[iDC] epistemology vs. pedagogy

Losh, Elizabeth elosh at mail.ucsd.edu
Tue Jun 28 23:24:17 UTC 2011

Hi John,

Good question!

In the Virtualpolitik book I argued -- somewhat controversially among my fellow rhetoricians -- that the stakes really are epistemological and that the difference between a traditional culture of knowledge and a more contemporary culture of information really is a significant one.  Perhaps somewhat sweepingly I claimed that this difference affects basic structures and infrastructures in all kinds of institutions: universities, government agencies, corporations, etc.  

I also argued that informational culture doesn't just mean digital culture and that we can look back to several historical moments to understand our own rhetorical context and our own perceived modernity in relationship to tradition: 1) Aristotle's understanding of necessity vs. contingency against Plato's understanding of reality vs. appearance, 2) the Roman empire and how Livy, Horace, Ovid, and Cicero conceptualized their word "information," 3) microprinting and other pre-digital miniaturization technologies in the early 20th century and their utopian universalizing aims, and 4) Shannon and Weiner's quantification of information and their related definitions of noise and homeostasis respectively.  I suppose I could have picked a lot of other historical moments to challenge what I think is a tendency to overvalue the novelty of contemporary technologies and undervalue philosophical and rhetorical significance in ways that support public institutions and the possibility of maintaining common resources against the forces of neoliberalism, but those were the ones I picked for that particular book.

I guess I don't really think that epistemology and pedagogy are entirely separable, and what this means for digital educators practically is that A) bridging this gap between formal and informal learning will be hard, since it really does represent a significant paradigm shift but B) we shouldn't romanticize the notion of a "digital generation" or the idea of a radical cultural break with the past because cyberutopianism is just as naive as cyberdystopianian and the reality is that not only will the state not wither away but if the Master Plan continues to be defunded, and we don't have venues for social mobility and research in service of the public sector like the University of California or for social mobility, community cohesion, and life-long learning like the state's community college system the for-profits will continue to generate student debt and misappropriate taxpayer resources in ways very different from the best possible form of DIY education that we would hope for.

In the new book, as in the last one, I'm interested in moments of failure and edge cases that challenge what both sides think is true: cheating videos on YouTube, bad educational videogames designed to teach Shakespeare, abandoned virtual classrooms in Second Life, plagiarism detection software running amok, Twitter experiments that turn into Twitter revolts, "angry professor" videos with clickers or distance learning tie-ins that make everyone look bad, staged participatory culture (aka "academic astroturfing"), etc.  

I don't want to mock innovation, but I do want to promote understanding and critique.


Elizabeth Losh
Director of Academic Programs, Sixth College
Culture, Art, and Technology Program
249 Pepper Canyon Hall
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0054
(858) 822-1666
lizlosh at ucsd.edu
From: idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net [idc-bounces at mailman.thing.net] On Behalf Of john sobol [john at johnsobol.com]
Sent: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 8:05 AM
To: idc
Subject: Re: [iDC] epistemology vs. pedagogy

Hello iDCers,

it's wonderful to read all of your introductions and to hear about all of the excellent work you are all doing. Mobility Shifts certainly looks to be a great event.

May I take the liberty of nudging this listserv back towards conversation and follow up with a few thoughts and questions?

In your post, Elizabeth, you say, in reference to your book about the disconnect between the academic learning establishment and socially networked students:

"Each side is not really fighting the other, I argue both opponents are actually conducting an incredibly destructive war on learning itself."

Is this simply because so much energy is being wasted on defining the terms of this conflict? Or is it a deeper failure of both parties, as you see it?

Because while I definitely agree that there is a war under way in education, personally I see it as an epistemological as opposed to a pedagogical one. Not an attack on learning or even a conflict between pedagogical models so much as a conflict between different - and in many respects incompatible - knowledge systems. To my mind the intransigence of educational institutions is based on their deeply entrenched allegiance to a literate epistemology that is hundreds of years old, and the crux of the emerging crisis is not that students have access to new networked technologies but that as a result of their having such access they do not define knowledge the same way as their teachers.

No doubt you have addressed this in your book to some extent, but I wanted to probe a bit deeper on this subject, and also to raise it in relation to the many other interesting projects that have been described in various introductions here, like Anya's ebooks (Anya, when will these come out please? I would love to read them), as well as Kiko's ambitious escuelab, Nishant's activist Digital Natives With a Cause, Michael's inspired visionsofstudents.org, Cathy's revealing research on attention, etc.

I would ask any of you to feel free to respond to these practical thoughts about epistemology and how it informs the new pedagogical models you are exploring. I am particularly interested in hearing about any situations in which epistemologies collide in the real world. In Peru and India, for example, I wonder if you have found that in doing outreach using innovative digitally-driven learning models that what the students end up learning unexpectedly challenges (or reinforces) other social power structures? That what is being learned is fundamentally different from what was being learned in the traditional academic context? I'm curious to hear if you have any concrete examples of this.

I would just add that I see this as a very common sort of event, this kind of epistemological collision. We see it for example in the academic context which certifies published peer-reviewed research as more 'true' than, say this listserv post, or in the scientific insistence that only what can be objectively reproduced counts as 'true', which de facto excludes all 'anecdotal' or 'subjective' insight into the nature of the world as not true. And of course these sorts of epistemological determinations have profound consequences at the political and economic levels, in terms of what can be owned and by whom, such as a patent on a human gene, or the copyright on a sound or image, or whether or not a treaty is enforceable, or whether or not Julien Assange is a journalist, etc. etc.

All comments welcome...

John Sobol
john at johnsobol.com<mailto:john at johnsobol.com>

On 27-Jun-11, at 9:07 PM, Anya Kamenetz wrote:

I'm intrigued by the goings-on on this list and excited to join you in the fall.
My somewhat unusual entree into the topic of education was as a freelance writer in my early 20s writing about the effect of student loans on young people. I published a book (Riverhead, 2006), and two columns, one in the Village Voice and later on Yahoo! Finance, all titled Generation Debt, all dealing
with generational economics and politics including student loan policy. Message: the system is broken.

This led to my first job at Fast Company magazine where I ended up covering technology and innovation, with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship and sustainability. The two streams merged when I published
DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010) which investigated the roots of the cost, access, and quality crises in higher education as well as innovations to address these crises. Message: the system can be fixed, or maybe we'll just make a new system!

DIY U was researched and written in conversation with an amazing community of thinkers such as yourselves. So were two forthcoming followups: Learning, Freedom and the Web, funded by the Mozilla Foundation, and The Edupunks Guide, funded by the Gates Foundation.  Both are free ebooks. LFW, which will also be available print-on-demand, glances over the scene of makers and hackers using openness and technology to transform learning. The Edupunks Guide is a hands on manual for people without a lot of cash who want the shortest path to an education that will transform their lives.
I have a Fast Company column Life In Beta<http://www.fastcompany.com/user/anya-kamenetz>, a  Tribune Media column The Savings Game<http://www.tmsfeatures.com/columns/business/personal-finance/savings-game/>, my book is found here DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of  Higher Education <http://www.amazon.com/DIY-Edupunks-Edupreneurs-Transformation-Education/dp/1603582347> , I Blog DIYUbook.com <http://diyubook.com/>  and Twitter @Anya1anya<http://twitter.com/#%21/anya1anya>.


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