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Howard Rheingold - Participative Pedagogy

Howard Rheingold - Participative Pedagogy

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Published by Christopher Adams
From the book Freesouls: Captured and Released by Joi Ito
From the book Freesouls: Captured and Released by Joi Ito

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Published by: Christopher Adams on Jan 04, 2011
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09/20/2011

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PARTICIPATIVEPEDAGOGYFORALITERACYOFLITERACIES
byHowardRheingold
HowardRheingoldisacriticandwriter;hisspecialtiesareonthecultural,socialandpoliticalimplicationsofmoderncommunicationmediasuchastheInternet,mobiletelephonyandvirtualcommunities(atermheiscreditedwithinventing). Heistheauthorof 
TheVirtualCommunity 
and
SmartMobs.
website: rheingold.com vlog: vlog.rheingold.com
FromWikipedia,thefreeencyclopedia
Peopleactandlearntogetherforarichmixtureofreasons. Thecurrentstorythatmostofustellourselvesabouthowhumansgetthingsdoneisfocusedonthewell-knownflavorsof self-interest,whichmakeforgreatdrama—survival,power,wealth,sex,glory. Peoplealsodothingstogetherforfun,fortheloveofachallenge,andbecausewesometimesenjoyworkingtogethertomakesomethingbeneficialtoeverybody. IfIhadtoreducetheessenceof 
Homosapi 
 
ens
tofivewords,“peopledocomplicatedthingstogether”woulddo.Onlinesocialnetworkscanbepowerfulamplifiersofcollectiveactionpreciselybecausetheyaugmentandextendthepowerofever-complexifyinghumansociality.Tobesure,gossip,conflict,slander,fraud,greedandbigotryarepartofhumansociality,andthosepartsofhumanbehaviorcanbeamplified,too.Butaltruism,fun,communityandcuriosityarealsopartsofhumansociality—andIproposethattheWebisan
existence proof 
thatthesecapabilitiescanbeamplified,aswell.Indeed,ourspecies’socialinventivenessiscentraltowhatitistobehuman.Thepartsofthehumanbrainthatevolvedmostrecently,andwhichareconnectedtowhatweconsidertobeour“higher”facultiesofreasonandforethought,arealsoessentialtosociallife. Theneuralinformation-processingrequiredforrecognizingpeople,rememberingtheirreputations,learningtheritualsthatremoveboundariesofmistrustandbindgroupstogether,frombandstocommunitiestocivilizations,mayhavebeenenabledby(andmayhavedriventherapidevolutionof)thatuniquelyhumanbrainstructure,theneocortex.
1
But Ididn’tstartoutbythinkingabouttheevolutionarydynamicsofsocialityandthe
1. R.I.M. Dunbar, (1993)
Coevolutionofneocorticalsize,groupsizeandlanguageinhumans.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16 (4):681–735.
amplificationofcollectiveaction. Likealloftheothersinthisbook,IstartedoutbyexperiencingthenewwaysofbeingthatInternetsocialmediahavemadepossible. AndliketheotherFreesouls,JoiItohasplayedacatalytic,communitarian,Mephistophelian,Pied-Piper-esque,authority-challenging,fun-lovingroleinmyexperiencesofthepossibilitiesoflifeonline.
FRIENDSANDENTHUSIASTS
Tome,directexperienceofwhatIlatercametocall
virtualcommunities
2
precededtheoriesaboutthewayspeopledothingstogetheronline. ImetJoiItointhe1980saspartofwhatwecalled“theElectronicNetworkingAssociation,asmallgroupofenthusiastswhothoughtthat
2. Howard Rheingold, (2000)
TheVirtualCommunity:HomesteadingontheElectronicFrontier;
cf.http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/3. Fred Turner, (2005)
Wherethecounterculturemetthenew economy: theWELLandtheoriginsofvirtualcommunity.
Technology and Culture, 46 (3): 485–512.4. Ronald S. Burt, (2004)
Structuralholesandgoodideas.
American Journal of Sociology, 110 (2): 349–399.5. Malcolm Gladwell, (2003)
TheTippingPoint: HowLittleThingsCanMakeaBigDifference.
6. The
WholeEarth’LectronicLink 
(Ed.)
sendingblackandwhitetexttoBBSswith1200baudmodemswasfun.Joi,likeStewartBrand,wasandiswhatFredTurner
3
callsanetworkentrepreneur,whooccupieswhatRonaldBurt
4
wouldcallkeystructuralroles—whatMalcolmGladwell
5
calledaconnector. Joiwasalsoabelieveringoingoutanddoingthingsandnotjusttalkingaboutit.JoiwasoneofthefoundersofamulticulturalBBSinTokyo,andintheearly1990sIhadbeguntobranchoutfromBBSsandtheWELL
6
tomakeconnectionsinmanydifferentpartsoftheworld. Thefunoftalking,planning,debatingandhelpingeachotheronlinecamebeforethenotionthatourtinysubculturemightgrowintoaworldwide,many-to-many,multimedianetworkofabillionpeople. Westartedtodreamaboutfuturecybersocialpossibilitiesonlyafter
101
FREESOULS
 
personallyexperiencingsomethingnew,movingandauthenticinourwebsofbuddingfriendshipandcollaboration. Inrecentyears,cyberculturestudieshasgrownintoadiscipline—moreproperly,an
interdiscipline
involvingsociologists,anthropologists,historians,psychologists,economists,programmersandpoliticalscientists. Backwhenpeopleonlinearguedin1200baudtextaboutwhetheronecouldproperlycallwhatweweredoingaformof community,therewasnobodyofempiricalevidencetoserveasafoundationforscientificargument—
all 
theorywasanecdotal. Bynow,however,thereisplentyofdata.Oneparticularlyusefulaffordanceofonlinesocialityisthatagreatdealofpublicbehaviorisrecordedandstructuredinawaythatmakesitsuitableforsystematicstudy. OneeffectofthedigitalPanopticonisthelossofprivacyandthethreatoftyrannicalsocialcontrol;anothereffectisarichbodyofdataaboutonlinebehavior. EveryoneofWikipediasmillionsofedits,andallthediscussionandtalkpagesassociatedwiththoseedits,isavailableforinspection—alongwithbillionsofUsenetmessages. Patternsarebeginningtoemerge. We’rebeginningtoknowsomethingaboutwhatworksandwhatdoesn’tworkwithpeopleonline,andwhy.Doesknowingsomethingaboutthewaytechnicalarchitectureinfluencesbehaviormeanthatwecanputthatknowledgetouse? Nowthatwearebeginningtolearnalittleaboutthespecificsociotechnicalaffordancesofonlinesocialnetworks,isitpossibletoderiveanormativedesign?Howshoulddesignersthinkabouttheprinciplesofbeneficialsocialsoftware? Caninhumaneordehumanizingeffectsofdigitalsocializingbemitigatedoreliminatedbybettermediadesign?Inwhatwaysdoesthedesignofsocialmediaenableorpreventheartfelt
communitas,
organizedcollectiveaction,socialcapital,culturalandeconomicproduction? I’vecontinuedtomakeadirectexperienceofmylifeonline—fromlifelongfriendslikeJoiItototheotherpeoplearoundtheworldI’vecometoknow,becauseonlinemediamadeitpossibletoconnectwithpeoplewhosharedmyinterests,evenifIhadneverheardofthembefore,eveniftheylivedontheothersideoftheworld.Butinparallelwithmydirectexperienceofthe
blogosphere,vlogosphere,twitterverse
andotherrealmsofdigitaldiscourse,I’vecontinuedtotracknewresearchandtheoryaboutwhatcyberculturemightmeanandthewaysinwhichonlinecommunicationmediainfluenceandareshapedbysocialforces.
THEVALUESOFVOLUNTEERS
Oneofthefirstquestionsthatarosefrommyearliestexperiencesonlinewasthequestionofwhypeopleinonlinecommunitiesshouldspendsomuchtimeansweringeachother’squestions,solvingeachother’sproblems,withoutfinancialcompensation. IfirstencounteredYochaiBenklerinpursuitofmycuriosityaboutthereasonpeoplewouldworktogetherwithstrangers,withoutpay,tocreatesomethingnobodyowns—freeandopensourcesoftware. Firstin
Coase’sPenguin,
7
andthenin
TheWealthofNetworks,
8
Benklercontributedtoimportanttheoreticalfoundationsforanewwayofthinkingaboutonlineactivity—commonsbasedpeerproduction,”technicallymadepossiblebyabillionPCsandInternetconnections—asanewformoforganizingeconomicproduction,togetherwiththemarketandthefirm. IfBenklerisright,thenewstoryabouthowhumansgetthingsdoneincludesanimportantcorollary—iftoolslikethePCandtheInternetmakeiteasyenough,peoplearewillingtoworktogetherfornon-marketincentivestocreatesoftware,encyclopediasandarchivesofpublicdomainliterature.Whilethe
7. Yochai Benkler, (2002)
Coase’sPenguin,orLinuxandtheNatureoftheFirm.
Yale Law Journal, 112 (3): 369–446.8. Yochai Benkler, (2006)
TheWealthofNetworks.
9. cf. Mancur Olson, (1971)
TheLogicofCollectiveAction: Public GoodsandtheTheoryofGroups.
oldstory
9
isthatpeoplearehighlyunlikelytocooperatewithstrangerstovoluntarilycreatepublicgoods,thenewstoryseemstobethatpeoplewillindeedcreatesignificantcommonvaluevoluntarily,ifitiseasyenoughforanybodytoaddwhattheywant,whenevertheywanttoaddit(“selfelection”). Thereisplentyofevidencetosupportthehypothesisthatwhatusedtobeconsideredaltruismisnowaby-productofdailylifeonline. Somuchofwhatwetakeforgrantedaspartofdailylifeonline,fromtheBINDsoftwarethatmakesdomainnameswork,totheApachewebserverthatpowersasizablechunkoftheworld’swebsites,tothecheapLinuxserversthatGooglestacksintoitsglobaldatacloud,wascreatedbyvolunteerswhogavetheircreationsawaytomakepossiblesomethinglarger—theWebasweknowit.Tosomedegree,theexplosionofcreativitythatfollowedthedebutoftheWebin1993wasmadepossiblebydeliberatedesigndecisionsonthepartoftheInternet’sarchitects—theend-to-endprinciple,builtintotheTCP/IPprotocolsthatmaketheInternetpossible,whichdeliberatelydecentralizesthepowertoinnovate,tobuildsomethingnewandevenmorepowerfulonwhatalreadyexists. IsitpossibletounderstandexactlywhatitisaboutthewebthatmakesWikipedia,Linux,FightAIDS@Home,theGutenbergProjectandCreativeCommonspossible? Andifso,canthistheoreticalknowledgebeputtopracticaluse? Iamstruckbya
102
FREESOULS
 
phraseofBenklersfromhisessayinthisbook: “Wemustnowturnourattentiontobuildingsystemsthatsupporthumansociality.”Thatsoundsright. Buthowwoulditbedone? It’seasytosayandnotaseasytoseethewaysinwhichsocialcodesandpowerstructuresmoldthedesignofcommunicationmedia. Wemustdevelopaparticipativepedagogy,assistedbydigitalmediaandnetworkedpublics,thatfocusesoncatalyzing,inspiring,nourishing,facilitating,andguidingliteraciesessentialtoindividualandcollectivelife.
APARTICIPATIVEPEDAGOGY
Toaccomplishthisattention-turning,wemustdevelopaparticipativepedagogy,assistedbydigitalmediaandnetworkedpublics,thatfocusesoncatalyzing,inspiring,nourishing,facilitating,andguidingliteraciesessentialtoindividualandcollectivelifeinthe21stcentury.Literaciesarewherethehumanbrain,humansocialityandcommunicationtechnologiesmeet.We’reaccustomedtothinkingaboutthetangiblepartsofcommunicationmedia—thedevicesandnetworks—butthelessvisiblesocialpracticesandsocialaffordances,fromthealphabettoTCP/IP,arewherehumansocialgeniuscanmeettheaugmentingpoweroftechnologicalnetworks. Literacyisthemostimportantmethod
Homosapiens
hasusedtointroducesystemsandtoolstootherhumans,totraineachothertopartakeofandcontributetoculture,andtohumanizetheuseofinstrumentsthatmightotherwiseenablecommodification,mechanizationanddehumanization. Byliteracy,Imean,followingonNeilPostmanandothers,thesetofskillsthatenableindividualstoencodeanddecodeknowledgeandpowerviaspeech,writing,printingandcollectiveaction,andwhich,whenlearned,introducetheindividualtoacommunity.Literacylinkstechnologyandsociality. ThealphabetdidnotcausetheRomanEmpire,butmadeitpossible. Printingdidnotcausedemocracyorscience,butliteratepopulations,enabledbytheprintingpress,devisedsystemsforcitizengovernanceandcollectiveknowledgecreation. TheInternetdidnotcauseopensourceproduction,Wikipediaoremergentcollectiveresponsestonaturaldisasters,butitmadeitpossibleforpeopletoacttogetherinnewways,withpeopletheyweren’tabletoorganizeactionwithbefore,inplacesandatpacesforwhichcollectiveactionhadneverbeenpossible. Literaciesaretheprerequisiteforthehumanagencythatusedalphabets,pressesanddigitalnetworkstocreatewealth,alleviatesufferingandinventnewinstitutions. If thehumanscurrentlyalivearetotakeadvantageofdigitaltechnologiestoaddressthemostsevereproblemsthatfaceourspeciesandthebiosphere,computers,telephonesanddigitalnetworksarenotenough. Weneednewliteraciesaroundparticipatorymedia,thedynamicsof cooperationandcollectiveaction,theeffectivedeploymentofattentionandtherelativelyrationalandcriticaldiscoursenecessaryforahealthypublicsphere.
MEDIALITERACIES
In
UsingParticipatoryMediaandPublicVoicetoEncourageCivicEngagement,
Iwrote:
IfprintcultureshapedtheenvironmentinwhichtheEnlightenmentblossomedandsetthescenefor theIndustrialRevolution,participatorymediamightsimilarlyshapethecognitiveandsociaenvironmentsinwhichtwenty-firstcenturylifewilltakeplace(ashiftinthewayourcultureoperates). Forthisreason,participatorymedialiteracyisnotanothersubjecttobeshoehornedintothecurriculumasjobtrainingforknowledgeworkers.Participatorymediainclude(butaren’tlimitedto)blogs,wikis,RSS,taggingandsocial bookmarking,music-photo-videosharing,mashups,podcasts,digitalstorytelling,virtual communities,socialnetworkservices,virtualenvironments,andvideoblogs. Thesedistinctly differentmediasharethreecommon,interrelatedcharacteristics:
Many-to-manymedianowmakeitpossibleforeverypersonconnectedtothenetworktobroadcastaswellasreceivetext,images,audio,video,software,data,discussions,transactions,computations,tags,orlinkstoandfromeveryotherperson. Theasymmetry betweenbroadcasterandaudiencethatwasdictatedbythestructureofpre-digitatechnologieshaschangedradically. Thisisatechnical–structuralcharacteristic.
Participatorymediaaresocialmediawhosevalueandpowerderivesfromtheactive participationofmanypeople. Valuederivesnotjustfromthesizeoftheaudience,butfromtheirpowertolinktoeachother,toformapublicaswellasamarket. Thisisapsychologicaandsocialcharacteristic.
103
FREESOULS

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