Saturday, February 20, 2010

Exploding the University

The session on "Digital Media and Learning as a Post-Academic Field" at the Digital Media and Learning Conference encouraged participants to keep and edit notes on the session, which were displayed as the panelists were speaking, along with the backchannel thread from participants in the audience. Despite the publicity given to recent incidents of "Tweckling" on the backchannel in conferences, in this intimate gathering all who were present behaved themselves. And although not everyone on the bill made it in to the conference, since computer scientist Alex Pang and academic blogger and instructional technologist David Parry couldn't be there, it was still a lively exchange of ideas in the third panel of the conference on higher education.

(Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the higher education panel after my own at the conference, which featured Tracy Fullerton, who discussed her creation of Pathfinder U. The game is described below.)

Kathleen Fitzpatrick talked about "getting our students to do things openly" and in public, collaborative ways that foster the "use of digital rhetorics." However, she expressed concern that "we don't seem to use them to the same degree as we teach them," because "we get credit for the formal stuff." As Fitzpatrick asked, "What if that wasn't the case?" She inquired further: "How can we model the critical/analytical skills we want our students to have--particularly in our writing & audiences." She acknowledged, however, that "making this sort of change, particularly institutionally, is hard work," although she pointed out that the collective work being done at Media Commons "may represent a model of cross-institutional work." As for her own work at Planned Obsolescence, she characterized it as part of a "strategy for making such changes," because she emphasizes "changes in peer review, and what that means to the ideas surrounding authorship/readership." She asserted that "universities need to rethink what publishing is and why they engage in it." When considering if publishing should function as a revenue-center, she insisted that "the mission of the university is diffusion of knowledge, and university publishing should reflect this." For her, institutional collaboration (university presses, libraries, IT, academic units) should be an important part of serving that value.

Jeremy Hunsinger then described himself as someone with "an aversion to walls, classrooms, and pedagogy" as too divorced from the "essential question of episteme and practice" that are central to his STS outlook and his personal philosophy that "we learn (in school and out) informally," and "pedogogy treats learners as kids." Hunsinger argued that "Digital Media and Learning isn't new; it's existed as an approach for about forty-five years." He also claimed that digital media served "as an escape from the strictures (economic & control) of the university." He pointed to "hack-labs, as collective good" as an exemplary case of "post or extra-academic education" and "spaces that encourage learning not teaching." (p2pu was also cited as another model that complicated the Chicago School model of education from Dewey et al.)

Panel chair Alexander Halavais introduced himself with a "provocation" with a reference to the panel on higher education that I chaired, where Diane Harley, author of a recent Mellon Report on Higher Ed, had cautioned that those devoted to "blowing up the university" with digital media tools may be misguided. Halavais explained that "reexploding" the university might not be such a bad idea to recognize that "learning happens in a network or web of activities (often self-directed)" rather than in institutions.

Lately Halavais has been occupied with the "question about mobile media" and his role in the "Collaboratory" that served as the "inner space for which DML served as the "public space." He said that the challenges in expanding the K-12 digital learning model to higher education even included questions like "What kind of software do we want to use?" Basecamp might be better for the adult group, while Remix World might be better for digital youth. Yet, as Halavais asked, "Why is our collaborative software different from what we want students to use?" He pointed out that "maybe students should be asked to think about 'grown up' project planning skills" that include budgets and schedules to be in keeping with the outlook of the Obama administration and its priorities for education. As he noted, most of life is about "learning informally" and the "sea of blue" that illustrated one DML conference talk. However, even though informal learning over a lifetime is undoubtedly important, the MacArthur Foundation saw the value of "building a bridge back to the institutions" and chose to praise a "mix of researchers and practitioners."

Should online collaborative tools and spaces be different for kids and for grown-ups? Is autonomy in terms of interest-driven learning as applicable to adults as it is to kids? Is the importance of sharing ideas openly as important for adults as it is for kids? How can institutions support more informal kinds of research, and how can that research build a bridge back to institutions?

These questions took up much of the question-and-answer part of the panel in which participants admitted that "all of our work as academics becomes formalized." They also pointed to the irony of asking these questions in the context of a formal academic conference, since a THATcamp would seem preferable "if we really value informal learning."

When talking about to what degree should kids and adults be shielded from economic concerns," Halavais pointed to the example of Japanese kids asked to clean their own schools before turning to the question of how research agendas should be handled.

Can we create a research community in which research is:
- Based on our interests
- Openly documented, with opportunities for peer mentoring
- Published, then filtered
- Without destructive competition

Does open source present a peer-to-peer model that we can follow?
- Peer reviewed scholarship pre completion
- Peer reviewed scholarship after "completion"
- Peer reviewed scholars

At one point Halavais quipped "tenure should only be granted to people who don't want tenure." His last question to the audience was "Why I am still a professor?"

Although, the MacArthur Foundation might "provide scaffolding for the new discipline of DML to form," some asked if there should "be more friction, more argument, more . . ." If the theme was really about "diverse participation," they questioned why should participants be agreeing with it so directly and warned against the dangers of the "tendency to genuflect in this environment." Furthermore, despite the fact that "fields are built by shared interests," Renee Hobbs emphasized the importance of "calling out the economic powerhouse that takes away our ability to determine what counts as knowledge." -

These questions followed: What happens when the funding dies? Are we critical enough of the infrastructure that supports the nascent field? What's with all the talk about public/private? Who do we invite to these things who will challenge us more directly?

Hunsinger reminded those in the room about the difference between "interdisciplinary" and "transdisciplinary" enterprises that "mean different things." In response Hobbs talked about the "problem of training people for both media studies and education" when there were "obligations to PhD students facing a world where silos don't talk to each other." Hunsinger agreed that such students faced the "exclusion of both silos." Others piped up that the "disappearance of humanities disciplines" that were de-funded at universities from the digital media and learning field only made things worse. To this Halavais suggested that "collaborations with museums and libraries, not just universities" might provide some solutions.

After the group admitted that they lacked "shared axioms," they suggested some other possible terms, such as "shared axiologies, "shared epistemologies," or "shared ontologies." Then they turned to the bullet points for "who do we need next year":

* Deans and presidents, who can make the field happen on their campuses

* More "cranks" and people who are highly critical of edtech, but ones that are more Maxine Greene than Andrew Keen.

As the session ended there was energetic discussion of the problem of travel funding, of boycotting journals that were not open access, and of the virtues and vices of electronic resources such as IJLM and the eScholarship repository that were "technically open but badly designed for public access." Of course, they also noted the ironic lack of live streaming or videorecording of most of the panels at the conference.

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Blogger jeremy said...

well it is the pedagogy vs andragogy debate i was emphasizing in the critique of the modern university. Pedagogical methods are curriculum/teacher driven models and we can claim whatever we want there as a teaching philosophy, even constructivism will be teacher driven with certain goals to be met in pedagogy. Andragogy is where i think we need to be.

5:51 AM  

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