Thursday, July 31, 2008

It Is What We Make of It

This is going to be a somewhat eclectic post, with no real insight or conclusion from me (yes, I know, I know), but I think that there are some connections here that perhaps somebody (or even my future self) can make. There also could be nothing at all here, but I think the links are interesting in and of themselves even if there is no real connection or higher meaning.

Thanks to an email from one of my school board members, I ran across this article at the Washington Post:
The 44-year-old North Bethesda resident desperately wants a restaurant here that caters to the raw food diet, which prescribes only fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouts, none of which have been heated above 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the past year, she has dedicated as many as 10 hours each month to attending meetings, sharing her ideas on a community Web site and creating raw food treats such as oat-hemp balls to persuade others of the virtues of raw food.

One thing Greenspan hasn't had to contribute is cash, a key element in getting new restaurants up and running. That's because the model for Elements is unlike any other Washington restaurant, and, as far as the founders can say, unlike any other restaurant in the world. If it successfully opens, Elements will be the first "crowdsourced" restaurant, conceived and developed by an open community of experts and interested parties.
So a group of like-minded folks use technology to come together to try to achieve a goal.
. . . "Most businesses are started because you have a great idea, and you take it out to the public to see if they like it," says Linda Welch, 49, the Washington businesswoman who launched and is funding the Elements project. "This is the opposite. We're finding out what people want and doing it."
They gather information from their stakeholders (and, in fact, are stakeholders themselves), to try to develop a product that meets the stakeholders’ needs.
. . . "It's the community. What's rewarding is coming together to create a place in the city that's beneficial to the community and yourself and your friends."
To paraphrase: It’s about the community, stupid.
. . . Characteristically, the group is optimistic. "It's not crazy to do if you have an established, loyal customer base," Takemoto says. "What's crazy is to open a business from scratch."
Again, to paraphrase: What’s crazy is not to use these tools and this ability to organize.

This seems to tie in well with Clay Shirky’s ideas about group forming and group action. It also reminds me a bit of this “group action to make a difference” video that I ran across at Dean Shareski’s blog. As Dean says,
This is the type of thing that illustrates the ability to be proactive . . . I’m looking forward to seeing passionate, connected teachers leading students in group formation that changes our world.

As Dean says in the comments to that post, “We only need a few motivated people to lead and the ease of organization can make it happen.”

It also reminds me of James Surowiecki’s keynote at NECC, which is only available for viewing by ISTE members, but everyone can view an excerpt.
Under the right conditions, groups of people can be remarkably intelligent.
So we should be figuring out – and providing – those conditions. What might those conditions be?
You need some method of aggregation.

You need a diverse group of people.

You need independent thinking. You want people to rely on their own information, their own intuition, their own knowledge. You want people to bring something to the table other than what everyone else around them is bringing to the table.
Hmm, sounds like a well-developed, diverse, and active Personal Learning Network.

Finally, it seems to connect for me (somehow, not quite sure how yet) to this presentation by Michael Wesch at the Library of Congress. Wesch, in relation to the YouTube community, talks about ideas including “user generated filtering” and “user generated organization,” and how as “media change, human relations change.” Towards the end he states, “It is not just what you make of it, it is what we make of it.” (He's now posted the full text of his poem, inspired by Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.)

So, how does this tie all together? As I stated at the top, I’m not sure I know. But I think it’s something along the lines of:
Technology is changing us. Us, the human race. It’s changing how we form communities and interact. It’s empowering individuals, yet in a powerfully group-oriented, networked way (“networked individualism” - sounds like an oxymoron, but I'm not sure it is). As educators, we need to delve into the “ridiculously easy group formation,” pull from the wisdom of our diverse stakeholders, and help discover and provide the conditions necessary for our students to leverage the power of aggregation. It truly can be what we make of it, if only we choose to try.
Or something like that.

Or not at all like that.

Like I said, I’m not sure how these all connect, I just have this strong feeling that they do. And if we can tease out those connections, it can have some powerful implications for the way we teach and learn.

What do you make of it?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Karl. Your post took me a long time to get through (I'm not through ALL of it yet, just bits and pieces), but it really got me thinking. I'm not sure I'm able to make any ground breaking connections in and between all of the sources included in the post, but the one that really struck me was Carrotmob's Making It Rain. Not only because it reminded me of a certain t-shirt that the senior girls had printed during homecoming week last year, but mostly because of the POWER that we are capable of if we just get together. I think that teachers, students, individuals, etc., are quite often overwhelmed by the world. "I'm just me, what change can I make, I care about x, but it's only a drop in the bucket, I'm 16, I don't matter..." Well, this video seems to be a slap in the face to that mentality. True, we are all just individuals, but through technology, the world is at our fingertips (literally). We need to fan this idea into flame in our students. "What is your passion? What are YOU/WE/THEWORLD going to do about?!"