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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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”

 

Connected Learning and the Geeks

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There is nothing about the mixing of peer culture, personal interests, and education that require the following:

“Digital tools provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways.”

“Social media and web-based communities provide unprecedented opportunities for cross-generational and cross-cultural learning and connection to unfold and thrive around common goals and interests.”

“Online platforms and digital tools can make learning resources abundant, accessible, and visible across all learner settings.”

– Mizuko Ito, et al. Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, p.74

They are certainly integral to the case studies that were presented: Massive Multi-Player Online Games, Screenwriting, Webcomics, Hip-Hop Production, programs at magnet schools in New York City, Minecraft, The Harry Potter Alliance, and afterschool programs backed by major research universities. Which is to say this: they are thoughtful and well-meaning, but still interventions which rely on the cultures and models of the dominant and elite in the United States, and with the exception of hip-hop, they tend to valorize silicon valley’s geek culture, and integrate it into a continually worsening economic system.

But “information” was never enough. Information is only intelligible given the proper knowledge, context, and opportunity. Likewise, knowledge is produced and shared within a complex infrastructure supported by a web of different agencies and organizations. Even if made cheap or free for consumers, that knowledge still requires other, more foundational knowledge, community affiliation, and economic freedom to convert into meaningful use.

Education, particularly the education of populations that most need it to improve their lot, is tied up with a political and economic situation that is not sufficiently addressed by merely connecting some of its output to the Internet, or by abdicating public responsibility to do otherwise to the first salesman who offers a sort-of viable alternative, no more than better night travel by car in Atlanta would be sufficiently supported by allowing private companies to connect to the electrical grid, or by providing government subsidies to flashlight manufacturers.

-Ian Bogost, Inequality in American Education will not be Solved Online

Although the examples provided by the Connected Learning group do provide plenty of knowledge, context, and opportunity, they largely reproduce their own subculture’s knowledge, context, and opportunities, and even the name “connected leaning” leans heavily enough on a computer network analogy that you can hear the cooling fans humming. Jocks and other non-geeks need not apply.

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Bored in the Library, Luxury of the Mind

Stop Trying to Fill Every Hour of Your Day: Ever wonder why you get most of your ideas in the shower? It’s because the shower is among the last sacred spaces where we aren’t distracted by colleagues or technology. Our ideas need time to ferment and connect with other ideas, and being bored allows our minds to accomplish this naturally. -Sean Blanda, Five “Good Habits” You Need to Unlearn

This is not about quiet, but the idea of quiet. Libraries have always been leaders in third space, as Montgomery and Miller argue that in times of fiscal constraint, the academic library fills that niche, and further, the library is a place of individual productivity during finals. Most importantly, the library:

(O)ffers a comfortable welcoming environment for informal gathering where people come and go at their leisure and “nobody plays host” (Oldenburg 1999). The relaxed atmosphere of the third place provides users with the chance to be around others where they are not restricted by time, nor are they compelled to be there. -Montgomery and Miller, The “Third Place”: The Libary as Collaborativeand Community Space in a Time of Fiscal Contraint

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The place we are trying to get away from is a noisy one. Stuart Sim puts forth the idea that the noise we are trying to get away from is integral to the business culture of the United States, where it functions as a way to get our increasingly divided attention (Manifesto for Silence). Pushing this one step further, John Stewart connects the noise of the consumer society to an even deeper place: our identities:

It seems the attitudes toward noise are being shaped and changed by consumer society…..It also means that many people do not know life without noise; if it were not there, a void would open up in their lives. They would notice the silence. They have become oblivious to the noise. Why Noise Matters, p.9-10

The “fear of silence” is so unsettling because without the noise, our attentions have no easy external focus, no desire drive spurned on, no object or idea with which to attach. The stuff brings the noise and brings our identity additives with it. This is the place where libraries get their power, both in terms of physical space, but also the space that an instruction librarian  can bring into the classroom. Shutting down the noise and unsettling that drive allows students to really connect ideas with other ideas. Blanda may think that is because they are bored, but perhaps that is exactly the point. He equates not having to deal with the hassles of life to boredom and specifically, a lack of noise. Being able to avoid the invasion of noise (corporate or otherwise) has always been the purview of the well-to-do, and is a key factor in defining a luxury product:

Luxury vehicles make a statement — but too often, you can’t hear it over the roar of their engines. So the makers of top-line craft are dummying up the decibels, with a technological silence that’s 24-karat golden. Indeed, keeping quiet has become a science of its own. -Alexander George, The Silence of Luxury

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Libraries provide that sacred third space of silence, both from sound and from other mental distraction, much the same as what Blanda finds in the shower, and what your average 1%-er finds in the comfort of the newest Learjet. What libraries excel at is keeping down the cost. Best of all, unlike the cluttered and loud identities that can be forged through the consumption of consumer goods, the library provides a quiet place, sometimes literally, but often figuratively.

Quote That:

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To summarize: the answer to underfunded, lower effectiveness primary and secondary education requires subsidizing a private, VC-funded bet made on a roulette wheel fashioned from the already precarious prospects of a disadvantaged population.

As TechCrunch’s gleefully apocalyptic article demonstrates, Silicon Valley culture loves to celebrate the end of institutions merely to bask in the spectacle of falling rubble. That works for summer popcorn flicks, but in the real world, eventually we have to live among that rubble. Or, I suppose, we have to be able to afford the cost of the private rubble-clearing services that would allow us to persist in their wake. -Ian Bogost, Inequality in American Education Will not be Solved Online

Mooc,deux: and the Feral

Many hackles are rightly raised by the ubiquity of this word “disruption”, and its implications for the business of higher education; but the best MOOCs do not deal in the bourgeois concept of disruption, they deal in a very real rupture that is confusing to us all. Something convulsive. A monstrous birth.If the best MOOCs show us that learning is networked, and that it has always been, then learning is more rampant than we’ve accounted for.

-Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel, A MOOC is not a Thing: Emergence, Disruption, and Higher Education

Morris and Sommel rightly point out that learning has always been more ubiquitous than many in our industry have supposed, and admirably aim to break down the distinction between formal and informal learning. But I’m concerned that nothing so radical has been born, rather, the MOOC-as-technology is a bourgeois, technologically-enabled system designed to “capture” learning, and to try and contain it. Roger Whitson wrote that “There is no-outside MOOC, or there is nothing outside the MOOC,” which illuminates the point that, if not for the enclosure of learning by institutions of education (in most cases, higher education), then there’s no sense in going to such great lengths to define and theorize the MOOC. Instead, by supporting the idea that there is nothing outside of the thing, it grants domain of all learning to the MOOC, and more importantly, to the institution in control of it. The MOOC, both as a concept and as a technological product,seems to be a very big enclosure designed to broaden the perceived role of education in learning. Fundamentally, education is a discursive regime, and the MOOC will continue to contribute to it, rather than disrupt it. Still, harnessing the interest that many people have in learning new things is a very broad-minded ideal, and the people who have built these systems are equally high-minded and considerate of that social good:

The question we should ask ourselves isn’t whether we’re going to achieve equality between students at the University of Pennsylvania and students in the general public. Instead we should ask if, through the use of technology, we have improved the quality of the experience for each of these students separately. We want all students to be better off than they were before. -Daphne Koller, MOOCs on the Move: How Coursera Is Disrupting the Traditional Classroom

But the more concrete issue is that the MOOC-as-technology and the MOOC-as-concept are not easily separated, because one enables the other. The thinking here follows from thinkers like Foucault and Bourdieu, from whom already existing relationships will continue to define the structure of cultural (and therefore institutional) codes. MOOCs will continue to be designed to trace and map out previously “informal” modes of learning that will become a template to be enforced in the future, to capture the feral in the hope of making it more useful for educators, for better or worse.

I’m hoping it is for the better, although my chief reservation as a champion of the feral is this: the MOOC-as-concept still acts as an enclosure which educators can use for the “invention, metamorphosis, deformation, and reinvention” of learning, and the relationship between student and educator won’t be dialectically resolved. The power is still in the hands of the educator while the student is still acted upon, no mediated through the form of an ever-expanding enclosure. Many people take on a feral state in their interactions with formal education, as it constantly shifts its boundaries, its cities and deserts. MOOCS are only useful to the domesticated to promote their efficient and purposeful use of the educational system, which is the expectation placed on individuals as they enter into educational space as students. Already, it has been noted that the MOOC-as-technology is already in danger of failing to meet even the defined role of “student,” not even because it provides too much structure, but because through a lack of communication, it doesn’t provide enough:

The primary issue is the almost complete lack of personal interaction.  This dearth of connectivity applies to both troubleshooting and to the actually class experience. -Andrew Smyser, A Student’s Perspective on MOOCs

The truth is that most people do not experience the our institutions as a city, but rather as a wilderness on the edge of civilization. Complex systems intermingle, sometimes fluidly, and in this case, sometimes not. The main problem is that there needs to be much more unstructured ineraction, but instead, there’s very little interaction whatsoever. The theorizing and designing of technological and conceptual systems like MOOCs aim to provide more space for feral interaction, but given the structure of “one-teaching-to-many” and the control it requires, it still maintains the student/non-student structure of an educational institution while failing to meet that standard. My hope is that more than the educators, the students will (and should) do those things in any class setting, and the MOOC-as-technology and MOOC-as-concept will prove to be yet another enclosure for educators and students to be navigate in, and ultimately around.