Thursday, April 15, 2010

Away Game

The HASTAC 2010 conference, like previous conferences from the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory emphasized new modes of digital learning, online collaboration, and scholarship in the age of big data. This year the plan was to hold a "virtual conference" featuring discussion carried on through Google Wave. The schedule indicates that there were a number of Virtualpolitik colleagues on the roster, including Craig Dietrich, Vanessa Vobis, and Nicole Starosielski from the 2009 NEH-Vectors Summer Institute on Broadening the Digital Humanities.

In the main message about "The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age," David Theo Goldberg of the UC Humanities Research Institute and Cathy Davidson of HASTAC explore when "virtual means collaborative" and draw attention to their own historical context in which "the White House asked the public: what does 21st century learning mean to you?"

In explaining why they "frame the conversation in terms of thinking not of learning," they argue that "thinking is the largest category." As Cathy Davidson notes, "education" and "learning" may be related categories, but "thinking" is central to the humanistic enterprise. David Theo Goldberg observes that "technical components" of "reading, writing, and 'rithmatic don't always prioritize "other modes of encouraging" thinking, which might include "modes of judgment" or "modes of reflection." They explained that their mission comprised more than "technical or technicist things," because their collaborative work reshaping educational institutions was about "capacities not simply technical skills."

They also introduced the issue of "modes of attention. Davidson talked about the famed "gorilla suit" study and Goldberg noted how the rise of PDAs could have consequences for the neuropsychology of attention that represent "opening and closing" of opportunities that involves rethinking of simple "expanding vs. trading" models.

Davidson said they were "both skeptical about 'digital natives'" and the assumption that young people were naturally more facile with technology, as noble savages who did not need any instruction. But she did note that when working with a class on the concept of "digital literacies," she observed a "look of terror" when they were asked to contemplate a "world without the Internet" and a "lack of digital sources," which she believed reflected on their "thinking about thinking." For Goldberg, what is critical is the "notion and nature of literacy itself" and the "self-reflexivity" and "ability to use capacities" that the term implies.

As a pragmatist, Davidson also discussed the importance of "assessment" in understanding the "ecology of knowledge systems," which might be "associative," "iterative," and "process-oriented," in ways not imagined by the No Child Left Behind legislation mandating standardized testing but misses the fact that what is "in the outcome itself" can't be so easily captured.

Goldberg also explored the "notion of contribution" in telling about how he had asked graduate students to produce collaborative products in a seminar and engage in syllabus building collectively, much as they would be expected to participate in "teamwork throughout life." For him the "radically individualized" idea of standardization is proved false by lived experiences in "collaboration and laboring together," even if the "common end" may not always be clearly defined from the beginning.

At one point Davidson even suggested that Mozilla might be putting forward the "philosophy of our time."

Then Goldberg explained how "institutions" could serve "as mobilizing networks," so that "institutional walls" were understood as "reforming" even as they are "crumbling." and the classroom becomes about "engagements between the virtual and the material" world.

Goldberg did acknowledge, however, that there could be conflict about this mixing of frames of reference, as was the case in the controversy about the presence of laptops in the classroom, which had even become an issue at the DML. In defense of laptops, Davidson described how "somebody needs to Google jockey this" in certain live classroom interchanges to highlight how "diverse the answers are" when the "affordances in the classroom" are fully explored. Goldberg argued for awareness of the "temporality and closing off" involved in such pedagogical moments, and cited how Eszter Hargittai controls students' laptops from podium. (In my own use of smart classrooms, I like having all students' laptop screens projected, although I have no direct control over their displays.)

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