Great Lakes Geek Interviews - Howard Rheingold
Audio Interviews by Dan Hanson, the Great Lakes Geek

Howard Rheingold
Howard Rheingold
Writer, Thinker, Educator
Stanford and UC Berkeley

"I fell into the computer realm from the typewriter dimension, then plugged my computer into my telephone and got sucked into the net."

You have to like a quote like that from Howard Rheingold. And you have to like a guy who remembers, with the proper reverence, the Cleveland Freenet.

Howard Rheingold at CWRU Collabtech

Howard Rheingold has been around long enough to remember fondly the first free online community which was established first as St. Silicon's Hospital on the CWRU campus. It later became the Cleveland Freenet, the first of many freenets around the country. And yes, I remember my user ID - ab315 - which I used to log on at the blazing speed of 300 bits per second back in 1983.

Howard Rheingold coined the phrase "Virtual Communities" in an article he wrote in 1987 - way before Facebook or MySpace were even dreamed about.

Howard Rheingold at CWRU Collabtech

From his bio: "Howard Rheingold, writer, thinker, and educator teaches Digital Journalism at Stanford and Virtual Community/Social Media at UC Berkeley. Rheingold is well known for his books Tools for Thought, Virtual Reality, The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs. In 2008 he won MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning competition and designed the Social Media Classroom and Collaboratory."

He was the keynote speaker at the recent Collabtech at CWRU. Collabtech is short for Collaboration Technology Summit 2010.

Wendy Shapiro, Lev Gonick and Howard Rheingold at CWRU Collabtech

Wendy Shapiro, Lev Gonick and Howard Rheingold at CWRU Collabtech

Lev Gonick, CWRU CIO said, "Case Western Reserve University is excited to present its third annual Collaboration Technology Summit, which will once again explore the application of technologies to teaching, learning, and creative expression. This year's program focuses on innovative education, international collaboration, and learning. Faculty pioneers coming from a wide range of academic disciplines and pedagogical orientations will share their experiences."

For the last 5 years, Howard Rheingold has ventured into the classroom, albeit a non-traditional classroom called the Social Media Classroom.

Howard Rheingold at CWRU Collabtech

The Social Media Classroom (SMC) includes a free and open-source (Drupal-based) web service that provides teachers and learners with an integrated set of social media that each course can use for its own purposes-integrated forum, blog, comment, wiki, chat, social bookmarking, RSS, microblogging, widgets , and video commenting are the first set of tools. The Classroom also includes curricular material: syllabi, lesson plans, resource repositories, screencasts and videos.

Howard Rheingold at CWRU Collabtech

Rheingold said he has learned a lot since he began teaching. He even questions the commonly accepted notion that kids today, as Digital Natives, automatically can handle all the technology that is out there. (Listen to the podcast for more)

What else has he learned?

  • Participatory learning and the collective voice is preferable to an individual voice.
  • Seating arrangements are important - "There is no back row in a circle"
  • If you are the only person in the world who knows how to ride a bicycle, you are powerful. If you are the only person in the world who can read or write or e-mail, then you are powerless.
  • Power has shifted from the hardware, software, etc. to the knowledge of how to use it.

He spoke of what he calls the 5 Literacies

  1. Attention
  2. Participation
  3. Cooperation
  4. Critical Consumption
  5. Network awareness

Critical Consumption can also be thought of as "crap detection" - an idea Rheingold borrowed from Hemingway. (Ernest Hemingway - "In order to be a great writer a person must have a built- in, shockproof - crap detector.")

Rheingold said that "We are accustomed to the authority of the text" (books, etc). With easy publishing on the Internet, now we don't always know what are lies or inaccuracies.

He says the two big questions are - How do you pluck the answer to any question out of the air and how do you know it's accurate?

Watch the keynote on YouTube

Rheingold is an interesting person and his statement that "I don't think it's possible to be educated and optimistic about the human race" seemed inconsistent with his generally positive outlook. For example, when I asked him why the funky clothes, he smiled and said, "Why not?"

May 7, 2010 Podcast

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