Digitizing pedagogy

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A digital pedagogy

What's with a digital pedagogy? Educational sites are all over the Internet. I've looked at MOOCs—Coursera, Udacity, and edX. They're digital and don't look like A Place to Study, much more like the sites for regular colleges and universities, filled with information on their programs and courses.
That's right. The MOOCs are "digital" in one sense, all online, but they are not digital in another. They look like regular academic sites because of that C at the end of MOOC, which stands for course. For several centuries, the course has served as the building block of traditional print-based pedagogy.
So you're claiming that the MOOC consortia simply extend online the traditional educational pedagogies, while you're doing something different. I can see how their courses and programs look a lot like more traditional institutions—basically the same-old with some digital efficiencies. It's new media delivering a well-established product more flexibly and efficiently.
Right. A Place to Study doesn't offer programs or courses. We don't have schools, divisions, or departments. A Place to Study organizes and delivers educative opportunities differently by making more integral use of the intellectual potentialities of digital communications.
I hear your claim, but can't say I understand. I'm curious how earlier technologies like printing shaped the existing setup, but let's save that for some other time. Instead, help me understand how A Place to Study uses digital communications to construct a different pedagogy. Maybe begin by explaining why you describe your pedagogy simply as different, rather than as new or novel "Different" is pretty low-keyed.
Let's not get in a muddle over what's old, what's new, and what's different. Broadly, there's a conventional pedagogy of formal instruction, historically related to a system of communications based on printed text. Important, powerful innovations have been taking place in the system of communications, which in my opinion are radically new in an historically meaningful sense. These are making pedagogical arrangements that are significantly different from the conventional ones of formal instruction. A Place to Study tries to prototype those different arrangements, a digital pedagogy.
As I suspected, you're using "digital" in a special way. Most people think digital tools are extending earlier means of communication, disrupting them a good deal by altering patterns of use. We use all sorts of metaphorical extension to describe what happening as we browse sites like your's on our notebooks.
It seems that way, but I think we need to look at it closely. Let's get in mind the whole digital system, cyberspace—the Internet, all the broadcast and narrowcast spectra, the routers sending everything here and there, all the drives storing and retrieving, the cloud and its warehouses of CPUs, and all the devices—desktops, notebooks, smartphones, game boxes, displays, speakers, TVs, and on. Then get the traditional media of the culture in mind—the books, magazines, newspapers, posters, scores, blueprints, maps; the libraries, bookstores, publishing houses, offices filed with files, archives, museums, and on. What's the point of similarity?
Well a lot of the same stuff is in both systems, but I think it is probably better to say that people create and use what's communicated in them. There is a human side, a human purpose, interest, and content to it.
That's well put, but now the harder question. What's basically different between the two systems?
Yeah. I could describe endless differences in the way the two work, noting what the different parts do and don't do well, but I suspect that would not be general enough for you. Basically, you know, they work differently, but I'm not sure how to put the difference clearly into words.
Right. It's difficult. I'd put it this way—both systems allow people to record, store, retrieve, and transmit information in useful ways, but in the traditional system people encode the information in states of matter, ink on a page, in the innovative systems they encode it in states of energy.
That certainly gets at the difference. We have to recognize that in cyberspace we work with information encoded in energy through material artifacts—screens, keyboards, chips, disks, wires—but in its active state, as we interact with it, the information is encoded in states of energy. That's what makes those media new. They code in electronic states, not material.
We could quibble at the margins of this distinction—speech and music use sound, for instance. And we mix the two systems as one does in word processing a paper. But I think it fair to say that the new media are new and not merely an extension of the old media because they use a radically different way of coding information, which brings with it radically different possibilities.
Interesting, but I don't see where you're going with this difference. In practice, aren't we mashing up the two systems all together?
Hunh! Pretty much so far. But there's art to a musical mash up. And even done well, the mash up may not really improve on the originals. With digital technologies and education all we have are mash ups. It's time to figure out what a digital pedagogy would be like. To do that, we want to figure out what its strictly human components are, distinct from its artifactual components, and then see how we can use new media to facilitate those human components.
Slower. The human/artifactual distinction sounds interesting, but an example would help!
Fair enough. Open a book and look at the text. It is written in words, sentences, and paragraphs—we can call those human dimensions of the text, they are there because the author choose to use them in order to write down what she had to say. The words are also printed on the pages in lines of a certain length, so many lines to a page, each page numbered, white-space bounding the text away from the edge of the pages. All those features and lots of other conventions are artifactual dimensions of the text, part of it because of decisions made in producing an attractive, readable book.
Okay.... I'm beginning to understand. You are building a digital pedagogy in two steps. First you want to identify the human dimensions in education—what the people involved seek to do independent of the media of communication with which they do it, and then second you want to figure out how they can best facilitate those efforts by using new, media, dispensing with the limitations of print-based communications and taking full advantage of encoding information in states of energy.
In a nutshell, that's it.
Well.... I imagine it has taken quite a bit of work to think the first stage of that effort through. But just tell me directly the ending of that story and then explain how you go from there to wanting A Place to Study and making Verbs, Concepts, Persons, and a Toolshed key components of it.
Unfortunately, we encounter difficulties in bringing the first stage to a conclusive end. Cultural and educational history help, and some inquiries in the human sciences do too. It is important to go back as close to our cultural beginnings as we can, but you and I are limited, acculturated in the western tradition, which itself probably brings an artifactual overlay to what we might hold to be the simply human sources of our activities. If course, our effort should engage persons acculturated to other traditions just as much as our own. But I thin the best insight into the purely human comes by introspecting and observing our own experience. That's how I come to the conviction that education consists in the free, autonomous self-formation that a person generates by studying the world in and around her.
Aah! I was thinking your pedagogy began with verbs, concepts, and persons, but you are suggesting it starts with the person studying!
Exactly. Birth thrusts the newborn into the world—"assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion." Life starts with that confusion and must study it and step by step make some sense of it in order to sustain itself. Life is a life of study, no matter what course through it one takes.
Whoa! If we start pedagogy without all the artifacts, with its simple human dimension, we turn it inside out, starting with the infant having to make sense of the world, having to keep itself alive in it, having to participate in it?
Yes, each person from the get-go, must think and act as best she can. The human aspires to understand and to participate. Those two aspirations motivate study.
And then I guess you are putting verbs, concepts, and persons forward as general concerns that people study regardless of the communications media they use in studying. You'll probably have a good deal of detail on each of these for us digging into the site, but could you say a little about your rationale for bringing these to the front of our attention? Does it matter where I start with them?
Not really—the order of the list is arbitrary; the items on it less so. If we go back to the very early statement of educational goals in the Western tradition, early Greek literature, a person should become a speaker of words and doer of deeds within the community of peers. We think, really as a starting point out of which something more may emerge, the parts of A Place to Study devoted to verbs, concepts, and persons will provide the core of a digital pedagogy that users and participants can use to form their capacities as speakers of words and doers of deeds.
Hey, come on. A degree in "Verbs, Concepts, and Persons" won't get anyone very far today. Don't you have to buy into all the specialties, programs, courses, and assessments of contemporary education to be relevant to the needs of present-day students?
Perhaps ultimately that'll come about in a distinctively digital way, but A Place to Study is going to go through a long, slow development in the digital commons and if we are doing it right those things will emerge. For now, we are building our site in the space of the liberal arts where the education takes place for its own sake, as people put it, where people ignore those instrumental purposes. That gets us some space to work in and some energy to drive the work.
I have my doubts, but go on.
We postulate that what users and participants in A Place to Study will do with verbs, concept, and persons will express the human dimension of self-formation well while simultaneously work effectively with and through the artifactual aspects of digital technologies. You can't have media of communication that are purely human, free of artifacts, that is, media. What we have in mind with verbs, concepts, and persons will work peculiarly well with digital media, we think.
Humpf. Let me see if I have this straight. To develop a fully digital pedagogy you need to address the strictly human uses of education, avoiding practices determined by the artifacts of traditional communications technologies, information coded in matter, while developing practices that take full advantage of digital communications technologies, information coded in energy, and you are going to do that by concentrating attention on verbs, concepts, and persons, making use of a special selection of digital tools collected in the Toolshed. If that's it, I'd like to hear how what you are going to do with verbs, concepts, and persons specially suits the digital technologies.
We can't do everything all at once, you know. You can find out what we want to accomplish by following these links—Verbs, Concepts, and Persons. And in discussing the Toolshed, we can try to clarify how the components of A Place to Study suit the digital technologies. But lets stop for now. What's here is not fixed or finished; it's a start. Among the things we can study at A Place to Study is the site itself.