Our first assignment involved listening to the words of two different people, but I want to dedicate a full post to the article and speech by Gardner Campbell. Ironically, I ended up agreeing with most of his points, but I still disagreed with his main argument – the most important point.
Actually, when I read the article he wrote (“A Personal Cyberinfrastructure”), I felt like I disagreed with pretty much all of it. Campbell’s argument, if I read correctly, is basically that all University courses should be like the ds106 class that I’m writing this for, with each student getting their own web domain, online identity, etc. It’s not that I think this is a bad idea, I just don’t see what good it would do. True, it would teach students the kind of digital skills that would come greatly in handy later in life, but that’s exactly what I’m taking this class for. Asking all classes to do the same would be kind of like a math teacher asking every class of every subject to include statistical analysis, or a science teacher asking all classes to have labs. Some skills have applications that reach to a variety of subjects, but that doesn’t mean they must be taught outside of their respective classes.
Campbell’s argument goes beyond that, though: he insists that the current setup, wherein students use Learning Management Systems (LMSs) like Blackboard.com is not only an inferior option, but actually detrimental; according to him, they discourage “the freedom to explore and create” among students. I find this argument outright ridiculous. They’re not discouraging anything, merely making things simpler for students, who still are totally free to learn about online tools and such on their own time, or whenever the need arises. It’s no different for bemoaning the invention of calculators for making math simpler, and thus removing the need to practice doing it by hand. It’s a fallacy as old as humanity itself. I couldn’t help but think of the printing press, which was considered heresy when it was invented because writing things by hand was just the right way of doing things. You can’t blame those monks, really – they’d spent their entire lives painstakingly writing each book one by one, and now this Gutenberg guy comes along and makes pretty much anyone able to print thousands of copies at once. They must’ve felt cheated. No doubt that when the wheel was invented, some cavemen thought of it as a cheap way to avoid exercise. The difference in Campbell’s case is that the technologies being dealt with are so new, he can frame it as wanting to take a step forward and further integrate classwork with the Internet, even though in reality it’s going backward and making things unnecessarily complicated.
Those were my thoughts after reading the essay. So imagine my surprise when, in his speech (“No Digital Facelifts”), he uses the same Gutenberg example that popped in my mind… in his favor. Actually, I warmed up to his argument a lot more thanks to his speech, even if in the end I still didn’t agree with it. I especially sympathized with his reference to LittleBigPlanet custom levels, and use of one of my favorite sayings, Sturgeon’s Law: “90% of everything is crap”. I completely agree with Campbell that the more potential innovators there are, the greater that other 10% will be. That’s why I began agreeing with his idea of a more personalized, customizable online experience… for teachers. Students are a different matter.
I also agreed with Campbell when he quoted Clay Shirky in calling the newspaper industry’s move online a “digital facelift”. However, comparing that to University classes is comparing apples to oranges. With newspapers, the very existence of the Internet itself is a subversion of the authority they once held; it allows information to be distributed by almost anyone, not just those few who control the media outlets. The newspaper industry is doomed to die out, and journalism is bound to undergo a revolution, no matter what the newspaper companies do.
The same can’t be said of education at all. In a University class, the Professor makes the rules. The Internet can’t, and won’t, change this. Students can’t innovate the experience because they have no control over it. Sure, they can help each other, and there are more online tools by students, for students than I can even begin to list. I understand the argument to give professors more freedom in how they craft their class using the web (although sadly, too many professors are too uninterested in the web as of right now for it to matter much), but students aren’t going to craft the class even if given the tools to do so.
Again, I may have interpreted Campbell’s words wrong – he does use some jargon I’m not really familiar with. But it seems to me like he has a lot of good ideas, which he then interpreted in the wrong way. All of this brings me to my most important point: what kind of a first name is “Gardner”, anyway?