Northern (Voice) Reflections


Update: Added photos from my Flickr set from Northern Voice.

I've been meaning to make the time to put together some reflections on Northern Voice 2007 before the memories start to do that thing that memories do. Life intervened, and so here I am, almost a week afterward, trying to remember with as much clarity as I can muster, the defining moments of NV2007 (for me).

First, the openness and generosity of the Lamb/McPhee family continually blows me away. I had the pleasure of imposing on them while I was staying in Vancouver, and I truly felt (feel) like I'm a member of the family. As H. put it "You're a Lamb boy, but you're slow because you like the Stampeders."

East Hastings 1I spent much of Wednesday in a meeting hosted by the Donat Group, where participants in the Social Learning shared hosting project affiliated with BCCampus were planning the next steps. It was interesting, but I have to wonder if a shared hosting model is really necessary. The recurring theme from the leaders at Northern Voice is that decentralized, individually controlled personal publishing trumps institutional endeavors every time. I wonder what would happen if the energy was put into finding a way to make that happen, rather than hand-holding institutions. Maybe that's a necessary first step to bring them into the era of social software, but it's not the target destination. I hope I don't get punted from the project for saying this, either...

Ceviche FixinsThursday was spent hanging out at Brian's place, planning sessions for MooseCamp. Brian and I tossed some ideas around for our "Mashups for Non Programmers" session (lead by Scott, with Chris Lott, Brian and myself). Brian and I had an idea that would have been cool to show - how to display a social network visually, on the fly? I spent too much time chasing that idea down the rabbit hole, then brought myself back and settled for making a mashup circa 1997 - a Northern Voice Zeitgeist using iframes and meta refresh to show a control panel view of the conference at a glance. The zeitgeist displays the most recent posts tagged with "nv07" via Technorati, a slideshow of NV07 images via Flickr, and a live java applet displaying the realtime IRC channel (the IRC channel has since been removed, because it's rather quiet after the conference).

Mashups for Non Programmers 1Friday - MooseCamp. After finding our way to UBC and locating the Forestry building, we meet up with our co-conspirators for the Mashups session. We're up first thing, so we head to the room to set up. I go first, and spend some time showing Yahoo! Pipes. It pretty much embodies the "non-programmers" angle on how to do things. No code. No files to manage. Just point, click, fill in some blanks. It was working great, until I got to the third pipe to demo, when Pipes took an abrupt faceplant into the pavement. It must have hurt, because he didn't get up again. Next! Scott recovered for me, and showed some great mashups he's working on using non-Pipes applications. It went pretty well, until some of those apps started to fall over. [maybe this was a precurser of Moose Fever?] Brian then gave his vision for AggRSSive, which was compelling and entertaining (as he always is). Chris was last up to bat, but hit the ball the farthest with his in-the-trenches use of mashups (using Ning, etc...). Man, did I ever take the easy way out by focussing on Pipes. Doh. From the feedback I heard after the session, many of the attendees actually appreciated the fact that applications fell over on us, and that we were able to recover and keep moving. That's one thing you just have to do when dealing with online apps (especially those hosted by third parties). This was a really fun session. I'm humbled by the energy and effort put forth by my compatriots.

Jim Groom - More than just a blogAlso at MooseCamp, I got to co-present a session with Jim Groom called "More than just a blog" - we were showing things you can do with "blog" applications that aren't just cat diaries. This was a really fun session, especially the discussion at the end, when we devolved into WordPress vs. Drupal cutdowns. Good times. :-)

Following that was the PhotoCamp session. It didn't have the same groovy vibe that it had last year, where it was basically just a flowing 2-hour conversation. This year was a series of mini-presentations with questions thrown in. Still a great session, but not the mind blowing experience of last year.

Ceviche at Casa del LambFriday night - to the Lamb/McPhee homestead for a Ceviche eating festival. A whole bunch of edu-folk (and many non-edu-folk) hung out, ate, drank and were merry. I got to hang out with Jim Groom and Chris Lott for the first time (aside from our sessions that day). It's really surprising just how genuine their blogs are, because it definitely felt like I already knew both of them. We ended up talking into the wee hours, coming back to the EduGlu concept several times over the evening (thanks to prodding from Jim). WHAT! IS! EDUGLUUUUUUU! - I just realized: I'm likely blending Thursday and Friday evenings. Jim, Scott and Chris came over after the Pre-Conference Gala and we had some great conversations (and beer). Similar pattern repeated on Friday evening. Blurr...

Saturday - Northern Voice (proper). Keynote by Anil Dash from SixApart. The dude works a Lessigian presentation pretty well. There were lots of cliches in the presentation, but some great lines, like "a date stamp is a social contract... that there will be more content to come"

Chris Lott during Social Software for Learning EnvironmentsOur "Social Software for Learning Environments" session went really well. Brian moderated, attempting to hold us to our scheduled presentation times. I rushed through showing a few sites we've set up here at UCalgary - various Drupal sites for online and blended learning communities. I was basically showing institutional approaches. Jon got up and showed the individual approaches he's been using successfully in his classes, including an example where a student was critiquing a book and the author responded with a very well thought out and deep comment. That's something that likely wouldn't happen in an institutional solution (but I could be wrong). Sylvia showed the SCoPE online community, and talked about some of the back-end things they're working on. Chris followed up with a demo of his work at UAF.

Kris Krug - photography session - 9The Photography session of the more formal conference day ironically turned into the freeform discussion hangout that last year's MooseCamp/PhotoCamp session was. Kris masterfully led a discussion that wandered around topics such as workflow, composition, camera gear, lighting, using flash and diffusers, etc... One of the best sessions of the conference. Except for when Scoble had to keep piping up because we weren't talking about him enough. Jeez, Scoble. Isn't it enough to sit in the front row, shoving your monopod in front of the projector, but you have to throw your 2 cents in on every. single. question?

I was trying to take a fair number of photographs during the conference, especially during the sessions I was involved with. I came out with about 70 photos worth keeping, and of those there are a few I'm actually pretty proud of. It's also funny how my memory seems to work best when jogged by a photograph. I'll forget about something almost completely, then after seeing a photo of a session, I'll remember every detail.

Then there's the dreaded Moose Fever. I wasn't spared. I'm just shaking the last of it now (hopefully). We must find Patient Zero, and apply the Atomic Wedgie of Doom.

After last year's conference, the conversations kept ringing around in my head for weeks afterward, helping me to shape my thinking and pound out some ideas for things to do this year. I'm feeling the same effect this year, but I'm hoping I can actually implement some of the ideas this time. It's always surreal to see my blogroll come to life and operate in realtime. It's so much more effective to be having these discussions over ceviche and beer...

Update: I forgot to mention a couple of important things. First, it was definitely obvious that Alan wasn't there. Several people asked me where he was, and his energy was missed. Also, the Northern Voice session on wikis by Stewart Mader and John Willinsky was a good one. Stewart talked about how his book was authored in a wiki (ala Dan Gilmore), and John talked about how his education students are using wikis to collaborate on lesson plans, and how he's created a very impressive workflow as part of his curriculum (roles are assigned, and some students contribute content while others contrubute community moderation and "making sense and linking" the content). Very cool stuff, that.

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