I experienced a rare moment this week. I read a post and quite simply it changed me.
The post helped me see what I was not seeing.
To recognize what I have been avoiding.
To be brave when my fear is the only audible voice I can hear.
The post I read was “The Future of Education: Programmed or Programmable “ by Audrey Watters. It is in fact the transcript of a talk she recently gave at Pepperdine University. I encourage you to read the full text to appreciate the strength and wisdom of her arguments.
The first point that got under my skin was this:
Whether it’s in a textbook or in a video-taped lecture, it’s long been the content that matters most in school. The content is central. It’s what you go to school to be exposed to. Content. The student must study it, comprehend it, and demonstrate that in turn for the teacher. That is what we expect an education to do, to be: the acquisition of content which becomes transmogrified into knowledge…
…despite all the potential to do things differently with computers and with the Internet and with ubiquitous digital information, school still puts content in the center. Content, once delivered by or mediated through a teacher or a textbook, now is delivered via various computer technologies.
YES! Content is always at the center, of course. And what have I been working so hard to cultivate in the learning episodes that I design for others? Experience. I want my clients, participants, students, athletes to experience something, to feel something and thereby come to know “the thing” and what it may mean for them. Content has been a vehicle but my real desire has always been to generate feelings, emotions, connection – the stuff that makes you feel alive. How very counter-cultural I now understand.
Audrey Watters goes on to talk about shifting away from the content-centered approach of the “programmed web” and towards the more open and co-constructed “programmable web:”
The readable, writable, programmable Web is so significant because, in part, it allows us to break from programmed instruction. That is, we needn’t all simply be on the receiving end of some computer-mediated instruction, some teacher-engineering. We can construct and create and connect for ourselves. And that means that — ideally — we can move beyond the technologies that deliver content more efficiently, more widely. It means too we can rethink “content” and “information” and “knowledge” — what it means to deliver or consume those things, alongside what it makes to build and control those things.
This is about where things started to heat up for me. The next sentence laid my purpose out for me like the Tarot card you knew was coming before you even approached the table:
One of the most powerful things that you can do on the Web is to be a node in a network of learners, and to do so most fully and radically, I dare say, you must own your own domain.
As I read on, two things were happening: my emotions had gotten hold of the stage and were running with it. At the same time, my rational mind tore further into the text looking for something to save me fast.
Authority, expertise, participation, voice — these can be so different on the programmable web; not so with programmed instruction.
The Domain of One’s Own initiative at University of Mary Washington purposefully invokes Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: “A woman must have money, and a room of her own, if she is to write fiction.” That is, one needs a space — a safe space that one controls — in order to do be intellectually productive.
We have an amazing opportunity here. We need to recognize and reconcile that, for starters, in the content that programmed instruction — as with all instruction — delivers, there is a hidden curriculum nestled in there as well. Education — formal institutions of schooling — are very much about power, prestige, and control. [emphasis mine]
and then this:
Despite all the talk about “leveling the playing field” and disrupting old, powerful institutions, the Web replicates many pre-existing inequalities; it exacerbates others; it creates new ones. I think we have to work much harder to make the Web live up to the rhetoric of freedom and equality. That’s a political effort, not simply a technological one.
That’s when the tears came rolling in. Between the deep desire to be that “node in a network of learners” and the self-unhelpful stance of “I could never do that.” (in this case to have, run and maintain my own domain.), a larger truth was revealed: I am at liberty to make use of my own superpowers. I am a learner of outrageous potential. There is no reason to believe that I cannot do what no one expects. That’s when all the forces, internal and external, technological and philosophical which have kept the volume of my fears turned all the way up seemed suddenly muted.
I’ve been sitting with this experience for a few days now. I wrote to Audrey almost immediately to say Thank you and at the same time nearly wanting to ask for the antidote. Because it is a fundamentally scary experience to be exposed to your own potential and grant it some credibility. And when you belong to a marginalized group, that exposure can be all the more astounding and confounding. Empowerment can feel like work because it is not for free. Empowerment always challenges us to imagine, to create, to put into practice what once appeared impossible.
9 thoughts on “A Programmable Future”
Love this! I can understand the powerful and visceral response you had to this, I have been struggling with my own empowerment every step of the way even as I embrace it. Too true about a content centered academic world and equally true that we can disrupt that way of learning and teaching by being fearless and allowing our students to be so as well.
Thank you, Jyothi, for writing. I just read your most recent posts and I just got chills. You are saying exactly what is, what needs saying with a clarity that is piercing. Wow! I feel so grateful for having discovered your work. I look forward to delving more deeply in the next days, weeks and months. You have made my day!
Thank you for introducing me to Audrey Watters thinking and the discernment between programmed and programmable. That phrasing paints a clearer picture for me than some other comparisons currently floating around.
I’m not a teacher by trade. I sit on a school board (for two more years, I expect) and find the culture of schools to be almost overwhelming inertia. A metaphor often used is “a freighter”. Turning it takes time. I think it may also be particularly appropriate given this importance placed on content. Maybe we should call curriculum and lessons “freight”? Ha!
Thanks and isn’t education and our talk around all things edu, “freighted”? There seems to be much to unload in order to move forward, even move at all. Let’s keep trying. We have to.
So true, so true.
I’ve never had an physical/emotional reaction to “content”- it’s never really made me laugh, cry, feel love (I guess some is so bad it’s made me angry). Yet reading your words here, feeling excitement, power lift off the page, now that is real. Yes, program and claim/reclaim everything you can of what you put the web.