13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Mathemagenic
...giving birth to learning...


  Friday, March 31, 2006

  Complex domains and researcher accountability

Two things coming from Sebastian Fiedler mold into my thinking on PhD methodology.

The first post What Is "Good" Education Research? points to an article by Karl Hostetler (.pdf) discussing the ethics and politics of education research (themes that much in my thinking due to all my ethnographic readings).

The second is a quote from Søren Kierkegaard:

Life can only be understood backwards.
In the meantime, it has to be lived forwards.

CynefinThis one connects to retrospective coherence of complex domains (Dave Snowden/Cynefin, see the paper (.pdf)) and my attempts to figure out good methods of studying it.

What keeps bothering me is a misalignment of research methodologies that are percieved as "more scientific" (~easier to defend) and my own research values/interests (especially: complex domains and researcher accountability).

I'll have to find a way for resolving it - this is the only way for completing a PhD without compromising my values.

  Traces of fear

Stephanie wrote a very newspaper strong piece on catching the serial rapist in Umeå:

When the news came out that Hagamanen was caught my phone started ringing off the hook. Friends from both in and out of Umeå rang to tell me – and I was excited! Later, when I was sitting with my daughter on the couch listening to the press conference a thought occurred to me. Hagamannen has been caught, but he has forever changed the way that women move in Umeå. He has, in his wake of violence, left a legacy of fear. Coming from the USA I was taught at a young age to fear the dark and to fear being a lone woman in the dark. We were taught to believe that there were hagamen behind every bush, and the statistics supported this fear. In the USA, one out of every four women are sexually assaulted. We are taught ways to avoid being alone, as well as various ways of defending ourselves. Defensive techniques are passed down from mother to daughter the way that recipes and family stories are. Since making Umeå my home 5 years ago, I have been able to get past those fears and those lessons and experience the ability to move freely – despite my gender. It felt wonderful to be able to walk across town in the evening and not be afraid. But now my fear is different. I fear that the small concessions we have made – walking in groups, walking with a male, buying alarms and defensive sprays – will remain in our subconscious. We will begin to take these new behaviors and pass them on to the next generation. We will signal, by virtue of our fear, that we are the weaker sex and that we have taken the proper precautions to defend ourselves if we need to. I want my own daughter, and my friends, and my workmates to walk again in peace, not fearfully within a guarded box.

Makes me thinking of other, not so life endangering, fears from the past that shape our lifes today...

More on: life 

  Thursday, March 30, 2006

  Co-constructing: a story of weblog-mediated relationship

The idea of describing and analyzing our own weblog-mediated relationship came into life during one of our first Skype talks: despite of different backgrounds both of us were exploring weblog practices, interested on online ethnography, and fascinated by reflective and autoethnographic writing. We desided to try writing it as a co-constructed narrative.


Co-constructed narrative (Ellis & Bochner, 1992) is  "a way to study relationships that would more closely reflect how we live them in everyday life" (Ellis, 2004: 71).

According to Arthur Bocher (Bocher, 2003: 91):

This type of research focuses on the international sequences by which interpretations of relationship life are constructed, coordinated, and solidified into stories. The local narratives that are jointly produced thus display couples in the process of 'doing' their relationships, trying to turn fragmented, vague, or disjointed events into intelligible, coherent accounts.

From our perspective this way of working is useful in providing a view on blogging from an insider’s perspective, since it allows to include in the analysis personal interpretations and the artefacts that difficult to get hold otherwise, and to explore any asymmetry in the relationship.


First, each of us independently constructed a (hi)story of our relationship. Those two stories contained both: "objective" timeline of interactions with references to digital traces each of us was able to recover and "subjective" personal interpretations of what has happened. We emailed the stories to each other and then tried to work on "co-constructing" the whole from those pieces.

It didn't work: although we were able to organize bits and pieces in a chronological order, neither of us was feeling that we get closer to understanding the whole. It is difficult to say, what was the reason for it. Could be the fact of getting into a co-authoring endeavor after knowing each other online for only a few months, lack of rich context glues from missing face-to-face meetings or simply many personal changes both of us were going through at that time.

In any case, we were able to move further only when we had an opportunity to meet each other for the first time. After spending quite a few hours sharing details of our personal lives (those that didn't find much place in both of our not-so-personal weblogs), we started to work on the story.

Co-constructed narrative (1)To recreate the process of interactions we printed weblog entries and comments that involved both of us. In addition we printed out bookmarks of each other blog entries, emails that we exchanged, and Skype chat histories. All of these "traces" contained date and time stamps. We made decisions to include in our analysis only those of first three months of our interactions, the time before we decided to work on the paper together.

To create an overview of our interactions we arranged printed "conversational" fragments and corresponding "interpretive" story pieces in a chronological order, keeping separate columns for each communication space and interpretations (see the notes).

Co-constructed narrative (2)Organizing those fragments and trying to retrace our actions helped us to discover those we missed at the first sight: weblog posts one of us wouldn't consider relevant, but linked from another, comments that were there originally, but disappeared... We also realized what we miss by not having notes or recordings of our voice conversations on Skype (we had only transcripts of chat that accompanied it - it was used mainly for exchanging links and references to support "main" voice conversation). We were not immediately sure during which of our Skype talks we decided to work on this story, so we needed to rely on the secondary evidence (e.g. "action point" emails) to figure it out.

The process of organizing the story from fragments came to be the rich source of insights and reflections of what has happened: finally each of us were able to see the logic and feelings of another person, to connect actions, reactions and interpretations, to discover and question discrepancies. As we worked on constructing the story, we added a meta-layer of those observations to it (those are yellow post-its in the photo on the right). For the first time we were actually able to "see and feel" what has happened and to analyze the emergent themes in a systematic way.

  Wednesday, March 29, 2006

  How blogging makes my life difficult

I thought of writing this post for quite some time already - as a counterbalance for enthusiastic speaking about blogging (others tend to percieve me as more optimistic about weblogs than I actually am :)

So, how blogging makes my (research) life difficult:

I can't pretend that I don't know about a particular stream on blogging research while writing a literature overview - there are always signals coming from the blogosphere saying that it's there. I'm learning to be handle it.

I'm so used to the constant feedback loop that I'd rather figure out how to embrace it than let myself be methodologically "clean" to avoid "contaminating the data".

Being able to tag emergent themes for ages in my weblog and del.icio.us I find difficult sticking to any strict coding categories - I'm spoiled by an opportunity to extend tags at any moment.

I had an experience of watching how other ("competitor") weblog researcher submitted their papers to a conference. I did too. Then I was watching their happy "accepted" posts while I didn't have any reviewer feedback yet.

I see a lot of good work in progress. Sometimes it makes me loosing confidence about my own work.

My peer network spans across many boundaries. Sometimes it makes me feel that I don't know anymore what is my own field.


All that said - I have more to enjoy than to complain. Where else would you feel so much embedded into a learning network?

And, as an alternative view: a picture that comes out when Anjo runs his text analysis tools on my blog posts that talk about blogging as research

  Tuesday, March 28, 2006

  5 stages in e-moderating and more on collaboration tools for communities

An interesting follow-up to my earlier comment on Martin's framework of collaboration tools for communities of practice: Wilfred Rubens on Stages of development of a CoP, levels of trust and ICT tools.

Wilfred does a really good job expanding on the discussion about community technologies and positioning Martin's trust stages next to the 5 stages in e-moderating by Gilly Salmon (which is new to me).

Salmon's model is worth checking anyway: it describes the specifics of e-moderation and technical support for 5 stages of community participation (access and motivation, online socialisation, information exchange, knowledge construction and development).

Connected: Technology for Communities set on Flickr (Nancy, I can't dig out the post in your weblog from where it comes).

  Thursday, March 23, 2006

  Meeting imaginary friend

Somewhere in the morning he asks: "Have you actually met Andrea?"

"No." And, feeling that I need an excuse, I add – "but I have stayed myself in the houses of bloggers I never met". He smiles understandingly and I hope that he really understands, even if it looks a bit crazy...

Later during the day, in between work and cleaning the house, I think that indeed it's a bit crazy – that sort of crazy that became a lifestyle for me. Somehow, relations with other bloggers need to cross the boundary between online and offline. Somehow, being in a weblog-mediated contact often turns into a need (often an urge ;) to meet – to move on slow mediated conversations into real life exchanges, to see how much real person is close to that imaginary friend you construct while reading a weblog, emailing and skyping in between, to confirm that you are indeed as close in the real life as it feels from online. And, blogging seems to create not only this need, but also the trust needed to cross the boundary with a bit intrusive "I'm in the city – shall we meet?" or "so, why don't you come here?", to go the extra mile of arranging the logistics and to sound convincing while explaining to others why you actually do those crazy things...

In the evening, when we meet for the first time, I feel strange. I know that feeling from before, meeting someone you feel you know quite good, while realizing that you probably don't really know the person. The appearance, the physical presence is unfamiliar, so my brain resists accepting that I could actually know her, but then small details start kicking in – the voice that I know from Skype, personal things that I knew or that fit well with those I knew, references to old blogging themes... And while the conversation develops, my brain is getting more and more convinced – this is not a total stranger, we do click in so many ways, starting a conversation from the point where it was left last time, we probably do know quite a bit of each other and those – unblogged – details that come up now seem to fit that fuzzy picture constructed over time of reading what was in the blog and what was in between the lines…

Narcissi in the sunAnd, symbolically, first of this spring narcissi's stand in the sunlit living room – reminding of those last year, the process of discovering my connections with ethnography that, beyond all other things, turned into connection with Andrea and brought her into my house...

  Wednesday, March 22, 2006

  Automatic context-aware live blogging

Something that I had to blog one million years ago - my colleagues are working on the cool things in MobiLife project.

One of the things they are working on is Context Watcher:

The Context Watcher is a mobile application developed in Python, and running on Nokia Series 60 phones. Its aim is to make it easy for an end-user to automatically record, store, and use context information, e.g. for personalization purposes, as input parameter to information services, or to share with family, friends, colleagues or other relations, or just to log them for future use or to perform statistics on your own life.

The context watcher application is able to record information about the user's

  • Location (based GPS and/or GSM cell based)
  • Mood (based on user input)
  • Activities and meetings (based on reasoning)
  • Body data (based on heart and foot sensors)
  • Weather (based on a location-inferred remote weather CP)
  • Visual data (pictures enhanced with contextual data)

The uses of it are nicely illustrated by Johan Koolwaaij. His Flickr photos are not only automatically posted from his mobile phone, but also automatically annotated with all kinds of context metadata (e.g. location or people around). Then it goes further - to context-aware live blogging. Weblog posts are automatically generated from all kinds of data and look like that:

A busy Cebit and Hotel Hubertus day

Today was a busy Cebit and Hotel Hubertus day (70.4% covered). I took 8 pictures in Hannover.

[Flickr pictures go here ]

I visited Hannover (52.9%) and Laatzen (37.4%), mainly Cebit (43.5%) and Hotel Hubertus (35.3%). I met wahlau (42.1%). My maximum speed was 153.3 km/h.

More examples, docs and code to download are at context watcher showcase. See also presentation (.ppt).


  Monday, March 20, 2006

  Collaboration tools in relation to the level of trust

Martin Dugage on Collaboration tools for communities of practice:

I have never been really satisfied with various studies and white papers on collaboration tools because I believe that the tools you use to collaborate depend on the level of trust you have established between the parties involved. There is no point in blogging if you don't want to engage into conversations, and it's no use introducing instant messenging in an organization where nobody trusts each other. So I tried to summarize this is a little diagram which I have found to be helpful in my communication.

I took the liberty to copy and resize Martin' diagram, since I believe that it's worth attention of a broader audience (and the visual is better than any summary I would make :) 

Communication spaces and related technologies. By Martin Dugage

Loved the approach! A few thoughts:

Thinking of correlations with my long-term thinking on relation-building stages and blog networking.

Martin calls it "community space", but some of the tools (e.g. IM) are primarily one-to-one tools... Wondering if/how we should take into account binary relations between people within the "community cloud" (also: degrees of trust in the community "in general" and between specific people may differ substantially).

Not sure I'd place IM/Skype into "shared values" space: personally I'd often use it in "information" or "cognitive space" (intrusiveness of IM is defined not only by the tools themselves, but also by social conventions around - this can redefine uses).

Wonder if next to the "trust" scale there is a need some another scale ("purpose"?) - at least to account for the "action" end of collaboration (thinking about the observations of bloggers switching to email/IM/wiki when it comes to joint actions.

See also: comments and an example from Jack Vinson

More on: communities IM networking tools 

  Mathemagenic processing and expert knowledge

In one of the comments to this weblog Will Thalheimer suggested a link to his post on mathemagenic processing. Nice, since the title of my weblog comes from a research brief by Will (the old link is not working, but the text is the same).

Which brings me to a few things:

1. Now research-on-learning insights comes from Will in more digestable RSS format - Work-Learning Journal is strongly recommended to anyone into learning (especially to those heavily into practice rather then theory).

2. I was forced to go back and to think what mathemagenic processing actually was once again, and this time I picked something that I'm pretty sure will come back in some thinking about ethnographic writing (bold is mine):

When learners are faced with learning materials, their attention to that learning material deteriorates with time. However, as Rothkopf (1982) illustrated, when the learning material is interspersed with questions on the material (even without answers), learners can maintain their attention at a relatively high level for long periods of time. The interspersed questions prompt learners to process the material in a manner that is more likely to give birth to learning.

3. Something from another post, on experts as e-trainers (bold is mine):

I've been reading Richard E. Clark and Fred Estes' recently released book, Turning research into results: A guide to selecting the right performance solutions. They recounted research that shows that an expert's knowledge is largely "unconscious and automatic" to them. In other words, experts have retrieved their knowledge from memory so many times that they've forgotten how they do this and how the information all fits together---the knowledge just comes into their thoughts when they need it. This is helpful to them as they use their expertise, but it makes it difficult for them to explain to other people what they know. They forget to tell others about important information and fail to describe the links that help it all make sense.

This is something directly relevant from KM perspective as well - thinking of best-practices/story-telling approaches vs. apprenticeship.

I know it's cryptic, but better I blog at least something, instead of hiding useful links in my del.icio.us,  don't you think? :)))

  Friday, March 17, 2006

  'Those that belong to the Emperor' (on weblog types)

Since I turned back to my study of weblogs at Microsoft and started to work on further analysis/writing it up, I'm constantly struggling to find a way to present the results that somehow refers to a typology of weblogs. All my attempts so far bring me to multiple categories - overlapping, orthogonal, incomplete...

Much like those of widely quoted classification on animals fom Jorge Luis Borges:

These ambiguities, redundances, and deficiences recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.

I'm writing about the selection of people for interviews for that study and I can't avoid thinking of the parallels. Since the exploratory nature of the study we wanted to talk to people representing a diversity - of the types of weblogs they wrote, their attitudes to blogging, their position in organisation... Somewhere after first few interviews I made a list titled "find those bloggers" that was supposed to help adding diversity to the data we already had (insights from relatively high-profile bloggers from technology-related groups). It's pretty much like those animals of Borges:

  • internal bloggers
  • team bloggers
  • bloggers blogging in other countries/languages
  • bloggers from marketing, research, interns or contractors
  • low-profile bloggers (both internal and external)
  • those who stopped
  • MSN spaces hosted bloggers
  • those successfully blogging at both team and individual blog
  • "ghost" bloggers (those contributing content to their manager's blog)
  • blog readers

Of course, the challenge was to find all those :) Given unsystematic categories, the sampling was unsystematic as well:

  • I asked for recommendations during interviews, but also also looked for possible leads or introductions during any social encounters while being there
  • I spent a lot of time at all places with identyfiable weblogs by Microsoft employees, looking at deviations from what we already had (e.g. browsing recently updated weblogs to see those with unusual content or clearly belonging to a group or written on another language)
  • I tried to match the data I could get on bloggers to internal contact information to figure out those located in other countries or working in groups different from what we already had (this included sampling by location)
  • I ended up doing interview with a blogger who criticised me for not talking to a representative group when we announced an internal talk on the study results

Although I'm pretty sure of getting difficult methodological questions whenever the result are presented, I'm happy of doing it this way - giving space to emergent categories even if they don't fit a typology - they brought interesting insights.

Of course, now I'm struggling of presenting all that in a structured way with at least some logic behind :)))

  Wednesday, March 15, 2006

  Transitivity of blogging

This is how I blog now - I convince Ton to blog and then interesting things happen :)

It's about relations and networks, information architecture as scaffoldprocesses in KM, and even the essence of KM itself.  Read it yourself (may be useful to start from an overview and summary by Julian).

  Tuesday, March 14, 2006

  Third culture kids and research kunstkamera

It's feels strange realising how much my PhD research is influenced by experiences in domains that don't have much to do with my focus. Since it's so strong I tend to think that it's true for other researchers as well and then feel even more strange not finding much traces of those "other domains" in their published work. This, in turn, reinforces my feeling that there is always some degree of "constructedness" in research published – and the more rigorous and logical it looks the more I suspect that the logic was reverse-engineered (no offence meant - this is how I feel even if logics says the opposite :)

Anyway, back to the originally intended topic of this post… Now, getting back into my PhD research and deeper into sorting out methods and methodologies, I realise that my recent reading of Third culture kids (context) provided me with a frame for thinking about my research next to insights of more personal nature.

Between other things the book stresses the influence of growing up between cultures for forming TCK personalities and the world outlook. While we are growing up, our identities are forming against particular cultural backgrounds – specific norms, values and practices are picked up, tried and tested, and, regardless of their "stickiness" in our lifes form who we are (you don't need to drink vodka to be Russian – in anyway your attitude regarding it would be heavily formed by observing those who do, knowing about effects of it, rituals and "safe" good practices of drinking as well as having to deal with the "outsiders" who think that it's a bigger part of everyday life than it actually is ;). Background culture provides scaffolding by consistent stimulators and reactions. This consistency is important – it's like a tree that always there for an ivy to crawl around or like a firm arm of your dance partner that is necessary to lead in a way that could be followed.

Growing up between cultures means that another life could be just one flight away, and then everything is changed – the way elders are treated, food is prepared and eaten or friendships are formed. Relocating while growing up means that there is sufficiently long time to absorb each culture, but not enough to be formed by any specific one… Those culture changes bring not only broad outlook on the world, flexibility and knowing exotic languages; they also turn someone into restless and rootless, someone who is always in transition, moving, but never settling, someone who doesn't know who he is and where he belongs.

Reading the book made the difference clear to me – despite of a few years living abroad I grew up Russian and know where my roots are. In my case multicultural values and practices, although landing on a fertile ground of growing up in a family of mixed ethnic origins, are still just add-ons to the pretty stable core.

However, being mixed up and searching for own people is part of my life – in a totally different context. I feel as "third culture kid", restless and rootless, research methodology wise.

I guess there are two reasons to it. First, it is doing research (and being enculturated methodology-wise) in a multidisciplinary research institute rather than being a part of a university group with clear set of norms, values and practices regarding research approaches. The second has something to do with weblogs.

Some time back we played with an idea of blogging as distributed apprenticeship, articulating own practices and learning from others often transcending time, distance and disciplinary boundaries. For me blogging has been exactly that – an opportunity to lurk and learn, going beyond expertise and practices available in my immediate surroundings.

Now it bites back. For me reading weblogs of researchers coming from contexts very different from my own brought a permanent exposure to "other" research cultures while I'm still trying to figure out what are the norms and practices of my own tribe (and what is my own tribe, by the way?). In this respect I feel like a kid who moves between different cultures while growing up. I know a lot about differences, fascinating local examples, needs to adapt and to speak the right language, but I don't know where I belong and which values to stick to. I know that whatever research paradigm you are in the consistency is important, but sometimes I wonder if I can find it wondering in my own kunstkamera* with bits and pieces of research from other worlds…

* Here refers to Kunstkamera in St. Peterburg, founded as a collection of curiousities by Peter the Great and later turned into an ethnographic museum.

  Monday, March 13, 2006


I'm back from Moscow - for last 10 days I was busy with the wedding arrangements and hardly did anything online-related (except of having coffee with bloggers :) Sorry for unanswered emails...

More on: life 

  Wednesday, March 08, 2006

  Women @ work: the role of role models

Not only today's Women's Day, but also my yesterday's talk with a friend make me thinking about an importance of role models in my professional life.

In my professional life I spent a lot of time working with men, but its women in my professional life who did most to help me to grow to where I am now. I have been lucky - in all my jobs I have worked with another woman - usually combining bits and pieces of being a boss, being a coach, being a friend and being a role model.

It's only now I start to recognise how important are these relatsions for me. Having someone around who takes care of you while helping you to reach beyond your current capabilities. Someone more experienced, who can teach you tricks of the trade, give feedback, be patient with mistakes, yet teaching even more by being herself - successful professional who is not ashamed to show the hard work behind it and is not afraid to look a bit different - regardless if it is about doing something no one else did before, being the only woman among her peers or wearing bright colors to work.

Somehow from these relations I learn most important things about work - that a lot is possible if you give it a try and that working together is not only about working, but also about celebrating life - sharing passions, trust and care...

Last summer during gender equity session of Microsoft Research Faculty Summit someone quoted that given the same abilities women tend to be less confident than men. I started to pay attention and realised that it seems to be true: I noticed how many times I was loosing confidence and longing for reassurance myself and how much other women I'm close to tend to underestimate themselves professionally.

I guess from this perspective it's very important to have another woman around - someone to admire, to share with, to learn from; someone who cares and coaches, helping to learn believing in yourself. I'm blessed that I have these women in my own professional life and I'm learning to play this role for others...

And, Stephanie, while it's probably too far away from technology for women@tech, your work on this project definitely made me writing this post :)

More on: apprenticeship gender life 

  Wednesday, March 01, 2006

  Drupal-based e-learning examples?

I'm looking for examples and how-tos of how Drupal could be used in e-learning settings (class/group/course management part is important) - any suggestions?

Context: in one of the projects we are creating an online space that is supposed to combine content, community and courses. Drupal is pretty much in the shortlist as a tool to support that, however it's not clear how far it could support course administration and management...

I'd also appreciate any examples of Drupal uses for one of the following:

  • specific learning activities supported within Drupal-based site
  • support for multiple courses (with private spaces)
  • community and personal space integration
  • editor-created content and user-contributed content
  • social networking functionalities (personal profiles, "friends", finding/matching/introductions)
  • event management (e.g. scheduling, registration, etc.)

The examples are needed for people who are going to work on designing online courses (they have LMS/e-learning experiences, but do not know much about communities, blogs, wikis in educational contexts) and technology people (who know about CMS, community platforms, blogs, wikis, etc., but do not know much about using those tools to support learning) - so it's all about demonstrating how particular Drupal functionality could be used to support learner/course designer/facilitator/admin activities...

Some things that I came across so far: DrupalEd, Distance Ed with Drupal: A live example, Setting up a blog based classroom site, Drupal Site Configuration Guide (see more at del.icio.us/mathemagenic/Drupal)

More on: e-learning tools 

© Copyright 2002-2006 Lilia Efimova Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Last update: 4/10/2006; 4:02:45 PM.