A Tangled Tale

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 from 3:45 – 4:30pm in B304


Forum-based interactive learning is an important open tech community activity. We will look at a storytelling-based example from the past.


A while back, a distinguished mathematics lecturer at Oxford tried a little experiment in teaching mathematics and logic to younger students. He published a series of puzzle problems in the form of a whimsical story titled A Tangled Tale. He invited readers to pick a pseudonym and post their proposed solutions and comments as he went along.

The year was 1880. The forum was the magazine The Monthly Packet. The lecturer was the Rev. Charles Dodgson, better know by his pseudonym Lewis Carroll.

We will discuss Carroll’s approach to learning, comparing it to those used on modern electronic fora such as IRC channels, discussion lists, wikis and web forums. I will propose several lessons the open tech community can learn from Carroll’s example: the promise of the storytelling style, the power of pseudonymity, and the right way of handling wrong answers. I will also suggest several potential limitations to this approach.

Speaking experience


  • Beach headshot 320x200

    Bart Massey

    Portland State University


    Bart Massey has been geeking around with community computing for 35 years, and has been involved in Free Software and Open Source since its inception. For the past 15 years, he has been a CS Prof at Portland State University, where he works in open tech, software engineering, artificial intelligence and low-level software development.

    Bart’s titles include Member of the PSU MCECS Innovation Program Board and past Secretary of the X.Org Foundation Board. Bart is the architect of the X library XCB, a modern replacement for Xlib, and the author of the XCB image extension. His current open tech interests include Haskell, open hardware and building bridges between pieces of the open tech community. He was one of the original participants in the Open Source Bridge conversation.