Quote That:

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Mindblindedness dwells in the neurotypical world. It lurks on the edges of the notion of politics that speaks of democracy as though we all had acceded to the level of easy breathing. And it lurks within a macropolitical notion of ethics that seeks to place moral standards on behavior, and ethics that overwrites, that judges and sequesters into so-called intelligibility the agitation of all ecologies that do not resemble it. -Erin Manning, Always More Than One, pgs 170-171.

EduTech and the Hipster

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6) The demand for new methods of teaching, such as flipped classrooms and blended learning, is coming from the students. Untrue.

Students are, for the most part, perfectly happy with traditional lecture courses. They know what to expect from and how to navigate courses that put no more demands on them but to reflect back the knowledge transmitted from the front of the room. -Joshua Kim, 10 Dubious Claims About Technology and Learning.

In this defense of educational technology, it appears that student demand isn’t driving classroom change. While being protective of educational technologists broadly, it tries to point out that educators are also driving the uptake of educational technology.  Given the precarious lives of educators, the additional need to innovate, both pedagogically and technologically is important. Taken individually, pedagogical innovation is difficult, and requires a lot of work and support. What it does not necessarily include is an expanded budget for hardware, software, and associated staff. While Joshua Kim makes the argument that:

What is so important about this transition from a provider to a consumer of technology services is that these initiatives free up people and resources to move up the campus teaching, learning and research value chain. Technology folks are moving from server rooms to the classrooms, from provisioning and monitoring server applications to collaborating with faculty and librarians on flipped classrooms and blended learning. -Joshua Kim, 10 Dubious Claims About Technology and Learning.

The line of reasoning inextricably ties consumerism to technology and pedagogical innovation, which might free people up, but still ties up more money than if the connection between them was severed. The final and most curious point is this: if consumerism is the model, and students aren’t viewed as consumers, then why does this feel like marketing? While it is proposed that businesses are “consumer driven” and schools are “student driven” then why is demand for innovation not coming from students? Marketing, the art of tell others that they need something they didn’t know existed, is at the center of the pedagogy/technology coupling’s consumerist model. Even for the pedagogically well-intentioned, the inclusion of further goods and services on behalf of the students or the school means that we as educators are selling those products to students.

Such an outgrowth of the broader cultural imperative to sell is very much the Liberal Man’s Burden taken up by technology providers: everything is fixable by technology, which you are free to purchase, but it is not your right to that solution. Government, the cash-thirsty guarantor of hypothetical equality stands directly in the way:

Eric Schnuerer writes of a world where government literally is a product you can buy, an eventuality he sees foretold in the increase in private security forces and flight from public schools. In other words, “‘Government’ is, everywhere, an industry in serious trouble,” and his remedy is to “resize,” “redesign” the “products,” and “compete effectively against new competitors and in whole new markets.”

This misconception is at the heart of Silicon Valley’s approach to politics, both at home and abroad. In Packer’s words, technology “has little to say about larger issues of justice and fairness, unless you think that political problems are bugs that can be fixed by engineering rather than fundamental conflicts of interest and value.” -Kate Redburn, Google and The Liberal Man’s Burden.

The technologist approach is also marketing driven: it creates more needs than it solves in order to be financially profitable. Solving problems with existing tools, specifically through the application of pedagogy rather than pedagogy and technology, is less focused on consumption and more on hard-to-capitalize creation. The Liberal Man’s burden that technology has brought to bear in education is to make it profitable and condition the educational system to seek out profitable solutions to the human problem of educational values in the 21st century. Popular culture has a word for those who push back against the technological thrust in education based on such grounds: they are the hipsters of education:

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Its zombie-like persistence in anti-hipster discourse must be recognized for what it is: an urbane, and socially acceptable, form of ideologically inflected shaming on the part of American elites who must delegitimize those segments of a largely white, college educated population who didn’t do the “acceptable thing.” -Anthony Galluzzo, The ‘Fucking Hipster’ Show.

Hipsters are the fixie-mounted, left-leaning, do-your-own-canning types who accept technology with reservations, but without Luddism. This is the analogy for those who question the efficacy of the technology/pedagogy pairing, and libraries, as places where older technologies sit comfortably beside newer ones, is hipsterism par excellence. Questioning the imperative to maximize one’s own economic advantage at one’s own expense runs counter to the “self-made” maximalist culture represented by the span of men from Carnegie to Zuckerberg. When a product is made, it bears the personality and values of its maker through and through. In education, we teach people to fit in or resist culture, so it has always been the site of contests for power. Defining educational institutions as site of “transition from a provider to a consumer of technology services is that these initiatives free up people and resources to move up the campus teaching, learning and research value chain” will teach students not to provide, but to consume.

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Quote That:

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It is therefore aesthetic theory that needs resuscitation in our contemporary moment, not the aesthetic as such…By paying closer attention to the aesthetic categories that speak to the most significant objects and socially binding activities of late capitalist life–our affectively complicated relations to commodities, information, and performing, the ways in which we labor, exchange, and consume–one can at least make a start at closing the gulf between aesthetic theory and practice… -Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting.

Libraries & The MOOC Trois: On Disruption

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Although the traditional archive used to be a rather static memory, the notion of the archive in internet communication tends to move the archive toward an economy of circulation: permanent transfer and updating. -Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, p. 99.

Ernst starts out with this blazing redefinition of what an archive is, which substitutes use and reuse which essentially conflates the idea of archives with that of communication. In reference to my earlier posts, the canon has become the archive. The archive of internet communication is not an archive at all. When you “archive” a email in Gmail, it becomes a saved but inaccessible, a digital parody of a dusty box on a lost shelf. But that sense of archive is a misnomer: a body of work which stays relevant through re-circulation is not an archive. By keeping things past present, it is a canon. This is why all the talk of organizing the world’s knowledge and slapping it all online has become a quixotic project. While one can create an honest-to-god archive on the internet, the best function of the internet always will be communicative acts. That which is curatorial will usually take a back seat. The grafting of archives and other institutional models tend to follow this pattern:

Less so a library, the internet feels like a mall, albeit one with a robust newsstand (and adult video section). It’s open 24/7 and now offers same-day delivery. Less so a school, it’s a playground, equipped with a billboard for our personal brand. From this vantage point, the internet is less the revolutionary invention that it is, or can and should be, instead acting as a glorified telephone and digital, sepia-filtered distraction, one lubricated and optimized for constant, frictionless consumption. -Alec Liu, Groupon, Aaron Swartz and the Failings of the Second Great Tech Boom

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It is acting as optimized. Wolfgang Ernst calls it an “economy of circulation” with certainty, but that phrase understates the nature of this massive  shiny, lubricated entertain-ucation-plex, where the hustle of self-promotion edges other things out. Trying to wade through a discussion board or a tumblr looking for something that rises above the merely interesting can be exhausting, and now it’s part of education:

Taking a cue from Twitter and LinkedIn, education online also needs to do a better job leveraging peer interaction and collaboration. Most MOOCs do already promote discussions among classmates to help with homework and grading. But the emergence of Twitter and LinkedIn (and soon Facebook) as go-to sources of professional insights shows that people want to actually learn from, and work with, their colleagues and business contacts just as much as from PhDs, editors and other experts. -Todd Tauber, The Dirty Little Secret of Online Learning: Students Are Bored and Dropping Out

Granted, learning has always been communicative, but it also requires critical thinking, time away from other pressures, and focus. Making the claim that being more like commercial, entertainment-driven websites like Twitter or Linkedin as example of how people learn now is wildly disingenuous: how we entertain ourselves and use those tools in a professional setting is not at all how “we” learn. We all learn differently, and as the industrial educational complex of the early 20th century gets dismantled, the silicon-valley wet-dream of edutainment is seen for what it is: an economic tool. It follows a new advertising narrative of disruption, a familiar call in many a educational sector that is “ripe”:

The drive to create is no different, no less human than that the urge to profit. But only recently it has taken on this sickly pallor–the desire to present itself as different… as difference. It has become a drama, a narrative of success or failure. -Adam Rothstein, Disruption

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Disruption is the story of startup culture through advertising. Rothstein brings the sickly obsession to be different to the fore, as opposed to the long lines of actual institutional change which involve considerable human effort and goodwill. Disruption promises to short-circuit that, a techno-economic fix in the stead of humanity’s emotional dirty work. As they currently stand, the MOOC’s biggest supporters want to sell the disruption narrative. Less so a school, it brings the world of personal branding into the classroom. And with the work of students and teachers reformated to fit the digital insta-canon, one taken away at the end of the communicative performance, the archive dies. The cycles of knowledge get shorter and shorter, and the long memory of dusty stacks will fade. One direction out of this is a new archivist manifesto, one that emphasizes the personal ethic of care.

The current discussions on search, open access, archives, preservation of information and digital objects, often hide away the politics of individuals under the disguise of “users”. Users to technological capitalism, are consumers to consumerist capitalism. Archivist manifesto is a call for the reinsertion of knowledge and skills for developing personal archives, that on one hand, reinstall the culture of care and a technological culture; on the other hand, develop an infrastructure that allows sharing of information on individual level and bypasses marketing tools such as search engines and commercial social networks. -Yuk Hui, Archivist Manifesto

Somebody ought to add the MOOC to that last list.

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We Should Teach This:

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It’s bad form to re-sift through another blog post, but since information literacy is dubious yet still helpful, then some associated skills are of interest. In this case, the skill of reading “above one’s level.” Even one of my favorite writing textbooks, which has a fantastic page (p. 477) on different sources and when to use them lists scholarly books and journals as “Highly useful if not too high-level or technical.” I make it a point that this is inadvertently insulting to one’s intelligence, and stands in the way of the educational project of owning the hell out of as much as you can.

So when I came across Ryan Holiday’s piece in Thought Catalog, Read to Lead: How to Digest Books Above Your “Level”, I was glad to see a non-educator’s perspective to supplement my own. And he is the director of marketing at the notorious hipster-staple American Apparel, which is good or bad depending on how much fun you’re not having.  Still what Ryan presents goes beyond information literacy’s operational suggestion to incorporate new information into one’s knowledge base, but to connect, apply and use whatever it is you get. It’s a message easily lost in the technical apparatus of IL.

Back to the main point:  the first rule is to get out of the “School Mindset.” Holiday points out that we are quizzed on details to see if we did the work, not if we understood it’s greater points (lessons). The broader issue is that school strictly enforces sequential forms of learning along the lines of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, which is okay for school, but limiting in the rest of life. Armed with that confidence, the steps read fairly clearly:

  1. Ruin the Ending
  2. Read the Reviews
  3. Read the Intro/Notes/Prologue
  4. Look it Up
  5. Mark Passages

After you finish:

  1. Go Back Through
  2. Read One Book from the Bibliography
  3. Apply and Use

Also, by reading from the bibliography, and not relying on search engines to define what is relevant, students better enter the stream of communication, scholarly or otherwise. This is a conversation, not a database. I’ll leave you with Ryan’s words:

So try it: Do your research, read diligently without getting bogged down in details, and then work to connect, apply and use. -Ryan Holiday,  Read to Lead: How to Digest Books Above Your “Level”