First let me say that the comments on the previous post have been pretty amazing and thought provoking. I want to comment on the comments at some point, but first I just wanted to throw out this excerpt from Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins. This is, like, Part 3 in my blog book report.

There is a chapter where he talks about the efforts of some Survivor (the TV show) fans to “spoil” the season’s outcome by collectively gathering intelligence and comparing notes on the evidence all in an attempt to determine the winner well before the season finale. It’s a pretty interesting description of a long, complex process that relies of the work of the group but still bumps up against the “who can you trust” issues that we all face these days.

To give context to the discussion about how trust and authority are changing these days, Jenkins cites Pierre Levy’s notion of collective intelligence as compared to Peter Walsh’s “expert paradigm.” My point here is to talk about how this relates to the whole teacher as learner discussion in that we are now living in a world where collective intelligence is becoming more powerful and relevant to being a learner, but we’re educating our kids in classrooms still under this idea of experts at the front of the room. Here goes.

Walsh argues that our traditional assumptions about expertise are breaking down or at least being transformed by the more open-ended processes of communication in cyberspace. The expert paradigm requires a bounded body of knowledge, which an individual can master. The types of questions that thrive in a collective intelligence, however, are open ended and profoundly interdisciplinary; they slip and slide across borders and draw of the combined knowledge of more diverse community.

This is why tests are becoming less relevant, no question. Read the article in the Times today about schools who no longer require the SAT. They save the best quote for last:

“Human intelligence and ambition is more complex, more multifaceted, than any standardized testing system can capture,” Mr. Hiss said.

We cannot know everything. Today, knowledge has no bounds. Truth is in flux, and this requires a network, a community to make sense of it.

Second, Walsh argues that the expert paradigm creates an “exterior” and “interior”; there are some people who know things and others who don’t. A collective intelligence, on the other hand, assumes that each person has something to contribute, even if they will only be called upon on an ad hoc basis.

Why shouldn’t we contribute what we know to others? Why is “knowing” set up to be a competition? When we can connect around ideas that are in flux, everyone can contribute. It’s a much more democratic way of thinking about things.

Third, the expert paradigm, Walsh argues, uses rules about how you access and process information, rules that are established through traditional disciplines. By contrast, the strength and weakness of a collective intelligence is that it is disorderly, undisciplined, and unruly. Just as knowledge gets called upon on an ad hoc basis, there are no fixed procedures for what you do with knowledge. Each participant applies their [sic] own rules, works the data through their [sic] own processes, some of which will be more convincing than others, but none of which are wrong at face value. Debates about rules are a part of the process.

We really struggle with this as educators, don’t we, this giving up of the rules about knowledge? This is where the whole idea of Wikipedia just breaks down for a lot of us. Along these lines, I’m finding that the most powerful part of Wikipedia for educators to see is not the history of changes, though that can be pretty powerful, but instead the discussions, the negotiations that occur by the writers in the back channel. The example of the Delta Connections flight that crashed this week is a great example. It’s the messiness of the process made transparent. They, and we, make up the rules, make the decisions as part of the process.

Fourth, Walsh’s experts are credentialized; they have gone through some kind of ritual that designates them as having mastered a particular domain, often having to do with formal education. While participants in collective intelligence often feel the need to demonstrate or document how they know what they know, this is not based on a hierarchical system and knowledge that comes from real-life experience rather than formal education may be, if anything, more highly valued.

I don’t need a degree to be valued for my ideas in an environment where I can share freely and where people can engage with my ideas. Doesn’t our work become more important than what we “know?” And I know that degrees measure work as well as a knowledge, but still. This is what I know. You can believe me or not…your choice. But you can believe me based on my track record and my participation as a learner in the community, not simply based on the letters after my name or the diplomas on my wall.

Much, much more to think about, as usual…

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