The idea of social networks have been connected to websites such as Facebook and MySpace since their origins, however social networks have existed long before Mark Zuckerberg and Tom Anderson launched their sites. Social networks flourished before the Internet was even publically available in the form of families, churches, corporations and institutions. These networks were limited, most importantly by geography. One unbound, and possibly the most interesting social network is a fan group. Fan groups are united by their passion for a common group, person or story, a factor that connects people regardless of location, personal beliefs, occupation or gender. What makes these fan groups so interesting is their collective strength as a body having a greater impact than it would as individuals.
Fan groups are more than simple collections of people who all enjoy the same thing. They are like the boy in the AppleBox commercial, an interactive audience, producing, distributing, publicizing and critiquing the distributed media. Writers for fan-based shows were quick to recognize the power and influence the fans have and would actively engage in dialogue with them through newspapers, mail, conventions and now the Internet. All of these components bypass geography allowing for the social network to grow despite the physical separateness. Fan groups became so influential that storylines were changed, series were continued and characters even changed their sexual orientation to meet the desires of these fan groups. This chapter suggests the power of the group to bring about change in the entity itself, however I find a slight flaw with this thinking because we have no way of knowing if the change is a reflection of what the group wants or what very vocal individuals want.
A second power of the fan groups is their collective body of knowledge. Through the Internet fans can easily access websites, blogs and wiki pages offering specific details of character’s lives or missed plot points of shows. Fans also have free access to ‘show off’ their individual knowledge. Jenkins analyzes this behavior and says that it reflects “not a pleasure in knowing, but a pleasure in exchanging knowledge” (139). If the pleasure were in exchanging knowledge why would this be considered showing off? If everyone knows it, there’s nothing to show off. Each member of a fan group has the option of feeding off the same base of knowledge yet individuals still pride themselves in ‘knowing the most’. This would speak to the exact opposite, that there is pleasure in knowing.
So how does this apply to the classroom? Good question.
In class we have been discussing the need for more academic collaboration and we have expressed frustration that students are refusing to be a part of the general conversation. While reading this article I was inspired by the Soap Opera fan clubs and how they functioned as the perfect example of collaboration. Soap Operas produce 5 shows a week, lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and have run for up to 72 years. (Guiding Light) This equals out to 18,720 episodes of information. This is why, as Jenkins explains, “the fan community pools its knowledge because no single fan can know everything necessary to fully appreciate the series” (139). Together they are stronger than their individual parts, as each person feels they have the right to contribute and partake from a very vast body of knowledge.
This kind of collaboration is what Levy describes as the “collective intelligence” or knowledge available to all members of a community as opposed to knowledge known by all members of a community. Collective intelligence creates a new kind of expertise, one that is dynamic and reciprocal. Typically expertise is contained within an expert, because all the knowledge required to become an expert resides in the same place or in the same person. Within a social community, the same level of knowledge is present, however it is spread out, yet just as easily accessible by some simple typing and the click of a mouse.
This has great potential in regards to our students. If these kinds of communities can function at the academic level our students can have complete access to this same kind of expertise. They too can become part of the social network that passes around information, shares ideas and establishes expertise. The problem is unlike the supposed active consumer in the AppleBox advertisement our students are not always aware of the choices they are making and are more often than not swayed into the decisions they do make by outside (sometimes negative) forces.
So how do we get our students to the place where they can be active members of this sort of knowledge exchange?
When I was in my junior year of college I had a professor tell me that if I wanted to do well in life I must question everything. Everything I see, everything I hear, everything I read. Each class we had to submit to her five questions from her assigned readings. At first I thought this was kind of a pointless exercise, however through her class I realized she was giving me a vital tool; she was teaching me to think.
In schools we are quick to harness students who ask too many questions because we fear they will eventually think themselves into rebelling. But by limiting these thoughts we are also limiting their potential to actively engage with the knowledge around them. Essentially we need to get our students thinking.
One idea I had was to assign a question journal for an entire novel. For each chapter students would be required to ask 5-10 questions about what they read. This activity does two things. First, the ability to ask questions about what they read places students in a position of authority where they feel they have the right to think about what and why things happen. Second, the practice of questioning will ideally lead students to a place where they are asking important questions and seeking out their own answers, i.e. critically thinking. Once they have found answers to their questions they then will have a platform from which to contribute to the community of knowledge and discussion.
Ø How else can we get students to engage with the community of knowledge?
Ø How do we get students to recognize their own passive stance in regards to knowledge?
Ø How do we prevent the same problems from happening?
o The voice of one becoming the voice of many?
o Or one dominate source of knowledge having authority over the other members of the network?
Ø If everyone has access to the expertise of the community, doesn’t that eliminate the idea of expertise?
Ø In regards to Kajder…What happens when her students take wrong photos or not exactly correct photos of the words they are attempting to define? A speaker is not the same as voice nor is a van of groceries cumulative. Thinking this is what these words mean could lead to some serious confusion later.
Jenkins, Henry. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York: New York UP, 2006. Print.