Monday, October 02, 2006

Doc Searls Interview on Free and Open Source Software in Education

This was a delightful interview for me. Not only was Doc Searls very interesting to listen to, but I only had to ask short questions to get good, long responses. As my goal for these interviews is to expose educators to the people, programs, and ideas of the Free and Open Source Software communities, this is exactly what I hope will take place in an interview.

My introduction to Doc was from a year and a half ago, when he wrote a couple of essays (and here) in response to Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. I told him that it was interesting to re-read his comments again after that amount of time and to see how many of his thoughts had stayed in my brain and become a part of my perception of the value of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)--which is the ability of the Free and Open Source communities to absorb a wide range of individual efforts, and to allow individuals to find areas for contribution that fit their skills, talents, and interests. This model of "contribute where you can, how you can," is both inclusive and empowering, and, Doc says, encourages and favors self-learning/learners. I see this as one of the great opportunities for FOSS to impact schools, where students in higher grade levels can become involved in starting or contributing to FOSS projects to build tools that can actually be used or benefit their schools or communities.

Doc elaborated on this in a way that really clarified this idea. What he has seen in the FOSS communities is a do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude that he thinks is often missing from the "mill" system of education. Becoming a self-learner is at the heart of contributing to FOSS, and he thinks that sense of "self learning" is all-to-missing in schooling now, which instead frequently categorizes children based on IQ or other measures. He is particularly vocal on the issue of IQ tests, as you'll hear in the interview, because of his own personal experiences.

A few other tidbits:

  • Doc compared the software industry to the construction industry, in a way that I had not heard before. He said that the software industry has borrowed a lot of terms and phrases from construction: a web "site" is "under construction," or being "built." In fact, he thinks the parallels are significant, and that the value will be in taking cheap or free supplies (computers and software) and creating something of value for individuals or organizations.
  • Doc did surprise me when he suggested that we shouldn't have computers in the classroom until Junior High School.
  • He shot down my "American Idol" theory of businesses--at least, he made it clear that the "markets are conversations" idea that he brought out in The Cluetrain Manifesto is not reflected in American Idol. Instead, it is consumers as actual contributors that he was getting at.
  • I was very taken by his description of what he does as a blogger: he "rolls snowballs downhill." When a snowball rolls, he doesn't own or control, but he helped the idea to get into the world and got rolling and has meaning for other people. He also said, "we are all authors of each other."
  • Web 2.0, he says, is just a name that we are giving in advance to the next technology crash...
  • NEA: "N"obody owns it, "E"veryone can use it, "A"nyone can improve it. His definition of the best of the new marketplace for software.

You'll notice a slight hiccup toward the end of the interview--when my computer crashed! Luckily, we only lost about a minute when all was said and done. :)

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