I’m probably among the least radical people I know, but I’m starting to feel like one more and more, especially after listenting to Stephen Downes’ keynote “On Being Radical” from last month (slides here.) I’ve learned much from his thinking over the past few years, and it’s because his ideas are disruptive to my own context. They push me into spaces that aren’t especially comfortable, and that’s a good thing. To me, that’s where the learning happens. That’s what good teachers do. In this presentation, Stephen pushes this whole conversation to a higher plane, I think.
I know that what’s happening on the Web right now is transformative. I’ve experienced it. I think it’s harder for people who haven’t gulped the from the Kool-Aid to understand it, and I try in my own mind not to overstate it. It feels so all encompassing sometimes that I feel the need to rein it in, take a deep breath, keep perspective. Not Stephen. I’m going offer a couple poorly captured transcriptions here that will give you the flavor of his vision. Hope I didn’t mangle them too much.
First, this is the end of teaching as we know it. We’re no longer providing a service to our students as much as we are facilitating their own learning. And that’s now our most important job because for the first time, it can happen that way. That doesn’t mean that we stop teaching altogether, but it does mean that our ideas about teaching have to change when the tools of content creation have been placed in the hands of the learners themselves.
Learning is social networks and communities. It is as much about the connections your students can make with those who know, and each other, and the community in social networks and communities, where they have and can control their own identity, their own meaning, their own place in society. Where they work with the freely accessible materials, and instead of just consuming them they bring them together, they remix them, they repurpose them, they build their own meaning, their own learning, and indeed their own life and their own identities.
To me, that is a powerful vision. But as Stephen asks throughout the presentation, is it radical? On the surface, many educators would say yes, simply, I think, because of the huge changes afoot. But this is now a conversation, not a lecture. This is a process, not a product. And this is all disruptive.
Second, content needs to be free.
We’re now in an enivronment where the knowledge and our lives depend on the connections we create between people, and for those connection to work, there has to be a free flow of information and that means open access.
That’s a huge shift, especially for people who make their living creating content. But it’s happening because it can’t not happen at this point, save some controlling authority stepping in. And it’s also why it is so crucial that every single person be provided access to the information. Right now, it’s like intellectual health care. We need to make it happen.
There’s more that bears listening, so, listen.
Call me dramatic, but all of this, not just this presentation, but ALL OF THIS leaves me breathless, sleepless (it’s 4:12 a.m.), and helpless at times. As well as energized, passionate and determined. Things are pretty disruptive in my life right now, and there may be some radical changes ahead. My learning, my knowledge, my attention is no doubt in this network of learners and teachers and ideas that I’ve cobbled together, just as all those within that network are cobbling together their own, learning in their own way, creating their own identities as learners, taking what’s relevant, remixing its truth, and giving it back. I just keep thinking that even just five years ago, this could not have happened. And the pace of that change is what is beginning to really become acute.