I struggled to enjoy the E-learning Symposium07 at RMIT in Melbourne in December.
The essentially insiders’ audience at the LbyD school presentations meant it felt more like a congregation “singing from the same hymn sheet” than a group of educators attending an educational conference. And when the response to a question about evidence based reflection was highly defensive we decided it wasn’t smart to ask any others.
This was unfortunate because I had been captured by its advertised focus on “thoughtful planning” and “Learning by Design” and we had chosen the conference for our 2007 professional learning. We had wanted to critique the learning outcomes from the Learning by Design approach in Australian schools with what we are observing in our New Zealand schools using similar pedagogical approaches.
However when I re-read my conference jottings today I find that much of what made me uncomfortable at The E- Learning Symposium was not related to the “group think” nature of much of the content communicated but rather to a pervasive "Hell Comes to Baltimore" conference atmosphere. I was made uncomfortable by the relationships between the academics, pedagogical leaders and teachers attending.
“ ... the intense vulnerability mixed with epic proportions of social awkwardness and incredible power imbalances” of an annual eastern meeting of the American Philosophical Association” Hell comes to Baltimore Philosophers Playground Blog
The continuing “... and then I met Bill and Mary” reverential referencing of academics Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis in the Plenary sessions was unnerving and led to a sense that we were attending some kind of Bill and Mary Revivalist Cult rather than an e Learning conference. But what was more uncomfortable was that every time a school presented, the university researcher associated with the teachers kept jumping up to interrupt what had been claimed by the teachers presenting – to make what he referred to as “metacomments” interpreting what had just been said. It must have been embarrassing/ and probably frustrating for the teachers presenting – it was certainly “cringe worthy watching” for those of us in the audience who were not part of the LbyD schools research project.
The tension in the power imbalance between teacher practitioner and academic researcher was palpable. Though I guess it cannot be comfortable to be a researcher (whose academic credibility and kudos comes from the ability to interpret some more senior academics model) when the teachers doing all the work develop a level of understanding of the practical application of the theory that makes you increasingly redundant.
And all that made me wonder in a new way about the power relationships created when funded alliances are forged between universities and schools. Something I had thought quite positively about up to now.
However, all was not lost - one idea that did capture my thinking at the conference was a casual observation made in the Plenary Session: Reflections on Multiliteracies: Learner Diversity, Professional Learning and Multimodality.
A session speaker suggested that an issue for educators working with students using multimodalities lies in the absence of a rigorous meta language to talk about modalities other than those of linguistic literacy. She claimed that “we are struggling as a profession” to develop meta languages so necessary if our students are to work meaningfully with visual, audio, gestural, and spatial modalities and their various combinations.
The Magnet vehemently disagreed with this sentiment over pasta in Lygon St that evening but it certainly supports what I have observed when students performance for understanding involves filmmaking, podcasting, and game and web design. Remaining polarised in our arguments by the time dessert arrived we agreed to disagree which explains why I was dead chuffed to find some support for the claim in “Twilight of the Books – What will life be like if people stop reading?”- a brilliant read in the December 24 2007 issue of New Yorker Magazine – (Thanks to Confused of Calcutta for the link)
You need to read the whole article but the bit that seemed to fit here was associated with the observation by Walter J. Ong
“that television and similar media are taking us into an era of “secondary orality,” akin to the primary orality that existed before the emergence of text.”
The article suggests that with a return to secondary orality we may see a change in the way people (teachers can read 21st Century Learner ) think about the world
Whereas literates can rotate concepts in their minds abstractly, orals embed their thoughts in stories. According to Ong, the best way to preserve ideas in the absence of writing is to “think memorable thoughts,” whose zing insures their transmission. In an oral culture, cliché and stereotype are valued, as accumulations of wisdom, and analysis is frowned upon, for putting those accumulations at risk. There’s no such concept as plagiarism, and redundancy is an asset that helps an audience follow a complex argument. Opponents in struggle are more memorable than calm and abstract investigations, so bards revel in name-calling and in “enthusiastic description of physical violence.” Caleb Crain in Twilight of the Books
This just has to be a frightening thought for educators viewing the plethora of zing filled stories created by students online as part of their “performance for understanding” especially as a predilection for storytelling has already been exposed as leading to false sense of certainty by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
[In “The Black Swan”, Taleb argues that we are already terrible at predicting future events of any consequence because of hindsight bias and our predilection for storytelling - looking at past events and ‘connecting the dots’ makes us believe we understand causalities that just do not exist.]
If as the plenary speaker suggests a meta language for critiquing multimodalities ( like the audio visual content created online) is lacking, then the New Yorker article suggest that building one may be more difficult than we might think. It seems that a barrier to developing a better meta language for the visual and auditory multimodalities may be the intimacy created between the viewer and the content onscreen.
“Emotional responsiveness to streaming media harks back to the world of primary orality, and, as in Plato’s day, the solidarity amounts almost to a mutual possession. “Electronic technology fosters and encourages unification and involvement,” in McLuhan’s words. The viewer feels at home with his show, or else he changes the channel. The closeness makes it hard to negotiate differences of opinion. It can be amusing to read a magazine whose principles you despise, but it is almost unbearable to watch such a television show. And so, in a culture of secondary orality, we may be less likely to spend time with ideas we disagree with. Caleb Crain in Twilight of the Books
That Web2.0 and the internet means we are spending less time with ideas we disagree with is a recurring thread in my reading these days. If we do not have a well developed meta language to critique visual and auditory content created online AND this content has an emotional closeness that precludes critique per se then the 21st Century Learner is facing an interesting personal and political future ...
Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer. It is easy to notice inconsistencies in two written accounts placed side by side. With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information. The trust that a reader grants to the New York Times, for example, may vary sentence by sentence. A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching. Like the peasants studied by Luria, he thinks in terms of situations and story lines rather than abstractions.” Caleb Crain in Twilight of the Books
A world without doubt