Kool-Aid & the Worlds Online
Terry Elliott’s post of 9/18, Outsiders in Academe: Iconoclasty 101, got me thinking, so much so that when I left a comment on his post, I realized it was probably more appropriate as a post for my blog. I’ve added a few things for clarity, but what appears below is for the most part what I wrote to him.
“In his latest book, The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth, Alexander divides all of architecture into two, prosaic camps: System A and System B. System B is all about efficiency and hierarchy. It is about power and control and productivity. All of which is well and good within its proper context. I want the centralized control systems built into the flying and landing and taking off of airplanes. I don’t want it nearly so much in the ‘ergonomic’ fascism of bathroom design or of learning management systems.
“System A is all about integrity and health and the folk not as nodes in a machine, but as a growing, adapting, distributed and living whole. It is the difference between a neighborhood and a housing development.
“System A is open, sustainable, regenerative, and feels good. System B is oppressive, closed, degenerative, and exhausting. Take your pick. And lest you counter that this is a false dichotomy, you need only look in architecture and higher education for System A generated spaces. There are not that many.
Alexander notes that the two systems entail a zero sum game: for one to thrive the other needs to diminish much like predators trying to occupy the same niche in the food chain.
I have a lot of questions about whether any of the web-based tools we are using actually fit the mold of System A. I don’t often feel those spaces as convivial and natural. Behind the artifice of interface lay the reality of code. Is that structure humane? Is it open, sustainable, and regenerative? Does it feel good? Does the whole idea behind code generate System A or System B? I really don’t know.”
I read Terry’s post and immediately thought of an article by Elizabeth Moje (2009), where she asks if the research about new literacies is about literacies that are truly new, or if people are simply practicing the same old literacies using new tools or in new media settings.
In the new world of learning that is struggling to be born through this MOOC and others, at least in higher ed, it would seem that System A may need System B to launch itself, a weird kind of symbiosis, in a way. I undertook a self-hosted WP blog because I wanted see if moving away from someone else’s platform would leave me bounding though the virtual streets shouting, “Free at last!” So far, not so much. However, what I immediately do see is the power I have to control what goes up on the site, how it gets shaped, how long it stays. That’s good. As an example, the Ning sites I used in my classes are long gone and there was stuff there I think students would have liked to access.
Yet, even via a self-hosted platform, the software inevitably shapes what happens through it and with it. Other people have written the code that makes any of it happen. We just learn to wield the tools. Learning it takes an significant investment in time.
But note that I said “my” classes above. All the why questions being considered in #ccourses are important, but I think there is another one, one that gets to a layer beneath all the whys of this week. That one is, “Who gets to decide?” Then comes another: “Why?”
Terry’s decision to unschool with his kids speaks to this. No matter happens with the #ccourses MOOC, or any MOOC, it still lives within cultures and structures and expectations that are informed by the long traditions of academia. Thinking about it that way, who’s an insider? Who’s an outsider?
What I appreciate about #ccourses MOOC is how clearly it’s organized. I appreciate the consistency of the theme of connectedness. I appreciate the clear communication about how a one of participant’s opportunities is it to use the available tools to try to connect with others.
I also know there are lots of newbies who are signed on to #ccourses. Talking about trust is interesting– a System A concept. I wonder if some quasi-B talk would also be helpful: how do you use the tools to reach out to others in order to connect? Do the experienced folks have an obligation to reach out and initiate the noobs, even a little? That’s another insider-outsider thing for me to consider, and a question I try to think about in designing any course.
The word “community” is used a lot in online spaces. We probably need to do a better job of interrogating exactly what that
means. What constitutes a community? I don’t know that talking with others via Twitter or any other mechanism is enough to make me feel like a member of a community. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t surprise me that there’s research out there that indicates the most effective online courses have periodic F2F meetings. I watch the Twitter stream go by and wish I were the kind of person who could jump in and feel like I’m part of the gang. I feel shy, most of the time, and on the outskirts. Sometimes I feel that one of my responsibilities as a participant in online worlds is to drink the Kool-Aid. But I’m not that good at Kool-Aid.
I want to formulate more thoughts about All This: Connectedness (is that just a form of System B?); MOOCs; how the affordances of Web can truly disrupt this thing called education. I want to believe the Web can be this disruptive. In fact, I do believe. The question is, how?
Moje, E. B. (2009). Standpoints: A Call for New Research on New and Multi-Literacies. Research in the Teaching of English., 43(4), 348–362.