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trebor scholz on Fri, 31 Oct 2003 09:28:36 +0100 (CET)


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///...After travelling, and by now hopelessly behind the thread. //

The thread on new media education was inspiring: from problematizing the
terms intellectual and new media to visions of an ideal educational setting,
the difference between education and professional development and the
divided knowledge economy. From Keith Hardt quoting Noel Annan who aims to
"produce out of the chaos of human experience some grain of order won by the
intellect" to Dan Wang's statement on the dramatic rise of tuition costs and
the American university experience being reformulated as a largely
predictable exercise in job and career preparation as opposed to education.
Reading the posts and related mails that I received there was a division
between those writing about teaching and those with the human experience of
the complex relational dynamics of the classroom. The reality of an
educational practice to me is something that may be best addressed with
somewhat pragmatic proposals.

Throughout many posts there was the demand for less structure or even chaos
within educational settings instead of the placid order too often
experienced. There is "too much structure, too much predictable social
behavior," "too much institutionalization of knowledge, too much efficiency,
too much accountability." From my experience the most unpredictable and
interesting learning situations are based on experimental approaches of
skill and knowledge exchange.

Brian Thomas Carroll dreams of education as a "networked experience,
commerce-free, interdisciplinary, collaborative." I found an example for
this type of technology-enabled educational networking in an essay by Sher
Doruff in "Making Art of Databases" She describes the class "Collaborative
Cultures" at DEAF03 of March 2003 (technologically enabled by KeyWorx of
Waag Society). Doruff describes the class as "an attempt to provoke both
critical and playful investigation into tools and techniques that
incorporate social networks, live mediation, synchronous co-creation,
real-time access to and transformation of databases and living archives."
For 2 days a broadband audio/video stream was set up between a
Rotterdam-based class and the A'na*tomic group based at Waag Society in
Amsterdam. "a file-transfer protocol in KeyWorx enables the sharing of media
between players who share a space with a common patcher interface and
output." Participants communicated with each other via text, video, sound,
image, movies, webcams, and a web image crawler. "Eight layers of visual
imagery were synchronously modulated and processed by the players." Thinking
about cooperation Doruff draws from the experience of multi-user games in
which rules of cooperation such as trust determine success.
Having set up distributed learning environments similar to DEAF03 I found
that they have lots of potential for "inter-authorial expression" and
positive networking but I don't think that these settings should or will
replace face to face learning.

In his post Francis Wang writes that what matters is "to be surrounded by
others who will reinforce" his "sneaking suspicion that knowledge matters"
and that this may as well take place on a WIKI, list or weblog as it could
be located in a classroom. I agree with Francis that these forums are places
for meaningful communication, especially in a context in which "doing rather
than thinking has become the norm and is what is most valued" as Michael H.
Goldhaber points out.

Another problem in new media education, as pointed out by Brian Thomas
Carroll is the tendency to forcefully create a false canon that bulldozes
questions and debate, creating false fiction (ie. history of web-based art).
It takes constant questioning and shifting of discourses, texts to read,
works to study and I look forward to a large number of courses that put this
spirit into action.

Many posts rightly claimed a disconnect between the university and the rest
of culture. In the best-case scenario the university can be a media-rich
platform in which links are made with groups, links to ideas, links to
tools, links to information, links to questions, to doubts, and to the
outside. This is quite different from the top-down deposition of facts into
passive students. Students are educated to a certain literacy that,
according to Douglas Kellner, will equip people to participate in the local,
national and global economy, culture and polity.

The classroom becomes a network, or a meeting place for outside university
networks. In smaller departments these things are easier to accomplish
because structures can be more fluid. Jon Cates in his post also demands
flexibility and fluidity.
(And in response to Jon: I designed my own courses and in my original text I
did name some universities at which I taught in Europe and the US.)

Francis Hwang asks: What do academics do? and Do we really need more ideas?
So what do these creatures do in the university?
Brian Thomas Carroll aka Human Being refers to David Brooks saying that the
"intellectuals" who are heard are those resonating with the people
and where they are, with their perception of reality shaped by reality TV"
That would be a rather sad picture and luckily there are many public
intellectuals who do stand for something other than populism. In Eastern
Europe before the implosion of the Eastern republics public intellectuals
played a crucial role in society, people looked to them for guidance. In the
current economical context of the US the professor often does
not have the responsibility to educate but instead becomes a job trainer.
Critical thinking, independent thinking is not seen as valid activity.
Douglas Kellner calls for a critical theory of technology that avoids both
technophobia and technophilia.
In the US graduate students in most programs face a more school-like
framework than that in Britain or Germany. Graduate students in art related
departments there are having exhibitions all through their studies while
Americans still learn. This difference frequently irritates American
educators who teach as guests in European (ie. German) institutions.

I don't agree with David Patterson's statement that some people just don't
belong into college but I would plead for a more directed decision process
for students who should decide if what they want is industry training or
university education.

The notion of the intellectuals (falsely solely equated with the left wing,
the radical, the anti status-quo) as thinkers who want to change society
using ideas came up several times. Ryan Griffis emphasized that the
definition matters less than one's everyday politics. And Dan Wang claimed
that the university is not the home for "intellectuals" anymore. Daniel
Perlin pushed for the intellectual in the university as an amateur in the
sense of one who loves their work and takes risks. Risk taking could mean
acknowledging failure, self-criticism, de-specializing and having an
interdisciplinary focus that inspires students and as "Null" pointed out:
the teacher should be like an older student who has spent more time on a
project. 

--So far a few notes, which definitely can't live up to the questions on the
table... 

Trebor Scholz

this post with links to original posts:
http://www.discordia.us/scoop/comments/2003/10/6/0332/15602/7#7

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