Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ideacast on Wikinomics

On Harvard Business Online...


(Also posted on

"The art and science of harnessing mass collaboration for innovation and growth" is (roughly) how Don Tapscott describes the term Wikinomics.

For many of us (especially educators interested and involved in issues of technology in education) Don Tapscott's 1987 work Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation was mandatory reading in our professional studies. Tapscott's new book Wikinomics:How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (co-authored with Anthony D. Williams) may well become required reading for students of economics, business management, commerce and for just about anyone wanting to engage actively the ideas of openness and collaboration that this new web is fostering.

"In its latest incarnation, the World Wide Web has become a communal experience—collaborators from anywhere and any walk of life now have the ability to solve problems and produce results through the use of collective wisdom. Although some business leaders may find the prospect of this kind of openness rather frightening, Tapscott believes that leveraging the new wave of community is the way of the future." [Source: Harvard Business Review]

All of us here on this forum for educators too are a part of this new culture of collaboration and dialogue, and "community", that these new authoring and publishing tools of the web have afforded us.

Our teens and youth are a part of it already - through their social networks on orkut, hi5 and others. For those of us teachers with access to the Internet in our schools, how we teach must change as well to use the opportunities that the new web affords for student collaboration, as well as publishing and sharing student work - to prepare our next generation for a world that will be governed to a large extent by Wikinomics.

The $100 laptop

(Also posted on

"It's an education project, not a laptop project" is how Nicholas Negroponte describes the landmark One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project that leverages affordable technology for education.

Last July, India rejected the OLPC idea as "pedagogically suspect" and not "mature enough to be taken seriously at this stage". The announcement must have come as a blow to the project given the size of the Indian market for the product. One cannot argue with India's reasoning - "We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools."

The project has progressed since, and the first shipment to the pilot countries (Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Thailand & Uruguay) is happening around now. The OLPC wiki has a wealth of information on the vision, the current state of the project, the timeline, the pedagogy, and tons of other stuff for developers, and anyone else who wants to be engaged in this project in some way. (They are looking for translators to develop content and translate the websites into local languages).

A comment on the pedagogy (the one the Indian government called "suspect") - this project is basically an extension/realization of the beliefs of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab; the constructivist pedagogy that Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick have championed for over 2 decades now. There are links to some good articles from the wiki on these ideas of constructivism. While I agree with the "need for classrooms and teachers in India" rationale, I would personally not call the pedagogy "suspect", and I should add that the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 that came out of our NCERT talks about a "inquiry-based" pedagogy that is akin to constructivism (even if they have not used that particular term). I think the ideas of what education could and should look like, that have emerged from the Media Lab, are sound - they just have not been tried out on such a mass scale, and with tools such as the $100 laptop.

As with all tools for education - technology-based or otherwise - the teacher+tool combination will be key i.e. how well teachers understand them and use them with their students.

Will these delicious-looking machines just be "fancy tools" with no lasting impact on the education landscape of developing countries or will they change the face of education in our lifetime? Is it just another "cutesy" idea to emerge from a developed nation to be tested on poor, developing countries? Only time will tell...until then - India's strategy to wait and watch may not be a bad one. What do you think?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Citizendium: "Our new compendium of knowledge" is the new Wikipedia

It's no coincidence that to write an article about the wikipedia, and explain a term that will soon be as much a part of our vocabulary as the term 'wikipedia' is, I am citing a link to the wikipedia itself!

If you are a teacher who uses google for your everyday searching on the Internet, then you must know that for most of the topics that we discuss in class or give our students assignments to "find out about" - a lot of our information today is picked up from this "wiki" that has put been together by thousands of unknown names and faces. We all - teachers and students - are relying on a mass of information put up by anyone and we never really stop to question the quality of this information. In a recent article I read on the issue of the indiscriminate use of the internet in the classroom - this is what I came across (I have not tried it but I am inclined to believe the stats) -

"Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, dominates all of these searches, appearing in the top ten every time.

  • China - Wikipedia = #1
  • acid rain - Wikipedia = #4
  • Montreal - Wikipedia = #3
  • Charles de Gaulle - Wikipedia = #1
  • Virginia Woolf - Wikipedia = #1"

Anyway, as it turns out, the founders of the Wikipedia are also worried about this trend; and so we have a Citizendium in the works!

"Citizendium works much like Wikipedia in many ways. Both are considered wikis, which are collaborative web sites that represent the ongoing, collective work of many authors. (Similar to a blog in structure and logic, a wiki allows anyone to edit, delete, or modify content that has been placed on the site--including the work of previous authors--using only a browser interface.)"

But unlike the wikipedia, the Citizendium will require contributors to register their names and the project has tapped subject-matter experts to serve as content editors.

I'm sure this will herald even more reckless use of information from the Internet, the only difference will be that the recklessness with the new wiki will be less problematic as far as the quality and sanctity of the information is concerned.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Arvind Gupta and Toys from Everyday Stuff...

Ref. previous post.. here's another youtube video...

My first foray into video sharing...

I had the pleasure of watching toymaker and tinkerer, Arvind Gupta (also winner of the National award for Science Popularization) in action at Mallya Aditi International School, Bangalore where he was invited to spend a few days with 6th-graders. The children enjoyed their time with him immensely - building air and water pumps out of empty toothpaste tubes, straws and empty film roll cannisters, motors out of batteries, magnets and copper wire, sound-makers out of straw, toys and animals from paper and matchboxes and what not.

I uploaded a couple of short videos onto youtube to share it with the kids and teachers (and the whole world, I guess...)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth - 'you owe it to yourself'


"Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced."

 Al Gore's documentary film (which has been nominated for an Oscar in the documentary film category) is a must-see. I can see this film as a great resource for starting discussions in an Environmental Education middle- or high-school class. While the movie focuses mainly on the issue of global warming, it will not take much for a teacher to extend the ideas to topics such as the water crisis, renewable and alternate energy sources, sustainable living...the list is endless. A fabulous effort by the man who introduced himself as - "I'm Al Gore, I used to be the next president of the United States of America."

A quotable quote mentioned in the film (among many) - "You can't make somebody understand something if their salary depends upon them not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair