Monday, July 31, 2006

Dear Professor: Content Mastery is Not Enough

My apologies to Michael Feldstein - I seem to be posting his content verbatim - primarily beacuse it says so much that is necesssary to be said, he says it well, and it is what I would like to have said! In this entry we meet the dilemma facing today's Faculty - the networked sand is shifting below their feet and authority and control are in question; can they cope with the rising tide of change? Michael says it well, and I'm happy to be the messenger here...

There have been a few interesting responses to the “Sisyphus Taught Videography” post. For example, in a comment on that post, MIDizen X observes that students can be the producers of the media:

We have a wealth of student knowledge and talent available to us, all we have to do is find a way to utilize them. For instance, regard what Ithaca College has done in this respect: all the material they’ve linked on their accomplishments page was created using student workers (graphics designer, programmer, still/videographer) and one, count ‘em, ONE instructional designer.
There are two issues here. The first is content production and the second is teaching of literacy. The fact that students can be able producers of content indicates (no surprise to anyone) that they are, in fact, often more highly literate in new media than the faculty. We can use that.
But to switch from Greek mythology to eighth grade philosophy, we have a chicken and egg problem here. Don’t faculty members have to have some idea of what they are evaluating, of what they are trying to accomplish with these student productions? And doesn’t that, in turn, require faculty to feel a need to learn this stuff? Alex Reid, whose blog post inspired my original musing, hits the nail on the head:

The real challenge here is an epistemological one. The existing model assumes that knowledge is relatively fixed. Once you get your PhD, you’re pretty much good for life. Yes, you have to stay current in your field, but the changes are incremental and vertical within an ever-narrowing degree of specialization. With the infoscape, we are looking at exponetial and horizontal change in a proliferating network of associations. Managing that kind of information flow requires different skills.

This is a tough one. The trick is to understand how that authority operates in a different infoscape. Once upon a time, academics had to accept the appearance of libraries on campus. It wasn’t easy, and now everything is happening much faster. Essentially I see the necessary change this way. We used to think of disciplinary education in terms of mastery: you rise to become a master in your field; you have control over your context. Now we must think about education as providing an expert perspective, a unique set of methods from which new knowledge can be produced.

This is the crux of it: Defining knowledge and authority. Once you crack this nut, faculty can begin to contemplate the possibility that textual literacy need not be privileged over other forms of media literacy, and that the fundamental locus of academic authority is moving under their feet. (And by the way, if they get this, they will also begin to get wikipedia.)
The best way I know of to experience this new world in a positive way is to blog. To experience a trackback-induced blorgasm is to understand a new kind of authority. To watch blogrolls shift and technorati scores change is to experience the nuances of that authority. And to engage in a cross-blog conversation is to participate in that structure.

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