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More than collective intelligence

January 17th, 2008 Dennis Harter No comments

Will Richardson followed up his request for contributions to his wiki page mentioned in my last post with a thank you and an expression of appreciation for the power of people getting together to offer their ideas and share with others. To that, I left the following as a comment and since it is so closely related to my previous post, I thought I’d share it here.

(apologies to those who read it on Weblogg-ed already.)

The power of the collective intelligence that we can tap into with the web continues to amaze me. But even more so now, I am impressed and encouraged by the willingness of people to do so.

People continue to want to better EVERYONE’S knowledge and understanding through sharing, collaborating, and conversation.

I remember someone telling me (though I can’t remember who) that true collaboration is when educators recognize that they are no longer responsible for the education of their students, but rather they are responsible for the education of ALL students.

While easy for me to say in my tech coordinator role – it’s a tough thing to let go of and acknowledge for a lot of educators.

At the school level, that means a teacher letting go of caring only about the experience that their own students get and sharing ideas and resources with colleagues so that all children at the grade level or school benefit.

At an administrative level, that means letting go of representing only your own building or division and working cooperatively with other administrators to ensure that all students in the district or school can best learn.

What I see daily on the web is that very concept applied to its greatest level. We share ideas and resources not only so that our kids at our schools benefit, but so that ALL kids at ALL schools benefit.

We want EDUCATION to improve, and together, we are collaborating and conversing to make that happen.

Together we are all smart AND sharing.

That’s a pretty powerful combination.

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Our collective intelligence

January 16th, 2008 Dennis Harter 1 comment

Will Richardson, Karl Fisch, and Anne Smith presented outside of Philadelphia on the Read/Write web in a session called, “21st Century Education: 20/20 Vision for Schools”. In preparing for that, they put out a plea to edu-bloggers to chime in with tips, sites, or encouragement for the educators in seeing the direction that we believe education needs to go.

They have a wiki for this which is quickly developing into a fine example of the power of our Web to tap into the collective intelligence/knowledge of people – in this case the edu-bloggers.

As Will suggests in his blog, our contributions prove the very point we try to make about the power of the current and future web.

In essence, we want them to walk away understanding the power of connections that can reach far beyond the classroom.

Today, Justin, Kim, and I were de-briefing after a UStream presentation with the FLNW guys and Justin mentioned how important that online community is for the unconverted in helping them to see that lots of people out there are “getting it” and on board. That online community’s participation – whether through a blog comment, a wiki contribution, or a live chat presence – give credibility to the very tools that we extoll in our presentations. That presence does more for getting teacher buy-in than anything we could say. It’s like seeing the impact of learning happening right before their eyes.

So get on that wiki and add! Prove that the collaborative power of this technology can tap into the intelligence of the many.

I am already adding that single page to my Delicious – it’s going to grow into a fine resource.

Thanks to all of you us.

photo by jurvetson, found on Flickr Creative Commons

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Harnessing Human Power the Right Way

May 28th, 2007 Dennis Harter 2 comments

Know what a CAPTCHA is? I didn’t, or at least I didn’t know that’s what they were called. CAPTCHA stands for “completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart.”

What are they?

There those little images that we have to translate into text in order to submit our orders or comment on a blog.

captcha

So what do they have to do with harnessing human power? This really interesting Washington Post article describes how the time spent doing that could be spent helping digitize thousands of books that are too difficult to scan using OCR.

Researchers estimate that about 60 million of those nonsensical jumbles are solved everyday around the world, taking an average of about 10 seconds each to decipher and type in.

Instead of wasting time typing in random letters and numbers, Carnegie Mellon researchers have come up with a way for people to type in snippets of books to put their time to good use, confirm they’re not machines and help speed up the process of getting searchable texts online.

“Humanity is wasting 150,000 hours every day on these,” said Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. He helped develop the CAPTCHAs about seven years ago.

It’s a pretty phenomenal idea. Use the collective time and minimal effort of EVERYONE to do what otherwise would be a painfully tedious task for many. Is this the future of menial digital labor?

Already we have examples of how machines can work together in bit torrent and massive mathematical calculations (to name a couple). What about using humans the same way?

Concerning those 150,000 hours/per day (!) von Ahn goes on to ask, “Is there any way in which we can use this human time for something good for humanity, do 10 seconds of useful work for humanity?”

Von Ahn is working with the Internet Archive, which runs several book-scanning projects, to use CAPTCHAs for this instead. Internet Archive scans 12,000 books a month and sends von Ahn hundreds of thousands of files that are images that the computer doesn’t recognize. Those files are downloaded onto von Ahn’s server and split up into single words that can be used as CAPTCHAs at sites all over the Internet.

If enough users decipher the CAPTCHAs in the same way, the computer will recognize that as the correct answer.

How cool is this? I love that smart people are thinking about stuff like this. The plan would be to replace current CAPTCHAs with images from books that need digitizing. The name of the project…reCAPTCHA. That’s good.

Let’s share this idea with kids and teachers. Get them thinking about the power of so many people doing little things. Get them to see how collectively we can do so much. And then get them thinking about the possibilities of collective human intelligence for solving world problems.

Now that’s “harnessing human power in exactly the right way.”

"The Resilient Power of Common Sense" – Wikipedia in the Economist

March 20th, 2007 Dennis Harter No comments

(originally posted on harterlearning on Mar 12, 2007)

The Economist just ran an article on Wikipedia, which while behind the times for us in ed. tech. blogging, is a good indicator on how the rest of the web-not-quite-2.0 world perceives it or will come to perceive it. After all, the Economist is the intellectual’s magazine.

Wikipedia has strengths too, chiefly the resilient power of collective common sense.

The article shares how anonymity can be a problem with Wikipedia, but then argues that collectively it is in fact VERY well maintained and that even many of the pretend-experts are conscientious, careful, and accurate.

Constant scrutiny and editing means even the worst articles are gradually getting better, while the best ones are kept nicely polished and up to date. Someone, eventually, will spot even the tiniest error, or tighten a patch of sloppy prose. Mr Jordan, for all his bragging, seems to have been a scrupulous and effective editor.

It’s a great article to share with your teachers. As much as I have tried, I come across teachers who are resistant to the idea that Wikipedia can be trusted or that Wikipedia can be used as a source by students. They think that they are teaching good research skills. I think they are missing an opportunity for students to think critically, to defend arguments, and to confirm information from other sources.

Has anyone else come across the attempting-to-be-web-savvy teacher who in efforts to show they are “with it” with new technologies, make the pre-emptive ban on using Wikipedia as a source with students?

Are we not missing out on conversations with students on “collective common sense”? Or global participatory culture? Educators complain about misuse and abuse of social networking sites like MySpace, but fail to acknowledge the powerful force for shared knowledge that Wikipedia (and other sites have become). Web 2.0 is being used for good right in front of even the most tech-resistant noses, but they miss it hiding behind “anyone could write it, so it’s not allowed.”

The quality of writing is often a good guide to an entry’s usefulness: inelegant or ranting prose usually reflects muddled thoughts and incomplete information. A regular user soon gets a feel for what to trust.

I thought that was a nice quote to describe exactly what we are missing out on, by not allowing kids to use Wikipedia. Don’t we want kids developing that skill of getting “a feel for what to trust”?

I’m going to be sharing this article with my staff. Let’s see if it can get our own conversation started.

[on a side note...Conservapedia?!? Really?!]