Scarcity vs. Abundance


Images: Virgin Dune & Waterfall, by H. Saber & fireramsey, via Flickr

Chris Anderson, author of “The Long Tail,” is thinking and talking about a cultural shift, away from a presumption of scarcity to one of abundance.

(There’s an even better, longer version up on Pop!Tech here.)

The implied tension between these worldviews is palpable in schools, where we are feeling both; Bill Farren has a great post up about this over at ed4wb entitled Schools In An Age of Abundance.

Bill says, in part:

The implications are interesting, especially as they pertain to schools. If we look at most schools today, we can see that they are still operating under (and often locked into) a model of scarcity. From the bookshelf space in the library to the information that is doled out by professors with limited office hours, we notice that the information, services, and availability to connect with others comes in quantities that are meager compared to what we experience outside of these institutions.

Bea Fields‘ recent post – Should Teachers Incorporate Texting and Twitter Into the Classroom? – addresses this tension right at the micro level. No matter how we try to kid ourselves about our ability to multi-task, attention is finite. Yet the information available to us is limitless. How do teachers manage the potentially disruptive presence of “the great out there” in our classrooms? At the University of Chicago Law School, the decision was to limit access to the internet during class. A Georgetown professor tells his students they may not bring their laptops to class, and explains his thinking here. Of course that wouldn’t necessarily have any effect on texting and tweeting, both of which can take place with only a cellphone connection. My personal instinct would be to figure out ways to periodically throw open the windows and see what the breeze blows in. But then I don’t have to worry about covering a previously established set of curricular content areas.

Outside of education the backchannel is here to stay, and there’s lots of good thought going into how to make the best of it, notably Olivia Mitchell’s “How to Present When People are Twittering“… Not surprisingly, “just tell them they can’t open their laptops” doesn’t appear a viable solution when dealing with adults. The latest Chronicle article on the subject also touches on the question of when we start treating students as adults. The comment stream raises additional questions about differences between disciplines and about the point at which teachers/professors can/should assume that students are capable of accurately performing the cost-benefit analysis of dividing their attention.

What do you think? What are the variables that matter?

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Posted on March 17, 2009, in big picture. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. One of the great disservices that we are doing to our students in higher education is constantly telling them what not to do… Put away your laptop, turn off your cellphone, sit in the front of the classroom… All of these things limit how some students learn best; once a student enters into an institution of higher education they are considered an “adult” in most senses of the world. We need to let them grow at their own pace; whether or not that means having them learn lessons the hard way. Sometimes it takes one poor test grade to make a student realize that study habit #1 didn’t work… time to move on to #2. Sometimes we seem to forget that learning itself is a process of trial and error… there truly are no mistakes.

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