Sunday, October 26th, 2008
This is not a post on strength or the ability to leap tall building, but conjectural guesswork on digital systems. In this post, I did a little bit on next-gen Storyspace but I’d like to keep this thought going. This morning, as I was thinking about some paperwork on course equivalencies, it struck me that our college systems (and most systems) still act like traditional systems of information distribution and access–.
We use a fairly complicated information management system, which integrates most distance learning facilities and intranet-like activity. For example, Banner imports students into WebCT/Blackboard and so faculty and students can get on with their work. In addition, registrations and other necessities happen routinely in Banner. But most students and faculty probably couldn’t tell you where Banner is in relation to the web. If you asked, what sort of system is Banner, most people would have to guess. “Some sort of database.” And there are other available systems. The library, for example, provides people access to research databases. Do these have relation to Banner or Blackboard?
We’ve been dabbling with eLumen for assessment practice at the college. But eLumen does not play well with our existing administrative facilities. We need ldap for authentication, but it’s not that easy to effectuate. And still there’s the question of how core information is entered. All relational databases must get their starter info from initial hand-cranked inputs (pardon the mixed metaphor), either with data entry or scanning.
So, I and my colleagues have been dreaming about the super system. The super system we imagine makes things easy, well, at least elegant in practical terms. It acts as a container in which all other needed systems talk to one another and learn about each other: assessment, learning, and administration. When a students takes a test in Blackboard, the results populate the admin and assessment system. When an ability is added to eLumen, a teacher can find that ability in Blackboard so that a quiz or a test can link to the ability. Such a system, in my view, is not “hypermedia” or “semantic” but something else. It’s organic, but I don’t know how. Yes, Nelson’s document management image still lives.
Models exist. Facebook, for example, is a proto super system. Users are able to organize work, manipulate objects, and it’s an environment for rudimentary applications and games, a sort of digital place or civitas with physical and conceptual real estate (nothing new here, I know). In many ways, Facebook is about “linking” and embedding. An OS is also a kind of proto super system, but of a different sort. Storyspace or Tinderbox are also proto super systems, or metaphors for them, as they create and contain, but Flash is not, Flash being a piece of a larger pattern of apps, a node along the way. I wouldn’t even know how to describe the criteria for a super system or even if super system is the proper word. I have a sense that the image works: it’s a container for apps, a place for people to share and think together, a sea of relations, and a tool that takes anomaly and makes sense of it.