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Virtual Reality


“I come from Colombia where we produce all these drugs that you don’t take, so for me what happens in Second Life [and World of Warcraft] where people kill each other at funerals seems more real in many ways than Harvard where everything is so nice and so beautiful. The sense of reality is so subjective in so many ways.”

That is a direct quote of the final comment from the in-person class today, from Nieman Fellow Juanita. If that doesn’t make you want to see the lecture for yourself, nothing will. Speaking seriously, today’s class was the best class we’ve had so far. Led by guests Gene Koo and Rodica Buzescu/Ansible Berkman, we had a fantastic discussion of all kinds of issues involving virtual worlds (immigration, law, (sur)-reality, governance) with colorful, insightful, and challenging contributions from many people.

We began class with a video introducting virtual worlds that you can find in the Lecture Videos section of the Week 3 page. (This video was designed by Gene and produced by Dean.) We then went directly to a FABULOUS segment from Rob Cordry and the Daily Show that, in only a few very funny minutes, brings up many of the most challenging and interesting questions about virtual worlds. It is a must see. The lecture itself is available on the Week 3 page too. But I recommend that you watch it using the Democracy player and keep the class notes from the Week Page in another window. If you haven’t checked it out yet, Democracy is an open source video viewer that has a channel especially for us! You can subscribe in 1-click on the side bar on the right side of this page. You’ll get every video from our class in a beautiful presentation. (A law student in our class reported a bug in the player and it has already been fixed–open source at its best!) I also recommend perusing the great contextual material on the rest of the Week 3 page, put together by a strong group of law students.

— Rebecca Nesson

Emotion Takes Over


In today’s class my father discussed the role of emotion in our perception. We began with a simple presentation of an idea from the psychologist Gibson: we remember the things that provoke us very well but we don’t remember the things we do to provoke others. What’s more, we feel that the provocations to us are more serious than our provocations and shots in return. The result is a cycle of escalation. Why is this so? According to my father’s analysis, it is because we react first in an emotional way and then take the combination of our emotional reaction and the original stimulus to our brains for cognitive response.

He brought it home to all of us with a vivid and painful example: the Rodney King beating. We watched the video with which we were already all too familiar. I, and I suspect basically everyone else, had a strong emotional reaction to the video. The beating was brutal. King was on the ground and the beating continued. We then watched pieces of a documentary produced by CourtTV about the case. The documentary takes the case and re-presents it from a point of view that makes it somewhat easier to understand the point of view of the police officers. The main points that are used to convince us are that there is action that precedes the clip of video that we’ve all seen that shows King’s aggressive behavior to the officers, that the officers were consistently telling him to get on the ground with his hands behind his back, and that they only continued to hit him when he started to move to get up rather than to lie down so he could be cuffed. We ran out of time in class today before we had a chance to process what we had seen. So what was the lesson? Was I supposed to be able to overcome my emotional reaction to see the police officers’ perspectives? This I could not do. I could see the point of view of the police officers that was presented at trial, but I could not truly be moved from my initial emotional reaction or from my conviction of the rightness of my cognitive assessment: excessive force was used. But maybe this was the point. I’m still feeling the emotion from watching the video now.

— Rebecca Nesson

The First Class in Second Life


Last night we had our first official class in Second Life. The 40 students enrolled in our class came to Berkman Island in two groups, half at 9pm and half at 10pm. When they arrived on the island they gathered in the outdoor meeting space in front of Austin Hall. We further split them into two groups and Gene took one group into Austin Hall and I took the other over to our Library. (By the way, our library is quite an amazing construction by Ansible. At our library you can view the videos of each of the lectures as well as all of our assignments!) After making sure that we all knew how to sit down and stand up, we started a simple introductory activity. I would say something like “Stand up if you became a resident of Second Life for this class” and they would stand if it was true for them and sit otherwise. A simple exercise, but with great results. Here’s an except of the conversation in our first group that says it better than I ever could:

[18:23] You: stand up if you’ve ever edited an entry on wikipedia.
[18:24] You: That’s a lot of you!
[18:24] You: great!
[18:24] You: stand up if you don’t think of yourself as a techie
[18:24] You: how about this one:
[18:24] Yvette Kumsung: that’s a hard one
[18:24] You: yeah, for me too.
[18:25] You: how about this one:
[18:25] You: stand up if you think this is real.
[18:25] Yoyo Mah: What’s real??
[18:25] USA Brody: In a limited manner this is real
[18:25] stylefeeder Newbold: still pondering that one
[18:25] Yvette Kumsung: hey, no standing up on second thought!
[18:25] Constanza Corleone: this time I stood up out of convinction and not for error
[18:25] You: this one sparked a lot of discussion!
[18:25] Hollywood Muldoon: it is as real as we are making it
[18:25] You: it is a very difficult question.
[18:25] USA Brody: Because if you fell from a cloud in life, you would more than likely die… 🙂
[18:26] You: sure, we’re all just watching screens.
[18:26] Yvette Kumsung: Of course it’s real, I’m talking and I’m real
[18:26] stylefeeder Newbold: USA, I’ve sky dived and fell through a cloud. Still alive 🙂
[18:26] You: in real life we all know how to stand up and sit down.
[18:26] You: but we are all real people having a real discussion.
[18:26] USA Brody: yes
(At this point USA Brody flies into the air to a great height and crashes to the ground. He is unharmed.)
[18:26] Yoyo Mah: lol
[18:26] USA Brody: yes
[18:26] Constanza Corleone: think of this.. as we get conectted daily on msn or Skype we feel it real
[18:26] USA Brody: this is a real medium
[18:26] Yvette Kumsung: It’s like a video teleconference only with avatars
[18:26] Yoyo Mah: I don’t think it’s more real than say a text chat room.
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: some people dont even write letters to each other,, just emails
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: some don´t even call each other , they just chat
[18:27] Marty Mehring: Yes, this seems more like IM with smileys than RL
[18:27] stylefeeder Newbold: yoyo, that is interesting in that you don’t consider reality a binary value. real or unreal.
[18:27] You: would you say IM with smileys is real or not?
[18:27] Yvette Kumsung: i think the surreality makes it more real, but not real like in real-life real
[18:27] Frappe Lapointe: but would you be able to see yourself move on IM
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: exactly!!! instead of emoticons but better, becaouse you are actually interacting and getting INTO
[18:27] Constanza Corleone: this
[18:27] Marty Mehring: IM with smileys is a proxy, which I dont feel is real.
[18:28] You: We’ll be exploring this question more this semester
[18:28] Hollywood Muldoon: well, as someone taking other online classes, i feel much more a “part” of the class here
[18:28] Marty Mehring: I would be willing to go as far as its “life like”
[18:28] You: Of course there isn’t an answer.
[18:28] You: But it is worth thinking about what aspects of it make it feel real and what things you think would have to be added to make it more real .
[18:29] USA Brody: hmmmm….

Following the stand up/sit down exercise, we did individual introductions. Each person learned to use the private conversation feature of SL by introducing him/her/itself to a partner. Then the partners introduced each other to the group. This simple exercise really brought home what I think is one of the greatest advantages of Harvard Extension School: the huge diversity of background and experience among the students. We had a journalist in Seoul, a high-school student in Houston, a Canadian professor, a political science student at Harvard, several entrepreneurs at interesting technology companies, and on and on and on.

In the midst of our introductions my father walked into the Harvard Extension School computer lab where I and one Extension School student had come in RL (real life) to participate in class. Although he’s very new to SL, he managed to get to Berkman Island and Ansible brought him to say hello to our group. I took the picture of us below after our group returned to the meeting area in front of Austin Hall. Although my father can sometimes be frustratingly unable to control the technologies he uses, he is brave and he is willing to give it a good try. He will not learn that he is stupid (see his brief comments on this phenomenon in last Tuesday’s lecture video) just because a technology is new and challenging to him. I think I got pretty lucky in the dad department!

When class was finished, Ansible made sure that everyone had received some Linden Dollars from us as well as the instructions for their assignment this week: they will be exploring interesting places in Second Life. Students will

  • select from a group of shopping areas where they must go buy something of their own choosing,
  • select from a group of popular meeting spots where they can go dancing or to listen to music,
  • select from a group of architecturally or environmentally interesting spots to go see some impressive Second Life building and take a “vacation snapshot” of themselves, and
  • go to a place or an event of their own choosing.

Do you want to try too? If you don’t have an avatar yet, you can create one for free. Follow our tutorial. You can read the assignment here or in the library on Berkman Island. If you IM Ansible in-world, she will give you a notecard with the whole assignment on it. Buy yourself something awesome!

— Rebecca Nesson

A compelling lesson on learning


I just finished watching the Tuesday lecture video. It strikes me that these classes are, at least to me, like classical literature pieces. You need re-visit and re-read paragraphs in order to find each time a deeper meaning. The 9/19 lecture was definitely one of those.
“How you deal with being stupid is the key to how you learn”, says Prof. Nesson.

In a world spinning on how fast we think, how fast we react, how fast our business decisions are, Prof. Nesson reminds us that “it’s not how fast you get it, it’s not speed that counts. It’s [about] how deeply you understand…how deeply you come to understand [concepts] and how courageously you come to apply [them] in the situations that you live with in your life”.
On another note, I’m looking forward to the first Extension School meeting in Second Life tonight. This first one will be private in order to allow students to mingle and get comfortable in the environment. Please check out our flickr site for pictures later on and our Google groups page for future open events with Rebecca, Gene, and myself.


Starting from Scratch


This week in CyberOne was about self-governance and code. My father’s lecture yesterday was very strong. We began with the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson in particular. At the founding of our country, Jefferson advocated against the idea of intellectual property:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody…(letter to Isaac McPherson, 1813 as cited in Kock & Peden, 1972).

We spent a few minutes considering this perspective and how it has been in large part erased by the seemingly inexorable progression of our copyright law toward locking up intellectual property in the hands of the rights holders for an indefinite amount of time. What might have once been seen as a healthy public domain is now branded as “theft” and “piracy” by those who have used their corporate power to extend their exclusive rights to forever minus one day.

But the main point of the Jefferson example was not advocacy for the public domain, but to focus us on the insight clarified so well by his words. Ideas are a special kind of thing: I can give my idea to you without losing it myself. Contrast this with, say, a sandwich. If I give you my sandwich, I don’t have it any more. Fast forward to 1995, when John Perry Barlow wrote his prescient and very optimistic article “The Economy of Ideas”. Now not only could one give away an idea without losing it, one could do it easily and at no cost because the idea could be expressed digitally, encoded in 0s and 1s and sent out over a network. By 1998 the college students of the world were happily using Napster to give away their music to any stranger who wanted it and the owners of the rights were helpless to stop it. The wine was out of the bottle and there seemed to be no way to put it back in.

The owners of the rights had two options in front of them: using the law (created to favor them by the strong arm of their money) and the strong arm of the state to bring people into line, or trying to implement some form of self-governance through technological means. If code could be used to allow open and free trade of ideas, perhaps code could be used to lock it back up. We are now in the midst of this battle. Property owners create ever more complex ways of locking up their data and hackers find ways to get around the the protections. Judging by the ease with which people can still gain access to copyrighted materials, neither the traditional legal methods nor the technological methods being employed by the copyright owners are working terribly well. The law is perhaps running a distant second to the technological methods.

In a (cyber-)world in which the coercive powers of the state are largely absent, we are left with the responsibility to govern ourselves. Governance in cyberspace is accomplished by code. Those who write the code, write the laws. So today we turned our attention to learning to write code. We are using a creation coming out of the MIT Media Lab called Scratch. Scratch is a graphical programming language in which you can drag and drop the components of your program, fitting them together like puzzle pieces. It has several huge advantages as a learning language. First, it prevents the most common mistakes by giving clear virtual cues in the shapes of the puzzle pieces. If two pieces of code cannot go together, they cannot fit together. In effect, Scratch enforces laws against type and syntax errors. Second, the language builds in many exciting primitive statements, making it easy to make interesting, engaging programs.

Unfortunately, my presentation of Scratch was not as smooth as I hoped. But the magnetism of Scratch came through and many students are already deep into writing games. Watch the wiki to see some of their creations! Fortunately, it gave an opportunity for some very interesting and open class discussion. Scratch has not yet been publicly released, though it will be released both freely and open-source, probably in February. We were granted permission to use it for this class but not to distribute the software freely. My father suggested that this might be a problem. How can we use a closed software when we’re basing our course on a principle of openness? For the first time, the class broke out of lecture mode and into discussion. Two main ideas were advanced.

First, one student eloquently spoke for his right not to adopt our causes just because he is taking our class. (See this seconding by a fellow student here). He was right to do so. We, as instructors, reserve the right to express our own vision and to use our power as instructors to make arguments in favor of our view. But we don’t expect that our students will adopt our views and we certainly don’t expect that they should be assumed to have done so just by virtue of having enrolled in the class. Our class is strengthened by a diversity of points of view. We expect engagement, participation, and independent thought.

Second, several students advocated for a more flexible view of openness. Openness need not begin before the creator is ready to release a creation. Openness need not be absolute. Openness need not result in the destruction of the concept of authorship. One student stood for the absolute version of openness. For me, I’m still waiting for a more practical answer. How can we incorporate openness into a functioning economy in such a way that people can thrive both in open for-profit enterprises and non-market enterprises.

This long post has been my way of sorting out this week. I wasn’t particularly happy with my own teaching today, but I am happy with where we are going. Legal thinkers writing code. Self-governance will emerge.

— Rebecca Nesson

Friday Night on the Island


Last night we held an informal meet-and-greet for Second Life residents (and newbies) who are interested in participating in our course in some capacity. We met at 6pm SL time in the open meeting area in front of Austin Hall on Berkman Island. Ansible had the presence of mind to take some pictures and upload them to our Flickr photostream, so you can see what it looked like. We probably had about 10 avatars there, and me, Ansible and Gene. None of the people who attended were enrolled in the class, but it turned out that quite a few had watched the lecture video from Monday already. They were particularly interested in the three hats riddle, so we decided to go over it and do it together. I posed the riddle and we got three volunteers to act it out, and we all worked it out together. Ansible even made us red and white hats on the fly to use as props! Check them out in the photo above.

It was my first time leading a class-like gathering in Second Life. One thing that worried me before we began the course was how it would be to lead class when people would be typing their comments and responses. It certainly is different than speaking, but I found that it has its advantages. It does take a long time for a person to say something because it has to by typed out. On the other hand, because there is some time when people are typing, many people can “talk at once” without causing confusion because the listeners have the time to read each of their comments and also parse out which conversation threads they pertain to. It also gives a better chance for people to compose their comments carefully and also choose precisely when to add them into the conversation. It will be even better once I gain more facility with gestures so that I can more fluidly use body language.

But what was truly amazing about last night was the genuine enthusiasm for learning among the group. Everyone was there because they were interested, not because they were required to be there, not because they were going to receive some kind of credit or reward. And they wanted to discuss the content of the course and the ideas raised in lecture. Having studied and taught at Harvard for over ten years now, I am all too familiar with students rushing through work, being resistant to engaging in conversation, and balking at spending too much time on a course. It is too easy for us to forget what an amazing privilege we have to be able to study and think about such interesting things. With that in mind, I wasn’t sure whether people really would want to engage in a class just because it interested them, even if it was at Harvard. Last night demonstrated to me that people really do want to, and on a Friday night no less. It is inspiring.

— Rebecca Nesson

Gay? Fine by me: A Grassroots Example


While my father and I are talking the talk about aggregating willing energy to effect social change, another member of our family has been out there doing it. I’m writing about it here both because it is an excellent example of the kind of project undertaking that would be great for this class (possibly with an amped up cyber-aspect) and because I am proud enough to burst my buttons.

A few years ago my sister Leila and her friend Lucas, both students at Duke University, were discussing the problem of Duke being an unfriendly environment for gay students. In fact, it had been ranked among the most gay-unfriendly colleges in the country by the Princeton Review (“Alternative Lifestyles are not Alternative”). Leila and Lucas felt that the problem was rhetorical, not real: most students at Duke were at least tolerant, if not supportive, of gay students, but the general air of the place was unfriendly and few were motivated to change it. They printed up 500 T-shirts with a simple slogan on them: “Gay? Fine by me.” They handed T-shirts to a seed group of basketball players, professors and other high-profile types on campus. And then one day, they handed out the rest of the T-shirts first-come first-served to people on campus. They ran out so fast they had to print up many more. And soon the T-shirts were fashionable around campus. You can read their own statement of their history and philosophy here.

Since that time, the Fine By Me project has grown. I built a little website for them (which has since been upgraded to a more professional site) where people could order T-shirts and they started teaching student groups at other schools how to start the project. Hundreds of schools, PFLAG groups, and others have bought T-shirts. Over 50,000 T-shirts have been sold. The T-shirts are sold basically at cost and Fine By Me is now incorporated as a non-profit with Lucas and Leila at the helm.

Just today the New York Times ran a front page Education article on the gay-friendliest schools in the country. This time, Duke is in the top 20! And there are pictures of students in Fine By Me T-shirts right in the paper. It is a great concrete example of the difference a few people (and then a few more people joining in) can make with a little effort. Leila and Lucas, you are a wonderful example to our class of a successful, volunteer-based, activist movement that has created real social change. I’m so proud!

My father is interested in having a project from our Law School class to use the Fine By Me idea to promote a change in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that has been the source of much protest on the HLS campus. HLS students took a stand and HLS stood with them against the policy until last year. But ultimately the threat of all of Harvard University losing all of its federal funding was too big a price to pay. Here is a letter from former HLS Dean Clark that explains the history and outcome of the situation. Could we aim higher than stopping the military recruiters from coming on campus? Could we actually change the military policy? It seems possible that this is a rhetorical problem too. The military needs recruits right now and it seems particularly absurb for them to use bigotry as an excuse for turning away people who wish to enlist. (Why they want to enlist is something of a concern to me, but that’s up to them.) But politicians are concerned that they cannot stand up on this issue without losing votes. Is it true that they will lose votes if they come out against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? Maybe it isn’t true, but they have to be convinced.

— Rebecca Nesson

In the spirit


This evening I held office hours for students in the Extension School who are getting started with Second Life. Several students enrolled in the class who are long-time SL residents showed up just to meet and offer help to their classmates. I was able to seat students new to SL next to students who are well-versed in it. Res ipsa loquitur -The thing speaks for itself.

— Rebecca Nesson

In which the community forms…


Today was a banner day for CyberOne. The quick and dirty:

  • Dad and I kicked off the Berkman Center Fellow’s Lunch Series at the Berkman Center today. The room was lively and the event was webcast to a substantial audience. (I don’t know how many viewers we actually had, but I do know that Ansible (a.k.a Rodica) hosted an audience of 24 in Second Life). We discussed the potentials of open access education and the ways in which technologies such as Second Life can enable it. The video of the lunch is available here.
  • In class today we discussed Wikipedia and learned how to edit a wiki with guests Mako Hill and Elizabeth Stark. (Videos already available here!) In addition to introducing us to one or two personal interests, Mako told us that the Wikimedia organization runs on $750,000 a year with only 2 or 3 employees (who mostly handle legal threats). All the rest of the work is done on a volunteer basis, multiple millions of articles, that’s a lot of work… The big question for the day was what motivates people to contribute. Mako’s answer: personal interests backed up by personal/collective pride in specific articles and the whole project once you get involved. After a brief tutorial from Elizabeth, students in the class added to and edited our course wiki right before our eyes. As Elizabeth began to tell us that the help page on our wiki would be empty until someone put something useful there, someone put something useful there!
  • I spent the afternoon and part of the evening on Berkman Island. I hung out in the Ames Courtroom with a law student, an extension student, and an at-large participant! The at-large participant, Stephanie Spicoli in SL, told me that we’d appeared today on and blogged our course herself.
  • We asked the law students to give us some feedback and found that they are looking forward to collaboration and are trepidatious about not being techie enough. Well that’s a problem I think I can help with! They (and we) are also concerned about how to grade a course that is so much based on open-ended creativity and so ill-suited to HLS’s mandated curve. The very beginnings of a grassroots movement to make the course pass/fail appeared on the wiki. Go! Go! Go!

— Rebecca Nesson

Day One Comes to a Close


For months I’ve been looking forward to today with a mixture of excitement and dread. Would we be ready? Could we really pull this off?

Today we had our first class meeting for CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion. Dad and I were both nervous in front of the class. We’ve put ourselves into this class. A room full of Harvard Law students is a formidable audience–for me it was the first time in the role of instructor for such a group–and to know that the Extension School students and anyone else who might be interested, today, tomorrow, next week or next year can watch us is equally sobering. Although it didn’t turn out exactly how either of us had imagined, I experience it as a big success now that the day is over and I am sitting here writing this blog. And it isn’t because of what we said or didn’t say in lecture today.

This afternoon we gave a lecture in our class. This evening the whole world can see the lecture video for free and is also free (and encouraged) to download it, edit it, remix it, make it better make it into anything. This evening we have class notes from the lecture taken by a student volunteer and available to the whole world. This evening a student in our class answered our challenge to participate by starting a blog about his/her experience in the class. This evening the Harvard Extension School is offering our lecture video to the world synchronized with John Lobato’s class notes and dad’s quirky point-of-view PowerPoint. A few months ago it was only an idea, and today we’ve taken the first real steps towards openness. Maybe that’s what is making me feel so confessional this evening.

In a way there is a beauty to the lecture itself not being ideal. It opens the doors for improvement by contextualizing it with interesting commentary and insightful class notes. It opens the doors for improvement by cutting and editing the video. I’ll start myself by giving my own version of the key points from lecture today.

The strongest point in lecture today was about point of view. We began with a story about the etymology of the word “hector”, as in “stop hectoring me!”, that was uncovered (for us) by my mother’s research this summer. The word “hector” took a roundabout path that can be traced all the way back to Hector, the great warrior of the Trojan army described by Homer. This Hector was, by all accounts, a valiant hero. As my father put it, a man who honored his gods and his woman and was a great warrior. (Leaving honoring one’s woman aside, these characteristics don’t hold that much weight for me, but that’s just me.) He was celebrated in Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida. This publicity of Hector as a valiant warrior supposedly led a cruel and powerful London street gang to take the name for its gang, and we thus end up with “hectoring” as a word that refers to the experience of being victimized by this gang. Is this history true? It makes no difference to me. In class this story was not presented so much as a story about point of view, more as an allegory that could form the basis of an opening argument about the importance of point of view. But it is fundamentally a question of point of view. To my mind, my husband puts it best when he channels Ralph Waldo Emerson in his song Sexy Jesus: “It’s all about the way you tell a story, not the facts of it. the truth is too elusive, words are so often inadequate.”

We moved from Hector to Necker. The Necker Cube (that Wikipedia page could be better, no?). We stared at it. Could we see two different views of it? Most of us could. But could we see them both at once? No. A simple point about point of view that is really satisfyingly physical. We can’t see both points of view at once because seeing each point of view requires us to imagine ourselves to be physically in a different orientation with respect to the cube. That is, the point of view I see depends fundamentally on the relationship between me and the cube. And I can only be in one relationship to the cube at a time. We moved quickly over the observation that when we stare at the cube for a long time we find that our point of view shifts back and forth and we can’t hold just one view. Does this continue the metaphor or break it? When we face an issue we really care about, do we really go back and forth between radically different points of view? Possibly we should. To be too sure of the truth of our own perspectives is dangerous. Later in the class my father holds up the physical Necker cube object, which is actually a sculpture (by Gideon Weisz) of the third view of the Necker cube (see the video to see what I mean by the third view). He shows it to us, making it obvious that there are three views when we might have only considered two until this point. But he doesn’t comment on it.

Finally, we consider the riddle of the three hats. If you don’t know the answer to it after reading it, do take some time to try to figure it out. The satisfaction of figuring it out is far greater than that of having the answer told to you. I won’t give the lesson of it here because it would give it away. (Right now I prefer to preserve the false belief that you won’t just go Google it or look it up on Wikipedia.) So what can I say about it? Man, these law students were quick! It took me hours to figure that one out when my father first posed it to us. And, to continue the confessional nature of the post, I must add that my father used to use it as a way to intimidate boys I brought home to meet him. Under those circumstances it didn’t seem so easy. But it was interesting how hard it was for the students to explain how it worked. It required a vocabulary to talk about modeling the beliefs and reasoning processes of others, and this turned out to be a challenge. Here is a core idea of our class: we must do more than just be able to model the thought process of others in our heads, we have to learn to be able to express it. To be persuasive we not only have to understand the point of view of the person we wish to persuade, we have to be able to express to her that we understand it.

Understanding the importance of point of view is only once piece of the core idea of our class though. We are trying to teach/explore something larger. As students we are considering the question of whether it is possible for individuals, loosely connected groups, and tightly connected groups to produce the main outputs of our economy–text, audio, video, software, virtual environments–that rival those produced using the industrialized production model. We are looking at examples of this happening successfully and using our lawyering skills to look at what elements lead to success. We hypothesize that openness is necessary. We hypothesize that persuasiveness (of the sort that is engendered by understanding point of view) is necessary. We hypothesize that willingness to engage new technologies is necessary. All of our students will do projects where they try to aggregate willing energy of some sort around an idea. As teachers we are doing a similar project: trying to generate and aggregate willing energy from our students for a collective, constructive research project into the potentials of open education.

So it is no wonder that I am so happy to see our lecture from this afternoon available to the world this evening. It is no wonder I am happy to see a student starting a blog about the class. With most projects worth doing one never knows whether it will work until it does. But I think this one has a chance…

— Rebecca Nesson

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