You must change your life

Rainer Maria Rilke (public domain)

Rainer Maria Rilke (public domain)

That’s the stark dictum that closes this very beautiful lyric by the 19th-century German poet Rilke. It’s a poem worth reading:

Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Stephen Mitchell
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

I love everything about that poem, particularly in this translation. The lyric manages to be awestruck, roguish, erotic, stern, and breathtakingly imperative all at once. It represents a very complex frame of mind indeed. And the greatest complexity comes at the end, with that command that is so direct and at the same time so dense with meaning. Is it a conclusion? A rueful or resigned admission? A command? Why does the inclusive “we” quickly morph to “you,” allowing the poet to address an unseen companion so very urgently?

Rather than get all lit-crit on you, dear reader, I want to say that the conceptual framework in this poem is one of augmenting human intellect, just as surely as Doug Engelbart’s vision for interactive computing was and is. When we are faced with the shared experience of beauty and meaning, or at least the potential for these things, we understand that we are challenged to be answerable to that experience, and to create within it those things we will in turn share with our fellow human beings. Not to put to fine a point upon it: I’m talking about bootstrapping, recursion, feedback and feedforward loops, symbols and metaphors and carefully noted observations and measurements, an integrated domain.

But to get there, even to recognize the “there” that we want to get to, we have to alter our conceptual frameworks. We have to change our lives. The change comes, not in response to coercion or lemming-like marches to the superdrumming of consumer culture, but in response to an unmistakable encounter with beauty, meaning, life. A conceptual framework that recognizes the augmentation inherent in learning, narrating, curating, sharing. An integrated domain.

I did my deepest dive ever into Engelbart’s conceptual framework just a few weeks ago, when at Brandeis University I led a group of librarians, faculty, and edtech folk in an Engelbartian analysis of a live performance by Jimi Hendrix of “Red House.” Nine minutes long, and I played it all. I had the folks organize themselves into five small groups and gave them all the same charge, though I didn’t tell them what was coming. I expected to get bafflement, resistance, incredulity, and maybe a few brave imaginations who’d at least try to engage with my deeply strange and ambitious idea. What happened instead took *my* breath away. Every single group rose beautifully to the challenge, teaching me things about that performance I’d never thought of before, with each group building on the preceding groups’ work, on the fly, and with a depth of commitment and beauty of expression that nearly brought me to tears more than once.

It’s all in the frame of mind, the invisible “largest organ” that Scott McCloud memorably compares to our skin in the chapter “Time Frames” from his Understanding Comics. When the conceptual framework is in place–and the framework is both an integrated domain and a platform for bootstrapping and augmentation–almost everything is possible. When the conceptual framework isn’t there, the deepest engagement forever eludes us. Worst of all, we never get to the deepest understanding of all, the one that brings us to the awe Rilke describes and Sherry delightfully imagines here.

Engelbart’s essay ends with these words, words that sadly are not included in The New Media Reader:

This is an open plea to researchers and to those who ultimately motivate, finance, or direct them, to turn serious attention toward the possibility of evolving a dynamic discipline that can treat the problem of improving intellectual effectiveness in a total sense. This discipline should aim at producing a continuous cycle of improvements–increased understanding of the problem, improved means for developing new augmentation systems, and improved augmentation systems that can serve the world’s problem solvers in general and this discipline’s workers in particular. After all, we spend great sums for disciplines aimed at understanding and harnessing nuclear power. Why not consider developing a discipline aimed at understanding and harnessing “neural power?” In the long run, the power of the human intellect is really much the more important of the two.

In many respects, Engelbart’s plea echoes through all the readings we’ve done this semester. It echoes in my own open plea for my fellow educators, faculty and staff and students alike, to embrace the challenge of making real school into that “dynamic discipline that can treat the problem of improving intellectual effectiveness in a total sense.” School should be the place where bootstrapping is at its finest, where conceptual frameworks for augmenting human intellect are explored and co-created by staff and students and teachers alike, where an integrated domain is constantly imagined, experienced, and invented anew. The astonishing, troubling, and inspiring power of interactive computing can make that possible, if we bring our whole new minds to the task, and if we have the honesty and courage to engage with the conceptual frameworks interactive computing represents and can, in turn, make newly possible. Alex Reid says it succinctly and eloquently:

Simply put, you cannot keep your non-digital notion of what it means to be an academic and become digital. It is a more fundamental transition than that. It means inhabiting a new academic space with new behaviors and expectations. Just like we all learned in graduate school what it meant to be non-digital academics, one must now learn those ethics anew.

Lance makes the same point from a different angle:

I leave this seminar being really excited about the future–what it holds for us as educators and parents, the possibilities for our children to live richer lives as a result of New Media…. As I think about all this, my minds goes back to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” the part that says,

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

And then I think about my own children, and realize that this is what the New Media will make possible.

Or at least, what it can make possible, if we see that we must change our lives. Parenting makes that imperative very vivid. Perhaps the opportunity to bring a new academy into being can do this for us as well. Perhaps if we stop trying to tweak our tired industrial schooling processes, and instead change our conceptual framework to imagine a newly integrated domain in which we actually do co-create that augmentation we claim we want, the augmentation so many of these thinkers and dreamers invented computers to empower, we can keep our eyes on that wonderful world, not as techno-utopians, but as fellow laborers in the vineyard (to choose an old metaphor), fellow new medianauts struck with wonder at the possibilities this new language of interactive computing reveals.

Video Games and Computer Holding Power

I so love this essay. As Jim points out, it’s unusually clear-eyed and fair-minded, and cuts the chase: at issue here is the human imagination itself. As Sherry notes, not only does Turkle have a superior first name, she even spells it correctly. Sherry also very beautifully connects video games with reading. While Sherry chooses reading for her full-scale immersion, the connection does point out both the enduring narrative aspects of gaming as well as the essential truth that we humans yearn for connected and connecting experiences of symbol-sharing and symbol-manipulation. In other words, stories, art, and creativity, those places where (what a sentence from Turkle–talk about nuggets!) “nothing is arbitrary and everything is possible.” And as Paige acutely observes, what’s at stake here is nothing less than mimesis itself, which means language, consciousness, community, civilization.

No pressure!

I think about my own relation to gaming, which began early in graduate school when pinball gave way to Stargate and Joust (ah, homecoming time at the Turkle essay) and others with exotic names I can’t quite remember anymore. Many quarters and much procrastination later, I gave it all up for stereos, computers, and movies. All with their own gamelike components, to be sure. And Jerome Bruner observes that all concepts have a gamelike structure, so I’m still well-implicated.

But the hard-core gaming experience went to my children, particularly to my son Ian, now 20 years old. That’s another story.

For now, I just want to register two nuggets from the Turkle essay. The first is on p. 510, and I was alerted to its peculiarly powerful resonance by a student in my first-year seminar. When she brought it up in class yesterday, I could feel the world going into freeze-frame, and then starting up again with much more vivid colors:

Video games allow Marty to feel swept away and in control, to have complete power and yet lose himself in somethign outside. The games combine a feeling of omnipotence and possession, they are a place for manipulation and surrender.

Nothing like a wash of oxymorons to get my pulses beating faster. And of course the word “possession” makes me flash onto one of my favorite books of all time.

The other nugget is one I’ve used in many presentations, and it too beautifully gets at that quality both Sherry T. and Sherry M. are thinking about, that realm where nothing is arbitrary and everything is possible–turned up to 11:

Recall Matthew, the five-year-old who was frightened by the idea that a computer program could go on forever–frightened and also fascinated. Things that give a sense of contact with the infinite are held apart as privileged. They become charged with emotion. They are often imbued with religious feeling. The feeling can be evoked by a sunset, a mountain, the sea. It can be evoked by mathematical experiences, the idea of the infinite sequence of decimals of pi, the sight of two mirrors reflecting each other.

I get such a case of the shivers at this point, recalling another favorite from another author with a great first name: “All art aspires to the condition of music.”

Bring it on.

Questions about the New Media Faculty-Staff Development Seminar

It’s been a thrilling albeit sometimes rough ride this term. I’ve learned a ton. The local group I’m privileged to be part of has gelled far beyond my expectations, and activity across the network has often been a wonder to behold, even in these early days and with sometimes very difficult situations emerging. But the seminar is a work in progress, of course, and there’s lots to tweak and think about. I’ve been in conversation with several folks about the tweaking and thinking, and one particular exchange was so rich that I thought I’d adapt it for a blog post. The result is largely from that one exchange, but with many things folded in from other conversations. I hope I haven’t misrepresented the exchanges in any way, or merely erected straw men to knock over. As always, I welcome and invite comments, if they’re civil. I won’t identify any of my conversational partners in what follows, as I haven’t asked permission to do so. But these are questions and ideas that did spring from real conversations–I’m not just making up interlocuters here.

I hope some of what follows is helpful or stimulating or both. It’s certainly long–no doubt, too long–but I thought the topic worth exploring at length. So here we go.

What’s the larger purpose of the seminar, and how can we get there? How much prescriptive and explicit “set-up” is necessary? How much open-ended “explore and invent” is possible when the readings are so complex?

I certainly want, as one colleague recently put it, to remove the fear barriers, open the doors, and create a runway for creativity. The question is how to do that. I’ve thought about that a lot, and for better or worse I have definite ideas. J For me, the key (as with all the work I do as a learner and teacher) is to work intensively with complex ideas that resonate both personally and socially (by which I also mean “culturally”). The ideas can be quite varied, and they can be expressed in different ways, but without them, there’s none of the deep synaptic work that in my view is necessary for genuine freedom and a new or renewed imagination. Then the question is how best to engage with ideas, especially when they’re complex. I feel very strongly that trust and conversation among spirited companions is the best way to engage with those ideas, especially when they’re new and complex and perhaps even off-putting, because in the end, trust among fellow learners opens the path to the next level. Or so I believe. I do also believe that guidance is necessary, however, and with several colleagues I’m now thinking about what form that guidance might take, and to what extent there should be explicit guidance.

Is the seminar merely flogging folks with hard technical readings the way we’ve flogged them in the past with technologies they don’t understand but are forced to adopt (e.g., “we will all now migrate to version x.x of software y—and no complaining!”)? Shouldn’t we find seductive ways to open minds and free imaginations instead of offering more impenetrable, painful experiences? Isn’t seduction (e.g., an iPad) better than flogging (e.g., requiring hard reading)?

Well, I hope flogging and seduction are not the only alternatives! I firmly believe in catching my flies with honey—that’s why God made honey-pots—but I want to suggest a third option: not flogging (bad extrinsic motivation—“the beatings will continue until morale improves,” and that sort of thing) or seduction (good extrinsic motivation that activates all the pleasure centers—hey, I enjoy that as much as anyone, believe me) but encouragement. Giving heart. Flogging suggests harsh paternalism and inspires resentment. There’s also a perverse pleasure in being flogged, as it allows one to escape any personal responsibility and blame it all (whatever “it” may be) on the Man, or the Woman, or the System, etc. Seduction sounds great by comparison, but it also evades the question of personal agency and plays into a “now, isn’t that *easy*?” paradigm that can be just as crippling as the leg-breaking. Not everything will be easy, not everything will be seductive, not everything presents itself immediately as fun. Some things are bound to seem or be strange or off-putting at first.

Take the universal experience of culture shock, for example. Yes, Steve Martin was right: they really *do* have a different word for everything in France. So what to do? Learning the language out of a phrase book is not fluency, but narrowly conceived utility. Learning the language with drill-and-kill memorization is similarly limiting. If all one wants to do is ask for directions, the first way will probably work as long as the directions are simple and straightforward. For real human complexity, though, it isn’t enough. The second way is also problematic, as Milton himself noted. (There’s my Milton reference for the day.) If all one wants to do is master the language in a limited way that does not engage with the real beauty of the language’s expressive capacity until very late in the game, by that time the student may simply have given up, or the capacity for real pleasure may be gone. I believe there is an encouraging way to do the hard work that does not take the big-picture expressive pleasure out of the experience even as there is unavoidably a steep learning curve—at least if one wants real fluency and an unfettered imagination.

But all of that brings into sharp focus the question of why one would want to “learn French” in the first place.Or to put it another way, why should we work hard to move our minds into bigger, messier, less certain, and less immediately comprehensible frameworks? For me, this whole New Media thing is that question, written larger and more comprehensively than anything before in human history. Ted Nelson says we can and must learn computers NOW. He wrote that in 1974. His essay makes it clear, I think, that it’s about expanding human capacity, augmenting intellect. His idea of “fantics” is wildly seductive to me, sure, but not because of ease of use. I don’t know if I’m explaining myself all that well. I guess I’m trying to say that the question of “what does it mean to learn computers?” is far larger and more urgent and more important than either the “flogging” or “seduction” can address. That said, I certainly think we can make the seminar more seductive through many means, cultural as well as technological (if there’s a real difference there, that is).

But aren’t these readings in The New Media Reader just stuff for techies? Can we really expect folks from traditional disciplines to work to understand them? What if people are just so turned off that they never come back? Don’t we risk simply making everyone defensive because they feel flogged by materials they don’t understand and don’t care about?

First, I’d want to challenge the assumptions implied in this question: that these essays are all “for techies,” that they’re all dry and difficult, and that people from traditional disciplines won’t find connections in there. My experience with the Baylor groups has been that some essays are more immediately accessible than others, but that there are connections in there for every discipline, for every role, for every learner, and that in finding and exploring those connections together (via those “nuggets” I always talk about, those points of resonance, puzzlement, or resistance) we become a true learning community. I really don’t think the situation is as dire as the question implies. This semester in particular, I’m seeing a truly astonishing blossoming of ideas and fellowship not only in the Baylor seminar but across the entire network. There are huge exceptions of course, but I never went into this thinking that the goal was a 100% yield. I’ve never been in a learning situation where that was the case, anyway. My goal is not to hit 100%, but to scale the experience (via the network, and over time) so that a critical mass of digitally awakened imaginations can begin to collaborate on the hard work of building, reforming, and augmenting education in the 21st century.

Perhaps some people do feel a bit bruised by some of the readings. It makes me unhappy to think so, but I’m sure some do. Well, here’s the deal, for me. If they feel flogged, how can we as fellow learners and, sometimes, guides help them not feel flogged? There’s a stark difference between being required to upgrade to Windows 7 or to lock one’s courses into Blackboard 8 or 9 or 15 or whatever and being encouraged to engage with ideas that are complex and suggestive enough to furnish mental models that truly liberate the digital imagination.  The question for me, then, is how to encourage people to engage carefully, openly, bravely, and joyously with new readings that are not necessarily in their “first” language, in terms of discipline or preference. But we know how to do that! We are teachers, after all, and we can do that for each other. The idea I have is that smart and curious folks working together can in fact equip themselves with a core set of ideas and conceptual frameworks that will empower them to think clearly, bravely, and innovatively about networked computing, the force that has enabled the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race.

Also, I don’t believe we will ever be able to craft any experience in which folks are not put off by something. If they feel they’re simply incapable of understanding the essays, in my view the problem is the feeling, not the reality. I firmly believe we *are* capable of understanding the essays. And I firmly believe that these ideas and conceptual frameworks are the ones we really should engage with—and that these essays (with some tweaking, sure; no syllabus is perfect or final) are the motherlode, the resonance frequency.

OK, but are we being innovative enough? Isn’t this just a 1930s-style graduate seminar that’s just enhanced somewhat by network technologies?

As my friends the edupunks know, I am not anti-tradition by any means. This experience is in fact, and unapologetically, modeled on a graduate seminar—but a graduate seminar in which there are no grades, no “deliverables,” just the responsibility and privilege of engaging with fellow learners, locally and remotely, in conversation about deep, rich, complex, and urgent ideas. And I do think that a face-to-face meeting at the local level is crucial to the success we want. So I really don’t think there’s anything wrong—and in fact I think there’s a lot right—because we’re doing something that’s based on a structure from earlier times (I’d say, at least since Socrates, or the Peripatetics). I also don’t see the seminar as being “just enhanced somewhat” by the ICT we use. I don’t see this as a small thing, a “just” thing. The networked design, the blogging, the Deliciousing, the tweeting, the forum (all of which is being used, to varying degrees, across the network) builds a platform and makes the intellectual activity visible. What folks build on that platform and how they respond to and contribute to that activity is up to them. That’s the beauty of it, and the challenge of it. I do agree, though, that I and we can do a better job of articulating the platform and explaining what the seminar can be, why the readings are there, what the experience may be like (including the side-effects, for some, of nausea and heartburn until we’ve gotten a few weeks in :).) My impulse is not to impose my own thoughts too strongly on the platform but to let folks discover it as they go, and invent new pieces that we can all learn from. This puts a huge burden on the individual group leaders (or facilitators, if you prefer).  We need to be in conversation more ourselves. I see that very clearly now. I’ve got some ideas in that regard. And I think all the seminarians, myself included, can and should work harder to encourage each other to blog, comment, and comment on other people’s blogs at other sites. It’s a lot to try to do in twelve weeks, but it’s worth doing.

But aren’t we still stuck in tech 101 by sitting in chairs and using printed books? Shouldn’t we be thinking about radically reshaped learning experiences?

I don’t agree with the assumptions underlying the question. Sitting at tables and discussing printed material is not just primitive, we-can’t-do-better, and unimaginative. It’s the core of building a local cohort dedicated to imagination and innovation. I don’t think the Internet makes the idea of local communities obsolete by any means. Rather it augments the local with the global—and vice-versa. Again, I don’t see the networked part as “just enhancing” something. I think the networked part makes the richly effective traditional face-to-face engagement into something that goes all the way to 11—something huge. I think that in fact it DOES radically reshape the learning experience. I think the radical nature is what’s putting people off, frankly. Cool tools ain’t radical. Getting early adopters or even long-time resisters together to geek out on seductive stuff isn’t radical. Workshops aren’t radical. Many times, even “course redesign” isn’t radical. What *is* radical is the idea of a seminar, unfettered by grades or projects or deliverables, networked so that the intellectual activity is visible and richly interactive. More on this below.

But isn’t blogging just another form of professional writing, one that strongly resembles the writing for professional journals we’re already used to?

Oh no! I’m actually dismayed to think anyone would think so. I think blogging is utterly (and radically) unlike writing for professional journals. Maybe part of the problem here is that folks don’t have a deeper understanding of blogging itself. It’s freer, looser, more voice-filled, more exploratory, more goofy, more fun, more multimodal. I’ve written for a number of professional journals, and blogging isn’t that at all—and shouldn’t be in this context either. It should be thoughts, scraps, false starts, stories of the progress of one’s own learning and missteps and questions and problem-finding…. The local seminar leader/facilitators should make these distinctions clear, I think—but that’s hard, I understand, unless one has some experience with blogging. Again, there is a certain amount of bootstrapping oneself into understanding that’s simply unavoidable (but can be fun, too).

I think the fact that blogging is utterly unlike writing for professional journals is one of the reasons it’s so hard for faculty to do (or at least to start doing). They feel lost and vulnerable without those professional journal structures. And they’ll say weird things to me like “who wants to read what *I* have to say?” This from people who are professors making their living from people who pay to hear what they have to say! No, I truly believe that blogging in this context should free us for authentic learning and sharing of our learning. I’m seeing that happen in the Baylor seminar, big time, partly through luck of the draw, partly through experience (I have the good fortune of being on my *second* iteration locally, and fifth in terms of the undergrad class, so I’ve got more mistakes of my own to learn from), and partly because of another part of the “networking” I kind of backed into this time: teaching the first-year seminar at the same time as the faculty-staff seminar. *That*’s been extremely interesting and suggests models of education that are well worth exploring in more detail, particularly as the two groups begin to interact. This too could scale in interesting ways.

But we’re still conscious of our audiences, just the way we are when we write for professional journals. The only thing that’s really different here is the speed of publishing and interaction.

I don’t think this is right. There is no writing that does not involve consciousness of audience, so we’ll leave that aside. The difference here is not simply speed. It’s that the entire process of the blogosphere is wired differently, with trackbacks and comments and aggregation, etc. One PSU person commented on the forum that all this talk of trackbacks and so forth sounded like mere logistics. I understand why that person might think so, but that’s precisely the opposite of the point (and I certainly need to do a better job of explaining why). In New Media, webby logistics shape and extend content, and thus change the conditions and possibilities of content, and thus begin to alter our notions of what counts as content and how we will create it. The medium is the message. A link is not just a technical contrivance. It represents something new in terms of implicit and powerful citation/association, something that’s as much a game-changer as the alphabet. If trackbacks are logistics, so is language itself. Similarly, blogs furnish a very different model of peer review, what Shirky terms publish-then-filter, instead of the traditional filter-then-publish. When one begins to understand those possibilities, to assemble a network of filters and amplifiers (Udell) that make that system sing, one finds a huge and powerful set of differences between blogging and sending an article to a professional journal that goes well beyond speed. No peer review. Built in comment affordances. Permalinks. Trackbacks. Feeds. Aggregations. Embedded images and video and audio. One can commit art in a blog, and should!

The more I’ve experimented with this seminar, the more it has been growing on me that blogging represents something fundamental that needs to be more widely and deeply understood. I actually spent a little more time on that with my group at Baylor this year, and it seems to have paid off very well. So this may be another area to push forward. Believe me, it’s radical!

Are you saying that more creatively social approaches are unnecessary in this seminar?

Not at all. There’s room for much growth and improvement here. This first iteration of the networked seminar makes that clear to me. And of course that’s one reason the maiden voyage is so important. I agree we need to work the social aspect much more vigorously—but I still maintain blogging will be a key part of the platform we build.

But is blogging really social and interactive? Can’t we explore more interactive tools?

We should always explore, certainly. No problem there. But again, I want to unpack the assumptions a bit. Blogging can be highly interactive and social. It’s built to be that way. It certainly has been interactive and social in my experience, profoundly so. But it does demand commitment far beyond Foursquare check-ins (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It demands deep intellectual engagement. And I believe that only deep intellectual engagement can move us in a positive direction, away from what is so often the witless or flogged technology practices we’ve seen in higher ed.

And here’s another thing I think about: why is “deep intellectual engagement” of this kind something so difficult to get going in higher ed? Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture? 🙂 Where’s our curiosity and spirit of adventure? We ask so much of our students, but it’s hard for us to write two or three paragraphs about something *we’re* learning, to be that open and curious and wondering and vulnerable. See, that’s the radical idea … that we should learn in front of each other.

Well, what if instead of reading Ted Nelson, we explore Xanadu virtually, for instance.

GC: In *addition to*, sure. The Baylor facilitators that day actually played for us a video of Nelson explaining Xanadu, and doing that was both stimulating and helpful. I feel strongly that seminarians should bring some kind of interesting new media into every session. We’ve certainly tried to do that at Baylor. But why *instead of*? In my view, we could explore Xanadu all day, but unless we’ve read the impassioned and provocative excerpts from Nelson’s manifesto, the experience will be superficial, weightless—just another interesting tech demo. We’ve had enough of these, and they just don’t change anything.

And for most of the folks who blogged about it, Nelson’s essay was easy to read–even fun. Folks enjoyed his spicy rhetoric. I’m not sure the problem is spice. But the readings need to be framed and experienced as vital, deep explorations of essential challenging ideas. I think that’s not only possible, but necessary. The book and essays are the platform. Build the social stuff on and through and around it, yes, but at the end of the day, if we want to know where Nelson is coming from, his crazy multimodal manifesto is the foundation. And it can be fun—and is for many people, potentially for everyone if they just relax and go with it!

Shouldn’t we be modeling the kind of pedagogical innovation we want to bring to our undergraduates? Are reading and conversation really innovation in terms of a course of study?

GC: This isn’t a “course” in that sense—at least, as I’m struggling to articulate it. It’s more like a reading group on steroids, a deep conversation, a think tank, a set of community activists in fellowship. No doubt we can mix the experience up more to help the readings come alive for folks who are struggling to get their imaginations awake in that medium. But the idea is not to leave the medium of the essays behind—it’s to *augment* them, and by augmenting them, to awaken our digital imaginations.

I’m confident that NMFS is not the only way to do it. But I’m also confident that it’s never really been tried like this. And I’ve seen such rich results from my undergrads and now from my colleagues at Baylor that I think the thing to tweak is not the basic philosophy of the seminar, but the ways in which we can mindfully work together to make that experience as rich as possible. Remember that it was an *undergraduate* class that led to the NMFS. In many respects, one of my primary goals with this experiment is to model the idea of the *seminar* in a purer and less encumbered way than one typically finds it in higher ed. My experience has been that a seminar like this is pretty radical for the undergrads too—we talk about this with some frequency.

For me at this point, the problem is not the idea of a seminar, it’s that the idea of a seminar has become corroded and compromised by all the clanking of the industrialized model of schooling. A real seminar, where we’re all learning together, where we’re all bootstrapping and augmenting ourselves into a fuller level of understanding, is highly innovative in a world of grades, semesters, products, GPAs, credit hours, etc. Or so it seems to me!

I guess we’re learning as we go, as guinea pigs for each other. We’ll press onward through the fog.

Part of any learning experience is watching the fog lift. Some weeks are foggier than others. I felt foggy last week. Not so much this week. Here’s one huge reason why: http://homepages.baylor.edu/lance_grigsby/what-we-behold-becomes-us-too/. I really do think the blogging is key. A good motherblog is key. Recirculating/aggregating/displaying comments. Being explicit about what a blog is and how it works and what it can be and can mean. It’s the whole package. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to be more explicit and have deeper conversations about how all this augmenting is designed. Maybe the local leaders/facilitators need to be in intensive conversation for two or three days before the next iteration. In fact, I think that’s a great idea (and I’m very grateful to the colleague who suggested it). We really do need to understand the platform at the outset, so we can share it with confidence with each of the local groups. I think about the Center for Digital Storytelling in this regard—they’ve got this “train the trainers” thing down cold.

And hey, if folks want to do their own thing, that’s fine—that’s what was happening before any of this started. But I have to say that I am firm in my conviction that we need to be in *idea space* (Kay) and the way to get there most deeply is by reading and talking about and blogging about these essays, augmented by all the new media wonderfulness we can muster. Without that depth, we just won’t get the traction we need. Without that traction, we can’t move toward the change or reformation we desire.

Free, as in Unfettered

I do many presentations these days centered around the idea of openness and the value of teaching ourselves and our students the ways and means of digital citizenship, which for me inevitably includes publication to the open Web (there’s that “open” thing again) and subscribing (RSS or otherwise) to material published to the open Web. That’s why it’s the Read/Write Web.

Clearly my ideas have been influenced–I’d say “shaped” is more like it–by the resonance frequencies of Bush-Licklider-Engelbart-Nelson-Kay et al. As several folks have pointed out in the Baylor seminar, that resonance frequency is also present in McLuhan and in today’s reading, Bill Viola’s “Will There Be Condominiums In Data Space”? I confess: I chose the readings and ordered them as I did to find and amplify that resonance frequency. For me, it’s the music of the spheres, not just because *I* like it, though I do, but because it sets in motion complex individual resonances that lead, I firmly believe, to the imaginative leaps and awakenings that we need to make sense and use of our digital world (and perhaps our world, period–though they’re rapidly becoming synonymous).

Prepping for today’s New Media Faculty-Staff Development Seminar meeting, I re-read Viola. I re-read him yesterday too as I prepped for the First Year Seminar meeting. Each time I marveled even more at the extraordinary range and depth and quality of his thought.. His commitment to convergence-divergence, or is it divergence-convergence, is breathtaking, even if he sometimes doesn’t quite get the science entirely right (Hillary is characteristically on point in her critique but also characteristically generous in her final appraisal). He really is someone with McLuhan’s heart who also makes the kind of art Errol Morris makes, as Paige brilliantly notes, in which whole and part dance together in a wonderfully delicate yet amazingly powerful quodlibet. Or perhaps it’s a foxtrot, or a minuet. But I digress.

I hadn’t quite finished my Health Camp meal when I finished re-reading the Viola. I meditated for a bit, then flipped through the pages of the New Media Reader in search of another interesting nugget. I was, frankly, in the mood for a manifesto. I saw Haraway’s famous “Cyborg Manifesto,” but that was too direct for me at that moment, the glass of Dublin Dr. Pepper still half full. I wanted something stranger, or less direct. So I went to the next manifesto, on the very next page: “The GNU Manifesto.” I had a nodding acquaintance with the topic, and I was intrigued, since “open” as in “open source” has been a big topic of conversation at my workplace lately.

And then the tumblers aligned, the key turned into the lock, and the scales fell from my eyes:

Since “free” refers to freedom, not to price, there is no contradiction between selling copies and free software…. Because of the ambiguity of “free,” people have long looked for alternatives, but no one has found a suitable alternative. The English language has more words and nuances than any other, but it lacks a simple, unambiguous word that means “free,” as in freedom–“unfettered” being the word that comes closest in meaning. Such alternatives as “liberated,” “freedom” and “open” have either the wrong meaning or some other disadvantage.

And that was in a sidebar, quoted from “The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement,” by Richard Stallman, also the author of the Manifesto. It pays to check everything: sidebars, captions, titles, epigraphs, copyright pages, acknowledgements, dedications, even the little SDG at the bottom of Bach’s scores….

So I’m thinking today that the kind of education I want to support, and to co-create, is unfettered learning. The trick is to understand when open means unfettered, and when it might be a closed platform that sets us free (and I mean in terms of learning, NOT in terms of copyright. The copyright “protection” of closed LMS’s is actually one of those weakening prosthetics, as it keeps us from agitating vigorously for our Fair Use rights and keeps the current copyright jailers in the money). When does a curriculum unfetter us, and when is it a set of handcuffs? When does a teacher unfetter us? When do our classmates unfetter us? A classroom, or a credit hour system, or an advising system? And so forth. These are very difficult questions indeed, and of course some oppressors believe most sincerely (it seems) that they’re keeping handcuffs on for the inmates’ own good–and of course Stockholm Syndrome means that sometimes people don’t want to lose their fetters, so thoroughly do they identify with their captors.

But these are the complications we should confront continually, lest we fetter ourselves and others. Kierkegaard tells us that the worst despair is not to know you’re in despair. Blake anticipates Kierkegaard’s aphorism by calling the worst fetters “mind-forged manacles.”

In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

Only the awakened imagination can make us aware of those mind-forg’d manacles, let alone help us to slip their bonds and help to free our colleagues and fellow pilgrims. Let alone help us desist from creating them for others, among them, horribile dictu, even at times our best beloveds. I take it that that’s why Blake was a poet, that’s why Bill Viola does his art. But that’s also why scientists labor to uncover new knowledge, and talk so passionately–and imaginatively!–to their colleagues and to all of us about the scale, scope, and importance (and excitement!) of their work. For we are all imagineers, and we are all in this together….

And while Pete Townshend was right that there’s no easy way to be free, loosing fetters and creating portals to realms of greater unfetteredness for all is, I believe, one of the highest, noblest, trickiest, most exhilarating aspects of this thing we call, simply, education.

In my experience, no human invention has had greater potential for that unfettering than the Internet itself. The pub-sub model that Jon Udell describes in the podcast I linked to in my previous post is right on target about how that can and should happen. That the Internet also has the opposite potential (and that’s what we hear the most about, unfortunately–man bites dog and uploads video to YouTube) should surprise no one. Every powerful human invention cuts both ways. But that’s the bad news and the good news too. Both ways. And I suppose we have some say in the matter, if we can loose the mind-forg’d manacles that keep us from the freedom of the Internet itself….

Awaken the digital imagination, then strengthen the heart, hands, and mind for digital citizenship.

In that spirit, then, I offer a podcast recording of my keynote talk last Friday at the E-Learn 2010 conference. I called it “The Great Internet Backlash,” and through that lens I viewed what seem to me to be both the manacles and the possibilities for unlocking them. I believe I am right, but I am not sure of it. That’s why I want to keep this conversation going.

Conference website: http://www.aace.org/conf/elearn/speakers/default.htm

Archive of the talk with PPT slides: coming soon, I hope.

And here’s the recording I made. I hope it resonates. Let me know.

Play

The global nervous system worked like a champ

One view of conceptacularity

I’m exhausted, so I won’t be able to do anything like even the most superficial justice to the experience–but I want to note it now, before this magic moment subsides.

I’m at OpenEdTech 2010, sponsored by the Open University of Catalonia. For the last two and a half days, thirty educators from around the world (India to Canada to the US to Spain to Jamaica–you get the idea) have been working, laughing, cooking, eating, and dreaming together about how we might help to build online learning spaces that support and inspire the joy of learning. We seek to co-create online learning spaces that are just as memorable and magical as those places on a physical campus that embed themselves into our experience and weave themselves into the texture of *alma mater*.

We just had our summary session. Tonight we will eat together once more, then disperse to our scattered homes. But not quite yet. There’s time for one more reflective journey before the miles come between our company.

As we were finishing the last intensive bit of group work before that summary session, I suddenly knew what I must do. I must contact my young colleagues at Baylor. These colleagues, as fine a conceptacular crew as one could wish for, had a perspective on this “joy of learning” question that simply must be part of our discussion in Barcelona. So I set about convening them, virtually, and put the question to them for their consideration and expression.

As a result, ten of the eleven students in the class (yes, students are my colleagues, and each others’–at least, that’s been my experience for twenty years) blogged their responses to the question. They were thoughtful, playful, energized, focused, imaginative. Our work together in the New Media Seminar had prepared them well to think about online learning in large terms, a la Engelbart, V. Bush, Nelson, etc. They made fascinating distinctions and ingenious suggestions. They got superbly artful with their linking (one strong mark of a master blogger, in my view). The quest was on. And mirabile dictu, they began commenting on each other’s blog posts just about as quickly as they could be written. They built out stunning examples of how individual depth and social breadth could also, and very quickly, become individual breadth and social depth. E pluribus unum–and the reverse, however that might look in Latin. 🙂

And then I shared the responses with my colleagues in the room in Barcelona, half a world away, yet intimately connected in the global nervous system Jon Udell so eloquently describes in this podcast. The room got very quiet. It was magical.

I confess to you: I love my colleagues, my students, my conceptacular fellow-travelers. I love how quickly they responded, how well they entered into the sustained conversation, how they conversed with me and each other and, today, the world. I am proud to be among them.

If you’re of a mind, please visit their blogs and leave some comments. Comment love, we call it, and not idly, either. Start with our motherblog to get the range of the conversation. Then click over to the individual blogs, listed here, to interact with the posts my colleagues contributed on this very special day:

The first time I saw the mother of all demos, indeed the first time I read Engelbart, I quickly intuited that days like today were made possible by his vision. More than that, I somehow understood–I honestly don’t know how–that days like today would be part of that same dream of augmentation, that dream of how the world could be that I first brushed against when I read of life in an integrated domain and the conceptual framework that could make it possible, even likely. This is my experience, no doubt not shared by all, but undeniably part of the fabric of which I continue to be woven. That noosphere Engelbart and others saw on the distant horizon, the summation that Jon describes so very beautifully and urgently, is ours for the asking, now.

So why not ask for it? No, that’s not strong enough. Why not insist on it? Look at my young colleagues’ work and the joy that carries it aloft like sweet incense. Can we not answer that joy with open hearts and minds of our own?

The Arts of Augmentation

It’s been quite a week since last Wednesday’s New Media seminar at Baylor. The seminar meeting itself was an extraordinary session, as Christina Engelbart, Executive Director of the Doug Engelbart Institute, joined us via Skype to discuss the many facets of her father’s work and the Institute’s ongoing mission. Christina’s contributions were warm, direct, and clear throughout. Several participants remarked how much better they understood her father’s conceptual framework as she explained it. Christina’s great gift for connection came across very compellingly through that Skype window. There we were: she in her house, and we in our seminar room, our company knit closely by a version of the very affordances her father had imagined and helped to bring into being all those years ago. The effect was uncanny, especially as we had begun the session with the clip from the end of “The Mother of all Demos” in which Doug Engelbart thanks his team for their support and dedicates the entire demonstration to his family, the loved ones who for as long as seventeen years had endured his “monomaniacal” commitment to augmenting human intellect. Moving from that digitized movie on YouTube to our conversation with Christina via Skype, all displayed on a flat panel LCD screen at the side of the room fed by a Mac mini controlled wirelessly by a keyboard and mouse—well, it was a richly recursive experience in what sometimes seemed to be a time machine connecting us to the past, and at other moments seemed to be a time machine connecting us to the future.

The key is connection, of course. Christina reminded us that for her father, the technology was always a means to an end, and the end was always collaborating and communicating in a way that would bring our collective IQ into the fullest range of its expression and usefulness. Otherwise, we cannot possibly address the complex, urgent problems we face as a species, nor will we ever realize the enormous potential we have for learning, creating, and sharing.  Without a strong, committed co-evolution between us and our tools, especially the tools represented by the promise of interactive computing, we’ll be forever distracted by our “isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations,” and never attain the “integrated domain” of which Doug writes so movingly in the opening of his seminal “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.”

In the blogs around the seminar meeting, at Baylor and elsewhere, and in the discussion at the Baylor meeting as well as at Tulane on Friday (I was privileged to be their guest facilitator), many folks commented on how difficult and dense they find “Augmenting Human Intellect.” Some speculated the difficulty comes from Engelbart’s engineering background. Some were troubled by the way Engelbart switches from first-person to third-person as he tells the story of “Joe” trying to tell the story of the augmentation framework. Still others remarked that Engelbart seems naïve about the various power agendas that motivate human beings and block real collaboration.

When she spoke with the Baylor seminar, Christina Engelbart emphasized that her father had written “Augmenting Human Intellect” pretty much in isolation, as he had been strongly warned against sharing these ideas with anyone, lest he be thought crazy. (There’s an irony as well as a paradox in Engelbart’s isolated writing—more to consider there.) Many did think Engelbart a “crackpot” for many years until the Mother of All Demos—and the future it pointed toward—showed that Engelbart was not only sane but indeed a towering visionary. It’s never easy to sum up a decade’s worth of thought, especially when that thought has seemed dangerous to utter.

But now it’s time for a confession. When folks ask me if I, too, find the essay difficult, I usually mumble some kind of assent out of fellow feeling. Yes, I do find it a challenging piece of writing—but no more so than Milton, or Shakespeare, or Woolf, or Faulkner, or Joyce. In fact, in its complexity and playfulness, “Augmenting Human Intellect” resonates with me very strongly as a work of art, even a work of philosophy. I can’t claim to have gotten to the bottom of it. Perhaps I never will. Art is like that. But I rejoice in it, and enjoy the many wry twists and turns of rhetoric and storytelling Engelbart employs. (Christina spoke movingly of her father’s gift for storytelling, and how her childhood friends ask her if he’s still telling those stories.) For me, the idea of working collaboratively within the structure of a concept and all its associative trails is positively thrilling, and Engelbart describes it so vividly that I cannot help believing it can truly happen at the scale and with the fluency he imagines. When I compare his vision to the reality of most of the meetings I participate in during the course of a normal week, well, there’s really no comparison. We’ve devised so many methods for de-augmenting our work together that one would almost think we actually prefer a state of de-augmentation. Engelbart’s hope lifts my spirits and strengthens my resolve that we can do better.

And if it all boils down to hegemonies and power games, and collaboration is always already a mask for overtaking the other, then permit me my callow hopes. The sophisticated, brittle, cynical alternatives don’t much interest me. No nourishment there.

When I read “Augmenting Human Intellect,” beginning with that astonishing first paragraph on the integrated domain, I feel I am reading one of the great humanist essays of our time. My confession for you is that the real difficulty I feel is not in reading the essay. It’s in measuring up to its deeply felt humanity.

Seven Wonders, Vannevar Bush, and NMFS_F10

Thanks to Alice for the image. <3

I’ve actually seen Cinerama, real Cinerama, at one of the few places left on Earth that’s got the synchronized projectors, the skilled technicians, and an actual Cinerama print to show. The three-screen Cinerama process was expensive. The machinery was finicky. The logistics pretty fierce. As a result, Cinerama never really caught on, despite the splendors of movies like How The West Was Won. But if you travel to Bradford and get to the museum on the right day, you can see what all the fuss was about. And you can join in the continuing celebration.

What I’m witnessing as we begin the third week of the New Media Faculty Development Seminar leaves Cinerama, breathtaking and beautiful as it is, in the dust. (And I don’t say that idly–I loved This Is Cinerama when I saw it in Bradford in 2000.)

I’m not going to be able to knit my thoughts into anything very elegant or polished. I’m feeling rather awestruck by the network, by the beautiful patterns of response emerging from it on a daily basis. The most obvious place to see those patterns is the Netvibes portal, one great place to get the comprehensive view of the activity generated by the network (and the network generated by the activity).

But the portal is only one of the wonders. Another is that the every node in the network, seen with the digital imagination, is also potentially a great place to get the comprehensive view.  I wish I had superitalics to stress this point even more emphatically. The fractal, network-of-networks model doesn’t just follow a paradigm in which sets of unitary-simple-examples aggregate into a highly complex set-of-sets that retains features of each set and each element in each set. It does something far more rich and strange.

Let me try to explain. You know babushkas? Here’s a picture from the Wikipedia article:

Women amid the flowers

This design is pretty easy to understand, and accords well with our sense that in the physical world, small things go inside bigger things. That’s the key to the Maggie Sort Algorithm, too:

What I’m seeing in the Networked Seminar, however, is more like a Klein Bottle:

Eine Kleine Klein Bottle

which Wikipedia defines as

a non-orientable surface, informally, a surface (a two-dimensional manifold) with no identifiable “inner” and “outer” sides. Other related non-orientable objects include the Möbius strip and the real projective plane. Whereas a Möbius strip is a two-dimensional surface with boundary, a Klein bottle has no boundary. (For comparison, a sphere is an orientable surface with no boundary.)

It’s fair to say that I have little idea what all that means, but “little” does not equal “no,” and the metaphor intrigues me (always has) for the same reason Moebius strips intrigue me, but more so, because the Klein Bottle lets me talk about objects in which the inside is bigger than the outside.

Which is really the point I want to get across here. The networked seminar is not, or not just, a set of nested self-similar iterations of the same idea, though that’s certainly the easiest and most direct mental picture of the initial design. The difference between the babushkas and the networked seminar is that any given point in this augmented human network, one may find that the inner or “smaller” nodes are actually every bit as large as the complete aggregation, and in many cases even larger. As near as I can tell, that’s because every single brain, every single embodied instance of personhood, every single blog post with its language of words and images and sounds and concept structures, can link freely to itself, to other posts in the person’s blog, to other blogs within each local group, to blogs at other local groups, to the portal itself, and of course to the other people represented and enacted by these things, which means that every post can be a kind of portalesque motherblog, and every motherblog can be thought of as a single post, and every person is potentially the entire networked seminar, and any link as well as the entire aggregation can be held in a single thought. I can see this happening in ways that are deeply interesting, even spooky.

Let’s go with spooky.

Last Wednesday I facilitated the Baylor seminar’s discussion of Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think.” I talked about blogging as a particular genre of, instantiation of, metaphor for, the Memex, particularly with the ways hyperlinks, including the trackbacks they can generate when blogs are linked, are examples of “associative trails.” I thought I’d not spent quite enough time on the essay itself, and too much time on the mechanics of blogging. But then, to my delight, the integration I was trying to get at actually happened over the past week, across multiple levels, because the blogs started coming in across the network in earnest. In fact, folks in our Baylor seminar are all now blogging, and many are now blogging with posts full of links (hyper- and semantic, and is there a difference?) to other blogs. One such blog elicited a comment with its own playful links, which must qualify as some kind of link-jazz.

Further, last week a blogger at the Monterey Institute of International Studies quoted a blogger at the Baylor site. Obviously the MIIS blogger was reading the portal feed, or moving across the motherblogs by means of the networked seminar directory. Ah! And though the link was a quote and not a hyperlink (see how the notion of “link” moves from concept to procedure and back again),  I caught the link myself because I had also been scanning the blog feeds on the portal, and when I read the MIIS blogger’s post I had recognized the quotation (made the connection mentally, so formed/recognized the link). (I confess: when I saw the title was “Nuggets,” I *had* to go take a look. Witness, dear reader, the value of the evocative title.) Now, having incorporated those links into this post, I have folded the mental links and hyperlinks into the entire set of (implicit and explicit) associative trails (and scaffolding) that the blogs are producing within and across all the sites.

Um, whoa.

Then an even spookier thing happened.

Thursday I had the great privilege of facilitating the discussion on Bush’s essay via a Skype connection with the group Tom Haymes is leading at Houston Community College. It was a great discussion, very passionate and insightful, and I found myself quite inspired by it all. Friday, I was scanning the blog feeds to read the HCC blogs about the discussion. Then I clicked over to some of the other sites’ blogs to see what was happening there. Oops! I was brought up short. I thought I’d clicked on a St. Lawrence University blog post. It sure looked like their site. But as I read the post, it was clear to me something had gone wrong. I was reading a description of the discussion at HCC, which had included very thoughtful inquiries into the relationship of information, knowledge, and wisdom. Then I realized that in fact I was reading a description of the HCC discussion–because that’s what they’d talked about at St. Lawrence University as well.

And now my links bear witness to that connection, tell my story of those connections, and enact them anew.

This property of the link–that it is both map and territory–is one I’ve blogged about before (a lucky blog for me, as it elicited three of my Favorite Comments Ever). But now I see something much larger coming into view. Each person enacts the network. At the same time, the network begins to represent and enact the infinities within the persons who make it up. The inside is bigger than the outside. Each part contains the whole, and also contributes to the whole.

Bush’s idea of folded-in-associative-trails gets at this phenomenon, though he doesn’t explore it as fully as I’d like. For me, this folding-within, up and down the scale until scale itself acquires paradoxical meanings, is where the going gets really, really good. I mean quantum good. I also think it’s where Engelbart begins to build his conceptual framework, which for me is a framework about how the inside is bigger than the outside–among many other things, of course. But I’ll save those many other things for the next NMFS blog.

Oh, and here’s the lagniappe. My friend and colleague Tim Logan has a great idea for an NMFS visualization project. I’m going to need some expert help on this one. Tim’s idea is to construct a dynamic map of the thought-connections among the network nodes. I suggested trackbacks (i.e., incoming links) and comments as proxies for these connections. Now all we need is some way to gather the comments-and-trackbacks and have the map automagically trace/draw the connections within and among the sites. Anyone have any ideas for how to do that?

The Network Emerges

As Stu Card remembers it, “There was this thread of ideas that led from Vannevar Bush through J. C. R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Alan Kay–a thread in the Ascent of Man. It was like the Holy Grail. We would rationalize our mission according to what Xerox needed, and so on. But whenever we could phrase an idea so that it fell on this path, then suddenly everybody’s eyes would light up, and you’d hit this resonance frequency.”

Mitchell Waldrop, “The Dream Machine: J. C. R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal” (Penguin, 2001), 363.

We’ve now begun the second iteration of our New Media Faculty Development Seminar at Baylor University. Last week was our first meeting: hello, what’s your name, what’s your role, what do you hope to learn this semester, and what’s one thing we should know about you (a “fair warning / full disclosure” moment, for fun)? Turns out the hardest question, both last time and this time, was “what do you hope to learn?” Food for thought there….

As we did our introductions and “disclosures,” I felt the onset of group identity: ah, this is who we are! Several folks in the room knew each other already, several did not. All were intrigued by the mix. I thought I could hear that intrigue growing in their voices as we made our way around the tables. Honors program prof of “literature, media, and learning.” Astrophysicist. Business prof. Recent Baylor graduate. K-12 edtech director. Biologist prof. Rhetoric prof. E-Learning librarian. Classroom technology director. Academic consultant. Seminary prof. Social Work prof. Film studies prof. Sociology grad student. Neuroscience grad student. And on this day, a visitor from a nearby “node” of the networked seminar, sitting in to see how things would start in our Baylor seminar.

A rich mix.

Introductions done, we turned to the shape of the course, with a quick overview of the syllabus and a brief preview of the individual readings we’d be doing together. My goal here was to pique interest and curiosity and thus to stimulate early sign-ups for facilitation slots. It must have worked, as half the seminar had signed up for their first choices by the end of the next day. That said, I did worry that I had spent a bit too much time on the “syllabus tour,” as I could see the late afternoon energy-sag in my colleagues’ expressions, a few glazed eyes, and at least one nodding head (and I don’t mean nodding in assent, either :)).  And I could also feel myself lingering too long on my description of each reading, as I savored the memory of the essays and thought with pleasure about the way this new group would encounter them and make sense of them within the context of their own reading and the group’s discussion.

Time for a break.

Then with about a half-hour left (I need to hire a time manager–whom does Time report to, anyway?), we turned to Janet Murray’s introduction to our text, The New Media Reader. I asked for a “nugget,” by which I mean a passage that was troubling, exhilarating, puzzling, revelatory, whatever. A passage that elicited a strong response of some kind. I find this “call for nuggets” much more effective than “going over” the essay or asking for more general responses. The text is always richer and stranger than any paraphrase can convey. As I glanced around the room, I saw one book filled with highlights. Naturally, I called on that colleague. And was I ever rewarded–or rather, were we ever rewarded. Jim lighted on one of the most interesting passages in the essay, a paragraph in which Murray describes the hopes and anxieties ICT elicits from its users. I asked who else had marked this passage. Several hands flew up around the room. I had a strange feeling, as if I’d suddenly inhabited one of the Kindle’s “popular highlights” moments–or as if the “popular highlights” had tapped into this very moment. And I marveled once again at the ways in which my electronically mediated and face-to-face environments are so thoroughly interwoven. Hopefully, for the good….

All too quickly the session was drawing to an end. After one more Murray nugget from the group, I played Mike Wesch’s immortal “The Machine is Us/ing Us” for the group. A few of us had seen it before, but it seemed to be new to most. As it played, I could sense its power in the room. Certainly I never tire of it. Each time I view it, it seems more witty, heartfelt, complex, and urgent than it did the last time. One of the ATL Grad Fellows said later that she always felt like standing up and cheering at the end. I know that feeling; I share it. In fact, I could feel my teeth chattering with excitement after it was over (yes, that happens to me; I have a little of that “Lloyd Dobler nervous talking thing”). I blurted out something about the wonderful way in which Mike uses the very technologies he’s describing to craft the document he shares with us. One of the seminar participants looked up and asked, “So, would that be a metatext?” Bingo! And off we went on a short tangent about metamedia in which I got to quote my favorite Alan Kay aphorism: “A computer is an instrument whose music is ideas.”

I glanced at the clock and saw we had gone over time by a minute–but I had one more thing to share, something that at that moment seemed the obvious and only way to end the session. I played the clip from the very opening of “The Mother of All Demos,” the one in which Doug Engelbart asks what value we, as knowledge workers, could derive from interacting with our own instantly responsive computers throughout each day. I said, “That question leads directly to Mike Wesch’s video–and beyond. And that path is what we’ll be exploring this semester.”

With that, five minutes over our time, we were done for the day.

And yet not done, either, for the network was emerging. Several blog posts have already come into the Baylor motherblog. Blogs posts are coming online from McClennan Community College, from Houston Community College, from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, from St. Lawrence University, from THE Pennsylvania State University, from the University of Central Florida, from the University of South Carolina Upstate. More sites are coming online this week: Tulane, Case Western, Rice. It’s possible the University of Queensland may join in as well, making this truly an international network. (See the full directory here.)

All these sites will be reading along with us at Baylor, gathering their own local participants’ contributions, feeding aggregated resources into the Networked Seminar Portal, contributing to the podcasts Alan Levine is facilitating along with many other crucial contributions from the New Media Consortium. There’s a discussion forum to elicit conversations and connections among the networked sites–a great place for the larger conversation, which along with the networked groups also includes individual participants from Occidental, Mary Washington, Millersville, Santa Monica College, the Doug Engelbart Institute, and the New Media Consortium.

In my heart, I feel as if the seminar never starts or stops. It continues, and gathers force, and knits many talented, hopeful, and committed learners together into an experience that’s much bigger than any one institution. I don’t know how it will all play out. It’s hard to maintain commitment and energy over twelve weeks. I believe in these readings, though, and the “resonance frequency” they inhabit and excite. I believe in the strong desires of many colleagues to be truly answerable to this extraordinary moment in human history. I believe in what Jerome Bruner calls “the possibilities of communal mental activity.” I believe in real school, and I hope this networked seminar is an instance of it–powerful, and powerfully shared.

I hope it looks, and acts, like the Internet at its best: eyes lighting up, nodes coming online, the network of networks emerging. A complex harmony with the sweet force of one note, pure and easy. A resonance frequency.

Let the music begin.