I look for patterns

Flickr photo from AussieGal

The how do you write meme is swirling through the edtech community and now Vicky Davis, Cool Cat Teacher Blog, has tagged me ... (calling me a pro -- but honestly in comparison to Vicky's work, I feel like more a Sunday afternoon painter.)

Vicky has written a brilliant post answering the question "How do you write for your blog?" using the metaphor of an orchestra conductor and virtuoso orchestra musicians making music together.

In yet another example of the connectedness of the Web2.0, another person Vicki tagged was Doug Johnson, author of the Indispensable Teacher's Guide To Computer Skills published in 1999.  I've never met Doug face-to-face, but I sure know and admire his work.  I modified his "Mankato Scale" into a nonprofit tech skills assessment for a technology planning curriculum for arts organizations for NYFA back in 2000.  I shared this on a listserv with some nonprofit technology geeks (aka circuit riders) and one of them told me that his father worked at the same school as Doug in Minnesota.  I think I gushed about how much I learned from his work.  Several weeks later, I received an autographed copy of Doug's book in the snail mail!

Since my formal education is in music (studied flute), I'm going to riff on Vicky's ideas because they reasonate with me.   Vicky says that writing a blog, like music, is more than a single solitary note, but a composition.  True.   But in music school, I did spend a lot of time alone in a practice room honing my technical skills (chops).  Yet, etudes did excitment as much as playing chamber music  with other people.  And, of course, having an audience always added a little bit of energy too.

For me, writing a blog is balancing between  "wood shedding" alone and thinking/writing outloud with others.  That marvelous patch work quilt of different and connected s in the blogosphere that influences your thinking, your writing, and sometimes your practice.

I've written about my blogging workflow before, but I'd like to share my creative process.

1.  I wait for the butterflies to flutter out of  my RSS Reader


Flickr photo by Markopolos - CC "BY" license

I've written a lot about how my RSS reader is an information coping tool.  It is also becomes my muse and a key source of inspiration.  My reader has lots of blogs feeds, comment feeds, tag feeds, search feeds, and more.  I read for patterns and wait for what Will Richardson called the butterflies to flutter.

I’m reading and two or three pieces of content flow up from my network that begin to click together in my brain like magnets, making connections. And at that moment, my mind starts writing, composing a post that it needs to make sense of the ideas, the patterns that seem to be emerging. I’ve come to rely on the blogging to cement together the pieces and make them more of a whole, one that I know is never fully complete, and never will be.

And, like Will, observes, blogging allows you to sew those butterflies into a beautiful patchwork quilt.

2.  Can I connect that pattern to  a picture? And, how does the picture  morph and change that pattern/idea?

Flickr photo by Markopolos - CC "by" License

None of us possess all the of the nine multiple intelligences -- but if we are self-aware we know which ones we can use to enhance our writing process.   My strong modalities are a visual and naturalistic intelligences.  Once the pattern starts to emerge, I immediately translate the pattern into a visual.  I often use flickr as a pre-writing tool, often searching by tag clusters to think through the idea.  It may not lead to any actual writing, but it helps trigger my creative thought process which connects to my writing.  Writing is thinking ...

3.   Can I connect the pattern or picture with my own experience, a story, or annecdote ?    Does it make me think of a person?

A page from my son's Kindergarten writing journal that says "That's me catching butterflies."  He was describing this activity.

I'm also trying to think about what connections from my own experience might come to bear to help understand what I'm writing about.  Or, I start to think of people that I've connected with about this topic. That's where that the open source thinking or the connected conversations start to happen.

4. What have I learned about the topic?

Flickr photo from Markopolos

And, then it is time to step back and reflect on what learning has taken place.  It is the stepping away, the 500 ft. view, the letting the post marinate .... I feel constant tension in my blogging life between the need to get things done and the need to capture learning.  If I don't take the time to reflect, I get cranky.  I get overwhelmed my information.  Digesting is important.  So is distance.


Opening the Kimono

I've opened the Kimono to my creative process.  And, now I'm hoping that others in the nonprofit tech community will share too.  I was inspired by Marshall Kirkpatrick's sharing of his "work flow" and Andy Carvin's thoughtful post about his writing process.   Take this further into the nonprofit tech space.   Alan BenamerKatya AndresenLaura Quinn, Holly Ross, Nedra Weinreich, Gavin ClaburghMichelle Murrain, Michele Martin, Marnie Webb, Allison Fine and Lucy Bernholtz.

UPDATE: SLAP my wrists.  I've been so Americentric in my tagging of others .. I apologize.   So, here goes a shout out to all the rest of continents .... to spread this meme globally ..

David Wilcox, Miles Maier, Steve BridgerRicardo C, Bev Traynor, Mike Seyfang, Joitske Hulsebosch, Nick Noakes, TharumJinja, and  Ore

Serious Games Initiative

The Darfur is Dying game probably caught your attention.  It caught mine as I'm interested in the role of play in problem-solving, what ever the scope of the problem.  It is part of emerging trend: harnessing the power of the gaming medium for more "serious purposes," that many nonprofits address.  From inspiring young cancer patients to fighting poverty to peaceful resistance of oppressive regimes.  The list of social issues that are being addressed by games goes on ...

Today I just learned about the The Serious Games Initiative which is focused on uses for games in exploring management and leadership challenges facing the public sector.  Part of its overall charter is to help forge productive links between the electronic game industry and projects involving the use of games in education, training, health, and public policy.  Founded at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, it explores these intriguing questions:

  • What public policy and management issues or challenges are most amenable to computer-based gaming techniques?


  • What existing and emerging game technologies (such as
    multi-user, virtual environments) might be particularly useful when
    applied to policy or management issues?



  • How can we quickly expand the application of computer-based
    games to a much wider range of key challenges facing our government and
    other public or private organizations?
  • How do we identify and proactively deal with any social,
    ethical, and/or legal issues that might arise through the application
    of game-based tools to public policy and management issues?

So, why games?   I found a compelling reason here.  But the most intriguing question on that page was "How can organizations use games?"  The answer:

    1. win the hearts and minds of their constituents
    2. promote awareness
    3. educate their audience
    4. and even directly provide services

There is a also conference taking place called "Digital Games for Social Change" in June in NYC.  Hmm .. looking further I found a link to Water Cooler games which reminded of our virtual office on Arts Wire in early 1990's - we had a "Water Cooler Item" to make it seem more like a real office.

The Definitive Collection of Idea Generation Methods

Here's a collection of group creative problem-solving techniques catalogued by UK consultant Martin Leith.  Some of these might be appropriate for small group activities in a training for brainstorming new ideas related to the topic of the training.  Here's a classic - brainstorming on post-it notes.   Leith also has another site about large group intervention methods, including a description for open-space technology approach.

Can Technology Help You Think?

Img_2254I'm doing some research on another topic, but found this amazing post called "Can Technology Help You Think? from Dave Pollard's "How to Save the World."  It talks about systems and creative thinking and mentions some software tools that help you mindmap or visually diagram your work.   I got excited because many of the books/writers he mentioned are favorites on my bookshelf. My preferred thinking software tool is inspiration which is mostly used in schools and isn't as expensive as the software he mentions.  Years ago, I used VISIO because I would draw my diagram long-hand and then use VISIO (which is a diagraming tool, not a thinking tool) to create an electronic version.   Once I made the leap from brain-to-pen-to-paper to brain-keyboard inspiration became easier for me.  Now, I'm looking around for an open-source tool.  Is there one?

Update:  Dave Pollard pointed me  to one called "Freemind" . He notes it  has a somewhat unintuitive but functional and entirely serviceable free mindmapping tool.

Nancy's Imaginary Friends

I have to point over the Nancy White's comic about online life that she created in gnomz.com.  But importantly, check out her work adding visuals to online facilitation and her gallery of imaginary friends. I think what I most admire about Nancy is her ability to play with ideas and be right-brained!      

@rt Sparkers

What is an "@rt sparker?"  According to the @rt Room, it is an idea that excites the synaptic nerves in your brain and stirs your imagination.   It is a snow day and with two young children at home, we need something to do after the snow man is finished and we have painted in the snow.   Great - artist books for kids - we made a book out of a paper bag.  The @rt room is a cool site designed around the idea of "activity" centers that encourage kids to create, to learn, and to explore new ideas.  The primary author of the site is Dr. Craig Roland, Associate Professor of Art Education, at the University of Florida.

Leonardo's Brain

Michael J. Gelbdoes research on genuis, analyzing the way they think. His "How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci" provides a rich source of techniques and inspiration on creative problem-solving techniques. This was one of seven books by experts in creative thinking and problem solving techniques that I scanned for ideas.

Words and chains of words that we use to frame a problem play a significant role in the way we approach problems. When you frame a problem in words, you crystal your thoughts. Words give procession to vague images and feelings. But the first words that come to mind may disrupt your thought process. Here's a great web-based tool, Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus, to assist you with your word play.