Blogs and Being and Imagination

From Aaron Campbell, who writes some of the most thoughtful commentary on blogging and education that I’ve found out there:

“Traditionally in education, we have practiced acquiring knowledge as a possession, as if it were a commodity, convincing people that having more knowledge is optimal, thus strengthing the having mode. There have, though, been movements to overcome the having mentality, especially from constructivists and practicioners involved in alternative and holistic education.

I believe that personal publishing via weblogs and wikis on the growing social semantic web can be an excellent educational practice for feeding the being mode in young minds. The medium emphasizes process over goal, collectivity over individuality, decentralization over centralization, humanity over automation, authenticity over simulation, freedom over control, self-directed over teacher-directed, and the dynamic over the static. Furthermore, it can be self-reflective, potentially giving rise to insights into the socially constructed nature of self-identity.

Since schooling plays such an important role in social conditioning, it would seem urgent for educators to realize the truly educative and liberating potential of this technology and to start putting it to use. When learners are given the chance to join in the authentic and cooperative social practice of constructing knowledge in society, we are providing a new educational arena which encourages a participatory and potentially political orientation toward the ‘world out there’ – necessary for a healthy democracy. I can’t help but wonder though, whether our institutions of “learning” are commited to helping young people ‘know themselves’ or to merely condition them for a status quo existence, currently a predominant having mentality. What other ways might blogging in education contribute to shaping the person of tomorrow?”

I agree wholeheartedly with his vision and concerns. I wonder if our students, if enough of them come across a teacher here and there who is actively handing their education back to them in dynamic learning collaborative spaces, won’t they start demanding more of a say in other classes? I’ve had students come to me the semester following a class with me, confused and upset (with me as well as others) because a professor won’t hear of accepting a multi-media paper. Have I misled them, they want to know? Do they snap right back into the mold so many have carefully created for them? Students are only conservative (see yesterday’s post) because we’ve taught them to be that way, to want what we want, and what we want sure seems to them to be equated with ownership and having and their attendant status.

Will blogging reach the distant shores of the liberal arts institution in any significant way any time soon? Aaron writes as well as anyone I’ve read on learning and teaching and technology, but he teaches “Interactive Web Publishing”–The same is true for many of the other influential higher ed writers (Sebastien Pacquet comes to mind) He must get institutional support for exploring Web technologies in the classroom–it’s the subject of his class; whereas in my classes, it is not. People are already way overwhelmed with their responsibilities to take something else on. They have too much to cram into twelve-week semesters.

Indeed, it’s difficult to create an atmosphere of change, of openness, when new technologies are looked at primarily as accelerators of inquiry. When do we experiment just for the sake of the exploration? When do we take the time in our classes to let students muck about and see what’s out there in our subject area?

Yesterday Héctor and I met with Middlebury College’s, museum educator, because she was eager to hear more about the kind of multi-media collaborative work we do with students in the arts especially. She was looking for ways to connect what we’re doing with what she’s doing. She talked about how in this country we don’t teach students how to see, how to look, to take the time just to explore an artwork. We want them to skip right to information gathering and knowledge–so kids sure know about Van Gogh, but have they ever really connected with one of his paintings other than to say, oh yeah, this is the crazy one he painted after he cut off his ear? Or to give us brilliant formal analyses of the work? I have a friend whose most beloved art history professor in graduate school did nothing but traipse around the museums of New York with his graduate students and stop when he found something that piqued his interest or theirs. And then they looked. Deeply. And discussed what they saw. Together. Isn’t that what we do here on blogs?

Which brings me to the writings of Maxine Greene and her urgings to bring imagination back into the classroom–“Imagination must be released in all dimensions of education.” And as contrary as this may sound, (many people equating the quickness of blogs with superficiality, the anything-goes-medium with self-absorption) if we use blogs imaginatively in our classrooms, to link our students to themselves, one another and the world–yes, of course–but also to slow down and reflect, to post responses (text, sound, image, link) that get at what they see and hear and feel and imagine, we might indeed “feed the being mode in young minds.”

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