Saturday, 6 April 2013

What I Learned in UOKM Class


In the Winter 2013 semester, I took Dr. Pierre Lévy's (@plevy) Knowledge Management and Social Media (CMN 5150) course at the University of Ottawa.  The purpose of this blog post is to share my views on some of the course elements that I found the most thought provoking and useful for my future studies. 

Course Reflections:

Dr. Levy's UOKM class had a unique structure system that I appreciated.  Students did not only learn about knowledge management and social media though lectures, but were required to use multiple platforms to interact, learn, and share knowledge.  Prior to taking this class, I did not have a user account with Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, or Scoopit.  Lectures delivered by Dr. Lévy and my colleagues improved my understanding of various knowledge management issues. 

One of the things that I learned from the class format was how stimulating participation in a social network can be.  I enjoyed posting links to news articles that I thought were relevant to issues discussed in class.  It was also rewarding to have colleagues like my posts and reciprocate by posting, tweeting and scooping articles of interest to them.  The end result was an ongoing four month conversation where the UOKM class developed into an online community that shared information and had virtual discussions.  
In addition to learning about knowledge management developments posted by my colleagues, I was able to observe the growth and transfer of knowledge through a social media network.    At the micro level, I enjoyed tracking how long it would take for an individual's posting to be seen by multiple people.  At the macro level, it was interesting to see how the group as a whole would interact, share information, have discussions and reach a consensus. 

Course readings and presentations such as Jenkins' Convergence Culture, as well as Reinie and Wellman's Networked: The New Social Operating System discuss how social networks influence society.  Although I accepted this, It was something of an abstract concept to me.  By actively participating in UOKM's multi platform social network activities, I developed a greater appreciation for the use of social media as an effective communications tool. 

Lecture Topics / Concepts of Particular Interest and Importance

1.      Social Knowledge Management

Adapted from Dr. Lévy's lecture notes  

Dr. Levy highlighted this concept in his lectures. The above diagram illustrates that when the personal knowledge management techniques (PKM) of an individual are shared, a civilized creative conversation occurs.  I found this to be the case in the UOKM Facebook group.  By engaging in social knowledge management, I was able to gain additional insights and resources that would not have been available had I solely relied on personal knowledge management techniques.        

Tapscott and Williams' book WIKINOMICS, examines how corporations can enhance knowledge management practices by integrating collaborative tools in an organisation's internal and external communication and research.  A notable example highlighted in the book is the decision of Goldcorp to solicit advice on where it should excavate for gold.  The authors note that recommendations came from unexpected sources such as graduate students, consultants, mathematicians, and military officers.  When these individuals collaborated, the end result proved to be very lucrative for the firm.  

2.      What Makes Social Tools Different 

Shirky's book Here Comes Everybody, suggests that  one of the main reasons that social networking tools can be considered to have started a new communications revolution is that these tools effectively "bridge the former gap between publishing and conversation" (103).  In the past, an individual would have to acquire information and discuss it on two separate mediums. 

3.      The History and Philosophy of Knowledge Management

Prior to taking this course, I thought that knowledge management  was a relatively new field of study related to technological advancements.  In fact, the field of Epistemology (philosophy of knowledge) dates back to ancient Greece. 

The concept of information overload is often thought of as a recent problem caused by the ease at which individuals can acquire knowledge in modern times.  In practice, even the most primitive cultures struggled with how their societies should manage information.  One can understand that this would have been a challenging task in cultures where writing had yet to develop or few people knew how to read.  Ancient cultures were only able to make significant advances following the ability to maintain effective information management practices such as the ability to write information down.        

Davind Weinberger notes in his book Too BigTo Know that the ancient roman philosopher Seneca wrote: "what is the point of having countless libraries whose titles the owner could scarcely read through his own lifetime (p.8)."  Later, the French scholar Baillet noted in 1685 that "[w]e have reason to fear the multitude of books which grows everyday in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire (p. 8)."  These examples illustrate that well before the wide adoption of electricity, let alone interconnected computer networks, individuals and societies felt overwhelmed with the information at their disposal and unsure how to effectively manage it. 

It is interesting to contemplate that although individuals have access to a lot of information today, one can foresee that advances in science and technology will cause future generations to view our knowledge management practices with the same curiosity that we do the Greeks.

Humanity's ability to store, share, and analyse information is noteworthy for how it has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.  Although we have improved our information management practices significantly since the times of ancient Egypt, we still use pictographs to communicate.  Perhaps the most striking example of this is the use of images on smart phones and computers to indicate the function of a particular application. The modern day use of pictographs in the form of icons illustrates that new information management tools are integrated into the new system.  As noted by Dr. Levy, a major cultural creation is never un-invented.

4.      Types of Knowledge

This course introduced me to the readings of some of the leaders in the field of information management.  Nonaka is considered by many to be the founder of modern knowledge management.  He suggests that  knowledge can be categorized into two categories:

Implicit Knowledge
Explicit Knowledge
Is difficult to transfer to another individual in the form of writing.
Information that is stored and easy to access 
How to ride a bike
How to recognise a face    
Statistical information collected in a census
Geographic facts listed in an atlas 

5.      Downside of Inter-connectivity

An ongoing debate throughout the course was whether the internet was having a greater positive or negative effect on society.  Nicholas Carr's article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" explores the effects of wide spread internet use on society (full disclosure: I viewed the article on line).

Carr notes that the internet has resulted in the ability to access information instantaneously.  This has changed how individuals  access  and conduct research. 
  • Individuals read articles from beginning to end with less frequency
  • Interpretive algorithms mean that proper spelling is often not required to retrieve the desired response
Throughout the semester we have seen numerous articles discussing acts of cyber-espionage and the cyber war capabilities of states.  One should also consider the role of non-state actors such as Anonymous.  Do governments and non state actors with these capabilities make the world more or less safe?

A more frequent and less harmful effect that all internet users face is discerning accurate from false information.  I have incorporated the following recommendations of Dr. Lévy into my research practices in order to reduce the chances that I am reading content of questionable quality.
  • Cross check sources
  • Determine if the source is reputable
  • Checking if references given
  • Identifying potential sources of bias

I found this criteria useful particularly when I would visit blogs or examine tweets of individuals and originations with various allegiances.  Although they may not publish falsehoods, many statements reflect their personal views and cannot be considered objective.
Many cyber experts including Shirky suggest that it is "meaningless with transformations this large" (207) to regard these significant advancements in simple terms as good or bad.  Although I have reviewed some of the shortcomings of the internet, it is so ubiquitous in society that cannot be viewed

6.      Social Network Etiquette:

  • Be a good social network member and comment on other people's postings
  • When tweeting a link to a an article from a third party, it is important to acknowledge the source of the information.  The citation format "via @twiter username" should be followed   
  • In order to reduce information overload, an individual should typically restrict the number of people they follow to 10% of the people who follow them  
  • Some consideration should be given to the Facebook profile picture. It is unprofessional to have a Facebook Profile picture of a duck - The display picture should have an image of the account holder. In order to facilitate identification   

7.      Knowledge Management & Economics 

The exponential quantity of data collected in recent decades has resulted in less value being placed on raw data, while a premium is now placed on information and knowledge.  There is some discussion that organisations should list algorithms and data collected on balance sheets.     

8.      Dr. Levy's Tips for Graduate Student Presentations

  • Save Files as PDF. 
    • By formatting documents in this style, all compatibility issues are resolved 
  • The purpose of a presentation is not only to inform, but to entertain the audience
    • Make it exciting
    • Speak loudly
    • Anticipate and prepare for audience questions      

Course Outcomes:

  • Following the completion of the course I will continue to maintain active Facebook, Twitter, Scoopit and Blogger accounts
  • I have recognised that I can personally benefit from being more active on social media by following experts in areas of interest to me and by harnessing the benefits of social media for use in my personal and professional life.             
  • Tools like Scoopit and tweeted times are effect methods or reducing information overload
  • Facebook and twitter can be an effective and efficient method of communicating to a wide audience     
  • A recognition that real world life can be enhanced by an online presence


Carr, N. Is Google Making Us Stupid?. The Atlantic. July 2008.
Jenkins, H. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press, NY, 2006.
Lévy, P. Lectures & Lecture Notes. UOKM, 2013.
Nonaka, I., Von Krogh, and G., Ichijo, K., Enabling knowledge creation: how to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. Oxford UP, 2000.
Tapscott, D., Williams, A.D., Wikinomics, How mass collaboration changes everything. Portfolio, 2007.
Weinberger, D. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That Facts Aren't Fact, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room, Basic Books, 2012.

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