On May 12, 2005 Worldbridges at http://www.worldbridges.net started webcasting live to an audience of, well, zero to start out with. Their first listener was a guy named Conrad, and a month later they encountered Webheads http://webheads.info, and their audience has been assured ever since. Not that Webheads deserve any credit for that; Webcaster Jeff Lebow and his partner Dave Cormier have been energetic in finding interesting people to pull into the Webcast mix with regular programs such as http://www.worldbridges.com/livewire and http://www.edtechtalk.com.
In a field where others are content to podcast pre-recorded programs, Jeff and Dave have chosen to record on the fly by going live through Skype and other telephony links with spontaneous call-in conversation partners who have included Stephen Downes, Will Richardson, George Siemmens, and many other ESL, ed tech, and Web 2.0 luminaries. This approach has been so unique that Jeff was suprised to learn, while webcasting live from the recent Podcasting Academy conference in Boston, that webcasters were somewhat narrowly regarded as purveyors of webinars, sullied with commercial overtones. Worldbridges on the other hand has used the webcast technique to inject dialog into podcasting, resulting in numerous informative conversations which are put into the RSS feed-stream and made available for pod-catching.
Despite a confusing proliferation of domain names and projects, Worldbridges's style of media dissemination has caught on with a growing network of educators. In a recent webcast (June 12, 2006, I believe) they started a new domain http://newmediateaching.net/ on the fly while doing a show. Within a minute of the domain's propogation over the Internet, the domain had 8 subscribers. Obviously, whatever it is Worldbridges does -- and to find out what that is read on -- it's infectuous.
Apart from being a valuable resource to those interested in what's happening right now in educational technology, Worldbridges provides the community that has grown around it with free training. In April 2006 Jeff started a Webcast Academy project http://webcastacademy.net/ which attempts to train others (for free) how to Webcast in order to create a larger base of people who, as Dave puts it, will make mistakes that Jeff and Dave can learn from instead of the other way around. The Book of Webcasting is a must-read for those interested in this technology: http://webcastacademy.net/Book_of_Webcasting. And continuing in the spirit of sharing open source training in open source software, Worldbridges is also starting similar training in the Drupal course/content management system, again as a community service.
Unfortunately, the Worldbridges site was hacked in early 2006 along with several other servers containing Tibet-related content (which Jeff has been hosting since Worldbridges was created). Although all content on the server was wiped out, most of it was back online within a couple of weeks and the Worldbridges team used this as an opportunity to make overdue renovations and of course, learn how to avoid such potentially damaging attacks in the future.
Jeff's and Dave's work is well known in the blog and podospheres, but it deserves wider attention, hence the appearance of this article here in hyperlinked journal format. Knowing that Jeff works well in interview mode, I sent him a set of questions. The result is not exactly an interview, but it is a kind of conversation with Jeff in a medium with which he is not most comfortable. However, Jeff has provided numerous links to sites more in his element, and readers who follow the links can expand their appreciation of Worldbridges by becoming listeners as well as readers. And if you want to hear more you can tune in to the live or recorded broadcasts at http://www.worldbridges.net, or subscribe to the podcast feeds you find there.
On a personal note, I have greatly benefited from listening to Worldbridges podcasts on my iPod. Jeff is about to introduce a feed that will allow podcatchers to harvest all the podcasts in one go, although it will still be possible to selectively access individual feeds in order to 'sip from the firehose' (in case you prefer not getting drenched with each update). Myself, I'll opt for the open spigot. I learn something interesting in each program, something I didn't know before, or something that plants a seed that might blossom into an interesting technique for enhancing the learning or professional environment. Certainly, listening to Worldbridges podcasts, one is steeped in a philosophy of education that cojently articulates in opposition to enterprise, top-down, lock-step models of learning. And by listening and informing oneself via podcasts one becomes a proponent of new modes of literacy which indeed have applications in an age of shifting paradigms for education.
On that note, I hope you enjoy this timely article.
Vance Stevens, On-the-Internet Editor
What is Worldbridges?
Introduction, History, Related Media
Details about Worldbridges Projects
Webcast Academy, EdTechTalk, Educationbridges, New Media Teaching, Koreabridge, Worldbridges Tibet, WebheadsinAction.org, EFLBridges
Application of the Worldbridges approach in TESL
Professional Development, Virtual Conferences, Instructional Applications
When Vance first asked me to write a piece about Worldbridges for the TESL-EJ, I was a bit hesitant. Aside from the difficulty of articulating details about an entity that has always been a challenge to describe, I've grown out of the habit of expressing myself in writing as I've spent more and more time producing audio and video for Worldbridges. Fortunately, with some encouragement from Vance and the Webheads, I realized that not only was this a great opportunity to connect with like-minded TESL educators and to make some much needed progress in the public presentation of Worldbridges, but because this is an electronic journal, there is no need to feel 'constrained' by the limitations of text. Interactive media and social networking can be integrated into this article in a way that allows us to not only tell you about Worldbridges, but to show you examples of 'Worldbridging' in action and allow you, the reader, to interact with this article.
Each section of this article contains links to relevant audio discussions, some of which were recorded prior to this article, and some of which were produced in the course of 'writing' this article. A copy of this article is being posted as a collaborative book at http://webheadsinaction.org/worldbridges This will allow for group editing and updating of the article content, and all are welcome to post comments, questions, and audio feedback there.
What is Worldbridges?
This has always been a daunting question - partially because Worldbridges is a fairly complex vision with a variety of different goals, but also because we are still very much in our formative stages, growing organically with our evolutionary trajectory being greatly impacted by those who become actively involved in the community. Perhaps a more interesting question than "What is Worldbridges?" is "What can Worldbridges become?". For now, the short answer to the former question is, Worldbridges is a community of communities that use live, interactive webcasting and other 'new media' technologies to help people connect, learn, & collaborate.History (short version)
By 'live interactive webcasting', we are referring to the use of live audio streaming in conjunction with telephony programs (like Skype, Gizmo, or Yahoo Messenger) and a text chat room to produce interactive, internet versions of 'call-in radio' programs. At this point, most of our webcasts are audio only, but we have begun experimenting with video and will no doubt be using it more as the technologies involved become more efficient and user-friendly.
Production of these shows is relatively inexpensive, participation is free, and the reach is truly global. As such, the use of this technology has tremendous potential for grassroots cooperation in education, social action, and commerce. Worldbridges aims to use this medium to facilitate global collaboration in all of these areas. We certainly hope to create content that will be of interest to large numbers of people, but we're just as interested in facilitating the smaller 'pleasant' conversations as we are in producing 'hit shows'. As with most other forms of 'new media', because production costs are scalable and quite low compared to traditional media, webcast producers are able to produce the 'long tail' kind of content they and their listeners care about. In other words, Worldbridges is not aiming to produce a few commercially profitable shows that attract large audiences, but rather facilitate large numbers of relatively isolated niche conversations that engage participants in a more personal, meaningful way. Ultimately, the cumulative power of all these 'small shows' is much greater than a few 'big hits'.
Worldbridges began as Jeff Lebow's 1993 grad school vision of a global network for homegrown webcasting. After years of experimenting with non-interactive webcasting while working as an ESL teacher in Korea, and trying to envision how a homegrown webcasting network would function, production of live, interactive webcasts actually began in May of 2005. One of our first shows, EdTechTalk, which Jeff co-hosts with Dave Cormier, began production in June of 2005. During the first episode, we were fortunate to virtually meet several members of Webheads in Action. Since that first meeting, Worldbridges has collaborated with members of WiA on several projects including the 2005 Online Convergence, the 2006 Electronic Village Online, webcast coverage of TESOL2006, and EFLBridges. Worldbridges has grown to include a variety of different programs and an ever-increasing number of website based communities, details of some of which are given below. In addition to helping this new medium of webcasting evolve and developing our community of communities, Worldbridges is currently focusing on creating the policies and infrastructure foundation that will be required to support significant scalable growth.
The About Worldbridges section of Worldbridges.net contains 'The History of Worldbridges - Long Version', as well as information about our Values & Goals, and Organizational Structure.
Links to discussions about Worldbridges
Occasionally, different Worldbridges shows have 'taken a step back' to reflect on what we're doing and where we're headed. Below are links to shows in which we discuss the values behind the Worldbridges vision, how different pieces of the network can be developed, and how this tangle of overlapping communities can fit into the 'the big picture.
Worldbridges has created dozens of websites and projects that interact with each other to varying degrees. While each community evolves somewhat autonomously, all of our sites share the commons goal of using interactive technologies (webcasting and otherwise) to bring people together to explore common interests and bridge the gaps that divide us. Worldbridges.net serves as the main portal, with links to each sub-community, features of selected webcasts from different members sites, and a network wide calendar of webcast events. Below is a list of our most active sites and projects.
Worldbridges's first site was Pusanweb.com, a community portal site for Pusan, Korea. It is still one of our most active sites and has grown to include other regional sites like Seoulscene and TheDaeguGuide, in addition to the nationwide Koreabridge.com. These sites served as a laboratory for early webcasting experimentation, and have recently begun hosting their own live, interactive webcasts as well.
This site is designed to be a 'Web 2.0' home for the Webheads in Action. Like most Worldbridges sites, it uses Drupal as its content management system, which allows features such as the creation of member blogs, aggregation of Webheads' RSS feeds from other sites, group editing of documents, and commenting on all posts.
As part of Worldbridges ongoing effort to build a vibrant, sustainable community of communities, we will be having our first Worldbridges Council Meeting' on July 2, 2006. Representatives from each of the above projects will be present and of course, this will be webcast live and everyone is welcome to participate. Aside from each project leader updating us on their site and community, we will be working together to develop the policies and organizational infrastructure required for Worldbridges to take its next few evolutionary steps. Below is a link to where agenda materials will be posted before the meeting and audio and show notes will be archived afterward.
TESL Related Possibilities
As mentioned above, many of those involved with Worldbridges are current or former EFL teachers and it is easy for us to see the tremendous potential for using live, interactive webcasting in many aspects of the profession.
One of the greatest challenges for all teachers is finding the time and resources to engage in meaningful professional development. Some of the most gratifying feedback we've gotten in the past year comes from teachers who have listened to EdTechTalk or our Webhead related shows and told us that it was the most useful professional development they'd experienced. Because there are no geographic limitations and no fees for participation, webcasting allows educators to essentially attend global workshops with colleagues from around the world. As Worldbridges and the webcasting medium expand, there will be a greater variety of shows to meet the long tail of teacher's professional development needs.
Conferences - Virtual and On the Ground Webcasting
Personally, these have been some of the most exciting experiences of my web career. We started experimenting early on by 'virtually' webcasting the Pan-Asian Tesol Conference in 1998 and live webcasting parts of the Kotesol Conference in 2003. This past year, Worldbridges participated in virtual conferences like the 2005 WiA Online Convergence and the 2006 Electronic Village Online and provided webcast coverage from people 'on the ground' at TESOL2006 and the Podcast Academy at Boston University.
In the case of virtual conferences, I was struck not only by how useful the online workshops were, but also by how much 'in the hallway' social networking was achieved as well. If anyone doubts that 'real' emotional connections can be built online, please listen to the Becoming a Webhead Graduation Ceremony webcast. Of course, another virtue of virtual conferences is that because everything happens online, they are quite easy to record and archive for asynchronous consumption later.
As far as webcast coverage 'on the ground', we've only begun to tap the potential, but I'm convinced that including online participants in a conference adds value for all those involved. A stuffy conference room becomes much fresher when listeners Skype in questions from around the world. One of the biggest challenges of providing meaningful coverage of conference presentations is providing a visual component. Commercial programs like Elluminate or GoTo Meeting can be helpful and we continue to explore possibilities for including visual components in our webcasts.
Aside from an abundance of authentic language practice, live interactive webcasting can provide English learners with a great source of motivation. It's one thing to practice your language activity with a buddy sitting next to you, it's quite another when your partner is on the other side of the planet. We have done some experimentation with these possibilities, notably a discussion between Buthaina Al-Othman's and Rita Martinez's EFL classes in Kuwait and Argentina and Graham Stanley's EFLBridges webcasts, but the frontier of EFL webcasting remains mostly untouched. Possibilities include EFL game shows, multi-class discussions about a pre-assigned topic, student hosted presentations and talk shows, and 'oldtime radio' style dramatic readings.
EFL Webcasting Discussion - a discussion (following the publication of this article) with Graham Stanley and the Webheads about how best to develop EFLBridges and other EFL-related webcasting possibilities
What can Worldbridges become?
For much of its 'history', Worldbridges has been little more than a grand vision and a handful of people experimenting with low cost webcasting tools. During the past year, it has evolved into a global community of people building genuine connections with each other and sharing in a vision of using collaborative technologies and working together to make the world a better place. I know that sounds trite, but it is ultimately what Worldbridges is all about, and in a world that too often seems full of conflict and despair, actually participating in global conversations that allow people to collaborate on goals they share and civilly address those they don't, can bring out the optimist in anyone.
What can Worldbridges become? We shall see. The potential benefits of using these new media tools in a spirit of global collaboration are tremendous. What role Worldbridges will play in reaping those benefits remains to be seen. Our short term goals are to broaden our range of content and build scalability into the system. It's one thing to stay true to our organizational values while sustaining a few sites with a dozen shows and hundreds of listeners. It's another to do so with dozens of autonomous, yet harmoniously integrated sites with hundreds of shows and thousands (someday millions) of listeners. There will certainly be some challenges along the way, but with a global community working together to figure things out, it is easy to imagine a day, in the not too distant future, when people can channel surf Worldbridges and see everything from a Cook-along show from Tia Maria's Cocina in Mexico to Ahmed & Itzhak's Middle East Political Roundtable to Mrs. Kim & Mrs. Watanabe's 8th grade Social Studies Super Show.
There is no doubt a lot of interesting webcasting and bridge building ahead. All those interested in joining the adventure are very welcome to register at any of the Worldbridges sites, tune in and participate during shows, send email (by clicking 'Contact' on the left menu of any Worldbridges site), or leave a voice message via one of the MyChingo voice message interfaces. Comments and questions about this article can be posted at http://webheadsinaction.org/worldbridges
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