There were a couple of surprises for me. First, I was intrigued to learn about Jean-Claude’s vision for mechanized research. I’ve always thought of open notebook science as a way to speed up the iterative cycle of research and publication, and to engage more human minds in collaboration. Of course Jean-Claude thinks so too. But he also thinks that when data are published in accessible formats, and exposed to computational processes running in the cloud, we’ll be able to automate certain aspects of research.
It reminds me of George Hripcsak’s effort to mechanize the interpretation of electronic health records. In general, we’re collecting way more data than the collectors can analyze. Crowdsourcing is one solution to this problem. Mechanization is another. We’ll need both.
The other surprise was hearing about Drexel’s fairly aggressive use of Second Life. I’ve been an amused skeptic on that front, but Jean-Claude’s passionate advocacy requires me to rethink that stance.
What didn’t surprise me, but might well surprise tuition-paying parents of Drexel students, was Jean-Claude’s attitude toward the classroom. He mostly doesn’t see a need for it. The content delivery aspect of education, he feels, is best handled in other ways, including screencasts and podcasts as well as traditional texts. There can, and should, be a range of sources, to accommodate the differing inclinations of learners. And teachers need to be competent producers and orchestrators of those sources. But for Jean-Claude, the best way to engage directly with students is to meet with individuals, not with whole classes.
Now admittedly, a chemistry class doesn’t invite and thrive on group discussion in the same way that, for example, a literature class does. And yet Jean-Claude says that a literature class was one of the models for his use of Second Life. When group interaction is central to the educational experience, he thinks that virtual environments — though he doesn’t require their use — may outperform real ones.
I remain skeptical on that point, but I’m always open-minded, so I hope Jean-Claude will take me up on my offer to visit one of his virtual environments and document the interactions that happen there.