Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Massive brainpower in a MOOC

During conversation with a friend at lunch the other day he remarked, “I’m sorry I can’t remember, I’ve lost too many brain cells.” He was bemoaning the fact that his mind was not as sharp as he would have liked.

What would we give for more brainpower? How nice to have minds like Einstein or daVinci. “If I could only be smarter,” we tell ourselves, “ I would accomplish….”

At times I’ve wished for more brainpower. I have a lot of education and an advanced degree, but still feel inadequate in thinking sometimes.

These underlying wishes were unexpectedly met through my recent participation in my first MOOC; and reinforced through a TED talk I came across.

First the TED talk.

Clay Shirky is a writer and teacher on the social and economic impact of Internet technologies. He has a presentation on the site entitled How Cognitive Surplus will Change the World.

In this short talk (If you’d rather read it, there is a button on the bottom right for a transcript) Shirky talks about Ushahidi – a Swahili word which means “testimony.” Ushahidi is a collaborative, open source way to create networks using social media. It was used during the Kenyan riots in 2008 and the Hatian earthquake in 2010 to help people find family and loved ones.

Ushahidi began as a generous experiment in global collaboration and Shirky points out that working together is an important part of what makes us human. People have a need to move from consuming to producing; and the web and other electronic media have made it easier to produce beneficial and ‘just for fun’ content on a global scale. Shirky says that people like to create and want to share- whether that sharing is something as significant like Ushahidi, or something for a laugh like LOL Cats.

This brings me back to my experience in EDCMOOC. I experienced the benefit of cognitive surplus on a global scale. I found “fraingers,” a term coined by Ary Aranguiz (combining “friend” and “stranger”), who became a learning community for me. During this course students shared digital resources, e-learning tools, and their own web-based creations with me. I found Shirky’s thesis to be true: people like to create and want to share.

My brain didn’t physically grow new cells during this course, but it did grow on an exponential scale through the generous collaboration and sharing of my classmates. I now have access to digital resources I didn’t know existed two months ago. I have learned about new technologies, and I have discovered fraingers from around the world who are willing to share their cognitive surplus; and when that sharing happens, the amount of communal “brain cells” is astounding.

Cognitive surplus is changing the world.