Networked Learning and Distributed Reporting

If I go often to the well of what’s going on in the Politics 2.0 and Reporting 2.0 space, it’s because few areas are going through such a radical high stakes change.

Not change in a political sense, mind you. Much of the change going on is a rather frantic bid to make sure that new technologies don’t erode existing power structures both in media and politics. But the stakes involved and the very real wakeup call received by the establishment in 2006 has led to a situation where the political space is ahead of the curve in use of new technologies and organizational principles.

So it’s no surprise that we see a glimpse of the new world of work today from Huffington Post’s Off The Bus group of reporters (disclosure: I’m one of those reporters).

It was a normal subject they covered today: Sen Obama’s campaign did a massive door-to-door operation this past weekend. The average coverage of this would be to send a reporter out to one of the 40-odd cities where this canvassing was taking place.

Off the Bus had a better idea: since they have dozens of reporters already in these locations, why not ask them all to stop by their local event, and get some basic information about the canvass — people involved, why they were there, basic turnout numbers, doors knocked on, general level of commitment of people talked to.

It was information a local person could gather in about 30 to 60 minutes, both by talking to the organizers and tagging along for a couple door-knockings. And since the people tagging along were local, they could put the information in context.

Off the Bus set up a Survey Monkey form, and mailed it out to any of their reporters who could spare the half hour. One blogger was responsible for compiling the data and putting it together, but the data was made available to all involved (in fact, the raw reports were made available to the general public).

And what was the result of this? Well, it was a mixed bag. The reporters were in many places stonewalled by the Obama campaign. Where they did tag along though, they found that for the most part support for any candidate was far softer than what polls have shown, and that people as a whole are tired of talking about the Iraq war.

Briliant? Groundbreaking?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But look at the mechanisms and philosophy on display: radical transparency (in making all reports viewable), distributed tasking, use of simple online tools such as Survey Monkey, multi-literate reporters taking video, writing copy, all coordinated through a Google group, and done at almost no cost — because the reporters are already in place…

This is not just the future of reporting. It’s the future of our networked world. In fact, it’s the present already in many industries where need for the coordination of people with different specializations exists.

Do our students know how to work this way? Are we teaching them?

I’d argue that projects like UMW Blogs do just that, showing people through that ecosystem of Google Reader, WordPress, and MediaWiki the power of the network.

(and you can add any of my previous endings here — you know the screed. Why in the world would we send kids out into the networked world with a BlackboardTM understanding of life?)

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2 Comments on “Networked Learning and Distributed Reporting”

  1. Jim says:

    Disclosure: I administer UMW Blogs

    Wow, this is a great post, and the convergence between the political/educational world are pretty clear here. More than that, I tend to agree with you that while so many of these technologies have the promise to revolutionize our institutions fashion themselves and conduct their business, just as much time, effort, and energy is being invested in preventing such a reality. Making so much of the promise of these tools so strangely positioned on a precipice precariously teetering between the possibility for radical change and entrenched reactionary measures. Sorry for the extremes here, but I just start to wonder at what point these tools are providing possibilities that will never be realized until their is a formidable struggle for re-thinking power and authority.

  2. Mike says:

    I think it’s happening in areas where there are clear winners and losers and visible metrics. So tech, for example, politics, newspapers —

    And it’s inevitable it will ring about some social change — how much depends on whether we give students the tools to take control of their destinies…. the sooner we grad network literate students, the more profound the change.

    The shame is that universities, which are confused about what they want to accomplish anyway, have no pressing desire to do it better or more efficiently. And they are in many cases so divorced from the world of work that they are not seeing the revolution that is happening.

    The truth is we went from the Industrial Age, to the Information Age. And this age will be known as the Network Age. It’s that big a deal, it’s on that scale — which is why i go crazy talking to people that treat the issue as a collection of fads and gadgets.

    Hmm… maybe a bigger post on that.


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