Monday, October 26, 2009

If you lurk on myspace I'll get in your

So my buddy Jeff Kaplan posed a question or problem of the digital revolution as a comment to my last blog. The issue is what do we do with lurkers? For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a lurker is a person who visits social web pages (blogs, forums, wikis, etc) and reads from the page but rarely or never participates themselves. Slashdot had an article about lurkers which referenced a study done by a computer consulting firm in Chicago found that 98 per cent of the visitors to large sites with open forums - from AOL and MSN to sites like Slashdot - never submit ideas or articles and never post opinions or participate in arguments. So why is this important?

Lurking is typically the first stage of entering into a new social space online. Lurkers get to feel their way around and figure out the norms of the new space. In all reality, they are learning a new literacy practice and lurking is the scaffolding of sorts that new folks use. During the lurking phase newbies learn from more experienced individuals the norms and behaviors of their new social space. In education, lurking is encouraged to get individuals into new social spaces since students may be intimidated or could easily become frustrated with new spaces that they're introduced to. However, in the educational realm there is an expectation that students will move out of the lurker status and become not simply consumers, but prosumers--both producers and consumers. Much like having a conversation, online social sites cannot exist as a social site if there isn't another side of the story to keep it social--otherwise it's just another website.

When social sites are lurked upon by many and contributed by few, there is a very narrow scope of ideas flowing through the digital media despite that vast audience patronizing the site. Many folks have opinions, so why is it so hard for people to stop being consumers and become prosumers? Of course there could be digital literacy issues that hamper the contribution of would be prosumers. There could also be individuals who fear that their thoughts will be invalidated or rejected by the contributors of the site. There could also be apathy over taking time to craft a thoughtful response or to simply defend one's point of view from the regular site surfers. Personally I think that it has something to do with lurkers not valuing social site prosumerism as anything worthwhile. Lurkers in general could have a poor view of social site participation as a literacy practice. They may ask "where does it get me".

Unlike texting, phone calls, or paper and pencil communication lurkers may feel a disconnect between tangible participation (like a face-to-face conversation) and less tangible participation (forum posts). While most would agree, talking with someone in person is a highly tangible form of social interaction. However, in a digital space where communication can have lags in response or no response at all, this may lead to a slighted feeling and the time put into the social interaction was not worth the effort. However, just the converse is true. Each piece of participation to a social space builds up not only credibility as a prosumer within the social space, but builds up individual literacy skills within that space for the individual. In a society of instant gratification, the fact that a post or participation attempt goes unnoticed is seen as discouraging. in reality, people cannot expect to just go from lurker to social participant rockstar in a post or two. More lurkers turned prosumers need to understand that each participation effort should be viewed as a step toward perfecting a craft and literacy rather than speaking in an unheard voice in a sea of many other (perhaps much louder) voices. Like any other literacy practice not only takes time but yields results, tangible results. So for any of you lurking out there, try participating. When you turn from simply consuming on a social site to producing as well, you create something much more meaningful and much bigger than just place to read interesting thoughts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I scream, you scream, we all scream for literacy!

In reading the passages for class I came across a few lines that screamed out at me, but for a project I'm working on outside of class. For this project I was to come up with ways of implementing the use of wikis in an English Language Arts classroom. Enter in the text from The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences, page 309.

...becoming literate in a hypermedia environment challenges the notion that any single text represents an author's complete, separate, or unique expression...the perceived need to develop young people's critical awareness of how all authored texts (print, visual, oral) situate them as readers, writers, and viewers within a particular culture and historical contexts.

Eureka! The whole notion of a wiki is that it is a document that is authored, edited, and complied by a multitude of individuals. While a single person may create an article in a wiki, it is up to a social group at large to craft and shape the article in such a way that the group as a whole comes to a consensus of accepted and correct information.

What excited me further in my reading and crafting of this wiki project was stumbling across a web page from the Australian government's Department of Education and Training
on the uses of wikis in education. I was floored by the fact that a GOVERNMENTAL website deemed wikis as a valid educational tool. For me this is the coolest thing to come out of Australia since Fosters and Hue Jackman.

In my work I also stumbled across and interesting revelation, that being that Google Docs are an off chute of wikis. Sure, a document that starts out with a single author and then is collaboratively edited and re-crafted until the group as a whole comes to an consensus on the content of the document. Perhaps to those reading this seems like a "duh" moment for me, but the realization came from a wiki farm website called JotSpot. JotSpot was bought out by Google and aptly renamed...(drum roll please)...Google Docs.

So are things like wikis and Google Docs the direction that we're moving (or should be) toward crafting knowledge? I believe so. Not only is knowledge itself a social construct, but when people are personally invested in an area of knowledge, that knowledge transfers from simply ideas to a tool which can be used to shape a variety of other thoughts and ideas to create further meaningful connections. So do us all a favor, whatever it is that you are really interested in, go on Wikipedia and make a contribution. Ok, so if you don't want to specifically be an author or contributor, you can still participate in wiki culture as a lurker but you better question that which you lurk upon to construct a deeper meaning and understanding of the information you so deftly hide in front of.