Stop Being Deliberately Obscure – Share For the Good of All

A head nod to John Connell for his post calling on teachers to consider whether or not they are obscurantists. In turn John was led by a Greg Whitby post about Clay Shirky’s Edge piece answering the question ‘How has the Internet changed the way you think?’. Clay throws up the example of the alchemists giving way to the early scientists (Invisible College):

The problem with the alchemists had wasn’t that they failed to turn lead into gold; the problem was that they failed uninformatively. Alchemists were obscurantists, recording their work by hand and rarely showing it to anyone but disciples. In contrast, members of the Invisible College shared their work, describing and disputing their methods and conclusions so that they all might benefit from both successes and failures, and build on each other’s work.

The chemists were, to use Richard Foreman’s phrase, "pancake people". They abandoned the spiritual depths of alchemy for a continual and continually incomplete grappling with what was real, a task so daunting that no one person could take it on alone.

You could make the argument that in their turn today’s scientists have repeated the pattern vis-à-vis general readers on the web since scientists are ‘describing and disputing their methods and conclusions’ in obscure journals hidden behind a high pay wall. Fortunately we have the open access movement to thank for beginning to overcome this obscurity.

Shirky goes on to give solid examples of how open sharing achieves lasting value:

As we know from Wikipedia, post-hoc peer review can support astonishing creations of shared value. As we know from the search for Mersenne Primes, whole branches of mathematical exploration are now best taken on by groups. As we know from Open Source efforts like Linux, collaboration between loosely joined parties can work at scales and over timeframes previously unimagined. As we know from NASA clickworkers, groups of amateurs can sometimes replace single experts. As we know from Patients Like Me, patient involvement accelerates medical research.

What more incentive do we need as teachers at all levels to stop being obscure and share our own social learning, experiences, techniques, processes and content with our colleagues?

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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