The following is the final blog post related to a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) I am currently taking on “E-Learning and Digital Cultures,” which is being run by the University of Edinburgh.
This is my digital artifact, created as a final assignment for the course.
The Efficient Student
It’s a word I’ve been hearing with increasing frequency from my students at U.C. Berkeley over the past decade:
I want to be a more efficient reader.
I want to write more efficiently.
I need to be more efficient with my time.
I want to be efficient.
Who can blame them? Many of them sign on for crushingly hard schedules, and load up on additional activities and jobs that will pay their way through college, set them up as attractive candidates for post-graduate careers and further education, and, maybe, leave a little time for fun.
And with the skyrocketing rise in tuition at UC, as elsewhere in the country, the need to get the degree ASAP becomes even more pressing:
Sometimes, the word comes out in odd ways: I want this argument to be more efficient. “You mean you want it to be more concise or pointed,” I think to myself. But then maybe that’s not what they mean.
There are a whole host of factors in play here, both historical and contemporary, but (I’m sorry, I want this argument to be efficient) a large measure of efficiency’s ascendancy as a virtue for my students and for our society at large comes from our increasing reliance on the Internet and mobile technologies and the speed with which we’ve come to expect certain (often mechanized) processes to work, the work of a college education among them.
The Efficient Educator
Can educators be more efficient? Doubtlessly we can, and certainly I want to be. The more pertinent question, however, is whether we can teach our students more effectively. Again, the answer is certainly yes.
And digital tools can help make us more efficient.
But does more efficient mean more effective?
Wiki education: So much of my classroom material has been adapted, cribbed, riffed, cross-referenced, and yes, perhaps even stolen in acts of petty pedagogical larceny from my former teachers, my colleagues, and our predecessors. How many of our lessons are lessons passed on from others that we have then Wiki-ed, whether substantially or slightly?
I could do the same for others: leave digital artifacts of my teaching lying about for others to glom on to. Other teachers could just take it and tweak it. Students could take it and teach themselves. They could collaborate on it and figure out a better, more efficient way to work. And I could go use my time more efficiently, maybe by moving back closer to nature, or evolving in other ways.
After all, my Prezi digression above (Over there? Under this? Out of here?) was built from a template someone else created, and then I (sort of) Wiki-ed clumsily onto the template with my own text and other text and images from others. I’ve extended the reach of my own capacities by using digital tools. Is this a glimpse of what it means to be transhuman?
…Build it, leave it, let someone Wiki it, and I’m gone…
It starts to sound like a hip hop DJ working the record on the turntable back and forth…
I’m being silly, but I’m also kind of serious. (And, given the architecture of sampling that scaffolds so much of hip-hop DJ culture, the comparison is apt.) I wonder what I might upload on-line, what I could off-load into the laps of my students and give them responsibility for doing according to their own paces and aptitudes, and then whether I might be able to offer my “social presence” to them more productively, more…efficiently.
Just so long as they’re not more likely to drop out if I do this.
Though they shouldn’t drop out if I do it right. Right?
The Efficient Human Being
The efficient human being, approaching perfect efficiency, might be post-human or transhuman, or it might be something else, a distinctly Wiki-ized entity, something approaching the Singularity–a Sci Fi idea that in some circles has dropped the “Fi”–when a collective, technologically rooted superior intelligence will supposedly evolve, where the “I” becomes a “We,” and the “We” becomes a Wiki. A very very smart Wiki.
Manufacturing has long been replacing people with machines. Developers are at work on machines that one day may be able to comment more efficiently on student writing than I could. Content farms use search algorithms to efficiently determine what stories they want their writers to generate in return for a few electronic pennies. Thousands of Chinese laborers and their ilk have been treated like overworked, highly efficient machines (willingly or not) to create the efficient device on which I write this somewhat efficient post and the efficient device on which you read it.
♫ “Well, John Henry was a little baby…hummmmmm!! ♫
There are plenty of things of vital importance that are inefficient. Whether one is working in the arts, the sciences, or in business, the creative process is inefficient. The scientific method is exacting though sometimes inefficient. So is the nature of most true human relations, and so is figuring out who we are.
And love? There are many descriptors that come to mind, but efficiency isn’t one of them.
I didn’t mean for this digital artifact to sound anxious or dystopian. I’m actually more hopeful about the prospects for technology, and for the interfaces between human beings and technology, in higher education and elsewhere, than I seem to be expressing here. But it’s difficult to control one’s emotions—they’re terribly inefficient. Always slowing us down, the damn things.
Becoming a more efficient human being? Yes, that would be nice.
Becoming a human being for whom efficiency is a cardinal virtue? Not so sure about that.
Perhaps if we just keep it simple.
Two turntables and a microphone.
Two smart phones and a WiFi connection.
Take it, Herbie Hancock: