[iDC] iCollege

Jon Ippolito jippolito at maine.edu
Thu Jul 1 23:06:16 UTC 2010

As a homeschooler ambivalent about college for my kids, I'm enjoying this discussion on education. In response to Ian's query below:

On Jun 21, 2010, at 11:32 AM, Ian Condry wrote:
> Collaborative learning is a keyword these days, and for me, this  
> suggests thinking of learning less as one-to-one relationship in a  
> group space (teacher to student in a classroom) and more as a  
> networked process of discovery and action.  I'm quite taken by  
> Christakis and Fowler's book "Connected" and the idea that "three  
> degrees of separation" tend to define our spheres of influence.    
> Following from that insight, we can view the "porous boundaries" of  
> the classroom not simply as a general call to "act in the world" (a  
> noble but too-big goal), and rather to encourage us to ask, as  
> students and teachers, "who among our networks of people that we know  
> can help us solve the problem(s) at hand?"
> Yet here too, I ask with Trebor, what are the best examples of showing  
> how this works?

Still Water Senior Researcher John Bell and I presented some related research at NetSci 2010 in May. Rather than focus on pedagogical software centered on the teacher, we looked at students' use of The Pool (http://pool.newmedia.umaine.edu), a collaborative network where success is an emergent property of feedback from one's peers.

At any given time about 300 students in universities across the U.S. are active in The Pool, proposing ideas, building projects, and reviewing each other's progress. Right now most are from the University of Maine, USC, and the UC Santa Cruz. The Pool currently tracks 6000 reviews of over 2000 examples of creative work in art and code.

The Pool departs from a conventional social network in that the primary nodes are creative projects rather than people; Pool users themselves are indirectly connected to each other via their collaborations on or reviews of each other's projects. In fact, a node has several measures of connectedness, such as the number of contributors, the number of reviews, or the number of relationships to other nodes. That said, a node's success in The Pool is typically measured not by the number of connections but by the average approval bestowed by its reviewers.

We were initially concerned that The Pool would evolve into a so-called "aristocratic" network, in which student projects with the highest ratings would simply attract higher and higher ratings with time. But we found that didn't happen. There seems to be a mechanism at play, unintended by its creators, that keeps the most active projects from getting rated too highly. 

It turns out there are many real-world networks that similarly resist the "rich get richer" paradigm, whether woven from worm neurons, electrical relays, or airline routes. Social networks aren't a panacea for education's ills, but when harnassed for creative ends they remind our students that there are alternatives to the hierarchies of academia and capital.

You can read a meshed version of our presentation here:

"When the Rich Don't Get Richer: Equalizing Tendencies of Creative Networks"

--Jon "Death to PowerPoint" Ippolito

Still Water--what networks need to thrive.

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