Social Computing In Engineering

There is an interesting post by Leslie Gordon about social computing in engineering … for one, you dont read too much about the web 2.0 phenomenon in the engineering or industrial sectors, and for another, the discussion here is quite interesting.

One thing that folks working in the information technology space can read and feel a little better about is that just like int he technology sector, in the engineering sector, too, social computing is seen as a waste of time. In other words, anyone who is blogging, or networking with others is not working. Now now … where have we heard that before? Having said that, this is probably expected, given that technology professionals are supposed to be on top of information technology (which includes web 2.0 tools), engineering professionals are not supposed to be. Which would make this kind of reluctance expected in the engineering space, but not really in the technology space. Having said that, this is more about the value perceived from social computing rather than aout attitudes, though attitudes towards technology also play a role here.

What is also interesting is how CAD software providers are integrating with social computing platforms. The example here is of SharePoint, and how CAD software can be integrated with SharePoint. This is interesting … given that SharePoint could serve as the repository of documents generated using the CAD software, and at the same time, blend social computing functionality into CAD tools themselves.

Another aspect which might be worth looking at, is the possibilities of virtual worlds when it comes to engineering. There can be plenty of work where virtual worlds could contribute to the development of engineering and design platforms in a way such that visualization, re-visualization, and the entire process of developing prototypes can be simplified and made much more intuitive and fun. Did i hear anyone mention flight simulators?

Lotus And Virtual Worlds …

There is an interesting news piece about IBM adding virtual worlds support to Lotus Sametime … although there is not much information available except that IBM is testing this with select customers, this has to be a rather interesting development. This is because this brings a large part of the capabilities of virtual worlds to the enterprise … something which has not been seen except in a few organizations … like IBM!

Given the nature of interactions in the virtual space, this has the potential of far enriching the way people can interact with each other on a day to day level. Especially when it comes to demonstrating how to do things, and sharing knowledge which is essentially tacit. Put another way, this has the potential to enable experiential learning … where people can experience what is being done, rather than simply reading about it.

Of course, as with any of the web 2.0 tools, the key here would be adoption, for if people are not too comfortable using the tool, it would be another one of those enhancements which doesnt get used. Wait and watch, i guess?

Social Learning …

We have heard this before … that learning is a social activity. And, our experience right through school and experience bears this out. Ask any of my pals from college, and they would vouch that getting past those exams was a very social process! There is an interesting post i came across … Bridging the Gap between web 2.0 and higher education … quite interesting, because this is something i have been thinking about, and writing about. Something which, to my mind, brings out the basic relationship between two apparently independant worlds of KM and Training. And, coming from a training background, into Knowledge Management, i think this is an area which i think i am interested in a lot.

This post represents some rather interesting thoughts …

Firstly, this brings out the point, that unlike in a few e-learning implementations (few, not all …), learning is something which is controlled by the student (or their boss …), or, in other words, is more of a pull activity than a push from a centralized LMS.

Secondly, and this is where this is departing from the traditional e-learning (its already begun being used along with traditional … the timescales sure are changing, arent they!), is in the interactivity this model visualizes among students. Whether it be in terms of discovery of trainings that the user would be interested in, or whether it be interactions in terms of “collaborating to learn”, or whether it is in terms of generating content either as stand-alone content, or to supplement content generated by institutions.

In terms of discovery, i am looking at something like the facebook model … something i have written about … it could be as simple as finding out from fellow students what book to read for a particular topic, or, the courses which would be useful, because they have been taken by folks who are interested in something similar to what you are interested in, too. Basically, discovering trainings, courses, curricula, books, papers, and other resources based on what your network is doing, or simply based on search.

Collaboration to learn is essentially about sharing of thoughts, and ideas among students, and the teacher essentially transforming into a facilitator … something i have written about before … i have found, as a trainer, that students tend to learn far more from experimenting with each other than from the instructor. And this is something which ought to be part of our learning structures sooner rather than later.

Coming to the part of content … and this is where the interesting part of the convergence of web 2.0 and learning comes … Which is where i agree with something Michael Feldstein …

You may want the structure and motivation a course offers, which could come from a recognised institution, or could be a user generated ‘course’ that is taken just for fun and run by an enthusiast. The key point is this – most LMSs are based on a centralisation philosophy, and as soon as you disaggregate the technology, you also decentralise control.

Interesting observation … with the disaggregation of technology, e are looking at more and more content being created by learners themselves (now, this is nothing new … we used to get a lot of notes from seniors, apart from photocopying notes from classmates who were the most sincere, and with the smallest handwriting … the handwriting was a cost consideration), read blogs! And, this is where the structure of formal learning, and “discussional learning” could get merged going forward. They are already beginning to complement each other.

Corporate Training

I came across an interesting post by Jenna Sweeney about Financial Squeeze on Training Departments. Interesting read … Especially the part where she goes on to mention that …

That a lot of time and resources (MONEY) is being spent on things that don’t teach anybody anything!

Interesting, this … in a scenario where the training folks have to do more with less, where the requirement for delivering on diverse trainings is much higher, given the diverse nature of the work that is done by different folks, and the kind of specialization that is required in today’s working life.

I had raised something similar in a presentation i had made some time back to a gathering of training practitioners … what i like to call the “long tail of training”! OK OK … so, i have already written a post about the “long tail” of KM, and now this … sort of fancy the term you could say … makes me seem smarter than i actually am! 🙂

One of the thoughts was about the increasing diversity of technology that people need to be trained on, more and more of a geographically dispersed workforce (not so much of an issue today, considering the advance of virtual worlds … something i have written about) which needs to be trained, and an almost total lack of post-training engagement. This last one is about making sure folks attending a training are engaged with the topic over a period of time, so as to make sure they dont lose all of the things they learnt in class (which is something most folks lose within a fortnight of attending a training, unless they keep in touch!). One way to address this is to bring in some of the ideas which can be harnessed from the web 2.0 domain (hey … is this actually a separate domain? i dont think so, but read this somewhere, so …) to bring about greater engagement with students, post-training …

I will share this presentation once i upload this on slideshare (tried in vain to find out how to upload a ppt here on blogger!).

Emerging Technologies …

Andrew McAfee has an interesting post about My Provocation, and Others. Interesting read about the impact of technology on the world of business. We have seen this happening over a period of time. How the advent of the steam engine and the telegraph changed the entire notion of business, and enabled the expansion of the European business model to large parts of the world, especially Asia. We have seen how the automobile has further changed the way work is organized (anybody who commutes in any of the megapolises of the world would agree with that, wouldnt they?), and of course, how the advent of computers, and more recently, the emergence of the network have drastically changed business models, created entirely new things to be done, and entirely new ways of doing the things we were already doing.

I remember someone once arguing that human needs lead to developments in technology. While there is merit in that argument, over the last decade or so, it seems to be even more apparent that probably its the other way round. Technological developments are changing the way we do business.

And this holds good for the web 2.0 surge as well. Like a lot of us have written earlier, web 2.0 is going to change the way things are done. The challenge, i feel, is more with the organizational willingness to let go, rather than people contributing their thoughts. One of the interesting things he writes in this …

The second thing IT does is give business leaders the ability to let new work structures emerge without forcing them. Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 technologies are wonderful new tools for letting processes, interdependencies, decision right regimes, operating models, etc. appear over time without central direction, and without much (if any) up-front guessing about how these structures will or should look.

Now this is an interesting thought … with web 2.0 technologies, there is the scenario where work structures would emerge based on the experiences and thought processes of people. The question that remains to be seen is … How quickly organizations can let go. Let go of the control over decision-making, and understand how to harness these new discussion channels (if i may coin the term!) towards building a more robust organization, and more importantly, to create an environment of embracing change.

The Wiki Book

There is an initiative happening here … you could find it over at ourownbook. Not that this is something new. There was something on the same lines some time back … The Wikinomics Playbook … hey, this was supposed to have gone into publishing the fall of 2007. Whatever happened. Though the page does say that the book is off to the publishers, when do we get to lay our hands on the book? Reading a wiki doesnt quite match up to curling up with Old Monk and a wonderful book. OK OK … i am sure you got the picture.

Having said that, this is an idea, which is something which can be exploited in ways which can be quite unexpected. We have begun seeing this happening in industries as diverse as manufacturing and publishing, and this, to my mind, is something which can be deployed in even more unexpected ways once we can bring this concept into the organization. The challenge here is more to do with the inertia that exists within the organization, when it comes to opening the doors to social computing, rather than in the adoption of this technology especially when it comes to wholly new ways of doing things. Though, of course, the one thing this depends on … Culture! This is what is going to decide how well, and to what extent, an organization can engage with the collective wisdom of its people. As for me, i would like to wait and watch … see more and more ways in which the entire concept of social computing can be put to use in the organization, and the way in which it can change the way we do things.

Having said this, digest this … I came across a Forrester report titled Web 3D: The Next Major Internet Wave. Interesting piece … The essential point being made here is the idea, of course, as the title says, that the 3d web is the next wave, or the future of the web. Agreed! And that going forward generating content on the 3d web is going to undergo a sea change, with more and more content being user generated, much as web 2.0 has done to “web 1.0”. Agree again. Though Forrester have got it wrong before (who hasnt), i would kind of agree with the thought process of the piece. The interesting part is the possible scenarios the paper uilds up. Interesting reading …

E 2.0 Going Forward

I was reading an excellent post by Andrew McAfee about The Friendster Years which sort of rang a bell. Interestingly, the phenomenon he talks about need not simply be restricted to IT. We have seen this happening all over. Remember the days of the radio? Fast forward to today … See the face of the radio. Nobody would be able to recognize the two as similar things. Or computers … i dont remember the last time i saw a floppy disk. Or, cassettes, and the way they morphed into CDs, into mp3 …

Moving to technology, one could say the same of the internet … what started with a particular shape has morphed into a rather different one. To my mind, it would be a reasonable assumption that this would be applicable to web 2.0 tools as well. Simple networking sites have been around for some time now … Close to a decade? But, the shape SNS is taking today is rather vastly different from what it was back then. Similarly, we could assume that other tools, and by extending the logic, E 2.0 would morph (based probably on concepts similar to what they are today, though with differences) into something which is more in line with the requirements of the organization. We are already seeing it happening … Read this. Second Life began quite recently out there on the web, and today, is being taken within the firewall … quite a bit of morphing, wouldnt you say? If anything, the rate at which technology is morphing is increasing, which only means the next steps for E 2.0 might not be too far away from now. Which is why i would agree with the student in Andrew’s class …

Virtual Worlds … Evolving?

I came across an interesting article … Virtual World Gets Another Life … The interesting thing this article brings out is the fact that virtual worlds seem to be moving towards a scenario where they can be deployed within the organizational perimeter. This is a distinct move away from the initial intent of virtual worlds, but nevertheless, this seems to be an interesting move, because this could help unleash a large part of the potential of virtual worlds.

The article has some interesting examples of how organizations are working towards getting this environment within the firewall. The most interesting being that of Big Blue. However, the larger question would still remain … To what extent would this be enabled within the firewall, given the misgivings of managers towards virtual worlds.

Social Networking

I am trying to catch up on reading … all the blogs i have subscribed to, and am making some progress on that. Which is why it was only today that i read a post by Luis Suarez (he usually knows what he’s talking about, which is more than can be said about a lot of folks, including me!) about the Value of Twitter. Quite an interesting post … Though i would like to change the direction of the discussion …

I am looking at social computing within the organization … Something i have written about before here and here. And this is where i would move away from the numbers … Bottomline, the success of social computing in the organization depends largely on the adoption of the platform, which in turn is measured by the numbers … number of hits, posts, etc., but before we can go there, we need to look at the platform itself. I have recently logged into facebook. Ok, so i have been hibernating, but i am trying to catch up. One thing which impressed me a lot was the way a number of third party applications are available for use. These applications can bring value to users, especially with things they want to see. More importantly, the way profiles of users can be used as an advertisement for these applications is amazing.

Let me put it this way … I need something to complete some work. Is there a way i can discover what kinds of apps are available which can help, and who are the people who are using those apps, and how i can connect with them in the simplest possible way, to make my work simpler. If we assume that things take the shortest possible route, this could be a way we could drive larger numbers, and hence, larger collaboration within the organization. Of course, this is early days, and this may not necessarily take off unless there is a larger eco-system of collaboration apps providers (which there is). However, that said, all this is doing is bringing the process of discovery one level closer to the user, and making it that much simpler. And, i like what i see. And, if you take this to the virtual worlds, the possibilities can be immense. Imagine an island on SL, where you could find out what are the kinds of tools they offer which you could use. Imagine, also, a directory of tool users, and also avatars announcing their latest finds.

e-learning Adoption

There was a question in linkedin … about the reason which holds back e-learning. Why is it that adoption of a tool like e-learning is not high. And, even in companies where e-learning has been deployed, it is only in skeletal way, more like an item on a check-list. For a tool, the value proposition of e-learning is immense … People can learn at a place and time they choose … So, learning doesnt have to interfere with their day to day work, and they can have learning complement profession. That its not necessary that learning happens at the expense of work. This should be music to the HR folks, but somehow, its not.

While e-learning should play a much larger role than it does, i dont think it would really achieve what has been promised as its potential … this is for one simple reason … and that is, we are still human beings, and learning, in large part, is a social activity, much more than it is an intellectual activity.

Which means that the primary challenge to bring the social part into learning. The solutions which are found today address the intellectual part well, but … I guess this is why you would find that e-learning works ok when you have experienced people upgrading their skills, but if you have to learn something new, e-learning doesnt really replace face-to-face learning. Some of this can be addressed by the rich context of virtual worlds, and the way they enable creation of a social environment, which enables us to learn with co-learners, while at the same time, maintaining some of the benefits of e-learning.