#Rhizo14 Week 4: Are books making us stupid?

Bernard Fryshman wrote a post titled  MOOCs are Books, too. I responded saying it depends on whether it is an xMOOC you are talking about or a cMOOC, amongst other humble assertions that “MOOCs are not books”. Then I found Dave talking about MOOCs to create/update open textbooks. In Are MOOCs the Next Textbooks, Gregor Kiczales makes the point that in “author” or “expert” videos, the persona of the author is really important. Others comments that free MOOCs could potentially replace textbooks, while others feel that MOOCs (when standardized like JusticeX) may become textbooks themselves, especially when created by A-grade professors and experts.

Dave, in his video challenge for this week of #Rhizo14, asks the question – are books making us stupid. He identifies a few negative connotations and one positive connotation for books in his mind. The negatives are:

  • have a finite end to the journey of learning at the end of which judgment awaits us
  • deny the orality of the conversation
  • bring in objectivity
  • amply distance
  • are definitive, not relational
  • bring in impartiality
  • are less participatory
  • have a long history of “making us stupid” and are not trustworthy

The positive connotation is that there is value in books as historical records (and emotional pleasures of the medium that we are used, but others ahead may not even desire or be able to experience).

Several things confuse and distort responses to this challenge immediately. Are we talking about book “technology”? Are we concerned with book “processes” of creating, use in curriculum and uses by learners? Are we concerned with the formats, or the design? Are we talking of all types of books or just a specific type of books? Are we talking of making value judgments – “stupid” in the sense of “closed”, or following something “prescriptive”, or “cognitive” instead of “connective” or “rhizomatic”? Is it about how they impact reading or writing literacies and skills, or it about books as standalone artifacts? Is it about their accessibility or cost that makes their unavailability result in a certain stupidity?

Which is also why people have responded variously to this week’s challenge. Shaw contests the negative connotations and believe it is not an either-or. In Print, Stupidity and #rhizo14, Keith showcases Don Tapscott’s talk, and tries to view printed text rhizomatically. Apostolos refutes some of the negative connotations by looking at books as a vehicle to transfer information and knowledge through the ages, and not limiting conversation/participation just because the author isn’t there to discuss the ideas. Jenny Mackness talks about how “Books are not the problem – it is us and the way we think – our lack of ability to critically engage with learning”.

I think what we are really talking about here is the tyranny of the written word insofar as it leads to our pedagogical oppression (Friere). There is intentionality here in the minds of the oppressors (pretty much most of those traditional educational systems that depend upon rote learning, including some of our xMOOCs) and there is mute acquiescence from  the oppressed (those who unquestioningly accept the written word or “common framework” as someone else put it).

I think, we should have so much democratic and accessible written word, that it becomes impossible for us to be stupid. It should become impossible for any one system to authorize or prescribe the tyranny of the word.

One thought on “#Rhizo14 Week 4: Are books making us stupid?

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  1. Written words, moocs, stories told, newpapers, all are words with build in meaning, connotations and ideology. Reading and listening should be an active verb, dedoding and using your own codes.

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