John Seely Brown: Innovation is around the corner: Learning in the digital age

Conference by John Seely Brown at UOC headquarters in the framework of the University’s Innovation Forums.

John Seely Brown: Creating a Culture of Learning. Leveraging and Extending Open Educational Resources

John Seely Brown

How to go beyond course material in the field of Open Access. Is there anything more in “open” and learning than Open Educational Resources?

Understanding is socially constructed.

Social software, especially social networking sites, are making possible more and better networks, groups to build understanding, knowledge together.

Michael Polanyi’s dimensions of knowledge: learning about (explicit) vs. learning to be (tacit). Normally, the flow is from explicit to tacit, but we should be able to reverse this flow, and first learn how to be and shape, then, how and what to learn about.

Open Source as a Participatory Learning Platform: writing code to be read, engagement through useful additions, social capital matters. A form of distributed situated learning (cognitive ‘apprenticeship’) enculturating to a virtual community of practice. Open code, open system, open community discussion.

(There are very interesting examples of such platforms at Atkins, D. E., Brown, J. S. & Hammond, A. L. (2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. (online): OERderves.)

Tinkering — enjoy fixing, experimenting — as a learning platform. We have to legitimate tinkering.

In the Digital Age, there is a culture of participation: tinkering, building, remixing, sharing. To create meaning by what one produces and others build upon. And sometimes this meaning creation happens without the original author of the work used as a basis for further meaning creation.

The Long Tail in Learning: leveraging and supporting each segment differently, supporting the rise of an ecology of learning/doing niches.

Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure: Open Educational Resources, e-Science, e-Humanities, Web 2.0 and beyond, etc.

Huge importance not on resources, but on how to blend them together.

My comments, thoughts

  • Are we preparing our students accordingly? But another (previous) question is: are we preparing our faculty accordingly? Are we taking for granted that faculty is either prepared or willing to be trained? How to engage people in tinkering? J.S. Brown answers that it is not a matter of knowledge, but a matter of attitude. And have to admit that we have to become mentors, not savvy priests. Admit that there are things we don’t know and that we will find out together. My question then becomes: how do we teach such an awareness that we don’t know and such a change of attitude (specially to faculty)?
  • How to legitimate tinkering within institutions and, more important, inside the academic system, where formality, traditional review is the Law?
  • How to deal with the traditional fears of traditional faculty: how to attribute authorship, how to correctly allocate reputation, how to assess tinkering?

More info


Video of the seminar:


Slides of the seminar:


ALT-C 2008: Rethinking the digital divide

It is beyond question that development and education are tightly bound one to each other. And if Information and Communication Technologies are quickly becoming an important vector for development too, having the three concepts under the same roof — Development, Education and ICTs — really does make a lot of sense.

This is what the Association for Learning Technology (you can call it ALT) is planning to do on September 2008 at the ALT-C 2008: Rethinking the digital divide International Conference.

The event is having eight dimensions:

  • global or local;
  • institutional or individual;
  • pedagogy or technology;
  • access or exclusion;
  • open or proprietary;
  • private or public;
  • for the learner or by the learner;
  • or other aspects of the digital divide.

On the other hand, I have been honored to be admitted in the Conference Committee. Among other things this means I’ll be in Birmingham next April 15th and 16th, 2008. Whoever interested in meeting there, or in London, around these dates, let me know.

More information


Cooperation for Development 2.0

Next January 30th and 31st takes place the Cooperación al Desarrollo 2.0: I Encuentro Internacional de las Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación para la Cooperación al Desarrollo [Cooperation for Development 2.0: I International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Cooperation for Development], in Gijón, Spain.

I have been invited to chair one of the four workgroups of the event, actually the one that is more focused on Cooperation for Development 2.0, the one called Networking Cooperation – towards the networked Cooperation.

I have also been asked to write an article, a position paper to start up the debate. It will be coming in the next days, but in the meanwhile, I’m working on the following concepts/keywords:

  • Network: Everything will be networked or won’t be. Institutions will be nodes of a grid or isolated, disconnected, starving islands in their way towards disappearance.
  • Gift economy: You’re in a network and what you give is what you get
  • Open access (open source, open content): If you’re a nonprofit, it absolutely does not make (even less) sense to rediscover the wheel, not to disclose your capital
  • Presence: Be on the Web or be not. Networks and networking, accountability, transparency, advocacy will be web based or, at least, begin on the Web.
  • Citizen engagement: The rising importance of media (remember the “C” in ICT) shifts the focus from charity, direct cooperation to advocacy, and the power to mobilize the citizens to lobby internationally.
  • Online Volunteering: For the most engaged ones, online volunteering makes possible distributed, high quality and highly granular engagement
  • Long Tail: Nonprofits, volunteers, minority groups have the potential to find and be found more than ever.
  • Networking + Long Tail + Online Volunteering: The evolution of aid big funders (international and national governmental agencies, big foundations) in the last days has shifted from ‘coffee for all’ to ‘big impact on concentrated clusters’. As in firms, I wonder if there is a trend towards big knowledge hubs where multinational nonprofits receive big funding, having the most operational tasks outsourced to smallest onsite nonprofits and online volunteers that gather around a project and dismantle once it is done.
  • North-South vs. South-North: No more people traveling around: knowledge workers collaborate online, funders wire funds and target communities from cooperation work on an endogenous development basis.

Comments really welcome.


Final version of my position paper, in Spanish, already available:

Peña-López, I. (2008). Reticulando la Cooperación — hacia la Cooperación Red: Materiales para un debate. Position paper for the workgroup “Reticulando la Cooperación – hacia la Cooperación Red”, 30th January 2008, Cooperación al Desarrollo 2.0 conference, Fundación CTIC. Barcelona: ICTlogy.


Open Seminar 2.0

Open Seminar 2.0 brochure

After some Skype sessions — and the invaluable help of a friend in common (thanks again, Edgar) — I’ve been invited to be a guest lecturer at the Open Seminar 2.0, coordinated by Cristóbal Cobo and John Moravec, organized by the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, FLACSO-México, FLACSO-Ecuador, and FLACSO-Chile.

The syllabus of the seminar is terrific and one of the one’s you’d like to be taught, so I’m doubly thrilled in taking part in it. The format is also interesting: onsite sessions at both Mexico and the US, virtual asynchronous lectures by means of videos and presentations, and online synchronous sessions using VoIP and other devices and joining all the participants in the same virtual space, thus highly enriching the experience by gathering different perspectives from different countries.

Another asset is that all readings, lectures, materials, etc. will be published open on the site of the seminar.

On my side, I’ll focus on Web 2.0 and presence on the web, adapting some concepts from my article on the personal research portal, but broadening its scope to include the practitioner, the entrepreneur, the politician and shift it towards participation instead of knowledge sharing and management.

More info


The Personal Research Portal

Third of my three seminars imparted at the he Rich-Media Webcasting Technologies for Science Dissemination Workshop, organized by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics Science Dissemination Unit.

Main aspects

Seminar fundamentally based on my article The personal research portal: web 2.0 driven individual commitment with open access for development, also presented at the Web2forDev Conference, and split in two parts:

  • Part I: conceptual presentation of the Personal Research Portal
  • Part II: practical workshop based on the building and managing of my own research portal,
Live recording of the session

Click here to download, or watch them on Slideshare:


Web 2.0 and the Digital Divide

Second of my three seminars imparted at the he Rich-Media Webcasting Technologies for Science Dissemination Workshop, organized by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics Science Dissemination Unit.

Main aspects

Seminar fundamentally based on my notes on the Web2forDev Conference and split in two parts:

  • Part I: showcase of different Web 2.0 — and related ICT4D — projects in developing countries
  • Part II: open debate with the attendants based on random thoughts extracted from the said notes
Live recording of the session

Click here to download, or watch them on Slideshare: