Will Richardson Interview of Clay Shirky

I was very fortunate this morning to see that Will Richardson had rescheduled his live interview with Clay Shirky on U-Stream. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach was the chat moderator. Video recording is available now (Part 1 and Part 2); I think the backchannel chat will also be available somewhere. I’ll update the link later. (Update: Here’s the chat transcript.)

A couple of ideas stood out to me:

  • We’re still figuring out the “rules” for living in a networked society. When people look back at this time in the future, they’ll see that we didn’t really know what we were doing.
  • Shirky focused on collaborative literacy as the big new skill that we aren’t addressing sufficiently in schools.
  • Focus on assessment as the way to bring change in schools–what you assess is what you will teach.
  • People are driven to learn, and they’ll do so with or without formal educational institutions.
  • Our culture is too invested in how people are certified and credentialed through formal education for schools to disappear though.

My liveblogged notes are below; my comments are in italics. Most of the questions are from Will; questions from the chat should be indicated as such. Please forgive typos, awkward phrasing, and incomplete thoughts.

Q: For people who haven’t read Here Comes Everybody, can you give us a brief overview?
A: Group action just got easier. Examines how technological tools catalyze social change b/c it’s easier to get together & collaborate. He provides tools for analyzing the changes.

Q: You call this a “tectonic shift.” What will people say in 50 or 100 years?
A: We’ll be surprised at how little we know what we’re doing now. All the stuff that’s obvious about printed media now (e.g., books have chapters) wasn’t at all obvious when the printing press first started. We don’t yet know what networked society looks like. We’re still making up the rules as we go along.

Q: Moving into education…Will read several quotes. some organizations won’t survive, geography is a bad way to organize.
A: Regional growth of academe happened before printing–where everyone gathered together where the best people were. Printing press allowed it to be distributed. If you think of education as a community of practice, the ability to move the conversation outside of academic areas–have the “residue of the conversation” outside schools. Think of the student who was disciplined for the Facebook study group shows the culture clash. Administrators aren’t ready for that conversation at all.

Q: It’s been very slow to change at the K-12 area. Another quote from the book–schools no longer perform…missed the rest of the quote…essential service?
A: Amazing online how many people are looking for ways to learn, at all ages. People are hungry for learning. If a school thinks that it’s a physical environment where people gather to teach, then schools won’t work. If they can think of themselves differently, they will survive.

Q: From a K-12 teacher standpoint, are there literacies we need to teach?
A: Collaborative literacy. Deep tension in educational institutions as the idea that education is about quality controlled individual learning. All the measurement is around individual assignments, especially in K-12. One of the basic literacies: collaboration. Two parts: how do you add value to the collaboration and how do you collaborate so you are learning yourself.

Q: How do we teach that? Passion-based learning?
A: Not familiar enough with the passion-based learning to say. We want students instead of basic skills to also be able to determine which kind of thinking tools are best for which task. Big challenge for schools is a move towards the test driven environment which moves curriculum away from the flexibility we need. A lot of what we want schools to do can’t be measured the way we’re measuring now.

Q: So you mean to focus on assessment, that’s the lever for change in schools?
A: Yes, we need to set the goals but say 3 or 4 ways to get there. The industrial model of measuring the minimum quality of every widget doesn’t work.

Chat questions

Q: Tragedy of the Commons–will students take over and do their own thing if institutions don’t?
A: They are doing it now. Students are getting together and trying new things. Much easier to find people who find your interests. Two things will keep students from self organizing:

1. The role of the teacher is still essential. It’s important to talk to people who have done things before
2. Certification–you have graduated from HS, graduated from college–credentials are too much part of culture to get away from that.

Home schooling supported by internet–major boom. When will the first college be founded on those principles–and be accredited? $4 gas is a big driver for online learning. Someone is going to build a college. (Sheryl asked everyone in the chat if people wanted to start one. :))

Q: What do we do about kids who aren’t connected?
A: Mobile phones aren’t as good as computers. If we can improve the learning that can happen in mobile phones, that will help. The other disconnection is social–you can have an internet connection but feel like you can’t use it. In post-Katrina New Orleans, people have a hard time accepting that it’s OK to use those resources. Getting them a connection isn’t enough; you have to let them know it’s OK to start a blog and share their ideas. School is only about consuming knowledge, not sharing it, so they aren’t used to participating.

Q: To get that cultural change to happen, do educators need to model it first?
A: A lot of this is going to spread when they see peers using it, not teachers using it. The culture around teachers, parents, peers has to reward participation.

Break for Will to reboot–apparently we crashed Ustream. 😉

Back to questions from Will

Q: We’ve had huge shifts–will mobile phones be the big mover as educational technology?
A: A few problems. Mobile phones are interrupt technologies. Starting to deal with cognitive limits–can people even read the screens. Humans are really good at learning. If the phone is the only device people have, then they will use the phone, but it isn’t the ideal platform. The business model of the carriers is to charge for every single thing that goes over their network, and that doesn’t work well for education. Carriers will get in the way with the free flow of information and research. It’s possible a different business model could emerge, more like the internet. If that happens, then the phone will be on its way to being a better platform. More likely to have the phone connect to a bigger screen, keyboard, printer, etc. as well as going with you.

Q: Are you basically optimistic or pessimistic about how this will work out?
A: Optimistic. Can’t think of any change where sharing knowledge became easier that was overall bad. That’s not to say there won’t be losers in the revolution–there will.

Q: We’re going to see a lot more kids behaving badly with technology. How do we make the case to schools and parents that we’re going to have to deal with some of the problems in order to get the gains?
A: Yes, we’re going to see more kids behaving badly–emphasis on see. What freaks adults out isn’t so much the bad behavior but the public evidence of it. We give teenagers this very strict set of rules, but know that they will break the rules safely and privately. The private part of that is going away. It used to be inconvenient to spy on teenagers, so adults didn’t do it. Now it’s convenient–does that mean we do it? How do we let teenagers misbehave?

Chat question from Clay Burrell

Q: What’s your take on how teachers will be challenged?
A: There’s this gradient of K-12 to college. Kindergarten is going to be much the same b/c physical safety for 5-year-olds is the same. Middle School and HS will be where big changes happen in the role of teachers. The role of teacher as source of information and measurment is going to change. Teacher is going to increasingly work as a facilitator. Group work where people learn to collaborate–currently done in schools mostly for things like the school play or band. Everything that can be measured individually is. Future will have more collaboration. Research is the other thing that will change. Teachers have to get better at teaching students to be skeptical of any information they read–not just Wikipedia, but textbooks too. Teachers can no longer assume that all information students will have will be from the textbook. When students become skeptical of those sources, they’ll be skeptical of teachers too.

Q: What would happen if there was no public education? Would society still value taking responsibility for individual learning?
A: Home schooling is growing for every economic class except the very well-off. Create some social model for learning, organized online? Coordination of problems–find others struggling with the same issues. When you are diagnosed with a disease, you go online to read about it and find a group. Similar approach to education could work. Go online to find others who have kids who are having problems with a particular issue.