[iDC] Can DIY education be crowdsourced?

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Wed Sep 7 09:08:55 UTC 2011

I am working with a couple fairly subject specific database projects,
the Electronic Literature Directory (directory.eliterature.org) and
the ELMCIP Knowledge Base (http://elmcip.net/knowledgebase), and have
some observations about learning within communities.  With the ELD, I
work in an editorial capacity, and we are moving in the direction of
sharing with other databses while focusing work group activity on
smaller, slower, more deliberately driven editorial process.  With the
Knowledge Base, I am an interested observer/participant.  The two
aspects of learning that I observed by working with the two projects
are: Participation in the database projects (which lends itself to one
kind of learning) and by watching the activity of the community of
e-lit artists.

1. The databse projects themselves require a bit of overhead.  They
need programmers, editors, administrators, and infrastructure.
Furthermore, they need some clear purpose to the work which can drive
engagement and activity.  And so I wonder, to what extent, we are
talking about p2p interactions and "crowd" activities.  This kind of
specialized focus, while it could potentially be open to a
hypothetical crowd, it is driven by many intimate interactions.  I
don't know what happens when scale is achieved, but I think that the
learning that takes place within the group is often reducible to
fairly intimate interactions: A scholar reads a text, an editor
converses with a contributor, an artist talks about their work, a call
for feedback is broadcast, but one or two individuals is inspired to

2. The electronic literature community, which contains people who are
in various combinations....  artists, programmers, critics...  each
type of activity has developed its own models for DIY education.
Programmers share, collaborate, and compete with each other to achieve
and demonstrate degrees of technical virtuosity.  Artists examine
culture, look within, and engage the work of other artists to achieve
a level of poetic virtuosity.  Critics, in the course of writing
criticism, have to engage with other critics and works to make
epistemological claims (a kind of rational virtuosity).  These roles
are not discrete, and often reach into other areas in search of new
poetic, technical, and logical modes of representation.  But in the
end, you see very clearly that the activity taking place is
representative of a highly motivated learning, which may happen in the
region formal educational/institutional contexts, but which, at its
best, is always motivated by a true DIY spirit.  A lot of people
working in the field started off with formal training in one area, but
taught themselves the knowledge in the other areas.  So, you have MFAs
in poetry who have taught themselves to program, programmers who have
labored to learn the techniques of art, critics who feel compelled to
experiment one area or the other.  And, occasionally, you encounter
someone who is really, really good at all three.  The institutions
provide for dense networks of interpersonal exchange, they create the
crowd conditions, but the crowd conditions are not the only factor
that determines whether or not good work will come into being.

Which, I suppose, brings me to my larger problem with the idea of
crowdsourcing.  All of these people are developing their personal
abilities within the context of community, but none of them are really
carrying out "crowdsource" development.  There is no specified end:
"I need everyone to get educated," and then the crowd assembles to
figure out how to make this happen.  Instead, the massive body of
knowledge represented within the community has been accumulated in the
pursuit of other, occasionally even trivial, goals.  It seems like, if
we want to create institutions that support learning, we have to first
accept the idea that learning outcomes, objective measures, and goals
do not create learning.  Rather, learning is what happens in pursuit
of other goals--like kids, we learn when we play, when we try to get
something, when we get into a fight.  In the contexts mentioned above,
learning is very project driven, and it allows people the autonomy to
solve problems themselves, ask for help when they need it, and provide
help when it is clear that others require it.  But all around these
projects, there exists a great deal of chatter that takes place at a
very high technical, philosophical, and aesthetic level.  The
knowledge becomes the terrain of everyday cultural interaction, in the
same way that some people sit around and talk about football when they
have devoted a lot time to watching it and playing it, people talk
about art, philosophy, and programming. But once your casual
interactions are infected by this sort of thinking, it is safe to say
that you have arrived at a level of education, that you have done so
yourself in the course of making something, but only because you are
working within a community that you can contribute to (and that has
contributed to you).


On Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 10:20 PM, Anya Kamenetz <anyaanya at gmail.com> wrote:
>>>On Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 12:13 PM, John Bell <john at novomancy.org> wrote:
> So the question I'm left with is how to create incentives that go beyond
> status in the internal community.  Can external incentives be used without
> creating the equivalent of Warcraft gold farmers?  What would they be?
> The concept of internal vs external incentives is a very interesting one in
> this case.
> When you're talking about learning& scholarship, as opposed to Amazon
> reviews, you're talking about a community that extends beyond any particular
> peer group on any particular platform. Academic disciplines are global in
> scale and of relevance to humanity writ large (if they're not, then they
> deserve to wither and die). Therefore there's a very strong existing organic
> reputation based system for professional scholars: citation and peer review.
> It's not internal to any one organization, though it is internal to each
> discipline.
> Here's an example, via Stian Haklev on Google Reader, of a couple of
> different existing systems for representing the "score" of a particular
> academic based on their citations:
> http://blogs.plos.org/mfenner/2011/07/27/google-scholar-citations-researcher-profiles-and-why-we-need-an-open-bibliography/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+plos%2Fblogs%2Fmfenner+%28Blogs+-+Gobbledygook%29
> So the question would be, to what extent is it feasible to represent a
> similar type of score, based on references to their previous statements, for
> amateur scholars? That would be an interesting example of an incentive
> that's both internal and external.
> a
> ps  John Hopkins writes:
>>>I believe that the embodied meatspace messiness of the
> encounter of the Self with the (unknown) Other is the baseline for any
> social
> learning process...A community without any f-2-f component who attempts this
> generation of relevant knowledge promulgates an increasing degree of deeply
> operating alienation...
> Perhaps if we were f-2-f I could understand what you're trying to say.
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