As I place the finishing touches on a workshop called Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers and Librarians to be held at the Taft Educational Center next week, I wonder whether educators are buying into the notion that kids will learn more by interacting with others than individually. The notion of individual learning, one that is held sacred by higher education, assumes that subject matter experts are the only respected and credentialed sources of information. I remember my third grade teacher telling me that if I learned enough about my birthplace, Brooklyn, NY, I would become an expert on the subject, and people would hold me in high esteem whenever the subject of Brooklyn emerged. Still, for most of us, I wonder if scholars provide the answers to the bulk of our questions. For most K-12 students and the rest of the world, knowledge exists everywhere, and is not simply the province of the academic ivory tower. Thus, it is our responsibility as teachers to provide as many conduits to the sharers of that knowledge as we can.

Alternatively, there are risks associated with learning in groups, particularly cyber groups, in which you may not know or trust the participating individuals. Jim Surowiecki talked about the potential foibles of such groups in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds. Now David Weinberger points to new research by Catherine White in his blog. Weinberger includes the key statement of White’s first chapter: “we overestimate the value of diversity in conversations; conversations require vast amounts of homogeneity and can only tolerate a smidgeon of diversity.”

What would Surowiecki say about homogeneity in groups? White calls those who create diversity Noisy Idiots. Conventional wisdom tells us that diversity is the key to learning in groups. Now we are hearing that diversity must be limited and closely monitored if a group is to be effective. What does this mean for collaborative learning in cyberspace, where we could hardly evaluate those in the group? I agree that not every group of people is well-suited to solve a problem (Surowiecki writes about this), but I wonder whether diversity is the key negative characteristic.