[iDC] Can DIY education be crowdsourced?

John Bell john at novomancy.org
Wed Sep 7 15:42:41 UTC 2011

Yes, I think that the idea of learning coming through participation in a community is absolutely critical for any large scale system.  I've often said that the most important and useful forum on any message board is the off-topic forum because that's where all the people who come together for a specific purpose start talking about everything that they don't have in common.  I've seen the same thing in academic settings as well.  When I was an undergrad at the University of Maine there was a BBS that contained conferences for all of the classes, but the part that really created a online community was the "after hours" conference where everybody got together and just talked.  It's worth noting that when the administration insisted that this conference be tamed the BBS effectively died as a community center and became a place where students only begrudging went to pick up their assignments.  (The rise of Facebook didn't help either, but that took place after it had been in decline for a few years.)  

It's also not a problem that's limited to big-E-Education, but to other learning situations.  If the viewer of a media outlet learns about the world by listening to their news stories but never watches any other sources then that's much like a student who only goes to one class and never interacts with anybody in any other classes.  Online environments encourage this kind of behavior because they both provide a high enough volume of information to saturate/satiate users and are self-selected, allowing the user to get by for a very long time without ever truly being challenged.  I think that any kind of large-scale system of the type I'm talking about would have to take this into account and build in open, even adversarial, discussion on diverse topics as a primary mechanism of learning.

- John

On Sep 7, 2011, at 5:08 AM, davin heckman wrote:

> 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
> respond.
> 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).
> Davin

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