Reports and being part of a wider conversation

Reports, love ’em or hate ’em there doesn’t really seem to be any escape from ’em and, they are generally very long, text based and in my case, printed out and hang around in my handbag for far too long without being read 🙂

One of the things that always strikes me is why we so often report about new technologies in the time honoured, text based format and don’t use the technologies we are reporting on. A case in point being this morning when I printed out a 150 page review of “current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education”. At this point I should add a disclaimer -this post is not passing any judgement on the content of or the authors of this report. What really struck me this morning was the conversation that took place around a comment I made via twitter and the ideas of back-channels and participation and feedback.

So if you will, follow me back in time to about 9am this morning when I posted this:

“is it just me or does a 150 page report on web2.0 technologies miss the point on some level . . .” A couple of tweets later Andy Powell came in with “yes, totally – why don’t people explicitly fund a series of blog posts and/or tweets instead?” Good point – why not indeed? Which was answered to an extent by this: “ostephens @sheilmcn Depends what the point of the report is. It could conclude that Web 2.0 does not significantly add to the value of communication”. A few more tweets later it was this response that really got me thinking “psychemedia @sheilmcn one fn of a report is so that many people can be part of ‘that conversation’; but here it’s easy to be part of a wide conversation”. Yes, that is true, but is is the ‘right’ conversation? I seemed to have started tapped into something but the responses weren’t really about the report. I wonder if someone actually related to the report had posted a comment specifically looking for feedback how much of a conversation there would have been.

To some extent I know that in the small twittersphere I inhabit, there would probably have been a lot of comment and conversation. However with the proliferation of twitter extensions I’m starting to become a bit worried that the serendipitous nature of the tool maybe about to be destroyed by people trying to organise it, and use it in a more structured way. I wonder how often would I take the time to take part in organised twitter conversations?

I guess this kind of brings me back to an analogy related to web2.0 and education. I’ve certainly heard many times that the “kids” don’t want to use facebook in school because it’s part of their “real” life and not part of their education; and when we as educators try to integrate social software we fail, because the kids have moved on to the next cool thing. So if we to try to use twitter in a structured way will we all have moved onto the next big thing? I guess on that note I should actually now go and read that report and get twittering.

6 thoughts on “Reports and being part of a wider conversation

  1. The thread got me thinking this morning too…

    Who are these reports written for, and what purpose do they serve? (One might ask a similar question of educational materials, maybe?!)

    The report on “current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education” is probably not for “us, the twitterati (etc!;-)”, though it may have been produced by people like “us” or who consulted “us”. It’s a report maybe about the sorts of thing that us and others of our ilk get up to…

    Now it maybe that in times passed we *were* the audience – because it was hard to know what was going on elsewhere even in our own field, which is why we had conferences, seminars, workshops, journals and reports…

    But as we move to pervasive networks and life in an extended conversation, it’s far more likely that we will get to hear about the stuff that two or three years ago we may have relied on a report telling us… How? because we’re connecting with people in the same area and building up *faster response* networks. Good ideas now get to move around at the speed of gossip, because we can quickly communicate them, even the big ideas (that’s what links are for, right – pointing at the bigger blocks of text).

    5 years ago people maybe met and chatted with people from other institutions about what was going on in their projects how many times a year? 10? 20? I can see snippets of project conversation 20 times an HOUR on twitter… (If I’m glued to the firehose, that is;-)

    You had to read the report to get all the background info. But now the background info has become ambient info, and we have the chance to pick up little bits of it all the time…

    So now the report is for… other people… (will there come a time when there are no “other” people? when there is no-one who wasn’t part of the conversation about a particular topic that they were interested in?)

    Related: “From Static to Realtime Search” (or “Why Google Must Worry About Twitter”) [ ] “It’s inarguable that the web is shifting into a new time axis. … All of us are creating fountains of ambient data, from our phones, our web surfing, our offline purchasing, our interactions with tollbooths, you name it. Combine that ambient data (the imprint we leave on the digital world from our actions) with declarative data (what we proactively say we are doing right now) and you’ve got a major, delicious, wonderful, massive search problem, er, opportunity.”

    And this – 😉 (via @oxfordben )

  2. I think maybe that twitter (as a self selected friends of a friend network) is performing the task of the virtual water cooler.
    We are a group of distributed folk who participate in many communities. We have ideas, which we will utter spontaneously. We want to chat and knock ideas around, and we are using just that for our comments right now.

    But you are right, if we started asking people to use twitter or blogs for formal channels then they would probably loose the essence of freedom/serrendipity which makes them so valuable.

    But maybe it is also worth thinking about how do we communicate large volumes of info to multiple audiences, and what is the effort to return ratio? Often the big report (love ’em or loathe ’em) is the easiest (lowest cost effort to output/return ratio) and we rely on the back channels to remediate the information because producing it in many different forms for many different audiences is expensive in time and effort, and probably not a lot more effective.

  3. I think it touches on something core about ‘professionalism’. Producing reports is recognised in our profession as something we do (some way argue it’s _all_ we do). It is a valid output and means of allocating your time. Blogging is still largely not recognised, and as for producing a YouTube vid, or mashup, it wouldn’t have that wider validity.
    This gets at the whole digital scholarship thing for me – if we want educators to become digital scholars, then we need to be demonstrating the robustness and worth of alternative forms of output and activity.

  4. I’ve started to notice that Twitter is a place to *start* conversations, rather than have full ones. It’s a great tool for swapping wry comments and very abstract ideas, but not the place to discuss things in depth. I’m now seeing a lot of blog posts such as this which take ideas from a Twitter conversation, summarise them and thread them together, and produce a “longer” (I hesitate to say “better” or give other judgement) conversation that emerges from that.

    I guess reports are the “opposite” end of brevity, but that’s not to say they’ve been replaced. How we communicate depends on context – how much time we have, how much time we want to spend, etc. Some people, at some point, will have use for a report – and these people will disseminate what they then know through other channels, inlcuding blogging, microblogging, and face-to-face conversation.

    It’s the natural way, I think, for *ideas* (not “information”, not “data”) to be shared – that is, using a negotiated medium that fits the sender, the receiver, and the exact moment that the conversation is taking place.

  5. Interesting points. As to who the report is for; the short answer is the committee of enquiry itself. I hope that it is of interest to other people too; but I do not see it being of the greatest value to the cognescenti. Although, by bringing a lot of stuff together in one place it might be.

    I am not sure that blogs, twitter etc. replace reports as they are (on the whole) working with immediate responses, whereas with a report one has time to reflect, think, revise, analyse etc. I am not saying those cannot be done in blogs (because some people do and I think this posting is quite reflective), but it is not what they are good for.

    For the non-expert it is also hard to know who to believe or follow amidst all the noise.

    So, the report is for people who want something whihc has done the reflection, collation and analysis and wants to be able to read a single thing.

    I must admit I had wanted its production to be more Web 2.0 like, but in the end practicalities got in the way.

    Anyhow I hope you find a few nuggets of interest in it, or maybe find it useful to wave under people’s nose when they say why are you doing this stuff.

  6. I think this thread (if indeed I can call it that) raises a number of pertinent issues. I have only “fairly” recently started to twitter and, despite my initial sceptisicm, have found it extremely useful, as Graham suggests it is often the catalysit for more structured enquirey or more detailed converstaion. As to wether twitter will be a long term habit I don’t know, but as Sue states perhaps it is the virtual equivelent of the “water cooler” and as CETIS is a distributed organisation we have scarse opportunity to illicit the informal conversations twitter seems so good in supporting. As for the report I don’t think its dead and as Tom says it is often the metric by which those in authority (rightly or wrongly!)judge our outputs.

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