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The danger of turning Educamps into echo chambers

Some months back I read Cass R. Sustein’s ideas on what he refers to as Infotopia. I have the feeling that some of his ideas render visible things that are happening in the field of digital education.

Especially in the field of education it becomes visible that those who are deemed to be professionals have been caught in rotating movements. It is not about the formats in which new ways of education are approached – the educamp series is a great concept in that context – it is rather that the same institutions and their people tend to develop closed shop attitudes. Educators (may they be teachers or free lancers) who have some sort of expertise in the field of digital education seem to (unintendedly) grow comfortable and loose imagination. What’s even worse: Pride is taken in exclusiveness and and those who „think and re:consider“ education are starting to move just in their own circles, while horizons are deliberatley narrowed down for the sake of self-adulation. This not only sad, but there is a danger to that as well:

„Every day, like-minded people can and do sort themeselves into echo chambers of their own design, leading to wild errors, undue confidence and unjustified satisfaction.“ These Echo chambers turn into spheres in which people start to hear only what they choose and what comforts and pleases them. Within the fields of digital education I have started to note just that (and I am not excluding myself from that accusation). What happens is this: Group members impose their narrow horizons on one another, leading to a consensus on limited imagination rather than innovation. The problem is that these deliberating groups often do fail to obtain the knowledge that their members or experts outside their circle actually have. Self-adulation will eventually lead to a tendency to reject information that contradicts formerly embraced presumptions. „A confident, cohesive, error-prone group – a company, a labor union, a school, a nation – is nothing to celebrate. On the contrary, it might form a stumbling block both to itself and to others.“

Quotes are taken from Cass R. Sunstein’s Infotopia

7 thoughts on “The danger of turning Educamps into echo chambers

  1. My using the word „group“ includes any collection of people. In our case it refers to the participants of the last educamp. The group as a whole, already has a good deal of knowledge. Now the question is: How might this group elicit the information they need and how does it aggregate new pieces of information? I think we need to improve on the information aggregation bit! Nicholas Negroponte (a media and technology specialist from the MIT) prophecied the emergence of „the Daily Me“, an entirely personalized newspaper in which we practice selective reading, while at the same time we neglect the contributions from the „outside“. I had the strong feeling that parts of the camp sessions were caught in infinte looping. I think it is very much owned to human nature that we tend to align with things and topics we are already acquainted with, but that would also lead to an extensive missing of chances – the lack of innovation would be the consequence. If we create information cocoons (e.g. monothematic thinking, static perspectives) – intended or not – it is unlikely that new edu-approaches will prosper.

    1. You mentioned your “ strong feeling that parts of the camp sessions were caught in infinte looping.“ and yet therefore I asked for some examples, some empirical text! It is a „feeling“ and a „thinking“ that „it is very much owned to human nature that we tend to align with things and topics we are already acquainted with“. I want to have it empirical prooved. I’m very careful with all what says „it is a fixed human nature“ or it is a „conditio humana“ or an „anthropological constant“ et al. And the thesis that there are „information cocoons“ is very known. But this cocoons – are they new in the digital age?
      And if we work only with presumptions about the „human nature“ or with feelings, I give you the summury of the analysis of my twitter timeline: Never before twitter I have had such a wide spread communication – neither of interests, life styles, and perspectives, nor of age. May be I’m not the average twitterer and educamp participant. But it shows: it is not as simple.

      1. I never said it was simple. In fact, the thoughts of Sunstein regarding group thinking are very complex. And I agree with you that „human nature“ is not a static entity (on the contrary, it eludes all attempts to be described exhaustively), thus it can not be a subject to generalization. The reason for me to NOT engage in further specification – delivering empiric data, if you will – is not so much the lack of either one, but is owed to my notion of the subject in general. It is not my aim to judge teachers, educators, schools, non-formal or formal learning.
        Some things just very strongly reminded me of the dangers Sunstein points out in his book „Infotopia“. My obersvations are just that: OBSERVATIONS – entirley sunbjective in nature. My post was merely inviting to a process of self-reflection. In your first comment you vaguely agreed with what I wrote, thus I assume you have somehow detected grains of truth in what I wrote, i.e. what Sunstein wrote – subjective as any „truth“ might be.
        If, after a time of self-reflection, you arrive at the conclusion that you are not an avarage participant or twitterer (whatever „avarage“ might mean in that context) then I guess you have been doing the math. All those who feel somewhat disturbed or confused by my non-empiric „observations“ (including myself) should probably start (re-)considering my/their own role in education processes.

  2. Of course there is truth in the thesis of group thinking – and there is lots of empirical material for it. For a judgement of educam community the first question is: how to identify it in a given group event – without any research setting? And secondly: if there is group thinking (among other effects) in every group event in general – what is the meaning of that for educamp in relation to any other group? and to whom is this meaning? and so on.
    But if your intention was to stimulate self-monitoring and self-reflection , than you were successful – in my case anyway. I did it with twitter before, because the same discussion emerged related to twitter some years ago. And the thesis was, that twitter and all social media leads to more group thinking as in offline groups. I’m very skeptical about that. It smells of („oh, all was better in former times, especially without media“). Did you find anything interesting about how and under what conditions group thinking is not taking place? Ore more than in former times? And how many group members are not practicing group thinking? in what sort of groups? under what circumstances? in what way? and so on. Only if we have comparative research, we can identify a probably higher risk for group thinking in digital contextes. In comparison with religious and political groups and other groups of common practice, the educamp community is a very loosly connected community which only is a community the two times of session making a year. inbetween they are a checkered collection of people with a wide spread diversity of practicing education in very different systems and contexts. they only have one thing in common: they use computers and web 2.0. (it will be like: they can read and write in a couple of years.)

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