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I’ve become a big fan of John Seely Brown’s for the past six years or so. Today brought quite a surprise in the context of something I thought was already familiar and well-known. About six weeks ago JSB sent me up copy of his new book A New Culture of Learning. I was appropriately flattered and did read it. But I came away somewhat disappointed with the feeling that compared to the Power of Pull that I have gone deeply into six months before there was not too much new here.

But I was wrong, at least if JSB’s late June 2010 concluding keynote to the New-media convention is a good tool for judgment. For today Jaap van Till a scholar friend in the Netherlands sent a pointer to the video to my mail list asking if the mail list was a study group? The mail-list response was–perhaps? Well sort of? Why the uncertainty? Because not many had looked at the video. When I did Jaap’s labeling was obviously correct.

I watched the video and listened. And I’ve just done it a second time. To my pleasant surprise although there is definitely continuity between the video and JSB’s recent work in the Power of Pull; there is also at least for me, some very key new takeaways.

Only about 6 minutes in JSB talks about the familiar world of constant change. We know we collaborate in a world of constant flux that is invested knowledge “flows” not in the more static 20th century term of knowledge “stocks.” He then drops the phrase: in a world of constant flux a person who is not curious is screwed. Bang! Indeed. I’ve been musing to myself about my own curiosity. Forty years ago I wanted to understand the Russians and their way of viewing the world. This curiousity led to a doctorate in Russian history. Currently, my curiousity is focused on wanting to understand the organization and further more the ramifications of the evolving global system of lightpath-based Research and Education Networks in facilitating global collaborative research among scientists.

I suppose this represents a kind of extremely leveraged way of using the Internet. But the people doing it are so busy with what they’re doing that by and large they have not stopped to talk to anyone else outside their inner circles about what they’re doing. As a part of my curiosity and newsletter reporting and fortuitous circumstance — two years ago in Austin Texas at Supercomputing 2008 I was able to get my feet inside this group. Understanding what they are about is an effort which I have been pursuing ever since. I have right now a 174 page manuscript to which within about six weeks I will likely add another 174 pages and produce the book explaining what is happening.

In the past eight weeks as I have become more familiar with Internet2’s award to build a backbone to connect upwards of 200,000 unified community anchor institutions into a national network and have put this knowledge alongside that of the peer to peer open knowledge resource Commons represented by Michel Bauwens, I had a gut feeling that somehow someway there is a connection yearning to be made between these two very disparate groups. There is nothing overly obvious in my construct. It is just a tacit feeling that there is a huge potential here.

One thing that I observed from listening to the lecture that I did not get out of the book is that there are ever evolving ways of interpreting one’s surroundings and what is happening. JSB used the same two examples of self-taught surfers in Hawaii and World of Warcraft generation of knowledge that he did in his April 2010 Power of Pull lecture. But by late June 2010 he had evolved these concepts in new interesting and refreshing ways. One point in the lecture that was quite critical indeed was the concept of study groups in the learning 21st-century terms as opposed to education the 19th century term. Success now is found to be dependent to a very large extent on one’s ability to form study groups and that these groups could enable a self-motivated socialized learning experience that a more solitary approach to some rigid curriculum could not. And of course in the world of constant technology change the idea of a rigid curriculum is found wanting.

JSB describes the way groups of immersed problem solvers use the Internet as a tool to approach their problems creatively. Shifting now to my own personal agenda: Finally I have gotten to a point where I believe I have my hands wrapped around something that is new and important and is virtually unknown and not understood by those outside immediate circles of the people doing it. And two weeks ago for the first time I publicly explained according to my current best understanding what it is I’m trying to do and asked for help on the Open Source Knowledge Commons mail list where I know that the people to whom I would like to bridge congregate and BOOM within a few days I’ve had personal inquiries from Douglas Rushkoff, Robert Steele, and Venessa Miemis- people whom I did not know before but people who in their own right are important writers and thinkers.

So finally this confluence of events leads me to believe that I’m on to something. The feeling that is strongly reinforced by listening to and reflecting on John Seely Brown’s continued trailblazing is designed to better understand and shove gently in more progressive directions what otherwise might seem to be the chaos around us.

3 Responses to “JSB’s New Culture of Learning, R&E Networks, and US UCAN”

  1. on 28 Feb 2011 at 11:47 pm john seely brown

    1. Ah me thinks you should read the book a second time. Indeed, we designed it to be read twice. The first time to absorb the frame and the second time to get the nuances within that frame. Whole book a bit over 100 pages but each chapter a thought bite.. :) Also go to the website www.newcultureoflearning.com and see our two little papers plus Henry Jenkins interview of us.

    Indeed, the concepts of indwelling, let along networked imagination leading to collective indwelling suggests a pretty serious break with extant epistemology – more of a break than when our group created ‘community of practice.’ But the most important point is why play now is so important – yes for adults. Our biggest challenge to help audiences reframe issues.. In fact it is almost impossible for adults to radically reframe even by exploring adjacencies but be play, tinkering and a questing disposition become coin of the realm for arc of life learning on a world of constant change..

    Pls keep it up…. We need more folks like you!!!

  2. on 01 Mar 2011 at 1:14 pm Bill Seitz

    Both Ken Robinson and Daniel Greenberg (of the Sudbury School) would say that (a) humans are naturally curious, and (b) they curiosity is killed by our schooling process.

    You might consider whether many people’s job environments have similar effects. Then consider Dan Pink’s (or other people’s) connecting of Agency and motivation.

    Finally, check out the “connectivism” education theory, which emphasizes the social aspect of knowledge creation.

  3. on 02 Mar 2011 at 3:25 pm Robert David Steele Vivas

    For myself as well, the chain of events that led to this new circle are fortuitous with respect to saving American from its culture of corruption at the top. Indeed, like so many of our academics and intelligence professionals, I spent the last twenty years thinking that if I could just get people to think holistically, everything would be better. Now, inspired by Tom Atlee, Jim Rough, Harrison Owen, and most recently Doug Rushkoff and Venessa Miemis, I recognize that connecting EVERYBODY, with an emphasis on the three billion most poor, is the first priority. Gordon’s post above cross-posted (paragraph and link) to Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.

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