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Get Outside Your Echo Chamber!

Kevin Kelly — KK* Lifestream

“In the network economy, nine times out of ten, your fiercest competitor will not come from your own field. In turbulent times, when little is locked in, it is imperative to search as wide as possible for places where innovations erupt. Innovations increasingly intersect from other domains. A ceaseless blanket search–wide, easy, and shallow–is the only way you can be sure you will not be surprised. Don’t read trade magazines in your field; scan the magazines of other trades. Talk to anthropologists, poets, historians, artists, philosophers. Hire some 17-year-olds to work in your office. Make a habit to visit a web site at random. Tune in to talk radio. Take a class in scenario making. You’ll have a much better chance at recognizing the emergence of something important if you treat these remote venues as neighbors.”

Reading Kevin Kelly’s admonition to cast a wider net into other disciplines comes from the simple observation that many innovations come from outside one’s own field. Revolutions rarely come from within. In that spirit I would like to request that others write a little about the outside sources that jostle the status quo within education either intentionally or by accident.

Here are a few sites I recommend to get you out of your edublogging echo chamber:

1. One of my favorites is Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf’s The Quantified Self. Any look at recent posts will inspire you to think about your own discipline.

* For example, why can’t classes be more like Meet-Ups? Some of my most successful classes were ones where we met socially for breakfast or coffee/tea. Why not have a Meet-Up Monday?
* What about observing our disciplines and student use of tools within the discipline? A recent post about Bill Jarrold describes how he uses the command line to log productivity. Why not use Twitter and Twitter hashtags to “log” writing productivity of all sorts that your students produce? I teach composition and have wondered about my students’ writing lives. This would be a good way to open up a can of observation on ’em.
* What about foursquare to extend the boundaries of your classroom? I have been wondering about how to bring games into the classroom and this might be it. What are the affordances of foursquare in the classroom? This post suggests a data visualization for it and some more ideas. Yes, I think this will do.

2. Another one is ze frank’s page:

* I love how the effectiveness of the blog-comment template is shown so well here. It is a pattern that any writer can use to attract an audience. Besides it demonstrates one of ze frank’s principles so well–surprise is everywhere.

3. Or Dave Snowden’s excellent and evocative Cognitive Edge. While technically inside of the envelope of learning and education he also writes about leadership and family.

* Snowden’s software, SenseMaker Suite, might be applicable to my burgeoning dissertation interest in social capital in professional learning communities.
* Or perhaps you discover a quote that thoroughly bumfuzzles your mind like this one: “In general, if a community is not physically, temporally and spiritually rooted, then it is alienated from its environment and will focus on survival rather than creativity and collaboration.” This may seem obvious to many, but to me it points to the sterility of classrooms in general and to mine in paricular. One of the oddest feelings I have gotten since I moved from teaching high school to university has been a ‘coldness’. I miss the heat of high school and I think this quote explains this in part and points me toward a major goal for fall classes–figure out ways to root my classes. And I also think about how to ‘root’ my online classes as well.

4. How about Scott McCloud’s Mind Dump where I discovered:

* Eric Mazur’s physics class where he makes the awesomely sensible and arguable assertion that you can forget facts but you can’t forget understanding. This guy is my new hero and I am determined to apply some of his techniques for physics to my lit and comp classes.
* Or perhaps I will be moved to print up this quote from Seth Godin that McCloud points to for our consideration: “The internet has dramatically widened the number of available substitutes. You don’t have to like it, but it’s true. That means you have to work far harder to create work that can’t easily be replaced.” How can I make myself less replaceable? That is an essential question for every world class employee who wants real job security.

How about the blog Sports Are 80% Mental ?

* File this under the category “Everything You Know Is Wrong”: “Physical activity had no impact on weight change, but weight clearly led to less activity.” In other words don’t be hatin’ on the fat man or boy or woman or girl. My second thought when I read this was whether there are similar ‘Truths’ in my discipline that need puncturing. What are the assumptions that guide my work that might be wrong? I will be on my guard for this during the upcoming school year and will report back.

The idea that innovation comes from outside seems right biologically– growth occurs along the edge (wherever that might be). So my challenge to you is to bring back similar (and better) missives from the fraxillated margins.  Just fold one interest right on top of another and that’s where you might want to be.

About tellio

This website will be dedicated to the miscellany of living la vida English. The audience will be weblog companero: students, teachers, and fellow travellers down this road barely trampled. I will be adding occasional posts about where I am going, where you might be going, or wherever I please. The map ain't the damn territory. I am doing this because I know it makes me feel better about the trip if I have a notebook along with me. All the better to make it digital and public.


2 thoughts on “Get Outside Your Echo Chamber!

  1. THANK YOU for helping to increase awareness of the critical value of diversity. What you describe has a great deal to do with a neurobiological phenomenon commonly known as TRUST, and in this regard I would encourage you to read the outstanding piece by Paul Zak in Scientific American June 2008 (I can supply this if you have trouble finding it). Pay special attention to the link between low levels of trust and countries with equally low degrees of economic well-being.

    Even more importantly, however, is the relationship of diversity to human progress, and for this you will want to see the article, “How to Tap the Wisdom of the Crowd,” in the June 2009 issue of Scientific American.

    In the end you will discover a fascinating irony: The Survive/thrive impulse, the most fundamental of all instincts for both plants and animals, leads us to form subcultures or ‘tribal units’ for the sake of maximizing survival potential. Yet it is this very instinct which has precluded the maximization of diversity through the centuries. Prohibiting diversity (for cultural reasons) has had the effect of chlorinating the gene pool, as it were, thereby weakening the human race. In the extreme, consider the harmful effects of inbreeding by royal families – or even dog breeders.

    The lesson is clear: with greater cognition comes greater responsibility – to be ‘alert’ to the notion that what may seem counterintuitive (ie, diversity) may in fact be the very key to our becoming stronger and wiser over time. To fully appreciate the significance of this, however, one only need recognize that the most unspeakable crimes of humanity – against itself – arose not from the cauldron of religion, race or culture. Ultimately, the real culprit is the simple yet profound animal instinct-driven impulse of provincialism, a dynamic which, unless checked by intentional cognizance, will continue to use every available means to insure its own survival.

    Jon Mkl Sherry
    Camp*aign for American Kids

    Posted by Jon Mkl Sherry | August 7, 2010, 4:10 pm
  2. Great suggestions, Tellio –

    I saw the other Scott McCloud speak at #NCTE06 – he’s great, too. I’d love to build a digital story-telling/community oral-history school off of Understanding Comics and Making Comics. His works, website, and inventions are just awesome for inspiring ideas about teaching and learning.

    Anyway, reformers of all types need to keep looking for outside influence, or else face stagnation. Innovation isn’t innovation because any of us say it is.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 11, 2010, 6:32 pm

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