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.

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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.

1 comment:

Jodi said...

I really enjoy how your posts themselves are nicely illustrative of remediation. When you mention that remediation is "taking content from one media and re-presenting it via another" are you referring to "content" in Marshall McLuhan's sense where the content of an earlier medium becomes the new medium? If so, then, while it is more linear than B&G would suggest, I think you are headed in the right direction. If, however, it is just the content that is borrowed but the medium is not appropriated, then B&G refer to this as "repurposing", and they do not feel that repurposing adequately captures the multiplicity, dynamicity, or complexity of remediation. Further, beginning on page 45 of their article, B&G outline how the spectrum of remediation encompasses everything from simple "borrowing" of older media which reappears in digital form (the encyclopedias you mentioned where the print version is now available on-line) to improvement of existing media (you also gave nice examples of this with encyclopedias that have hyperlinking), aggressive refashioning of older media, attempts to completely absorb older media, and refashioning within a single medium. In this process of remediation, there is an oscillation between immediacy and hypermediacy such that the key to understanding how a medium refashions its predecessors and other contemporary media is that it promises a more authentic experience (immediacy) than its predecessors but this promise inevitably leads us to become aware of the new medium as a medium (hypermediacy). Thus, immediacy leads to hypermediacy and, as B&G suggest, hypermediacy reminds us of our desire for immediacy. These two logics of mediation are in contradiction with one another, hence B&G's coinage of "remediation" rather than just using the term "mediation".

You've also raised a couple of interesting issues here with respect to plagiarism and facts vs knowledge. I like how you're teaching your colleagues to address those issues by suggesting they reconceive assignments to be a search for answers to questions and the constructing of knowledge rather than a search for information as 'given' and the simple regurgitation and re-presentation of 'facts'. After reading the article by Illich and Sanders, especially focussing on their ideas about memory and the related suggestion that schools have picked up a textual notion of memory (whereby it is through literate practices that we have this notion of a self in whom is embedded a memory which is separate from the public world), I am curious if that makes you 'see' knowledge any differently? Also, I wonder, if we think of knowledge as more dialogic in nature (see M. M. Bakhtin's work, especially his Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, 1986), more distributive, what does that mean for "plagiarism"? Bakhtin would suggest there is no such thing as "original", and I wonder if Illich and Sanders might not just suggest that the entire notion of "original", and all its related assumptions, isn't just an artifact of a society moving from oral to textual (literate) practices? Intriguing to consider the implications: what does this mean for our conceptions of "plagiarism" and the great lengths to which institutions and individuals go to prevent it and punish those who 'transgress'?