[iDC] Can DIY education be crowdsourced?

John Sobol soboltalk at gmail.com
Wed Sep 14 03:32:05 UTC 2011

On Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 4:01 PM, Jon Ippolito <jippolito at maine.edu> wrote:

> For any ranked list is a hierarchy, and as such fundamentally at odds with
> a scholarly network. A list of artists or academics with numbers next to
> their names is a pitiful representation of their impact on the field.
> Ultimately, ranked lists are, like standardized tests and representative
> democracy, a convenient excuse for not thinking.
Jon, I am very sympathetic to your critique of peer-reviewed elitism but I
think you are mistaken in supposing that ranked lists are antithetical to
scholarship. Lists are fundamental to literate culture, as are standardized
tests (though not representational democracy, however), both within academia
and elsewhere, such as industry, politics, economics, etc. Far from being an
excuse for not thinking, lists and standards are very much catalysts for
thinking, but only for certain kinds of thinking, geared towards certain
specific ends, those ends reflecting literate values such as 'progress',
'objectivity' and 'fixity'.

And this kind of thinking has taken literate scholarship - along with
literate politics, economics, industry, etc. - very far indeed in a
shockingly short time. But it has done so at the expense of other kinds of
thinking based on other - non-literate - values. Until recently, the only
place those values were manifested was in oral cultures, which have been
marginalized and trampled by more efficient literate cultures. In such
cultures 'progress', 'objectivity' and 'fixity' simply do not exist. Or to
the extent that they do it is as aberrant alternatives to the norms of
'cyclical', 'subjective', 'ephemeral' being and thought.

Today, however, digital culture is not only propagating an epistemology
based on similar non-literate values, but it is doing so in a
hyper-efficient fashion, threatening literate culture with maginalization
just as literacy did to oral cultures, people and ideas. So suddenly
literacy is on the defensive, not just in academia but in law and art and
industry and elsewhere, and everywhere for the same reasons. For digital
practices reflect a different value system. One in which literate lists and
standards are subservient to dynamic non-linear relationships. Which is why
your next comment...

> One way to defeat rankism is to abandon lists altogether in favor of
> clouds. Unlike ranked lists, clouds of influence can be contextual (relative
> to the subculture being measured), multiple (applicable to more than one
> subculture), variable (reflecting changes over shorter timescales than a
> global metric), and net-native.

... is so brilliant, because it gets straight to the heart of the problem.
Which we experience as cultural but which is technologically-determined and
can be technologically resolved. For dynamic clouds (and Amazon reviews for
that matter) are a non-literate architecture that offer all kinds of useful
possibilities that are unavailable to literate administrators of printed
standards and lists, which academia still relies on, not only to manage
students but also ideas, i.e. peer review.

There is a lot of inertia still, a huge amount actually. But if a really
scalable, accessible and practical peer-to-peer education platform were to
emerge within the next 5 years and gain the sort of massive global traction
that facebook or YouTube suddenly and unexpectedly did, it could have an
instantaneous and extremely destabilizing effect on academia. Not saying it
will. But it could.

Either way, those are some big clouds on the horizon.


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