archives, and more into the fact that all these ideas are always in service to the core message: the web enables us to dramatically augment the possibilities for sharing and collaborating around ideas. The digitally networked world affords our student a whole new level of potentiality that we, as colleges and universities, must recognize and design for accordingly—that is our responsibility. Fact is, we can’t teach them what it means to be networked learners if we don’t have faculty that understand this and the vision and architecture in place to realize it. What’s more, it’s a community’s responsibility to offer a sense of coherence (in this regard the appropriately designed virtual space) for this to happen in the most powerful ways. Instructional design has never been more important, I just wish it would stop aping the monolithic systems and start adopting and cohering the loosely coupled nature of the web.

Networked Minds

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7 Responses to Syndication-Oriented Architecture: a Solution to Problem of Coherence

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