Electracy and Pedagogy
The issue of research papers and tests in relation to the Web as a way to focus the nature of "electracy" as idea.
1. Theoretical hypothesis
What literacy is to the analytical mind, electracy is to the affective body: a prosthesis that enhances and augments a natural or organic human potential. Alphabetic writing is an artficial memory that supports long complex chains of reasoning impossible to sustain within the organic mind. Digital imaging similarly supports extensive complexes of mood atmospheres beyond organic capacity. Electrate logic proposes to design these atmospheres into affective group intelligence. Literacy and electracy in collaboration produce a civilizational left-brain right-brain integration. If literacy focused on universally valid methodologies of knowledge (sciences), electracy focuses on the individual state of mind within which knowing takes place (arts).
2. Historical context
The way to orient ourselves to any question concerning our contemporary circumstances is by means of an analogy with the history of writing (grammatology). There are many examples of how new technologies disrupted established teaching/learning practices and motivated the invention of new practices. An historical example relevant to the disruption of the literate practices of the research paper and the written exam by the internet is what happened to pedagogy when the printing press disrupted manuscript culture.3. A New Possibility.
A. The research paper
Education in the manuscript era involved someone who could read and write setting up shop as a "master." Pedagogy consisted of the master reading aloud--dictating--to the pupils, who wrote down what they heard. The course ended with the completion of the reading, and the pupils went away having made their own copies of the "book," to repeat the process. Print disrupted this arrangement by eliminating the need for copying. The students had a copy of the book at the beginning rather than at the end of the "course." The new question was: what to do with this new availability of information?
Writing a research paper involves using argumentative logic (claims and proofs) and the essay form to transform information stored in libraries into individual understanding. It is an institutional practice designed to transfer knowledge from the collective archive to each new generation of readers. This is a legitimate practice for the literate classroom, disrupted by the posting of large numbers of "readymade" papers on the internet. The long-range solution to this problem is to invent pedagogies and practices native to the internet, which will not abandon literate skills, but integrate them into the new apparatus.
What are the relevant features of the new apparatus? What pedagogy supports turning information stored in databases into knowledge via screens designed with graphics and hyperlinked globally? This question challenges contemporary educators to continue the process of invention undertaken by our predecessors during previous eras of technological shift. Several key features of new media orient us toward a new practice.
1) The interface giving learners access to information in electracy is customizable, so that the form and mode of organization is particular to the learning style and sensibility of each user. In literacy, the categories of knowledge (concepts) are universal, one size fits all, and the learners must adapt their cognitive styles to the demands of alphanumeric discourse.
Implications for assignments? Plagiarism is useless in electracy since learning involves designing the user interface (website/database/expert systems) in a way specific to the unique, singular qualities of the learner's sensibility, experience, memory. The best analog for an electrate knowledge interface is that of "art," identifiable by the unique "hand" or "style" of its maker. Electrate knowledge has this kind of peculiar aesthetic quality of design or style expressing the persona of its maker.
Electracy? Mystory is a genre for this aesthetic approach to learning (after history and herstory) that allows learners to compose a cognitive map of their positions within the field of collective knowledge. Existing works are exploited as relays, from which the learners extrapolate to find their own positions. This pedagogy focuses not on the reproduction of existing information, but on the creative process by which new knowledge is generated.
2) Another key feature of the internet is the cut-and-paste capabilities of the tools, which call for an extension to general education of the collage-montage poetics invented within the vanguard arts and popular culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The singularity of the learners' interface works with extant materials in the database, using the "readymade" poetics of modernism as a rhetoric. Writing practice is a selection and combination extended from word archives to larger text and graphic segments. Composing online is similar to curating an exhibition.
B. The Online Exam.
The in-class, closed-book, essay exam is an extension into the print era of a feature of manuscript pedagogy. The practice was legitimate in manuscript pedagogy whose principal mode of presentation was oratory. Students learned how to memorize huge quantities of text (read in manuscript form). The system of topics enabled students not only to repeat the classics as citations, but to generate new speeches through selection, combination , and variation on the materials held in memory. With the coming of print and the rise of modern libraries this mnemonic training became obsolete. The written exam adapts some aspects of oratorical preparation, but without any of the memory training. The exam maintained an obsolete practice as a means to motivate study. Its persistence and even domination within schooling is one of the great failures of educational imagination in the modern era.
Internet alternatives to exams and quizzes? Again, the point is the challenge to educators to invent that part of the apparatus for which we have responsibility--institutional practices. The method is to consider the function fulfilled by the exam. The issue for any apparatus is memory: the storage and retrieval of information, including a means for generating new compositions out of the extant archive. A pedagogy coordinates individual organic memory, machinic artificial memory, and collective accumulated knowledge. The exam functions to demonstrate the learners' control of this interface of person-machine-archive.
The best existing practice available as a relay for an internet practice to fulfill this function is "improvisation," as manifested in jazz or theater ensembles. The TV show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" is an entertainment example of the skill. The demonstration of competence does not involve reproduction of information. Instead, the student is given the information in question and asked to do something with it. This "doing something" of course must be taught and learned. The difference between improvisation and examination is the difference between play and interrogation.
In addition to generating new pedagogies by contrast with extant literate ones, electracy makes possible some new learning behaviors that do not have exact equivalents within literacy. Or rather, a feature of literate learning specific to science--the collaboration of research teams designing experiments that contribute incrementally to the growth of a collective body of procedures and knowledge--is augmented and generalized to all learning in electracy.SUMMARY
The new skill that must be explicitly taught is "collaboration," and the new mode of consciousness-raising or reflexivity (self-knowledge) activated by this education is that of the group (between the individual and the collective community). One of the dilemmas or paradoxes of the literate era has been the condition of individually intelligent persons behaving stupidly as groups or collective entities (the notoriously fascistic nature of groups). A promise and challenge of electrate education is to invent a pedagogy for group learning and self-knowledge.
- Electrate pedagogy is based in art/aesthetics as relays for operating new media organized as a prosthesis for learning any subject whatsoever. The near absence of art in contemporary schools is the electrate equivalent of the near absence of science in medieval schools for literacy. The suppression of empirical inquiry by religious dogmatism during the era sometimes called the "dark ages" (reflecting the hostility of the oral apparatus to literacy), is paralleled today by the suppression of aesthetic play by empirical utilitarianism (reflecting the hostility of the literate apparatus to electracy). The ambivalent relation of the institutions of school and entertainment today echoes the ambivalence informing church-science relations throughout the era of literacy.
- Research Paper? replace with designing a personalized interface metaphor relative to one's "learning style" for accessing information. Composition as curating an exhibit of found materials/ideas. In principle, any bodily skill or craft may be mapped as an interface to access any body of knowledge (eg. basketball used to learn chemistry).
- Exam: replace with improvisation. Competence manifested as creative play with given materials.
- Scientific experiment: The collaborative nature of science extended by curating and improvising as relays for the emergence of group intelligence.