Transience and permanence

We say it’s about creating something entirely new in an online environment, but we want to save it like it was India ink on parchment. We seek flow, yet end up with geological strata.

We record Elluminate meetings and webcasts. We store our stuff on our hard drives and in repositories. Aside from pretending that these are real places, the urge to stash seems very strong. Evidence the recent outcry against Ning’s decision to charge for its social networking sites. Many large communities have their base in a free Ning. The first thing alternative sites offered to Ning “refugees” was a way to store things, to keep your stuff in perpetuity.

We stash entire classes in an LMS. We worry about transferring all that “content” from one LMS to another. I back up all the classes to my hard drive. I save them. A new version of Moodle comes along. I try to upload my stored classes and it doesn’t work. Oh no!

We want lifelong learning, and protest the closed silos for keeping our classes. Those of us who believe in open education want it all out there. We want our students to keep “blogfolios” for their whole lives, archiving all their stuff to show future employers as they bounce through those 15 careers they’re going to have.

Our pedagogy shifts to student-created content, student connectivist exploration. We focus on storing that learned content in bookmarking sites and RSS readers, to be accessed later. Some of us now spend more time stashing than reading. The Library of Congress has stashed all our tweets.

Perhaps it’s the idea of permanence that is the heart of the old pedagogy. I was in a session where people kept asking, “will the slides be somewhere later so we can look at them? this is all moving so fast!” Yes, it’s moving fast. But in life, will the slides always be stored for you somewhere, so you can come back to them later? Is that how it works?

Perhaps the educational breakthrough we seek is not one of method, determining the balance between content relayed through instructivist methods or learning through constructivism and exploration. Maybe what we need to let go of is saving everything. If the scarcity of information, the storing of knowledge in books and libraries, is what made education so exclusive, let’s stop worrying about hoarding the goods.

The pedagogy could then change from content storage, regardless of method, to content experience. Or just experience. To be in a classroom, or an online session, is an experience. Is it necessary to store an on-site class for more time than it takes for the students who missed that day to access it? Is putting it on Slideshare just creating “content” that others might want to use? Do they store it on their hard drives, or does it help change their minds? If it disappears in two years, could it not be replaced by something better?

Historians love storage, and in the internet era “search” is the new black. You can tag till the cows come home, but real long-term storage is illusory anyway, dependent on shifting technologies and paradigms. What would happen to us if we shifted this paradigm, and began focusing on the in-the-moment educational experience instead of acquisition?

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