A Review of Blab [social + video streaming] for Educators

What do you get when you put Google Hangouts, Periscope, the AOL chat rooms culture of the 1990s and Twitter in a blender? You get a new live video social network call Blab, and it is a going to change the reshape the nature of online community and connectivity over the upcoming months and years. Of course, this is not just a copy or pulling together of pieces from these other elements. Blab is a new and truly distinct addition to the online social space, and it has some promising applications for education. As such, here is my initial review of Blab with special attention to what it means or could mean for education.

The concept is simple, as in good design simple. Download the app or go to Blab.im and create connect using your Twitter account. Well, you can actually skip the linking to your Twitter account if you just want to see the live video streams, but if you want to do what makes Blab brilliant, create the account. That lets you participate by typing in a chat area (you can even highlight text comment as a question by starting with “/q”). Or to get the full effect, conjure the courage and grab an open seat in a blab to stream your video and audio along with up to three other people at a time. Just start talking. It is a refreshingly welcome and open community, allowing you to meet fascinating, gifted and many accomplished people. You can pick from an assortment of existing blabs or create your own.

There are a number of other great features.You can blab “off the record” or record it, getting access to an audio and/or video download afterward, along with an ability to move it over to Youtube or just directly embed the blab on your blog or elsewhere. Blabs can be tagged for easy search, but at the time of writing this, it is a smaller community, so “Show All” works just fine. If you like what someone is saying or just want to be encouraging, you can click on an icon of two small hands called props.  Below is a quick screen capture of what to expect, but I encourage you to head over after reading this article and give it a try.

Feel free to follow me on Blab (@bdean100), I’ll return the favor, and we can hopefully find a time to connect in a live Blab.

Screen Shot of Blab Home Page

What are the implications and applications for education? I’ve been lurking, participating, and hosting so far. While I’m relatively new, here are ten of my initial thoughts, observations, and plans.

  1. Probably Best for Adults for Now
    Blab is not the community for a group of 3rd graders. This largely an adult audience, so think of it initially more for hanging out, messing around, and geeking out (thank you Mimi Ito) among those in the education space. For that, there are immense possibilities, but who knows what the Blab developers have in mind. If they want help expanding further into the education space, that is easy enough, and they know where to find me.
  2. Book Talks
    I showed up today for an author-hosted book talk that was wonderful. The author was hosting a series over a series over the upcoming weeks; helping readers work through his ideas in the text for self-improvement. Think of where we could go with that!
  3. Easy to Get Started
    It is incredibly simple to join or start a scheduled blab or just start one on the fly. I see great opportunities for the blending of blabs with existing educator Twitter chats, and other online gathering places. Regarding Twitter chats, you could do pre Twitter chat blabs, post Twitter chat blabs, or even use as blab as a real-time back channel to a Twitter chat (now there is a twist). In time, Blab must just replace some Twitter chats.
  4. Teacher “Shows”
    Anyone can create a “show” or “podcast” on a theme of choice, and teachers are already discovering this fact. I’ve already sat in on two different blabs hosted by teachers; both of which were on the playful side, a chance for teachers to socialize and debrief a bit. You might want to check out the Teacher Blab Show, Global Edventures, or Shameless Sunday Teacher Chat (these links might take you to a future or past show depending upon when you are reading this, but just search by title to find future episodes). Expect more to come. In fact…
  5. I stared a new live show, The MoonshotEdu Show
    I and Suzy Siegle just lunched a new show that runs each Monday night at 9:00 PM CDT called The MoonshotEdu Show. This is all about exploring fun, forecasts, foibles and the frontiers of education innovation. The goal is for people to have fun, explore the frontiers and trends in educational innovation, network, and be an active participant. Think of an education version of The Late Night Show meets The Discovery Channel, The Price is Right and a hint of Edcamp (which just led me to just realize that Blab would be great for an online Edcamp!). How about subscribing to future episodes using the provided link (that allows us to order enough virtual food for the whole crowd and Blab will remind you when the show is about to air)? The more the merrier!
  6. A Great Platform for People Building their Personal Teaching Network
    There are also countless people hosting scheduled or more spontaneous blabs with a teaching and learning focus. Sometimes it is an expert (many really impressive experts) teaching about their area of expertise, asking questions, and having live video/audio discussions with the attendees. Other times it is a person who creates a blab with a theme or question and essentially crowd sources the conversation, creating a wonderful co-learning space. In fact, this is a great tool for study circles as well.
  7. Open Learning
    If I host another open course, I have every intention of using Blab for live meetups and sessions. It would work perfectly (granted you only have a couple hundred people joining the live session).  Or, if you just want to run an open course more informally, this is a great platform, and you can easily use it in conjunction with a couple online spaces to run a truly open course, bypassing learning management systems altogether. With that said, it would be intriguing if a forward-thinking LMS like Canvas would partner with Blab for some sort of interesting integration down the road (and it would almost guarantee an ongoing viable financial model).
  8. Peeragogy & Blab – A Brilliant Marriage
    This strikes me as a community that is ideal to model and experiment with practices in peeragogy. I can’t help but think that Howard Rheingold would be intrigued by the power and possibilities (If you come across this article, Howard, please consider chiming in). It is ideal for many approaches to real-time peer-to-peer learning.
  9. Four Perspectives at Once
    Blabs allow for four video streams at a time, right? Think of how we can get creative with this. You could have four different people at the same event, providing four different perspectives at the same time. I haven’t completely thought through it, but this strikes me as having rich possibilities for experiential education and other insights. As it stands, all the blabs that I’ve seen have the four cameras on four different people, but it doesn’t need to be that way, and I’m sure more people will figure this out soon.
  10. Interaction
    The nature of interaction with a host of a blab is completely different from what we see with a tool like Periscope, which is essentially a one-person show with text-based comments. As such, it has a way of nurturing a type of intimacy that I’ve rarely seen in social media.
  11. You Own the Content
  12. If you want to run a blab and use the video content elsewhere or for some other purpose, you are free to do so. They keep the rights to use it for promotional purposes and the like, but otherwise it belongs to you. That means you could even use Blab to simply generate recorded content or host interviews (sort of like some of you might do with Google Hangouts, but without the dozens of glitches and confusion).
  13. This is Not for Closed Door Chats and Meetings
    While you can have a blab off the recording (meaning that it is not recorded), there are no locks on the doors to the blabs. Anyone can come in and listen or chat, which I happen to think is part of the beauty. If you are the host, you can control who can join a seat for audio or video, and you have the means of removing people who are not being blaberly. (Maybe others use that term already, but I like to think that I just made it up, being a good blab neighbor. Since I’m on the subject, there does seem to be a pretty good informal blaberhood watch at play in the community.
  14. Education Big, Teachers Just Starting
    So, while there are many ways that Blab is being used for education: book talks, coaching, communities of practice, webinar-style blabs, informative podcast-like formats, and more; it is still in the earlier stage for educators and others in formal learning organizations. With that said, I expect that to change quickly, as in the next few months…at least if I have anything to say about it.
  15. Social Media Early Adopters
    So far, there is clearly a heavier presence of early adopters who work with social media, digital marketing, podcasting, and specifically a large group of people using Periscope. That is to be expected. These are the people who depend upon staying up on what is most current. Now we just need to see it spread further to other populations as well. There is a great feature in each blab where you can send out a Tweet with a link to the blab, which certainly helps people on Blab draw their tribes and networks over.
  16. Look for Some Brilliant Hacks and Experiments 
    This is a newer platform and people are still exploring the possibilities and experimenting with different ways to use the features and blabs. This is an exciting time as I can spend an hour browsing different blabs and walk away with five or six new strategies and methods for interacting, hosting, and collaborating with people in a blab. This is just the beginning.
  17. Blab is in Beta (at least when I wrote this)
    That is always something to keep in mind as you consider uses and planning for the future. We don’t have any guarantees about Blab in a year, although I am hopeful that the adoption rate is adequate for ongoing investments in the product, they are working hard to ensure a solid ongoing financial model, and it continues to grow and expand far into the future.
  18. This is a Promising Online Third Place
    I’m dating myself, but being online in the early to middle 1990s was rich with opportunities for largely peer-organized text-based chat on platforms like AOL as well as IRC (Internet Relay Chat) more broadly, which as been around since the 1990s. Obviously that was long before the social media revolution, and Blab technology is decades beyond IRC, but there is a bit of a similar spirit to the interactions. There is spontaneity, a sense of user ownership, a broad spectrum of chats (from religious debates to starting a business and teacher chats), a wonderfully egalitarian feel, it is a warm and comfortable online third place, and people are quick to offer help and tips on almost anything in their area of expertise. As I wrote at the beginning of the article, this is such an intriguing innovation that blends aspects of the features and social interaction of the old chat rooms, Twitter, Periscope and Google Hangouts all in one. Of course, each of those have their distinct affordances and limitations; but if you three all those in a blender, it sure seem to me that you would be making a Blab-flavored social media smoothie.
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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.

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