Understanding the full potential of Confluence


This blog is to explain why I believe that CONFLUENCE software, which enables teams to collaborate on building a shared business vision, has the potential to ensure a pedagogical revolution in the classroom.

Its chief strength is its dialogic structuring of macro and micro organising structure of ‘space’ and ‘pages’.  In the ‘space’, the ‘big picture’ breathes itself into life in reflecting principles, beliefs and values.  On Confluence pages, we see how key activities and functionality shape concepts and practices that lead to ‘getting to done’ and achieving a project’s success. That is:

  • Customising the Space becomes for us a vital way of getting to share a vision and preventing ‘getting lost in the forest for the trees’ as documents and actions proliferate within a project.
  • I imagine pages as ‘thinking places’ that focus the collaborative skills of dialogue and shared understanding. The templates show what most project participants encounter. However, the available structures are also made ‘open-ended’ through formatting tools.

This is the context in which I view the potential strength of Confluence within classroom settings for bringing about

  1. An instinctive pedagogical integration of  ‘teaching and learning’;
  2. A capacity to keep the vision alive; and
  3. Team collaboration as a vital component of achieving success.

An instinctive pedagogical integration of  ‘teaching and learning’

At anytime team members are able to swap roles on Confluence in being the teacher and learner – the leader and follower – the expert and novice.

Working as a curriculum adviser in a district office of Western Australia’s education department it was part of my job to help organise breakfast seminars for school leaders. The following cartoon was often used to stimulate a discussion on the relationship between teaching and learning.

A lively discussion inevitably opened up from the deep chasm that sadly but inevitably existed between educational policies, strategies and the individual leader’s capacity to take on change. The discussion would also turn towards understanding the advancements that technologies offered leaders when addressing individual student needs.

Everyone’s honest, but things still go missing’!!

To that end, for instance, the argument made by neuroscientist Susan Greenfield in Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark On Our Brain now seems a particularly important consideration. How can any use of software not address how a digital age relies overwhelmingly on only sight and sound, largely ignoring the vital importance of the three senses of touch, smell and taste.

Let’s enter a world unimaginable even a few decades ago, one like no other in human history. It’s a two-dimensional world of only sight and sound, offering instant information, connected identity and the opportunity for here-and-now experiences so vivid and mesmerising that they can out-compete the dreary reality around us. It’s a world teeming with so many facts and opinions that there will never be enough time to evaluate and understand even the smallest fraction of them. For an increasing number of its inhabitants, this virtual world can seem more immediate and significant than the smelly, tasty, touchy 3-D counterpart: it’s a place of nagging anxiety or triumphant exhilaration as you are swept along in a social networking swirl of collective consciousness. It’s a parallel world where you can be on the move in the real world, yet always hooked into an alternative time and place. The subsequent transformation of how we might all be living very soon is a tially important issue, perhaps, even the most important issue of our time. Why? Because it may be that a daily existence revolving around the smartphone, iPad, laptop and Xbox is radically changing not just our everyday lifestyles, but also our identities and ever our inner thoughts, in unprecedented ways. As a neuroscientist, I’m fascinated by the potential effects of a screen-oriented daily existence on how we think and what we feel, and I want to explore how that exquisitely adaptable organ, the brain, may now be reacting to this novel environment, recently dubbed ‘the digital wildfire’.

Yet, at the same time, it is clear that we are now swamped by a tidal wave of content which, as John Hattie and Greg Yates  show in Visible Learning and the Science Of How We Learn (2014) “require additional skills, such as  the proficiency to evaluate the quality of surface information that dominates the web”.

To my mind, using Confluence software alongside the Atlassian Team Playbook addresses Greenfield’s, Hattie’s and Yate’s concerns by focusing on the cultural practices and rituals that facilitate productive work through conceptual understanding and communication skills.

Capacity to keep the vision alive

I suggest that the strength of Confluence to help participants stay focused on a shared vision can be best explained through ‘conceptual metaphor theory’.

A major revolution in the study of metaphor occurred 30 years ago with the introduction of “conceptual metaphor theory” (CMT). Unlike previous theories of metaphor and metaphorical meaning, CMT proposed that metaphor is not just an aspect of language, but a fundamental part of human thought. Indeed, most metaphorical language arises from preexisting patterns of metaphorical thought or conceptual metaphors.

The ramifications of ‘Cognitive Metaphor Theory’ which George Lakoff’s and Mark Johnson’s introduce in Metaphors We Live By in 1980 in fundamentally claiming that metaphors not only existed in language but in thought and action, has given rise to “debates about the empirical and theoretical work” related to CMT.  Yet it also continues to provide “important insights into the interaction of embodiment, language, thought, and culture”  that has “great explanatory power, and must be considered to be foundational for any comprehensive theory of metaphor, as well as for broader theories of human cognition”.

As a theory, we find it particularly useful in reviewing how we might understand the interaction of embodiment, language and thought in analysing the use and efficacy of labels and taxonomies. As nouns, dialogue and conversation name oral and written forms of communication which take place between two or more people, either face-to-face or through print media (e.g. in court transcripts or literary works) or in audio or video recordings of real or fictional representations of events (e.g. radio and televised interviews and performances of dramatic works).

Structuring collaboration as a vital component of achieving success

The dialogue required by working on Confluence should not be seen an accidental by-product.

Accordingly, Dictionary.com shows that the word dialogue arose in the early 13th century to refer to “literary work consisting of a conversation between two or more persons. Interestingly, the prefix dia- from Greek denotes “across” while the suffix Logue or log relates to “speak”.  The conversation appeared mid-14th century and referred to “living together, having dealings with others. Its antecedents seem to be related to the “act of living with” rather than the just the “act of speaking” as it is associated with dialogue.

Within this complex web of terms, dialogue and conversation we must now also view ‘computer-mediated communication’, which Andrew Wood and Matthew Smith describe in Online Communication: Linking Technology, Identity, & Culture (2005, 2014) as ‘somehow different’. This is principally, they suggest, because of the “blurring of technology with our everyday lives” that fuels a tension arising from the immediate versus the mediated nature of our moving from face-to-face to technology-assisted forms of communication. What this tension suggests is that, whether we like it or not, participating in conversations online compels us into a kind of ‘performance art’.

Referring to sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) use of dramaturgy and the theatrical metaphor as an process by which humans enacted everyday life, Wood and Smith (2005, 2014) note that it was Goffman’s work that “has been instrumental in advancing the understanding of how elements of performance contribute to what and how people communicate” and that more recently “researchers have echoed Goffman’s fascination with the theatrical metaphor”  while invoking similar language to explain how people construct identities online. Furthermore, in their chapters on the construction of online identity in the notion of cyberspace, the authors highlight how language is “the primary vehicle for establishing one’s own and perceiving another’s online persona”.

Life with a beautiful theory

What historical events indicate through their representation of political conflict moving into ‘great wars’ is how we risk calamity when we cannot reconcile both our need for certainty and change. Yet away from the main noise of political conflict there are equally powerful expressions of understanding and practising such paradoxical processes within disciplined and ‘agile’ organisations, as well as enacting visionary plans while simultaneously attending to the granularity of specific projects. It seems almost preposterous to imagine ‘software’ as invested with the qualities of such reconciliatory power, but in the same visionary way in which Seymour Papert explains ‘humanist mathematics in Mindstorms (1980), I believe the Atlassian’s Confluence could be seen through the prism of an egalitarian social construct.

With this in mind, the truth that there is no human progress without a great and beautiful theory aka ‘vision’ which acts as a motivator for and an arbiter of human successes is clear to me. So too, is my belief that the realisation of a vision can only be made when individual differences work for the ‘greater good’.

In the opening monologue of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America, Pt 2 Perestroika the oldest Bolshevik living takes to the podium and speaks aloud his doubts about Russia’s turn towards Capitalism and its abandonment of its ‘great theory’ of a Socialist State. Kushner use of a sage-like figure in the opening of his play is a brilliant one.  The empathy stirred up for the old man releases us enough to hear his human yearning for justice and the hope for a better life. The ancient figure prevents us from moving into the ideological corners of the Capitalist West vs the Communist Bloc. We want his wisdom to prevail because we share in his questioning of the unfairness that still exists in the world.

You can’t imagine, when we first read the Classic Texts, then in the dark vexed night of our ignorance and terror the seed-words sprouted and shoved incomprehension aside, when the incredible bloody vegetable struggle up and through into Red Blooming gave us Praxis, True Praxis, True Theory married to Actual Life… You who live in this Sour Little Age cannot imagine the grandeur of the prospect we gazed upon: like standing atop the highest peak in the might Caucasus, and viewing in one all-knowing glance the mountainous, granite order of creation. You cannot imagine it.  I weep for you.  And what have you to offer now, children of this Theory? What have you to offer in its place? Market Incentives? American Cheeseburgers? Watered-down Bukharinite stopgap makeshift Capitalism! NEPmen!

Exploiting the vision the ‘praxis’ of Confluence, rooted in Atlassian’s playful practice of its ‘Team Playbook’ is where I would like to take educational discourse.  As someone who has spent thirty years immersing herself in educational theories and practical classroom solutions, I want to now invest my time and my company’s efforts in garnering how such intelligently crafted software might yield enormous benefits for a pedagogical revolution.