Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Technology and Learning

I'm reading Clay Shirky's amazing new book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (have you downloaded it yet?), which has got me thinking about scarcity and course design. Shirky makes an argument that the transition from scarcity to abundance that publishing has experienced with the emergence of social media has increased the quality and diversity of ideas and discourse.

Some Shirky inspired questions:

Are we experiencing a similar transition in education from scarcity to abundance that social media has catalyzed in publishing?

Do we have a scarcity mindset in education, one that no longer matches the opportunities afforded by the shift from analog to digital?

As instructors, are our teaching materials (lectures, syllabi etc) valuable because they are scarce (we control and limit their distribution), or are they more valuable if made freely available and discoverable (abundant) by all learners and educators?

Are we unintentionally (or intentionally) designing our courses to achieve a distribution of grades, following an unstated (or stated) assumption that high grades are scarce?

Do we think that the ability to maximize what is learned in our courses is limited (scarce) to a top-tier of our students?

Does course design reflects a scarcity of contact time between the instructor and the student, a scarcity that may be eroded with online learning and hybrid designs?

Are communication channels in our courses between instructors and students designed around a scarcity model of time and contact, (office hours, paper delivered to professors, feedback on student work etc.), where Web platforms and social media can open up this communication for all students (and lifelong learners) to access and participate?

Do we assume that the interest in our student's work is limited only to the instructor and the class, where in reality a larger market exists that may be interested in accessing what they produce?

What questions would you ask about scarcity and abundance in how we design our courses and our structure our institutions?How can technology enable us to move from a model of scarcity to one of abundance in our courses?

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