The Conversation Is What Matters, From Learning To Journalism And Beyond
from the don't-forget-it dept
A few months back, I wrote about how important the conversation here on Techdirt is for the overall site. The blog posts here (and the discussion starters in the Insight Community) are conversation starters. They’re to get a topic and a point of view out there, and kick off a further discussion that we can all learn from. This still upsets plenty of people who want to pigeonhole us into being “journalists” who need to act in a certain way, and it’s interesting to note that the pigeonholing seems to go the other direction as well: many old school journalists hate the idea of being a part of the conversation. They see things like “comments” as something to avoid or to wade into only at your own risk. Many refuse to read or respond to comments.
But that’s a huge problem, considering the business those news organizations are actually in: bringing together a community whose attention they can then sell in some manner. If the folks who bring the community in then neglect that community, that community is going to go elsewhere. The disdain many journalists seem to have towards their community shows through.
However, I’ve had trouble getting across to some just how much value conversation really adds. Yet, Fred Wilson just pointed me to a fascinating post about an experimental schooling method, whereby students who were doing well in certain classes no longer needed to attend the class. This may sound counterintuitive, but what happened was that a group of students simply taught each other the curriculum, and then spent more time learning other subjects as well. And, in teaching each other, they discovered that they learned much more themselves:
Now our independent study group was a remarkable group of non-conformists, whose marks — on tests we didn’t attend classes for or study for — were so high that some wondered aloud if we were somehow cheating. My grades had climbed into the low 90% range, and this included English where such marks were rare — especially for someone whose grades had soared almost 30 points in a few months of ‘independent’ study. The fact is that my peers had done what no English teacher had been able to do — inspire me to read and write voraciously, and show me how my writing could be improved. My writing, at best marginal six months earlier, was being published in the school literary journal. On one occasion, a poem of mine I read aloud in class (one of the few occasions I actually attended a class that year) produced a spontaneous ovation from my classmates.
The Grade 12 final examinations in those days were set and marked by a province-wide board, so universities could judge who the best students were without having to consider differences between schools. Our independent study group, a handful of students from just one high school, won most of the province-wide scholarships that year. I received the award for the highest combined score in English and Mathematics in the province — an almost unheard-of 94%.
While I didn’t go through a program like that, some of my own experiences have been similar. In college, I was four semesters deep in statistics class before I took a job tutoring stats, and then eventually teaching an intro college class in statistics, and it wasn’t until I tutored others and (finally) taught that class that I really understood many of the concepts that I’d supposedly “learned” in class. In class, I did quite well, but it was because I’d learned how to get by and solve problems. In actually teaching others, I was forced to really understand the subject so that I could actually answer the questions that came up.
The same is true of posts here. I had learned a lot about the economics of information and innovation in college, and then again working in Silicon Valley. However, the more I wrote about these subjects on Techdirt, the more people challenged different ideas, and got me thinking more deeply about them and how to not just defend my positions (or to change them, if I was convinced otherwise), but to really understand the subjects much more deeply. I’ve purchased more textbooks (and read them cover to cover) running this blog than I ever did in college or grad school — and (this is the amazing part) even started recognizing where some of them have made mistakes.
These discussions are like another graduate degree for me, because I constantly have to think, rethink, defend and truly understand the arguments I’m making. It’s hard to overstate how incredibly valuable that’s been. The fact that many journalists refuse to engage in that sort of conversation actually shows through in their work: they don’t want to bother. They like to position themselves as experts, but many don’t really understand what they’re talking about. Engaging in the conversation may be a lot of work — and, at times, it can be frustrating or seemingly pointless. But, the massive amount of value I’ve received from those discussions — just like the student in the story above — is almost impossible to quantify. People talk about the importance of ongoing education. That’s exactly what these conversations are for me.