While grocery shopping yesterday, I decided to stop into Borders bookstore and check out their books because the Madison location is going out of business due to the company’s recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. In other words, I wanted to snag a good deal.
I managed to pick up the book Macrowikinomics for a low price and dove into the book when I got home. 24 hours later and I’ve read a 1/3 of the book, which is good for my reading habits.
When I first started reading the book at the SERF, I had one of those “wow, this is really ironic and strange moments.” The book’s introduction talked about Ushahidi , an open source program that allows people to map out information interactively via text messages/emails. Ushahidi is a timely topic because I (a) learned about it a few weeks ago in my Digital Media, Law and Ethics course and (b) people are using the platform in Japan to help relay information about displaced individuals.
Needless to say, I dove in and that ironic feeling became even greater. The authors spoke about the imbalance of information sharing in financial communities in the late 2000s, which, according to the writers, lead to the latest economic meltdown. Specifically, the authors explain that the flow of information between investment bankers, rating agencies and consumers allowed unethical bankers to rack up money because the agencies did not provide accurate valuations within a timely manner. For me, this portion of the book fit into my brain like a perfect lock and key combination. In my finance class, we are currently learning about stock valuation. Being a student in a journalism/advertising program that focuses on qualitative information, I could not (and still cannot) rack my brain around using numbers to value a company when there are intangible variables of a company that simply don’t translate to any form of data.
But the cherry on top of this 380 page Sunday was this passage:
“In short, it is time to shine the light on the opaque products and activities of the financial sector that have threatened the entire economy, and the Web provides a platform to do this. A digital response involving collaboration on a mass scale may be the best way to properly evaluate and assess the value and risk of new financial instruments as they are produced. New models based on openness, transparency, and participation are already changing many parts of the industry from venture capital to mutual funds and even models that value the risk of expected returns of the most complex instruments: expose them to the scrutiny of the thousands of experts who have the knowledge to vet the underlying assumptions?” (Tapscott and Williams, 40)
This passage lead me to the overarching question/theme of this post: why are my business classes not embracing collaboration when my journalism/advertising classes & other forces at UW-Madison are using collaborative technologies to help shape my future?
Using collaboration in the classroom environment
If you would have approached me during high school and told me that I would blog, use wikis and create video podcasts for my college classes, I would have thought you were smoking a substance illegal in all 50 states. Looking back on my last four years, however, many of my instructors exposed me to collaborative online.
During my freshman and sophomore years, I participated in three different classes where students were required to submit their thoughts about specific topics to blogs. The scary part (well, scary at the time) was that the blogs were open to the public for viewing.
My thoughts during the first class went something along the lines of:
“Gasp – open to the public! But what if a future employer sees what I wrote? What if he/she doesn’t like what I have to say? What if my blog post ends up following me for the rest of my life? What if someone comments and scrutinizes me for my writing. Oh No!”
A few semesters and internships later, I’m happy to say that I don’t think this way. During the classes, I DID have people argue against my posts/not agree with me. These experiences helped me understand that digital footprints do exist and that I shouldn’t fear online involvement, but instead embrace it and harness digital media to show that I’m a strong analytic thinker with a good sense of humor.
Last semester, my teacher made us create a wiki and post our stories to this wiki. It was an interesting experience because we had to use special code to format the wiki and, once we posted our stories, a spambot went into the site and switched out all of our great academic content with links to porn sites (and you thought that smudging your pencil on a loose-leaf sheet of paper was bad).
And this semester… well, I have collaboration overload in my Digital Media, Law and Ethics class. Where to begin? Well, I’ll just list the collaborative activity that has/will occur:
- all students are required to post to a private blogging/social network site + comment on other postings
- one guest lecture within the class occurred over Skype video chat because the speaker was in Haiti, my teacher was at a conference in Florida, and our class was in Wisconsin. Personally, I was out of town and had to follow along on Skype as well. Oh, and while the lecture was going on, the students were interacting between each other using CoverItLive.
- a collaborative test (yes, a test where you actually talk with other people) where students could share ideas via an online Google Docs study guide and in-person during the test… trust me, it was one of the hardest tests I’ve gone through in college.
Through all of these experiences, I never thought that my teachers were pushing myself/my peers to interact online solely for the sake of saying “hi, our curriculum is state of the art because we use the Internet.” Instead, the traditional power/classroom environment shifted. I felt as if I, being an undergraduate at a big university, had the chance to influence the thoughts of my peers/teachers. These experiences were more than just studying for multiple choice tests where I’ll forget the answers in a few months; instead, they provided me with “on my feet” opportunities to execute challenges – something that I have used in all of my internships.
Collaboration can be scary, but its rewards outweigh those of a traditional course where the professor is an almighty force who simply lectures and you regurgitate his/her thoughts onto a 8.5 X 11 scantron test.
Online tools from an administrative standpoint
So I’ve talked about collaboration in the classroom, but what about university administration?
UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin collaborates daily with individuals connected to UW-Madison through Twitter. While some people may say that Twitter is not a collaborative environment, I would semi-disagree, saying that Twitter can serve as a catalyst towards collaborative actions (this could be another blog post, but I digress).
Here’s a look at how Martin uses Twitter.
As a student at UW-Madison, I’m very proud of Martin’s Twitter activity. She could have used Twitter as somewhat of an RSS feed, simply re-posting news releases from University Communications. Instead, however, she puts a voice to the administration, showing that she has a genuine interest in the integrity and success of her students. I’ve heard many students talk about her Tweeting, saying “oh, she’s really responsive and get’s back to you right away” or “I like that she actually talks about the university issues with honesty.” One of my friends told me (in sheer happiness like he was riding a high horse of “coolness”) “dude, Biddy sent me a DM.”
So Biddy, if you happen to read this, I want to say thanks. You rock at online communication.
Rethinking business courses
Like I mentioned before, I’m currently taking a finance course for my Certificate in Business. While I heavily enjoy the professor, a comment that she made regarding social networking rubbed me the wrong way. Each class, the teacher allocates a few minutes to talk about business-related events in the news and she mentioned the valuation of Facebook and Twitter. Then, she went on a tangent and said that she doesn’t see any value in Twitter.
This statement is very ironic because, according to this teacher, students within the business school are tuned-out to global events and need to pay attention to the news. Interesting, considering that Pew just reported that online news is outpacing print news and also published results from a study that show group engagement in higher with online media users than those who don’t use online media. Of the later report, non-Internet users were 56% likely to engage in group activity whereas Twitter users are 85% likely to engage.
Case-in-point: professors need to change their thoughts about technology and its implementation in the business world.
If you’re a student and reading this, do you know any of these events/items:
- The idea of open-source
- A wiki (no, not Wikipedia; an actual wiki)
- The Long Tail
- An API
If you’re finding yourself saying “huh” or “what is he talking about”, my point was made. Our business education, in my opinion, lets us down by not exposing us to the technological side of management, marketing, accounting/finance, etc. Just like my book said, technology has/will continue to play an influential role in how big corporations will run. I don’t know about you (the student), but I sure want to stay ahead of the masses and know how to use technology as a competitive advantage.
And don’t think that I’m simply bitching for the sake of bitching. Instead, I’m trying to push my peers to use technology towards their advantage. In a few days, I’m leading a workshop on how to create online identities (simple stuff like setting up a custom URL, Twitter account, LinkedIn profile) for students who have simply not been exposed, via education, to these technologies.
So, what to do next?
If I had a magical answer about implementing collaborative models and technology into every classroom on campus, I’m sure that someone else would have already thought of the answer as well.
I think that we, as students, faculty members and staff need to change our mindset of technology/collaboration. Instead of seeing education as a you vs. the masses setting, we need to re-establish what education and learning means to us.