Observations from the Bottom Up.

It’s not every day that some of the leading edubloggers give a noob a shout, but today both Michael Feldstein and Stephen Downes gave me air time. Downes even challenged me to write a little more often, so I thought I’d relay a depiction of a trend of which I seem to be a part.

There’s a lot of excitement for new internet products in education; in specific Web 2.0, scalable, affordable, interactive, usable, interoperable, and dependable products. This excitement didn’t come from administrators having shrimp and cocktail meetings with Blackboard, WebCT and D2L. It came from instructors seeing their students use products like Myspace, which suddenly made 100 million people publishers, and Facebook, which proved that it is possible to make highly scalable social networks while respecting privacy, and Ning, which made private social networks a few mouse clicks away. And let’s not forget those that came before – Friendster, Livejournal, and even Geocities – which managed to prove that young people are more than eager to leave Generation X and Why behind and move on to read/write, participatory, multimedia technoanarchademocratic culture.

Yes, Generation You has graduated and handed up their cultural tools to instructors, who are just now starting to realize the educational power of the read/write web. I will summarize this power in a single sentence: The web has the power to transform the work of a student shared with an audience of one teacher into a publication for all classmates, friends, peers, and the rest of the entire world. The entire set of excuses for apathy and lackadaisical efforts are no longer valid. The students’ work matters. It is no longer the practice, it is the event. It is no longer a 12 year audition, it’s a play in which everyone takes part and everyone has tickets.

Even till now, educational institutions have given poorly run technology firms hosting poorly made technology a monopoly of browser-based inter-school interaction. Each interaction is publishable only at the class level. Schools pay too much for not enough.

Conspicuously absent in all of this is the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial engine. Education is a locked gate, a closed door. It’s run by firms like Blackboard with BS patents and investors tied to Washington (Carlyle Group, so I hear).

This is on the verge of changing. There’s a silent movement boiling up. As long as instructors everywhere start demanding change, it will happen. Slowly, but surely. Forbidden Cities are opening their gates. Technlogies like Rails, CakePHP, and Django are letting kids with laptops build entire suites to solve problems in education. http://esc.frozeninflames.net/ put out William Li at Berkeley and Oycas! put out by Arash Sanieyan from come to mind. These still don’t have much traction, but that’s because interests are still too entrenched and barriers are still too high. So, professors and teachers need to keep working their way around archaic systems, and start becoming vocal about the contrasts between systems that are locked in and closed and ones that seem to be readily available on the web.

Hey, a man can dream, can’t he? Join Educators Using Facebook if you are on Facebook.

One Response to “Observations from the Bottom Up.”

  1. Stella Porto February 3, 2008 at 12:16 pm #

    I was excited to see your post… it reflects exactly current perception about the “grassroots movement” of the change. It will be hard to silence those adopting these new tools and services… and it is not clear what will be reaction of institutions: prohibit anything outside the walls of the VLEs they have created, adopt these tools and provide a convenient glueware for participants, or try to define processes and procedures to ‘tame’ the adoption of such technologies. It will be interesting to watch…

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