Sunday, September 24, 2006

speed, culture and networked learning

I've spent last night and part of Sunday loitering with the open space conference called The Future of Learning in a Networked World – a merry (mostly) band of technotravellers winding their way across the breadth of Aotearoa, serendipitously landing on my front yard in as it rolled into Waiheke Island. The conference participants were invited by John Eyles to the island and I met up with the participants on Saturday night at Hekerua Lodge. After the wine ran out Teemu, Alex and myself headed out to my local, Molly Malones in Surfdale, where we fortunately met up with another part of the group that had gone out for a quick meal. Last call resulted in us picking up some more bevvies as well as local character Greg, and heading back to the lodge to continue the discussion we'd started in the pub.

Greg, originally from Pahea in the Taranaki (birthplace of Poi-e) brought up a fascinating local story that has recently made the local papers and stirred some interesting local discussion. A few weeks ago a high tide at Matiatia eroded part of the foreshore, revealing a skull and a few bones from a Maori burial ground (urupa) that is known to have existed on the foreshore. This has led to some reconsideration of the impending development of the Matiatia area which has been pushed ahead in order for Auckland City to recoup the costs of buying back the land from a private company that it had sold it to 5 years previously. Stimulated by this issue the conversation segued into a discussion of how the digital artifacts, created by us in the present, may be 'unearthed' by future generations. How will these artifacts be interpreted in future social, political, and economic contexts?

Many indigenous cultures, including Maori, have unique conceptions of who owns knowledge artifacts and how such knowledge is transmitted to groups outside of the original producing group. This approach to knowledge is thrown into relief in a networked society that privileges the easy distribution and transmission of digital artifacts whose use outside of our immediate control is often unknown. As Western technophiles enamored by the affordances of the tools of networked society and rhetorically situated inside a 'global culture' the quick upload is the vector of desire. The fantasy of products consumed by the mass Other creates a sort of compulsive drive to upload, express, share, tag, intersect, etc. Speed and immediacy have become our drug because they imply the lessening of mediation, negotiation, or the possibility of control.

While we privilege speed other cultures on the other hand may prefer to take their time on these things. This is probably due to a distinctly more invested relationship to histories and knowleges that are threatened by colonialism and various attempts towards erasure that is so much a part of colonialist tactics. Maori language (te reo) for example was discouraged harshly from being spoken in schools through most of the last century in New Zealand and is now a highly contested landscape both politically within New Zealand, but also amongst Maori themselves.

There are a lot of issues at stake here about encouraging others to put themselves and the products of their work or actions online en masse in the hope that the network will make something useful out of it all. An approach where we chuck it all into the blender may have unforseen consequences and I think that it may be a worthwhile pursuit to investigate what some of the consequences are, particularly when our constituents are young people or adolescents whos ability to anticipate the future is arguably not at its most robust. There is for an example an interesting debate going on here currently in the US about the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which in some aspects an issue that is closely related.

I guess the point here is that we should remember to drive responsibly (not that I was on Saturday night, but thats another blog) if we're going to drink in all this juice. This may require us to slow down a bit and examine our own practices in light of perhaps what others around us think and perceive of these practices, as well as what the implications of our work may be for future generations.


bronwyn said...

You make some good points about digital artifacts or Brent but does it matter whether they are digital or physical artifacts? - we may well try and think of future generations in all we do but when it boils down to it - everyone interprets things very differently and gets passionate or upset about different things.... so I believe we should just get on with it and make our way as we think fit now....perhaps leaving light footprints rather than destructive ones.

brent said...

Bronwyn... I've been thinking about this some more since I've posted it and I still think that if we are going to encourage young people in an online/networked world we should be aware there are possible consequences or outcomes from their contributions that they might not be aware of at the time. It's not that we have a crystal ball, thats not what i'm talking about; its about a kind of 'responsible' use of the tools that are available to us. I hesitate to write most of this because I realize how conservative it all sounds in some ways, but perhaps i'm not articulating it as clearly as I should. An example that I seem to return to again and again when talking about this is a statistic that i recently read about how something like 70% of all employers Google the candidates for jobs that they are trying to fill. Well, if i'm running a class online that is doing a mock trial of a war criminal say and some of my students are acting as defendants of the person on trial.. you can see how things that the 'actors' say could easily be taken out of context when viewed in a decontextualized search in the future.

If we are coming up with new pedagogies for dealing with more mobile, fluid, and networked tools and environments we should be sure that this is part of them. The old pedagogies didn't need this type of consideration.