I’ve been enjoying the series of posts by Jim Groom inspired by The Internet Course. His dip into the language of 2001’s Using the Internet to Strengthen Curriculum perfectly captures the prevailing attitudes of many online educators around the time this book was written.
Jim reproduces this page, so loaded with revealing language that it may serve as an edu-historical Rosetta Stone to decode early stages of the nightmare from which we may never awaken.
Somebody should do a dissertation on the values embedded in guides like these.
Jim notes the language of “taming” and “managing” that dominates the text, and the jaw-dropping assertion concerning the “hazards” of “serendipity”. Faced with a novel environment of “immense potential” and “immense challenges”, the response is not to investigate and to understand, but to assert authority and control. Not for any self-serving reason of course, but “for our students”.
Jim suggests this mindset lies at the heart of the command-and-control nature of learning management systems that became a dominant medium around the time when this book was written. Speaking for myself, I was transported back to my experiences as an educational technologist during this period. Back then, I was involved with the development and implementation of a number of “learning object repositories”, which might best be described as platforms designed to promote the sharing of learning resources — but only proper learning resources, and only shared with the right sort of people.
It can be fun in a dreary sort of way to bash the LMS. But it would be unfair and incorrect to simply blame the vendors for the many disturbing values built into these systems. I took part in a lot of conferences, workshops and focus groups with higher education people who attended those “learning object” sessions because they were interested in reusing materials using the as-yet untapped power of the world wide web. I listened as “serious” educational leaders dictated that the platforms require users to adopt unfathomable and complex metadata to ensure that no tangential learning materials be encountered by mistake. I took part in meeting after meeting where technology leaders and faculty representatives demanded strict access controls to limit sharing within elite consortia or collections of funding partners, or even within faculties or departments. Later on in the process, I would try to facilitate workshops with other groups of working educators that rightfully complained that the resulting systems were unwieldy and useless. I took part in evaluations that tried to divine some value from these costly efforts, and watched the project grants run dry.
Then I’d go for beers with the poor coders and developers who were trying to build and support these systems, and commiserated with them on the thankless and impossible nature of the task. Around this time, I started to keep in touch with some of these people via the new-fangled technology of blogs, which seemed to work pretty well as platforms to support sharing of resources and to stimulate cooperative discourse. And we had fun. Maybe that’s why the serious people rarely saw much value in these trifles.
It was around then that I began to distrust the serious people in educational technology.