See the StudyPlace timeline
for the design & development agenda.
Contributors to StudyPlace collaborate in exploring education, communication, and culture. We work to fill a gap in the way universities organize the study of education. Great research universities support both academic inquiry and professional preparation for the vital sectors of life. Generally, they include departments of sociology and schools of social work, departments of economics and schools of business, departments of politics and schools of public affairs, departments of biology and physiology and schools of medicine. Provisions for the study of education rarely strike that balance, however, for few universities include both an academic department of education in addition to a school of education serving the needs of the profession. To step towards including education as an academic concern in the arts and sciences, StudyPlace will provide an online resource for scholars and students whose interest in education is more academic than professional.
Let us think of the StudyPlace as a virtual department of education, working to strengthen opportunities for basic research and disinterested deliberation on education, independent of professional concerns. It should function, both intellectually and existentially, as an idealized, virtual department, constituting an invisible college where its members mutually nurture reflection on education and culture. It is a place for intellectual action. It may attract visitors; but it exists to further the work of its participants. StudyPlace should create a community of discourse comprising those who will think together, in a public forum, about educational experience of import in the conduct of life.
Substantively, StudyPlace will emerge as participants contribute to its active components. Educators of all sorts will create StudyPlace insofar as they use it as an outlet for reflecting on cultural experience, for assessing scholarship on education and communication, for critiquing commerce, politics, entertainment, the media, and the texture of daily life, for studying education as an academic subject, and for planning joint meetings and endeavors.
Participants in StudyPlace created its website, hosted by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, to share their scholarship, research, and criticism. The initial version of StudyPlace (0.1, so to speak) went on-line January 2005, providing support for two courses, along with some ancillary web-publishing activity. It used an open-source content-management system (CMS), Plone, to facilitate the collaborative study of educational ideas, communication theory, and social thought. Through the 2005-2006 academic year, development continued using the Plone environment to provide support for four courses and expanded efforts at web publication. Plone can best serve an organization that wants its component members to develop relatively stable content for presentation to an internal and external audience. It is a tool designed for managing content, not one for developing it through ongoing, open collaboration by a growing group of contributors. Hence, for the 2006-2007 academic year, the StudyPlace site migrated from Plone to MediaWiki, the software platform developed to run Wikipedia. On MediaWiki, StudyPlace could better use peer-production, open collaboration by anyone, to expand and deepen its basic purpose: to disclose a global cultural commons — a repository of knowledge and thought, free and open to all, in which we assemble and advance the world's responses to the basic question, What educates? At the start of 2007, developers changed the layout of StudyPlace significantly in order to engage participants more effectively in responding to this question, initiating a sustained effort to broaden participation in the site.
Although StudyPlace continues to serve as a site to support courses, that has never been its main purpose. From the outset, as an online site for the support of courses, the idea with StudyPlace has been to situate the courses in a more comprehensive web resource, rather than to have the web resource situated as a component of the course. Hence, the idea has been to have several courses sharing one web site where participants in the courses can work with others to advance leading-edge scholarship, research, and criticism. Both the courses and the web-publishing have been informed by three convictions —
- that educational experience is pervasive through all aspects of life and the study of it must respect the integrity of its complexity,
- that the study of education and communication needs greater conceptual depth and rigor in order to achieve its intellectual potential, and
- that achieving this intellectual potential has great significance for the quality of 21st-century historical life.
These convictions give StudyPlace a strong academic purpose, more humanistic than professional, one that has great importance to both persons and publics as they seek formative experience throughout their lifelong engagement with their circumstances.
The StudyPlace Mission
Serious problems beset education, ironic problems in which increasing effort yields diminishing results. The media are huge, global businesses, communicating incessantly, insistently, but with meager results, too often spreading confusion and alienation, not clarity and community, inducing polarization and misunderstanding, not common purpose and mutual appreciation. Vast formal programs to universalize basic education and to democratize higher education seem too often to leave people unprepared to cope well with the problems of life, be these personal or public. Education is a vital imperative, one integral to the gift of being human. Ironically, within nations and around the globe, the prolonged pursuit of educational equity has coincided with a sustained era in which inequalities of wealth and opportunity have dramatically widened.
Education, particularly education as schooling, has long been a very prominent concern, the object of urgent activity and inquiry, and as anxiety about its adequacy heightens, it often seems caught within the very problems it seeks to address, somehow compounding what it seeks to diminish. Education enables the expansion and complexification of life and the expansion and complexification of life drives an imperative need for more and better education. StudyPlace begins, in significant part, in wonder at these ironies, and it does so by opening its very basic questions, What educates?
Education denotes a highly abstract process and it is too easy in everyday discourse to shift attention from the abstract concept to something more tangible and evident — in the case of education, to the institutions that seem to provide formal programs of education — schools, colleges, and universities. By thinking, not about a concept, but about the work of prominent institutions, people arrive at presumptive definitions: education is what the schools do.
Reifying abstract ideas in this way leads people to presume conceptual understanding in matters where they lack it. For instance, over the past 50 years or more, the educational research establishment has grown greatly in scope and depth, both in the United States and globally. The controlling definition within that establishment equates education with schooling, a universally prescribed social service through which professional teaching causes learning by the young, equipping them for adult life, personal and public. Eduction comes to mean that which results from teaching and learning according to the program of formal educational institutions. As that happens, the study of education becomes a search for ways by which those institutions can conduct their work most efficiently and effectively. To be sure, the problems and possibilities of schooling are of great importance. But by equating education with schooling, one makes two important matters significantly more difficult: first, to understand how schooling may frequently miseducate, and second, to study how education in schools interacts for better and for worse with education throughout all the other engagements that a person may enter into.
On StudyPlace, we do not intend to work from presumptive definitions that confuse abstract concepts with tangible agencies. In the same way as scholars can draw a distinction between politics and the actions of governments, between health and the provision of medical care, they can equally distinguish between education and activities of schools, colleges, and universities, between communication and the prime-time programming of the media. We want to concentrate on the concept, not the agency, so that scholars can use the concept to think about the concrete experiences that people have.
Changing the common usage of education will not be easy, however. We may best do so largely by avoiding it, concentrating instead on related terms for the concept, which have not been so thoroughly reified. For instance, we can think about educating rather than education. Unlike education, educating does not call to mind something done monolithically by a complex institution; it suggests something done by specific people, living in determinate situations, something that people may or may not experience in the realities of their lives. What persons experience as educating, who they encounter as educators, what educates them in the lives they life — all this becomes the measure determining what people understand education to be and to do. As this happens, the apparent locus of educational control will shift from the instructional agency to the student, the person acquiring education. With that shift, presumptive answers to the question — What educates? — disappear. Whether actions are educative, whether something educates, will depend on the character and quality of changes manifest in the lives of the persons undergoing the educative actions. One can no longer presume that education is what schools do, just as communication cannot be assumed to be the messages of the media. And with the disappearance of such presumptive answers to our question, complicated and fascinating opportunities for inquiry come to the fore. The schools teach reading, but to what degree and in what ways, when and how, does reading educate? Such inquiries are the concerns of StudyPlace.
By defining the field of inquiry for StudyPlace as the study of what educates, we equate it with the study of education as an academic subject, in contrast to a professional one. The professional has a job to do and presumes that that job defines the meaning of a concept such as education. The academic has a different function, to understand the concept in a way that supports efforts to understand and to explain all the manifestations of the idea in lived experience. The academic cannot presume what a concept means; rather he must disclose and construct its meanings. The academic study of education advances reasons to support educational inquiry independent of its potential to make schooling more effective or the media more informative, reasons additional to such potentials.
When we inquire into what educates, we find all sorts of educative experiences taking place external to formal educational institutions, as well as all-too-many experiences within educational organizations that do not educate and even miseducate. All these experiences are externalities that the normal understanding of education as schooling fails to take into account. Who is going to attend to these externalities outside of the conventional patterns of educational practice? Who will show why they are important? How they occur? It is important, but not sufficient, to rationalize established practices. Someone, however, needs to situate the highly evident concerns in the context of the externalities, of all that may appear, with respect to the way the formalities are normally studied, to be trivial, obscure, or irrelevant. The purpose is not to ignore the ways in which schooling educates. Nevertheless, we should neither presume that schooling educates nor presume that the ways in which it educates are the whole of the matter or even the most important elements in the matter. We must not presume that formal educators in fact manage to educate, for they may often miseducate, obfuscate, and alienate. To promote the academic study of education is to assert the legitimacy of basic science and disinterested scholarship with respect to it.
As an academic field, education is not well developed. The professional concerns, the preparation of practitioners for very specific roles within the system of instruction, has dominated educational research and scholarship. The university has poorly institutionalized education as an academic subject, a problem that Robbie McClintock has explored in Homeless in the House of Intellect: Formative Justice and Education as an Academic Study. In due course, major research universities should solve the problem by adding departments of educational science (to choose a term analogous to political science) to their faculty of arts and sciences, offering both undergraduate and graduate study of education as an academic subject, independent of their professional schools of education. "In due course," however, will likely La's a very long time, for such a development will remain highly improbable as long as there are few scholars and little scholarship identified with the study of education as an academic subject. StudyPlace seeks to hasten the development of this scholarly inquiry into what educates. Through StudyPlace, scholars can work together to build up a substantial body of distinguished work, strengthening the foundations of academic inquiry into education. How might StudyPlace accomplish this aim with relatively limited resources to advance it?
The StudyPlace Strategy
As work on StudyPlace has begun, developments such as Linux and Wikipedia have demonstrated how peer production in a digital commons can make substantial cultural undertakings possible. In peer production, self-selected collaborators work on a complex project over a sustained period, coordinating decentralized effort by following shared expectations and procedures. A digital commons develops and affords a open, cultural resource for autonomous use by anyone willing to respect the shared responsibility for its development and maintenance. Peer production has long been a significant source of the cultural and civic infrastructure. Linux and Wikipedia show that the affordances of digital technologies may make peer production even more effective than ever before in educing significant cultural work. Their success suggests a basic strategy: to develop StudyPlace as a locus for responding to the question — What educates? — through peer-produced work over the Internet.
At first, awed by the example of Wikipedia, we assumed that StudyPlace could best unleash the power of peer production in our developing a specialized encyclopedia of education. StudyPlace would use Wikipedia's policies and guidelines for authors, trying simply to pitch discourse at a high scholarly level characteristic in graduate education and research scholarship. Rather quickly, this aim seemed insufficient. Surely StudyPlace should have an encyclopedic component. For a peer-produced encyclopedia, Wikipedia's policy against including original research in articles is sensible and essential. But in an effort to build the scholarly foundation for the academic study of what educates, it would narrow the potential effort too much. To strengthen the academic study of education, the public needs the creative advance of knowledge, in addition to its conservation and dissemination. Consequently, on StudyPlace we need to work out further models, in addition to the encyclopedic, through which scholars can advance academic inquiry and writing on StudyPlace by engaging in peer production.
Many individuals and groups are experimenting through many projects, in the process disclosing the cultural potentialities of peer production in a digital commons. In doing so, a project can too easily become caught up in the bandwagon effect of this or that technology, channeling effort into the cool forms of latest thing, be it the videodisc of long ago or the latest multi-user game, podcast, or video mash-up. To resist the bandwagon effect, while participating in technological innovation, one needs to form a general understanding of the historic changes that are underway in communication and culture. A successful effort depends not on exploiting one or another leading-edge technology, but on understanding the cultural aspirations one hopes to achieve and anticipating how the movement of technological innovation may complicate and facilitate work towards their achievement.
StudyPlace does not aim at something new and unprecedented in human experience. It stands in the tradition of serious scholarship, a tradition, albeit with variations of form, common to all human cultures. Whatever its forms, scholarship requires supporting technologies that provide working solutions to essential functions. All scholarship requires a system of storage and retrieval for preserving, selecting, and disseminating its materials. All scholarship requires means to give its fruits stability across time and space as well as procedures for incorporating revisions into its stable elements. All scholarship requires forms of publication that provide it with a potential public of critics and consumers. Finally, all scholarship requires enabling instruments the affordances of which define a spectrum of possible effort and achievement.
Under the sway of any particular system of information and communication technologies, scholars will develop preferred ways to perform such functions, and given a mix of multiple technologies, the possibilities will settle into an ecological configuration. To understand the historical significance of innovations in information and communications technologies, we need to consider how they may alter the ecological configuring of scholarly work.
To illustrate, consider the balance between disciplinary and interdisciplinary inquiry. It is not hard to see how the characteristics of printed materials in the work of scholarship bias towards disciplinary specialization, for in printed form, the conditions of their storage, retrieval, and dissemination made scholarly resources most useful when a relatively compact group of them were concentrated where a limited group of scholars could use them intensively. Thus a friend, a prominent economist of education, shelves a half-dozen key journals for his work in long runs in his large outer office and open issues pile up on his desk as he writes, to be re-shelved in their appropriate place when he completes a draft. Half a block away and up a couple floors, another frilled, a political scientist writing on educational policy, recapitulates the scene, surrounded by a different set of books and journals. Occasionally, each will dispatch a research assistant into the library to retrieve a resource that is not only less central to his field, but far more awkward to access fruitfully in the flow of work. Thus the subtle constraints keep one centered in a specialized field, the resources of which a productive scholar will have both in mind and at hand.
One can infer that these model scholars, a bit imaginary, are not so young. Their junior colleagues have smaller offices and do not care so much to have the journals of their fields shelved close at hand, for they work these and many more at a distance with a fully ecumenical apparatus but a keyboard away. A member of the old-time group, at home in his field, will find it a bit daunting to venture into that of his neighbor, to find and exploit material located there. The affordances of print do not preclude such interdisciplinarity, but they bias work against it and towards more intensive specialization. It does not take great imagination to realize that this bias is changing as the contents of scholarly libraries become digitized and packed into that vast bin of binary bits, with anyone anywhere using complex Boolean searches against the full text of all that has been thought and said to retrieve instantaneously whatever they may wish. A different bias is thus emerging as the scholar must sift through material on his topic generated in many different fields, the boundaries of which are becoming increasingly obscure.
With respect to such biases, we work in a time of transition — balances in the ecology of scholarship are changing, and online initiatives are agents of that change, like it or not. A scholarly effort such as StudyPlace contributes to innovations in digital information and communications technologies in both an external and an internal manner, helping to develop the new tools of scholarship and disclosing some of the emerging procedures such new tools enable. Externally, the tools of scholarship that a collaborator can use to develop her ideas are changing significantly, and StudyPlace can make concrete contributions to those developments. As it does so, it sets conditions for internal changes in the practice and fruit of scholarly effort, altering how a scholar works and the capacities and concerns she will bring to StudyPlace. Internally, she will use software with particular affordances to organize and develop scholarly inquiry on StudyPlace, which has significant effects on what she can do and how we might do it. To proceed, she must make choices and pursue those choices with full vigor yet with an open mind, ready to adapt course should that seem wise as successive aspects of the possibilities become clear.
Externally, we want to situate StudyPlace in the mainstream of thought and innovation. In order to locate StudyPlace within the primary scholarly traditions, we employ three important strategies. To begin, to find the mainstream, we need the whole stream. Hence, we exclude as little as possible within the sphere of relevance to StudyPlace, which is evident in our basic question, What educates? The shortest answer is, "Everything!" Second, we assume that StudyPlace contributors will have access to the full academic apparatus as represented by the physical and online resources of leading research libraries and we seek to adapt interaction on StudyPlace to facilitate use of this apparatus by all contributors whether or not each may find it immediately at hand. Lastly, we seek to implement our activities through big, open-source software resources that we can reasonably expect to have scope and staying power. We want neither a turnkey solution nor to build from scratch. Large, open-source systems that provide multiple groups the opportunity to modulate and adapt powerful tools to achieve differing purposes offer the most fruitful path to effective innovation. On StudyPlace, we work as tool users, not as tool makers, and as tool users we have much to contribute in transforming the material conditions of scholarship.
Internally, we want to develop strategies through which a community of peers can use diverse modes of interaction to advance knowledge and understanding about what educates. Peer production and individual authorship have never excluded one another, but rather they always mixed in complicated ways in intellectual work throughout its history. Likewise, the reality of a cultural commons has long been essential to intellectual work, for the cultural commons predates and surrounds the restricted domain protected by copyright, a legal innovation that came relatively late in cultural history. Our basic strategy does not hold StudyPlace to be new and different, a breathless harbinger of the brave new world. It recognizes that StudyPlace stands within the core traditions of excellent scholarship, working to extend and renew them under conditions of work that are changing in ways, both portentous and promising.
On StudyPlace, we turn directly to the commons by not asserting rights of possessive authorship, and we accentuate the community of peers relative to individual authors by diffusing the roles of author, editor, copy editor, and compositor through a decentralized community of contributors. We organize the results around several modes of intellectual discourse, or ways of entering into thoughtful exchange with others. We identify four of them as organizational hubs, recognizing that the fruits of real inquiry and interaction blend these modes of discourse together. However blended, we can usefully act as if they separate out in four ways: in thinking together, people converse about topics of mutual interest, they explain skills, findings, and ideas of concern to others, they reflect on matters that strike them as worthy of wonder, and they review available cultural works in shared search for value and excellence. StudyPlace exists so that contributors who share an interest in what educates can converse about, explain, reflect on, and review significant ideas together.
Hub pages for these modes of discourse feature notable examples appropriate for each, chosen by the Sysops, as well as a number of stubs and empty headings, indicating the sorts of contributions that are especially needed to develop StudyPlace further. Contributors should experiment with the modes of intellectual discourse themselves, for we still have very much to discover about making them fully effective through peer production in a digital commons. At this early stage, we start with some preliminary expectations about how contributors will go about conversing, explaining, reflecting, and reviewing on StudyPlace. And of course, these expectations will mature and change as contributors generate a working base of experience.
- converse — On StudyPlace, we seek to elicit extensive conversation, the exchange of views about what educates. When people converse, the intellectual illumination results, not from a single contribution, but as each adds a distinctive view, enabling the sum of them to comprise an enlightening amplitude of ideas. We will use online conversational exchange, not synchronous chat, a slowed-down turn-taking, enabling through asynchronous excite a deeper, more interesting conversation. We want it to advance our understanding of key concepts and to explore our responses to important questions about what educates. By conversing, contributors will draw together common knowledge about ideas and problems, an essential step in making cultural resources fully operative in the world of experience.
- explain — People are explaining things all the time, motives, actions, feelings, doctrines, theories, observations, laws and regulations, plans, and on. As a form of public communication, explaining serious matters has taken two forms, the lecture and the encyclopedia article. On StudyPlace, we will use the former to express synthesizing scholarship about what educates and the latter to epitomize the state of analytical research on it.
- Lectures — Peer production in a digital commons can lend itself to the creation of public lectures, texts to be read or heard, giving clear, economical expositions of common knowledge relevant to what educates. On StudyPlace we will build a pedagogical lyceum, a common work of peer production to spread educational knowledge and understanding through presentations that are engaging, coherent, and authoritative, aiming to state, clearly and concisely, what should be common knowledge about what educates, a pedagogical common sense?
- An Encyclopedia — In order to inform the public, one needs clarity on the who, how, what, where, why, and when of educating. StudyPlace will include a user-created, specialized encyclopedia about education as a domain of academic inquiry and in developing it, we should concentrate on developing a distinctive educative style for an encyclopedia. How can we inform readers with educational knowledge, not for their mechanical use of it, but for their integration of it into the judgment and understanding with which they live?
- reflect — To understand what educates we need good research, and even more, illuminating scholarship and clarifying criticism. To achieve a better balance in the study of education, StudyPlace invites the inclusion of essays, long and short, with the understanding that these will be open for public peer review, which will be, we trust, civil and constructive, but all the same probing and provoking. We invite participants to test whether writers can better realize their intentions when able to interact with readers in a digital forum.
- review — On StudyPlace we seek to develop a new, peer-produced criticism of all forms of creative work — books, plays, films, exhibits, the plastic arts, architecture, music, games, . . . whatever has educative power. What is their potential influence, on whom, with what consequences? A cornucopia of works that educate and miseducate surrounds us all and we can measure the degree to which we confuse education with schooling by the dearth of criticism that educators make of all these other influences in the circumstances of life. The peer production of an educative criticism in a digital commons will right this imbalance.
We want to elicit creative contributions in all these modes of intellectual discourse, developing the theme of what educates for study and further development within a single, unified Wiki. The emerging prototype is located at www.studyplace.org. Rather than describe describe our strategies for using modes of peer production at further length, we will leave them to disclose themselves as participation on the site accelerates the and the prototype turns itself into a substantively essential resources for anyone who seeks to understand what educates.
Computer-mediated communication is destabilizing the ecology of communication by strengthening and diversifying numerous forms of human interaction. The encyclopedia, archival collections, and the library all take on a new presence in our work. Concomitant with these developments, an important change, highly emergent, alters who can contribute productively to serious thought. Great minds may be outdone by the wisdom in numbers. Up until now, only a few could succeed as productive intellectuals, earning a living from royalties or academic salaries. Increasingly, relatively assured levels of affluence, leisure, and longevity are enabling many well-prepared people, each of whom would not have succeeded as a luminary by working alone, to band together to engage in highly productive scholarship in a spontaneous, non-possessive way. The emergence of Linux and Wikipedia make it evident that peer production can mobilize very substantial intellectual energy, disclosing a growing intellectual commons.
A major question may need early consideration, however. Is there good reason to expect that people able to contribute worthwhile ideas about what educates, will be motivated to do so? Of course, in 1999 it would not have seemed likely to anyone that many thousands of persons would join to write several million articles in many languages to create Wikipedia. Thus to some degree the question whether anyone will be motivated to participate in StudyPlace must be answered empirically by putting forward the means enabling participation and inviting possible participants to use them. But who might those potential participants be and what might they find to be an attractive invitation?
Peer production on the Internet opens participation to anyone, but to make StudyPlace successful, a significant proportion of participants need to have the appropriate skills and interests to give the site intellectual substance and stature. However hospitable to populist participation we can make StudyPlace, it needs to achieve elite intellectual stature, and to do that many participants will need to combine advanced study in the field of education with an interest in thinking reflectively about broad issues in the field. Many persons with these capacities may have good reasons to shun participating in a peer produced enterprise at least until it proved its intellectual stature. Contributing anonymously to an intellectual commons on the Internet will not be the best way to add luster to a scholarly reputation, for ones best ideas will mingle unsigned with the froth of others and the peer reviewing of it all will often be absent, and if present, both unpredictable and unorthodox. For scholars in their prime, the normal promotion and tenure incentives for academic publishing may be very weak on StudyPlace and sites like it.
Who will shun participation is less important than who may welcome it, however, for StudyPlace will get its start, not from a stable of stars, but from sufficient shared effort by competent contributors, each of whom has something to add to what needs to be said. Counterbalancing poor incentives for the highly prominent, participation in peer production may be attractive to two significant groups that currently have little status in academic publishing — apprentice scholars and scholars for whom the promotion and tenure process has basically run its course.
Students write many, many papers for this professor and that professor, sometimes getting good commentary back, other times a laconic "good work" tacked to an inflated grade. Supervised participation in an effort to craft good answers to interesting questions online might strike everyone as a better use of apprentice effort. As things stand, those thousands, those millions of student papers all disappear into the closet, juvenalia at best. As separate efforts, private and personal, student writing is wasted work, adding up to nothing except perhaps as preparation for eventual accomplishments. All that work might continue to nurture mature excellence as students ripen into scholars, while contributing substantially to advancing knowledge where it integrated together in a common work by many hands and minds.
And at the other end of the scholarly life course, many able academics stop publishing because they have become unwilling to continue working under the constraints of writing for specialized journals, each with its stable of predictable reviewers keeping the gates just so. Independent scholars, senior professors, and retired academics might find participating in good peer production to be an energizing challenge. Most will never have earned substantial royalties from their writings and many will have lost their zeal to publish having labored long, sending this paper and that book to the waiting world without the faintest sign of response. For most, anonymity is the primary condition of academic publication, no matter how prominent the author's name appears beneath the title of the work, for it is all-too-rarely read — it is a roundabout way to make the proverbial noise of the tree falling in an uninhabited forest. Many who have a lot to say and the skills to say it well would be strongly attracted to contribute, largely anonymously, to a collaborative work that would have enduring centrality to the study of a subject — that is the attraction of commons-based peer production.
Such considerations suggest that a tangible subset of scholars with appropriate skills and interests might at the outset find participation in peer production highly attractive. Should that be the case, with credible work beginning to emerge, it will be interesting to then see who else may be attracted to participating. Possessive authorship has its charms and even substantial rewards for a few. But if one were to tote up all the effort that academic authors acknowledge having received from helpful colleagues, and all the effort that aspiring students put into their papers and harried professors expend in commenting on them, and finally all the effort that nameless editors expend in publishing scholarly books, one must conclude that there is a large potential pool of energy, predominantly altruistic, that efforts at peer production might draw upon. Some scholars want to make names for themselves; many others want to say something worthwhile. Peer production is one of the best ways to participate in doing the latter, and that will be the invitation that StudyPlace will make.
The Pursuit of Common Knowledge
Schools of education award a very large number of doctorates annually, and each doctorate indicates yet another dissertation duly judged to have been an original contribution to knowledge. The educational research establishment publishes a very large number of research studies each year with countless papers presented at professional meetings. The system of knowledge production leads to a plethora of divergent findings. Years ago schools of education gave up requiring all their graduates to have mastered a shared, common body of knowledge of significant scope and depth. With respect to education, there are currents of correctness — political, pedagogical, social, gendered, ethnic, administrative — running through the state of knowledge, but there is neither a well-reasoned, orthodox consensus nor clearly grounded critics of it. There is no common knowledge about education and the system of knowledge production is not moving closer to achieving it.
This absence of common educational knowledge creates a great opportunity for StudyPlace. In reporting individual research findings there are few incentives or opportunities to arrive at a consolidated statement of common knowledge. Research review articles do not serve the purpose for they treat very narrow topics for a restricted, specialist readership. Sage reports by committees of distinguished luminaries do not develop an educational commonsense, well founded and stable over time, for the committees are numerous, divergent, and ad hoc. No one is effectively presenting the broad public with a thoughtful understanding of what educates.
Peer production has some characteristics that may make it effective in crafting a shared understanding of what educates accessible to the public. Anyone can contribute anything, but to make it stick each must work it out with interested peers. Over time the scope of a peer-produced work will grow, and its component contents will tend to reflect an informed consensus about the matter at hand. There is too little experience with the serious intellectual uses of peer production to be sure what sorts of pedagogical discourse it will most effectively support. But there is sufficient reason to expect an outcome, both humane and powerful, to venture a trial. The discipline of having to concert contributions within a digital commons, open to all, may possibly lead to the articulation of knowledge in a way that challenges idiosyncratic views, that incorporates genuinely new findings, and that works towards a dynamic, yet convergent understanding of what educates. If it does, peer production can lead to a common knowledge that all can freely share, disclosing a pedagogical commons of use and value to all. We seek to develop StudyPlace with such expectations as the inspiration.
- ↑ Robbie McClintock. Homeless in the House of Intellect: Formative Justice and Education as an Academic Study (New York: Laboratory for Liberal Learning, 2005)
- ↑ Harold A. Innis introduced the term in 1951 in The Bias of Communication (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1951, 1999) and framed the problem of thinking about the effects of innovation in communication as an ecological development well. The subsequent literature is important, extensive, and complicated.
- ↑ The interface to the world of scholarship currently differs greatly depending on whether one is inside or outside the domain of a major research library. This difference has always existed. Digital access has increased everyone's access to scholarship greatly, but the increase has been greatest for those within the domains of the research libraries. In due course, the transition underway with the development of a highly digitized culture will probably lead to complete access for everyone, however.