Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Don’t do more

August 5, 2010
Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, recently blogged about Wikimedia as “a sort of social movement“. Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Interesting question.

What sort of social movement is Wikimedia? If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia as a social movement. If you search the Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Wikimedia Foundation Trustee, Matt Halprin: “The Wikimedia Foundation is a critical player in the growing social movement toward greater transparency and openness.”

Gardner wrote, “Our goal is to make information easily available for people everywhere around the world – free of commercialism, free of charge, free of bias.” If you read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statements on Mission, Values, Vision and Bylaws you find no description of Wikimedia bias. If you search the Wikimedia Foundation’s website you can find this quote from Doron Weber, Director of the Sloan Foundation’s Program for Universal Access to Recorded Knowledge about Wikipedia: “…Wikipedia represents a quantum leap in collecting human knowledge from diverse sources, organizing it without commercial or other bias…..”

How does the Wikimedia Foundation measure up for transparency and what about bias in Wikipedia? Wikipedia allows anonymous editors to publish biased information about living people. For example, on March 8, 2006, an anonymous Wikipedia editor created a Wikipedia biography article about a university professor. That anonymous Wikipedia editor violated Wikipedia’s rules that are designed to keep Wikipedia free of biased biographies of living people. When a colleague of the university professor sought to correct the biased Wikipedia biography, he was blocked from editing Wikipedia and his user page was defaced and locked. Rather than follow Wikipedia policy and correct the biased biography, a gang of Wikipedians attacked and harassed the person who tried to correct the bias.

The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians, not content to simply block their fellow Wikipedian who had tried to keep Wikipedia free of bias, stalked him to his personal blog and subjected him to vile online harassment. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians also followed Moulton to Wikiversity and harassed him there, with the stated objective of getting Moulton banned from participation at Wikiversity. The gang of policy-violating Wikipedians was successful by gaming Wikimedia Foundation Board member Jimbo Wales into violating Wikiversity policy and imposing an infinite duration block on Moulton, a block imposed against consensus and with no public discussion of the block. The decision to impose this policy-violating  block on Moulton was made by a few Wikipedians acting in secret. So much for the “transparency and openness” of the Wikimedia Foundation. Moulton, who only tried to help Wikimedia, is still subjected to continuing harassment by Wikimedia functionaries. Why are a few “special” Wikipedians and anonymous editors still allowed to force their personal biases on the world by using Wikipedia as their publishing platform? What is the ethical nature of an organization that allows anonymous editors to publish false claims about living people? Why are honest Wikimedians like Moulton harassed and driven away when they try to remove bias from Wikimedia? Should anyone take Sue Gardner seriously when she talks about the Wikimedia Foundation having a goal of being free from bias? (related blog post)

In 2010, a Wikiversity community member created a learning project aimed at finding an ethical means to improve Wikimedia projects. The Ethical Breaching Experiments learning project was deleted by Jimbo Wales, without community discussion, in violation of Wikiversity policy and against community consensus. The creator of the learning project was blocked from editing by Jimbo Wales, in violation of Wikiversity policy. In an effort to impose his misguided disruption of Wikiversity on the community, Jimbo Wales threatened Wikiversity with closure. Sue Gardner threw her support behind the misguided actions of Jimbo Wales.

Sue Gardner asked why it is that Wikimedians don’t do more to encourage internal solidarity and support kindness, understanding, generosity and a sense of common purpose. Yes, Sue, why don’t you? Why did you support Jimbo Wales in his misguided disruption of Wikiversity?

Community discussion at Wikiversity

July 12, 2010

Ever wonder how a group of collaborators in a wiki community can reach consensus about contentious issues? The Wikimedia way is to block a wiki participant who disagrees with you. If your block stands, it will intimidate everyone who does not agree with you. Below is a recent community discussion at Wikiversity, presented in wikitwit format.

A community discussion at Wikiversity

A community discussion at Wikiversity.

Background. In 2008 the Wikiversity community was invaded by a wiki-hitman from Wikipedia. The hitman created a puppet account and declared his mission to be getting another Wikiversity participant banned. The hitman was successful and was even rewarded by being made a Custodian. I’ve previously blogged about the way Moulton was banned from participating at Wikiversity.

When a gang of thugs from Wikipedia invaded Wikiversity and tried to get Moulton banned, he objected to the false claims that were published about him by that gang. Moulton’s common practice is to use the names of people who persistently publish false claims about living persons. Some of the invaders from Wikipedia objected to Moulton’s use of the real names of other editors, although doing so was not against Wikiversity policy.

At the time, I proposed that the dispute over using real world names be dealt with by crafting a Privacy Policy. It is now two years later, and there is still no Wikiversity policy against using the real name of a fellow editor. Indeed, the professional academics on the site routinely call each other by their real names.  Of course, lack of a policy does not prevent a few Wikimedia functionaries from erratically imposing policy from Wikipedia upon the Wikiversity community. On that basis, Jimbo Wales banned  Moulton from editing at Wikiversity. I view the banning of Moulton as unfair and disruptive, depriving the Wikiversity community of Moulton’s expertise and knowledge. I view the persecution of Moulton to be a serious violation of Wikiversity policy. It is against the civility policy to call for unjustified blocks and bans.

Recently there was a fresh initiative to make the Privacy Policy an official policy (so far it is only proposed). I was participating in the process of developing that policy and it was natural to discuss the need to protect Wikiversity participants and other living people against the publication of libelous claims by anonymous wiki editors. I said, “Wikiversity participants need common sense protections against the unsubstantiated claims of the anonymous editors“. I also made this point: “Calling IRC chat ‘private correspondence’ is false.” In the context of these issues arising from the proposed privacy policy, I mentioned:

“The main problem is a gang of abusive sysops who make unsubstantiated claims about honest Wikiversity participants. When the honest Wikiversity participants object and challenge the unsubstantiated claims, the abusive sysops ignore the objections or impose blocks and censor community discussions so as to silence the objections.”

and

“The problem is that #wikiversity-en has been systematically disrupted during the past two years by abusive sysops who misuse their channel operator power.”

Another Wikiversity participant objected to my mention of how Wikiversity sysops have previously abused their power and he blocked me from editing. Rather than come to my user talk page and discuss his concerns, he blocked me and posted accusations about me on a page that I cannot edit. This situation is what prompted the ludicrous discussion illustrated in the figure above.

The discussion. During the discussion (see the figure above) I was forced to post my comments on my user talk page while other editors used another page. During the discussion, Moulton tried to participate, but his contributions to the discussion were reverted by the sysop who had blocked me from editing.

I think that Moulton was improperly blocked and should be allowed to edit at Wikiversity. I view continuing efforts to ban him from Wikiversity as a serious violation of Wikiversity policy. I don’t believe that the “block” tool should be used to end discussions at Wikiversity, but it would have made more sense to block the wiki-hitman who attacked Moulton. Moulton and I preferred to study the wiki-hitman’s behavior.

I think the Wikiversity community still has much to learn from the events of the past two years. In particular, Wikiversity policy needs to be developed so as to protect the Wikiversity community against invaders from Wikipedia. Doing so would allow the Wikiversity community to return to its roots, the peaceful community of collaborating learners, as it existed from 2006 to 2008.

Wikiversity:Community Review/Problematic actions

Things like that really, really, really annoy me

June 16, 2010

Seigenthaler

"And so we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research — but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects." (Photo by Curtis Palmer)

In May of 2005 a Wikipedia editor entered false information into the Wikipedia biography for John Seigenthaler, Sr. The false information was not discovered until September 2005 after which it became known as the Seigenthaler incident. In response to the publicity generated by this and other similar cases, Wikipedia restricted page creation (see: Wikipedia Signpost 2005-12-05 “Page creation restrictions”) and created new guidelines for biographies. The Wikipedia community continues to struggle with biased and false content in its biographical articles.

Yesterday Wikipedia began testing a new tool for catching casual Wikipedia editors who add unhelpful information to the encyclopedia. Of course, anyone who wants to add false information about living people to Wikipedia can easily defeat all of the lame “safeguards” that Wikipedia has put in place. The larger problem, that goes beyond just Wikipedia’s  “Biographies of Living Persons”, has always been Wikipedians who use the encyclopedia project as a platform to purposefully harass and slander people, particularly critics of Wikipedia. The Wikipedia:Biographies of living persons policy page was started in response to the Daniel Brandt “situation“.

I linked “situation” to the 14th round in the argument at Wikipedia over the issue of having a biographical article about Daniel Brandt. The casual user of Wikipedia might wonder how there could possible be a never-ending argument about whether Wikipedia should have a biography of Daniel Brandt. Daniel Brandt has been a vocal critic of Wikipedia, “the basic problem is that no one, neither the trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, nor the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible for the content.” Actually, problems at Wikipedia go deeper than that since there are Wikipedians who actively use the encyclopedia to harass people and publish false information about people and Wikipedia has not taken common sense steps to prevent such abuse.

It would be easy for Wikipedia to require that anyone adding information to biographical articles edit Wikipedia under their real world identity. This would allow those who post false claims about people on Wikipedia to be traced and subjected to legal remedies that protect us all against libel and online harassment. Under the leadership of Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia has persistently avoided its ethical responsibility to take simple steps that would prevent Wikipedia from being used as a platform where Wikipedians can publish false and harassing claims about people.

Many educators are astonished that the Wikimedia Foundation, an education-oriented 501(c)(3), fails to operate in an ethically responsible manner. Since many people assume that what they see in Wikipedia is true, some educators have tried to help make clear to their students that Wikipedia cannot be trusted. For example, history professor T. Mills Kelly’s learn-by-doing project created a hoax biography on Wikipedia (Edward Owens). In addition to showing how easy it is to put false information into Wikipedia, the course, Lying About the Past,  helped its participants learn to, “think critically about the impact of media past and present on our daily lives and views,” quoting one student evaluation.

What was the response of Jimbo Wales to this successful educational project? “To ask students to deliberately hoax Wkipedia is a very bad thing“. Wikipedia editor Moulton was similarly dismayed when he came across this version of the Wikipedia biography for Rosalind Picard.

Rosalind Wright Picard is Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Laboratory. She holds Doctor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. She has been a member of the faculty at MIT since 1991 and a full professor since 2005.

With over a quarter of a million biographies, Wikipedia has many biographical articles about university professors. In 1997, Dr. Picard published a book entitled “Affective Computing“, an innovative branch of Computer Science which studies how to make systems that recognize and respond to human emotions. One might guess that her Wikipedia biography would have been started in order to describe her scientific research and seminal contributions in Digital Signal Processing, Pattern Recognition, Affective Computing, and Autism Research. However, that is not the case.

On Feb. 21, 2006, The New York Times published “Few Biologists but Many Evangelicals Sign Anti-Evolution Petition” by Kenneth Chang. The petition comprised a two-sentence statement, “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” Dr. Picard was one of a group of 105 scientists, researchers, and academics who agreed with this statement when it was circulated (in E-Mail) in academia in 2001.

On March 8, 2006 the Rosalind Picard article was created by an otherwise unidentified pseudonymous editor named “Tempb”, by copying Picard’s online Faculty Profile and adding a section called, “Intelligent Design Support”. It is clear that the purpose of the author of the biography (User:Tempb) was to craft an article that labels Dr. Picard as a supporter of Intelligent design and as “anti-evolution“. Notice that the Wikipedia user account “Tempb” was a single purpose account, used only to push into Wikipedia the conclusion that Dr. Picard is anti-evolution and a supporter of intelligent design. Note that “Tempb” is an experienced wiki editor who decided to use a “throw-away account” in order to make a biographical article that violated the Wikipedia policy on Biographies of living persons, part of which said: “Editors should be on the lookout for the malicious creation or editing of biographies or biographical information. If someone appears to be pushing a point of view, ask for credible third-party published sources and a clear demonstration of relevance to the person’s notability.”

Wikipedia editor Moulton tried to correct the problems with the Wikipedia Rosalind Picard biography. For his trouble he met stiff resistance, was harassed and was soon blocked from editing Wikipedia. Astonished by his treatment at Wikipedia, Moulton began to study Wikipedia and the Wikipedians who use the encyclopedia to publish false and misleading attacks on living people.

I first became aware of User:Moulton on or about 4 August 2008, even though he came to Wikiversity on 9 July 2008. When I first saw Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia I linked it to an existing Wikiversity topic, Topic:Wikipedia studies. At that time I did not have any knowledge of Moulton’s editing history at Wikipedia. I started studying the sorry history of how Administrators at Wikipedia drove Moulton out of Wikipedia rather than support his good faith efforts to fix a policy-violating biographical article. As a Wikipedia Administrator, I am frequently horrified by the sickening behavior of other Wikipedia Administrators who abuse their sysop power and do damage to the Wikipedia project. After an initial study of what happened to Moulton at Wikipedia, I established some objectives for further study.

1) Has the Wikipedia:WikiProject intelligent design attracted a group of editors who damage Wikipedia by trying too zealously to defend Wikipedia against creationists and other editors who question evolution by natural selection?

2) Is Moulton an example of a Wikipedia editor who was unfairly treated by editors associated with the Wikipedia:WikiProject intelligent design?

3) Is there something we can do to prevent this kind of problem in the future?

During the past two years my research into these kinds of issues at Wikipedia has revealed that, right from the start,  several important Wikipedians “set the tone” for using Wikipedia as a platform for fighting battles against “fringe science” and religious groups that are viewed as cults. One of these Wikipedians remains as a paid employee of the Wikimedia Foundation. There is need for further research into the institutionalized practices of the Wikimedia Foundation that allow Wikimedia wiki projects to continue to be used to publish false information about living people.

The main work page for my research into Moulton’s experiences at Wikipedia attracted the attention of Wikipedians who ultimately tried to have the entire Wikiversity Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia project deleted. One Wikipedian came to Wikiversity and stated his reason for participation as being an attempt to get Moulton banned from participating at Wikiversity. This “wiki hit man” was ultimately successful. Jimbo Wales blocked Moulton from editing and declared him as being globally banned from all of Wikimedia.

Wikipedia remains a website where its participants can publish false information about living people and never face consequences for their actions. Wikipedia remains a website where Administrators and other high officials protect policy violators and ban good faith Wikipedians who try to correct Wikipedia’s problems. Given the anonymity that is given to Wikipedia editors, it may be that the Administrators who protect policy violators (like User:Tempb and his buddies) actually are alternate user accounts of the policy violators. Who knows?

Participation at Wikimedia wiki projects remains an educational experience. As long as Wikipedia fails to correct its problems it will remain the target of “Ethical Breaching Experiments” and hoaxes that aim to either correct Wikipedia’s deficiencies or educate the public about those deficiencies.

Image. Photo by Curtis Palmer, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

Great moments in online learning. Part II.

March 21, 2010
Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

This is the second part of a series that started with a discussion of censorship at the Wikiversity project. In Part II, I want to focus on the use of blocks and bans to intimidate participants at Wikiversity.

In 2008, Moulton became a Wikiversity participant. He participated in a range of learning projects and the Wikipedia Ethics research project. Moulton worked in accordance with scholarly ethics and the Wikiversity research guidelines. I’ve previously blogged about Moulton’s participation at Wikiversity.

Before coming to Wikiversity, Moulton was banned from participation at Wikipedia. He had stumbled upon some biographies of living persons (BLPs) that violated Wikipedia policy and he had tried to correct them. Unfortunately, he had also stumbled upon one of the gangs of Wikipedia POV pushers that takes ownership of encyclopedia articles in order to advance their agenda. Rather than correct the defective biographical articles, the gang managed to get Moulton banned from editing at Wikipedia.

Moulton became interested in the idea that it is unethical for Wikimedia participants to allow anonymous wiki editors to publish lies about people (famous example), thus, the Wikiversity “Wikipedia Ethics” project was born. Wikiversity was then visited by some of the Wikipedians who had previously banned Moulton from Wikipedia rather than repair the faulty biographies that Moulton had identified. One Wikipedian in particular stated his purpose for participating at Wikiversity as an attempt to get Moulton banned from participating at Wikiversity. That Wikipedian was successful in getting Moulton banned from Wikiversity and he was even rewarded by being made a sysop at Wikiversity.  An effort was made to deleted the “Wikipedia Ethics” project. Of course, Moulton never violated any Wikiversity policy, but he was banned on the basis of trumped-up charges. Such abusive treatment of a scholar who tried to help the Wikimedia projects was a  great moment in online learning.

The main excuse for banning Moulton was that he insisted on using the names of wiki participants who published lies about him. There was no policy at Wikiversity against using the names of participants, but Moulton was banned any how. It is a true embarrassment for the Wikimedia Foundation that a scholar would be treated in this way. There should have been a mature discussion of the idea that true collaboration and authentic scholarship cannot be performed by people hiding behind screen names such as “KillerChihuahua” and “Salmon of Doubt”. Following this atrocity, some honest Wikiversity participants left the project out of disgust and others curtailed their participation.

Wikipedia has a serious problem with not welcoming criticism and fixing its deficiencies. The more that Wikipedia fights against Wikimedians who want to improve the Wikipedia project the more it creates new problems for itself.

In 2010, Privatemusings created a new Wikiversity project called Ethical Breaching Experiments. I suppose that Rosa Parks performed the equivalent of a ethical breaching experiment when she refused to follow the rule that a black person must give up a bus seat to a white person.

The stated goal of the Ethical Breaching Experiments project was to explore the idea that it might be possible to find a breaching experiment that: “causes no harm in its execution, whilst yielding results useful for the greater good, or which inspire positive change”.  The question was, could a breaching experiment be “designed and executed to best inform policy and practice on WMF projects”? The project was deleted and Privatemusings was blocked from editing even though he violated no Wikiversity policy, just as Moulton had been blocked without having violated any Wikiversity policy and just as Rosa Parks had been arrested without having violating any law.

I believe that Privatemusings did find a perfectly good ethical breaching experiment: the Ethical Breaching Experiments project itself. The project shows that Wikipedia is unable to permit well-intentioned individuals from exploring the weaknesses of the Wikipedia project. Certain authority figures of the Wikimedia Foundation seem to go out of their way to attain the same moral standing as others who, down through history, have wildly lashed out at and punished the brave seekers of justice who, ban by ban, arrest by arrest, execution by execution have brought light and liberty to the world.

Wikiversity could be an exciting environment for research into the problems of Wikipedia and a source of ideas for how to make improvements. Instead, knee jerk punishment of Wikiversity scholars drives away honest Wikimedia participants and attracts more abusive personalities who are all too willing to use vandalism fighting tools to punish people who dare to think and explore issues like ethics and justice.

Wikiversity is a place where if there is a problem with a project such as the Ethical Breaching Experiments project, then anyone can click the “edit” button and improve the project. At Wikiversity the culture should be that of a gentle learning environment where there is thoughtful discussion. It is sickening to watch  barbarians rush into Wikiversity and delete content and punish learners, with the barbarians having made no attempt to follow the community rules and first engage in thoughtful dialog. It is amazing that these barbarians imagine they can build an authentic learning community upon such practices. All they will produce is a herd of sheep who bleat “two legs bad” or “two legs better” upon command. As long as foolish censorship and abuse of learners is practiced at Wikiversity,  authentic scholars and honest learners will decide to go elsewhere for their online collaborative learning.

Related Learning Project

Part III in this series.

Clubs and Scale

February 26, 2010

Chess Club

In my last blog post I made a distinction between specialty learning communities and Wikiversity. Wikiversity uses the same community strategy as Wikipedia: everyone is invited to participate. At Wikiversity, the fundamental unit of social learning is the “learning project” and participants (editors) are free to create and participate in learning projects for any topic.

In contrast to the “open to all” community structure of Wikiversity, many online learning communities have a narrow focus and some are like learning clubs where you need to either be invited or pay for your chance to participate. For example, participation at SpaceCollective requires an invitation and some of the projects are not even open to all SpaceCollective members.

When a community of internet users forms and begins to explore shared learning goals and common interests, what are the natural limits to the size of the community? Does it make sense to impose artificial restrictions on participation or should our software tools allow for flexible modification of community structure according to the whims of each participant? Right now, the internet is being populated by many different types of learning communities. Since there is variation in learning styles and learning goals, I do not expect there to be a single “best” format for online learning communities. It will be interesting to watch and observe the “survival of the fittest”…which tools for building online learning communities will survive and which ones will fade away?

Screenshot of the projects page for SpaceCollective:

screenshot http://spacecollective.org/projects/

Learning projects at SpaceCollective.

Upper Image. Chess Club by AskJoanne

Online social networks for learners

February 26, 2010

Learn by doing.

In my last blog post I used a few of the major social networking websites as examples for the “state of the art” in social networking. In this post, I want to review some examples of social networking tools that have been used specifically for education.

The major social networking websites are for-profit and in my experience they are heavily slanted towards entertainment and advertising. Elgg social networking software is open source and has been used by educators to create social networks for learners. For example, Eduspaces is a learning-oriented social network powered by the Elgg software and one of the content sharing features is blogging by members of the social network.

An online learning-oriented community that I have personally experimented with is Wikiversity. Wikiversity is powered by the open source MediaWiki software platform that powers Wikipedia. The basic content format is the wiki page, a webpage that can be edited by anyone.

Wikiversity traffic.

Based on Alexa statistics (see the graph, above), Wikiversity gets a significant amount of traffic because of its association with Wikipedia. Many online educational sites are niche communities and seldom grow beyond a limited size. Like Wikipedia, Wikiversity aims to be comprehensive in its approach to providing online learning resources. Unlike Wikipedia which is oriented towards providing printed documents to readers, Wikiversity aims to functioning as an online destination for learners where they can participate in a community where “learn by doing” (mostly “learn by webpage editing”) projects provide “hands on” learning opportunities.

Many computer-facilitated learning communities are closed and intended to serve one particular bricks and mortar educational institution. It remains to be seen to what extent Asimov’s dream of making all the world’s knowledge available via computer-mediated access can become a reality. Will our cultural momentum keep bricks and mortar educational institutions in control of some types of educational resources or will a new ethic come to dominate by which everything will be freely available by way of the internet to every learning of the world?

Image. Learning by Doing by Brian C. Smith

Does this really change everything?

February 21, 2010

Social learning

When I was first being exposed to the wonders of marketing memes, a popular slogan was “New and improved!”. The internet has not only accelerated and amplified communication, it has also inflated the standards for marketing hype. These days, new information technology products routinely roll out with flashy taglines such as “This changes everything!”. In the specific context of human learning, does online learning have the power to “change everything” or does the internet simply allow us to keep learning in the same old ways, maybe in just a faster and cooler iLearn kind of way?

Most animals can learn, even insects. The first “this changes everything” revolution in learning may have been the evolution of social learning, the ability of animals to learn by interacting with other members of their own species. The human species has evolved along a lineage where the capacity for learning from members of a social group has been taken to extremes. We are genetically programmed to develop brain circuits that include mirror neurons, cells that are active either when we perform a particular behavior or when we see other people perform that behavior. Such innate features of our brains allow us to anticipate the behavior of others by assuming that other people have minds like our own. Young chimps and human children can effortlessly learn complex behaviors simply by observing and playing with others. Social learning allows chimp tribes to pass memes from generation to generation, the first glimmer of a transmissible culture.

Another “this changes everything” revolution in human learning came from the evolution of an innate capacity to learn language. Young chimps can learn the basics of human language, but at the age where the vocabulary of a human child explodes and the capacity for parsing complex grammar expands, chimps hit a wall and cannot attain a full ability to use language. Spoken human language behavior is fundamentally social, a communications system designed (evolutionarily) to be used during direct person-to-person interactions.

Darwin: 20 years of pain giving birth to "Origin of Species"

The invention of written language perverted the human learning landscape. Writing made possible text artifacts that are easily separable from their human contexts. The existence of texts created a need for priests and teachers who could interpret written texts and translate them for the uninitiated. Historically, texts have been rare, expensive and difficult to share. Our new internet culture is contaminated with many habits pertaining to the written word that developed before the era of electronic communications. The old “printed text model” was 1) a few creators of texts, 2) a cumbersome and expensive industry for distributing texts and 3) many consumers of expensive texts. Large amounts of effort have gone into forcing that model of text creation and consumption into the tubes of the internets, but does doing so really change everything?

Some observers have divided the internet era into two parts. The “web 2.0” has seen introduction of a new model for internet content. 1) everyone creates internet content, 2) expensive and lumbering middlemen for content distribution are not needed and 3) we all need new tools to assist us in searching through the avalanche of online content so that we can find exactly what we are each individually looking for.

Another feature of the early internet was the static webpage, created by one author. Newer web 2.0 technologies facilitate the collaborative creation of webpages and other kinds of cultural artifacts. The ability of the internet to bring physically distant collaborators together in a shared creative workspace is a feature that strikes me as having the potential to “change everything” and shake us out of the strange perversion of learning that written language has inflicted on our species. I can’t think about the tortured and isolated writer without remembering Wittgenstein‘s heroic creation of his Philosophical Investigations, or Darwin struggling to give birth to On the Origin of Species, or Rosalind Franklin struggling alone in her notebook, trying, and failing, to understand the structure of DNA. I have fantasies about alternate universes where such people had access to an internet and collaborators and did not have to labor in isolation with their words.

Learning to be the lone, suffering writer.

Another cultural artifact of the print era is the practice of placing texts under copyright “protection”. In the internet age, the alternative is for creators of cultural works to liberate their creative works and cooperate in building an open community of freely shared culture. Freely sharing cultural works does not imply that the creators of cultural works will not receive payment for their creative efforts. There can be new economies in which widely shared cultural works are identified and their creators compensated financially.

Is human learning better promoted by using the internet to perpetuate the old printed text model or should we be emphasizing new collaborative, learn-by-doing opportunities that can be facilitated by our global communications network? Should the internet be a means by which ancient bricks-and-mortar educational institutions continue to propagate scarcity models for cultural works or should the internet allow a flowering of opportunity for everyone to participate in the creation of cultural works?

Images. hunter gather mother and child by Hans Splinter, learning to write by Steven Ye.

New to WordPress

February 20, 2010

Learn by doing.

I started this blog as a workspace to be used in parallel with the Free Minds Zine.

I plan to write about my explorations internet technology that supports online learning and collaboration.

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