Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why people do things like edit Wikipedia?

Ah, serendipity.

I was reading The New Learning Commons (check out the wiki) today and came across an image that really articulated the thesis of the work I have been doing this year to steer us towards web 2.0 technologies. It is easy to see which model connects more easily to learner engagement in general, and motivated, life-long learners in particular.

Then over lunch, I was reading an article in Wired (like that new digital format) that was a conversation between Dan Pink and Clay Shirky, both of whom I have blogged about before.

Related posts:
Pink and Shirkey start their conversation by talking about why someone might contribute to Wikipedia:
Pink: A few days ago, I was talking with someone about Wikipedia. And the guy shook his head dismissively and said about the people who contribute to it: “Where do they get the time?” We both think that’s a silly question.

Shirky: It is. People have had lots of free time for as long as there’s been the industrialized world. But that free time has mainly been something to be used up rather than used, especially in postwar America, with the rise of suburbanization and long commutes. Suddenly we no longer lived in tight-knit communities and therefore we spent less time interacting face-to-face. As a result, we ended up spending the bulk of our free time watching television.
Pink: The numbers on that are astonishing.
Shirky: Staggering. Someone born in 1960 has watched something like 50,000 hours of television already. Fifty thousand hours—more than five and a half solid years.
Pink: You’ve just described our boyhoods.
Shirky: Yes, sitting in front of the television.
Pink: Passively watching Gilligan’s Island and The Partridge Family.
They go on to discuss how time spend passively receiving content from TV is now spent actively creating content as well - and that the quality of that content is no different than the quality of conversation we used to have about TV. Some is great and compelling, much is not. However the act of creating and sharing what we are thinking means the conversation that is great and compelling now has play beyond our living rooms.

This thinking about who owns ideas and earns the right to share them has shifted in the way our educational system must. If we want to engage students, we need them to actually be the people who help to write the story. Publishing on Wikipedia isn't an act of stupidity - billions of school children every year write down what they have learned on a topic. We think it is a worthy activity for them, even though they only have an audience of one, the teacher. How does doing work that will be used by many and having others build on your thinking suddenly make it less worthy? (especially compared to Gilligan's Island)

As teachers, we need to start by thinking of all of our students as people with the potential to learn and grow, not as fixed entities that we need to measure. And when we think that way, it's clear how we want the technology we use with them to function. Pink notes:
I think our nature is to be active and engaged. I’ve never seen a 2-year-old or a 4-year-old who’s not active and engaged. That’s how we are out of the box. And if you begin with this presumption, you create much more open, flexible arrangements that almost inevitably lead to greater satisfaction for individuals and great innovation for organizations.
Strong, motivated learners want to share their stories with others, and strong schools create flexible, open arrangements to help them engage in doing it. The serendipitous relationship between current technologies and student engagement is just too powerful to ignore.


  1. Weening our family off of television has been a struggle. Not for the kids, though. I feel like the hold up. Mine was definitely a TV family. It was always on. The passive way in which you can just observe becomes an addictive way of being. You sort of develop engage-a-phobia because it is so much WORK by comparison.

    If only we had technology to facilitate world wide sharing when I was nine-years-old. In grade three, I remember a class survey question that asked who your favourite actor was. Can you guess my response?

  2. In the book Crowdsourcing, the author talks about the power of groups. He wrote about an experiment where difficult problems were given to two groups to solve. One group was made up of highly trained professionals from the field of study related to the problem ("the mensa group"), the other group was a diverse group of people (taken from the university setting, the "brown socks group"). The brown socks group consistently outperformed the mensa group.
    Anybody can contribute to wikipedia. Engagement in the form of belonging, relevance, potency and competency!
    We need to create the urgency for change and to harness that power of the group in our school division.