[pardon my slow return from the woods, I returned home to find my motherboard had fried – I’ll have limited connectivity for a week or two]
It’s easy to get excited about incorporating new communication technologies in the classroom, but it’s not always so easy and the benefits are not always clear. Pamthropologist discusses her resistance to teaching strategies advocated by Michael Wesch, arguing that theres a line between motivating, and pampering – and that her initial reaction has been to retreat to tradition:
“So, as I review the great move toward technological innovation in the classroom. I find, myself recoiling in horror. I just don’t get it. Michael Wesch’s youtube of his oh so forlorn students who don’t read and can only become excited when engaging with their own methods of discourse drove me crazy.”
In her discussion she brings up the difference between “deep reading” and “power browsing”, and the idea that online communication technologies are a students “own method of discourse”. I have trouble with this idea that deep reading being associated with a particular medium or style – reading with Google offers the opportunity to quickly access related information. Googling, and wikipedia are helping people read deeper by helping them get to more relevant material.
Many disagree however, as shown in the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” which Pamthropologist references:
“As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
I think theres something to be said for how one participates online. Yes, many people skip along the surface, but I believe the community nature of the blogsphere, with its direct and personal interactions between authors, is allowing for a much deeper kind of communication. There are numerous ways to use the internet and Google is only one part of it. The above quote misses the depth of learning that occurs through online engagement [their study is blinded by the position that reading online leads to “disengagement”… see below]
The article cites a few studies that show how online researchers would jump from site to site, rarely taking the whole thing in. One study concluded “It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.” According to another researcher, Maryanne Wolf:
“When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.”
I’m not sure how these studies were done or with what kind of researchers, but I have an alternate take. Academic essays in anthropology almost always include numerous jumps to other related essays – making it impossible to decode any single anthropological essay without conferring with numerous others. Let’s not get into the fact that much of the very same material is available offline and online, and that the researchers are actively choosing to filter through the material to get at better sources of information which would not have been available otherwise. But what do I know, I am struggling with Bourdieu :) [Also see Enkerli’s discussion of online literacy in his response to a previous post.]
Michael Wesch responds to Pamthropologist, arguing that his strategies work to build personal connections to the material. He argues that the bottom up design empowers students to “… make real contributions to the class.” Of course, this isn’t just new communication technologies being discussed, but rather new teaching methods that happen to benefit from them.
It’s a fascinating and passionate discussion which really brings up interesting angles and perspectives relating to teaching strategies and to some extent new communication technologies. I tend to side with Wesch since I’m a huge fan of his anti-teaching essay, but Pamthropologist makes some good arguments supporting a more traditional style. It’s interesting to look at this discussion in terms of the social reproduction and education (I have been reading Bourdieu afterall).
Discussing the way authority manifested itself in academia, Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) chose the term “symbolic violence” to describe how particular styles of speech, writing, discussion and behaving worked to legitimate ideas and meanings that were then passed down or internalized by successive generations. [ala social reproduction]
Here is Bourdieu and Passeron’s description of a traditional lecture -
“The lecturer finds in the particularities of the space which the traditional institution arranges for him (the platform, the professorial chair at the focal point on which all gazes converge) material and symbolic conditions which enable him to keep the students at a respectful distance and would oblige him to do so even if he did not wish to. Elevated and enclosed in the space which crowns him orator, seperated from his audience, if numbers permit, by a few empty rows which materially mark the distance the laity fearfully keep before the mana of the Word and which at all events are only ever occupied by the most seasoned zealots, pious ministers of the material utterance, the professor, remote and intangible, shrouded in vague and terrifying rumour, is condemned to theatrical monologue and virtuoso exhibition by a necessity of position far more coercive than the most imperious regulations.” (Bourdieu and Passeron. 1977)
Interestingly the above passage comes from a prestigious academic publication but it still carries all the bias and attitude of a great blog post.
Pamthropologist, with her open and honest discussion shows another side to the traditional lecture hall – and maybe its not that bad afterall. She writes
“Anyway my bias is: I love lecture. I loved it throughout undergraduate and graduate school. I was interested and involved because of lecture. I read because of lecture. I think it works well is small classes. I think it can work in large classes.”
So we have resistance Wesch’s anti-teaching strategies and so maybe its fair to call it a revolutionary approach. At the same time, its easy to jump on the revolutionary bandwagon, and thinking about how Bourdieu and Passeron discuss the reproduction of society and culture in education perhaps it helps to avoid such simple categorizations.
Is it really revolutionary? Wesch describes himself as a manager within the classroom, so there are still traditional forms of authority being imposed and “inculcated” [ie. professional distance between teacher and student]. I’ll be thinking much more about this, and thanks to Pamthropologist and Michael Wesch for a fascinating discussion!
[some random notes:
Inspiring learning seems to be a common theme, with disagreement as to how best motivate it. Relationships with broader community vs teacher -> student.
There are different kinds of authority – “teacher/student” is too simple. Authority to select readings, choose problems.
Studies of online research techniques have ignored broader online participation, focusing too much on “reading” instead of “communicating”.
In what ways is it revolutionary? Teacher/student roles maintained -> authority of teacher, authority of sources, ways to filter information. Project management skills, working in a team,
Being engaged with material vs. engaged with a question -> source of inspiration, higher motivation, -> deeper reading. [Wesch arguing for bottom up approach to motivate engagement, Pamthropologist arguing that traditional lectures can also inspire (Wesch agreeing). Different styles.
And lets not get carried away with oppositions – new communication styles/strategies/technologies can also promote long ass lectures ala davidharvey.com. or see Academhack’s recent post on video lectures.