Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Applying the abundance model to the classroom

In a recent Wired article called "Tech is Too Cheap to Meter: It's Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity," Chris Anderson considers the difference between a scarcity management model and an abundance model. His point is linked to management of technology resources; he writes that
[i]f you're controlling a scarce resource, like the prime-time broadcast schedule, you have to be discriminating. There are real costs associated with those half-hour chunks of network time, and the penalty for failing to reach tens of millions of viewers with them is calculated in red ink and lost careers. No wonder TV executives fall back on sitcom formulas and celebrities—they're safe bets in an expensive game.

But if you're tapping into an abundant resource, you can afford to take chances, since the cost of failure is so low. Nobody gets fired when your YouTube video is viewed only by your mom.

Anderson's point is that when resources--in this case, willing content producers with cheap production tools--are abundant, we need to rethink how we structure, market, and make money off of content.

The point, though linked to media marketing models, might easily be applied to the domain of education. The following graphic accompanies Anderson's piece:




Clearly, the abundance model as presented here aligns with the spirit of participatory culture, at its heart an egalitarian, anti-hierarchical movement wherein cultural decisions become crowdsourced. Here's where many school policies confuse scarcity and abundance: They block participatory media (including YouTube, many social networking sites, and sometimes Google and Wikipedia) and evaluate students based on their ability to repeat back to the teacher (or testmaker) the big ideas of the class. Knowledge, in this case, is treated as a scarce resource, when in a participatory culture knowledge is almost the most abundant thing we have.

What would it look like to apply an abundance model to the classroom? What new roles can and should teachers and students play in an egalitarian classrom in which "everything is permitted unless it is forbidden"? What's the difference, practically speaking, between a "command and control" classroom and a class without that type of control?

Important questions to chew on. More soon.

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