Saturday, April 2, 2011

CED525 - Week 4

This week we needed to view a TED talk by Clay Shirky. We could choose to watch either Institutions vs. Collaboration or How Cognitive Surplus will Change the World. I chose to watch How Cognitive Surplus will Change the World. I have embedded the video and included some commentary below.

Clay Shirky: How Cognitive Surplus will Change the World

Clay Shirky started his lecture by talking about Ushahidi which is a crowdsourcing mapping platform. It was created out of necessity by Kenyan lawyer and blogger Ory Okolloh during the aftermath of the 2007 Kenyan general elections. The concept of Ushahidi is to aggregate input and information from users in order to monitor situations such as riots, or natural disasters. Ushahidi processes this information and then provides a useful overview of the situation via a map.

The significance of Ushahidi is that it was created through the use of technology, collaboration, and the willingness (or generosity) of individuals to share their knowledge and talents. Clay Shirky calls this phenomenon cognitive surplus. Based on his lecture, I would define cognitive surplus as the ability of the world to volunteer and collaborate on projects through the use of technology. He determined that there are two factors that contribute to cognitive surplus:

  1. The use of the world’s free time and talent
    • Shirky estimated that there is approximately 1 trillion hours/year available for participation
    • He believes that in order for cognitive surplus to work we must have some sort of intrinsic motivation that drives our decision to participate. We will not participate if we are obligated to.
  2. The use of modern technology
    • Technology provides us with the tools that allow us to create and share
Shirky continues his lecture by discussing the variety of ways that we can invest our time/talent and how we can use the technology that is available. He discusses how we have the freedom to experiment. We can choose to make artistic, scientific, or political contributions. Shirky continues by comparing the creation of Ushahidi to the creation of humorously captioned photographs of cats. He stated that there is a spectrum of how we contribute. He did not bash the creation of the cat pictures, he instead recognized the fact that these individuals were willing to contribute. He later went on to state that we must be intrinsically motivated to shift our our contributions from communal value (funny cat pictures) to civic value (platforms such as Ushahidi). This is when cognitive surplus can be used to change the world.

Technology provides us with the tools that allow us to communicate and collaborate through social networks. The ability to connect with others provides us with the access to the knowledge and talents of individuals all around the world. We have all of the resources that we need to make a significant impact on how the world operates but there are many questions that need to be answered.

  • How will individuals choose to invest their free time, knowledge, and talent?
  • How will we use the technology that is available?
  • Are we willing to collaborate, create, and share?
  • If we have the freedom to experiment, will we choose to create something that is beneficial and significant?
  • Will we choose to contribute to something that has civic value?

I thought that this was a very interesting video because it draws attention to that fact that we can all contribute to something that can benefit others and change how the world operates. I believe that Shirky is trying to make people aware of this concept so individuals will choose to change the way that they use their time, knowledge, and talents. We need to stop making stupid and pointless videos to post on youtube and start using our time and talents to contribute to something that may help others. We have the time, the knowledge, the talent, and the tools; what will we choose to do with it?


We also needed to post a personal reflection regarding the main topics from this week (Cooperative Learning and Reinforcing Effort).

What kinds of technologies can I use to help students experience cooperative learning?
A colleague and I were recently discussing different ways to do group presentations. She expressed some concerns about using powerpoint for group presentations. I am currently planning a research project with my students so she and I both sat down and discussed some possible options for cooperative learning through group presentations. After examining a variety of tools (glogster, voicethread, google docs, etc.) we both decided that creating a presentation through google docs was the easiest and best way to support cooperative learning through group presentations. We both liked the idea that students would be collectively working on one copy of the presentation. Because google docs allows the students to see the changes that their peers are making, we discussed how helps guide their learning and how it provides them with the opportunity to do peer revision. We really liked the fact that google docs has the revision history feature. This feature allows us to see how each student contributed to the presentation. This eliminates the concerns about having one student doing all of the work and forces all of the students to contribute.

I can think of a time that I asked reinforced a student’s effort and I was pleased with the results. Why did it go well?
I recently had a student that had a bad history with academics. He had attendance issues and put little time and effort into his classroom work. I spent some time establishing a relationship with this student during our lab experiences. I noticed that he really enjoyed doing labs and he was capable of contributing some really great ideas. I focused on this positive aspect and started to encourage him to put more effort into the other areas of his grade. Little by little he started to do more work, he even found time to come in after school to study and make up tests. The student ended up passing the class and is one of the major contributors to our classroom discussions. My next goal is to help him find this same motivation in his other classes.


  1. I liked your use of Google Docs as a way for the students to all work on their presentations together. One question that occurred to me: Did you let them know that you would be looking at the revision history to make sure everyone contributed? One big problem with group work is that not everyone contributes equally. In extreme cases only one or two members may do a majority of the work. I was wondering if your found that to be true in your class presentations.

  2. If Clay Shirky is correct in his assumption that people of the world have approximately one trillion hours per year to contribute to the phenomena that he calls “cognitive surplus,” and in order for this cognitive surplus to work there must be intrinsic motivation that drives participation, then I believe it will be ordinary people, not governments or corporations that use technology to solve some of the most-pressing issues of our time. With tools like social networking, people who live thousands of miles apart, but who share common concerns and intrinsic motivations will be able to collaborate without the interference of capitalism and the lure of financial motivation to come up with ways to combat world hunger, slow down or reverse the effects of climate change and help curb the spread of certain infectious diseases.