There has recently been a good discussion around Jon Mott’s forthcoming publication in the EDUCAUSE Review–it’s officially due out tomorrow—and the issue of getting credit for ideas. More specifically, getting credit for the idea of a post-LMS learning landscape, one wherein the Personal Learning Environment (or Personal Learning Network-depending on how you swing) becomes the new standard—providing a loosely coupled approach to teaching and learning. This is an idea I’m extremely excited about, and it is near and dear to the work I’ve been doing along with my compatriots at UMW, one of whom is now at Baylor. And what strikes me about this conversation is that folks like Leigh Blackall, Stephen Downes, and Mike Caulfield are suggesting that a lack of recognition in the journals is in many ways a slight. And while part of me sees that logic, and I for one appreciate recognition when I get it—and I have gotten too much of it at the expense of my colleagues and numerous professors at UMW—I’m also not too sure the issue of credit isn’t in many ways at the root of some of the more problematic issues tied up with traditional ways we have thought about teaching, learning, and scholarship more generally.
Now, before you jump all over me, hear me out. I’ll try and make it short and to the point (but no promises), and I won’t even pull a Rorschach on your ass—at least not just yet.
Funny thing about EDUCAUSE Review and EQ (and journals more generally) may not necessarily be the citations, I’ve seen articles by Alan Levine and Bryan Alexander, Brian Lamb, and Gardner Campbell—to name just a few—extensively cite blogs in their work—in fact Brian’s article on the Mashup in the EDUCAUSE Review is almost entirely citations from blogs—which might come as no surprise given the author. So, I’m not so sure we can tun on the EDUCAUSE Review here as a culprit that reinforces an intentional marginalization of blogging. In fact, I’d bet money their record is better than the majority of academic journals out there when it comes to citing blogs and other “untraditional academic media.”
That said, does the responsibility of credit then come back to the author(s) of these articles? I would argue to some great degree yes, and I would also argue that who those authors are and how they frame the tone/voice of their articles has everything to do with what is the crux of these journal articles: a normalized, objective voice that makes otherwise individualized and idiomatic arguments that make potentially powerful ideas—often expressed creatively—that much more palatable for the professional academic class. And, often times, but not always, that class is accompanied by three letters after their name and a long list of publications in similar journals which often, but not always, gives them entrè into the journal in the first place. Is this necessarily bad? No. Does it help certain ideas circulate to a particular audience? Yes. Are we putting too much power in the hands of these journals by reacting this way to the idea of credit? Absolutely.
Fact is, I have written extensively about the “End of the LMS” and the death of BlackBoard, etc. on my blog for close to four years now. I have linked to Leigh and Stephen and Mike before, as well as Alan Levine, Barabra Ganley, Barbara Sawhill, D’Arcy Norman, David Wiley, Geeky Mom, and the list goes on and on, but no one is pissed at me for writing about it when I didn’t reference them. No one cares when I go off about an idea like this in the same way they might when it’s a journal article in a publication like EQ, and the reason why is that we still believe that Jon Mott’s discussion of the Post-LMS Era in EQ is somehow more official and real than it might be on a blog, meanwhile we all know that these ideas have been vehemently discussed and hashed out on the blogosphere, where credit is often and necessarily inconsistent and erratic, but somehow implied–and given we are all working for bigger idea of open and free and fluid education, credit seems to be a vestige of another time—like journal articles for tenure committees and the like. I don’t have to play that game, so I don’t. And the idea of publishing in a journal is odious to me because I can’t use the tone that has liberated me from a terrible bout of graduate school and helped me find my stride, and has, as a result, made my work and interaction fun, rather than a list of necessitated acknowledgments, citations, and origins. I don’t blog for credit, I don’t blog for tenure, and I don’t blog to promote a global micro-brand—first and foremost I blog because I like blogging, it’s fun, and when I blog about education it is often informed by the seemingly obvious fact that education is over-priced, run by fools, and in serious danger of becoming yet another commodity. And this idea of credit gets to the heart of this idea of the commodity, because in many ways credit builds the abstract, but very real, commodity of authority—and the two often lead to some assumed role of leadership and justified power.
But, that is not how I see this loosely coupled conversation emerging and it is a bit distressing to see it move towards a scramble for credit, recognition, and some anemic sense of “edech celebrity” —not unlike what we are seeing play out in the Twitter commentary at TedxNYC as we speak—I guess the unconferences and barcamps didn’t highlight individual genius nearly enough—and what we have now is a push towards an almost ceremonious recognition of certain individuals as somehow more—and not to say they may not be—but I don’t understand the push to accentuate it so. Credit? I guess, and then soon follows leadership, power, and then what? More of the same, maybe?
Yesterday Joss Winn published a post titled “Towards a Manifesto for Sharing,” wherein suggests that the need for institutional sanctioning of sharing in many ways goes against the very logic of why and how we share. In this post he points to a new emphasis for education more specifically
…on grounding education in the reality of our social relations, the struggle of daily life, the hierarchical relations between institutions and people, and between academics and students. The desire for autonomy is also a desire to re-instate the commons, to break the enclosures that currently inhibit sharing. The conscious act of sharing is both a move to resist oppression and a drive towards autonomy.
Often journal articles, celebrity conferences, and the like remove us from the social relations that made so many of these ideas possible, they elevate and re-inscribe the hierarchical relationships between institutions and people, as well as academics and students. And the commons itself becomes unevenly distributed around ideas of credit, -who said what first? -who linked to who? -who made you? The point is, part of the move towards autonomy and a resistance to oppression has everything to do with letting go of some of our ideas of ownership and authority, in an attempt to cultivate a space of creativity and a tone and home of our own. Journals often don’t provide us with new ideas in edtech, but rather move to codify those we have already had some first hand experience with in shaping through thought and praxis. They are a barometer for all the folks who have decided not to join the conversation, and that’s fine, but I really don’t see it as a threat to—or a forgetting of—the sources, because we are all working towards a large idea of seeing education change, and if we revert back to the traditional nodes of power in terms of owning ideas, necessitating credit, and invidious distinction annointed our leaders than we really haven’t re-invented anything—just put a new label on old clothes. A social history of edtech as a emergent movement is far more interesting, and in my mind necessary and relevant right now, than an intellectual one.