30 April 2011

whirlwind changes to come...

I may not have the vocabulary to express what is happening to my thinking as I read Cory Doctorow's MAKERS, "a novel of the whirlwind changes to come" starting...today. It is a novel about making, collaboration, open culture, creativity, mashups, random acts of art and engineering, the New World commerce model as it might actually already exist.....and so much more. It is not new that someone has written a novel of ideas, but when the ideas are new, really new, the strategies used to investigate the concepts have to be new too. So I am reading a novel with random plot twists that twist in on each other over and over again, imagery that does not instantly create a parallel image in my brain because I have no frame of reference for it, characters who do not follow traditional models (the heroes make me wince on every page, the villains accidentally foment positive change), and  the marriage of art, science and social media on every page is beyond my first-reading comprehension. So I am not sure whether it is a good book yet, but I can't stop reading.

What does this have to do with someone who teaches Shakespeare, Rumi and wiki design  on the same day in the same week? Everything. My students have grown up in a world that is random, or at least seems that way to me some days. It will be years before they reach critical mass of experience and knowledge, and then years after before they may elect to superimpose an organizational principle on that experience and knowledge. I remember that I needed to feel some measure of real control by the time I was 17. They sometimes revel in the lack of life control they exhibit every day. (If you don't believe that, just read a teen's Twitter feed some time.) Maybe it isn't because they have no "discipline" (I often hear this from some of my colleagues):  maybe it is because a certain level of discipline, or the historical level of discipline that teachers like, is not necessary--or may actually inhibit their open learning.

Let me explain. Every day, some of my most gifted students opt out of what we are gathered to experience. Some would say it is my job to make them "opt in," but I am not so sure anymore. Every single one of them is always learning, ALWAYS. They have an agenda, and sometimes their agenda isn't mine. That is not to say that they shouldn't opt in, but I believe that they are never blank slates to be written on, that they are writing on their own slate everyday. Sometimes they write what I expect, and other times, it is relevant to a learning thread I don't even know exists. Would it better for all of us if they opted in? I often think so (but I graduated with a MA in the late 70s). But they are not growing up in the 20th century.  I think they may need to embrace the diversity, the unpredictability of the open world. They will not wake up one day and say "It is time for me to care about my privacy on the internet" or  "I need to stop multitasking so that I can learn." They can't, they won't.

And what does this do to a teacher of 1500-year-old texts? Though I spent most of this blog post worrying about the punctuation I was using because my traditional models didn't do the job...I also know that I am more committed than ever to offering my feed to them, but how I do it? That's going to keep evolving. Stay tuned. I have to go finish MAKERS.

http://boingboing.net/2009/10/28/makers-my-new-novel.htmlWhat Cory Doctorow says about MAKERS

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