Rich Reflection: The Web We Need to Give Students

Rich Reflection, “The Web We Need to Give Students,” Bright

I think, generally speaking, it’s best to empower people to help themselves, rather than simply do the task for them. If given the opportunity and the tools, people will take ownership of a project or an idea or their community, and that’s when progress can really start to happen.  This concept of empowerment and agency stuck with me as I read “The Web We Need to Give Students,” particularly as I read this section:

 “But almost all arguments about student privacy, whether those calling for more restrictions or fewer, fail to give students themselves a voice, let alone some assistance in deciding what to share online. Students have little agency when it comes to education technology — much like they have little agency in education itself… It’s important that learners have control over their work — their content and their data.”

I agree with this article that student agency in education is important, particularly in higher education. Interestingly, thinking about student agency and empowerment made me think of another term I’d heard recently: adhocracy. According to a McKinsey & Company article, there are three organizational models for running a business (or, organizing education, as the case may be). Meritocracy means decisions are made based on data or authoritative individual knowledge/skill. In bureaucracies, formal authority or seniority is privileged. In adhocracy, “action is privileged.” In other words, “the default in an adhocracy is to experiment—to try a course of action, receive feedback, make changes, and review progress.” This recursive, experimental type of approach to managing student web presence sounds similar to the ideas contained in “The Web We Need to Give Students.” TraditionThis image provides a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, which reads: "The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret."al bureaucratic models of housing and managing student work can evolve into something more “adhocratic” as students have the opportunity to experiment with their own web presence and responsibly curate their own scholarly contributions.

According to Paulo Friere as quoted here, traditional educational models presuppose the teacher/university as the entity that bestows knowledge onto the student. Teachers lecture; students take notes. The university sets curriculum; students study it. Instead of this traditional model, Friere proposes that students and learners should be treated as “co-creators” of knowledge. By giving students their own web domain, we move closer to providing students with the opportunity to be a “co-creator” of knowledge, and we give them the opportunity to exercise agency in their own education.

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Rich Reflection: A Domain of One’s Own

Rich Reflection on “A Domain of One’s Own,” Wired

In the New Yorker article “Small Change” Malcolm Gladwell describes the benefits/drawbacks to online organizing. Particularly, he argues that online connections are primarily comprised of “weak ties,” which he says can be powerful in certain situations. In particular, the networks and connections we create online constantly provide us with new and fresh ideas and opportunities for collaboration.

This image provides a quotation which says, "our acquaintances--not our friends--are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It's terrific at the diffusion of innovation [and] interdisciplinary collaboration..."

As I read “A Domain of One’s Own,” I was struck by how UMW, Gardner Campbell, and Jim Groom have done just that; they have worked to maximize the creative and connective potential of online engagement. According to the article:

“For UMW, the openness of BlueHost’s proto-cloud was a liberating alternative to the closed learning management systems that all my ed-tech pals rail against. Why, for example, should a university provide its students with temporary cyberinfrastructure — email accounts, web hosting — that was increasingly redundant for many, and would in any case be supplanted after graduation?”

The article goes on to explain some impressive UMW stats: aggregated blog posts from 40 UMW students about world travels, student created research sites, 35 original literary journals written by UMW students, etc. I visited the UMW blogs page, which contains a “latest posts” box that links to students latest blog posts, a flickr feed, a link to all study abroad posts, and a link to course wikis, among other things. Anyone in the UMW community has the opportunity to network and collaborate with others– either at UMW or other universities. Collaboration and network-forming is not limited to a single semester-long, course/section/Blackboard cohort.

The internet may not be good at some things, but, as Gladwell points out in the quote above, it is good at creating “networks.” It is good at the “diffusion of innovation” and “interdisciplinary collaboration.” It seems to me that rather than try and “do what we’ve always done, just digitally” (the “Digital Facelift” idea), UMW has effectively set traditional learning management systems aside, embraced the strengths of the internet, and maximized the collaborative and creative potential of digital tools.

 

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Rich Reflection: Personal Cyberinfrastructure

1. “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure,” by Walter Gardner Campbell

I completed a rich reflection for this article by using hypothes.is, which was easy to use and share! Highly recommend. My annotations/rich reflection on Campbell’s article can be found here. (Just click on the “<” on the right-hand side of the screen if you can’t see the annotations).

2. “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure Revisited,” by Walter Gardner Campbell

Campbell expands on his ideas of a personal cyberinfrastructure. I particularly liked the following excerpts from the video:

This is about the network as an artifact… It’s not simply a matter of technical skill… it’s also about the ability to externalize a model of one’s own conceptual framework.

I think it’s interesting that Campbell emphasizes this idea of “artifact.” Later in the video, he says that creating a personal cyberinfrastructure gives us the opportunity to create an “artifact that is an external representation of your own internal frameworks.” I’d always thought of blogging or informal publishing as primarily focused on sharing a particular message. But, I hadn’t considered that, in the process of sharing a message, we’re actually also sharing how we think the world works; we’re expressing our own “internal frameworks.” Conceptualizing digital citizenship in that way makes it seem less about pure information sharing, and more about artistry and expression.

3. “No Digital Facelifts,” by Walter Gardner Campbell

In this final Gardner Campbell reading, Campbell expands on the idea of moving beyond “digital facelifts.” When I opened the link to this video and saw the title, I was particularly pleased because the Clay Shirky phrase, “digital facelift” was a phrase that I had annotated in my first rich reflection, and so it was definitely a term that caught my attention. According to Campbell, “digital facelift” just refers to this idea that, we’ll keep doing whatever we did before, but now, we’ll just put it on the web. We’ll teach the way we always have, we’ll just use Blackboard or another LMS to help us out (that’s the college classroom version of a “digital facelift.”) We won’t let digital tools or the internet actually transform how we do things or how we think about things.

The part of this video lecture that was most meaningful to me was the three practices that Campbell suggests in place of a “digital facelift.” Instead of merely “doing what we’ve always done, but just put it on the web,” he suggests:

Narrating, curating, and sharing. Narrate: have students think out loud, and “tell the story of the learning.” Curate: arrange and take care of your ideas and your work; begin your life’s work when you begin learning or first start college. Share: put your work out there since it may be valuable to someone or you may make a connection with someone else.

I appreciate this section of the lecture because it was very practical. The previous two readings from Campbell built the case for the benefits a personal cyberinfrastructure, but this part of this video outlined how to actually complete this task, and I found it particularly relevant for the higher ed classroom.

Campbell also quotes Shirky as explaining that “we are living in the middle of the largest increase in the expressive capability of the human race,” and Campbell explains that he believes that “expressive capability” should be the “abiding” and “transforming” concern, especially in higher education. While I agree that this “expressive capability” should be a concern in higher education, I would be curious to explore what else should be an “abiding” and “transforming” concern in higher education. Is expression really the goal of education? Or is a tool we use on our journey towards education? If expression isn’t the goal of education, what is? Truth or accuracy? Discovery or innovation? Moral or personal development? Is expression more important when you’re educating journalists or artists, and less important when you’re educating engineers and physicians? At any rate, I appreciate the conversation Campbell’s personal cyberinfrastructure encourages and his holistic explanation of “disruptive” technologies.

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Rich Reflection: “As We May Think”

Rich Reflection

Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”

Thus far we seem to be worse off than before—for we can enormously extend the record; yet even in its present bulk we can hardly consult it. This is a much larger matter than merely the extraction of data for the purposes of scientific research; it involves the entire process by which man profits by his inheritance of acquired knowledge. The prime action of use is selection, and here we are halting indeed. There may be millions of fine thoughts, and the account of the experience on which they are based, all encased within stone walls of acceptable architectural form; but if the scholar can get at only one a week by diligent search, his syntheses are not likely to keep up with the current scene.

According to Bush, “one needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it.” This seems quite true: we write papers and do research not only for our own benefit, but also so that others will read them and benefit from our work. We create records and archives and data repositories because we believe that, by gathering information, we can better put it to use. We don’t just want to compile knowledge; we want to use it. However, as Bush states, we have “enormously” extended the record of human knowledge–so much so that the knowledge we have isn’t easily accessed or fully put to use.

Bush introduced his “memex” (predecessor to the internet?) as a way to effectively manage the body of knowledge and address the “enormously extended record.” While the internet and digital tools have clearly achieved some of the things Bush described (speed, condensing information, etc.), I still tend to agree with him that it is difficult to put to use all of the knowledge that we have; it is still difficult to find the right piece of information at the right time, and still difficult to make appropriate connections. Whenever I write a paper or assign a paper to students, the primary problem usually isn’t a lack of resources– the problem is that there’s too many! Consequently, I believe Bush’s article accurately summarizes a significant problem that we still face today, even 70 years after he wrote “As We May Think,” which is: “information overload.” We are still “being bogged down today as specialization increases.” (Which also made me think of a TED Talk I referred to in a previous Search & Research assignment on technological determinism).

Similarly, Bush’s article made me think of a lecture I heard at the beginning of my previous graduate program. I don’t remember the exact context, but the basic point was, if you spend your whole life as an academic researcher, you drill down to a specific research topic, and you push the boundaries of that specific topic, then you are going to have the opportunity to add to the world’s body of knowledge. Things will be known, that, before your work, were not known. However, to put those contributions in perspective, the lecturer offered a diagram like this:

AcademicKnowledge

The main takeaway was: stay humble. Just because you’re expanding the body of human knowledge by pushing out and expanding the circle, there are still a whole lot of things that you don’t know. Like Bush’s work, I think the diagram above also emphasizes the importance of knowledge management. If you’re expanding your side of the circle, but no one from the other side of the circle knows about it, what’s the point? Especially if your two “expansions”/life’s research actually intersect? Without a way to manage human knowledge or connect to others who are studying what you’re studying, the vast amount of information and knowledge that has been created will not be useful.

I do disagree with Bush on one point, though. He says:

“Thus far we seem to be worse off than before– We can enormously extend the record; yet even in its present bulk we can hardly consult it.”

I don’t think we are “worse off than before,” simply because we have too much information to manage our own sum of knowledge or consult all of the relevant resources (and that applies whether we’re talking about Bush’s era or contemporary times). As each individual researcher pushes the boundaries of knowledge in their individual field, the circle grows. That’s good. While not being able to access or connect our knowledge is problematic, that new knowledge isn’t less valuable. It just means collaboration becomes more important than ever, and it means we should continue “pushing out the circle” in the field of managing human knowledge. And, of course, we should continue to seek out new and innovative ways to use digital tools to manage our “enormously extended record” so that they work in the ways first envisioned by Bush’s memex.

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