The Wisdom of Crowds

I’ve known about Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, for quite awhile, but it’s just been one of those many cool books that I never got around to reading. A few weeks ago, I saw it on my brother-in-law’s bookshelf and asked to borrow it. It was perfect to take on the flight last week. A few key points that have stuck with me… Surowiecki says sociologists always use the analogies of flocks of birds and schools of fish to explain some behaviors of crowds. He also describes how important it is for individuals in crowds to maintain a certain amount of independence in their thinking, yet how smart crowds usually come up with more accurate answers in aggregate than if you were to just consult an “expert” on the topic at hand. He mentions the fact that decentralization in a system is a good thing, except that there also seems to be a need for some aggregating, overarching entity to pull together the wisdom from a group, else the best wisdom of the group sometimes will simply not surface. (Click the book link to read from the source.)

I just read his description of the Matthew effect, which is a phenomena that occurs in scientific publishing but is based on the Gospel lines “from unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Surowiecki, 2005, p. 170). When scientists are co-authors of a scientific article, apparently the more famous of the authors tends to get all the credit for a discovery, even if they truly collaborated and all contributed equally.

So that got me thinking about an article about digital portfolios and assessment that I just co-authored with Helen Barrett. It’s been submitted for publication in the New Hampshire Journal of Education (sorry, no website link for you — I’m still waiting for their website to go live). My part of the article was largely an edited version of my dissertation research. As the article began to take shape, she suggested that I be listed as the first author. Helen added some content from other of her work, then we added some further thoughts about future efforts. It all came together pretty quickly and easily. Helen was great to work with on the article because she’s a collaborator, dedicated educator, and thoughtful observer of the way digital portfolios have emerged across the globe in the educational arena. Look for the article in the 2009 issue of the New Hampshire Journal of Education! 🙂

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