Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The power of collective intelligence

Here's my story about connecting with people via Web 2.0 technologies and harnessing the power of collective intelligence. Once upon a time...

I was doing research on creating mathcasts, and came across Tim Fahlberg's Math247 wiki. I contacted Tim, and he became my mathcast mentor. He told me about the Livescribe Smartpen as a great way to creating a mathcast that is both low tech and high tech. The biggest drawback to the Smartpen, however, was that the videos it created (called "pencasts") could only be viewed on the Smartpen website, and not embedded on a teacher web page, blog, or wiki.

Meanwhile, I had finally joined Twitter and began following a number of people I had never met before. I became aware that Twitter was being used as a "back channel" of communication during conference presentations. I wanted to implement something similar for a presentation I would be doing on mathcasts at the MACUL conference, but I wasn't sure what the easiest way to set up a backchannel would be. So I asked that question on Twitter, and one of the people who responded was Ira Socol, a professor and author who writes an excellent blog, SpeEd Change.

Ira pointed me to a website called This was truly the simplest way to implement a backchannel. I thanked him for the advice and asked him how he happened across this website. His reply: his son, James Socol, created it!!!

Fast forward to last week. Mathcast guru Tim Fahlberg has managed to hack the HTML code so that a pencast can now be embedded on another web page. The problem is, 99% of teachers would never want to jump through all the proverbial hoops to make that happen. There still needs to be an easier solution, similar to the code that is automatically generated for embedding a YouTube video.

I shared the information Tim had on his wiki in a Twitter message to James Socol. Could he create a program that would take a pencast URL, and automatically strip the HTML code to create a block of embed code that could then be copied and pasted???

Here are his messages back to me (they are listed in reverse chronological order):

So in the matter of a few hours, a major pencast breakthrough was realized through the power of connecting and collaborating by people who had never met in person before. Tim said it best: I was able to "connect the dots," providing the link between his work and James'. A cool new technology, the Smartpen, just became a whole lot more powerful and easy to use!

I was able to share the Pencast Embed website that James created,, with the people who attended my MACUL mathcast session last Friday.

Another Twitter colleague knew of my interest in mathcasts and shared Julie McLeod's website. Julie's students have used the Smartpen to create and share pencasts. I in turn was able to share the Pencast Embed site with Julie to make updating her website just a little bit easier.

I am amazed at the willingness of total strangers to work together, not for profit or personal gain, but because they enjoy helping others and sharing their knowledge. So thank you Tim, Ira, and James for giving my story a happy ending. I plan to share my story of the power of Web 2.0 with all who will listen.