Aug 21, 2012

Education via networks and discourse

A must read by Ron Day: "Network mediated discursive education: From computational to networked knowledge in the university", The Information Society, 28:4, 228-235 (doi). The article is an inspiring call for change and empowerment in universities. It argues that students and faculty can and should make universities centers of democratic education that drives social change for the better:

In the modern period, universities were created to be central agents in fostering not just industry, but progressive social change through scientiļ¬c and critical research. This modern mandate for universities should be renewed and vastly expanded with the help of new information and communication devices, but this can only come about by a total educational commitment to democratic empowerment and the transformation of the current university formation.

Productive knowledge as the knowledge produced by sciences and increasingly social sciences and humanities is insufficient for political change and empowerment. Networked knowledge understood as computational expansion of the productive knowledge is not enough either. It assumes the existing norms and carries empirical investigations according to them. We need critical knowledge, which traditionally was advanced by humanities, as the product of examining and questioning meanings and norms.

In short, critical knowledge is information plus judgment (I'd say "reflection"). It is when in addition to learning concepts and facts, one also learns the conditions of knowing as well as forms and norms of cultural reproduction. This type of knowledge requires the internal and comparative analyses, it aims toward understanding the disjunctions between what is said and what is going in reality (both historical and modern).

Universities today become subsumed within the logic of capitalist production. Education and research become vehicles for generating revenue and decreasing costs. A critical discourse dedicated to a fundamental critique of that production gets left out. As a consequence, we are faced with the failure of the faculty as a whole to educate students for understanding and evaluating current events (e.g., in the economy and politics); increasing corporate and government control over research; the failure of the university to empower the lives and intellect of its communities because they use an army of part-time, non-tenured and non-tenure-track, employees.

Overcoming those woes is a very difficult task. But if we emphasize a need for change, we could leverage productive and critical knowledge together as well as sociotechnical networks and reach a balance between the logics of capital and social justice. Ron proposes a model of “network mediated discursive education” as a model that is better suited for this (the model probably needs a better name).

Some recommendations toward that model include:

  • Distributed expertise. Education should rely on the expertise that is distributed across institutions, communities, regions, countries, and technologies.
  • Strong general education for all and apprenticeship for professionals. Professionals should be taught in apprenticeship programs, not in universities' graduate schools. Universities can augment professional training by showing the possibilities for institutional change, based on research and analysis.
  • The Enlightenment mandate. Rather than being a vehicle for capitalism (revenue-oriented innovation and entrepreneurship), universities must focus on education in understanding and taking hold of social and political power.

Most of it is easier said than done. But becoming aware of the issues raised in this article is a good start.