Dave Weinberger Speaks at NECC

5:58 PM

[Warning: This is a conference session blog, so please forgive grammar and punctuation mistakes. My comments are in italics]

The keynote session has begun, opened by Benjamin Franklin, who welcomed us all as educators and technologists. While waiting for the program to start, I had a long conversation with Mike Lawrence from the Computer Using Educators, California’s ISTE affiliate and a very fine twice a year (Northern and Southern CA) ed tech conference. Mike mentioned a quote that, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. He says that conferences are people aggregators. How right that is!

The StageISTE President, Kurt Steinhaus started the official session with welcomes and some announcements, including mention of a NECC style conference in India. Intriguing. Think about the conversations that come out of that, and I mean that in a new shape of knowledge sort of way. Kurt also made a passionate appeal for advocacy as our government(s) continue to cut out budgets in a time when we need to be investing more heavily in school technology.

The Shape of Knowledge
Keynote address by David Weinberger

Weinberger says that the Wikipedia will be what people point to when talking about when the information changed. He referred back to the Wikipedia several times during the presentation. I am still surprised at how few people in many of my audiences are not aware of the Wikipedia. I’m sure that won’t be the case here.

Knowledge began in ancient greece, in the Agora, the open market, where affairs of state were decided. Anyone (white, male, property owners) could stand up and speak. Knowledge it justified, true, belief (Plato).

Nature of Knoweldge

  • We assume that there is one knowledge
  • Knowledge is neatly organized (a tree of knowledge)
  • We need experts to know the knowledge
  • Those experts will have power.

This sounds like industrial age schools and too much like the definition of knowledge that we continue to rely on in our education system. ..and perhaps this doesn’t seem as ridiculous to most people as it does to me.

Think of Melvil Dewey, of the dewey decimal system. 88 numbers for christian religion, one for judism, muslem and all related get one number, and budhists go to the right of the decimal place. I guess this is what happens when we treat knowledge/information as objects to be placed neatly in bins, based on a 10 digit grid.

“This is not a solvable problem. There is not one knowledge.” bang!

Four basic principals of organization

  1. One thing in one place — except in the digital world many things can go in many places.
  2. Things are neat and clean — except when it’s digital, the more links the better. Messy is good.
  3. The owners of the information own the organization — except now the customer owns the organization. (it’s an enormous transfer of power)
  4. Users are passive — except people are not contributing.

One of the mantras of the Wikipedia is that “wiki is not paper”. You know, I think that this could mean a lot of things. What Weinberger went on to was the limiting nature of the traditional encyclopedia, because when it is in print, then the encyclopedia is seen as a container, and a container can hold only so much.
Weinberger says that Britannic consists of 32 volumes and 65,000 topics. Wikipedia consists of more than 600,000 topics and more in other languages.

According to Amazon, Britannica weighs 120 bounds, at 65,000 topics. Assumming all things equal, the Wikipedia at more than 600,000 topics, would weight more than half a ton. Add in the versions in Deutsch, Francais, Nederlands, Portugues, Italiano, Espanol, Plski, Svenska, and 日本語, it would weigh well over one and a quarter tons. But in the digital world, that doesn’t matter.

Weinberger goes on to say that Bloggers are not writing in their diaries. They are people participating in conversations by linking to other peoples ideas and conversations. Every link is a little act of generosity. Very few commercial entities understand that.

Multisubjectivity means lots and lots of viewpoints. but the point is that the viewpoints come from conversations with each other. It’s a paradox that people from varied perspectives converse on common grounds. It’s actually a miracle.

Knowledge as conversation

  1. Multi-dispute-ism — dispute is trying to get the other person to admit when he is wrong. But in the blogsphere, you disagree, talk about it, and then it’s over. In digital conversations, the dispute is never going to be resolved, and you accept it.
  2. In the real world, we accept “good enough”. In the web, “good enough” needs to be enough. with 3 million hits on google, you won’t find perfect. Print knowledge looks for what’s perfect.

This is probably the most profound statement in Weinbergers talk as it relates to education. It cuts through to our reluctance to let go of our authority as keepers of the knowledge and allow our children to truly become explorers in the world of information and construct their own knowledge. They need supervision, counciling, and consulting from us. They need us to craft their activities so that their exploration remain relevant to the curriculum expectations. We need to stop teaching students to be students, and start teaching them to be learners, teaching them how to teach themselves.

We have an abundance of information, but it is a connect abundance of information. How true. The connection here, and this plugs in perfectly to part of my literacy model, the problem is not trying to consume all of that information. The problem is managing it, and this requires that we create and cultivate our own digital libraries if content, organizing it in ways that help us do our jobs and pursue our hopes and wishes. This is where librarians come in. They know how to do this. They not how to organize libraries. We need to figure out how to have librarians teach us all what they do, but how to organize personal digital libraries. It’s what our aggregators will become, our personal digital library.

Accountability is accountibalism, eating our young alive! Wow!

Knowledge is conversation, and he means that literally. I’ve been saying this for years, probably ever sense I read Cluetrain

Our job as teachers is to make things more complicated. The world is not that simple. Again, Wow!

There is an epochal struggle going on. One side is afraid. They want there to be one knowledge, one world, one truth, and that it’s simple. OK, I’m going to step way out on a limb here and say that perhaps, and this is just a perhaps, there is a tie between this idea of the one truth and one knowledge, and even one custom, and what is behind our struggle today with “terrorism”. The fundamentalists want the world to remain under control. But that just ain’t so. The world is changing more rapidly than we even understand. As the world of nature adapts, we too must adapt, and this plugs in to what we should be doing as we prepare our children for their future.

The day after 9/11, I tried to write a piece about how it was an attack against what we stand for as professional educators, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I think that David Weinberger has. Educators here were liberally and courageously guiding our children into “their” future by creating and crafting engaging and potent learning experiences. …While the fundamentalists want us to go back to a world under control. And folks, the fundamentalists are not just over there. Again, I’m just suggesting something here. I don’t know. Don’t believe me.

20 thoughts on “Dave Weinberger Speaks at NECC”

  1. Hi,

    Wow! Your 2 cents is spot on. LMAO – “I’m just suggesting something here. I don’t know. Don’t believe me.” But I do believe you. Your candor comes through your eyes. My 2 cent. With social software (blogs, wikis, forums) and third party services (del.icio.us, technorati, flickr, et al) available, organizing personal knowledge – conversation – is a snap. What’s more, finding, discovering, and connecting with people, places, and things – virtually, will never be the same since we can do all of those things (RSS) as they occure on the net.

    Hey, I’m just a guy that sits in his basement writing software code and trying to apply it to solve many of the problems that Dave W. writes about. Every day I participate as a lurker or directly in conversations with people that are extremely talaned – like you. The last few days I’ve been zeroing in on conversations from the Supernova 2005 conference. Even though I did not attend it, the conversations on a specific topic (Linda Stone, former Microsoft employee, addressed what we pay attention to and what drives human use of software. She coined the term ” continuous partial attention” to describe what looks to me like a person with attention deficit disorder.) are taking place with people like John Hagel, author, “The Only Sustainable Edge”, and Nick Carr, auhtor, “Does IT Matter” and Harvard prof) et al. I am ring side!

    I suppose what I am trying to say is that we need to teach kids and adults to be more curious. Let them know that it is ok to think out loud. “I don’t know. Don’t believe me.”

    Anyway, I wrote a couple of posts yesterday that you might be interested in.

    Hey, thanks for sharing your thoughts, you’ve given me fuel for the day.

  2. Dave – You did this on the fly?? Wow! Thanks so much for doing this, and especially for the italicized portions.

    As far as your last paragraph goes, I am out on the limb with you. I’m married to an orthodox Jew, so I have no problem with deeply held religious views. For me, the problem with fundamentalism of any sort is its belief that in literalism, i.e., that we can read just read a text. It seems to me that all reading (and all seeing, for that matter) is an act of interpretation, conditioned by culture, language, history, biography, etc. So, there is no sense in which there is a single text, just as there’s no one knowledge. Judaism’s response (as I understand it) is to bring a tradition of discourse to the reading of every text — so, while it is agreed that the letters of the text have been preserved perfectly, its meaning is always taken locally. (I almost ended by talking about the local-ness of Revelation, but it seemed out of place. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for Illustrating what Weinberger was talking about. I am unable to attend NECC this year, but VERY interested in what is being said there, especially the keynote. Wow! It is so cool to be able to read various blog summaries of what was said with people’s interpretations included. It is SO much richer than what I have done in the past which is to ask someone who went how it was. They usually gave their opinion and a few sentences to describe what they remembered and I ended up not knowing any more than I started knowing.


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  5. WOW Dave…. I go to bed over here in Australia and wake up with 3 posts…. Just read the first here…. Great notes, may I use them for some research I am doing? I think the main problem with understanding knowledge is understanding what people see as true… With out getting all plato on us all here, I think we need a serious look at what is valued by our students and or society. This in turn creates a need for there to be a desperate consideration of what is true. I work in a Christian school that openly says that God and the word of God is truth, so therefore we base all knowledge to be learnt on that principle. However, I do see where problems come in with that ideal. Our students need knowledge of what other people take as truth. The danger in many Christian schools is that we block out what else is out there, in an attempt to mold students’ minds. The problem is when they hit the real world and people start to influence them otherwise.

    From a technology point of view, I think this keynote was obviously needed. Our kids have knowledge overload available to them…. The question is… How do we guide them toward knowledge that will educate, challenge and develop their minds? Technology can do this, we just need educators that can develop techniques to effectivly present the information at hand.

    thanks again,


  6. Thanks, David! Not able to attend NECC, I so much appreciate your comments on the keynote. For those who want to see him in action, there’s a longish video online somewhere of Dave Weinberger addressing a group (can’t remember which one, can’t remember the website). Well worth looking for and viewing, esp. for those who missed the webcast!!

    I’m a former librarian who initially resisted such stuff as Wikipedia; Dave made me a convert in an hour or so!

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