This Grokker thing looks pretty interesting, and I'm tempted to send them $0.1K just so I can play with it... but I've been here before, seeing the possibilities and being more tempted by them (the possibilities) than by anything here-and-now rational. It's really interesting to see apps like this and The Brain appearing, to meet a latent demand for ways to make sense out of too much information in visual ways... there's an evolutionary florescence, which is to say that some (reality says most) will be evolutionary dead ends. If only Brain maps and Groxis structures were (as they say) interoperable, or even translatable, point being that different people are susceptible to different visualizations.

Assessing campus information ecology:

We have to rescue this important concept from buzzword status, and situate it so that it can be used by the people who need it. I just couldn't agree more that this is vitally important, and the Preparing for the Revolution thing lends considerable authority to that.

A campus needs a toolkit and a procedural menu for assessing the health of its information ecology, and I don't think I've seen such things laid out anywhere.

For basal metabolism of the _electronic_ side of campus information ecology, what's needed is a simple app that provides for a suite of easily-gathered and continuous measures of system health and function (overall measures of use, speed, penetration into user community, traffic in-and-out across the membrane) which can be continuously monitored and logged --W&L has such a representation: evidently built on . This is finger-on-the-pulse, good for getting a read on flux over time (diurnal, seasonal, etc.) and identifying new events (viz. the arrival and spread of a new p2p client among students), but it's basically a system administrator's tool, and not much use for assessing how people are actually USING the infrastructure provided, or how use is evolving, or how well or poorly people understand the alternatives they choose amongst.

Participant-observation or 'fieldwork' is an essential part of capturing what people actually do (and of course what they _say_ they do, and maybe getting at what they think they are doing...), though it has the drawbacks of being slow and being subjective. If I ran the circus I'd mount a course for the purpose of gathering relevant information --turn students into researchers (it's anthropology and environmental studies, innit?) and challenge them to create a Webspace to put the Problem before the community.... oh jeez there I go again, thinking of more courses to teach...

more anon...


It is therefore important that university strategies include: the development of sufficient in-house expertise among fraculty and staff to track technological trends and assess various courses of action; the opportunity for experimentation; and the ability to form alliances with other academic institutions as well as with for-profit and governmental institutions. (Executive Summary, Preparing for the Revolution: Information Technology and the Future of the Research (2002)


Down to Earth: Geographical Information for Sustainable Development in Africa (2002) Board on Earth Sciences and Resources

Nardi and O'Day review at

Alan Dix The Ecology of Information

Knowledge Ecology Fair 1998 (whatever happened to this?)


What I especially like about the Arizona example is its explicit focus on "a new educational support system for undergraduates". A clear statement of the WHY for a radical restructuring is important --it's not just a matter of the technological imperative (though that's certainly there), or a means to augment the teaching of professors, or a somewhat diffuse prepare-them-for-the-realities. Coming up with a really clear analogous focus in the liberal arts context is a challenge. Not that our students don't need "educational support", but they are generally better supported (and less clueless) than freshmen dropped onto a 30,000+ campus. Looking around for examples of Information Commons is instructive: most of the implementations are in large universities, and in fact it's hard to find cases in small colleges. Why? And it's not all that clear that staff change what they do: in most cases it looks like librarians do library things and media folks help with PhotoShop and so on... hardly the crossover and augmentation of skills one hopes for.

It's relatively easy to think about (if expensive to carry out) physical transformations, such as changing the physical constituents of the library, integrating Information Commons facilities in the fabric of the library, establishing Integrated Learning Centers and Help Desks, equipping electronic classrooms. It's more challenging to imagine and then to bring about changes in how people --faculty, staff, students-- do things, especially things that may be largely unquestioned or comfortably familiar.

I'd like to emphasize the necessity for changes in what librarians DO: in how they work with teaching faculty and with IT people, in what the librarians contribute to the construction and evolution of elements of teaching and learning infrastructure, in how librarians are connected to the activities of students. The challenge is to inspire and implement an evolving relationship between librarians and activities in classrooms and other teaching/learning venues. Part of this is reforming the self-image of librarians, so that they are emboldened to become co-conspirators with profs, because they can and do supply something essential in teaching-and-learning, something that's truly complementary to what the prof does.

The profs are a big problem: unless they (a) use the facilities (physical and virtual) themselves and (b) require their students to do likewise, there's not much incentive for students to be innovative. One thing I like about the layout of the labs at Mt Holyoke is that a passer-by can look in and SEE people at work, faculty and student alike. Getting the right mix of incentive and excitement is tricky, and requires fast footwork. What are the incentives to "do more", to do new things that aren't already part of one's assigned responsibilities? What does one get for the effort of learning new skills? Answers to those vary from campus to campus, but too often the answer is a personal warm feeling but nobody notices (in the words of the much-xeroxed Charlie Brown cartoon, it's like taking a leak in a pair of dark pants...)

It's painful to see how easily new ways of thinking about old ways of doing things get reduced to buzzwords, and so are disdained by some of the people we need to convince. 'Collaborative learning' is an example of this: you know and I know that it really means something, but the label "Collaboratory" gets derisive snorts from a lot of plushbottomed mossbacks. Alas, 'information ecology' suffers the same fate.

Wellesley's Knapp Center ( "was designed for community use by Wellesley students, faculty, and staff in the development of multimedia projects for curriculum support"