How can we make education as open as the open web? How can we take the fundamental principles that Tim Berners-Lee used to design the World Wide Web as our inspiration for a new kind of education that works for the 21st century in the way 20th century education worked for the industrial age? Berners-Lee lays out nine principles for the open web and they translate beautifully to a new idea of interactive, peer-driven, connected, and participatory lifelong learning. They work as a model for formal education too. You'll read about them here, in what is an "abstract" for a talk I'm giving later today with Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation.
Context (you can skip this part if you're not interested in these specifics): Mark and I are on a panel at centerNet, an organization of digital humanities centers, and CHCI (Council of Humanities Centers and Institutes). The two organizations have recently come together as affiliates, and I've been asked to be on and to moderate a roundtable called 'Humanities and the Wider World" with Mark and also with Chad Gaffield, President of the Social Sciences Research Council of Canada and David Greenbaum, Co-Director of Project Bamboo. Mark and I have been working together for almost a year now on various projects--the Drumbeat Festival where HASTAC ran the "Storming the Academy" tent and a student-run FutureClass program, with the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative, with our Digital Media and Learning Conference, and on an NSF grant application whose fate is pending. So instead of giving talks, Mark and I have decided to combine our fifteen minutes and simply talk about what our partnership has been and meant to each of us. Since the point of this day is to envision new kinds of partnerships and since we already have one, we're going with it!
One thing I want to talk about today is how we're working to transform higher education by taking to heart the lessons of the open web. Those lessons are the business of the Mozilla Foundation. I'm not sure when they first contacted us that they had any idea that HASTAC's whole reason for being is trying to import the principles of the open web to higher education.
It started in 1999. I was Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke and a numberof my fellow administrators were interested in a reading group. I proposed we read a brand new memoir by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, called Weaving the Web. I think we ended up with one poorly attended meeting and gave up the idea of a book club for busy administrators but the book was transformative in that the clarity of its principles seemed to me to be a lesson plan for designing a new form of education, K-20, for the 21st century which was, then, just around the corner.
Tim Berners-Lee's memoir begins: "When I first began tinkering with a software program that even gave rise to the idea of the World Wide Web, I named it Enquire, short for Enquire Within upon Everything, a musty old book of Victorian advice I noticed as a child in my parents' house outside." That, to me, is what education should be, access to all modes of inquiry. And, in the appendix to Weaving the Web, Berners-Lee lists some of his first principles (many of them developed when he was working at CERN, the supercomputing organization where he invented the Web). Here they are, as they existed in 1989 as he was creating the World Wide Web:
1) remote access across networks---being able to find information from anywhere, anytime.
2) heterogeneity--you need flexible, multi-scale, interoperable systems and you need as many different kinds and levels of input as there are humans on the planet.
3) Non-centralization. If you try to standardize from a central place of authority, you miss what is most original, innovative, creative, inventive, and valuable. There is no such thing as a centralized World Wide Web.
4) Access to Existing Data. You need openness such that the Web itself--how it is used, how it evolves--is the data of the Web, is the data of its users, the more users, the more data, the better we know who is using, the better to support it and the world.
5) Private Links. Forget national networks or cable channels or any broadcast version of information delivery. With the Web, I can link to whatever I want in how I want to link. Ideally, no censorship, no control. Individualized access to everything. (Enquire Within upon Everything!)
6) Bells and Whistles. That means all the extras that make the Web fun--graphical interfaces, you name it.
7) Data links: this is to allow for automatic data analysis.
8) Personal Skills Inventory: since diversity, heterogeneity, and multiplicity are the keys to the success of contribution and participation in the World Wide Web, each participant in the Web should have a personal skills inventory so his or her talents can be accessible by others and can contribute to others. (Facebook profile, anyone?) This allows many-to-many linking (remember, decentralization is key) that is prouctive instead of frustrating which leads to . . .
9) Must achieve critical usefulness early on. This is a version of "publish first, edit later." If you believe in heterogeneity, diversity, and participation, you want to put an idea out there, see if it catches, which is to say, see if anyone wants to use it and make it a vital part of the Web. If they do, they will help you fix it and make it better. If they don't, why bother.
Okay. Those are the principles on which HASTAC was founded. Start to finish. Now, please, can we think about how those principles might inspire formal education? I don't mean we need to understand these principles. I mean that we need to redesign education with these open web principles as a goal and a model for better, interactive, innovative, peer-directed, problem-solving, process-oriented (iterative) forms of inventie, imaginative learning.
Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and the forthcoming Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (publication date, Viking Press, August 18, 2011). For more information, visit www.nowyouseeit.net or order on Amazon.com by clicking on the book below. For an early, prepublication review of Now You See It in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, click here. A starred review in the May 30 Publisher's Weekly notes: "Davidson has produced an exceptional and critically important book, one that is all-but-impossible to put down and likely to shape discussions for years to come."
For more information, visit www.nowyouseeit.net or order on Amazon.com by clicking on the book below.