The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13


You gotta watch this. Michael Wesch, of Web 2.0 is Us/ing Us and anthropology of YouTube fame, talks about teaching as the practice of harnessing collective intelligence:

Why do I love this so much? Because he turns the CW on its head:

Conventional wisdom: Smaller classes are better.

Wesch’s wisdom: Huge classes are an opportunity!

He says:

I teach these huge classrooms of 400 students, and when I look out into that audience, I’m really thinking about how I can get all of their intelligence to work together so we can do something really amazing. If you think about what one person can do, that’s interesting, but when you think about what 400 people can do when they all work together, that’s really interesting. So my job has become increasingly about how can I harness the collective intelligence of these 400 people in front of me instead of just lecturing at them.

Watch ’til 2:45, at least. This is lighting my brain on fire.

Schools as laboratories for collaboration!

The multidivision corporation with layers of management is the archetypal 20th century organizational form. But the internet-enabled 21st century is all about the wealth of networks and nearly frictionless group coordination; the logic of that form is in flux. What’s the new archetype? How are we going to figure it out?

Maybe we’ll learn in school.


December 4, 2008 / Uncategorized


The thing about large classes, whether a 30-person seminar or a 400-person lecture, is that they’re 1) hard on teachers and 2) tough for students who have a tendency to fall off the map (stop coming to classes, doing their work, engaging).

When you’ve got sixteen kids, and you know their names and faces and their moods and voices, you can forestall a lot of that. And it feels better for everyone. And that experience has a value that’s not to be underestimated.

At the same time, I love Wesch’s concept of “unlearning,” and it’s totally consistent with my approach, especially the emphasis on inspiring good questions and on creating a common body of knowledge. And I do think that in the proper structure, those emphases really do benefit from numbers.

This is always the magic trick of teaching — leveraging the advantages you have rather than lamenting the ones you don’t.

The “common body of knowledge” part is so great. I was always so frustrated by the private parallelism of school — 100 people all writing the same report at the same time. Or writing the same report year after year after year. What a waste.

The *starting* point for a report ought to be a report that your predecessor wrote last year — and it ought to be your job to fact-check it, polish it, re-write parts, add to it, make it better.

Like a Wikipedia entry!

Like a Wikipedia entry!

Or — shrouds on our mothers! — real scholarship!

(+1 snarkpoint to T. Carmody)

Yes! Extra credit!

This is the nice thing about the College of Creative Studies at UCSB ( – it doesn’t always succeed at encouraging its 400 students to collaborate on worthwhile work, but it tries. Small classes (more like 16 people than 30), no letter grades, final projects instead of finals, everybody is supposed to be peers, etc. It’s just 1960s alternative education. The missing part is sharing the ideas & work with the greater world outside of the college…

I get pretty frustrated when I want to write something original for my final paper for a class but I haven’t learned enough in that one quarter about the subject to know how to write much original about it.

UCSB is extraordinarily progressive. I love their Literature.Culture.Media Center and the Transcriptions and Transliteracies projects. It seems like an exciting place to be.

I’ve tried to avoid letter grades in my seminars at Penn, and the students hate it. They’re conditioned to judge themselves that way, and I think rightly fearful that an anti-grade orientation on individual projects is just a mask for an arbitrary grade at the end of the course. My arts students at UArts go for it, and portfolio grading seems to be the prevailing trend in writing programs at least; I think it could work for literature courses as well.

Ideally I think education is more about modeling tools than transmitting information — although, just to be contrarian, I don’t think transmitting information should be underestimated. Next semester I’m experimenting with a course structure that frontloads content and backloads research and writing tools — exactly so students have the time to do something synthetic.*

* NB: “Synthetic” is the word I have just now decided on to replace “creative,” “original,” or “individual” as an approbative term. Its counterconcept would be “analytic.” So a quiz on material you’ve presented in the course would be an analytic assignment. A research project on material not assigned or discussed in the course — whether individual or not, original or not, creative or not — would be synthetic.

Yeah, I came here for CCS Literature and ended up taking Literature and Culture of Information (LCI) classes & hanging around Transliteracies. Pleasantly surprised to find I couldn’t have chosen a better place.

There’s a post that tries to put tools vs. content into context: – I’m not sure I could separate them all that much, at least for humanities courses.

Synthetic is a good word to add to the mix. “Creative” has problems (sounds artsy) and “original” has problems too (nothing is actually original). One of my syllabuses this quarter says that the final paper should show a “synthetic grasp” of material covered, and I think that gets across the right idea, even though several of our papers are branching off from small parts of the material.

One of the best conceptual tools (!) I’ve come across is Max Weber’s idea of an “ideal type” — basically something like a workable fiction (he calls it “a thought picture”) that reveals something about reality.

So things like “tools” vs. “content” may not really be separable, but they become poles that you can give different emphasis to.

So Britta, are you an undergrad or grad student at UCSB? What kinds of projects are you working on? How did you come across Snarkmarket?

I’m an undergrad and the Delicious community manager intern; I work on trying to put my thoughts together in a way that will allow me to graduate within a reasonable amount of time. A series of coincidences led me here!

“trying to put my thoughts together in a way that will allow me to graduate within a reasonable amount of time”

My god. You’re ready to be a PhD already. (Grad students spend their first three-four years learning that this is actually what we need to do.)

I swore never to be a grad student. You guys are nuts.


No argument here.

Dan says…

Indeed, so even declares the smartest voices in popular culture:

Jack Donaghy: We’re not the best people…

Liz Lemon: …but we’re not the worst.

Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy: Graduate students are the worst!


Marge Simpson: “Bart! Don’t make fun of graduate students. They just made a terrible life choice!”

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