Saturday, December 02, 2006

More with the crowds

Jeff's post on The Wisdom of Crowds prompted me to do a little internet searching to glean some more information about this book and its basic idea.

And going to Google, of course, is itself an example of trusting to the wisdom of crowds, trusting that in the aggregate of that information gathering I'll find a range of opinions, the average of which will give me the best opinion. (Amazon rankings, too, are an example of this wisdom, I would say, and the average rating for the book itself is four stars. Pretty good.)

Jeff's post interested me for at least a couple of reasons. For one, the idea of crowd wisdom connects up with Google rankings and the circulation of information, something I've been thinking about, and something that Jenny talks about at greater length.

Another reason has to do with what I allude to in the comments on Jeff's blog. I don't want to get specific here, and it isn't really anything that specific, it's just noticing what happens at meetings and being somewhat mystified. I would say that two problems I've noticed in various settings is (1) too much centralized control, and (2) not enough diversity of information. For crowds to be wise, according to the book, you need to have decentralized decision-making and a diversity of information.

And a third reason (taking me beyond a couple) that just comes to me as I'm thinking about this is something that's been rattling around for me since reading the WPA-L archives from a few years back. I was looking for the thread that "responded" to the summary of one of Bousquet's piece from the Chronicle. (That is, the Chronicle summarized an article of Bousquet's. The prepositional phrases in that sentence got out of hand.) While searching, I came across another thread about a certain writing program, and was especially taken by something Jeff wrote there, noting the diversity of approaches and commitment to pedagogy exhibited by TAs at his PhD program. And I was wondering how one might duplicate that, how to get a program where there is a real investment in intelligent, innovative pedagogy. Clearly, prescribed syllabi aren't going to do it (and we don't have prescribed syllabi here). But just pure laissez-faire doesn't seem to quite do it, either. Seems like what's missing in the latter approach is aggregation? So maybe a good role for the WPA would be something like that? Aggregator in chief?

Just thinking.

3 comments:

jeff said...

So maybe a good role for the WPA would be something like that? Aggregator in chief?

If I'm understanding you correctly...I'd say yes. But then again, I'd say it's all of our jobs - since we are in the information business.

I don't know if our experiences are the same - but possibly what you experienced in some meetings I have as well. My feeling is that we don't - as a field - know how to aggregate. Not that I'm claiming that Ido...only that the logic of aggregation challenges how we have assessed and gathered and navigated information. Part of what caused me to leave WPA-L (and part of what makes me wince when I go back and look at the archives) is that lack of aggregation. There is a crowd mentality, but it doesn't operate by the "wisdom" notion; it is more like blink magnified. Impulse reasoning picked up by the group. That, for me, is not dispersed intelligence, and quite often, neither are the committee meetings we sit in and make decisions in driven or motivated by dispersed intelligence. They are not blog like in how they operate. They are typically motivated by individual ideas.

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