Nancy White on Online Groups

Annie Fergusson and Nancy WhiteHow to make smart technology choices for online groups by balancing the needs of the group was the main message I got out of today’s presentation by Nancy White.  Speaking at the City campus of TAFE SA (and, via video link, to TAFEs across South Australia), an enthusiastic group of about 125 people were treated to a presentation and discussion that was a digestible balance of theory and practical advice.

She started off with introducing the different modalities available for communicating on the web – voice, drawing, video, writing, singing, dancing and listening — and asked us all to discuss which ones we were good at and which ones we’d like to improve.  She made the very good point that different people and different goals call for these different types of modalities. 

Her discussion on the importance of networks was really fresh and fun.  It’s comforting that in such a fast-paced environment of change to remember we don’t have to know or be good at EVERYTHING.  That’s why networks are so important.  Building a trusted network using blogs, podcasts, RSS feeds, etc. where we can share and ask is essential to maintaining sanity. 

nw06livevid.JPGShe acknowledged the need to protect ourselves but challenged us to put ourselves out there as being unknowing, saying “By putting our ideas out there, other people can help us think better.” Whether in a groups environment or on a blog, wiki, groups — people who post for the first time and get a response are encouraged to keep on posting.

Within groups and networks, Nancy discussed the 6 roles/functions:

  • Filters – people who break out smaller issues from big ones
  • Amplifiers – people who highlight important issues or new resources
  • Convenors – the people who bring the group together
  • Facilitators – the people who make things happen, keep things moving
  • Investors – the people who create the infrastructure and tools
  • Community Builders – the people who take the longer view of the group

She went on to highlight the important of designing spaces for both Global use and the Local Level – taking in issues such as connectivity (dial-up users may need an email option to participate in an online group), diversity of culture, etc.  Being open to differences in culture, gender, age, experience level, etc. is also very important to “out” up front so that facilitators can make suggestions on tools and the group’s ability to connect and trust aren’t affected.

Being willing to be flexible in terms of structure – using a compass rather than a map – is a mindset to be encouraged.  Three broad mindsets – engineers who plan, economists who measure and artists who create beauty and form – have all got to come into play.  The ability to switch contexts is important – especially when you consider many people are members of many groups and have multiple perspectives.

Regarding how to choose Web 2.0 tools – the main point I took away was to remember that Tools are a means to an end — don’t focus on the technology.  Value the human element first. 

Our morning session ended with the quote.  There are two ways to spread light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.  (Edith Wharton)

An observation from one of the particpants that it is sometimes difficult to use a compass when some organisations require we file a detailed flight plan led Nancy to bring up the process of After Action Review where we DO, REFLECT and then, if necessary, CHANGE.

When it comes to choosing technologies, the first step is to look at what types of activities you have to support and what the backgrounds are of the people in the group.

Nancy emphasised the importance of flexibility, reminding us that the way a tool is designed isn’t necessarily the way it ends up being used.  The fact that some tools may work today but may not be as efficient tomorrow should also be a factor in developing a flexible approach.

Talking about Web 2.0 tools – wow, I could blog on all day.  The highlights for me were:

As a reason WHY for Web 2.0, a quote from Barbara Ganley’s blog (a teacher in Vermont) in which Barbara says “…as I watch the world take to the internet, it has made me think about how and if the Web can enhance the lives of our students by making them critical consumers of media, active producers of content and active participants in local communities and global society.”

The importance of Balance between 3 (or 4) different issues of

  • Focus on Individual Focus on Group
  • Togetherness and Separateness in Time and Space
  • Participation and Reification (reflection/absorption)
  • Control and Emergence

Some lively discussion followed this on issues such as the need to better share best practice and open ourselves up to feedback, when some control is good and what do we really need to know do get information across/our jobs done. 

Nancy finished with sharing the work she’s doing with Etienne Wenger and others on building a visual map of the different aspects of technologies and where they fit on a quadrant of asynchronous vs. synchronous communication and interacting v.s publishing overlaid on concentric circles of group to individual involvement. (WHEW! Sounds complex, but it all goes back to how to choose based on the needs of the group.)

She described trial and error that she’s experienced with some of her own groups in introducing tools and seeing what takes off and what doesn’t.

All in all, a very inspiring half-day and I’m honoured to be a mirror for her candle!

Links to check out:

Australian October – Nancy White’s blog about her speaking tour for the Australian Flexible Learning Framework

The Knowledge Tree audio download of Nancy White accompanying an article by her on Blogs and Community – launching a new paradigm for online community.

Technology for Communities -  Nancy White’s blog with Etienne Wenger, John D. Smith and Kim Rowe

Australian Flexible Learning Framework – a national strategy funded by the Australian Government and all States and Territories.’s Seminar Blog – for blogs and back podcasts relating to the Global Summit

Full Circle Online Interaction Blog Nancy’s blog.

Nancy’s delicious tags –

Nancy’s Australian Tour Technorati tag –