Monthly Archives: February 2010

Educators and technology: The possibility of a "free" knowledge market?

To begin my blog today, I have to share a couple of links that have got me thinking about how education and technology intertwine with one another to create a more revolutionary learning space.

The first is a talk given by Richard Baraniuk on the possibility of open-source learning. [] In it, he discusses the idea of knowledge being shared across online space and modified to where we can create or “rip” custom-made learning tools, much like we create our own custom-made music mixes.

Perhaps a realization of these ideas is a digital textbook by Macmillan that will allow teachers to create their own custom textbooks by reordering content, adding supplemental materials, write in the margins, etc. [ see].

The most intriguing thing about these ideas and concepts is that they make education more affordable and therefore accessible to the masses. In some ways, I think that this creation of more readily accessible knowledge is much like the invention of the printing press was in its day (thanks for bringing this point home, Gardner). Much like there was hesitation about knowledge getting into the hands of so many people and the implications for that, I think there is certain hesistancy about this open source knowledge that is beginning to be created through an online space. The hesitation has less to do with people having access to the knowledge but more about the creative rights of the knowledge and who has access to EDIT the knowledge. I think these are valid concerns that should be addressed by educators and consumers alike.

However, I see the positive in this possibility. As an educator myself, I have seen how the mere limitation of resources has prevented many of my students from gaining access to valuable knowledge. In my time teaching at a community college (versus a private University), I have had students drop my class because their funds to buy the textbook for the course did not come through. I have seen other students go through several loopholes just to get their hands on a book or resource they were dying to read. This makes me sad. Books and knowledge are the very essence of my existence, and I am heartbroken at the thought of anyone who would not have access to it. To me, books are a place to escape and find freedom. Knowledge and new ideas are the very fuel that drive me to do what I do. It’s so exciting to think a new thought or engage yourself in a stimulating discussion. I live off of this stuff and for it. So, yes, I am excited by the idea of a world where free knowledge (or at least cheaper knowledge) is shared.

But I do see the pitfalls. Who is getting paid to share this knowledge? Who is allowed to write up these ideas and share with the world? But I must say, to me, it appears that publishers are perhaps the only individuals who may be benefitting from the creation and circulation of texts (and we are hard pressed to say that, I think). I know that I write just to get my ideas out there. I’m never paid for a single journal article or book chapter I write. In fact, I’m dying just to share my thoughts with the world (and praying to the journal gods that I get published)! I think this online space could be a great way to start sharing that knowledge in another format. The peer-reviewed process, however, should never be abolished as it results in such sophisticated, rigorously tested writing. But, I think there is a space for the sharing of knowledge in an online format.

This is a post in which I anxiously await the reply of my readers. I’m curious what others thing. So, tell me!

The little "joys" and "pains" of technology

I feel like I have been gone from my blog for some time. In actuality, only a week has gone by. Perhaps this is the beginning of me getting more consumed by the things of this online world…ok, enough of that! I digress.

Today I am amazed by what technology offers up to us with a very specific example.

I am currently collaborating with a colleague in Virginia and another colleague in Nevada. I’m amazed at how easily these collaborations have come together. I have a question about my dataset – BAM! There’s an email waiting in my inbox answering my question with any files attached that I may need.

It is crazy to me to think of collaboration as happening in any other way. Heck, I often collaborate with my advisor (who is a floor beneath me) and the researcher in the office next to me purely through email. Certainly, we have our moments of meeting face to face, but the majority of our work-related communication is purely online.

As an individual who was born into this online world generation…well, almost…I certainly remember the first time we got internet in my house. Oh the sweet days of dial up – click of a button *insert annoying modem dial sound here* and in just a bit you were “online.” Of course, those were the days you had to be fully committed to searching the web because you’d be waiting forever for a single web page to load. Oh how far we have come and I can barely think of a world where these possibilities did not exist.

But this increase in ability to collaborate and the lightning speed at which all communication flies seems to mean one thing to me — I have to do more. The amount of work being done, things getting published, collaborations happening are all increasing at an exponential rate, and I cannot help but think it has something to do with the speed at which everything is happening. Think about it – you can easily edit, copy, paste, and move text around in a word file; thus, no longer giving you an excuse as to why it’s taking you so long to write that manuscript or edit that book chapter. You can quickly and easily hand documents back and forth between colleagues which means the average time something stays away from my desk = 24 hours or less. But is it possible our technologies are outrunning our intellect?

It seems to me that I rarely have time to ponder a moment or think in depth about what I want to write or how I want an experiment to look. I am just overwhelmed by the masses of information available to me (published works) and my own inability to keep up with the work I should be doing given the ease and flexibility of writing and editing documents and sending them between colleagues.

So today, I write a simple post in both amazement and weariness.

A watched society

I am now entering my second full-fledged week of my New Media course, and I have found the course to be both interesting and challenging. Oddly enough, the challenge for me lies in the amount of monitoring I feel by participating in this course. First, I had to get a blog.

“What?! Write my thoughts and feelings online for everyone to see?” I asked myself. “Isn’t a blog essentially an online diary? If so, I remember keeping a lock on those things as a child because the purpose was to keep everyone OUT!”

But oddly, these days, technology seems to invite everyone IN. The ease with which people exchange pictures, videos, comments, posts, blogs, information, articles, thoughts, etc. is astounding. Think about it. In an ordinary month (or even week), how many photos of your life have you posted on to some site for others to see (Facebook, flickr)? How many times have you had some sort of personal exchange with a friend that others could monitor (Hello! Writing on people’s Facebook wall!)?

The big question remains for me -why are we making these exchanges (blogs, Facebook posts, pictures) so public?! Sure – privacy settings exist, thankfully, but if we want to send a note to our friend that we miss them and want to see them, why don’t we send them an email or call them? Why do we put it out there for others to see? Why do we blog our thoughts and feelings so that all of our friends and families can read it? Is this narcissism or interconnectivity? If it’s the later, are we narcissistic because we think so many people want to be connected to us? What are the implications of this “watched” society that we are creating for ourselves in a virtual space? Fear not – I’m preaching to the choir. I engage in all of these behaviors, but I want to know why I do! Remember, I am a social psychologist which means I long to understand what motivates humans to engage in certain behaviors.

For myself, I am slowly getting used to the high levels of monitoring that exist online. I fought getting a Facebook account for several years, and now I have one and communicate on it regularly. I am now (mostly) comfortable with the insane number of photos tagged of me on Facebook. But now I face new levels of monitoring that I am uncomfortable with. For instance, this blog is an adjustment. Why should people be able to read my thoughts? Why would anyone care to? Also, the other day in class we had to record videos of ourselves discussing passages from a book on our iPod Nano. Why must I be documented and permanently archived in video form? I prefer my ramblings/thoughts to exist only in their purest and briefest form – while discussing them. But then I suppose you could ask what this says about me. Either way, I am intrigued to see where I end up at the end of this class. More importantly, however, I am still left with these two questions – 1) why do we engage in such a “watched society” and 2) what are the implications of this society that we are creating for ourselves?