I caught Friday’s Connected Courses webinar with Gardner Campbell, Howard Rheingold, and Jon Udell discussing the idea of Thinking Like the Web. This was a must-see for me because so much of the work I’ve been part of over the last five years (ds106, UMW Domains, and Reclaim Hosting) is inspired by a more robust and engaging approach to web literacy at UMW and beyond. The idea that there are certain key concepts like tags, syndication, aggregation, etc. that both faculty and students meed to wrap their head around to get a sense of the power and possibility of the greatest of all communication revolutions.
This vision inspired the thinking behind ds106 which helped demonstrate Domain of One’s Own was scalable for the entire institution. Whereas, for clarification purposes, Reclaim Hosting is the vehicle by which we’ll scale it for the rest of higher ed 🙂 So, needless to say, I have a lot invested in the idea that thinking like the web needs to be a fundamental element of higher ed moving forward, and thanks to Tim Owens I can and will back it up with servers and domains for all my friends!
But that’s not exactly, precisely what I was planning on writing about. What I wanted to note was at 34:50 of the video archive of this webinar discussion Udell talks about the fact that writing is not the primary mode of expression on the web. Rather, it’s a platform of the diverse literacies including video, audio, visual, design thinking and more. TO make his point, he used the example of a manufacturer of furniture repair parts sending him a video to demonstrate how much pressure to apply when hammering a particular piece, something that might be far harder to communicate via text. This idea being that sharing videos provides a fairly new (in terms of ease, access, and immediacy) and rather powerful medium for showing and demonstrating a physical action.
At the same time, video, like writing, is a form that has conventions, grammar, syntax, etc. And to what degree are are we helping students interpolate these other modes of literacy. We’ve just begun the video section of ds106, and one of the clips we are asking the students to reflect on the visual rhetoric employed in the opening sequence of Fritz Lang’s M (1931).
I know art, film and communication departments have been teaching this for decades, but when listening to Udell and Rheingold talk it became apparent this needs to be a more fundamental way of seeing and thinking at universities, much like writing essays became the primary currency for near on a century. I think it’s painfully clear we should be cultivating multi-modal literacies across disciplines and departments. And they should be focused on the ways in which these various media are playing out on the most remarkable and fairly complex expression engine to date: the web. But few, if any universities, are taking this on as a core part of their mission, which seems insane 25 years after the web claimed half the world’s population as its own.
The many of us who came together to build ds106 had no idea what we were doing, but part of me wants to believe we were trying to imagine what such a curriculum might look like and how we would get at it in a fun and engaging way. I’m not sure we failed entirely 😉