No Digital Facelifts

In his talk “No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences,” (along with Jim Groom) Gardner Campbell continues his discussion on the digital facelift. He gives the ‘digital facelift’ a referent most of us can understand: the newspaper. Newspapers tried to give themselves a digital facelift to have a presence on the web (and to partake in all the new technology), yet all they did was do the same thing they’d done before (for centuries), just on the web. Same content, same format, they just hyperlinked things. I thought it was fitting to look back at an early example of the online newspaper, so I used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to pull a screenshot of the New York Times from November 12, 1996:

New York Times website frontpage from November, 12, 1996

I’m not sure that’d pass a usability heuristics test. Let’s compare to today’s website (June 16, 2015):

New York Times website frontpage from June 16, 2015

Pretty different! The older one looks just like the physical print paper, while the new one is minimal in design, cleaner aesthetic, has clear menus and breadcrumbs, and incorporates other media, like feeds and videos. I think newspapers have certainly realized that a digital facelift isn’t the long-term solution. You can even see the changes since the News-Miner went online; it looks a whole lot different now from when it first came into existence.

There was a fair amount of overlap between this talk and his article “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure,” but that’s okay. I felt he covered more topics here that overlapped with some of the other readings and research I’ve done for this class. He starts his talk off by stating that higher ed is the place where we train people to make use of the fact that “we are living in the middle of the largest increase of expressive capability in the history of the human race,” as quoted from Clay Shirky. This reminded me of Vannevar Bush and how we are living in a world know with a virtually never-ending mass of knowledge and the technologies to help us acquire more. So what are we doing with these capabilities? Clearly Gardner doesn’t think we’re doing enough. He sounds a little whimsical when he talks about wanting to graduate a generation of students who will help expand the minds of the world’s citizens and regain a sense of wonder. Some of his examples, like Shakespeare, I found a little difficult to make the transition between classic literature and cyberinfrastructure. Seemed like quite a leap to make when he talks about every student needing to learn to become his or her own system administrator, whereas I’m pretty sure not everyone who learned writing and literature became even close to Shakespeare’s level of genius. With regards to that, Campbell does discuss the PS3 game LittleBigPlanet, where players act as both participants and producers, and that of the creations made in the game, the majority aren’t worth a second look. I get what he’s trying to say, but the logic doesn’t work for me. That’s not the focus in my opinion. Teaching skills should be done to teach skills, using technology to enable skill-creation and learning should be the end-goal: not to find the next Shakespeare of the cyberworld by training the masses to find the one gold nugget.

Campbell cites 3 recursive practices we can use to oppose the digital facelift:

  1. Narrating: students and teachers thinking aloud, telling the process of the story/investigation of learning, such as blogging
  2. Curating: taking care of your stuff, paying attention to how you arrange it. Transactional exchanges aren’t viewed as contributing to one’s life work (This made me think of the concept of the artist’s oeuvre)
  3. Sharing: putting it out there and making unknown connections. Meaning happens when people connect

I agree that all of these are important practices that should be done, no excuses. I also agree that it’s been the rare class where I’ve had teachers share their vulnerabilities with me; this is one of the three levels of openness Campbell describes. Especially in my classes for ONID, I think my own vulnerabilities are made quite clear, but it’s been rare in my experience to see that in return. It’s actually kind of difficult for me to imagine happening. Curation obviously again hearkens back to Bush with conscious organization and arrangements of knowledge. I agreed with Campbell that these ‘transactional exchanges’ he speaks of between student and professor aren’t necessarily things we see clear value in; I wouldn’t necessarily think that a required paper I submit to my professor electronically is something I want making up the collection that is defined as me. Why aren’t we (both students and educators) more concerned with creating things we would actually want in our oeuvre? Why aren’t we more concerned with merely having one? ONID proposes that students spend their classes working on things to add to a self-created portfolio – this is great (unless you’ve got multiple domains), but why do we only see the concepts of portfolios in very specific contexts? Artists, writers, educators, etc., – for content creators, there’s no question. But what about the rest of us? Why shouldn’t we at least have some kind of ‘cyberinfrastructure’ takeaway like others have portfolios? We should. End case. 



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