Several CTE staff members have been at EDC 2009, this year’s iteration of a conference specifically for Educational Developers. It’s a lively group, full of helpful people who prefer to collaborate and share (rather than compete and hoard). After the usual welcoming remarks and housekeeping notes, we had the unusual experience of dramatic readings from two publications (Making a Difference and Silences, both projects of the 3M Teaching Fellows’ Council of our parent organisation, the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education). Then we did what we keep saying does NOT work very effectively for learning: we sat for exactly 47 minutes listening to an uninterrupted keynote speech by “Strategic Thinker” Mark Federman. Co-author of McLuhan for Managers (among so many other roles), we were lucky that Mr. Federman is a brilliant storyteller whose lecture content was as rich as his delivery (he had the whole thing down and needed few notes, and thankfully, zero powerpoint slides). No one noted publicly that in fact he was relying on the authority of orality that he had placed historically in Ancient Greece, which was a nice (and very intentional) irony. I enjoyed the talk immensely, including even the rabid McLuhanism on display from beginning to end.
The upshot of the talk (a talk you can see for yourself at TVO’s website) is that we are smack dab in the middle of a complete change in the structure of authoritative knowledge and power, the magnitude of which has not been seen in Western culture since a) the printing press and b) the invention of writing. The current change began with the telegraph and is taking shape more fully as the generation for whom the internet has ALWAYS been there (“it’s just human nature — it’s how we do things”) grows up.
The implications for teaching? Our institutions are so very far removed from the experiences of the students who are just now joining them that we have no way to take account of the omnipresent proximity (and always-already public identities) of our students. We don’t get it, we have structures and policies that simply don’t work, but we can engage in the new practices to rebuild the places of learning that will lead to the kinds of citizens and states we value. Nothing about the talk was truly doom’n’gloom, but it incited a great deal of challenge and further thinking over the course of the day.