Information Age Education
   Issue Number 7
December, 2008   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. For more information, see the end of this newsletter.

Two Big Questions

Two questions unify this issue of the IAE Newsletter:
  1. What is a meme and what is crowdsourcing?
  2. How do these two ideas relate to improving education?

Looking Back: Memes

HistoryThe idea of a meme is usually attributed to Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He describes a gene as a biological unit that seeks to replicate and survive. He describes a meme as an idea or behavior that can be passed from person to person, thus replicating and surviving.

In talking about memes, people sometimes use the expression “virus of the mind” and the idea of this virus replicating by passing from mind to mind. You can read about this idea in Richard Brodie’s book, Virus of the Mind. The first part of the book is available free on the Web at  Quoting from the book:

They [memes] are infectious pieces of our culture that spread rapidly throughout a population, altering people’s thoughts and lives in their wake. They include everything from relatively harmless mind viruses, such as miniskirts and slang phrases, to mind viruses that seriously derail people’s lives, such as the cycle of unwed mothers on welfare, the Crips and Bloods youth gangs and the Branch Davidian religious cult.

Further compounding the problem, you don’t immediately know whether the [mind] programming you get from a given mind virus is harmful or beneficial. [Bold added for emphasis.]

For example, consider using the term “brain” to describe a computer. This is a meme that caught on in the early 1950s. This meme was an early aid to helping quite a few people begin to gain some insight into the capabilities of computers. However, it is a severe distortion of what a computer is.

Or consider the meme that a computer a “complex black box that only young geeks can understand.” This meme probably dissuades many people from attempting to study the field of computer and information science beyond a superficial level.

Looking at Current Times

CurrentI have just read Jeff Howe’s 2008 book Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. Crowdsourcing is a relatively recent idea, and it is a meme. In brief, it says that in a variety of situations, the thinking and the actions of the crowd (a large collection of people) can be very productive and effective. The Wikipedia provides a good example of crowdsourcing. Tens of thousands of people have contributed to the Wikipedia.

Facebook and Myspace provide other examples, where millions of people are both the writers and the readers of the material. For another example, consider how the stock photo business has been changed by tens of thousands of people making such photos available free or at very low cost on the Web.

Readers of the Information Age Education Newsletter know that I write books and other materials (such as this newsletter) and make them available free on the Web. Most of my materials are open source. See  However, some are only open access that one can assess and read at no cost.  Open source and open access are memes that are spreading.

A relatively large number of highly qualified people are contributing to open source software, books, journals, and so on.The number of books, journals, articles, and other material available in open access format is huge. See, for example,  The Directory of Open Access Journals at covers more than 1,300 free, full text, quality controlled scientific and scholarly journals.

 Looking into the Future

The FutureI can imagine a future when high quality computer-assisted learning covering the K-16 curriculum is available free on the Web. These free education materials will be in many different languages with versions to fit many different cultures. The courseware will run on the inexpensive computers and networks being made available through the One Laptop per Child project and other projects designed to inexpensive provide a networked computer to every student on earth. See

One Laptop per Child is a meme. It is a powerful idea that is slowly working it way into the minds of millions of people throughout the world. Quite likely this meme will spread so widely that it will become commonplace to expect that essentially every student has a decent laptop computer with decent connectivity to use at home and school.

The free high quality K-16 Computer Assisted Learning courseware is also a meme. I like to name it “free education for everyone.” This meme has been slower to catch on. It faces strong barriers from our current educational system, the various companies and organizations that are built on the current educational system, and large numbers of people educated through the “traditional” educational system.

It will take a very large effort on the part of a very large number of volunteers and some generous donors to implement wide scale free education for everyone. As illustrated by the Wikipedia and some other major parts of the Web, some aspects of this project lend themselves to crowdsourcing. However, other aspects will take major funding to facilitate planning and collaboration among a large number of people.

About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address, a Website containing free books and articles at,  and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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