Several months ago, in an interview at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, was asked what he thought about the value of content in our evolving information-based economy. He said,
Content, today, is still the dominant thing. But one thing that I can say, is that it is going to be the company that can grow and maintain audiences, not content, that succeed in the future.*
This statement comes out of times that are both exciting and tumultuous. Bedrock institutions like newspapers, TV and radio, and even the textbook industry are feeling the threat of a structural foundation that has turned quicksand. Consider that:
- Bloggers, acting as citizen journalists, have been responsible for politic-altering reporting, that traditional media ignored until the blogs themselves became the story.
- Podcasting’s staggering growth in publishing and listenership has radio and television programmers stumbling over each other to offer their own rss feeds.
- Most of us are doing more of our reading online. But even print has become astonishingly democratic, where you can write your transcript, upload it to a web site that will then publish and sell your book online, printing it on demand.
- Listen to a recent interview (Part 1 / Part 2) between EdTech Talker’s Dave Cormier and Jeff Lebow, and Wikimedia’s Danny Wool, talking about their efforts to produce open source collaborative textbooks.
The content belongs to us. It’s controlled by us. ..and we are producing an increasing amount of it. So I suspect that Khosla is right, we will not be able to control the content — even in our classroom (especially in our classrooms?). Our best bet is to maintain the audience. Think about facilitating a successful classroom by cultivating its students into a learning engine. Here’s one scenario:
First of all, you toss your textbook. Not so radical. It happens every day, and has been for years. Instead of a textbook, each student is given a wiki page, and instructions on how to grow their wiki page into a web site for their class — a personal class notebook. Their job is to produce a study guide that they can use in preparing for their unit tests.
These wiki pages can be visited by the entire class. Classmates can even copy sections from study sites and paste them into their own wiki pages. The goal is to have an effective and efficient study experience before the test. We might even allow students to use their web sites during the test — open wiki tests. In this dynamic new information environment, is the goal to learn how much we can memorize, or how well we can find, use, and communicate information?
Cheating? Yes, if there is no credit given for effectively valuable work. But we count the page hits. Each visit to your wiki notes from a classmate earns you points. When text or other information is copied from your wiki site, you get points. The students who produce the most effective and efficient study guides get extra points added to their grades. The classroom becomes an information economy. Actually, they’ve always been information economies. It’s just that we might encourage them to trade with each other, not just the teacher.
Some students might start creating study portals, instead of study content. They will make it their job to graze the pages produced by their classmates and then write an effective outline of study, linking to the best pages in the class. That student gets points for organizing an efficient front-end.
* Khosla, Vinod. "ITConversations." Vinod Khosla: In Conversations with John Battelle. Web 2.0 Conference, San Francisco. 5 Oct 2005. Audio Archive. 25 Nov 2005 <http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail796.html>