Metaphors for Web 2.0

Michele Martin had a wonderful post today that mirrored some reflections of my own. In “If You Behave Like a Disease, People Develop an Immune System“, she talks about how the “viral” model we use for thinking about spreading information on the web may not be the best way of thinking about how to reproduce ideas – or in my mind – selling those ideas to faculty.

This must be the day for metaphors, because Beth Kanter twittered: “ What metaphors do you use to explain web2.0 to noobs? I used sex. David Lee King uses chain saws? And you?Jeff Nugent has said that Twitter is “pure entertainment” and this tweet probably qualifies…particularly as it compelled me to tweet back – “Either works for me but not both!” 🙂

But the question is a GREAT question! During the past year – and I give Jeff credit for coming up with it, we have started all workshops dealing with Blackboard with the question – “What is your metaphor for Blackboard?” We hear some interesting replies – a portal, a pipeline, an on-demand storage facility, a medicine cabinet with lots of shelves, a journal, a communication transmitter, etc. Yet Blackboard (even with their coming advertisement) is soooo Web 1.0. My metaphor is that it is a control device with lots of keys. It is much better at keeping people out than engaging them once they are in….and I say that even though I think I do a reputable job at engaging my students. In many cases, I do so by jumping out of Blackboard into the Web 2.0 stream. I want my students engaged with me, each other, and the content, and the “web as content” model of Blackboard does not fit with the possibilities afforded by the read-write aspects of Web 2.0.

Anyway, Michele built off of Kevin Marks‘ post and I want to build off of hers. She gave some examples of applications :

I started thinking that there were some applications to using these ideas to spread social media for learning.

r-Strategy – scatter lots of seeds–Dandelions, frogs and other plants and animals produce many seeds with the assumption that at least some of them will stick. Most die off, but enough survive to perpetuate the species. Applying this to social media for learning, this would be the equivalent of making many tools and processes available to people, hoping that at least a few of them would catch on. The disadvantage is that this approach can be time-consuming and wasteful. Not to mention that social media thrives on other people using it, so unless you have enough uptake on the same tools/processes, things could die off rather quickly. At the same time, the “costs” of social media can be relatively low, compared to “scattering the seeds” of an LMS, for example. The 23 Things model would be an example of an r-Strategy.

Two weeks ago, Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I scattered a lot of seeds at the Teaching and Learning with Technology Institute simply by modeling behavior and making small suggestions. Each morning of the institute, we worked one-on-one with faculty to refine their goals and find applications that fit those goals. Of the 18 participants, I have seen a new wiki, a new blog, assignments associated with Google Docs, and four Twitterers arise from the group in the past week. It might be wasteful given other options, but I love seeing these new flowers blossom!

k-Strategy–nurture your young–This is how mammals do it–have only a few young and then concentrate all their energies on developing those offspring. This would be the equivalent of deciding to focus on using wikis or and gearing all efforts in that direction. This allows you to structure a learning environment that is very focused and supportive of the particular tools and behaviors you’re trying to develop. Stewart Mader is doing a nice job of creating this kind of environment with Grow Your Wiki. Of course the down-side is that if you have the wrong tool or don’t use the right “parenting” techniques, you could spend a lot of time and energy on something that won’t turn out well in the end. While labor-intensive, this could also be the strategy that has the most pay-off in the end though.

I agree, but while I am an Obama guy, I do think that it sometimes takes a village to raise new behaviors in faculty. So part of this nurturing can come from the social environment that you add as part of the tool. I think that I speak for my other two colleagues when I say that it has been the creation of a social network that has been transformative for us.

Fruiting–wrap your seed in something sweet–Some plants wrap delicious fruit around their seeds so that animals will eat them and spread the seeds. In terms of social media for learning, this would suggest “wrapping” some kind of reward around your social media initiative–adding to the wiki gets you a prize or the best blog post is featured on the organizational website. I’m of two minds about this. I recognize that a lot of people tend to respond to extrinsic rewards. At the same time, I have to say that I’m an Alfie Kohn fan who would prefer it if we could focus on using intrinsic motivation to support learning.

Michele is on to something here, but this lies outside the purview of most of us. However, one of the strongest rewards you can give someone is to demonstrate how one of their problems could be solved. and Web 2.0 provides lots of opportunities for problem solution.

Rhizomatic–start from the roots–Another reproductive strategy favored by plants like strawberries and ginger, is to send out shoots or runners from the main plant. This suggests using more of a grass roots strategy for spreading learning through social media, perhaps finding the pockets where things are already happening and then nurturing those. Or taking “cuttings” from those pockets and planting them elsewhere in the organization by having someone who’s already using social media successfully for learning share with other individuals or units. Britt Watwood, Bud Deihl and Jeff Nugent seem to be pursuing this idea at VCU where they are continually experimenting and sending out the shoots of their experiments through their blogs.

It is an honor to be cited by Michele here. I do have a slightly different twist. Faculty respond to other faculty, so part of what Jeff, Bud and I have tried to do is use lunch brown-bag sessions to showcase work being done by others. It becomes easier to internalize a concept when you see a direct application by a colleague. Another example of planting a cutting would be Jott, which Michele introduced to us…and which today I introduced to some MBA faculty in the School of Business here. Some shoots are easy to plant, and Jott counts among them as an easy first application which can lead to more.

Jeff has used the metaphor of swimming in a running stream surrounded by lots of fish to describe Web 2.0 (one I particularly like), Michele has used gardening terms, Beth uses sex, David uses chain saws (still working on that one). So, to parrot Beth – what is YOUR metaphor? Comment and let me know!


[Photo Credits: Fort Photo, Adam, L’Iconoclaste Banal, Zesmerelda]

5 thoughts on “Metaphors for Web 2.0

  1. Great post, Britt, and thanks for elaborating on how you’re using these different metaphorical strategies with your group. I agree that one of the best rewards we can give people is to show them how this stuff can help them work more effectively, which also fits in with my desire for us to appeal to more intrinsic motivators. I also try to let people know how empowering these tools can be, as one of my observations is that many, many people feel disempowered at work.

  2. Hi! Just an elaboration on my “chain saw” metaphor. I use it in presentations, when I’m explaining about the need to “play” with web 2.0 tools in order to fully understand them. Then I say it’s like a chain saw – reading the manual is fine, but you really don’t understand the tool fully until you start hacking away at a tree limb. You have to experience it. Then I tell librarians that it’s ok for their employees to “play” with emerging web tools.

    Cool post!

  3. Thanks for the comments, Michele and David. I get the chain saw reference now…and it is basically the same as Beth’s sex reference – manuals help but one has to experience Web 2.0 to understand it.

  4. I thought I was being original until I skimmed past a phrase about raising a village and thought someone had already mentioned my idea. Not so, so here it is. Call me pedantic, but the metaphor is raising a village – community-building. You see, I notice that any settlement has a cluster of buildings at its core; places of worship (the rules), community halls (the forums), trading posts (chatrooms, notice boards)and administrative centers (profile settings) – and people build their homes and business around that(profiles, PLEs). I consider VLES, like Blackboard, could provide those core functions and people can use any mashup of Web2.0 services round that to create their own environment.

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