Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Power, Control, Authority: CCK08, Brave New Classrooms, & Cruises

I was reading around in this week's CCK08 material--undaunted by Stephen's e-mail stunt of introducing the week's topic of Power, Control and Authority by mandatorily subscribing everyone to the moodle forum so we all had nice, full mailboxes, brimming with quips and complaints--and came across Michael Wesch's blog post "Revisiting 'A Vision of Students Today'" which was originally part of a blog forum on "Brave New Classroom" at Britannica Blog.  It is an excellent post, and reminds me of what most traditional education is like: lecture halls, multiple choice exams, etc.

In that context, connectivism has a lot to offer.  If you're talking about a 400-person class, there are possibilities offered by networked learning and a massively open (or even just a little more open) that can rock the lecture hall's world.  If the students are sitting in the lecture IM-ing each other and updating their facebook page, anyway, why not encourage them to tweet about the class?  It's meeting them at least half way.

The lecture hall that Wesch's TA's describe, with most of the students listening to blaring iPods (and their neighbors having to listen to it, too) or doing other tasks during class is a different experience from my 15-person maximum visual culture class, for example, where I can imagine intensifying what we do by meeting in Second Life and interacting with avatars, or using non-synchronous new media tools, like the VisCult blog.  

Also intriguing is the post about banning laptops in the classroom.  All our students at Berklee are required to have laptops and there have been times I've asked students to see their notes, or walked behind them to look at their screens.  Sometimes they are genuinely googling things related to the discussion, and sometimes they also uses their iPhones that way, too (I recall someone accessing the details of an etching technique when we were at the Museum of Fine Arts one time, for example, which was a much better learning moment than my usual I'll-look-it-up-and-tell-you-later approach).

About Power, Authority, and Control: as long as there are grades, there will be power, authority and control.  Period.  On top of that, as long as someone knows something that someone else doesn't and the one who doesn't know it thinks the other one can teach them, or help them learn it on their own, or set up a series of tasks that will reveal the knowledge, technique, or skill, there is authority, and there should be.  Authority is not necessarily the same thing as power, or as control.  And let us not forget our Foucault: power produces, it creates, it makes.  And if there is no control, what remains?  

I remember someone in a faculty meeting at a previous institution claiming that every college or university is like a themed cruise--students and their parents expect that theme, say the Disney cruise, and would be mightily disappointed and understandably pissed off if they got the swingers cruise instead.  Know your theme and deliver was the message my colleague espoused, and I have often reflected on the element of truth there (and the great hilarity of the metaphor).   If there isn't an appropriate exertion of power, control, and authority, it is hard to craft the cruise, and pick whatever part of the metaphor you want for a course: a day trip, a part of the ship, an activity (I've never been on a cruise, so I'm working off of the tv show The Love Boat here).   People can do what they want on a cruise, as long as the structure and infrastructure are working invisibly in the background, so that all they have to do is think, "I'd like to go to a midnight buffet!" and there it is, waiting for them (that one isn't from The Love Boat, but from my parents, circa 1978).  

So, if faced with a choice between a completely decentralized, diffused, anarchic and random educational experience, or one that is a bit more like a well-structured ride (to mix my transportation metaphors), I'm taking the ride.  I don't only want to sit in the 400-person lecture hall, straining to hear the undoubtedly interesting things Prof Wesch has to say over the kid next me's iPod blasting his or her hearing into premature oblivion, forced to take multiple choice exam after multiple choice exam.  But I want a teacher who is a teacher, who knows something I don't and will, uh, teach it to me.  I value that.  I can cede a little bit of my own power in the short term in order to gain some in the long term (and if that sounds familiar, folks, that's because that describes grad school.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Building in SL

I think I'm starting to get the hang of building in SL.  I made a three-story labyrinth platform to practice working in 3 dimensions, and then I liked it, so I kept it.  I raised and lowered my land a bunch of times and met someone who thought it was interesting to watch it from her house across the way.   I made an enormous metal transparent ball and then transformed it into a seasonal pumpkin, which L1Aura likes to sit inside on top of the labyrinth platform, because, well, who knows?  It's nice and orange in there, and reminded me of Jeannie's bottle in "I Dream of Jeannie,"so I put a meditation cushion to sit on in there, too.  

At first I felt tempted to put up a house (and I did) and fill my land with all the things one needs or wants and can't have in real life, and at some point I will probably get a helicopter or some other flying device, but I am aiming for different (hence the enormous pumpkin).   I also want to build a space for people to have conversations, and also a teaching space.  Nettrice's cushions on the beach provide an excellent model, similar to the meditation platform on Connected Health Island, and of course there is the classroom, or seminar room, but I wonder what else is possible?

Friday, October 17, 2008


There's not much there yet, but I bought land in SL.  Here is the slurl.

CCK08: Too Much Openness?

One of the questions that came up in Alec Couros's excellent presentation in the Wednesday afternoon Elluminate session was whether there can be too much openness in this kind of networked, massively open teaching and learning environment.  It is a good question, and one that gets at some of the aspects of CCK08 that I've found less than cozily enjoyable: the back channel chatter.   Although my professor's p.o.v. makes me have a knee-jerk response to shush chatter, I know from my meeting participant's and student's p.o.v. that it is not necessarily disrespectful or off-topic, but can be a way of actively participating and creating connections among the group members (albeit not all members simultaneously).  

But in Wednesday's session, the text chat was a separate discussion that did not riff off of the audio presentation.  It was so distracting to me, a self-confessed text junkie who can't not read something (which is why the ever-more cluttered television screen is driving crazy), that I had to push the window off to the side so I couldn't see the text.  I thought it was rude, and was surprised to see who was doing the text chatting.

I have, however, decided to stick with CCK08, as a mediocre student, muttering to myself, writing my comments about the experience in the margins of my notebook/here on this blog.  The ideas are intriguing even if I don't burn for the details of the theory of connectivism, and the questions raised are important ones.  

In particular, I have been thinking of one of the themes that has recurred: digital identity (or digital citizenship, which isn't my favorite term), and how my students may or may not be thinking about how the traces they leave online might affect them later on.  I for one am glad that there wasn't a permanent, public face to my college years, and part of the separateness of the college experience as a place of experimentation and making mistakes that, certainly, can have consequences, but also can be separate from the "real" world of adulthood and worklife has been lost.   It's like we're all a little more stuck living in a small town.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Being a Student--CCK08

And not a stellar one.  My participation in the CCK08 Connectivism course has been patchy at best.  In fact, it reminds me of that Sex and the City episode that I saw in reruns recently: I'm just not that into it.  There's no soul-searching to be done here, nothing wrong with the course, or with me, but I signed up for it without really knowing what it was and was sort of along for the ride and although it is a little interesting, it doesn't grab my attention enough to compete with the other things I have going on.  

This offers me, however, insight into students.  Some of my students might not be into all of their classes, and maybe not mine!!!!! What a concept. So this is how it feels.  Nothing against the prof, or the structure of the course, or the material.  Just not that into it. 

I haven't taken a course that I wasn't really really into for a very long time.  I liked just about everything in grad school, and truth be told, that was a while ago.  I was very interested in the material in the two NEH Summer Seminars I did, which are the closest things to courses I've been in since grad school, although the pace was intense and maybe I didn't read every single word of every assigned reading (just like grad school!)  The Creativity in Second Life course through MassArt was fantastic and I am enjoying the Relaxation Response course I am taking now in Second Life, and although it took me a couple of weeks to get into the rhythm of doing the assigned readings, now I have the book near my bed and I'm up to date.  All of this is to say that, really, there isn't anything wrong with me as a student/sabbatical researcher.

And CCK08 is an amazing thing.  I wish the course were about something else!  Or had started off about something else, because I have the sense from reading the snippets of Moodle discussions in the Daily e-mails that the focus has now shifted away from 'what is connectivism?' to less-specialized topics that I do know something about.   

Is it possible that if we were meeting in real life, I could become more interested, could have enough of a human connection that my interest would be sparked, that I could ask just the right question and get the right answers so that it would begin to make sense and be relevant, and then I would be into it?  Who knows?  The teacher in me wants to think so, although it is also slightly liberating in a lazy way to think that it is not.  Just not that into it.   

And there may be something wrong with me, after all.  There was one blog posting or moodle post or something that I will never be able to track down again that suggested that the only way to participate in CCK08's massively open environment is to figure it all out yourself, that no one is going to show you how the various tools work (although I suspect there are plenty of helpful folks who would give help if one asked), that no one is going to baby you and make it easy for you to participate.  You have to jump in!  Well, there is a part of me that doesn't like that in a course, that misses the people, and doesn't find the online, mostly text-based, very fragmentary-feeling and superficial interaction to have enough, uh, connection.  I tried the Elluminate, and also the Friday discussion, and was interested in the tools, but maybe just as not everyone likes the large lecture (or the small discussion), the massively open experience is not for everyone, either.  There is no doubt I am in over my head in terms of the material (more in the first 2 weeks than since), but that has been my m.o. throughout my interdisciplinary intellectual life--to jump into the unfamiliar discipline, albeit as a reader of traditional published scholarship, not the variety of discourses that comprise CCK08.  Maybe having both the content and the methods be new is too much at one time.  

It may also be a function of sabbatical life, me and my computer, that I focus on the solitary and alienating aspects of everything these days.  I think I miss teaching, and being one out of 2000+ in a massively open class is not the same as being the professor in a class of my beloved Berklee students.  I know, cry me a river.   Still, the insight makes me want to finally buy some land in SL and set up a nice space where I can interview some people about what's new in new media, as well as conduct some interviews in real life.  Connect with people. 

What IS L1Aura up to these days, you wonder?  Meditating daily in SL, doing some yoga there, too (where she is unsurprisingly more flexible than I am, could do the tree pose for all eternity, or at least until the laptop battery runs out), and spending some quality time under water.