Living through the Revolution

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I've been thinking a lot lately about revolution, and change, and how institutions are prepared to meet the challenge. Reading a couple of blog posts by Cole Camplese have triggered further thoughts on these items. This post started as a comment on his blog, but I couldn't really express my full thoughts there, so here I am.

After reading Cole's most recent post, I went back and read the one prior to it for context. Taken together, I think they both make some really important points. The first post discussed his attendance at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Tech Forum, and the second was a further reflection on that experience. I remember being rather angry at (and dismissive of, I'll admit) a lot of the comments that followed the Chronicle article that was written about Cole's presentation, which was entitled "Web 2.0 Classrooms Versus Learning."

"Versus?" I thought. You've got to be freaking kidding me.

I frankly didn't like how superior reading the comments to that article made me feel. What I was doing was no different than the audience member who said to Cole, "If that is scholarship, we are all doomed." Life is never that simple, and I don't like it when folks make anything an "us" vs. "them" kind of debate. To me, that's the worst kind of sloppy thinking. So what was it that made some people  so seeminly dismissive of what Cole was trying to say?

After thinking about it for a bit, I realized that I was again comparing it to the Clay Shirky blog post I've been cogitating over for the past few weeks. In there, he says,

"That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. . . .
When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution."

I honestly think that a lot of folks in the academy are just plain scared of what's coming. It IS a revolution, and when people say that Web 2.0 is not scholarship, or that it's fluffy, or even that it's irresponsible, I see that as a form of fear. The old stuff is starting to look broken, and we haven't yet figured out what systems and institutions will replace it. Or even if they will be replaced.

Professor X may not have really thought of Web 2.0 as scholarship, because it just may require him to examine just what he's been doing all this time. If we use as analogy the revolution Shirky discusses, that of the invention of the printing press, Professor X is a scribe. I'll bet you that there were plenty of scribes sitting around talking about how printed books weren't "really" books, but it didn't save them. That kind of conversation isn't helpful, and it certainly didn''t give the scribes a place in the new world order. I think we should aim to do better.

Cole says, "I am committing myself to the notion of the conversation and the notion of breaking through the bullshit walls so many of us (and I am in that crowd) lean on -- walls that make us safe and don't push us to work towards shared meaning and understanding"--and I know he means it. I also think that Penn State is having these conversations in ways that are useful, even if change doesn't happen at a pace that might satisfy the radicals amongst us (and I'd like to be included in the group, please). But it also reminds me that I need to keep my energy focused too--on having real conversations instead of de-politicizing everything I say so as not to offend.

What I'd like to do is to strike a balance in order to get past the fear on both sides: the fear of revolution and the fear of offending, the fear of losing status and the fear of losing place. What's coming is going to be a great leveler of hierarchies, and in some ways, I think we're all going to need to hold hands and run into the flatness together.

2 Comments

Hi Stevie. You know, I think there is a larger life lesson wrapped up in the conversation going on around the way education is changing. Part of living a meaningful life is approaching every day expecting to learn something. It can be challenging and at times we may be pushed outside of our comfort zones, but that's the way it goes. As you know, I've been taking graduate classes part-time. I recently made the decision to share all of my class assignments on my blog. I was a little intimidated at first when I first considered it. But it was such an "a-ha" moment once I finally pushed myself over the edge. Why wasn't I doing this all along? I feel like I've grown up a little and also regained some of the wonderment of youth all at the same time. I updated my Facebook status this morning to the old Bob Dylan lyrics "I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now." Pretty succinctly describes how I'm feeling.

STEPHAN PAUL BRADY Author Profile Page said:

Stevie

Like you, I was writing a comment that got "too long." So it is now a blog post over at my blog. (http://theprofessornotes.com)

I alas focused on one very specific comment you make, that "Prof X is a scribe."

I realize you wrote more than that, and hopefully my reader(s) will come read your full post.

--Steve

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This page contains a single entry by Stevie Rocco published on April 16, 2009 9:50 PM.

Thinking the Unthinkable: What can we Learn in Higher Ed? was the previous entry in this blog.

Yes, It Applies to You, Too is the next entry in this blog.

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