David points to the fact that the University of Michigan is offering a
M.A. M.S.I. specialization in Social Computing (among other things):
Students pursuing a specialization in Social Computing learn to analyze online social interactions, both in online communities and in more diffuse social networks. They learn about features of social computing technologies so they can recognize opportunities to put them to use in new settings and make good choices about alternative implementations.
And this quote from one of the professors is pretty provocative, I think:
The depth of our curriculum in social computing is unparalleled. Rather than a single course as you might find in other programs, we offer a range of in-depth courses in the technologies and applications that are driving the Web 2.0 revolution.
So, does anyone else find this a little ironic? I mean how in the world would this particular degree “certify” anyone as a social computing specialist any better than, um, spending a year or so just actually becoming a part of social learning network, learning from the various teachers and conversations within it, and building a rich, online portfolio that illustrates your ability to be an online community manager, social network analyst, community organizer or any of the other job descriptions they list as possible outcomes? For, um, zero dollars?
Here’s the list of courses you have to take:
- SI 508: Networks: Theory and Application (3 credits)
- SI 532 Digital Government I: Information Technology and Democratic Politics (1.5 credits)
- SI 583: Recommender Systems (1.5 credits)
- SI 631: Content Management Systems (3 credits)
- SI 679: Aggregation and Prediction Markets (1.5 credits)
- SI 683: Reputation Systems (1.5 credits)
- SI 684: eCommunities: Analysis and Design of Online Interaction Environments (3cr)
- SI 689: Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (3 credits)
And look at the Recommender Systems description as an example:
Recommender systems guide people to interesting materials based on information from other people. A large design space of alternative ways to organize such systems exists. The information that other people provide may come from explicit ratings, tags, or reviews, or implicitly from how they spend their time or money. The information can be aggregated and used to select, filter, or sort items. The recommendations may be personalized to the preferences of different users.
Do we really need a class in this? Might be more effective to head on over to Classroom 2.0 and start your own program.
I’ve said it many times, my blog, my participation in this network is my Ph.D. I know that my own experience won’t fit for everyone else. But how hard would it be to take the descriptions that U of Michigan offers, create a wiki page for each, and begin to find teachers and resources and build networks to create your own classroom “of unparalleled depth” to prepare you for a new, exiting future?
For, um, zero dollars?
Technorati Tags: social, learning, community, education, Michgan
Obviously, you learn certain types of things by participating in the community and using the tools. But surely you can learn other types of things through sustained study of these tools, at a certain level of critical detachment, using tested analytical tools, etc.
I’ve used just about every “Web 2.0” tool there is. I’ve loved it and learned much, but there are plenty of design or analytical tasks related to Web 2.0 that I’m not yet qualified to do.
I feel your arguments can be applied to many degrees. One could pick up the book(s) and study the subjects themselves.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the comment Rob. I hear you, but I guess I would ask what’s stopping you from learning those design and analytical skills on your own? I guess I’m just pushing against the idea of a degree about online social tools given in a physical, unsocial place. And all of the motivations that go behind it. In the end, don’t we want our students, as adults, to be able to do this on their own?
Harold Jarche says
How in the world would any degree â€œcertifyâ€ anyone as any kind of specialist? It’s called “book learnin'” amongst more practically minded people.
Our society & economy place a higher value on degrees than on experience (for now). The university is taking advantage of a market opportunity as well as its market position in providing certified education. Would you expect anything else?
It’s interesting that many of the concepts focused on by the courses closely follow one of the older “web 2.0” collaborative systems, open source software development. But, at the present time, I think expertise in this field has much more potential to be learned at an expert level without a degree, due to the fact it has evolved naturally as normal human interaction set in a new environment, and these online collaborative social network are still very young. Getting a degree in web 2.0 right now is akin to getting a degree in Shakespeare after he wrote his second play. It has future potential, after social networks develop further.
Yeah, that’s a class worth of material, not a degree. This is one of those degrees that becomes very obsolete, very quickly.
I may not have looked carefully enough, but am I correct that this degree is not offered at a distance. This seems like a no-brainer that this should make use of the 2.0 tools and allow for connections and learning regardless of location.
It’s weird. It’s like the people who say, “I’ve read about that,” but have no intention of engaging whatever “that” is. They want to be detached. To me, there is no detached in social computing. It’s all about being engaged. I think you could study the sociological implications of social computing, but this program seems to be trying to teach how to use social computing and how to participate in that environment–and that strikes me as odd. Unfortunately, I think some of the faculty I work with could benefit from this–and would like it better than actually participating. They can see it as an academic topic rather than as something they have to do.
School is not about learning. It’s about credentials. We keep avoiding that reality.
Will, you may see your “participation in this network is my Ph.D.” but without the certification, you’re not going to be permitted into the “brotherhood of scholars” or allowed to teach — for example — at university. Don’t matter how much ya know, without the punched ticket, you’re just another wannabe.
This is the major obstacle to real school reform. The credential holds your future hostage by becoming a barrier to economic stability. Other paths to keeping an income incoming will eventually by-pass ths credential roadblock — as Will is doing with his consulting gig. But so long as educators work in schools, the threshold for employment will remain the credential that is only granted to those who have been indoctrinated appropriately and certified by the proper authorities.
It’s a little bit shocked to read all this anti-intellectualism on an education blog. Self-teaching is important. I love to do it. But it’s important to know its limits.
While it’s technically possible to learn just about anything, it’s much easier to learn disciplinary or professional habits of mind and self-critical inquiry in a community dedicated to it. Lots of non-historians read history books, but it’s not very common to find someone who has developed the skills of the historian without doing graduate work in history. I’m afraid to sound a little like Larry Sanger, but we’ve got to find some better way of reconciling the democratization of knowledge with respect for expertise. Especially on an education blog!
And now I have to catch a plane to visit a PhD program I may start next year. So there’s my bias.
I’m a little bit shocked to read all this anti-intellectualism on an education blog. Self-teaching is important. I love to do it. But itâ€™s important to know its limits.
While itâ€™s technically possible to teach yourself just about anything, itâ€™s much easier to learn disciplinary or professional habits of mind and self-critical inquiry in a community dedicated to it. Lots of non-historians read history books, but itâ€™s not very common to find someone who has developed the skills of the historian without doing graduate work in history. Iâ€™m afraid to sound a little like Larry Sanger, but weâ€™ve got to find some better way of reconciling the democratization of knowledge with respect for expertise. Especially on an education blog!
And now I have to catch a plane to visit a PhD program I may start next year. So thereâ€™s my bias.
Nate, good point. But, it’s not only about credentials. Credentials are the most portable form of reputation, and as our friends at UM have pointed out through their courses, these new technologies are reputation based. Now, using web 2.0 technologies, you can instantly look up someone’s reputation (ala eBay score). How will this change education moving forward?
John Martin says
Nate makes a frustrating but all too true point in that as a society we have come to value that little slip of paper that says someone else vouches for your ability to sit through a bunch of courses and therefore “qualify” you for this (insert appropriate acronym here) degree. Even when it comes to applying for jobs, the sticking point is that sheepskin, rather than one’s ability to demonstrate their competency/competencies.
Rob: “itâ€™s much easier to learn disciplinary or professional habits of mind and self-critical inquiry in a community dedicated to it.”
If I can paraphrase, “The indoctrination goes more smoothly, if you’re surround by people who think the way you do.”
Dom: “How will this change education moving forward?”
Only those with the approved reputation are allowed to participate.
Actually, Will’s earlier post Re-Envisioning Schools gives me SOME amount of hope. I still think the answer is the Airline:Railroad analogy. As good as the railroad is, it still can’t take you to Hawaii. The current models of school won’t take us where we need to go because they’re bound by the twin rails of politics and inertia. Making this behemouth fly is going to take the singularity.
Will Richardson says
Rob…Thanks for continuing the conversation.
You wrote “itâ€™s much easier to learn disciplinary or professional habits of mind and self-critical inquiry in a community dedicated to it.”
Why can’t that be the work of this online community? With the expertise that we collectively as a group have about these tools, are you saying we can’t accomplish as much learning as we can in a physical space? I think the difference, as others have pointed out, is still the bowing down to the credential, not the knowledge.
Luke Walsh says
Continuing the “credential” topic in this conservation, I ask does a chef need to go through culinary school or would 5 years working in their own kitchen provide the experience to cook at a restaurant? Of course this depends on what restaurant one wants to work. Likewise, one who chooses a path in Social Computing must reflect on their own intentions. For example, will they do this independently building the reputation like an eBay score as Dom suggests in comment 12? Or will they choose to have a Social Computing degree speak for themselves as John Martin comments? Another perspective would be to ask what about the generation who is evolving with Web 2.0. Will they inquire why they have to get a degree in social computing when they have been living it? The answer will probably be similar to those who play video games through all their youth and then go to school to be video gamer.
Tom Hoffman says
While I doubt I’d sign up for this myself, I don’t think it is as weird as Will does. Perhaps this is because I’m more involved in the implementation of this kind of stuff. Recommendation and reputation systems are complex little problems, for example. This involves actual complicated math.
Also, social computing is inherently interesting to academics, because it creates lots of publicly accessible data that they can easily analyze. For example, it is easy to use Facebook to study the social dynamics of a college campus. Pre-Facebook, how would you do that? Many, many personal interviews and surveys.
Andrew Pass says
Nate wrote: “Will, you may see your â€œparticipation in this network is my Ph.D.â€ but without the certification, youâ€™re not going to be permitted into the â€œbrotherhood of scholarsâ€ or allowed to teach â€” for example â€” at university. Donâ€™t matter how much ya know, without the punched ticket, youâ€™re just another wannabe.”
I couldn’t disagree more with Nate. In a recent blog post, Will, you wrote that you’d been invited to sit on the Edutopia board. It looks like that esteemed foundation wasn’t concerned that you did not have letters. Many peope with Ph.D.’s wish they had the kind of speaking schedule that you have. Nate, simply take a look at the list of people who teach at Harvard. Do you think that former Senators and Congressmen are making less money than academics with Ph.D.’s?
Nate, I agree degrees are credentials. But, as credentials they are most important for people who can’t distinguish themselves in other ways. Once you are able to distinguish yourself the power of the credential becomes unimportant because people know who you are and what you can do.
I hope that in time I become as much of a wannabe as Will.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
The part I find amusing is the content to be covered is an established set of courses- very linear. It kind of defeats the purpose of social networking which emerges out of an organic mix of student directed “wisdom of the crowds” and “just in time” learning.
I have had a blast this semester with a course I am teaching at The College of William and Mary. I came with a general syllabus of concepts and then a suggested tentative schedule.
Day one, I told them this would be a constructivist course modeling social networking and connectivism that would be built from student passion and interest. It would be dynamic and constantly changing based on our interests (mine included) and student need.
I contacted a few practicing teachers from the international blogosphere– as I feel the content of teacher prep courses should be co-developed and co-taught by those who are in the field –asking them if they would like to help teach the course. I showed those I asked the course outline and said either pick a topic from there (topics are described in general ways so lots of room for redesign) or suggest one you think should be included. I left room to add to this community of learners in case a new face or connection emerged during the course.
I created a wiki and as a class we began to create knowledge and learn together. I model daily how to build a network and gain access to the content you need through original sources, online data and access to experts from around the world. We do not use a text, rather we use resources we are collectively finding and building.
Each Monday’s class is virtual and the various teachers in the blogosphere present. Each Wednesday’s class is spent creating content and unpacking the things we are learning together through this experience and in their other content courses in terms of how it all translates to 21st Century teaching and learning.
In addition, we all engage in an electronic virtual learning community that consists of student teachers (another class I have, highly accomplished tech savvy teachers from around the globe and this class of students.
All the students have started to blog and have created their own wiki space. Several projects have spun off from the students collaborating together on their own and with others in their growing personal networks.
It isnt a degree in social computing but very much an example of how you can use a higher education course to help students (preservice teachers) make sense of all they are learning (both in and out of class) through a school of the future lens. Much like in the day of Socrates — it helps to have a critical friend there modeling and asking hard questions for self- reflection.
The important thing to note– as in any good learning ecology I am learning as much as I hope they are. I am also very greatful to those in te blogoshere (especially Anne Davis and Lani Ritter-Hall) for taking time to nurture these future teachers through unsolicited comments on the students blogs.
So I am modeling and conversing: f2f, in a more formal virtual Monday guest teacher format,via the blogs, via discussion tab on their and the class wiki, via our VLC, via Skype, and through email. This sure feels like teaching in the 21st Century.
If you would like to check it all out I would be interested in your feedback-
We have it all there including archives of each virtual Monday.
Also, if you would like to take part in my future courses just drop me a line. firstname.lastname@example.org
Together we can figure all this out. Aren’t these exciting times?
Steve Poling says
I was surprised by this post. I would have guessed that you would be very supportive of a big name university being so progressive. Degrees are a very important way to gain learning as well as having qualifications for a job. You need both knowledge and degrees, not one or the other.
My question is who would hire someone with this degree? What exactly would they be doing? Is this a field that companies are hiring in? I applaud the university for being forward thinking, but have they been forward thinking enough? I guess I just don’t see the job potential. Is this one of those jobs that has yet to be created? I agree with several of the commentators that a degree “officially” lets people know that you know your stuff, but where is this person going to be going with this degree? I guess I’m just not seeing it…
“[S]imply take a look at the list of people who teach at Harvard. Do you think that former Senators and Congressmen are making less money than academics with Ph.D.â€™s?”
Nope, but I also don’t think that you can use exemplars from the priviledged class to generalize to the population.
I’m pleased that Will is on the Edutopia board. His voice will have immense value there. But Edutopia is a foundation, not a university, and my point still stands.
Find me a tenured university faculty job that does not have as one of the requirements “an earned doctorate.” Arguing that posts that are created specifically for individuals of priviledge ignores — or worse, trivializes — the real issue. Without the “posted credential” you can’t get past the HR screenings for most jobs.
My point still stands. School is about credentials and they hold their places of power by acting as the gatekeepers to economic welfare.
I will temper that to add that most teachers don’t believe this and work diligently to provide an actual education along with the credential. That’s a different subject.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
Ok- let’s forget the credentials for a moment, (I say this as someone who is in the dissertation phase of her PhD program)the reason a social computing degree is even marketable is that most folks taking classes still operate from the paradigm of mastering a containable knowledge-base as a way of becoming wise.
Law school is a similar example. Did you know you do not have to have a degree to practice law? You have to pass bar exams and most use conventional education as a passage of rite and way of preparing. But if I was self-directed and wanted to, I could become a lawyer without attending law school.
Many people go to school to get their industry certifications in preparing to be network engineers. You dont have to. I just took the tests and wallah I was in and got a high paying job, which I then left to go back to teaching.
Even education has a back door–Got a four year degree? You can take a 14 week course and become a career changer and start teaching right away with a contract.
I have a Masters degree and have taught graduate and undergraduate courses at two respected universities as a full time instructor.
Some folks havent made the shift– but truth is you can be self-directed in your learning and still accomplish the same goals without jumping through the conventional educational hoops everyone else does.
I home schooled all four kids. All four got into
colleges of their choice. Oldest makes more $ than I do, second is in medicine, third is a self-taught CADD tech working at an engineering firm (no school for that cert) while he gets his computer science degree and youngest is a theatre major. The credential of a high school diploma is often seen in the same light you are describing here– but there are alternatives.
Will’s point is social networking is organic in nature, it is emergent and messy. It seems odd to try and turn social networking into something that is contained and restrained by objectives and outcomes.
I understand his thinking. It wouldnt surprise me if at some point Will was awarded an honary PhD, often given to those who are highly successful by unconventional means. Steve Wozniak and Steven Spielberg are two that come to mind that fit that kind of learner.
However, that said– if we want to bring folks not hearing this message into the fold, if we want to go from the changing educational landscape from being on the edges and bring the message into the mainstream, then offering opportunities like this will be one way to do it.
Sometimes using conventional means is the only way to break into a new way of thinking. It seems less risky.
These are excellent points, SNB.
Law School is one of the counter examples to educational credentials, as is the network certification you mention. They rely on a ‘non-denominational’ assessment to award credential.
The Harvard Law candidate is STILL gonna beat out the self-directed learner for partner in a law firm, but that doesn’t preclude the self-directed learner from opening her own firm. And that is the other major shift that’s going to happen.
When you work for yourself, the boss may be a jerk, but at least he’s not requiring some arbitrary sheepskin. 🙂
Tim Goree says
To Angie’s post about who would hire someone with this type of degree, I feel that on the Master’s level and above it tends to be irrelevant. When it comes to most jobs, the degree (any degree) satisfies the requirement to apply for the job, but the experience tends to get the job for you. Now a days, kids who have done nothing but college all the way through to age 24 or 25 and come out with a Master’s degree in something like this with no real world experience are going to either take somewhat entry level jobs or work in academia. It seems to me that MOST people getting Master’s degrees these days are already working in their field and are looking to get the credentials and “learning” required to do greater things. In most of these cases, I would argue that ANY Master’s degree would generally do.
Also, I have to say that the lines (at least in my case) are becoming blurred between traditional higher ed and work experience. I am currently working on a Master’s degree where the university is considering allowing me to rather liberally use current work projects and blog interactivity like this to gain credits toward the degree. I realize that many institutions are unwilling to do this, but I think we are going to see more and more of this as time goes on. Basically, I’m getting credit for stuff that I am already doing any way as part of my regular work and learning process. Of course, I’m still paying for it! I imagine it will take a lot longer to get around that little detail!
Wow! As a software engineer (and husband of an educator), I must say that I find your view rather insulting. Are you somehow qualified to design social software applications just because you’ve used today’s breed? Maybe you should test that theory with some VCs. Reality will soon follow.
Brian B says
While I’m not sure why this type of degree is necessary, the community that develops in well designed graduate school programs stimulates intellectual thought processes. My PhD degree program is an “experiment” for the University of Oklahoma College of Education because we utilize virtual collaboration tools to see if we can create the same “cohort” environment over great physical distances that has proven successful in more traditional “face-to-face” cohort model programs.
Universities are trying to keep pace with the everchanging online world, this Web 2.0, where the Blogosphere is as much an intellectual stimulant as a graduate course. If this program is “face-to-face” only, then the program design is a farce. They should blend it into an online learning environment – making use of the tools they are studying. They should incorporate H.323 videoconferencing, Skype, Marratech (or maybe DimDim?!?), and Course Management Systems (like DrupalEd, Sakai or Moodle).
Finally, some bloggers here seem to indicate that the attainment of an advanced degree does not mean much. In some aspects, that’s right – but you can’t replace the research-based design of a good doctoral program. Those with PhDs are supposed to be researchers, investigating and contemplating…searching for the Truth (yes, with a capital T) – and if the attainment of Truth is even possible. While real world experience (and online participation) do count for something, I doubt most people would learn about the difference between Naturalistic and Anti-Naturalistic research methodologies without Universities. It’s boring enough to put even the most motivated learner to sleep – but it’s necessary for a researcher to understand what he or she is doing in order to add to the knowledge base.
Rob: â€œitâ€™s much easier to learn disciplinary or professional habits of mind and self-critical inquiry in a community dedicated to it.â€
Nate:If I can paraphrase, â€œThe indoctrination goes more smoothly, if youâ€™re surround by people who think the way you do.â€
No, you may not–this is outrageous. I said ‘self-critical’, which is the opposite of indoctrination. If it’s not self-critical, I don’t support it.
Will, I’d like to continue this a little bit more and respond to your #15, but right now, I need to explore the town and university where I’ll probably be spending the next 5 years.
But quickly: I wasn’t making an argument about online vs. physical communities. They have some differences, but online communities are really important. I’m more interested in the structures in expert communities that encourage diversity of opinion, questioning of assumptions, rigorously testing theories, etc. I don’t think the online edublogger community is very good on this, yet. And even if we get better, practitioners and researchers will always have some unique insights on these things, and we should respect and learn from each others’ expertise, rather than caricaturing it, as some commenters have done.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to elaborate later.
Will Richardson says
Mike and Brian and others who have been off-put by the discussion: First…thanks for chiming in. Dissent spurs thinking.
I’m not saying that the current environment doesn’t still make degrees and Ph.D.s and the like important. I’m also not saying that much can’t be learned from this degree at Michigan or other programs. What I am asking, however, is whether these degree programs are necessary these days for the learning. I’m asking, can’t I learn to do formal research, statistics and the like without being in a classroom setting? Can’t I learn to design software applications, if I am motivated to do so, without having to be taught by one teacher in one classroom over a certain period of time? At a huge cost? I think the answer to both is yes, I can do that on my own these days. These traditional structures are more convenient to most people at this point because that’s the way we have been taught to learn. You have to learn this before you learn this before you learn this. But in an environment where there are many teachers I can connect to, if I know how to find the answers I need when I need them, I can cobble together my own curriculum and process. I think we are close to a point where most anything done in physical space classrooms can be pretty well replicated in online spaces from a learning standpoint. Having the will and the werewithall to do it are other questions.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
I think Rob makes a valid point-
“Iâ€™m more interested in the structures in expert communities that encourage diversity of opinion, questioning of assumptions, rigorously testing theories, etc. I donâ€™t think the online edublogger community is very good on this, yet.”
Boy he is on to something here, although I dont know that this is the norm in most higher ed. classrooms either. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching and learning on the university level. I also love self-directed teaching and learning. Truth is– I see value teaching and learning no matter where it occurs!
I also loved Brian’s comment-
“I doubt most people would learn about the difference between Naturalistic and Anti-Naturalistic research methodologies without Universities.”
I was telling someone the other day that I felt this was the one huge piece I got from my PhD coursework, being trained as a researcher. The experience of collaborating with experienced researchers as I learned the process was well worth the investment.
That said though, if I wanted to learn qualitative or quantitative research from a hands-on perspective, from an experienced researcher– with just a few clicks I could collaborate with some of the most brilliant minds in the field. Which is not always an option in a college classroom where I do not usually get to choose my paid for mentors.
And something that *has* to change- the amount of time it takes for a blind review piece to go through the hoops of being accepted for publication. I have a paper on research I have co-written that has been in the 1st review for 9 months. At this rate, the year two replication study will be done and another paper submitted before we hear anything. In an era of instant publication and citizen journalism this has got to change.
chris larry says
This sparked some action. Will I basically agree with you, but as others pointed out its what is accepted by society. I see this as a parrell to your musing on having your ideas published in print form. You have started to see the value in that because society places an importance on punlished works, so even though your doing that online, you see a greater penetration of your ideas when you are in Edutopia, or your book etc…
Just a point of fact, since in criticism, it’s important to be precise:
It’s a MSI (Master of Science in Information) degree, not a MA and no, the courses are not taught online.
I believe the philosophy of the specialization is founded in the principles of the iSchool movement. A good summary of the thinking behind the movement can be found in an April/May 2006 BASIST article by former UM SI dean John King (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3991/is_200604/ai_n17188833).
The I-School movement is made up of novel academic programs that embrace new intellectual and professional challenges in a world awash in information…I-Schools have been born in a state of flux, and in most cases have added to that flux through ongoing innovation. There is no rest in this process…Academic traditions are conservative and do not readily welcome new fields of endeavor that appear to be searching for their center. Hesitancy with respect to identity evokes suspicions of intellectual weakness and lack of purpose. Such suspicion is a handicap in the best of times; it is particularly threatening in an era of budgetary stress.
For current K-12 information professionals, I think the more productive discussion would be to figure out how we re-envision information in the K-12 space to be a continuingly compelling and innovative area of study in this time that all information-related education is being rethought.
You may not agree that SI hasn’t gotten it right with this degree, but like it or not, they’re on the forefront of what’s next for information professions.
Will Richardson says
Thanks, Maria. I was hoping someone from U of M might stop by. Apologies for the error in the degree, and thanks for pointing it out. I still have to wonder that this is at the forefront of what’s next, however. If anything, this seems like more of the same. The subject is new, but are the underlying pedagogies any different? Is the learning any different? And is it really a re-envisioning of information that we need or a re-envisioning of learning? That’s what I’m struggling with, not so much this specific program.
Wait a minute! Isn’t this discussion a perfect example of an expert community that is encouraging diverse opinions? What I find ironic is that this post is prompting great discussion of many voices.
From an employer perspective I would love to see software developers come with the skills to design and build with social computing in mind. From my experience, after interviewing countless applicants, the only way to really know if the developer can develop is to view his/her work. Frankly, the degree doesn’t mean a whole lot (except in the paperwork to hire the person as it is required). Many energetic, highly innovative and skilled self-taught developers have been turned away from our organization because they don’t have the degree required by the policies that guide employment in the education/civil service system.
We are still, for the most part, a society that needs to be told what to learn, shown how to learn it, and be forced to make the time for that learning. For the sake of education reform, I think having courses at the University level is essential. For now, educators need that “sheepskin” to enter the classroom. The University program that carves out part of the curriculum for social computing concepts is also forcing the pre-service teacher to carve out time to focus on these concepts and skills.
What a self-taught learner does is independently carve out time to locate and participate in a community of experts. Learning is guided by desire, rather than curriculum or notion that somebody else holds a map to enlightenment. The self-learner understands that there is no end to learning.
What a degree does is give a sense that learning is “complete”. It allows us to “check off” our learning as if there were a finite amount to be accomplished. Degrees are the “standardization” of learning that we in-turn, as an education system, impart to our students. Educators and Employers need that sort of standardization to expedite the hiring process (with some measure of â€œcyaâ€).
What educators profess as a goal is the creation of self-motivated independent life long learners. What employers want are innovative workers with willingness and ability to learn with speed and efficiency, in context of the job at hand. Degrees are poor predictors of self-motivation, independence and life long learning capacity. Degrees mean you have carved out a set amount of time dedicated to a documented purpose, and paid an institution to help get you through the employment vetting process.
Maybe what we really need is a degree in self-directed learning. Now that would be ironic!
Liz Lawley says
Wow…Will, much as I enjoy and respect much of what you have to say, I really have to agree with the poster who described this post–and many of the comments–as anti-intellectualism.
The fact that a subject is “self-teachable” doesn’t mean that there’s no value in a structured educational program. *Any* subject can be self-taught, but few people claim that law school is worthless because all those books are already in the library and anyone could learn the subject.
There’s also a big difference between being able to do something, and being able to analyze and assess it critically. The reason people listen to and cite danah boyd and Lee Rainie (of Pew) is because they bring an analytical research approach to subjects that most of us have only an anecdotal understanding of. That’s what a graduate degree seeks to accomplish–to provide people with a broad-based understanding of a topic, to push them to see different points of view on a subject, to assess analytically and critically.
Can you do that without a degree? Sure. But most people don’t know how, or know how and don’t bother.
Does everyone working in social software “need” such a degree? Of course not. Nobody’s arguing that.
Schools, in the meantime, are apparently damned if they do teach innovative curriculum (as this thread indicates) *and* damned if they don’t, since the digerati then dis them for being irrelevant.
Also, to the commenter who thinks that it ought to be taught as a distance course–that might be true if all that was being taught was the technology. But as someone who teaches distance and in-classroom classes, I know my experience has been that the learning is much stronger–and better reinforced by community and cohort–when there’s an in-person, RL component. All or nothing is seldom an effective strategy.
Will Richardson says
Liz: Good to hear from you, even if it’s in disagreement. ;0)
I’m not feeling anti-intellectual here, I don’t think, at least. And I know that I often have to temper my tendency to apply my lens to everyone else’s realities. Maybe this is one of those instances where I’m not doing a great job. But I guess it’s my lens that brings me to challenge much of the traditional structures of learning right now. When you write “Thatâ€™s what a graduate degree seeks to accomplishâ€“to provide people with a broad-based understanding of a topic, to push them to see different points of view on a subject, to assess analytically and critically,” I’m tempted to say “but, isn’t that what’s happening right here, right now in this thread, in this conversation?” I hear you on that analysis part, no doubt. And again, not saying that this unstructured (at least in this instance) environment is as good or better than what Michigan is offering. But I just wonder if it could be… And if it could be, is it then damned by the fact that there is no degree attached?
sylvia martinez says
I agree with Liz (#36) – this post seemed to unnecessarily draw a line in the sand between practitioners and academics.
To add one more point to this, just because something looks messy and emergent doesn’t mean it is. You could have said the same thing about weather or economics (or medicine for that matter) many years ago. I’m certainly glad someone decided to go beyond being a practitioner in those subjects and look for underlying theory. There are whole branches of mathematics invented in the last 50 years that strive to explain things that seemed unexplainable before that and many of these deal with emergent and seemingly chaotic systems.
Just think, you could be practicing a new field of social mathematics and not even know it. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone figured it out?
Dave Ehrhart says
I think having a degree in Social Computing is no more ironic that having a social network of people whom you never meet, who never see your real self. Are we to become a “society” of people with not real social interaction in real time and space? Or isn’t that type of socialization necessary? Any answers?
Alfred Thompson says
For a lot of people the academic experience will really jumpstart their active/experience based learning. Where is a beginner in social computing to start? How long will it take them to learn the ground that more experienced people learned as the blogosphere was developing? I think that for other people who have first hand experience the course work will bring some focus, tie things together and hopefully fill in gaps in their previous learning. A mix of self-learning and formal study has long seemed like the idea way for a life-long learner to progress.
Credentials, anti-intellectualism, learning communities, autodidactism. . . we’re really running the gamut.
What seems to be missing here is the U of Michigan perspective. Much of the debate has been about the real-world necessity of the degree-as-credential (someone used the “piece of paper” adage. . . isn’t that a lovely irony?). Couldn’t it go the other way? Couldn’t this degree program be construed as Michigan’s attempt to create a calling card for itself in the edublogosphere—a sort of reverse credential?
Nate predicted that an inevitable result of this split between traditionally-credentialed and self-directed learners is more entrepreneurs. To paraphrase his law analogy: those students with credentials will be hired by law firms; the self-directed ones will start their own firms. Arguably, the U of Michigan is engaging in some self-directed entrepreneurial behavior of its own.
Liz Lawley says
Will, debates like this are absolutely a good example of a back-and-forth collaborative learning process. But expecting that people will systematically (a) seek out and (b) find examples of every important theme and its associated points of view is–I think–naive.
The real value of a formal educational process is that all too often “we don’t know what we don’t know”–and so without a systematic structured approach to a complex topic we run the very real risk of not seeing the big picture, and falling into the trap of generalizing from our anecdotal experience.
Brian B says
Sheryl, I think you will find that a lot of PhD programs have changed quite a bit. We have several of my classmates already published in academic journals based on the research they have conducted for our Qualitative and Quantitative research courses. I am awaiting acceptance (or denial perhaps) of my research to be presented this summer at a national conference of educational professors – with my first research project, and my second project is currently underway. Neither of these projects is my dissertation – in fact I’d like to get them published so that I can cite them in my dissertation – not very many can say they’ve done that! (Perhaps a little silly, but I think it would be fun).
I definitely see your point about using Web 2.0 tools to collaborate with “experts” – our major problem here is that some of the experts don’t understand the tools of Web 2.0. Most of our professors at least try – and with our (my cohort) encouragement, they end up pretty successful. Who’s teaching who here?
Will, I think you’ve really gotten some good discussion going on here – 40+ replies and climbing!
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
Yeah… I am in my PhD program right now too. I have presented on the research I mentioned a couple of times too at national conferences– last one AACTE in NY. However, the journal has been reviewing the article for 9 months. (It is a top journal and tough to get in– but we havent even been turned down yet) Like you, this isnt my dissertation either– it is a project I helped write a grant for and led year one implementation and research (wrote the article) and am now overseeing year two implementation of the project. (if you are interested in knowing more… Click Here
However, my point wasnt about the PhD programs– my point was that with the trend toward self-publishing, citizen journalism, and the immediate feedback available in the blogosphere– the turn around time in peer reviewed journals was going to have to improve, especially at the rate technology and information is changing.
Tom Hoffman says
There are just some facts on the ground that are missing from this conversation. Several of these courses are simply on topics that do not have a lot of easily accessible literature. Do some Google and Amazon searches for designing or analyzing reputation or recommendation systems. You don’t find a lot. There isn’t even a lot of open source code for these, because these are systems that are very focused on providing a competitive edge for companies. They’re too complicated to dash off useful blog posts or brief HOWTO’s about. A graduate level course in game theory is a prerequisite for the course in recommender systems!
Dean Phillips says
I have recently written an article regarding Wiki Technology and Human Capital. In the future, credentials will not matter as much as knowledge, and published content. The permutations of wiki and blog networks is expanding at an exponential rate.
What will the Universities look like in 5 years? The University landscape is going to change. The professional training center technology will be vastly different in 5 years. You tube, and other self publishing technology will enpower the educator, professor or subject matter expert to be their own training center, radio host, etc. and the list goes on!
See the Article-Freedom of Human Capital-The Power of Internet Wiki
I agree with Heather. The irony here is that this degree is not offered online… (I e-mailed the school just to be sure!) Hmm…
It isnt a degree in social computing but very much an example of how you can use a higher education course to help students (preservice teachers) make sense of all they are learning (both in and out of class) through a school of the future lens. Much like in the day of Socrates â€” it helps to have a critical friend there modeling and asking hard questions for self- reflection.
There are two key points here that I would agree with wholeheartedly.
Firstly just because some people use Web 2.0 tools a lot doesn’t mean that they can leverage the full potential for learning out of those tools. Even the appropriate use of Web 2.0 tools is very patchy in my experience. Working online in a community where one aim is the critical evaluation of those tools, as well as abstracting or chunking up to get to the essential meaning is invaluable.
Also having others to ask the ‘hard questions’, provoke criticism and reflection is invaluable.
This is just another attempt of traditional school to re-establish itself as “the authority” over learning. Scarcity and authority no longer present the only way to learn. School has become irrelevant to the future of learning.
mark oehelrt says
Pardon me for arriving late but as an anthropologist I did have a question….what the hell? Leaving aside the whole credential question and much like discussions over the 2nd Amendment, I am struck moreso by the 1st clause “learn to analyze online social interactions, both in online communities and in more diffuse social networks.”
Umm…I looked through the courses and didn’t see a one on anthropology or ethnography in general nor one on kinship analysis or even one on social network analysis. I’m just really looking at the what is being offered here and it seems to fall short of preparing one technically to design and or manage a social network and it seems to fall short of providing one the “deep reading” capabilities required to critical analyze and “read” social networks…oh thanks to the poster who dismissed most of the social sciences or really any qualitative methodology as mere “anecdotal understanding”…
So even if this degree is offered by an institution that is fully immersed in a regime that seeks to repress the ability to gain socially valuable credentials except thru their doors…isn’t the degree itself as currently constructed, rather a badly designed mishmash which offers to provide neither a skill set for building or analyzing social networks?