These are my thoughts after attending Pierre Lévy’s class on Knowledge Management. Thanks to everyone from #UOKM, it was a great experience!
Winter 2017 / University of Ottawa
According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, what we have to learn to do, we learn by doing. Thus, it is not a surprise if one of the main thinker behind the concept of Collective Intelligence, in this case Pierre Lévy, applies his theory to the structure of his class on Knowledge Management. Although the course is not primarily focused on the theory of collective intelligence, but rather on knowledge management and the use of social media, we have seen this semester how these two concepts have, over time, become inseparable.
In my view, perhaps the simplest way to better appreciate the theory behind the concept of Collective Intelligence and how it operates is by experiencing it first hand. We may ask: how do we experience the management of knowledge within a collective, especially in a class setting? It means, among many things, to link the class with a symbolic hashtag on Twitter; to have students comment their weekly readings in the form of tweets or Facebook posts outside of the regular class hours and have them upload their work online to allow others to access it, etc. As Professor Lévy explained, a collective intelligence can only prosper through a certain openness and willingness by its participants to engage and share knowledge between themselves. Because as we have learned, sharing knowledge or your own expertise with others do not mean losing either, because it is through this sharing practice that we can ensure that tacit knowledge becomes explicit to all.
In part through these connective actions, knowledge becomes more explicit, which allows for the possibility of a more interactive learning experience for the class. For example, it was not rare to see students quoting the work of their peers or what they had previously seen posted on social media under the hashtag designated for the class, when displaying their own research during a class presentation. In my view, this enabled students to build on the knowledge already established by others in the group, ultimately helping it achieve a deeper understanding than we may had otherwise. Similarly, the use of Twitter during class also helped those who are maybe more introverted in nature to participate in their own way, while also adding to the quality of the conversation. Someone, for example, may mention the Moore’s law while asking a question to the prof, while another may tweet the URL of an article from MIT arguing that it is slowing down, allowing others to learn more if they so desire.
Furthermore, the dynamics involved in the very exercise of participating in a university class changes drastically, perhaps becoming more in tune with the times we live in. Why write papers the old way, with the prof being the only one who will will read them, when instead we could share our writings with the rest of the group to ensure that the whole class can benefit? Through this exercise, attending class becomes what it should be for the student: a collective and shared experience with your peers, as opposed to the more traditional method which we are already accustomed to as students.
Through the lens of the theory of Collective Intelligence, the expert in the room becomes the room itself. While simply entering the room does not make one automatically an expert, it does allow one to learn from a multitude of sources at a time. As professor Lévy mentioned, this is where students, and everyone else, must develop certain skills in order to curate the information available to them. The curative process is thus very important, especially in this day and age of fake news. Luckily, as we have seen, it is possible for each of us to find our way through this maze, as long we apply the theory and methods we have learned.
In order not to be confused in the sea of information, individuals must, according to Professor Lévy, do certain things to avoid a number of pitfalls. First, one must diversify their sources of information, prioritize them according to their own needs and categorize them with the help of hashtags. Tools like Twitter, Scoop.it and a personal Wiki can be useful in this case. The process is akin to creating your own personal intelligence agency, whereas information you acquire is critically analyzed and categorized according to your goals and needs. Keeping in mind the agenda and transparency of each sources of information is also very important for your fact checking process. The last step, in order to fully integrate the knowledge you seek to acquire, is to synthesize it in the form of writing. For this, one may need to create a blog, or use a micro blogging site like Twitter or Mastodon, to be able to write, in your own words, what you have read.
As students of communication at the graduate level, most of us are already familiar with how the majority of these tools work. We, perhaps more than the average person, use them almost excessively in our personal and professional lives. Does that mean that we know how to use them properly? Not necessarily. The beauty of theory is that once it has been understood, it can help us explain what is going on around us. As communication experts living in the ever pervasive world of social media, such competence is more than ever necessary.