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Friday, June 13, 2008

Bottom up behavior

This is the first of several installments on the topic of bottom up or "emergent" behavior.

The "wiki" is an excellent example of bottom up/ participatory behavior. If you are new to the the topic, visit Wikipedia. In short, a wiki allows anyone in the world with Internet access the ability to enter or edit website content. This was alarming to many people at first, since information might easily be distorted or fabricated. But an interesting phenomenon has emerged because of this - the self-corrective nature of people. Calvin Andrus, the chief technology officer for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Center for Mission Innovation, has been advocating for the use of wikis for a while now. I'm discussing it here because I think it applies well to education. When people feel that their contribution matters, they will be more likely to get involved.

"As an example, he points to a Wikipedia [www.wikipedia. com] entry on last summer’s terrorist bombings in London. Within 90 minutes of the bombing, a Wikipedia page was posted about the event and was updated almost continually in the days that followed. 'There was no editor-in-chief. No one told anybody to do this. [People] took it upon themselves to make this entry. They were empowered,' Andrus said."


The phenomenon is interesting and suggests several applications to education: 1.) Information should not be presented to students as static because it is always evolving; 2.) Compare a teacher presenting information to the class in a one way
format (top down) to the "wiki" way of doing things. In a wiki more people can get involved and information corrects itself over time and provides multiple perspectives.

For more on this topic, look for workshop dates in the fall here.