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[ba-unrev-talk] [ba-urev-talk] Tech Impediments? ... see proposal: Apply "CONVERSATIONMAP" to Open Source Software Development as Learning Environment

1) Conversation Map - Very large-scale conversation (VLSC)

"The Conversation Map system can analyze several thousand messages at a time.  It employs a set of computational linguistics and sociology techniques in order to generate a graphical summary of the messages.  The graphical summary includes

In short, the social science-derived tools of the interface give one a means of seeing the “forest” of the conversation before diving into the “trees.”

"One can use the Conversation Map like Netscape Messenger, Outlook, Eudora, or any other conventional news or mail reader. However, right now, the text analysis procedures are too slow.  An analysis of several thousand messages currently takes the system several hours.  I am re-engineering the system (and redesigning the interface) to allow one to use the Conversation Map as an everyday email reader or news browser."


"In the following section I show twelve example Conversation Maps that were generated from a wide variety of online, public discussions.  With these examples, I hope the semiotics of how to read these maps will become understandable.  Also I hope that these one page, graphical summary of hundreds or thousands of email messages will be seen to be a useful thing for gaining a quick glimpse into a very large-scale conversation."

"If you are a researcher in the field of computer-mediated communication, a computational linguist working on similar issues, or an artist or designer building browsers like the Conversation Map system, we would be especially interested in hearing from you.  Also, if you are running a discussion list or newsgroup and would like to use the Conversation Map interface as a means to give participants access to the archives of the group, please send email to the following address:

Warren Sack
Social Technologies Group
UC Berkeley
314 South Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-4600

Bio: WARREN SACK <sack@sims.berkeley.edu> is Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information Management and Systems. Before coming to Berkeley, he was a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory. He received a B.A. in Computer Science and Psychology from Yale University and an S.M. and Ph.D. in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT. His research interests include computer-mediated communication, online communities, architecture and design for online spaces, social networks, computational linguistics, and media studies.

2) Open Source Software Development as Learning Environment

"We propose to examine Open Source Software (OSS) development as a learning environment by focusing on these three issues: (1) How OSS communities are reproduced, transformed and extended; and, (2) How individual OSS participants are recruited and then move from playing peripheral to central roles in the software development process.  (3) Furthermore, we will design and implement new summarization, visualization, and navigation software that will be useful both for social scientists interested in understanding OSS and for users or potential OSS developers to understand where they can get help and/or contribute work.  This “browsing” software will be based on previous work we have accomplished in the area of automatic summarization and visualization of large volumes of email.  This project was jointly initiated with John Canny, CS Division; Steven Weber, Political Science Department; and Bob Cole, Haas Business School, UC Berkeley.  We are pursuing a related project with Dr. Francoise Detienne, INRIA, France (supported by a grant from the France-Berkeley Fund).  Also, some related work is currently underway with Paul Pangaro* (an expert in applying Gordon Pask's conversion theory for training nuclear control room operators in emergency procedures), Elaine Coleman, and Rachel Strickland at Sun Microsystems."

Warren Sack (sack@sims.berkeley.edu)
Nicolas Ducheneaut (nicolas@sims.berkeley.edu)
Dilan Mahendran (dilanm@sims.berkeley.edu)

* Overview of  Conversation Theory developed by Gordon Pask

"The Conversation Theory developed by G. Pask originated from a cybernetics framework and attempts to explain learning in both living organisms and machines. The fundamental idea of the theory was that learning occurs through conversations about a subject matter which serve to make knowledge explicit. Conversations can be conducted at a number of different levels: natural language (general discussion), object languages (for discussing the subject matter), and metalanguages (for talking about learning/language).

In order to facilitate learning, Pask argued that subject matter should be represented in the form of entailment structures which show what is to be learned. Entailment structures exist in a variety of different levels depending upon the extent of relationships displayed (e.g., super/subordinate concepts, analogies).

The critical method of learning according to conversation theory is "teachback" in which one person teaches another what they have learned. Pask identified two different types of learning strategies: serialists who progress through an entailment structure in a sequential fashion and holists who look for higher order relations."


Conversation theory applies to the learning of any subject matter. Pask (1975) provides an extensive discussion of the theory applied to the learning of statistics (probability).


Pask (1975, Chapter 9) discusses the application of conversation theory to a medical diagnosis task (diseases of the thyroid). In this case, the entailment structure represents relationships between pathological conditions of the thyroid and treatment/tests. The student is encouraged to learn these relationships by changing the parameter values of a variable (e.g., iodine intake level) and investigating the effects.


1. To learn a subject matter, students must learn the relationships among the concepts.

2. Explict explanation or manipulation of the subject matter facilitates understanding (e.g., use of teachback technique).

3. Individual's differ in their preferred manner of learning relationships (serialists versus holists).


Pask, G. (1975). Conversation, Cognition, and Learning. New York: Elsevier.

Background information about Gordon Pask can be found at http://www.venus.co.uk/gordonpask