TLT Symposium 2011: Clay Shirky

Last Saturday several of of us attended the Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) Symposium.  In addition to featuring many presentations by Penn State faculty and staff doing phenomenal things with technology, the Symposium invited Clay Shirky to provide the keynote.  Shirky is a professor, writer and consultant focusing on the social and economic effects of the Internet and social technologies.

The TLT staff will likely have a complete video of the presentation available soon, so I won’t go into a summary of this presentation.  Rather, I’d like to focus on his message that we in education need to start generating a lot of really small ideas about how we can do things differently (and better), and rapidly test these ideas.  Shirky provided two examples of individuals that had a rather small idea at the time, but how these ideas grew into massive, game-changing ideas.

The first example was Wikipedia.  Shirky shared a quote from a founder of Wikipedia that stated something to the effect of ‘Humor me.  Take 5 minutes and go create a page about something that interests you in the wiki’.  Here we are a decade later, and Wikipedia has become one of the first places many of us turn to learn about a new topic.

The second example the open source operating system, Linux.  When the creator set out to begin this project, a simple post to a forum stated modest goals. ‘I’d like to try and build and open source operating system as a hobby, and integrate all the ideas that people have posted on this forum to make it a very stable, reliable OS.’ Again, a very modest, small idea that turned into an operating system that is the foundation for Fortune 500 companies around the world. 

Towards the end of his talk, he said “Take your best people, and lock them out of the building for a month.  Don’t let them back in until they have 100 small ideas, or 10 medium ideas.”  Shirky then went on to stress the need in education for all of us to start generating, and quickly testing, small ideas that might make a big impact in the future.  How we do this is tricky, considering higher education in general is very reluctant when it comes to change. But the idea struck a chord with me, and is something that, at the individual level, we can all aspire to do here at Penn State. 

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