Blogging the Media vs. Blogging Your Class

Great observation by master-blogger Ezra Klein on what we in the education biz would call “newspaper literacy”:

Every so often, an older and wiser colleague or interlocutor will ask, sighing, if I read newspapers. And I do. Sort of. I scan newspapers. But increasingly, I read things that take newspaper content and repackage it in more useful formats (blog posts, op-eds, think tank reports, quick news hits, summaries, etc). I recently had drinks with an editor of a major political magazine who was telling me about his learning curve. “It took me about 10 years to really learn how to read a newspaper article,” he said. “But now I can zip through the paper, really getting the relevant facts.”

It’s funny that newspapers and magazines claim their work must be read end to end, and can’t be decomposed into parts. Because to the practiced reader it’s never been really an atomic experience at all.

When seen this way, media critique blogs, at least the better ones, are a great example of task specialization. People who are “good at reading newspapers” can help you read newspapers, via pulling things together in a blog. And they can do that in a way that still allows you to drill down into sources and detail when necessary.

Which makes me wonder — are there second order opportunities in processing supposedly atomic courses and lessons? What would that look like? A gifted student blogging a class session by session?

Have we seen examples of this yet, and if not, why not?

How great would it be as a middle-of-the-road student to go home and read a blog that makes sense of what you just saw in class that day?


Recording Industry Says AM-FM Broadcasting is ‘A Form of Piracy’

From Wired’s Threat Level:

[T]wo weeks ago, the recording industry, under the umbrella group musicFIRST, sent the NAB four digital downloads: “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band; “Pay me My Money Down” by Bruce Springsteen; “Back In the U.S.S.R” by Paul McCartney and “A Change Would Do You Good” by Sheryl Crow.

Broadcasting music without payment is akin to piracy, the industry says.

“It’s a form of piracy, if you will, but not in the classic sense as we think of it,” said Martin Machowsky, a musicFirst spokesman. “Today we gifted them a can of herring, about their argument that they provide promotional value. We think that’s a red herring.”

Really? If it’s a red herring, it’s an awfully expensive one. Here’s just one small excerpt from the New York State Attorney General’s investigation into payola (buying airplay) by Sony:

The inducements for airplay, also known as “payola,” took several forms:

• Outright bribes to radio programmers, including expensive vacation packages, electronics and other valuable items;

• Contest giveaways for stations’ listening audiences;

• Payments to radio stations to cover operational expenses;

• Retention of middlemen, known as independent promoters, as conduits for illegal payments to radio stations;

• Payments for “spin programs,” airplay under the guise of advertising.

E-mail correspondence obtained during the investigation shows that company executives were well aware of the payoffs and made sure that the company got sufficient airplay to justify these expenditures.

Hiding under all of this is the scarcity theory of talent — the idea that if we didn’t have Bruce Springsteen to play on the radio we’d have to listen to William Hung.

But it’s simply not true. The scarcity is an expensively constructed illusion. And the players in that game refuse to realize it. So artists have their companies pay to lock out competition on the radio, which allows them become crucial fixtures to the medium — and then the artists turn around and say look, your radio station relies on our songs to function — we want our fair share of the profit!

I’m not sure what models will eventually be adopted to support artists. I think there’s some legitimate questions on how we can accomplish this in a global age.

But throwing around a lot of money to create scarcity and then using that scarcity to price gouge is the worst of all possible worlds. We need to make sure our future models are based the abundance of talent — routing more diverse art to the right people instead of fighting over the one thing that will get delivered to everybody.

*That* would be herring worth paying for.


Edu_protectionism

I’ve been working on the college AT Vision, trying to hone it down. It’s an attempt to get beyond the technology and the hype.

But even with all the buzz removed, I still occassionally feel like the question of the AT plan is formulated in such a way that the answer can never be what we need it to be. Looking over some old posts of Artichoke (no stranger to writing policy herself) I found something that really resonated:

Beck made me realise how we have allowed ourselves to be compromised by the lure of edu_protectionism, how we we determinedly ignore the “integrated present” when we think about education.

All that froth over new communication structures and technologies in education, (and the “oh so casual” flinging of terms like 21st Century learners, digital immigrants/ digital natives, Web 2.0, social software, systemic and sustainable change into the conversation in staffrooms across New Zealand), means nothing if we continue with closed shop practice when it comes to future thinking about education.

There’s two things here. First, it’s to recognize that that if you situate the whole buzzword convention in the concentric fences of {student > teacher > class > course > discipline > school > college > world} you’ve done nothing of use, and probably done something quite harmful.

We know that already. That’s the reason the term edupunk spread through the web so quickly.

But it’s the second part of her formulation that impresses me today — the “protectionism” and the “closed shop” analogy. These fences are not accidental. They are tied into broader mechanisms of power, mechanisms which, among other things, provide me with paycheck every two weeks.

So what we want to talk about in a plan is how technology and a new orientation is providing people with the opportunity to critique, modify, fork, or ultimately discard social infrastructure. But of course the infrastructure is us.

So we talk instead about how this will empower them to be better employees, because that’s safe. We talk about productivity. And I hate to say it, but we talk about the Cognitive Surplus. But none of that gets us there, because we’re standing on the rug that needs to be switched out.

What’s the answer? I’m not sure it’s in the AT plan, but it’s related to it. I think we have to stop running away from these social dimensions, and tease out Artichoke’s insight. It’s true that the University is a famously cloistered place, but it’s also true that the majority of people that ended up here ended up here because they are committed to a concept of social good. And they believe what they share in their classes can change people’s lives for the better.

I think our conversations have to start with that, and Artichoke has provided a good root metaphor to begin thinking with here.


Recursive Publics, Martin Luther, and Copyright

I found this an interesting coincidence reading these two things back to back:

From a post on David Wiley’s Iterating Toward Openess:

Educational reform is much like religious reform, and our openness movement and desires to innovate in higher education are much like the Reformation. When the Church was the prevailing power, it took Luther a significant amount of courage to stand up, nail a list of issues to the door, and say “Go ahead and excommunicate me. I’ve tried reforming from within with no success. You leave me no choice but to leave and try again on my own.”

In today’s higher education environment, accreditation bodies are very much like the Catholic Church of old. They exercise supreme power and authority of our institutions, and should our accrediting body choose to revoke our accreditation, our universities would go straight to the institutional equivalent of Hell.

From Christopher Kelty’s Two Bits, an anthropological study of open source culture (emphasis mine, and the term “geek” here is not meant to be derogatory):

Allegories of Reformation are stories that make sense of the political economy of information. But they also have a more precise use: to make sense of the distinction between power and control. Because geeks are “closer to the machine” than the rest of the laity, one might reasonably expect them to be the ones in power. This is clearly not the case, however, and it is the frustrations and mysteries by which states, corporations, and individuals manipulate technical details in order to shift power that often earns the deepest ire of geeks. Control, therefore, includes the detailed methods and actual practices by which corporations, government agencies, or individuals attempt to manipulate people (or enroll them to manipulate themselves and others) into making technical choices that serve power, rather than rationality, liberty, elegance, or any other geekly concern.

This is part of a larger chapter on Reformation analogies in geek culture. One of the larger points is Reformation analogies point to people trying to save an existing system from itself, which distinguishes Reformation analogies from Revolutionary analogies. Reformation comes about by removing the secret levers in the system that are used to maintain power and lead the system astray.

[Revolutionary formulations go further, and scrap the entire system. More on that later, although Siemens has already started to follow that thread…]

What is fascinating is that Kelty even goes further than David, with a stunning comparison to the Christ’s Cross mark of the Church which used to head the alphabet:

The longer one considers the problems that make up the contemporary political economy of information technology that geeks inhabit, the more likely it is that these allegories will start to present themselves almost automatically—as, for instance, when I read The Story of A, a delightful book having nothing to do with geeks, a book about literacy in early America. The author, Patricia Crain, explains that the Christ’s cross (see above) was often used in the creation of hornbooks or battledores, small leather-backed paddles inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer and the alphabet, which were used [PAGE 75] to teach children their ABCs from as early as the fifteenth century until as late as the nineteenth: “In its early print manifestations, the pedagogical alphabet is headed not by the letter A but by the ‘Christ’s Cross’: ?. . . . Because the alphabet is associated with Catholic Iconography, as if the two sets of signs were really part of one semiological system, one of the struggles of the Reformation would be to wrest the alphabet away from the Catholic Church.”

Here, allegorically, the Catholic Church’s control of the alphabet (like Microsoft’s programming of Internet Explorer to blur public standards for the Internet) is not simply ideological; it is not just a fantasy of origin or ownership planted in the fallow mental soil of believers, but in fact a very specific, very nonsubjective, and very media-specific normative tool of control. Crain explains further: “Today ? represents the imprimatur of the Catholic Church on copyright pages. In its connection to the early modern alphabet as well, this cross carries an imprimatur or licensing effect. This ‘let it be printed,’ however, is directed not to the artisan printer but to the mind and memory of the young scholar. . . . Like modern copyright, the cross authorizes the existence of the alphabet and associates the letters with sacred authorship, especially since another long-lived function of ? in liturgical missals is to mark gospel passages. The symbol both conveys information and generates ritual behavior.”

The © today carries as much if not more power, both ideologically and legally, as the cross of the Catholic church. It is the very symbol of authorship, even though in origin and in function it governs only ownership and rights. Magical thinking about copyright abounds, but one important function of the symbol ©, if not its legal implications, is to achieve the same thing as the Christ’s cross: to associate in the mind of the reader the ownership of a particular text (or in this case, piece of software) with a particular organization or person. Furthermore, even though the symbol is an artifact of national and international law, it creates an association not between a text and the state or government, but between a text and particular corporations, publishers, printers, or authors.

Without the allegory of the Protestant Reformation, the only available narrative for such evil—whether it be the behavior of Microsoft or of some other corporation—is that corporations are “competing in the marketplace according to the rules of capitalism” and thus when geeks decry such behavior, it’s just sour grapes. If corporations are not breaking any laws, why shouldn’t they be allowed to achieve control in this manner? In this narrative there is no room for a moral evaluation of competition…

Isn’t that fascinating? You can read the whole chapter, for free, here.


Recursive Publics

From Christopher Kelty’s new book, via Glyn Moody:

Recursive publics are publics concerned with the ability to build, control, modify, and maintain the infrastructure that allows them to come into being in the first place and which, in turn, constitutes their everyday practical commitments and the identities of the participants as creative and autonomous individuals. In the cases explored herein, that specific infrastructure includes the creation of the Internet itself, as well as its associated tools and structures, such as Usenet, e-mail,the World Wide Web (www), UNIX and UNIX-derived operating systems, protocols, standards, and standards processes. For the last thirty years, the Internet has been the subject of a contest in which Free Software has been both a central combatant and an important architect.

By calling Free Software a recursive public, I am doing two things: first, I am drawing attention to the democratic and political significance of Free Software and the Internet; and second, I am suggesting that our current understanding (both academic and colloquial) of what counts as a self-governing public, or even as “the public,” is radically inadequate to understanding the contemporary reorientation of knowledge and power.

I like this for a number of reasons, but I’m going to wait until I read the full book before commenting…


Edupunk and REST

Everyday I wake up thinking “This is the day we kill the edupunk meme. Because even *I* am sick of it.”

But then I read something like this from Brian Kelly:

REST, it seems, is the punk response to the pompous stadium rock of SOAP and the Web Services stack.

That’s exactly right. But bigger than that is this: this term is zipping around the web and starting to pull a bunch of stuff together that was scattered before — much like the term Web 2.0 did before it became a bloated marker for everything IPO.

Terms like edupunk start off amusing, and then become tiresome. One in a hundred makes it through the tiresome stage to become useful but invisible — the Kleenex or Jazz of your domain. As much as I know I will want to kill the term again tonight, as long as it is sending me gems like this on my Google RSS, my vote is to keep it alive.


Ideology and EdTech (or, the Skunk at the Party)

Jim Groom, in a nicely organized post:

Wow, there’s a mouthful. But if you have gotten this far, the question is not so much that ideology is dead, but that our moment is projected back to us as one without alternatives.

That’s exactly right. I’m not sure if Jim knows the history here, but it bears him out. Our current climate is largely the result of two successful political movements: –

  1. The retroactive creation in the 1950s of a cultural conservative political tradition. Created by writers such as Russell Kirk, the attempt here was to pull threads of history together and posit a non-ideological stream of history that had as rich a tradition as liberalism. More on that “non-ideological” bit later.
  2. The rise of free-market conservatism, which claims that it is governed not by ideology, but by natural forces. In this way it stands with communism, fascism, and other 20th century isms in its assertion of its naturalness. But whereas those ideologies hung their hat on a notion of capital-H “History”, free-market conservatism presents itself as existing outside of history, and even outside of results — approaching at times the status of religion — free markets produce the best of possible worlds, and we know we live in the best of possible worlds because the free market produced it, and free markets produce the best of all possible worlds…

What movement conservatism was able to do in the latter part of the 20th century was to make “ideology” the enemy. Cultural conservativism and free-market conservatism were able, through this mechanism, to lump liberalism in with communism, fascism, and the Reign of Terror all at once (quite a feat!). The conservatives were able to take over control of government, cutting student aid while simultaneously claiming the universities were “politicizing” education. Discussion of gender roles was decried as “bringing ideology into relationships”. And so on.

It wasn’t a new thing, this push to see capitalism and tradition as non-poltical, ideologically neutral entities. But it was a very successul iteration of that push. At its height, several years back, one of the most consciously ideological governments in American history was popularly regarded as ruling from the gut.

I’ll write more on this soon — but it does point out something interesting about the whole edupunk phenomenon, something I think Jim is getting at — among many of those uncomfortable with the term there seems to be an idea that the problem with the term is it is injecting ideology into a non-ideological space.

If that is the case — if people really feel that the edtech space is non-ideological and non-political, if people feel their ad hoc decisions about technology and vendors and design are not being governed by an ideology, explicit or implicit — *that* is a huge problem, and edupunk, as Jim Groom’s divine goof on the community, may be more significant for surfacing those “non-ideological” ideologies than for any coherent philosophy it brings to the table of its own.


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