Thoughts on Minds of Fire

Minds on Fire is the title of the article that 2008 John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler wrote in order to discuss the emerging (at the time) discipline of ‘web 2.0’ and how that relates to the ‘learning 2.0’ paradigm. In particular, the emergence of the truely open nature of education that can be thought of as ‘participatory’ rather than strictly a ‘community of practice’.

For those of us that have studied a few modules in Open and Distance Education, this may seem like grist for the mill. However, I have always found John Seely Brown’s work (often co-authored like this article) to be provocative.

In this article the authors are argueing that the learning goes beyond a traditional ‘apprentice’ model which might have the learners looking on at the ‘masters’ doing work. Instead the work that they presented for a number of citizen’s science aspects to be the actual learning – by doing.

  • Faulkes Telescope
  • Hands On Universe
  • Bug-scope
  • Decameron

Despite these projects being written about in 2008, they are all still current projects which in the ‘digital age’ is possibly something to take note of.

This could be an example of ‘citizen’s science’ where the facilities are put online through the internet and then volunteers from around the globe join in as joint researchers. I particularly like the ideas behind conservation or naturalist citizen science such as:

Tiger Nation: where one can join as a member of the team that tries to identify individual tigers from the unique strip patterns on the tigers from various photographic sources that the initiative has collected.


Similarly for whales looking at their tail flukes such as East Coast Whales on the Austrlian east coast. 

Or whalesharks on Wildbook for Whale Sharks. This part of a larger citzen’s science initative called ‘Wild me’.

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The acid question though:

Can taking part in these joint science projects, actually help participants to learn about science in this ‘learning 2.0’ manner that Seely & Adler claim?

For the moment, with respect to ‘citizens science’ there appears to be very little empirical data collected on this. There are lots of science papers that look at the validity of doing the science using citizen science approaches but this is not what we want if we are to find support for Seely & Adler. I did find a paper by Paige, Hattam & Daniels (2015), however, this seemed to be more a working model of how citizen’s science projects could in principle be used in middle and secondary schools.


PAIGE K., HATTAM R. & DANIELS C.B. 2015. Two models for implementing Citizen Science projects in middle school. Journal of Educational Enquiry.  14: 4-17.

SEELY BROWN J. & ADLER R.P. 2008. Minds on Fire: Open education, the long tail, and Learning 2.0. Educause Review January/February: 16-32.

Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.  -Will Durant