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.)

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