Have you ever seen an online learning system where participants are asked to give votes? In many cases there are votes or rates given for learning content. In an extreme example students are asked to give votes on the best discussion notes posted to some online learning environment.
There has been discussion on having rating system for the learning resources posted to the LeMill community (LeMill is a web community for finding, authoring and sharing learning resources). People say that this will make it easier to find quality learning content from the site.
I have a problem with voting and rating – especially in the case of learning. I think in most cases voting is far too simple way to make decisions on quality (or almost on anything).
We easily think that voting equals to democracy. Is it really that simple? No, I don’t think so. In a good democratic process there is at first discussion and debate on the issues. If there is a need for making decisions on the issues people are free to make proposals from the points presented in the discussion. If there are several competing proposals, we may vote on them. Still, voting should be the ultimate mean to reach the decision. If we may reach consensus we should never vote.
I have a theory why voting and rating is so popular in many online environments. The reason is that programmers are lazy. They want to have easy to implement solutions, and computers just are very good in calculating (or should we say in computing). Programming rating and voting systems are easy to do.
Design of good (and democratic) software for discourse, discussion and debate is much more challenging task. The best computer tools for this are still very primitive: threaded online forums, blogs and wikis.
To enhance (democratic) rational and scientific discussion we need software that makes is easy to present arguments and come-up with conclusions. In a case of science and learning we shouldn’t be afraid if people do not agree. There isn’t need for consensus. Different paradigms living same time should be accepted, but presented openly so that they can be challenged at any point. This is our aim with the Fle3 learning environment (and there will be a new version, soon!) In many other areas of life – organizations, politics, business – you must make decisions. Even in these cases you should vote only if you can’t reach consensus in a discussion. In business the decisions are of course made by those with the right and the responsibility to make decisions.
What about finding quality learning resources? How this should be implemented if not with rating? I would try to develop tools for people to talk about the resources and by helping them to find quality content based on the authors (resources made by X are always good). Especially in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment – such as LeMill – this seems to be the only “democratic” way to value content.
Anyway, I am going to vote next Sunday. We are having parliament election. Voting in a representative democracy is another story. I am happy that we have many good candidates. From the online candidate video’s I like the best this one (actually, he is pretty good candidate, too).