27 April 2008


You know that moment right before you understand something...when you have all of the puzzle pieces in front of you, but the clarity isn't quite there yet? I'm having one of those fuzzy times, perched on the edge of being able to say "I get it." Bear with me here, as I'm not going to be very articulate about all of this, but perhaps by sharing my thinking at this point, some gentle comments from the edusphere at large can help me finally put it all together.

What I want to talk about here is the whole idea of Classroom 2.0 (and by extension, Web 2.0). I think that I haven't been sure what this would "look like" within a school setting. It's not because I don't understand the value of a Personal Learning Network, but because the physical environment I work within doesn't match the virtual environment I have. I can blog, text, tweet, ning, wiki, and more to my heart's content as a teacher. I cannot, however, share those things with my students because we are set up to take away their cell phones and block their internet access.

Here are some pieces of seen as of late which seem significant:

  • Stephanie over at Change Agency blogged about Shift Happens---Now What? The post is about how buying more hardware for classrooms isn't the answer. We have to help the adults within our schools reach their own "A-ha" moments with the power of social networking first.
  • As Tracy points out over on LeaderTalk, the answer is not Blackboard or Moodle. They are filter friendly, which makes the Mordacs of the world happy, but they are nothing more than glorified word processing programs. They are islands cut off from interaction with the rest of the on-line world...no different or better than a physical classroom. In using those programs, we are fooling ourselves by using 21st century tools via 20th century methods. (Stephanie also chimes in with an I Read Blocked Blogs idea.)
  • It is not only the way we communicate with text that is changing...but with data, too. Flowing Data had a great post on rolling out your own on-line maps and data visualization while Bioephemera shared Is this a better graph? What a mind-blowing way to deal with data. It is interactive and animated. Information about location, size, time, and more are all neatly contained.

  • And the coup de grace was this speech on Gin, Television, and Social Surplus found at Here Comes Everybody. Whoa. It's not a short read, but I can't be encouraging enough that you make the time to do so. The idea here is that we are emerging from a media hangover where we have been consumers for a long time (primarily through tv) and we are now discovering that we are also able to be media producers. What will happen with the "surplus" of hours that were spent consuming...and now may be focused on producing?

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan's Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don't? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn't posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it's not, and that's the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

And I'm willing to raise that to a general principle. It's better to do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, "If you have some fancy sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too." And that's message--I can do that, too--is a big change.

This is something that people in the media world don't understand. Media in the 20th century was run as a single race--consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you'll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.

And what's astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they're discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they'll take you up on that offer. It doesn't mean that we'll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we'll do it less.

And this is the other thing about the size of the cognitive surplus we're talking about. It's so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let's say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 10,000 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation.

I think that's going to be a big deal. Don't you?

Yes, I'm starting to realize that it is going to be a very big deal. I'm thinking that the critical mass needed to overcome filtering and harness the power within 2.0 is just around the corner. John Dvorak said that "In all large corporations, there is a pervasive fear that someone, somewhere is having fun with a computer on company time. Networks help alleviate that fear." Maybe it isn't "fun" that corporations (or schools) are afraid of. Maybe they are afraid of the creative power that will be present.

I saw this message the other day: I'm struggling with finding a balance between action/learning by doing/creation and deep thought/innovation/reflection- craving time to think. I understand that. The possibilities to learn, to do, to create, and to think are truly limitless these days. At the moment, I'm in think mode about these things...but it shouldn't be too long before I'm ready to do and create more. Whoa.


Roger Sweeny said...

In the 1800s, before there was recorded music or radio or tv, one of the major ways people got entertainment was playing music together. Families singing around the piano may be a cliche but it was true. People were largely producers of their own diversions.

But then came the Victrola, and then vinyl records and the radio, and some years later, tv. The option to produce was still there but people increasingly became consumers.

Why? Because generally the quality was better, and it was easier. Of course, many people continued to sing or take up the guitar but most people didn't. The joy of production wasn't enough to make up for the costs and low quality.

Why should we expect things to be different with web 2.0?

The Science Goddess said...

As always, you pose an excellent question.

What I'm wondering now is whether or not so many people have had the option of producing/sharing. Have we been exclusionary in the past, for whatever reasons? Perhaps we say people lack talent to write/act/sing. Or maybe financial reasons prevent you from buying a piano for the home. Maybe you didn't have access to k-12 education. And now? If you have a computer and internet access, you can be part of the process however much you choose---not however much someone else chooses.

More to chew on...

Jeff said...

It seems like we should be looking at this issue from two sides. On the one hand, you have the people (like me) who used to be sitting on the couch passively watching Gilligan's Island reruns, and are now actively doing something creative. The assumption here is that my life is improved by having the option of creating something myself; which I think is true, or I wouldn't be doing it.

On the other side is everyone else. While my life is improved by my own creative efforts, what is the world to do with gigantic increase in creative production from those millions of extra hours? When history looks back on the changes that are taking place right now, it will be judging what we were able to do with all of that surplus creativity, and whether it was really any different from what came before.