Digging into UMW, Part I: Event-ness

I have to do this in short bursts, b/c there’s just too much. So I want to start with the briefest meaningful conversation I had with Jim, b/c it’s easy and it will get me started.

Jim talked about how initially the thought with UMW blogs was there would be a lot of cases where students and/or faculty would blog in non-UMW spaces, like Blogger or TypePad, and WPMU would just aggregate.

The weird thing, says Jim, is so few people wanted to do that — part of what excited them was blogging in the UMW Blogs space.

This started me thinking about that inherent tension between classes as meaningful shared experiences and our attempt to both personally empower students and bring the outside world into the classroom. I don’t think of a URL as a location, but the students clearly do — they don’t get syndication, or understand that the coherence of a group can be as much a folder in your RSS reader as a site.

That’s neither here nor there — being primarily an misunderstanding of students raised on websites as locations: MySpace, Facebook, etc. Be nice if they got that, they don’t, we decide whether to fight against that flow or make use of it.

But what I’m really interested in the observation that lies under that, which Jim and others have articulated in different ways but I’ve been missing: to the extent classes have transformative power, they are often about capitalizing on the limitations of time and shared space, increasing the “eventness” of the class.

Tom Woodward said (apparently) that Mara Scanlon’s Gynomod class was more rock concert than course, but as I saw presentations in VA on some of the best UMW blogs/classes, I was struck with the event-ness of so many of them. The course blog, with its simple reverse-chronological set-up is an event-ness force multiplier — on the one hand it engages with the world and creates an audience (like we always point out), but on the other hand it is very much about forging a group identity in opposition to the outside world.

All this should have been clear to me before, and it was, kind of, on some level. But I’ve been so blinded by Learning 2.0 rhetoric I think I’ve missed the obvious — many of the best course blogs engage with the outside world not to break down the traditional class-world distinction, but in some ways to enhance it.By engaging publicly with the outside world the class gels. The “we are this class and you are the world” distinction is stronger, but also conceptualized in a much more productive way.

As I said, I knew this to some extent — the success of Blue Hampshire was partially taking a group of Democrats that normally wanted nothing to do with one another, and by putting us openly on the web to create a sense of shared identity and value that allowed productive conversation to happen. We engaged with the larger community to better build our own identity.

And we did that, in part, through event-ness.

UMW folks, am I wrong here? (I might be — I really might. Please disagree at will….)

Update: It occurs to me how odd this post is in context — it was on the other side of this issue, that classes are *not* containers, that Jim and Gardner and I connected three years ago. And as I look back atthis post replying to Gardner I see some hints of this — both in Gardner’s thoughtful response and my intellectual swerving — but I think what’s difference is seeing, years later, how much of the success of UMW Blogs is, in some strange way, though not about containers, definitely about group identity.

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