Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Regional Advantage

In my talk in the DAC plenary session today I tried to recast my paper in the "interdisciplinary pedagogy" theme as a call to action and also explore possible vulnerabilities in its argument. Rather than merely read the text of "Hybridizing Learning, Performing Interdisciplinarity: Teaching Digitally in a Posthuman Age" at the podium, I tried to connect the ideas in the paper to the people and ideas of the conference, and even went so far as to show a slide of conference participants who also happened to be part of the university case studies that I had extrapolated from to underline the point.

I began with Mark C. Taylor's controversial "End the University as We Know It" to make three points, the first two of which were relatively obvious. First, Taylor exploits the familiar topoi of "excellence" or "crisis" around education to draw attention to his manifesto. Second, the interdisciplinarity that he promotes with his list of sample programs to be initiated after departments are abolished wouldn't do much for anyone choosing to attend Digital Arts and Culture in the first place. For example, I don't know if my own work belongs in "media," "networks," or "information." Third, in looking at the comments on Taylor's piece, I was struck by the number of people who mentioned two industries that they considered comparable: the newspaper business and the healthcare industry. One metaphor drew attention to the rapidity with which a crisis, like the one facing the university, might demolish existing structures of authority and public oversight, and the other highlighted the need for general democratic deliberation since the maintenance of the mind was as vital to the public good as care for the body might be. I also think those metaphors are interesting to think about in connection with technology. In the newspaper business, technology is supposed to lower the costs of distribution and lower the bar to access, while in healthcare technology raises costs and leads to more gatekeeping. Much as distance learning promises cheap delivery and broad reach and smart classrooms showcase the latest and greatest gizmos to a few elite learning sites, these metaphors can be helpful in letting us unpack how the very debate about technology and interdisciplinarity is structured.

Instead I drew attention to ten trends that I thought represented truly transformative approaches that used instructional technology to reimagine what learning does and how it does it: 1) object-oriented ontologies (which can too easily devolve into treasure hunts), 2) playable simulations (the best of which can be overlooked in the current mania for serious games), 3) procedural literacy events (which can be trumped by a romance for bad AI), 4) database mash-ups (which can be poisoned by bad data), 5) network epistemologies (which can crash when accounting for all the different kinds of linkages between actacts or agents in a given system), 6) information aesthetics (which can be abstracted out to a reductio ad absurdum of unfeeling minimalism), 7) tactical media (which can backfire when students want to do projects promoting less progressive agendas), 8) software studies (which won't play with audiences who don't care about past systems, programming constraints, or opening up black boxes), 9) critical information studies (which assumes that everyone agrees about what information is), and 10) digital rhetorics (which will take up much of my next book).

Slides with lots of examples are here.

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