Collaborative confusion

Dec_2012 045 cMy husband related to me what happened when he accompanied our daughter into the establishment of an “exclusive” tea vendor. Her conversation with the clerk about variations of gyokuro, roibos, oolong and yerba left him bewildered; it was so much incomprehensible tea jargon. When she asked about buying bagged tea as a gift, the clerk immediately started into her pitch on the superiority of loose leaf tea. Our daughter stood there overwhelmed, not sure how to respond to the persuasive outpouring. Finally, the clerk concluded with the assertion that “Loose leaf tea is one hundred times better!”

Our daughter stared at the clerk blankly for a ten seconds, stunned unable to speak. Then she slowly replied “One hundred times better … really?” in a tone of appropriate disbelief.

My husband said it was hard to suppress a laugh, the hyperbole had been dealt a blow. However, he felt our daughter had a short coming in not knowing how to speak in manner that he refers to as “bull.” He defines this as conversing with mostly meaningless fluff, just to let people know you are listening and give them enough affirmation that they are not offended when you turn away, completely ignoring what they have said. I tried to explain how our daughter did not like small talk without any real exchange in information.

This difference in communication reminded me of the difficultly in actually obtaining information on the internet. Collaborative learning through social networking sites can be a real chore. People willingly provide responses, but they are not necessarily the ones that know the answers. The exchange of viable information can be minimal.  When I post a question about the best way to create video for classrooms, I must read through theoretical jargon, sales pitches, meaningless affirmation, and sarcastic criticism to find any useful information. I am left with the task of gleaning, sorting and assembling useful facts into some sort of cohesive explanation (a bit like doing background  for research). However, the most difficult response for me to swallow is the undiscovered thinker who often hijacks a discussion with his vision for the future – any problem can be solved by a wise computer administering the collective knowledge of mankind. This kind of person responds with a blustering “show me the research” to anyone who questions this idea. (Of course, there is no research to confirm what will occur in the future).

This difficulty is also found in digitally adept students now in higher educational. Collaboration has many been shown to provide many advantages to students, yet these students are hesitant to participate in on-line collaborative learning. [1]  Recently I read what Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist central to Web 2.0, had to say about using the “wisdom of the crowd” such as that found in on-line collaborations. Rather than resulting in “ever-upward enlightenment. It was just as likely, he argued, that the crowd would devolve into an online lynch mob.”[2] Using wikis, blogs and social media to educate a new generation may not turn out as wonderfully as some have envisioned. The wealth of information provided by the exchange of human knowledge available on the Internet is not the answer to everything. In fact the ideas expressed range from idiocy to brilliance just like everyday verbal communication.

[1] Chiong, Raymond & Jovanovic, Jelena. Collaborative Learning in Online Study Groups:  An Evolutionary Game Theory Perspective Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  Volume 11, 2012, p. 82.
[2] Rosenbaum, Ron. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold 2.0 Smithsonian, January 2012, Volume 43, Number 9, p.25

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