Aug 13 2009

About this blog

Published by under Overview

Welcome to our website and blog: it complements our book, Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for community. Get in touch with us, find out more about the book, about us authors, and get excerpts and additional material that complement the book. You can buy the book here.

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Apr 17 2013

Tendrils of Digital Habitats

Published by under General

Draw2THinkDigitalHabitatsIt was a lovely surprise to see “Digital Habitats” show up visually in my Facebook stream today, via the graphic recording of Draw2Think, also known as Irene Mynthe. She was capturing a Skype presentation by Etienne!  She gave me permission to share here! Thanks!

Below is the full image.


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Mar 30 2012

Kindle edition of Digital Habitats

It has been a while in coming! People have been asking about an e-book version of Digital Habitats since it was published almost 3 years ago!  It seems logical, given that technology is a central theme of the book.  Especially when it’s been assigned as reading in a class or workshop and people have scruples about using paper.

Now Digital Habitats is now available in a Kindle edition for $9.99:

It turns out that all those tables and pictures that make the book a practical handbook made it take a lot longer to put it in an electronic format.  And it took us a while to get to it.

Eventually it will be available on other platforms, but we’re starting with Kindle since free Kindle apps are available on Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Phone 7!

The electronic version goes with the other resources we’ve provided online, such as:

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Dec 30 2011

Editable version of Chapter 10 – Action Notebook

We wrote Chapter 10 of Digital Habitats as a combination summary of the whole book and as a workbook that organizes the content in a roughly chronological / process order (instead of the logical, expository order we use in the book itself).  We imagined that people would copy pages of the book and write their responses on paper.  And we published a PDF version that you could print out and write on as well.  But we’ve found that it’s useful when people complete it together, discuss it, and share it at several different stages of “completeness.”

Anybody can vew the Google Doc version of Chapter 10

Step 1: View the Google Doc version using this URL:

Recently a group of students in the Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop completed a Word-Doc version of Chapter 10.  It turned out that the process of responding to the questions was very useful to them and the results were very interesting to compare, even thought the communities represented seemed quite different one from another.

Being able to write in the Word Doc was more useful than the PDF version because the boxes could expand according to how much there was to say about a particular topic for a particular community.  (And in one community that was at a very early stage of development, it was useful to complete just the front end and skip the rest of it.)

Here’s how to make a copy so you can work through the questions that are relevant to your community using Google Docs:

  1. Step 2: Save your own copy of the document

    Point your browser to the original: .  You can’t edit the original version, but anybody can view it.  Log in to Google Docs. (See Step 1.)

  2. Save your own copy of the document by selecting “Make a copy” on the drop-down menu under “file”.  Share your copy as appropriate, the more the better. (See Step 2.)
  3. Find your new copy in your list of Google Docs and begin the hard / fun part: thinking through all the issues discussed in Chapter 10!  (See Step 3.)

Step 3: Edit your copy, discuss, and share.

We are considering having some systematic group discussions in CPsquare, comparing completed responses for many different communities.  I anticipate that the issues raised in Chapter 10 will be challenging and difficult for some communities, obvious for others, and irrelevant for some.  Understanding more about those differences should be very useful to all of us.

If you have a completed workbook that you would like to present, please let me know.  Either way, stay in touch!

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Aug 04 2011

An electronic edition is in press

Published by under Resources

“In press” as in “in the works” not in a printing press.  We’re working on an electronic edition of Digital Habitats.  Can’t say how long it will take, but we are  working on it.  It turns out that all those tables and pictures that make the book a useful handbook present some special challenges when publishing it in an electronic format.

One change that the electronic format will require is that the 40 illustrative stories or vignettes that are shown in the book as floating text boxes won’t float on a page but will show up between paragraphs.  In this case, having to deal with that little detail means that we made a list of all of them.   For some reason such a list was never part of the book the vignettes were not included in the index! Now here’s a list of them.

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May 10 2011

Curating our personal technology configurations

(Cross posted on FullCirc and NWWCoP, plus a Russian translation here.)

A conversation emerging in the Network Weaving Community of Practice (NWWCoP) focuses on this question: how can/do we use social media for intentionally weaving our networks? As we prepare for a synchronous conversation today, I realized I can frame this question from a technology stewardship perspective, specifically the idea of curating our own personal technology configurations so that they can help us tap into and amplify the value of our networks.

What is a Technology Configuration?

From Digital Habitat’s we framed the idea of configuration this way: “By configuration we mean the overall set of technologies that serve as a substrate for acommunity’s habitat at a given point in time—whether tools belong to a single platform,to multiple platforms, or are free-standing.”
For a while I was obsessed with tagging material that helped us see others’ configuration, via my Delicious tags. Each configuration teaches me something new and gives me a new perspective on my own and the configurations of my communities. (See also other posts on the Digital Habitats blog on configuration.) In some ways, these felt like a type of fingerprint. While many communities used similar tools, the individual variations were fascinating. This made sense to explore at the community level, especially with more bounded communities.
While community’s have their configurations, so do individuals. When working with networks, where we are tapping into the value of connections between people, it becomes the intersection of individual configurations that fascinate me for many reasons. Here are a few:

  1. How do individual’s configurations intersect and complement or compete with their community’s configuration.
  2. How does the intersection between and individual’s configuration and their community’s make the individual’s networks available to their community? Specifically, what are the individual-to-individual configuration implications?
  3. How do we use our individual configurations for network weaving itself? (For example, see

Let’s get a bit more concrete about #3. Clearly a lot of non profits are interested in social mediagenerally, but lets focus on network weaving for a moment.For example, some of my key network weaving practices include “closing triangles” (introducing and helping people connect), sharing information from smaller, closed groups out to the larger world/networks, and curating resources within and across networks. What configurations might I use for these?

  • Closing Triangles – email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Facebook – all to do introductions and to “begin the conversations” while linking to relevant bios and backgrounds. The emphasis is on the social interaction and visibility of individual identity.
  • Sharing Information – blogs, Twitter (and related tools), delicious, Digg, Flickr, YouTube (and all content sharing sites) – the focus is on publication in some form or another, then connecting people to that content.
  • Curating Resources – mostly the same as sharing information, but with the added layer of tags, rating mechanisms, aggregation tools.

Managing Our Configurations

A major challenge we run up against in this proliferation both of practices and tools is how to manage this. There is a lot of talk these days of dashboards and tools like Social Base. I have resisted digging too deeply there due to my own habit of “rabbit holing” and not getting my work done, but clearly this is on my radar screen. What I’ve seen so far has been more about tracking metrics of social media rather than tying the media to the practice and desired outcomes.
Any guidance for me? What is your practice of managing your technology configuration from a particular practices perspective, such as network weaving?

3 responses so far

Dec 11 2010

Long Live the Evolution!

Published by under Events

Technology for Communities Before and After the Current Big Thing

The three of us are doing a presentation about Digital Habitats at The eLearning Guild on December 21, 2010 (10:30AM to 11:30AM Pacific Time) as part of their thought leader webinar series.  Here’s what we said we’d talk about:

Technology stewards, who attend to the technologies that support distributed communities, can’t just jump on new technology bandwagons without paying attention to their community’s history, composition, orientation, needs, and tolerance for change. In fact, it’s helpful when technology stewards step back from the moment to consider how our sense of being together is changing and what we need to do to influence technology adoption in our communities as well as what new technologies offer. Hear how a new interweaving of social learning and technology implies a new literacy as well as a new future.

Please join us!

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Jul 06 2010

Tech steward meet tech mentor

(Cross-posted from my Learning Alliances blog.)

Recently I finished a remarkably useful book: Mizuko Ito, et al. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning With New Media (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009). It has some common ancestry with ours, since the first authors of both Hanging Out and Digital Habitats were at the Institute for Research on Learning in the 1980’s. There are many overlapping frameworks and insights. Hanging Out has pushed my thinking by setting the idea of technology stewardship in a larger context of the book’s themes of friendship, intimacy, families, gaming, creative production, and work. In writing this review, I’m liberally quoting from it since the entire book is online. (All the page references in this post are to that book.) I’ve made up this diagram to help bridge between some of the ideas in the two books.

Hanging Out uses “genres of participation” with new media as a way of describing everyday learning and media engagement. The primary distinction that the authors make is between “friendship-driven and interest-driven genres of participation, which correspond to different genres of youth culture, social network structure, and modes of learning.” (p. 15) “Participation” is an alternative to an internalization or consumption perspective. It has the advantage in not assuming that kids are passive, mere audiences to media or educational content. “Hanging out” refers to friendships and social interactions that are oriented to local networks. “Messing around” refers to exploring, playing, cruising around, “finding stuff” – intermediate between the other two categories. “Geeking out” is participation that’s more oriented toward expertise, delving in a particular topic or technology. “Transitioning between hanging out, messing around, and geeking out represents certain trajectories of participation that young people can navigate, where their modes of learning and their social networks and focus begin to shift.” (p. 17)

Megan Finn was the lead author in the section that discusses the “techne-mentor” in depth (on pp. 59-60). A couple long quotes describes the techne-mentor concept:

“In conceptualizing the media and information ecologies in the lives of University of California at Berkeley freshmen, classical adoption and diffusion models (e.g., Rogers [1962; 2003]) proved inadequate. Rather than being characterized by a few individuals who diffuse knowledge to others in a somewhat linear fashion, many students’ pattern of technology adoption signaled situations in which various people were at times influential in different, ever-evolving social networks. The term “techne-mentor” is used to help to describe this pattern of information and knowledge diffusion…. Techne-mentor refers to a role that someone plays in aiding an individual or group with adopting or supporting some aspect of technology use in a specific context, but being a techne-mentor is not a permanent role.

“In the Freshquest study we found many cases of techne-mentors. The kind of roles they played varied from case to case and situation to situation. On one hand, the techne-mentor may simply make someone aware of a technology. On the other hand, he or she may play an integral role in demonstrating the technology practice or even installing the technology and ensuring its status as operational. Sometimes students we interviewed had one primary techne-mentor in their lives, but in turn the students would take on the role when they passed this information on to other groups. In fact, it is this constant flow of information about technology among a student’s multitude of social networks that accounts for the fluidity of the role of techne-mentor. In all these socially situated contexts, techne-mentors were an integral part of informal learning and teaching about technology and technology practices.”

Techne-mentors show up in all the genres of participation but their role is probably more visible at the geeking out end of the spectrum. That is, as technology becomes a more central concern, learning and talking about technology also becomes more central and so does mentoring. It’s really important that the way Hanging Out uses the concept, kids are involved both in being mentored and mentoring others.

A “tech steward” is a specific kind of techne-mentor, working on behalf of a community, mentoring and being mentored in the context of that community. A technology steward is influenced by their social context. In geeky communities such as the Ubuntu community that Andreas Lloyd studied, everyone is concerned with technology in one way or another, although some people are more influential than others. In thinking about the “hanging out” end of the spectrum it occurs to me that the job of technology stewards is partly to make technology disappear. People really want to be hanging out with each other, talking about hawks in Central Park or milking cows in Portugal. The more intuitive and habitual a community’s technology infrastructure becomes, the more authentic and direct the experience of being in the community.

As we wrote Digital Habitats and began focusing on technology stewards who we encountered in different communities, we were struck by the fact that they came from many different backgrounds. That as far as their role was concerned, they were not “trained” in any conventional sense. Looping back to Hanging Out, that makes a lot of sense:

Sociocultural approaches to learning have recognized that kids gain most of their knowledge and competencies in contexts that do not involve formal instruction. A growing body of ethnographic work documents how learning happens in informal settings, as a side effect of everyday life and social activity, rather than in an explicit instructional agenda.” (p. 21)

That’s a very polite way of saying that school is, in some important respects, irrelevant. It applies to kids as well as to grown-up technology stewards.

“One of the key innovations of situated learning theory was to posit that learning was an act of social participation in communities of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991). By shifting the focus away from the individual and to the broader network of social relationships, situated learning theory suggests that the relationships of knowledge sharing, mentoring, and monitoring within social groups become key sites of analytic interest. In this formulation, people learn in all contexts of activity, not because they are internalizing knowledge, culture, and expertise as isolated individuals, but because they are part of shared cultural systems and are engaged in collective social action.“ (p. 14)

Learning to learn about technology (in particular) from this point of view is a fundamental skill that results from hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. To me this suggests that people who learn about technology in school are cheated because they miss out on some fundamental hanging out experiences. In this sense, the “digital divide” between older people who have been subject to training and younger people who came by their knowledge more socially may be more of a “learning divide.” That makes a lot of classroom instruction about technology irrelevant.

Beware of any technology steward who tells you that they learned how to do it in school.

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Jul 05 2010

Putting our diagrams to work

Our goal in writing Digital Habitats was to recognize and move forward the literacies that are involved in stewarding technology for communities.  We are happy when people put our ideas to work and appreciate it when people use our diagrams for that purpose.  If you write us requesting permission to use the diagrams in a copyrighted work, we are happy to give permission.  You may use them in informal ways, where you do not assert copyright, like a blog post without express permission, as long as you use them “as is”.  Here are the diagrams that have been requested most frequently.

Fig 1.1 Learning Activities - p 6


Fig 5.1 Tools Landscape - page 60

Orientations - page 152

Tool Polarities Map - page 162

Note that there are other resources to download under excerpts and diagrams specifically here.

7 responses so far

Jun 19 2010

InkWell.Vue Digital Habitat Conversations

Starting June 23rd for a couple of weeks, the three of us will be part of a discussion about Digital Habitats on The Well’s Inkwell.Vue conference. Inkwell is a cool, public facing bit of the well (the rest is paid membership) that gives folks a chance to have an asynchronous conversation with book authors from or associated with the Well. We invite you to join into the conversation.

For those not familiar with the Well, it is one of the original and most enduring online communities. (Nancy hosts the Virtual Communities conference there with Jon Lebkowsky!)

Inkwell is a great example of a “public facing space” for a private communities which is reflected in Digital Habitats chapter six as the “context” orientation. It gives outsiders a taste of the Well, which may invite them in, and it gives the Well a way to add value out to the world. Plus a few Well member volunteers get free review copies and encouragement to help stimulate the conversation, along with one or two designated conversation hosts. There have been some amazing conversations in Inkwell over the years, and it is now a Well tradition.

In preparation for the two weeks, the three of us thought it might be fun to record a short conversation to introduce ourselves. This is not what usually happens on Inkwell.vue, so we’ll see how it goes.

Some of the questions we raised and which might be fodder for the Inkwell conversation include:

  • Do you recognize yourself as a technology steward?
  • And if you recognize yourself in the role, does it make a difference in practice?  Are there consequences in terms of relationships, labels, or intentions that change as a result?
  • In your community do you see the tech steward  role as more individual or more distributed across community members?  What are the consequences?
  • What can we learn from long-lived communities like The Well?
  • How do technology stewardship practices vary across different socialcontexts?

One response so far

Jun 18 2010

A textbook case

(Cross-posted from my Learning Alliances blog.)

From my perspective we wrote Digital Habitats as a call to action (and reflection) more than anything else. So it’s a bit ironic to see it used as a textbook, at least for me, being so skeptical about exactly what kind of learning is going on in schools. But actually it’s pretty cool. Of course it make me wonder exactly how it’s used? What kinds of conversations result from its use? And: beyond schools or its use as a textbook, I always am curious: how do people use it, if they do? Is it helpful? In what way?

The short answer is: you can never really know. Why? Using our Digital Habitats jargon, it is because participation trumps reification. Here’s one heavy duty answer as to why by Lucy Suchman on p 110 in Orr (1996):

Indexicality of instructions means that an instruction’s significance with respect to actions does not inhere in the instructions, but must be found by the instruction follower with reference to the situation of its use. (Suchman 1987, p .61)

Which amounts to saying that the context of use and the situation where conversations occur matter a lot. (An aside: is Digital Habitats is a set of instructions? Not in any simple way. A call to action, yes. But you have to decide on the actions!)

Anyway, it’s interesting to see a field trip happening in plain sight. A few weeks ago, Kathy Milhauser’s class at City University of Seattle came here for a field trip. A Wordle summary gives a glimpse of the discussion.

The following week they had a conversation “back home” on Blackboard. Kathy provided a nice summary of the discussion.

A couple weeks later I was invited to talk at the opening of the second day of Pepperdine University’s Cadre 12 Action Research Conference of their Master of Arts in Learning Technology because several students had used Digital Habitats as a textbook. Kathy Milhauser graduated from one of Pepperdine’s technology programs and as Margaret Riel pointed out during the session, Pepperdine has made a very systematic effort to bust out of the sequestered classroom model. The event was a wonderful effort to allow people to participate at a distance. I would have liked to be there but appreciated being able to be there at all. Nice to see familiar names.

I have to confess though that I multi-tasked off and on during the morning after my talk. The video stream let me listen in. I heard someone say, “Digital Habitats as become my bible.” I heard Scott Mortensen say “After reading Digital Habitats and everything clicked for me, then I ….” Wow! (Here’s a glimpse of Mortensen’s thinking.) In keeping with the biblical theme, Babette Novak reported that she asked herself:

W W E W D?

Translation “What would Etienne Wenger Do?

Later on I hear Michael Cramer (an IT executive ) tell a story about people brought together into a company through a merger or acquisition process who recognized each other through story telling. One of the snippets was about how many people had been seen sprinkling a loved one’s ashes from the top of a Ferris Wheel because somehow that was where the deceased’s heart was.

Problems of indexicality aside, all this work with our book made one heart in Portland, Oregon feel very warm.

Reference: Julian E. Orr, Talking About Machines: An Ethnography of a Modern Job (Ithaca, NY: Ilr Press/Cornell University Press, 1996)

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