Course Overview

21st Century Literacies:  Digital Knowledge, Digital Humanities

Spring 2013
Tuesday 4:40-7 pm
Smith Warehouse Bay 4, Room 107

Twitter #Duke21C

The purpose of this class is to explore what it means to undertake academic research and teaching (re)designed and (re)purposed for the present.  We will be thinking systemically about formal education, both the systems we’ve inherited from the Industrial Age and the ones we wish to propose for the digital age.  We will be thinking about the social, philosophical, technological, and cultural systems that contributed to the current educational systems, and the stabilities and instabilities that persist within those (such as funding influxes after WWII and neoliberal defunding patterns in the late 1990s and 21st century).  We’ll work to sort out problems caused by defunding (including issues of privatization, capitalization, and commercialization) from larger architectural and ideological issues embedded in either well-funded or defunded models of Industrial Age education.  We will try to imagine a new form of education more suitable for the digital age.  What might that look like?  How much will it cost—and paid for by whom, for whom, from whom?

The premise of English/ISIS 890 is that contemporary higher education is not broken; rather, it is designed for a different world than the one we live in.  If education were simply broken, we could fix it.  If it is designed for a different set of social, technological, and global arrangements than are now relevant: we need a learning revolution, not just reform.  We need to think deeply about what it would require to redesign education for a new, digital world.  We do not merely want to MOOC education (digitize and massively scale existing systems).  We want to revolutionize learning and learning institutions so that they provide support and preparation for those charged with shaping the future, not the past. The basic assumption of the course (and we may wish to refute this in the end) is that we need to reimagine education in profound, systemic ways.

Backstory: The educational system we have now is an inheritance and outgrowth of the research university that began in the U.S. with Johns Hopkins University’s founding in 1876.  Virtually all the apparatus of contemporary higher education has evolved from the infrastructure created by or for that research university—a system deeply invested in skills and specialization designed to achieve measurable outcomes and maximum productivity (the mantras of the Industrial Age).  The research university is based on what Bourdieu called “distinctions,” including radical separations throughout our educational system between thinking and doing, theory and practice, work and play, critique and creativity, skills and systems, majors and minors, general education and professional training, and the “two cultures” of science and technology versus the human sciences, social sciences, and the arts.   The premise of English/ISIS 890 is that these things have been radically merged, blurred, and made “fuzzy” by the World Wide Web and the Internet that became popularly available in April of 1993 with the commercialization of the Mosaic 1.0 browser.

Consider this: academic specialization brings expertise—but it does not necessarily bring control, power, or self-determination.  As we specialize more and more, we can become (in one direction or another) more radically divorced from oversight of the system to which our expertise contributes.   (Think about Latour here, or Anne-Marie Moll).

What would it mean to remake graduate education—and therefore the future of education more generally—so the emphasis was not on outcomes but experience, not on skill development but on systemic thinking, not on the built but on building:  that is, learning as an ongoing, iterative, collaborative process.  What if our focus could be shifted away from scored achievement/achievement scores and refocused on adaptability, flexibility, creativity, or (as Toffler says) an ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn?

Example:  What if we had an assessment system that measured what we valued—not one that valued what is measurable?   What if instead of the Industrial Age’s statistical methods based on standard deviation, IQ tests, and ranked scores on multiple choice tests, we collectively determined what constitutes excellence and considered our success to be the individual and collective attainment of that degree of excellence, as also validated collectively by our community?

These are the meta-goals of our course.  We begin by acknowledging that we will not all achieve all of these goals.  We begin by acknowledging that, in striving for them, and even if (especially if) we fail, we will all learn an enormous amount.


darnton_historybooks-1   Robert Darnton, “What Is the History of Books?”   (1982):  Our central question:  what does it mean to change the affordances of the communication circuit–for scholarship, for research, for teaching, for publication?   davidson_communicationscircuitslide

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