Rather belatedly, I’ve become quite a fan of Bruce Sterling’s work as trend-spotter and tech pundit. I can see why he’s a bit much for some people, he rubbed me the wrong way for some time, and I have yet to be taken with any his neologisms that he seems so proud of. But his last SXSW talk (thanks to Oook for convincing me to give it a listen) got me hooked, and I enjoy following his blog on Wired. He has a way of discussing some of the most exciting concepts and topics going with dramatic flair and winning irreverence.
Late night last week I was wandering the neighborhood with the dog and listening to a podcast (that’s become a nightly ritual, Dexter likes it when I get engrossed in a long one) of Sterling’s short talk at Pop! Tech last year. I was going to embed the video here, but it appears to start playback automatically when someone loads this page, and I love you readers way too much to force you to watch the clip without your consent. Though I’ll admit I gave it some thought.
Toward the end of the talk, Sterling relates an “anecdote” of an Engineering professor at Harvey Mudd College who apparently divided his class into two groups. One, the “John Henrys” were limited to using their library to do coursework, no internet allowed. The other, the “Baby Hueys” were only allowed to use the internet, and Sterling implies that Wikipedia was something of a core resource for this group. Sterling reports that this professor ended the experiment mid-semester, as the Hueys were “wiping the floor” with the Henrys, so dominant that it was unfair to continue.
The anecdote was reported by Kottke, but if it got significant traction in the education community as a talking point I missed it. It seems to me that a contrast such as this would be of vital interest to educators and students. Those of us who believe that emergent online media and culture can enhance learning are so often on the defensive. Surely further inquiry along this line would be worth pursuing. Then again, more experiments could run into ethical issues — after all, Wikipedia might be a hunk of junk written by unaccredited and unaccountable rabble, but we can’t fairly deprive students of access to it, can we? Not when grades are at stake.