Posts Tagged Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky–Cognitive Surplus Assignment

The class I had last year was great in so many ways.  Sure there were some behavior issues, but generally, they were an energetic and happy bunch.  One thing that made them unique in my experience is they tended to shy away from class discussions.  Though good workers, individually and in small groups, the large group discussion didn’t produce a lot of apparent engagement.  I traditionally rely heavily on in class discussions; as such, we went a little faster than I’d normally go and a hole opened up in my long range plans.  Not wanting to run poetry as my only unit in language block, and not yet ready to start up their final presentations that would end their yearlong research, I was looking for something to do.

I had an assignment based on Clay Shirky’s article “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus “ that can be found at: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/mini-unit-clay-shirky-and-social-surplus/  I had tried it before in June or in small doses like if half a split was on an extended trip or such.  The results were always mixed, limited, and somewhat muddled.  Whatever the reason, I decided to give it one more try.  I modified the assignment a little bit and presented it to the class not really knowing what to expect.  Well, they, by-in-large, took off with it.  It was the highlight of the year for many; it has become one of my “flagship” assignments; students were so excited about it, that they showed up this year with their ideas ready (which created minor problems with the brainstorm section…).

It went so well last yea, that I let it run much longer than I intended.  I feel students got a lot out of it.  I am still finding ways to leverage it into better assessment and evaluation but it lead to so many mini-lessons on learning skills, specific content, social skills, problem solving and personal growth that I have come to really value it.  This year, instead of one chunk in April/May, we are working through it part of every Friday.

Last year’s projects:

  • A radio station: We bought a raspberry pi computer and a few other components.  While one person (and I…and my brother-in-law) was working on the technical and software aspect, the others were developing their shows and the advertising/surveys/other that went along with it.  There were a lot of problems to be solved with the tech (thanks Glen!!) but in the end, they (and I) learned a lot.  What I liked most about this group was that the project met their diverse interests.  The artistic student was interested in making their banner, posters, etc.  One was interested in the Tech. 2 were interested in the programing.  I’ve never seen a group work on so completely different aspects of a single goal
  • Bird houses: I remember being a little disappointed with this group’s choice.  They were very strong academically and had a strong social conscious.  I was hoping for something a little more hard hitting.  Well, I approved their plan; in truth, I thought they’d finish early and do another project.  Instead they worked long and hard; I think this group got the most out of it.  Researching, problem solving, team work, logistics, etc.  There were a lot of obstacles and skills to learn.  In the end, they made 13 bird houses (PS: if any of this group is reading this: I still have the bird houses….please put them up this winter so that birds can use them in the spring).
  • The Art Club: One group ran an art club for primary students. They were the best planned group I had.  Every time I had a question, they had thought of it already, and had a good workable answer.  Students in this group got to show strengths (planning, organizing, creating) that I had a hard time seeing in more traditional class work.  The primaries loved their club; they got to make a craft every week for 8 weeks.  I think members of this group were very proud of their work and happy with the opportunity
  • The Movie: though this group had some logistic problems, some focus problems, and the movie didn’t get an Oscar nomination, they had fun, worked on social and learning skills, were quit pleased with their work and success.  The Group was likely a little large and had trouble finding specific tasks for everyone to do at times, but they all came together to make a product and everyone say it through to the end.  I wish I could see their movie again
  • The Youtube Channel: this group wanted to make a Youtube channel that would host Minecraft instructional and walkthrough videos. Technical problems, logistics, and even a little problem with focus made this project seem a little less successful than I hoped, but in truth, they still worked on planning, brainstorming, problem solving, and all the other skills associated with group work and projects.  While their product never really took off, they had a lot of success in learning to compromise, learning the technology, and attempting to create.  There are well positioned to be more successful next time
  • Wilderness Survival club: another group wanted to learn about wild edibles and other wilderness survival skills.  The first researched and learned some skills, found some opportunities to practice and eventually decided to apply their skills by running a club for other students to teach and share what they had learned.  Eventually, we took a small group out into the woods Wednesdays after school to do: shelter building, fire starting and theory, and navigation.  Everyone, even myself, had fun.
  • Orienteering obstacle course: The final group learned orienteering skills and developed a course for their peers in a local green space. It was a very well organized and fun event for the class and a great day outside.  Even undercover police came to check it outJ

This year, the groups are again working on a diverse group of activities: a cooking club; a group making art installations around the school; a movie; another attempt at a Youtube channel;  buying, building, painting and engraving games on picnic tables for the school yard; a mural on the wall of the gym; an outdoor permaculture garden and classroom; and homemade T-shirts to raise money for a local animal shelter.   It’s going to keep the kids (and me) busy….I’ll let you know how it goes.

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21st Century Learning? Get over it! It’s Already 2012!

@Stephen_Hurley proposed that the writers at VoicEd.ca write exploring 21st century learning and its meaning.  Here are some of my initial thoughts.  They’re a bit jumbled.  Feel free to deconstruct or ask for clarification:

I think the idea/term, 21st century learning is a fairly empty catch phrase used to sell a variety of programs or to rally for change in the education system.  People may do this with the best intentions, and may affect positive change; others might not be so pure.  To do this, they temporarily define the term and apply it to their ideas/programs.  They are free to do this, because the term/concept is an empty shell, free to be inhabited; it is a cart waiting for a horse and a bandwagon waiting for us to jump on, it seems to be an attempt to throw the baby out with the bath water…

I have been perplexed that the phrase is as persistent and wide spread as it seems to be.  Perhaps it is because the idea is free to be adapted, but I have been surprised that a group of educators, focused on innovation and reform as a positive utility, would adopt a single concept so completely and project its reign for a 100 years…what will we have in 2099, 21st century learning as we have it now?

It’s possible that there is something unique in our technological landscape and this pedagogy, but I’m less sure of this then most.  Perhaps “more is different” as Clay Shirky suggests, but perhaps it’s not.  When members of the Oldowan Culture were breaking rocks into tools 2.6 million years ago, they sat in groups.  They helped each other, they collaborated and improved, they gave feedback and shared, they did everything we are asking of our students in their learning and are calling new and innovative under 21st century learning.  Class discussions are asymmetrical, like conversations on SM, and require the same social skills.  When a student is sneaking a peek at answers in their desk and making sure the teacher isn’t going to catch them, they are multitasking.  Is there any skill required in 21st century learning, besides button pushing, that hasn’t existed, as a skill, in the last 5 centuries?

I am further perplexed by our current push to leave the past behind us and innovate.  The present was built on the skills of the past.  We inhabit a world of social media and communication revolution that was constructed from the education system we are so quickly trying to abandon.  I was a product of that learning environment, as were most of us here, yet here we are adapting, using, creating and all without the benefits of a school system designed to include 21st century learning skills – one wonders how we do it?  If people need radically different education to navigate this world, then surely we can’t hope to do so.  Further, with our rapidly changing media landscape, why do the skills 21st “centuriests” are now focused on, have a better chance to prepare students for that unknown future?  Won’t they be outdated as students mature?  It reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s line “if it works, it’s obsolete.”

Valuing innovation and innovators is a cultural choice and not a universal truth.  Some prefer stability, familiarity, tradition, etc.  Can we in multi-cultural Canadaretool our education system with this cultural tenant so entrenched in the idea of 21st century learning?  Each change in the process seems to create new problems as it solves old ones; it seems to be a zero sum gain/game.  Is each innovation in pedagogy an improvement or just a change?

Instead of focusing our discussion about 21 century learning, it seems to me that we should be focusing on effective learning and teaching.  There are fun, engaging, activities to be created and done with the tools we now have available, but 21st learning seems merely to be “an improved means to an unimproved end.”  The goals for our teaching and student learning, the skills we wish to engender, are the same skills that led to success in the past.  Let’s not focus on the century, that seems like focusing on the technology at the expense of focusing on the learning.  Let’s stop talking about learning in the 21st century and just talk about the skills students need in order to be successful and the many approaches, even traditional approaches, to engender them.  Let’s drop dropping catch phrases to blur our conversations and drop making false dichotomies between the past and the present…

 

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The process we went through to start blogging

 So the class of 2012’s blogs and Twitter accounts are off and running. I want to take a moment to detail the process I’ve gone through before and with them to get to this point. I think its going to be a long one so I’m just going to write a step-by-step list with little rhetorical flourish.

Edit: I have left it vague; a rough sketch—if you want more detail about a specific step, just let me know…

Prologue:

  1. I was part of a committee that was looking at ways to improve gifted education in YRDSB a couple of years ago. Among other things, we explored the integration of technology and social media (shockingly:). I was pushed a little and encouraged to use Twitter with my class as part of the process. I was resistant, but I capitulated. I should not have; I was not ready. I was unprepared, and I don’t think that it was useful or even safe for my students. I continued to learn (by myself) because something in it appealed to me. It was a useful learning experience to me

  2. I became certain, and continue to maintain, that a teacher should not explore technology or any technique/content with students. You should explore it first yourself. If you are going to open a door to students, you had better know how, and you had better know what’s on the other side first. I have blogged this sentiment several times on this site.

  3. I learned more: I read articles from Techcrunch, GigaOm (specifically @mathewi). I read some Clay Shirky (“Here comes everybody”, “Cognitive Surplus”), I re-read Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman. I read some Danah Boyd.

  4. I continued to use Twitter and other social media on my own. I started my own blog and made my own mistakes

  5. I had many conversations with my principal and vice-principal as well as board consultants. I developed my own robust permission/consent form/appropriate use of technology

2 years and some experimenting later, I was willing to try it again….the following are steps my class and I went through this year to get ready for January and February’s Journalism/Web 2.0/SM unit/ Public Discourse:

Part 1 – Exploring Media:

  1. we define media and explored some McLuhan and Postman. We explore a broad definition of what is media. We learn about how different media influence messages and have their own limitations. We learn about “hot” and “cold” media and the effect the receiver has on the message (but also how the media effects it as well).

  2. We explored Neil Postman’s “5 ideas we need to know about technological change.”

  3. We use it as a analytical framework for media using tools like: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/analytic-tool-based-on-postmans-5-ideas/

  4. We explore brand creation and its relationship to people’s self fashioning as we explored advertising. I would have liked to spend more time on ad techniques and audience interaction (next time).

  5. They work on a series of “Media Koan’s” to get them looking at media differently and critically (you can see some of them here: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/media-koans/)

Part 2 –The Moodle Years:

  1. Our class uses our moodle course quite extensively. From the first week they are building a community of learners and are using digital tools to help each other and extend their learning beyond the classroom. There are many wiki’s, forums, topics, and discussions.

  2. They are introduced to Tucker’s rules for using social media https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/tuckers-rules-for-using-social-media/

  3. They practice the skills of digital citizenship before they are formally introduced to the topic (at least from me). Before the “blogging unit” the average student has posted well over 100 times on our course.

Part 3- The ISU

  1. As part of the gifted program at our school, students participate in an independent study unit loosely based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (not that I’m the biggest fan, but it serves-with a few changes)

    1. Students select a topic that has a controversial element and begin researching and learning at school and at home. We teach a parallel curriculum of research skills and note taking that I would like to make more robust next year.

    2. Students demonstrate understanding of their topic in a interview

    3. Analysis (we think it should be 3rd before application-even if this violates Bloom’s). This year we skipped this because of time but it involves laying out, in an organization web, all the facts relevant to a topic (well within reason)

  2. students brush up over the winter holidays and first week back in Januray to hopefully have a good grasp of their topic before the blogging starts

Part 4.. “Corporations are people,” and “The news about the news”

Since there is so much talk about “free” services out there, I try to break down that barrier so they can see these business for what they are-businesses

  1. We talk about the driving ethics of business- for profit, branding and niche marketing. We look at Unilever and its strategies for the Dove and Axe brands.

  2. We look at types of news and the purpose of news from different stakeholder’s perspectives.

  3. We analysis the problem of corporate media control and SM as a possible counter force.

Part 5 – What is the internet really like?

Running parallel to parts 2-5 above, we start our social media/journalism/web 2.0/public discourse unit (some of the below items run concurrently)…

  1. We pre-teach vocabulary and concepts

  2. We discuss business models of “free” services like Zynga

  3. We discuss in detail issues of privacy. (for example: http://www.danah.org/papers/talks/2011/PDF2011.html (“networked privacy”) , http://www.guardian.co.uk/tedx/cory-doctorow-privacy?CMP=twt_gu , http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/technology/digital-culture/trending-tech/free-sucks-i-want-my-privacy-back/article2128006/ , I discuss elements of: Why Privacy matters even if you have nothing to hide: http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Privacy-Matters-Even-if/127461/?sid=cr&utm_source=cr&utm_medium=enBy by Daniel J. Solove, with them as well

  4. We explore the concepts digital footprint and digital citizenship. We host discussions on our moodle and bring in an array of sources.

  5. We discuss related internet issues that the students find and bring back to a moodle hosted discussions

  6. We discuss the effects of networks and being part of a community (and the production of hyper-local news

  7. We talk about the “Who owns the digital you” series by Tim Chambers

  8. We talk about how Twitter and SM are publishing and broadcasting networks and how they are different from a conversation. We learn about the implications of Danah Boyd’s work: 4 ideas of the internet persistent, replicable, searchable, scalable (“Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications.” In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi); the dangers of the invisible audience; and http://m.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/why-facebook-and-googles-concept-of-real-names-is-revolutionary/243171/

  9. We have discussions about some of the following (dependend on time or where we menader arround:

    1. real name policies: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Who_is_harmed_by_a_%22Real_Names%22_policy%3F , http://gigaom.com/2011/10/18/for-twitter-free-speech-is-what-matters-not-real-names/ , http://gigaom.com/2011/06/20/anonymity-has-real-value-both-in-comments-and-elsewhere/ , “Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2011/08/04/real-names.html , http://m.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/why-facebook-and-googles-concept-of-real-names-is-revolutionary/243171/ (again) , and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/27/randi-zuckerberg-anonymity-online_n_910892.html

    2. other issues as discovered by their earlier serachs and conversations

  1. Other safety

    1. http://canadasafetycouncil.org/child-safety/online-safety-rules-kids (especially the 3rd in the list)

    2. And corollary issues like: http://socialmediacollective.org/2011/08/11/if-you-dont-like-it-dont-use-it-its-that-simple-orly/

Part 6 –Their turn?

  1. I introduce them to the complexities of Twitter and some of the issues: reinforce the 4 Danah boyd principles and the invisible audience, Spambots, etiquette, offensive content, and how to use twitter well. We gather and look at sources for twitter and blogging. We talk about the different uses of twitter and the like. We primarily use twitter to build an audience and advertise blog posts to drive traffic to our discussions

  2. Students decide which strategy they want to use for entering public discourse from here: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/7-archetypes-for-entering-public-disources-through-social-media/ They are also free to make their own moodle course and mimic the process if they feel they are not ready (given the time spend on caution, I don’t feel I can make it mandatory…this year 2 students chose this option…we made them teachers of their own moodle course and they use that as a website to host their classmates or others they invite into discussions on their topic).

  3. Students make their first 10 tweets, and I review them carefully. We discuss clarity, long term consequences, digital citizenship issues. Once their first 10 are vetted, they are approved to tweet at will!

  4. Finally, the part that the public sees: Students begin to build their own posts or comment on the posts of others depending on their chosen strategy, tweet to drive traffic to their posts, build audiences, engage in discussions, and learn….

Part 7 – Their learning log:

  1. Students record their activities and their thoughts about them on their learning log (hosted on the class moodle) which I monitor, continuously assess, and eventually evaluate

That is the sketch…I feel I’ve left a lot out….might have to update. But in the meantime please consider following one of my student accounts and commenting on their posts. They can be found here: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/student-twitter-account-roll/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mini-Unit –Clay Shirky and Social Surplus

  Here is a package I have used to bridge between units with mixed results.  Still might try it again.  At the very least it gives a good introduction into the writing of Clay Shirky.  It was Shirky’s “Ted talks” (Ted.com) that got me interested in twitter even after my own CRT’s had tried with limited success.  Clay Shirky’s writings are a little optimistic, in my opinion, but are still lively, and brilliant in their observations.  The first one I read, “Here Comes Everybody,” was a terrific exploration of the transformation underway and the underlying dynamics of social media.  The article below lead to another of his books: “Cognitive Surplus,” which takes up where “Here Comes Everybody,” left off.  The two are good companions or stand alone separately and are worth reading for anyone, but also teachers.  I read “Here comes everybody,” in a literature circle with gifted grade 7’s and 8/s and it was well received.  Below is one idea to introduce Clay Shirky and the concept of cognitive surplus:

Name: ____________________________ Date: _____________


Free-Time Survey

 

Estimate your time on the following activities per week (round to the nearest 0.5 hour) during the school year:

Media Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturaday Sunday
T.V.              
Passive Internet              
Game consoles              
Totals:              

 

Now add together your daily totals into a weekly total:

 

 

Now multiply that by 4.5 for an approximate monthly total:

 

 

Share your results with a classmate from another group and discuss your uses of your free time. Who has more? What specifically do you like to do? etc?

Now read the attached article:

 

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

By Clay Shirky on

(This is a lightly edited transcription of a speech I gave at the Web 2.0 conference, April 23, 2008.)
I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian arguing that the critical technology, for the early phase of the industrial revolution, was gin.

The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing– there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London.

And it wasn’t until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today. Things like public libraries and museums, increasingly broad education for children, elected leaders–a lot of things we like–didn’t happen until having all of those people together stopped seeming like a crisis and started seeming like an asset.

It wasn’t until people started thinking of this as a vast civic surplus, one they could design for rather than just dissipate, that we started to get what we think of now as an industrial society.

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would’ve come off the whole enterprise, I’d say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time.

And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.

We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan’s Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.

And it’s only now, as we’re waking up from that collective bender, that we’re starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We’re seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody’s basement.

This hit me in a conversation I had about two months ago. As Jen said in the introduction, I’ve finished a book called Here Comes Everybody, which has recently come out, and this recognition came out of a conversation I had about the book. I was being interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and she asked me, “What are you seeing out there that’s interesting?”

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus–“How should we characterize this change in Pluto’s status?” And a little bit at a time they move the article–fighting offstage all the while–from, “Pluto is the ninth planet,” to “Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system.”

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”
So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.
And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn’t know what to do with it at first–hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn’t be a surplus, would it? It’s precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.

The early phase for taking advantage of this cognitive surplus, the phase I think we’re still in, is all special cases. The physics of participation is much more like the physics of weather than it is like the physics of gravity. We know all the forces that combine to make these kinds of things work: there’s an interesting community over here, there’s an interesting sharing model over there, those people are collaborating on open source software. But despite knowing the inputs, we can’t predict the outputs yet because there’s so much complexity.

The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails fails informatively so that you can at least find a skull on a pikestaff near where you’re going. That’s the phase we’re in now.

Just to pick one example, one I’m in love with, but it’s tiny. A couple of weeks one of my students at ITP forwarded me a project started by a professor in Brazil, in Fortaleza, named Vasco Furtado. It’s a Wiki Map for crime in Brazil. If there’s an assault, if there’s a burglary, if there’s a mugging, a robbery, a rape, a murder, you can go and put a push-pin on a Google Map, and you can characterize the assault, and you start to see a map of where these crimes are occurring.

Now, this already exists as tacit information. Anybody who knows a town has some sense of, “Don’t go there. That street corner is dangerous. Don’t go in this neighborhood. Be careful there after dark.” But it’s something society knows without society really knowing it, which is to say there’s no public source where you can take advantage of it. And the cops, if they have that information, they’re certainly not sharing. In fact, one of the things Furtado says in starting the Wiki crime map was, “This information may or may not exist some place in society, but it’s actually easier for me to try to rebuild it from scratch than to try and get it from the authorities who might have it now.”

Maybe this will succeed or maybe it will fail. The normal case of social software is still failure; most of these experiments don’t pan out. But the ones that do are quite incredible, and I hope that this one succeeds, obviously. But even if it doesn’t, it’s illustrated the point already, which is that someone working alone, with really cheap tools, has a reasonable hope of carving out enough of the cognitive surplus, enough of the desire to participate, enough of the collective goodwill of the citizens, to create a resource you couldn’t have imagined existing even five years ago.

So that’s the answer to the question, “Where do they find the time?” Or, rather, that’s the numerical answer. But beneath that question was another thought, this one not a question but an observation. In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: “Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves.”

At least they’re doing something.

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

And I’m willing to raise that to a general principle. It’s better to do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, “If you have some sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too.” And that’s message–I can do that, too–is a big change.

This is something that people in the media world don’t understand. Media in the 20th century was run as a single race–consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you’ll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it ‘s three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.

And what’s astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they’re discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they’ll take you up on that offer. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we’ll do it less.

And this is the other thing about the size of the cognitive surplus we’re talking about. It’s so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let’s say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That’s about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation.

I think that’s going to be a big deal. Don’t you?

Well, the TV producer did not think this was going to be a big deal; she was not digging this line of thought. And her final question to me was essentially, “Isn’t this all just a fad?” You know, sort of the flagpole-sitting of the early early 21st century? It’s fun to go out and produce and share a little bit, but then people are going to eventually realize, “This isn’t as good as doing what I was doing before,” and settle down. And I made a spirited argument that no, this wasn’t the case, that this was in fact a big one-time shift, more analogous to the industrial revolution than to flagpole-sitting.

I was arguing that this isn’t the sort of thing society grows out of. It’s the sort of thing that society grows into. But I’m not sure she believed me, in part because she didn’t want to believe me, but also in part because I didn’t have the right story yet. And now I do.

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she’s going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn’t what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, “What you doing?” And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, “Looking for the mouse.”

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

It’s also become my motto, when people ask me what we’re doing–and when I say “we” I mean the larger society trying to figure out how to deploy this cognitive surplus, but I also mean we, especially, the people in this room, the people who are working hammer and tongs at figuring out the next good idea. From now on, that’s what I’m going to tell them: We’re looking for the mouse. We’re going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, “If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?” And I’m betting the answer is yes.

Thank you very much.

Your task:

  1. Discuss the above article with your class
  2. Form a group (your teacher may give you criteria for group formation)
  3. Divide a chart paper into 4 sections and brainstorm (round robin) projects you could do to participate or contribute to society under the following headings: School, environment, intellectually, creatively or aesthetically. Try to come up with at least 10 ideas for each section
  4. Decide as a group which project you will initially pursue (you might abandon it or complete it and start another project)
  5. Write up a plan of your project. Who will do what, how will you communicate to each other, are you working independently towards the same goal In conjunction with each other In competition Make the write up some what visually appealing as it will hang on the walls so others know what you are doing.
  6. Spend the next 4 weeks using some of your free time to move the project forward. While your teacher may give you some time to support your efforts, the point of the assignment is that you are capitalizing on your intellectual surplus…giving you lots of class time is counter to this purpose
  7. You will be expected to use about 10-20 % of your surplus time (some people may have more time to dedicate to your project than others which is fine, or your group may decide to average (mean medium or mode) your free time and hold each member to the same amount of participation).
  8. be prepared to summarize or unveil your projects on ______________________

 

The internet is obviously a valuable resource but do not be bound by it

Questions Answers
 

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Other notes discussed in class

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