Social Academia and Collective Knowledge

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a wonderful group of English graduate students in a course about Social Media at Kennesaw State University. I shared with them some of the research interests I have in instructional technology, digital publishing, and usability. I’ve become particularly interested in all the different learning spaces that are developing online and the social characteristics at their core.

Since the course is about Social Media, I thought it would be fun to point out a few of the different “social media” websites or applications that I’ve recently been exploring, such as Kahn Academy, Udemy, Inkling, and Kno. I also suspected that these selections would be outside of the more popular platforms used for social networking, (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn Delicious, StumbleUpon, or Pinterest) that they’d been discussing. If you’re interested in seeing my full list of resources, take a look at the handout I used during the talk.

We had a really great discussion about how technology and the internet are changing the idea of information sharing and learning. We also hit on a few really great questions (some of these are listed in the handout), such as:

  1. How can we identify “the experts” in a particular field? And how does this growing network of shared knowledge change the definition of “expert?” If I can learn how to fix my dishwasher by watching a YouTube video, I no longer need to call in someone to do it for me. But, on the flip side of that–the person with the credentials and the degree will often be taken much more seriously than the person (who might have the same degree of knowledge) who was self taught. Who is the real expert? And how can we identify them online if the expert isn’t the one who necessarily has the greatest number of formal credentials.
  2. Who owns collectively created information? In cases such as the interactive textbooks, like Kno and Inkling, who owns the user driven content? These are both textbook publishing companies that have developed iPad applications that function as interactive textbooks and learning tools. The apps allow students to not only read, annotate, and highlight their texts, but they also offer features for students to talk and collaborate with one another through the app’s interface. If students carry on conversations within these texts, who owns this content? The student? The textbook author? The publishing company? The app developer?
  3. One of the textbook companies, Inkling, allows students to sign into their Facebook and Twitter accounts through the textbook app interface. This allows users to “turn your social network into a learning network.” How does this affect student privacy? Does this mean Facebook will now have access to all the content the students create and maintain within the textbook app? Does this mean Inkling will now have access to the information the students keep on Facebook or Twitter?
  4. Kahn Academy, Udemy, iTunes U, Know, and Inkling are largely dominated by science and technology content.  Why are the humanities being neglected? I actually want to dig into this question a a lot further. I posed this question based on a very cursory analysis of all these sites. But, it seems pretty evident that a lot of the shared learning online has to do with technology and the sciences. I haven’t stumbled upon too many blogs or websites where writers are trying to workshop their work or ask for tips on constructing better sentences!

Like I said, these are just a few of the questions we discussed. There is a rather long list of questions on the handout (many of which we didn’t even get to), and I’ll likely be trying to tackle a few of them over the next few months on this blog.


3 thoughts on “Social Academia and Collective Knowledge

  1. Why are the humanities being neglected? Exactly. Is it the fetish of the book? I doubt that’s all there is to it. It may be that there’s something to the way one learns to organize and discuss and contribute to a huge body of knowledge that doesn’t lend itself to 5 minute video clips. It’s hard to break down such a practice into discrete activities or concepts or techniques. Or maybe we just haven’t done it yet.

    I’m also intrigued by the break down of authority and idea that self-teaching is much easier today, as though the advent of the printing press and cheap paper didn’t offer us an historical analogue from which to ponder the consequences of access–cheap books enabled a proliferation of universities and schools. Apart from a few of us who never left the university, most people go to college for the social experience and the learning moments they have there are outside the classroom. Ask any 30 year old what did you learn in college and I’m pretty sure it won’t be something from a book or a lecture. College isn’t about the credential, any more than buy a computer isn’t about the computer, it’s about the experience. Maybe credentialing will give the less socially motivated a less expensive alternative to college education. It’s interesting to note that the people who are driving this techno education revolution dropped out of college. There’s even a venture capitalist who dropped out whose running a competition encouraging others to drop out.

    hmm, maybe I don’t understand the genre of the blog comment. I rarely read them. Is this where I’m supposed to make a reference to hitler or talk about a cat?

  2. You’re right–the blog comment I made was rather ironic, since this blog focuses on writing and is situated within the humanities. So clearly people are TALKING about writing and asking for feedback. I really should have articulated my point a little better. I think what I really meant to say is that there are a lot of conversations taking place online about the humanities and about writing. But there are not many useful resources on how to actually DO writing. (Are the “humanities” something you can actually DO?)

    Blogs such as this one aren’t asking for feedback about the form of the actual writing (although maybe it should), they’re trying to sort out ideas and get feedback about meaning and content. Or they are studying and critiquing the process of writing. I have yet to come across any that teach people how to DO writing or TEACHING the process. . . at least not in the same ways that Kahn Academy talks about how to DO math or the videos on iTunes U talk about how to DO programming.

    This isn’t meant to ignore the spaces that teach foreign languages—because there are certainly a number of those online. But are those even all that effective? One of the students in the KSU class, whose first language is French, said she always laughs when she sees online tutorials on how to speak French, because although they can teach you how to SPEAK French (vocab, grammar, etc. . .) they aren’t sufficient for actually conversing naturally in French. And this is something, of course, that we seem to hit upon all the time when we talk about teaching in the English Comp class. Grammar drills and sentence-level work are not effective unless students can situate those sentences in the context of a larger body of writing.

    Can make an analogy between that and HTML coding? Just because I can memorize and learn strings of code. . . does that mean I can create an entire, well-developed website by hand? I would say no, because that’s still learning a skill in isolation without being able to situate it in something larger.
    Yet, it seems like people are learning these skills like this online (or at least a lot of people are trying really, really hard to). What are the differences?

    Is it because when you are learning something like code you have an instant feedback loop to tell you if you did it correctly or incorrectly (either it works or it doesn’t work). Is it because if you need a particular string of code you can google it and find it relatively easily (or find someone to tell you), then just copy, paste, and tweak to fit your needs? It doesn’t simple that simple when it comes to writing.

    I don’t know if any of this is making sense. I’m still trying to sort it out in my own mind… I keep finding myself stumbling on contradictions and exceptions. The internal dialogue going on in my head is a jumble of “But if you consider. . .,” “You can’t compare the two because. . .,” “But there seems to be an exception to that. . .,” “It’s not consistent with. . .” Which just means I haven’t found the right answer yet. Argh.

  3. Pingback: 13 Ways the Internet is Making Us Smarter | Laurissa Wolfram

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