EDITED VERSION FOLLOWS: changes made several hours later after much thought and further revelations.
When I first saw Jon Udell’s latest Infoworld weblog, I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was seeing straight: what he writes is so close to what I’ve been thinking and (intermittently) blogging about over the last few months that I thought I was seeing incontrovertible proof of telepathy. The new weblog leads to a recent Udell piece on the O’Reilly Network that fleshes out the argument in more detail. In both instances, Udell has synthesized and articulated matters of the highest importance for everyone in higher education–let’s make that for everyone in education, period, which would be, oh, everyone.
To take Udell’s analysis even further, two pieces need developing (thank goodness there’s still some work left for the rest of us!), both of them to my mind crucial elements of any comprehensive communication paradigm. One is metaphor. (I’m including analogy as a subset of metaphor.) I’d argue that the synaptic gap enacted by metaphor–and the leap-bridge enacted by understanding metaphor–is a vital part of the “getting it” Udell describes. There’s more here than the typical constructivist educational model can offer, in my view. Scaffolding is important, but new understanding must always be in terms of something already understood, and at some point that paradox yields metaphor. The other crucial element that needs developing is aesthetics. In fact, I’d call aesthetics the elephant in the room here. Ideas of elegance, even of beauty are implicit in Udell’s own prose: lovely parallelism, exquisitely timed syntax and punctuation, compelling paragraphing. Elegance is implicit in the idea of “iterative refinement,” too, just as it is in the kind of Occam’s Razor satisfaction inherent in a well-made solution to a logical problem. I suppose I’m reaching for another concept here, however, one that goes farther than precision and problem-solving. I’m looking for the elation that conveys joy, hope in living, and a moment’s respite from a broken world. I’m thinking about music, maybe even the music of the spheres. If engineering, engineering on the scale of the sublime. I don’t think of this quality as separate from precision or persuasiveness, but it’s more than just those things. (I don’t mean by “just” to downplay their critical role, either.)
All of that said, both of these Udell pieces are absolutely essential reading. Every time I read Udell’s work, I get my “favorite author” rush: you know, the kind where you think to yourself, “I must hunt up and read everything this person has written, and then read it again.” Cool. We must get this man to come speak at an EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative session. Note to self: invite this man to campus! Second note to self: make sure Udell meets Katherine Blake Yancey, whose recent CCC article on “Composition in a New Key” is also right on point in this regard. I wish Yancey’s article were online; I have the link-to urge and feel frustrated that I can’t.
Convergence. Synchronicity. To quote Yancey, “we have a moment.” Yes we do.
FURTHER EDIT: I’ve just discovered another reason for the convergence: Udell had actually read, discussed, and linked to the blog where I had initially discussed and linked back to his blog and podcast. Without a trackback, I couldn’t see that he had done so. In effect, I had been part of a conversation without knowing it. I’m used to that in the scholarly world, but the scale and pace are quite different in that world. The other wrinkle is that I need to be more diligent about tracking down all of Udell’s various writing outlets. He’s a prolific thinker and writer. Perhaps I should start thinking in terms of the Udellosphere. Favorite pull quote of the moment:
It’s exciting to live in a time when technical and cultural forces converge on a new synthesis of old themes. For networks of rich media, that time is now.