technologies to enhance social relationships

about ten days ago I walked past a classroom where the instructor was overheard starting class by asking individual students how they were: “morgan, how are you?” something about the tone of his voice made me think that he was sincere in wanting to know. i imagined him beginning his talk and then deciding to integrate the students into the discussion by simply asking them how they were. i further imagined him then discussion the students’ responses in relation to the class material. i have an active imagination.

as the classroom experience is often an exchange of unilateral transmissions by people comfortable speaking in public surrounded by people who aren’t, but who no doubt have a lot on their minds, i got to thinking about how to augment the classroom practice by giving the silent majority an opportunity to contribute without having to raise their hand first. to somehow make the ideas on the margins more available to the center.

in wondering how to augment the process by allowing the somewhat private and often fragmentary ideas often suspended in the minds of many in any group to become public, i realized that most of us have cellphones and/or access to the web in our labs (i’m now writing specifically about my work at my institute), so messaging into a projected tag cloud seemed like something to try.

i’ve written a few scripts over the past week and will use them in my classes next semester. the idea, again, is that as “we” talk, participants can freely and anonymously submit a word or phrase to the evolving tag cloud. the script scales font size to prevalence, so, one might want to amplify a certain tag, or add a new one. the most recent tag is in red. the interface for the tag cloud is in a few flavors, one for the desktop and one for the cell phone – i’ll get around to writing an sms version prior to the start of school.

here are some screen shots:

above: this would be projected in class.

below: current browser interface – works well on phones, provides recent cluster of previous three tags.