Turning students into maniacs

In Matt's previous post, he urged people to subscribe to Jimmy Wales' vision of expanding collective intelligence. And it got me thinking about why the numbers aren't as high as they could be (should be), and why they might be dropping. Here are a few excuses that I have plucked from the university-student mindset and I submit them as a micro-model of this problem. And let's face it, we are all students, in a loose sense of the word.


  • I don't know where to start: Students, those most adequately positioned to give back to the knowledge base of which they are at the forefront, don't know where to start. Looking out towards the vast sea of what already exists, it is hard to imagine what is missing. Walking up to a blank page, pen in hand, is way harder than being handed an outline, a rough sketch that needs some filling in and filling out. 
  • I didn't sign up to be a volunteer: Being a student has always been, and always will be, a selfish endeavour. To do anything outside what is expected is essentially volunteering. Most students, don't see it as their job, their problem, or haven't yet learned the benefits and advantages it brings.
  • Someone else is better than me: Sounds timid and insecure, which I suppose may require some creative coaxing. Surely, there is probably somebody else out there more suited to draw seismic polarity cartoons than I, but volunteers don't wait for someone else to volunteer, if that were the case, there would be no volunteering at all. 
  • Institutions stomped out my collabortive spirit: It might not be spoken this way, but the student has a number of forces acting against the survival of their natural collaborative and creative tendencies. You'd think they would be the first to "get it", but the student mindset (bright, ambitious, curious, tech-savvy, etc) has been ratcheted into one of discipline and conformance to the academic status quo. One filled with traditional notions of text books, unaffordable publication subscriptions, bureacratic funding and research processes.
  • Peer review is better than the commons: Students are not allowed to use Wikipedia in their research. Instead, it is reinforced that a handful of expert editors set the standards of academic diligence, which is supposedly superior to thousands of editors in the fray of the wiki. I say we place too much confidence in too few peer reviewers. Sure wikis have trust issues, but that may be deservedly detrimental to those who are too credulous. Has anyone been massively led astray by incorrect or sabotaged Wikipedia content? I doubt it.

Making maniacs

Of these excuses, all of them but the first have to do with the culture of traditional learning. But for the first, for people who want to get involved but really don't know how, maybe all they need is to be handed a few stubs. Give me a stub! Imagine a questionaire or widget that takes a user profile, and quasi-intelligently suggests sparse pages in need of work. This stub needs chippers, and you fit the profile. Like a dating site that matches you not with another person, but with gaps in the content web.

It occurs to me that the notion of studentship will transform—for those who want it. For some it will be a choice, and a privilege, to act less like a student, and more like a maniac.