Here Comes Everyone and Me

In the past year I have heard or read the name Clay Shirky a number of times, so a few weeks ago while browsing in a bookstore, I purchased his new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (2008).  And once I started it, I could not stop.  I found each chapter captivating and informative. His historical overviews and analysis of why and how some social media and other internet tools and entities function (such as weblogs, photo-sharing, social networking sites, wikis, open source software, just to name a few) answered many questions that I had and gave me new insights into what works and how.  Although some who have a strong background in sociology might find his information about human tendencies, groups, and communication too basic, I did not.  For me, they served as a good source of review of some fundamental principles and created a valuable context for thinking about how social media tools intersect with some of those basic human attributes.

Among the topics I found interesting involved discussions of literacy and mass amateurization, broadcast and communication media, revolution and coevolution.  One of the ideas that captured my attention the most was the one dealing with power law distribution and its relation to who participates (and how often) in the social media world.  Amazingly very few.  Although the news would lead us to believe that a huge percentage of people is sharing, collaborating, and coordinating efforts here and there on the internet, only a small percentage do on a regular basis.  As Shirky remarks, most writers have few readers, most photos never receive comments, only a few people actively edit wiki entries, etc. (It is likely, therefore, that no one will respond to this post.)

Another construct I found useful to think about involves what he calls “homophily” and its relationship to social networking.  He claims that what makes networks successful is not the hundreds of connections that individual people in a network have but the thousands of connections that a few highly-connected people have.  He makes the point that the likelihood of my being a highly connected person is low (and he is right about that), but the chance of my knowing one is high (which it true because my friend Cathy is one of those highly-connected people).   When we are trying to make a link with people we don’t know, we are likely to know one of the highly-connected people that they know.  And, it is this relationship that makes social networks work.

Shirky’s discussion of the origin of Linux in 1991 as a leader in open source software initiated by Linus Torvalds highlights an important aspect about organizations and innovations. He maintains that most organizations try to reduce the effect of failures by reducing their likelihood (because failures are costly). But because no one really knows what will be successful and what will fail, organizations tend to select safe choices which in turn inhibits innovation.  Open source like Linux does not have to limit the likelihood of failures; it merely reduces the cost of failures because failures are free.

In reviewing all the successfu ventures that Shirky highlights in his book, he maintains that each has three essential features – promise, tool, and bargain.  They all offer its user a promise that convinces the user to participate.  Since we are all very busy, the promise of something beneficial has to be high or we won’t do it. Second, the tool selected must be appropriate to the task it is intended for (and I would add that it must be easy to use).  Lastly, the users must agree to a set of goals (of sorts) and often the users create these themselves.  He gives the example of wikis and the bargain that users of wikis agree to that they will take care of the site and monitor it so that it will not be sabotaged.

One of the aspects of social media that I connected with because of my teaching of social justice education is the ways in which social media can be used for collective action.  But as Shirky mentions any group can engage in collective action and not all of it is for the common good.  Justice means different things to different people, and there are good groups and bad groups. Thus, the freedom to group quite easily presents us with a social dilemma that we have yet to address.

As the book demonstrates through examples and cases, these social tools do not create the urge to share information or engage in action, they merely provide the means to do it without many of the obstacles of the past.   As such the invention of a tool doesn’t create change.  Change happens after the tool has been around for a long time and enough people are using it so that it seems normal to do so.  So does the fact that billions of people communicating with social tools each day mean that societies are changing?  Clearly communications are changing, but basic human needs and the drive for freedoms from all kinds of systems – political and otherwise – seem to be the same.  Perhaps these new tools can be used more for the good rather than for the bad to improve our societies: I certainly hope so.

So where is the “me” in “here comes everybody”?  Shirky remarks in a concluding chapter that those of us who remember a time when social media did not exist (which includes Shirky and me) are constantly trying to catch up.  And this is what I am trying to do by reading, thinking, participating; I doubt that it will ever end.  Each day there is more technology to learn and more philosophy, sociology, history, psychology, etc. to review and contemplate.  So, I will continue on this journey both individually and collaboratively with others – and have fun along the way!

Thanks Clay for this thought-provoking and timely text.

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antiracist projects using wikis

The collaborative projects I assigned using wikis seemed to be successful this year in my Education 205 course: Whiteness, racism and inequality in schools and society.  In previous years I used the wiki included on the college’s course management system; this time I had students collaborate in groups of 4-5 using wikis hosted by Pbwiki.com.  The hosted wiki gave students more flexibility in design, uploading capability, and communication with one another.  They added links, photos, video clips, and references to make their individual projects comprehensive and engaging.  Some of the topics focused on antiracist children’s literature, racism in video games, antiracist children’s music, a discussion and critique of American Girl Dolls, a review of television programming for young children, and racism in animated Disney movies, just to name a few.   Among the goals of the project was to provide students with a vehicle for applying and sharing the information they learned in the course about racism and antiracism. Therefore, I invite you to check out the sites and pass them on to other educators (and/or) parents interested in helping young people learn about racism and antiracism.

In future posts I will compose a more detailed analysis of the wiki assignment and what I learned I need to do to improve the collaborative process for the students involved.

Gcasting about race and education

In my last post I outlined what I would do in my education class to test out making a class podcast using Gcast. I can say now that it worked.  Although some students were a bit suspicious about who would hear it and whether it was a reputable website,  most students who had phones with them participated ( I left participation optional).  One goal that I had was that it would give students who don’t frequently participate in large class discussions the opportunity to have their voices heard. And, this goal was achieved. Although I could not distinguish every individual voice, I did hear students who have seldom spoken in class.  So, I’m happy about that.  After the class ended (I did not play back their recordings because I ran out of time), I did go to the site and edited out files that had some interference or that were cut off.  Then I assembled them into a playlist, made a podcast, and downloaded it into an MP3 file.  Success!

Gee whizzing about Gcast

Although I have not been blogging for real for many weeks,  I have been blogging in my mind.  But I don’t think that really counts.  Something I did yesterday, though, has prompted me to write so that I can share to a wider audience.  I did a test run of using Gcast as a internet podcasting tool, and it worked out so well, that I am going to try it in my class tomorrow.  For those of you who have not heard of Gcast, it is a web site that allows someone to use a cell phone to make an audiocast which is then uploaded and can be listened to as a podcast.  In other words it is a simple way to make a podcast without needing MP3 players or editing tools.  A person just dials in, speaks into the phone, and then dials the # key to post.  I think this can be a great tool for teachers to use cell phones, which are ubiquitous in schools, as a learning device instead of a distracting device.

I got this idea from a new book by Liz Kolb published by ISTE entitled, Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education. The Gast information is only one of the many ways that teachers can use cell phones for instructional purposes. The books gives step-by-step instructions for teachers on how to set up the web sites.  And she also includes instructions for students who will be participating in the in-class sessions and out-of-class projects. The instructions also have screen shots which are a great aid in navigating through unfamiliar sites. The book also includes abundant sample lessons plans that can easily be adapted to different subject areas.

So, how am I going to use it in my class on racism in education?  Here’s my plan.  I’m going to play a brief podcast from an NPR program about whether we still need Black History Month.  The speaker John Ridley gives a brief origin, some history, and a few opinions of others.  Then he gives his view on whether schools should continue to designate February as Black History Month. What I am going to do is stop the NPR podcast before Ridley gives his opinion.  Then I am going to ask the class to dial into Gcast and state an opinion on whether Black History Month should be continued and a one sentence reason why.  Although all students have opinions on these matters, not everyone contributes them in a large class.  I hope that the making of this podcast will enable everyone’s  voice to count.

Since it takes about 5 minutes for all the podcasts to load to the website, I will continue with a related discussion, then go to the website to play the group podcast.  Thereafter, I will finish the last 30 seconds of the NPR program and conclude the discussion.  I will also ask their opinions on whether Gcast and cell phones can be an effective as instructional tools.  So, we’ll see.  I’ll report back in a few days on how it all went.

In the meantime, check out this book.  You won’t be disappointed.

Antiracist, social justice education and web-two-point 09

It has been almost a month (not to mention a new year) since my last post, and I am feeling quite deprived.  Although I have never left my 2.0 journey, I have had to refocus my energy on teaching and learning (of others), and move away from the complete focus on self-learning that I have been absorbed by the past few months.  So, even though I have been reading blogs and wikis, and posts on social networking sites, watched videos, and listened to podcasts and slideshares, I refrained from commenting on them.  Instead, I have been creating and revising course syllabi so that I will be ready to teach again at the end of this month.

As I was preparing my education-related course focusing on antiracism in schools and society, however, I realized an important omission I made during my ethnoblogging venture.  As I scrolled through my lists of sites bookmarked in Diigo, I noticed that I had not saved any examples of k-12 lessons for teaching with an antiracist or social justice perspective that also  utilize web 2.0 tools or digital media.  I know that I saw some as I reviewed numerous web sites, but I did not think  to highlight them.  Perhaps I was in denial about re-entering the classroom. Or maybe I thought that I would easily be able to find them, but such was not the case.  While reviewing my own posts, I realize that I did highlight a few lesson plans related to the election in November (some of which had a social justice orientation – see post of 11/19/08), but very few of my posts relate to my work in antiracist education.

One of the assignments for my students in the coming semester is to have them identify a lesson plan that purports to be antiracist or multicultural and then to analyze it according to several criteria as outlined by antiracist, multicultural theorists.  I have done this for several years with very good results.  But this year I added a new dimension: I wanted them to find a lesson in which the teacher employed digital media or web 2.0 technology to accomplish his/her lesson objectives.  For such assignments, I usually provide students with some examples or links they might access.  But for this assignment, I did not have any sample lessons or links that combined social justice (or multicultural or antiracist teaching) with technology.  So, I decided to provide them with some web sites that have lesson plans for social justice teaching and some different sites that have lesson plans incorporating technology. By reviewing each of those sites, they will find lesson plans that incorporate both social justice education and web 2.0 technology, but they will need to do the synthesizing to complete the assignment.  The text of my assignment reads as follows:

Assignment: Search for and identify a multicultural/social justice/antiracist lesson for any grade level (K-12) and in any content area that uses Web 2.0 technology (ex. blogs, podcasts, wikis, Youtube or other videos, digital storytelling or other digital media etc.) as part of the lesson.  Bring a copy of the lesson (and the web link) to class.

The following sites may provide you some ideas. The first 3  sites refer to  multicultural, antiracist teaching which may or may not have lesson plans that utilize web 2.0 tools.  The remaining sites contain lesson plans with digital media that may or may not be multicultural or antiracist in focus.  Use your searching skills to find a lesson plan that combines multicultural teaching with digital media (or web 2.0 technology).

o       Use the Teaching Tolerance site at www.teachingtolerance.org.

o       Use the Multicultural Pavilion site at http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/.

o       Use the Rethinking Schools site at http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/index.shtml

o       Use www.educatorsworld.com.

o       Use the PBS site at www.teachersdomain.org.

o       Use the Teachers Link and Learning Page at the Library of Congress site at www.loc.org.

o       Use the Teaching History site at http://teachinghistory.org/teaching-materials/lesson-plan-reviews.

o       Use the Newseum site at www.newseum.org.

o       Use a site for digital storytelling such as http://www.wtvi.com/teks/ds/#1.

o       A site for digital media in the classroom such as http://its.leesummit.k12.mo.us/digitalmedia.htm.

As I read through this assignment, I see that I was not as negligent as I thought for by asking them to do the synthesizing, they get to utilize their skills and creativity instead of my giving them all the resources.  So maybe it will turn out fine after all (note the apprehension of a teacher returning from sabbatical – can I  stilll teach effectively?).  Perhaps, though, I should not have them bring a copy of the lesson to class, but ask them to post it on the class wiki – now there’s a web-two-point 09 approach!
More, though less, on web-two-point 09 to come…

A new identity – I’m a blogademic!

I had not realized that higher faculty who blog have a name – “blogademics.”  I discovered this term while reading an article in the Fall 2008 issue of Thought & Action (an NEA publicationby Douglas Harrison entitled “Scholarly voice and professional identity in the Internet Age.”  In this piece Harrison discusses the tensions between what some see as the traditional role of an academic with that of contemporary culture, especially a culture that involves avenues for open expression such as blogs (and I would add other web 2.0 tools too).  He refers to himself as a “blogademic” as he bridges his personal and professional life through his varied blog posts.  He has written over 2 million blogging words in his 4 years of blogging.  Although I am just a novice to the blogging world, I think I might take on this identity of a “blogademic” and see how it fits.  I might like it.

While reading the article, I also checked clicked on a few references (which I always find to be new sources of learning).  One from Slate.com was a 2005 article about the risks that academic may face as they blog.  “Attack of the Career-Ending Blog” by Robert Boynton reports on the risks that academics who blog face as they search for tenure track positions in higher education.  The piece describes how search committees and others involved in hiring use the Internet to search candidates names and then read what they wrote. And what they read can be either harmful or advantageous to someone’s candidacy.  I have certainly heard some college administrators warn new faculty about blogging and even go so far as to tell them not to blog.  This reaction seems to me to be a bit too extreme.  Better advice would be to urge faculty to be careful in what they write and keep in mind that the public audience they are writing for is just that – public.  And you can never know who the public is or what power it might have in determining one’s livlihood.  Sensibility and responsibiliy can go a long way, says this blogademic.

Wikis and Writing in Higher Education

As a result of weather conditions here in the Northeast, I found that I had no phone or Internet service yesterday.  What was I to do?  I felt so disconnected. No blogging, no tweeting, no Youtubing, no ninging – I was at a loss.  Then I realized that I could revisit an older source of learning – reading a book.  How unique!  It just so happens that the day before I received a copy of Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom by Cummings and Baron.  So with cappuccino in hand, I dove it.

This book is a collection of essays from college and university faculty from the fields of English, rhetoric and composition, communication, writing, and cultural studies, just to name a few.  The pieces focus on theoretical aspects of writing in general and wiki writing in particular as well as practical applications of using wiki technology in college courses.  Many of the authors either conduct research on the collaborative aspects of wiki writing or refer to prior research in related fields. As I read through many of the essays I was comforted by references to the works of Ann Berthoff, Donald Murray, Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede, Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia, Kenneth Bruffee, all of whom I have read and cited during my earlier years a teacher and researcher of writing processes.  After having read so much this semester from technology experts (who have their own language, of sorts) , it was good to feel familiar again. So, I guess as the old saying goes – we often come back full circle (or something like that).

One particular essaythat I will comment on here is by one of the editors, Matt Baron.  His essay entitled, “Is there a wiki in this class? Wikibooks and the future of higher education,” describes the ways he has used wikis in his graduate courses and offers some comments to ponder.  One that stuck with me is that “wikis are communities of people, not just data bases of files.”  This comment made me think about the role the instructor has to play in setting up the communitity and providing support for it as necessary.  Along with this idea is the his view about how the community will function and what students need to know about the views of the community and wiki etiquette (although he does not call it that per se).  He remarked that “knowing how to change a page is one thing; knowing how to make an approrpriate change that will be accepted by the community is another.”   As I read this remark, I thought about my own use of wikis in courses and the ways in which I paid more attention to technical skills than creating a community – I mistake that I hopefully will not make again.

During Barton’s course he had students read Lawrence Lessig’s book – Free Culture – because he views wikis as “democratic liberation” (see a prior post for info on Free Culture).  I concur that wikis can have more far-reaching effects than many of us novice users have yet to discover.  And, it is good to know that scholars from a variety of related fields are researching this important avenue for collaboration.  Maybe one day I will too.


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