The Investigative Mindset:

I real­ized if I made good, informed deci­sions I could solve prob­lems in both nor­mal and edge cases. Instead of a one-time answer, I could build a frame­work to answer any ques­tion. A men­tal­ity. The out­come of find­ing the answer, solv­ing the prob­lem, shar­ing the solution—rewards this mind­set. A loop. Doing it over and over.

Does journalism work?

Journalism with­out effect does not deserve the spe­cial place in democ­racy that it tries to claim.

But rather than the head­lines reflect­ing the most impor­tant events, per­haps they should reflect the most per­ni­cious mis­con­cep­tions. Good jour­nal­ists already have some sense of this, and every so often we learn of an alarm­ing gap in pub­lic knowledge.

Jonathan Stray’s lat­est mas­ter­piece. As he notes, jour­nal­ism must be about improv­ing the day-to-day func­tion­ing of a society.

Clouds and coins

A bit about school from an excel­lent short essay by Jonathan Harris:

The class was a crash course in things that are usu­ally picked up slowly and by acci­dent, like lost coins, over the course of your life. This class was so mem­o­rable because it was so lit­tle like school, and so much like life. School is basi­cally a way of keep­ing peo­ple occu­pied — a the­atri­cal set piece designed to take up time and spit out con­sent­ing consumers.

Any adult knows that what he really knows he did not learn in school. The grad­ual accu­mu­la­tion of expe­ri­ence is really how we learn. But unlike school, life is unpre­dictable, so it would be dan­ger­ous to leave the teach­ing of life to life. Just think how much would get left out of the cur­ricu­lum, and how hard it would be to stan­dard­ize tests!

Paperworks / Padworks

Difficult to pull just one quote from the recent Mark Pesce arti­cle but this is my favorite:

we need to think of every edu­ca­tor in Australia as a con­trib­u­tor of value.  More than that, we need to think of every stu­dent in Australia as a con­trib­u­tor of value.  That’s the vital gap that must be crossed.

The arti­cle is one of the clearer state­ments of what we can do in edu­ca­tion by incre­men­tally chang­ing ourselves.

Medieval Multitasking and Focus

A few weeks ago Religion Dispatches pub­lished an arti­cle about medieval man­u­scripts and mul­ti­task­ing. The point is that for cen­turies our minds have ref­er­enced texts on mul­ti­ple lev­els; the inter­net did not inher­ently cre­ate this dis­trac­tion. There is also this gem from a David Brooks col­umn:

The Internet-versus-books debate is con­ducted on the sup­po­si­tion that the medium is the mes­sage. But some­times the medium is just the medium. What mat­ters is the way peo­ple think about them­selves while engaged in the two activities.

Mark Pesce at Webstock

Mark Pesce’s blog the human net­work is a must read and he just pub­lished the full video of his talk at Webstock. The tran­script was posted back in February but the video is well worth watching.

Here are some scat­tered anno­ta­tions on what Pesce discusses:

  • The arrival of the web as appli­ance (14:00)
  • The depth of a uni­ver­sally con­nected world is the indi­vid­ual (~18:00)
  • Once mean­ing is exposed it can be manip­u­lated (20:00)
  • Books are stand­ing on a thresh­old (23:30)
  • Personal health and med­ica­tion man­age­ment (or, the con­cept of a device as an inter­face to our­selves) (28:00)

Calling for innovation at Whitman College

Looking back over four years at Whitman, I am dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated with a sys­tem that could be doing so much. I think that there is a severe lack of encour­age­ment and val­u­a­tion of open knowl­edge sys­tems at Whitman. While dis­ap­point­ing for my four years here, there is quite a bit that future stu­dents can do to force the insti­tu­tion to rec­og­nize the value of these learn­ing systems.

These open sys­tems can take many forms but essen­tially boil down to one key aspect: the ease with which oth­ers can view and con­tribute to the infor­ma­tion being pro­duced on cam­pus. The tools should be public-facing, open to pub­lic con­tri­bu­tions and use standards-based, open source software.

There are some cases of real inno­va­tion at Whitman, but, unfor­tu­nately, they are few and far between. They are the excep­tions that prove the rule of con­fined learn­ing. There must be a con­scious shift toward a more open and col­lab­o­ra­tive edu­ca­tional envi­ron­ment. Even though this did not hap­pen dur­ing my four years on cam­pus I think that there is a tremen­dous amount of poten­tial for Whitman to change, and to change rapidly, in the com­ing years.

First, if it wants to main­tain its sta­tus as an elite lib­eral arts col­lege that encour­ages stu­dents to address prob­lems in new and crit­i­cal meth­ods, Whitman must do far more to encour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion in open sys­tems of knowl­edge.

Mark Pesce writes that, “The edu­ca­tional field does not rec­og­nize the bound­aries of the class­room, the insti­tu­tion, or even the nation.” Education in gen­eral may not rec­og­nize these bound­aries, but Whitman solid­i­fies them. Classes here have dri­ven home the idea that the legit­i­mate par­tic­i­pants in a dis­cus­sion are those within the classroom.

In order to effec­tively address soci­etal issues Whitman must pro­duce knowl­edge that is open and pub­lic. It must cre­ate an envi­ron­ment within which stu­dents con­cep­tu­al­ize knowl­edge as some­thing that is a pub­lic good. It must seek to cre­ate data­bases of knowl­edge that are avail­able to all online in a search­able, standards-based format.

Finally, it must work to actively cre­ate knowl­edge that is not just the priv­i­leged pos­ses­sion of its stu­dent body. If every­thing is kept within a tiny cam­pus of 1,400 stu­dents Whitman will not be able to enact the type mean­ing­ful change it champions.

Don’t read this as a typ­i­cal “break out of the Whitman bub­ble” argu­ment. What I think Whitman can do goes far deeper than that. Whitman has the abil­ity to re-conceptualize how infor­ma­tion and knowl­edge are pro­duced on a col­lege campus.

The tools exist that would allow stu­dents to start cre­at­ing knowl­edge that will be acces­si­ble to them, to their class­mates and to the broader pub­lic for the com­ing decades. What is left is for depart­ments on cam­pus to rec­og­nize the valid­ity of open learn­ing and incor­po­rate it into their cur­ricu­lum. By call­ing for an end to assign­ments that never leave the walls of Whitman and orga­niz­ing together out­side of class to take part in public-facing dis­cus­sions about their edu­ca­tion, stu­dents can spur this change.

If we cor­don off the knowl­edge pro­duced in under­grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion to a series of inac­ces­si­ble PDFs and archaic printed copies we lose every­thing we’ve learned in the four years here. Put knowl­edge online, make it pub­lic, make it acces­si­ble. Make assign­ments carry weight and author­ity for the years after school.

Whitman needs to reframe knowl­edge as a col­lec­tive endeavor instead of an indi­vid­ual pos­ses­sion. If oth­ers can see what has come before them then they can truly start work­ing on the prob­lems of tomor­row.

Whitman is a great insti­tu­tion and, because of its size and stu­dent body, could be doing really inno­v­a­tive things with its aca­d­e­mic pro­grams. Instead, Whitman classes recy­cle the same types of learn­ing and assess­ments. This no longer works and, more impor­tantly, is not what Whitties need if we are to go on to posi­tions of lead­er­ship in our world. We need a Whitman College that embraces knowl­edge sys­tems open to all and infor­ma­tion that remains acces­si­ble beyond the con­fines and com­fort zones of classrooms.

Thinking about a data-driven college

In an effort to start track­ing some of the ideas I have while read­ing I want to start mak­ing note of ideas and ques­tions that come up here. This is the first of such posts and we’ll see what form they take in the future.

Tracking my book reading

Interesting arti­cle that exam­ines some of the frus­tra­tions with cur­rent sys­tems for track­ing read­ing habits. Since I just fin­ished writ­ing an arti­cle for The Whitman Pioneer about open knowl­edge sys­tems this got me thinking:

  • What if col­leges started work­ing together on build­ing an open stan­dard for track­ing read­ing? I’m think­ing of a sys­tem that would get me set up as a Freshman with a way to keep track of every arti­cle, jour­nal essay, and book that I read while in school. Then, when I grad­u­ate I can either move the sys­tem to my server, or the col­lege pro­vides an export file to import into var­i­ous other ser­vices. If I could go back four years and be pre­sented with a choice between a school that had this sys­tem and one that didn’t I know which I would pick in a heartbeat.
  • Could we con­ceive of a ser­vice that would not only track read­ing but track con­ver­sa­tions about books? What if I could record con­ver­sa­tions with oth­ers about a book and upload them to a ser­vice, for­ever asso­ci­at­ing that con­ver­sa­tion with that read­ing experience?
  • What good is it to track book titles and authors if I don’t also have a canon­i­cal, search­able copy of that book online?

The Data-Driven Life

Long fea­ture piece from The New York Times about the var­i­ous ways peo­ple are track­ing data about their every­day lives. It turns out that seem­ingly mun­dane things can offer remark­able insight into how our minds and bod­ies work. Couple points about this:

  • All (unless I missed one) of the ser­vices men­tioned are owned by sin­gle com­pa­nies. Some, in the case of Nike+, by mas­sive cor­po­ra­tions. I think there’s a huge oppor­tu­nity for some­one to come up with an open source data track­ing sys­tem that allows users to own their data. Follow up: what hap­pens to all this won­der­ful, data-driven insight when these com­pa­nies go out of business?
  • How can we tie this data-tracking to busi­ness inter­ac­tions? What ways could I track data that would reveal the com­pa­nies that most con­sis­tently affect my day in a pos­i­tive way?
  • Academically, it’d be inter­est­ing to track atten­tion dur­ing a semester-long course to see which sub­jects and dis­cus­sions were most captivating.

Questions about the current state of knowledge management systems

Next week is the sec­ond iter­a­tion of BarCamp NewsInnovation Philadelphia. One of the ideas for a ses­sion is dis­cussing the cur­rent state of knowl­edge man­age­ment sys­tems. Daniel Bachhuber describes this as:

how news orga­ni­za­tions man­age all of the data they’re privy to that is either stored in struc­tured for­mat or could be stored in a struc­tured for­mat if they had the tools to do so.

In prepa­ra­tion for the ses­sion there’s a thread going on Hacks/Hackers about what could be cov­ered in such a ses­sion. Since I can’t make it out to Philly I wanted to out­line my thoughts here.

I’m inter­ested in three broad ideas about the way a knowl­edge man­age­ment sys­tem could be effec­tively deployed in a news organization.

Cross-platform track­ing of information

  • Can knowl­edge be tracked in stan­dard for­mats so that a news organization’s KMS is valu­able to non-news orga­ni­za­tions as well?
  • What would it look like for var­i­ous news­rooms to aggre­gate and inte­grate what is con­tained in their KMS? More impor­tantly what would it look like if we had a sys­tem of standards-based KMSes from var­i­ous fields that could be plugged into each other? What would the role of a news orga­ni­za­tion be here?

Role of a KMS in mobile

  • How can we present all of this data in a way that not only works for the desk­top envi­ron­ment but is also dis­cov­er­able enough for mobile users?
  • What forms could a KMS take that makes infor­ma­tion even more rel­e­vant to mobile users?

Role of a KMS in ongo­ing coverage

  • What are the ways that this struc­tured knowl­edge repos­i­tory can be used to ana­lyze and make adjust­ments to a news organization’s coverage?
  • Can track­ing user inter­ac­tion with the prod­ucts of a KMS help us to cre­ate more (in both a quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive sense) journalism?
  • Do the views of a news organization’s top­ics of impor­tance mesh with a community’s?

For those inter­ested in this ses­sion I would also rec­om­mend this dis­cus­sion with David Siegel about the seman­tic web and the notion of a pull econ­omy of infor­ma­tion. This post from “the human net­work” is also worth read­ing as a back­ground for the discussion.

Those are just some brief thoughts for now. Wish I could be there in Philly but I look for­ward to track­ing the con­ver­sa­tions on Twitter.