Wikipedia and Education

world in a web

Earlier this year, the Thinking Digital conference took place in the UK. I wasn’t there in person this year but lucky for me and others, the great Thinking Digital team live streamed some of the keynotes and are now publishing them online for viewing on-demand.

One fabulous and inspiring talk was by Jack Andraka who, at just 16 years old, has invented a dramatic advancement in the testing process for pancreatic cancer.

Was he a child scholar completing his nth doctorate at an Ivy League or Russell group university, having finished high school at the age of 5. No. Clearly from just listening to his talk, he is very very bright. But his invention didn’t come from being a studious genius ‘ahead of his time’ pharmacology graduate. It came from a personal story and desire to figure something out. And it started with Google and Wikipedia.

So many authorities in education dismiss the Internet and tools like Wikipedia as dumbing down education. They so miss the point. We have tools now that enable anybody with an Internet connection to embark on an intellectual and/or emotional journey of their choosing. Our schools need to foster that desire, not squish it out because it doesn’t conform to the text books of old.

And for anyone who is thinking ‘well he’s a one-off, a genius’. Consider the following quote from his talk

I decided to go online and found 200 professors that had anything to do with pancreatic cancer… so I sent off 200 emails… I got 199 rejections… However, eventually, one person finally said yes. Well it was more of a maybe…

Success is never just about talent. It’s never just about hard work either. It is crucial to have the persistence to get others involved.  I admire Jack because that last aspect is one of my own weaknesses. And this is not something being taught well enough in schools. That needs to change. The world has become so much more connected, success or failure is going to have a lot more to do with relationships than ever before. Yes, that has always been true to some degree. And yes, some people are lucky to be born into circles that come with ready made connections that give them a significant advantage or head start. Just as there are still too many people born into conflicted areas of the world with more pressing needs than an iPhone. But for those of us privileged enough to be living in stable societies that are connected to the Internet, we can become part of any social network if we really want to. It’s not that long ago such an opportunity simply didn’t exist for those born outside of elite circles.

A closing quote from Jack and the video is embedded after. Take a break and enjoy. It’s worth 12 minutes out of your day to listen to his story.

I’m a 15 year old. What degree do I have? High school biology – Woot! … I was able to develop a sensor that can detect pancreatic cancer without even knowing what a pancreas was. Using just Google and Wikipedia.

Just imagine what you could do.

[ba-vimeoflex videoid=”70024587″]

Source: Thinking Digital on Vimeo and you can follow Jack Andraka on Twitter

Evolving web business models

There is an outstanding presentation on Slideshare explaining why all web-based businesses need to be evolving their business models to leverage APIs more than their own web sites. Found via Twitter but I can’t find who originally shared as Tweetville is amok with a ‘0 followers’ discussion at the moment. And this presentation is too good to get lost in the stream.

To summarise the presentation:

  • Darwin identified that finches lived in a very remote location meaning the variations had to compete with each other to survive. The finches you see today are the winners
  • At the start of the 20th Century, retail business was primarily local within villages, towns and cities, selling direct to people. With the evolution of suburbia, we saw the shift from the corner shop to the shopping mall with each mall containing mostly the same retail brands – business went from direct to indirect. The big brands at the end of the 20th Century were the winners
  • At the start of the 21st Century, web-based business was ‘local’ to the web site, selling direct to visitors. With the evolution of social networks and mobile devices, we are seeing a shift from visiting the corner-shop equivalent web site to the mall equivalent – lots of businesses hosted on the same web platform, be it micro-applications on your mobile phone or applications in widgets on a social networking site. To be one of those applications means using APIs (application programming interfaces). How important is it?:

80% of web-based traffic will be coming from beyond the browser…

If you are doing business online, you need developers who understand APIs

State of the Internet in 2009

Found via Flowing DataJesse Thomas has created a neat presentation covering Internet statistics for 2009. I think this format of presenting big numbers is beginning to get a little tired, but maybe because so many have jumped on the bandwagon. Not all numbers are equal. I’m waiting for the one announcing how many millions of people fart every minute. (Please don’t share the link if it already exists… 🙂 ) Jesse’s is definitely one of the better presentations. Perfect for opening an event session, for which it was intended.

Got to chuckle that one of the comments noticed the planet is rotating in the wrong direction at the start of the video. Sample statistic:

Facebook recorded 260 billion page views per month, more than 10 times it’s nearest rival (MySpace at 24 billion page views per month). Facebook needs as many as 30,000 servers to run and is still growing…

That’s a big electricity bill, small wonder the advertising is getting more aggressive.

Related post:

BBC’s Virtual Revolution

During February 2010, the BBC broadcast a 4-part series titled The Virtual Revolution.

I have mixed views about the series. I do think it focused a little too much on sterotypes rather than depth given the emphasis placed on the presenter’s Ph.D in the subject. But maybe it just conformed to the way TV documentaries want to be made these days: headlines set to a booming soundtrack with bias towards shock stories to hold your attention. Regardless of my gripes, it covered some good content and I’d recommend watching.

As I tweeted at the time the programme was first broadcast, for all the academics and ‘expert’ authors quoted on the programme, the two I found to have the most thoughtful views (i.e. some balance between sweeping generalisations) were Stephen Fry and Tim Berners-Lee. The BBC have shared some of the interviews online, along with transcripts. Links at the end of the post.

Given the subject matter, full marks to the programme makers for practicing what they preached and integrating as much social media into the series as possible. Each programme included the Twitter hashtag #bbcrevolution in the opening titles and closed with follow-up activities taking place on the web site. The presenter Aleks Krotoski was usually tweeting along too.

Here’s Stephen Fry’s interview, made available on the Virtual Revolutions web site. Quite honestly, I’d have been happy to listen to an entire programme, if not series, of just Stephen Fry talking based on these 10 minutes:

One great quote towards the end:

It used to be that if you were a politician or celebrity wanting to set the record straight or sell something, you had to court the newspaper. Now you don’t have to. If you’re a big star you’ve got over a million followers. No newspaper can provide you with the kind of coverage you can provide yourself and you’re in control. Newspapers hate that. It takes away their power…

It’s a shame that the entire interview isn’t published. Some great quotes about Wikipedia were included in the series but are not in the interview published online. Hey-ho.


Our connected future

When you reach the giga, peta, and exa orders of quantities, strange new powers emerge. You can do things at these scales that would have been impossible before…

Kevin Kelly has talked about the coming age of data, oodles of the stuff thanks to the Internet and what we’re doing with it. Here’s a nice video visualising how all this data and the devices connecting to it will define the future, albeit at the scale of trillions rather than zillions…

…and the makers of the video have more details on their web site – MAYA Design – including a research paper for download (PDF).

Related posts: Tim O’Reilly’s talk about The Internet Paradigm and Kevin Kelly’s Zillionics Change Perspective