Now that the chaos of the school year has ended, you may be looking for a few good reads for the summer. I've got three that I heartily recommend. Each book captures many of the changes that are occurring in our culture and with our students, changes that are driven by new Read/Write Web technologies and that are certain to impact whatever future our kids will step into.
First, there is Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Portfolio, 2006). I know everyone mentions Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat as the seminal tome for understanding a changing world, but I think Wikinomics is as good, if not better. While the focus is primarily on business, there is a wealth of wisdom that school administrators can walk away with in terms of the transformative shifts that are occurring right now.
Tapscott writes, "We're all participating in the rise of a global, ubiquitous platform for computation and collaboration that is reshaping nearly every aspect of human affairs." And he makes a compelling case. In this new world, having the ability to freely and openly collaborate on a global scale is a requirement for both personal and corporate success. For our students, the trends that Tapscott dissects "will change our experience of work, and especially the experiences of our children, deeply." If we're willing to apply this lens to our schools, Wikinomics asks us to think seriously about how well our current structures are preparing our students for a much, much different world.
If you want to get a better sense of the changes and opportunities these technologies are creating right now for those students, read Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (NYU Press, 2006) by MIT professor Henry Jenkins. Because of the ways in which we can connect to others using the Web, we are now engaged in building a "collective intelligence" through the construction of our own personal networks. We, and our students, are able to participate in "affinity spaces"-spaces where we connect around our passions-which offer "powerful opportunities for learning."
We may think of MySpace or Facebook when we think of our students connecting and networking online. But the reality is our kids are also engaged in creating their own learning networks on the Web-and with absolutely no help or guidance from us. An entire chapter of the book deconstructs the phenomenon of fan fiction sites where large numbers of kids connect around the books and TV shows they are passionate about, with almost none of it done in the context of schools. Jenkins writes, "Schools are still locked into a model of autonomous learning that contrasts sharply with the kinds of learning that are needed as students are entering the new knowledge cultures."
Finally, if you are interested in how the nature of information and knowledge is changing through its movement online, try David Weinberger's book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (Times Books, 2007). It's an in-depth look at what changes when information moves from the physical world to the digital world. The question that Weinberger poses is this: "Suppose that now, for the first time in history, we are able to arrange our concepts without the silent limitations of the physical. How might our ideas, organizations and knowledge itself change?"
The answer is "A lot!" And from an education standpoint, Weinberger asks us to think about a world where knowledge exists among the contributors, not in any one person's brain. Our kids are already practicing these "social knowing" strategies, yet we're doing little in our curricula to teach them how to do it well.
Will Richardson is a contributing editor for District Administration and The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate, www.districtadministration.com/pulse.