I’ve repeatedly waxed rhapsodic here about the potential of Web 2.0 to change the way we think, learn, and engage the world. A lot of this hope evolves out of the potential it offers for collective thinking and learning. An example of such potential realized is at the center of the US Attorneys scandal.
Talking Points Memo, a weblog operated by three men out of a small office in Chelsea, has pushed the story since early January. They’ve produced original reporting, but have also depended a great deal upon the participation of their readership in tracing the contours of the scandal. Here’s a piece from the LA Times that details TPM’s process.
TPM’s work has employed collectivized information gathering and sifting. After noticing that several US Attorneys were being replaced late last year, TPM’s editors deputized their readership and asked them to send relevant clips from local newspapers. TPM aggregated the clips, revealing a pattern of politically-motivated firings. Two weeks ago the Department of Justice released more than 3000 documents related to the purge. TPM asked its readership–most of whom had been following the story for two months–to sift through the documents and discuss their findings online. The staff followed the threads to identify which documents to highlight, and built a timeline of significant events and players in the scandal. TPM has owned this story, out of a combination of editorial leadership and reader participation.
The big media outlets who originally paid little mind to this story are now on top of it, thanks in part to TPM’s muckraking. In this process, the editor/reporters there have modeled some ideas that I think are central to the integration of technology into teaching at the college level:
- By empowering their readers to contribute, they’ve magnified the impact and worth of their enterprise.
- By funneling the flow of information through their own expertise, they’ve shaped the potential chaos of many voices into purposeful and concrete journalism
- By identifying themselves as journalists who work through a blog rather than bloggers who do journalism, they’ve influenced their field without letting the power and newness of the medium overwhelm their mission
Each of these points has a corollary in technological pedagogy. Technology at its best can augment what happens in the classroom, sharpening lessons, expanding fields of discussion, and magnifying student engagement with the materials under consideration. The teacher’s role in this process is central, and the employment of technology should be in support of a firmly defined pedagogical goal. Finally, just as good journalism is good journalism whether in print or on screen, effective teaching is effective teaching whatever the medium. The core rules of the disciplines still should dictate how technology is and is not used. This last point is important to revisit time and again because the power of the medium threatens at times to overwhelm the content that’s explored through it. TPM shows us that with a firm goal and high standards, it needn’t.