I’m reading The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman and so far (100 pages in) it’s a fascinating deconstruction of how technology is “flattening” the playing field by connecting global workers in ways never before possible. While he may overdo the metaphor at times, he makes a clear point: this is a changed world and the pace of change is only going to accelerate.
One quote that especially struck me was from IBM VP Irving Wladawsky-Berger:
This emerging era is characterized by the collaborative innovation of many people working in gifted communitites, just as innovation in the industrial era was characterized by individual genius.
Now I suppose you could argue that innovation is still in large part due to individual genius, and that the difference is that now we can share that more easily. The communities in which innovation takes place are now potentially much larger than when the barons of industry drove the ideas early in the Twentieth Century. But the relevance to the modern classroom certainly still holds, I think. We are still in a model that awards individual genius more than collaborative innovation. We focus on what the student does or knows more than what he contributes, yet in an exceedingly more “open source” world, contribution is the expectation.
We have the tools (blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.) to teach our students the value of contributing. We can make the content we ask them to produce relevant to this new model if we as educators begin to think more broadly about what we and our students can do with that work. Our students contributions can extend beyond the system-imposed limits of space and time to audiences near and far who can find that work today, tomorrow, or ten years from now. And our students can experience the social interaction that those contributions generate as well, watch as their ideas are refined or refuted or revised. All of which teaches them what it means to be a part of the gifted communities of practice that are springing up all around them.
Students are not now a part of the “intellectual commons” as Friedman refers to it…but they could be.