Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thank you, Tapped In

Tapped In was probably a victim of the sequester, whatever that was, where they cut off all those government funds for useful projects. I really have no idea, but I suspect it was started from a government grant that was designed to see if academics could use an online environment, like a campus, and enter it virtually, and talk to each other, and benefit from all being in the same virtual space.

I used to meet my friends there and chat on Sunday mornings about various educational technology topics, like how to make webcasts, or use skype in class, that kind of stuff. Generally my friends knew way more than I did, and lived in places like Abu Dhabi, Ottawa, or Argentina. That's what I liked about it; I could ask them, for example, who they thought would win the World Cup. Or how was the weather way out there? There was no shortage of topics. It was like being on an international flight.

One time, a couple of people entered a room we were in and started a lightning-fast conversation in a language totally foreign to me, except that it used English letters and an occasional English word. It was just understandable to arouse my curiosity, but I never figured out what they were doing. I went back and got a record of it, quick while I could (TI made transcripts available, but it was always hard for me to figure out how to get them). Someday this could be seen as the early days of online communication. These languages can probably use their own scripts now; people have other chatrooms, and have apparently found other venues.

A couple of times, I took my classes into TI, and insisted that we talk by chatting in its virtual rooms. They were a little confused about why I'd want to do this, but I told them, and it generally worked out all right. I was kind of a pioneer that way, in using chat in classes, but I didn't perfect the process so much as just try it out and see how I could use it. I still today think it would be useful, from a writing standpoint, to lure students into just producing, spontaneously and communicatively, lots of writing, but I haven't really followed through. Once a woman from Harvard came in and observed, and we explained to her what we were doing. My students would link to their papers (which were also online) in there, and people would then go read them. Another time some people just came and joined us and they were forced to talk about their papers a little. Various memorable things happened. It was like the train station in Manhattan; you would probably never be bored, as your next visitor could be from anywhere.

Except that, at some times, the workers and volunteers probably were bored. One problem was that it ran for 24 hours, but someone had to monitor it. This I'm sure wasn't always fun. I suppose you could set your computer so that you'd be warned about anyone's arrival, then go cook dinner, but it seemed to me it would be like graveyard shift at the parking garage, lots of waiting for maybe one person, sometimes. I'm really not sure how much traffic it had on a regular basis.

I was there, though. I loved it. Its landscaping was all virtual, but I made good friends there. To BJ, and Michael W., I hope I meet you in person someday. To the government grant agency, thank you for making it possible. For me at least, it did what it was intended to do.

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