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George Roberts :: Blog :: Emerge: What's it all about? Part 2

December 13, 2007

For people who are new to the U&I Programme and Emerge Project or thinking about joining the project team, I have been writing a number of orientation posts. The recruiting announcement is here, the first "What's it all about?" post is here, and my welcome to new teams is here. (There is also a presentation on SlideShare).

In my first "What's it all about" post I did say that the programme and project were complex. There are at least three reasons for this:

  • adopting a user-centred approach is demanding on both users and developers
  • there are many strands, sub projects and aspects to what we are trying to do
  • the herding-cats principle applies.


User centred approach

Adopting a user-centred approach, or - if I may - learner-centred education, is a genuinely radical departure from practice as we know it. There is no one definition of what user-centredness is and in some ways it challenges our deeply held and culturally conditioned beliefs and even our identities. As application developers we set ourselves aside from the users of our applications because of the particular skill sets we may have and which are not shared by our users. We adhere to a myth of precision and explicit statements (otherwise - in the old days, anyway - the code won't compile). The ad-hoc, implicit, discourse analysis performed a million times a day by natural language users in order to disambiguate utterances in context doesn't work when developing software. In this project we have adopted a user-centred approach to community development. I wrote about the challenges this causes here.

We are (if I may include myself and my colleagues in the support team in the inclusive we) a user group going through the struggles of working in a user centred environment. We are modelling the development cycle as well as living it. We are experiencing some of what your user groups should experience as they are included meaningfully and participatively in the development process.

Many strands

There are many strands to what we are doing. While not explicitly trying to change the global practice of everything Cool nevertheless, the JISC and its programmes are, to say the least multi-faceted.  In the current phase of this project, Lawrie suggests "The broad portfolio of the programme fall into five categories."

  • Audio
  • Social networking
  • Collaborative software
  • Student learning skills
  • Multi-user virtual environments
There are about 20 funded projects emerging from or entering into a community that was originally composed of about 200 people arrayed in 45 project teams from 30 universities. You can see a Flickr photoset of the developing ideas here. Through commentary like this we attempt to reduce the complexity, but we do not want to pretend there are easy answers or magic sticks. If it was easy to create user centred communities of practice someone would have bottled it and made a fortune.

Herding cats 

One of the interesting ironies, of course, in adopting a Web2.0 approach to developing a community of Web2.0 developers is by definition every member of the community is entitled to believe that they could do it, too, and at least as well Wink. We too a particular approach, "Inquiry Led", and have tried throughout to be reflexive about the community development process.

More soon!  [part 3]




Posted by George Roberts

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