Novoblogika

I’m in Novosibirsk to blog about the Forum Interra. Thanks to the Goethe Institut in Novosibirsk that invited me!

Marco and me are primarily here for the second edition of Novoblogika, a Siberian bloggers’ gathering. When the event took place for the first time in spring this year, it saw a couple of participants from Germany, among them Markus Beckedahl.

We first met with the Russian bloggers on Thursday evening to introduce each other. The meeting was followed by a session on multimedia in internet mass media, held by RIA Novosti’s deputy editor Nataliya Loseva. I attended the session, but left after around half of it. On the one hand because it was just too hot in the room (something I would never have expected: that I would complain about the heat in Siberia) and admittedly because I was quite tired after the short night following our ride to Tomsk.

But on the other hand, the topic just didn’t seem of any importance to me: Multimedia is nothing that needs to be talked about. In fact, it is just the reality we are living with. While I’m not sure whether I caught everything she was saying since my translator didn’t translate simultaneously, it seemed to me as if Loseva was living in the times around the millennium. She talked about new media as it was regarded ten years ago before the internet’s ability to change our read culture to a read/write culture shifted the focus to social media.

I left the lecture after one and a half hours, when there was still an hour to come. At that point, Loseva started to talk about monetizing multimedia, making the point that up to now, multimedia would bring in money only for mobile content. I’ve never seen it that way: There’s no difficulty in monetizing multimedia content – the difficulty is to make money with content online.

Maybe the different ways of thinking – mine and Loseva’s – can be summarized in two quotes. While she was talking like “content is king”, I prefer Cory Doctorow’s view that “conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.”

Friday we met again with the Russian bloggers, this time to discuss how blogs and other social media can be used for educational purposes. Despite the language barrier – they spoke Russian, we got an English translation – it was very interesting to talk to them.

We both share the experience that social media is used in education only due to the engagement of individual teachers. That’s especially true for high school education. The question for us is how social media can be brought to use in education on a broader level.

My point was that as for the first time the young generation has significantly more knowledge on a relevant topic than their elders the youth have to become teachers themselves. It is not to be expected from teachers of the older generations that they will not only accept, but understand social media well enough to be able to teach it.

That’s because social media is not just another medium. In fact it means a fundamental change in how communication has to be regarded. And while teachers can read up on a new topic, at least the majority will not adopt a new way of thinking.

That’s also rooted in the structure of the education system. The Russian bloggers made a point that the strong role of the state in dictating what is to be taught has a very positive side in that it ended the chaos of the nineties, when after the end of the USSR “every professor taught what he wanted to”. But it also means that the system is even less open for new ideas, not to speak of new ways of thinking.

From there on, our discussion moved to several topics, including the question of what value it is to learn and know “useless” information. At the end, the discussion over different education systems moved to Waldorf schools, so I had the chance to introduce the other participants to my former school form.

Talking about some singularities of Waldorf schools, such as the abandonment of marks, the diverse subjects that include a lot of handcrafting and arts and the focus on working on projects I think I could really make an impression on them. While I’ve never been fully satisfied with my school – after all, it wasn’t paradise – I think that these are very positive approaches that can serve as examples for other schools.

It is also interesting that Waldorf schools do not have headmasters, but are lead by the community of teachers. In a way, their administration is to regular schools what social media is to mass media: instead of hierarchy, there is discussion. Still, I think there is a need to implement concepts that lead away from authority to equality in the lessons as well.

While I’m not falling for the utopia that school could be like a decade-long barcamp, we need to think about educational concepts that suite our times. When social media eliminates broadcasting, when Wikipedia has a higher quality than the Encyclopedia Britannica, then we need to ask ourselves how educational institutions could take them as an example for the power of non-hierarchical organizations.