I love questions, especially ones that make me think real hard about the answer. Maybe that’s why I’m having so much fun these days, ’cause there are so many difficult questions being posed about education and technology and the mixture of the two.
Via Harold Jarche comes a link to someone else who is posing big questions, Mark Federman of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. Like this one from his essay titled “Why Johnny And Janey Can’t Read, and Why Mr. And Ms. Smith Can’t Teach: The challenge of multiple media literacies in a tumultuous time“:
“What is valued as knowledge, who decides, and who is valued as authority?”
Ok, just my opinion, but I think this should be must reading for this community. The way in which Federman structures this essay is downright masterful, and the ideas it conveys are profound. As usual, here are a few snips with some hopefully cogent reactions.
Federman traces literacy from the oral tradition through the introduction of the alphabet through Gutenberg’s press through the introduction of Morse Code and he does it in a pretty captivating narrative. Let’s just say I learned a lot (including why the Cluetrain Manifesto has 95 theses…guess I missed that part of history class.) Especially interesting to me was the way in which he discusses the way in which we assign authority to authorship:
When we invoke knowledge that we obtain through the proxy of an author’s book, we assume some of that author’s patina of authority.
I wonder if that holds true for what we do with blogs…
And in terms of the pace of all these changes, (something I’ve been lamenting a lot of late) he says:
Roughly speaking, it takes about three hundred years for the foundational knowledge ground of a culture to change, that is for the society to change its conception of what is valued as knowledge, who decides what is valued as knowledge, who controls access to the knowledge itself, and who controls access to those controls. The time span is relatively easy to understand: for the transition to be complete, there cannot be anyone left alive who remembers someone that remembers someone who was socialized and acculturated in the prior system of knowledge.
The most disruptions occur about halfway through that period, and guess what? Right now, Federman says we’re about 160 years into the current 300 year period, ever since electricity and the telegraph “undid” the effect of the written word. And now, with Google and the current tools, we’re undoing even more.
Consider the reversal that has occurred here. In the traditional literate structure of the academy, indexers who controlled the portals to knowledge were very few, very knowledgeable, and possessed a high level of public trust. In the traditional literate system, assertion of both meaning and value of a collection of knowledge by that trusted individual, whose power and authority were vested through an institutional proxy, was paramount for establishing the redibility of that collection. But it seems that we are in the process of changing from the traditional, closed system of knowledge to a more open system of knowledge. A single person or authority asserting meaning and value is automatically suspect, like in the example of Sears.ca; it is the collective wisdom of all the Maries and Steves and Alices that creates trust.
In other words, we have our work cut out for us.
Today, establishing the credibility of knowledge sources is a challenge of such complexity, that the literate frame has no mechanism with which to approach the problem. Stated simply, for any avenue of inquiry, both the information and the information sources themselves have both become subjects of research in a way that makes problematic, and fundamentally challenges, the existing academic structure. Research can no longer be a deterministic, linear process, akin to that delineated by the so-called scientific method. Rather, establishing the credibility and reliability of both information and sources comprise an emergent information seeking problem that is subject to multiple, interdependent processes and contexts, all of which, save one, are only incidentally connected to literacy.
Federman makes all of this sync nicely with connectivism, talking about how we need the ability to think nomadically and to recognize patterns in what we are reading and consuming. We need to be able to think “widely and diversely about a topic,” a phrase which doesn’t much resonate with what we ask of our students today. And he says that our “former literate quest for truth [today’s classrooms] gives way to a quest for making sense of the world as it is experienced.”
So what does this all mean?
…today’s youth and tomorrow’s adults live in a world of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity. Everyone is, or soon will be, connected to everyone else, and all available information, through instantaneous, multi-way communication. This is ubiquitous connectivity. They will therefore have the experience of being immediately proximate to everyone else and to all available information. This is pervasive proximity. Their direct experience of the world is fundamentally different from yours or from mine, as we have had to adopt and adapt to these technologies that create the effects of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity.
And what is this new world like?
The UCaPP world – ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate – is a world of relationships and connections. It is a world of entangled, complex processes, not content. It is a world in which the greatest skill is that of making sense and discovering emergent meaning among contexts that are continually in flux. It is a world in which truth, and therefore authority, is never static, never absolute, and not always true.
Now, does that sound anything like what are current educational settings are like? This is such a big shift, and this essay makes the case so clearly the significance of what we’re seeing and feeling. I urge you to read the whole thing…
John Pederson says
Thanks Will. I was really hoping to be able to sleep through the night. Reading this article (and your mix) just spun the wheels faster and faster. So many things to pull from this…right now my tired mind is trying to process the references to storytelling…it’s become a big thing on all of our radars in educational technology as of late. There’s something about blogging and “voice” in our writing…and the whole piece about this environment being about “conversation”. Old media (print) vs. new media (pixels)…Doug Johnson’s recent comment “15 years of being professionally published and now I’m known as the ‘Blue Skunk guy'”.
This is a big shift.