Friday, March 6, 2009

Cross-post: If It Doesn't Spread, It's Current Educational Practice

Contrary to popular opinion, I do hold down a day job in addition to my blogging responsibilities here at sleeping alone. Fortunately for me, a significant chunk of my day job requires blogging about what I do. Recently, I've been working on a series of blogposts about spreadable educational practices with my sensei, Dan Hickey, and my mentor and partner in crime, Michelle Honeyford. You can read the first of several planned posts, "If It Doesn't Spread, It's Current Educational Practice," here.

This first post aligns a series of arguments about educational practices with media scholar Henry Jenkins' take on spreadable media. As I explained in a previous post on sleeping alone, Henry considers the conflict between the commodity culture, in which everything is for sale, and the gift economy, in which social capital is developed through the giving and receiving of gifts. I wrote:
Borrowing from Lewis Hyde's 1983 book The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Jenkins explains that in a gift economy,
[t]he circulation of goods is not simply symbolic of the social relations between participants; it helps to constitute them. Hyde identifies three core obligations which are shared among those who participate in a gift economy: "the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate." (p.xxi) Each of these acts help to break down boundaries between participants, reflecting a commitment to good relations and mutual welfare.

Jenkins takes up Hyde's notion of the difference between "value" and "worth," focusing on Hyde's argument that "a commodity has value... A gift has worth." Value, in this case, means the exchange rate of a good: Cash for the merchandise. Worth, on the other hand, is the extra-economic value of a good: Its emotional meaning to us.

Given this conflict, then, what spreads via new media—the gifts we give each other (think Kittens, Inspired by Kittens; think the T-Mobile Dance at Liverpool Train Station)—does not always necessarily align with what's sellable. In other words, what makes something spreadable may exist independent of its economic value. In "If It Doesn't Spread, It's Current Educational Practice," we argue that
the critiques that Jenkins and colleagues level at prevailing conceptualizations of the transmission and construction of ideas in media have a lot in common with the way instructional routines are transmitted to educators and then presented to students. Traditionally these ideas have been transmitted via textbooks and other formal curricular materials. As with traditional media, this "filter then publish" model made sense given the costs of publishing traditional textbooks and the relatively modest canon of knowledge school children needed to learn but is increasingly cumbersome, ineffectual, and inefficient in an environment that allows for on-demand publishing and dissemination of material. We think that the emerging "publish then filter" media model made possible by digital social networks can revolutionize the way we identify, refine, and share worthwhile curricular practices. We believe that such an approach can accommodate learning needs in a world where the feasibility and usefulness of learning a core body of content is decreasing.

Future blogposts on this topic will explore why disseminated instructional routines (DIR's), curricula produced and broadly disseminated by initiatives such as the US Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse, will fail to impact education generally or achievement more narrowly, for many of the same reasons that Henry Jenkins argues that corporate attempts to create viral media messages fail as well. We will also introduce and explore the notion of spreadable educational practices (SEP) to consider methods of leveraging the affordances of participatory media to work toward a vision of a participatory classroom structured around a participatory assessment model.

You guys, I think this is gonna be huge. The implications for educators and researchers are enormous, and the implications for media scholars interested in education are equally big. I'm pretty lucky to have the chance to join in on it. In case it wasn't yet clear, I'm snoopy dancing all over the place over here.


Jeffrey Kaplan said...

I can't believe the Kaplan theory of T-mobile's failed spreadability wasn't mentioned here!

Jenna McWilliams said...

Psht I would never steal someone else's idea. That belongs on the blog of the person who originated it. That's a hint.


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