Sunday, January 27, 2008

Print and Oral Tradition

Intellectual Production Task:

In our “Day 3” class we spent a good deal of time discussing the two articles for this week. ( Havelock and Illich/Sanders) Both authors contrast the role of print in a literate society with the role of oral expression in a pre-literate culture. In his article “The Instruction of Preliterate Cultures” (taken from Language, Authority and Criticism) Havelock speaks about the power of the printed text. There is a sense that the written word exercises a form of tyranny; it becomes “a court of appeal” and “a source of reference”. (p.224 - see snippet above, right) My reactions are twofold: a) in what ways do word choice affect our way of understanding the world (This may not be a function of print vs. the spoken word, but rather a function of culture and language, and how both represent reality.) and b) given our new digital environment, is the printed word now as “permanent” as Havelock implies?

I’d like to begin with the first point: how does word choice dictate reality? How does our vocabulary, the particular words we use, shape our perception of the world? It is true that the rules of syntax constrain how we understand things. The placement and choice of words or the grammar of a language may even prevent us from thinking about certain ideas. Ken raised this point when he gave the example of the Navaho language that does not use time markers. Perhaps this language is the best way to express concepts in quantum physics in a way that English cannot. Ken also gave an example of how we use certain spatial modifiers (ie “ahead” and “behind”) to refer to future and past. What if we were to use “above” and “below” to refer to these? Or as this article references, flipping the past and future the other way. How would this change the way we think about and value the past? (To use another example, the Burmese have no past tense, and use the present tense to talk about long ago events. How does this change their sense of time and history?)

While Havelock maintains that syntax and grammar in printed language freezes history and fixes our understanding to the page, I think that this is a function of languages in general, not simply a result of writing things down. Havelock’s distinction between oral and print language seems somewhat artificial. There is also a sense in Havelock’s article that oral traditions are somehow to be valued more highly than printed text. While oral traditions may allow for a dynamic refashioning of story and history, that may not be desirable in the long run; there are downsides. When we rely solely on memories, the death of an elder is as catastrophic to culture as the burning down of the library at Alexandria.

What about the permanence of print? Havelock seemed to be saying that once a version of events was committed to print, it was fixed forever. In Havelock’s time, once the printed word was produced, it was not easily subject to change. However, in the new digital word, publishing happens “in wax”, not “in stone”. We can make changes at the last minute, or even AFTER the last minute. Blogger, WordPress, Lulu on-line printing, on-demand printing: each of these media forms allows for a “final” version to be edited and re-edited. In a very real way, Wikipedia is the poster child for this new way of publishing. (Textbooks may be a new frontier: read this post on my blog.)


As an aside, the Havelock article and my subsequent ruminations, reminded me of a book I read recently about disappearing languages. The book is called "Spoken Here" ; the link will let you view the first few pages on the Amazon site. Very interesting read! Also, I stumbled across this blog post on the same topic.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On-line Generation?

In the context of our discussions about technology, and youth as technology users par excellence:

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men on the Internet? "Frontline" knows and, in an overblown sociology lesson, lets parents in on the potential predators, bullies and voyeurs keeping company with young Web surfers."

I came across this link to a show that PBS is running this week. It is about the dangers of being on-line in today's world. It seems to me that it is a little "overhyped"...we've heard it all before. ("Watch out parents, there are bad guys out there!") Even the promo video clip on the PBS site is pretty ominous.

I wonder when we will get beyond the blame and look at the benefits? (I guess every technology has had its detractors: those who think the apocalypse is nigh!)

For a more balanced post, click here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Logos...the Word

Since we were talking in class about "Logos", its meaning as "the Word", and the religious overtones that this term sometimes carries, I was interested to read this article on the various versions of "the Word" (ie the Bible) that are now available. What made this article particularly intriguing was the element of remediation in the story. At what point does a Bible (ie "DVD Bibles [that] include reenactments, maps, pictures and other visual el­ements") still stay a Bible? Some denominations refuse to recognize translations other than the King James version. I wonder what they would think of multimedia scripture?

Technology Supplants Curriculum?

My group (Kiran, Rachel, Pam and I) will be presenting the topic for Day 6: “Technology Supplants Curriculum”

There are 2 readings for the class: (Media Education and the End of the Critical Consumer. ) and (What happens to literacies old and new when they’re turned into policy. PDF)

Our job is to provide one other reading and present this topic to the class. I’m interested in the topic of new literacies and what is being required of students (Are we really preparing them for a new world, or an old one that will be gone when they arrive. What kinds of things will we need to include? (Tumblebooks? Podcasts? Audio books?) Stay tuned for more on this.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Remediating my practices

Intellectual production task:
Jan 17th, 2008

Task 1: Write (briefly) on a particular tool/technology that is remediating your practices in the classroom and which characterizes "school knowledge" in your own curriculum area. What changes can you identify in your curriculum area and what corresponding technology/s do you see as having played a role in those changes?

As a teacher-librarian, the question of technology as “blessing or curse” has been hotly debated. Some TLs see the advent of Google, On-line databases and the oft-accessed Wikipedia as the end of civilization as we know it. To paraphrase; “the lights are going out in libraries all over the world.” While the situation is not nearly as dire as some librarians seem to think, it is true that we may need to re-purpose our job description.

What does it mean to be a TL in this “Brave New World”? My job exists, in part, to help students and teachers access reliable information sources, and to educate them to be more discriminating information users. It doesn’t matter whether the information resides in printed form or on a web page somewhere. Almanacs, encyclopedias, atlases, non-fiction, serials, vertical files: these used to be the “stuff” of our job. Now, we are moving more and more to on-line databases, electronic encyclopedias, blogs, newsgroups, RSS, and data mashups. But whatever the form or medium, the underlying need is the same: “Where can I find out more about...?”

This brings up a number areas of particular concern to teachers and TLs: a) finding reliable e-sources, b) dealing with plagiarism and c) facts vs knowledge.

A) Finding reliable e-sources
In many cases, the new e-sources are simply a remediation of print. An example of “remediation” in the area of library work is the increasing use of on-line encyclopedias. The print encyclopedia used to be the “nec plus ultra” of authoritative information search. In particular, the Encyclopedia Britannica held the top position, however, any encyclopedia was considered a good reference. In my library, I have multiple copies of the Canadian Encyclopedia (TCE). This was always considered a good resource for Socials students researching questions about Canadian history and personalities. I used to purchase updates from year to year, but in 2000, the print version was no longer available. Fortunately, the entire text is now available on-line. In addition, the e-version also has images, video and audio resources hyperlinked into the articles. While some students are happy to consult the print version, most would rather use the electronic source. The biggest conceptual hurdle for student to get over is one of attribution. Students have a tendency to accept sites as valid sources regardless of the provenance. In many ways, TCE has no way of distinguishing itself from the many other URLs kids may consult (ie Wikipedia). At one time, a teacher librarian could point to a print encyclopedia, which came clothed in impressive binding and gold edging. Now, more time needs to be spent teaching students how to decide if a web page is reliable, accurate, authoritative and unbiased.

B) Dealing with plagiarism
How does this new reality affect the incidence and substance of plagiarism? Digital resources lend themselves to wholesale “copy-pasting” (fno article). Teachers and teacher-librarians need to rethink what kind of assignments and projects they are asking of their students. (For more on this see here.) (And some more of my thinking on this.)

C) Facts vs knowledge.
When any student with a laptop, iPhone, wireless Palm or cell phone can Google or Wikipedia any topic, memorizing facts seems like a pointless exercise for most students. Instructors have had to become more sophisticated in structuring assessment and evaluation in this new climate. Media-savvy teachers are focusing more on synthesis, taking a position and making a judgment as summative tasks.


Task 2: What is re-mediation? Why/how is it important? McLuhan on "mediation" -rear view mirror- we can only understand a particular medium when we have moved passed it and are looking back at it.

Re-mediation is the process of taking content from one media and re-presenting it via another. A story may be re-presented in print (novel) or a radio play, or a TV show, or a film, or even a website. Each time, the new media form puts its stamp on the product.

McLuhan believed that each new medium has its roots in the preceding technology that spawned or inspired it. ( “McLuhan warned against looking too long into what he termed the ‘rear-view mirror.’ Its linguistic reflections are everywhere. The telephone was first called the talking telegraph, the automobile the horseless carriage, the radio the wireless.” 1 ) New technologies might spring from older forms, but they bring with them their own effects and capacities, many that were not imagined in the initial conception. For example, a cell phone is quickly becoming a more complex and multifaceted tool than its predecessor, the simple telephone.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

R(e)mediation and r(e)literacy

All this reading about "Remediation" has started me thinking about how many examples of clever, enriching cross-cultural and cross-media references I come across in everyday life . I would almost say that this is the element that makes so much of what I read and watch enjoyable. Whether it is an overt example (like the many versions and references to "A Christmas Carol") or something more subtle (The STNG episode where the alien race communicates entirely via metaphor and historic cultural references), the impulse to remediate (as B&G would use the term) is a powerful one.

The best way to make sense of this pattern of remediation is for all of us to push to become r(e)literate in the same way. We need to look for the deeper ideas and meanings that permeate all the mediated stories we tell each other. The Simpsons, Futurama, Othello, Arrested Development, The Ring Cycle, etc are all filled with important echoes of previous iterations: some trivial, some profound.

Some more on Mediation and Remediation

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I'm spending some time this weekend going over my notes from the first class of EDUC890.

We viewed a great photo taken to illustrate the "cutting edge" of new teaching techniques, but which only illustrated the folly of doing what Larry Cuban refers to as "bolt on technology." The student desks, the row on row arrangement, the teacher-driven model all seemed to reinforce the "old" way of doing, not the new. (See a previous post on this.)
(Why is it that so much of what is supposed to be cutting edge ends up being just the “same old - same old”? ...reminds me of the dotcom days when everything was being put on the internet...even toasters!)

I think we may be conditioned as teachers to want to do things in the way we are used to, and access technology in the way we always have. Here's an example: In my school, the library is responsible for storing and distributing AV equipment and materials. Just this week, a teacher sent a Grade 8 student to the library to sign out a digital camera because she wanted to take some pictures of a project the kids were working on. Since our only camera was already "out", I suggested to the student that maybe someone in the class might already have a camera the teacher could use. The student replied "Sure, ...why don't I use my cell phone camera...and then I can just bluetooth the pictures to her!" (It's the whole "Digital Native" thing.)

This reminds me of the situation in my Library Computer Lab. I desperately need new machines because the ones we have now can't run newer browsers. I've been lobbying for more money for this. But it occurred to me recently that I am using "New wine, old skins" thinking. Why do we need a lab at all? Why not just ask the kids to bring in their laptops....

Jodi spoke about kids' innate digital sense, and compared the backpack of yesterday with the backpack of today:....gameboy, DS, cell phone, palm, DVD player, iPod. My daughter is 16 years old, and I can certainly identify with the example Jodi gave. (In fact, I think my daughter has the same purse!)
Jodi went on to define some of the terms we will be using:

Techne, or techné, (literally: craftsmanship) is often translated as craft. It is the rational method involved in producing an object or accomplishing a goal or objective.

The English suffix -ology or -logy derived from the Greek suffix -(-logia), "to speak."

And "Curriculum": definition: course…race course...the track we follow

We then spent some time with the Kieran Egan article: Letting Our Presuppositions Think For Us. Egan maintains that our discussions and disputes about what is the "right" way to teach are tied up inextricably in the presuppositions we make about human nature and the role of education. We spent some time "unpacking" these presuppositions. This made for some very interesting discussion.

Presupposition 1
Good or Bad: What do we believe about human nature in general and children in particular? If children are good (Good= learning, likes to learn. ), then we should have as little structure as possible. But if they are bad (Bad=must be led to learn), then we want as much structure as possible. (I remember hearing an interview with Laurier Lapierre who maintained that children were like flowers that should be simply planted and left to grow naturally, and they would learn what they need to, on their own. Hmmm...)

Presupposition 2
Is Culture – from within / or from without?
Do we believe that students need to be shown cultural artifacts and learn from them? Is there a "canon" of novels, paintings, people and events that everyone should know? Jodi brought up the point that there is a value component to acculturation; it is not value neutral.
I liked Egan's reference to Michael Oakeshott's characterization of education (and by extension, educating about culture) as an "extended conversation" …
(BTW, I found an interesting article that extends this idea. The author, John Bennet states that "To become human, we must claim, appropriate, and then dwell in the rich heritage of our culture and civilization -- a world of meanings, not of things." He goes on to explore the idea of education as conversation. )

Presupposition 3
Consciousness – past/ present/future
Do we teach from the perspective that the past matters and the present is irrelevant? Or that the present is king and the past only has meaning inasmuch as it explains the present?
Jodi asked the question, is it possible to create a curriculum based solely on preparing students for the future? This is tricky to Ken pointed out, our concept of the future is both too limited and too ambitious: our computers are more powerful than Star Trek would have us expect, yet we still don't have warp drive! Where's my jetpack?

Presupposition 4
Do we favour Experience (Body), Logic and Thinking (Mind) or Mystery and Wonder (Soul)
This made me think of the balkanization of the curriculum, especially in high school. We tend to stay within our narrow territories and teach only our specialty. Occasionally schools will attempt to integrate subjects and experiences (Math-Science, or Humanities) but timetable and organizational constraints force us revert to the "tried and true" ways.

Presupposition 5
I want to produce students "just like me." I guess this is what we all want...societies as well as individuals. And this is why we may fight so firmly for our own vision of education to prevail. This led me to take a look at the BC Ministry of Ed website to find the attributes of a BC Graduate. (For the document, go here.)

We also talked about how experience shapes media…and media shapes experience.
(And there is a constant re-imagining of older forms of technology. For example, radio still exists in much the same form as it did years ago, but today we also have satellite radio, as well as website tie-ins, blogs for feedback, and podcasts to timeshift your listening. There's even "internet radio" which technically isn't radio at all!)

At the end of the class, Jodi encouraged us to explore the terms: mediation, hypermediation, and remediation as a way to enter the course content!