Random Thoughts

Moving from Consumer to Producer of Information

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(A blog post I wrote to 11th graders and to myself)

Some interesting research has come out in the past couple of months that looks at the use of social networks and blogging and the trends that are happening in society today.

Nearly half of 18-24 year old social networkers (45%) told Future Laboratory researchers that if they had 15 minutes of spare time they would choose spend it on social networking sites rather than watching TV, reading, talking on their mobile, or playing video games. The impact of this trend is so significant that a quarter (25%) of respondents state that the rise in social networks has decreased the amount of traditional television they consume.

Social NetworksI continue to look at trends in our society and find myself among those that have decreased my TV time in favor of the social network. I continue to ask myself why is it that social networks are where I want to be and where I do most of my learning.

What I have noticed personally is a change within myself from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge. Watching TV does not allow me to interact with knowledge, allow me to leave a comment, remix it into my own words, or interact with the author in a true and meaningful way.

Social Networks, and the social web (also known as Web 2.0) allows me to not only consume but easily produce knowledge of my own. It is this interaction with knowledge that leads to new understandings and pushes me to think.

Because I am connected to the social web I am then allowed to create new knowledge based on my new understandings. Does that make sense?

What really interests me is that we use to believe that those who spent all their time connected to a computer where lonely, disconnected, and had no life. Yet new research is pointing to the exactly opposite.

The research, from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, found after two months of regular blogging, people felt they had better social support and friendship networks than those who did not blog.

Social Networks2Those who are connected in social networks already know this, it’s just great to see research back it up. I have very few friends here in Shanghai, but I have support and friendship networks that are very live and personal to me. My wife gets frustrated when we are sitting on the couch at night and I have Skype calls from my friends around the world. She picks up the phone to connect to people, I pick up my computer. I use twitter, Skype, Facebook, and my blog as my communication tools. That’s how I keep up with my friends. I read their Facebook, I read their blogs, I talk/IM them on Skype. I am constantly reading, commenting, writing, learning. Why is it that I hated learning in school and now go home at the end of a long day and look forward to reading and learning from my social network?

Interacting with people in the social web allows us to not only consume information but produce it. This is new to education as we were all raised to be consumers. We sit in class, we listen, we do our assignments, turn them in and move on. We consume, show that we consumed and that’s it. We never were asked to produce, to think deeply about what we were learning and we never had the opportunity to share what we thought (as scary as it is) with our social network and allow them to comment or think deeply about what we ourselves are trying to learn and understand.

Social Networks3In the social web each of us becomes a node of information. We are allowed to connect to friends, people, sites, information. We are allowed to consume, produce, share, learn, recreate, remix, and be as large or as small a node as we want. Education in the 21st Century is not about consuming information (it changes to fast), it’s about creating new knowledge from what we know, what we think, and what we are passionate about.

Knowledge is power! We create it through interacting with information not consuming it! Get social, become a node, and start producing new knowledge.

[tags]sas, 21st Century Learning, tok[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Whoa! This post’s got me thinking. The title of the post is the very process we expect our ed. leadership doctoral students to undertake. We tell them that they’ve done really well at the game of schooling and that got them to the point of doctoral study. But, now, they have to learn to become producers of knowledge. That’s REALLY hard to internalize and operationalize for many of our doc. students.

    SO, how can I incorporate social networks and Web 2.0 (oy, there’s that term again) as a learning modality into doctoral study. Hmmmmm…

    Thanks for getting me thinking in this hemisphere.

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  3. I bought a mac after Christmas and have only been blogging and using social networks for under three months. I watch less than 10% of the television I used to and would say that most of my professional development and ideas I use at work come from the blogs I read. Great post!

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  5. This has been a powerful post. This puts in words about some of the things I have been reading and thinking about. Good work!

  6. Wonderful post! So true. I know, I have two pre-teens and a sixteen year old in the house. We own 2 laptop computers and two tower computers. This doesn’t even mention the too numerous texts to count on their cell phones or AIM messages generated.

    If only we could reach out to the kids in our schools and were able to use these web 2.0 tools freely in our classrooms, would we see the true value of the educational experience!

    I know the students are free to use the forum in the classroom, and I still have students going to it daily just to check and see if anyone has commented on their thoughts from last class.

    It is what our kids need today. They need to learn to be the producers of their information and to be allowed to be creative with whatever it is they are passionate about. Along with the freedom comes the literacy skills.

    I will use this post in my class this trimester to discuss the web 2.0 tools with my students. Thanks Jeff! 🙂

  7. this question of producing, rather than consuming, is interesting

    personally, i think web 2.0 is neat, interesting, useful – eg here i am commenting on your blog

    yet i wonder if there is a tendency among educational discussion to “consume” – at the level of applications and simulations and web 2 tools, rather than “produce”

    ie we add content in predefined spaces – mix it up from there; other people define the spaces; we devalue that a little as “technical” – or admire it a little and still think its not “for us” – either way there is something of a developer / user divide – and thats the deep / surface divide i wonder about – how it limits us in “using” this amazing stuff

    i wonder if we have devalued some aspects of “information literacy” – it seems to be basically derived from library associations(ALA/ACRL in particular) and to mean “independent research skills”, “recognising when you need information and knowing how to find it”, “critical review”.

    all good things, for sure

    but my feeling is that by glossing too quickly over the workings of software, which is surely a huge part of ICT, whether on the desktop or the web or in between – by not “bothering” with much technical detail or understanding of process, by tending to consider “ICT” a product, maybe a cool, free, buzzing product, that we “use” for communication, not a process we really understand, by being too quick to run to the communication payoff – i wonder if we limit our own, and our students, ability to really innovate; in terms of shaping our own tools

    couple of links that might help explain what i mean
    (video talks about the consuming / producing thing)

    my slightly maths take on it
    ( http://thinkingcurriculum.decenturl.com/linerider)

    and here’s the big story, thats got me thinking like this – little heavy going but worth it i reckon


    so, in the rush to soft knowledge and endless commentary on how the world is “shifting”, i think we might swing too far, and with little historical perspective; and under do the “hard knowledge” that can be still be eminently
    useful, applicable; – how all this works

    i think some technical skills help the full potential of the medium to stay open – helps us being herded into easy places;

    also gives some stabilising centre – having some deep structure of understanding means new learning is not disconnected; not bewildered by all the new “user surfaces” we can write on; encompasses, and exceeds, the tendency to make lists of “ICT skills” or “useful software”

    i think this mindset deserves to be included as “information literacy” – part of my concern is its dropping out of education (eg what happened to programming? feels too geeky against myspace…? – (although maybe a little renassiance in Squeak / Alice etc)

    your blog just turned up – via a discussion thread – after i’d been grappling too long with a thesis on these topics – and so my comments are general – certainly not aimed at this site – which does seem to show that tech respect i’m suggesting we need to cultivate ; (ie present company excepted!)

    it also validates your comment about creating knowledge;


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  11. Jeff,

    Thanks for sharing that research. I hear the same concerns at my campus that students are disconnected or don’t relate enough face to face–but I think that in fact, they are holding onto relationships longer (witness so many students keeping in touch with friends from hs via Facebook, friends they would have lost track of before) and over more distances.

    And it’s somehow comforting to me to know if I wake up in the middle of the night with something on my mind, there’s a human community out there I can connect with.

    It’s interesting that we still are having to talk about this question, though there was a lot of pioneering work done by Howard Rheingold(sp?) more than a decade ago, and others on “world 2.0” and communities.

    I think we need to continue to gather this research (and perhaps do some ourselves?) and see where it leads us.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  12. Jeff wrote:
    What really interests me is that we use to believe that those who spent all their time connected to a computer where lonely, disconnected, and had no life. Yet new research is pointing to the exactly opposite.

    Jeff—this is a message that my students fight all the time! Two in particular argue passionately that they are actually MORE connected than their peers because of their developing social network.

    That’s a tough sell to parents and to educators, though.

    Now, 10 years down the road, teachers and parents (I believe) will value social networking and demand that it play some sort of role in the classroom lives of their students.

    My question ends up being is there anything we can do to speed up the process of adoption now? Or are we stuck with the unfortunate reality that today’s teachers and parents just aren’t going to embrace social networking as a valuable tool?

    Seems kind of hopeless—but it strikes me as a definite possibility. Regardless of how hard so many are working to help others build networks, I don’t see any major changes at the classroom level.

    Anyway…great post,

  13. Bill,

    I think changes are happenings, but in pockets and not on a larger educational level. It takes time to educate both parents and teachers.

    Parents remember what school is suppose to be and they have a hard time thinking about school being different for their children. Their school worked for them (for the most part) so why shouldn’t it work for their children? In some school districts it is/was a struggle to go from 6 60 minute blocks in the high school to 4 80 or 90 minute blocks. Changing a system in which everyone is an expert (we all spent a minimum of 12 years in it) takes a lot of explaining.

    Teachers, I feel are no different. They remember what school was like for them, and for most teachers it was a positive experience hence the reason they themselves became teachers. Then they went to teacher school where they were taught (and still are taught) how to teach in that school they remember. They are experts at it and when you are an expert in your field you do not want to hear someone tell you that your field is changing. Especially if the message is “You are not the expert anymore.” OUCH! It’s an uphill battle and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of fighting it. We must continue to educate teacher parents and administrators on how and why schools need to change.

    Thanks for the conversation!

  14. Nate Barton Reply

    Jeff said:Education in the 21st Century is not about consuming information (it changes to fast), it’s about creating new knowledge from what we know, what we think, and what we are passionate about.

    – Time magazine recently spoke of the soul crushing bureaucracy that is education. I have not been a teacher for very long and yet already I feel the squeeze from the weight of the bureaucracy that, more and more, seems to infringe on my classroom space.
    I would propose that we have come to a place where change might only be brought from within, not by pecking away at the outside of the great monolith. I would propose that teachers have the power to affect change in the system that is placed squarely on our shoulders.
    These thoughts float through my head and, inevitably, one word comes to mind. Revolution. I am well aware the connotation that travels so closely along side this word, however I wold suggest that it is not so negative a term. Revolution suggests a radical change. In my mind, technology, specifically the increasing dependance on technology, could be at the forefront of what may already be a radical change in education. What remains are bold individuals who might stand up, together, to call attention to the great elephant in the room. Change is possible and teachers could be the leaders of the change.
    Thanks for the thoughts,

    Nate Barton

  15. Hello Jeff

    It’s the first time I read your blog and I like it. I agree with you about the great potential of the web. I think that one of the positive things that happened to humans in the last years is moving from being passive users of various media like T.V. to being active users, althought many people still doensn’t share this. This process is possible thanks to the internet and especially thanks to the new web, that we use to call web 2. I personally am using web 2 for my profesional needs all the time, to communicate and to get new knowledge. I agree that one of the fascinating aspects of web 2 is the ability to create your own knowledge through various tools like blogs and wikies.

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  17. Sheri Fresonke Harper Reply

    I spend at least 15 minutes of spare time, you make some really good points.

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  20. Danit Isaacs Reply

    Hey Jeff! – Amazing insight!
    I’m working on a paper about the new generation of E-learning; this is the essence of it:
    The first decade of E-learning (1998-2002) was characterized by great progress in technical- and administrative aspects of learning, unfortunately, the cognitive, social and pedagogical aspects of learning were mostly neglected.
    The emergence of Web II (social networks) and Web III (semantic web) gave rise to the second generation of E-learning. If this second generation will succeed in harnessing the features of Web II&III to the learning process, it is expected to results in more significant and higher quality learning.
    Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980) was an educator, philosopher, and a communication theorist. He formulated the idea that technologies are artificial extensions and enhancements of human sense and abilities: the radio amplifies human voice, the hammer is a powerful extension of the arm, wheel – feet, knife – teeth, etc. (Prologue to 1962’s The Gutenberg Galaxy) In Accordance to this notian, the computer should be an extension of the mind and the Internet should be an enhancement of human communication and socialization. McLuhan is known for the expression “global village” which he coined. The first phase of the Internet, fulfilled this prophecy. Will the second phase of the Internet actualize McLuhan’s theory about media being an extension of our human senses? Does social networking improve our social skills? Will second generation of E-learning bring development to the cognitive and social aspects of learning?
    I’d appreciate any input you might have on this topic,
    Danit Isaacs (Samaria, Israel)

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