Reclaiming Disruption

One of the problems with being a slow writer, is that as you are in the middle of putting something together, you keep reading and wanting to add more. (I blame twitter for this).

Just after returning from Domains17, I started reading tweets from the New Media Consortium 2017 conference (which I didn’t attend), then the transcript from Audrey Watters keynote. And the lurking ghost in my mind materialized with her words:

“No matter the predictions we make about disruption, in time everything in ed-tech becomes indistinguishable from the learning management system.” AW

Of course we want our DoOO project to succeed and for many students to engage. But the fear that the ‘administration’ or the college ‘marketing and communications’ office or whoever, will want to take this project from us and turn it into something else if we become too successful, too visible or too widespread has been haunting me from the beginning.

CC BY 2.0 by Brett Jordan



This ghost has of course plagued others that have come before me. Martha Burtis, in her Domains17 keynote, ‘Neither Locked Out, Nor In, asks:  “How do we free our students from the shackles of corporate and commercial Web spaces without creating some new kind of shackle?” As someone who has been employed by an institution for a long time, but considers herself an activist, I am accustomed to working with One foot in, One foot out. We become at least semi-comfortable with this quagmire, we use Trojan horse solutions. (Over the years, my co-conspirators and I have effectively wheeled in a lot of Trojan horses).  But only those of us with privilege (like tenure) can even do that. Yet another paradox.

“We prefer to think of ourselves as professors or pedagogues or scholars or students, not as consumers or users.” AW

But my worry about our DoOO project being co-opted by the dominant systems, the consumer-driven forces, feels especially frightening now, because more than ever before, Higher Ed IS A CONSUMER-DRIVEN BUSINESS. Even here, in spite of our designation as a “public” college. Or maybe especially here, BECAUSE of our small, poorly funded public college status with far fewer resources and high student debt (only 8% of our funding comes from the state). So we are fairly low in the higher education caste system (a la Bryan Alexander), and efficiency and productivity drive everything we do now.

And Silicon Valley ideology creeps in more and more every day.

“That is to say in my mind at least, Silicon Valley ideology – libertarian, individualist, consumerist, capitalist – seeks to mediate all relationships: social, professional, civic, familial.” AW

The ideologies that we hope will shape our DoOO project, when we use words like inclusion, connection, community, agency, access, contribution could be undermined, transmuted into things that we did not intend. This keeps me up at night.

“New technologies, and the ideologies that underpin them, have brought the language of efficiency and productivity out of the workplace and into the classroom and into the home – into the realm of reproductive labor. Everything becomes a data-point to be tracked and quantified and analyzed and adjusted as (someone deems) necessary.” AW

And especially kicks the bees in my bonnet (HT Tanya D E) about institutional ‘assessment’. Because really it’s about surveillance, isn’t it? And we have “confused surveillance for care”. I am haunted by the knowledge that Domains, Domains of our Own, or whatever we call this thing that we are doing, is/are not immune to being turned into an electronic portfolio system that can be ‘assessed’. The distinction between assessment and surveillance seems really blurry to me.

I take Audrey Watters work (not just in this piece, but in all of her writing) as a call to action. If there are those of us that want a different educational narrative, a more compassionate ideology focused on actual care, and real ‘transformation’ based on voices that promote these ideas- instead of the now dominate, capitalistic, greed-based, corporate scheming that is currently underlying the ‘ideologies that underpin our technologies’- then we need to be explicit in our work and our writing about this, we need to organize together to promote a different kind of messaging, we need to openly fight against this mechanistic and profit-based for the sake of profit mentality that is driving not just educational technology, not just education generally, not just (jeezuz!) parenting – but EVERYTHING that we do, that we believe in, that we believe is our reason for existing on the planet in the first place.

YES. EVERY SINGLE WORD OF THIS.  (Please go read the whole thing, there is so much more there than what I can include here and ALL of it is critical).

Thinking Dangerously: The Role of Higher Education in Authoritarian Times by Henry Giroux

This brilliant piece helps illuminate the links between education and real democracy that Audrey Watters is constantly talking about.

“At the core of thinking dangerously is the recognition that education is central to politics and that a democracy cannot survive without informed citizens.  Critical and dangerous thinking is the precondition for nurturing the ethical imagination that enables engaged citizens to learn how to govern rather than be governed. Thinking with courage is fundamental to a notion of civic literacy that views knowledge as central to the pursuit of economic and political justice. Such thinking incorporates a set of values that enables a polity to deal critically with the use and effects of power, particularly through a developed sense of compassion for others and the planet. Thinking dangerously is the basis for a formative and educational culture of questioning that takes seriously how imagination is key to the practice of freedom. Thinking dangerously is not only the cornerstone of critical agency and engaged citizenship, it’s also the foundation for a working democracy.” HG

We all need to become braver, more dangerous thinkers like Audrey Watters. And more so, we need to be willing to speak up, step up and take risks like she does. We need to teach so that our students learn how to think dangerously. I believe that Domain of One’s Own projects need to be about this.

“Education is also vital to the creation of individuals capable of becoming critical social agents willing to struggle against injustices and develop the institutions that are crucial to the functioning of a substantive democracy. One way to begin such a project is to address the meaning and role of higher education (and education in general) as part of the broader struggle for freedom.”  HG 

YES. This is the conversation I believe we should be having. How do we address the meaning and role of higher education as a struggle for freedom?  We have done an excellent job at pointing out the problems, but I believe we need to be more consciously and actively working on solutions. Higher Education is currently imploding in many ways. The time is now to redirect it, reshape it, make it become what most of us have always wanted it to be- A place for the “creation of individuals capable of becoming critical social agents willing to struggle against injustices”.

It’s time to not just reclaim the web, but to Reclaim ‘Disruption’. That word needs to be taken back, (the way many of us reclaimed the word ‘dyke’ a long time ago). Give it teeth, make it have some power. Can DoOO be the pathway to truly transmogrifying higher education? Can it provide the culture chamber for an educational culture of questioning”? Where students can be nurtured and allowed to “deal critically with the use and effects of power,

particularly through a developed sense of compassion for others and the planet”?   THIS IS KEY.

Reclaiming Disruption means that we need to keep raising ‘in your face’ questions and work towards answering them.

Lora Taubs in her Reclaiming the Web post asks:

“Where are the radical possibilities within higher ed? How can we connect Domains to those initiatives?  To civic engagement? Global studies? LGBTQ initiatives? Teacher Ed? Departments with social justice missions? Initiatives like Intergroup Dialogue? Where are the spaces/partners working to advance social solidarities? And how can we propose Domains as an ally, an amplifier, to these efforts?” LT

And just about everything that Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris ever said. (“NO, you don’t own your own domain if I grade it.” JS  for example)

And when we’re thinking about WHO is doing this work, shaping our ideologies, we need to think about who ISN’T shaping our ideologies now, who hasn’t been invited to the table, and why. We need to focus actively on making sure they get there. (One of the things that stuck in my mind from domains17 was the opening night gathering at the Retro Flashback pub. A fun place filled with arcade/video games that you could play as much as you want for free. Tanya and I tried a few games and then realized that we didn’t really know the rules for any of them. Then Tanya, Sundi, Martha, me and some other women were chatting, we felt this familiar feeling, and then named it. This is a boys place; a white boys place. Yeah, some of us noticed.)

Reclaiming Disruption means that we need to disrupt the ‘audit culture’ of education.  It means to prevent students from becoming trained pigeons.

“Audit cultures support conservative educational policies driven by market values and an unreflective immersion in the crude rationality of a data-obsessed market-driven society; as such, they are at odds with any viable notion of a democratically inspired education and critical pedagogy. In addition, viewing public and higher education as democratic public spheres necessitates rejecting the notion that they should be reduced to sites for training students for the workforce — a reductive vision now being imposed on public education by high-tech companies such as Facebook, Netflix and Google, which want to encourage what they call the entrepreneurial mission of education, which is code for collapsing education into training.” HG

Maybe Reclaiming Disruption means that our domains projects need to be a sort of civil disobedience of the web.  Where we, as teachers, cultivate the compassion in our students but let go of all of the control, so they can disrupt our institutions and create pathways to freedom outside of them.

“Educators, students and others concerned about the fate of higher education need to mount a spirited attack against the managerial takeover of the university that began in the late 1970s with the emergence of a market-driven ideology...” HG

What does Reclaiming Disruption mean to you?

It's only fair to share...Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

6 thoughts on “Reclaiming Disruption

  1. This is beautiful, Karen. Thanks for writing it – and nudging me to read the Giroux article which has been open in my browser for days (I love Giroux and now I might assign his article as reading in my class next semester – I hate assigning particular readings btw so maybe it’s one of the possible suggested readings haha)

    You wrote “who ISN’T shaping our ideologies now, who hasn’t been invited to the table, and why” – and I read that, and felt… as much as I enjoyed the Twitter convo taking place over the past 24 hours, that more than ever, I really realized how even ideologies I admire like #DoOO? People like me are truly not at the table for shaping that ideology, nor probably will ever be. And this is a radical ideology, not a conservative, control/surveillance-oriented one…

    I’m also struck by your point about blurry lines between assessment and surveillance. Foucault (if I remember correctly) problematized approaches like self-assessment as promoting self-censorship and self-surveillance/control almost – so even things that seem to promote the most agency can be problematic.

    1. Thank you Maha! It makes me sad to think that your voice and thoughts would not be shaping whatever ideologies we imagine for the future for domains, or whatever other directions higher ed could take. It doesn’t have to be that way, I hope there will be those of us that keep fighting for genuine inclusiveness. Also, that is very interesting about self-assessment, I am going to have to re-think my use of that too!

  2. After a flurry of tweets on Domains (same one Maha mentioned in her comment) animating the last 24 hours, I was ready for the space to slowly read your post, Karen, and your way of reflecting on Domains 2017 experiences in relation to recent writing from Audrey Watters and Henry Giroux, among others. The first three talks I listened to, as well as my own, all situated the pedagogies around Domain of One’s Own in relation to a context of neoliberalism’s ascendence and takeover of higher education — achieved in no small part through edtech. While we’ve been grappling with the impact of placing teaching and learning at the mercy of market ideologies, Giroux takes us further, into the present, and calls educators to action to protect education against rising authoritarian American politics. Thank you for connecting this call to action to this conversation. It’s worth noting, I think, that this call to action includes digital literacy. He writes:

    “[E]ducators need to develop a comprehensive educational program that would include teaching students how to live in a world marked by multiple overlapping modes of literacy extending from print to visual culture and screen cultures. What is crucial to recognize here is that it is not enough to teach students to be able to interrogate critically screen culture and other forms of aural, video and visual representation. They must also learn how to be cultural producers. This suggests developing alternative public spheres, such as online journals, television shows, newspapers, zines and any other platform in which different modes of representation can be developed. Such tasks can be done by mobilizing the technological resources and platforms that many students are already familiar with. ”

    So, to link back to Maha’s comment here and her blogpost that sparked a Twitterburst today: we absolutely need to think about varied forms of technological resources and platforms we use in teaching and learning where students engage in multiple modes of representation and production. DoOO is one platform that enables practicing the value of voice that neoliberalism and authoritarianism deny. But it’s the larger radical purpose, not the platform itself, that I imagine we’re connecting to and in conversation with.

    1. Thanks for this Lora. I absolutely agree that DoOO is only one (possible) platform for doing this radical work of rethinking and reshaping higher ed. It may turn out to not even be the most effective way. These conversations, and practices, need to be about continuing to seek whatever radical modes of teaching, learning, communicating, etc. that work to subvert this authoritarian culture. It also feels to me like we do not have a lot of time to waste.

  3. Keene State is so lucky to have your voice and your passion! I sometimes wonder if what is happening with DoOO is, at least to some degree, inevitable. That is, most (all?) innovation or radical innovations (especially technology) are rapidly co-opted and normalized. I have been thinking about this all through June in another context.

    I attended Pride parades in NYC in the late 1980s. They felt transgressive. Our whole lives often felt radical and transgressive. The fights for acceptance and recognition, and really important legal rights have “normalized” our lives in ways that have changed the equation. So that’s why I keep asking if what was transgressive has become normal, or whether what was “normal,” meaning marriage and family, have become transgressive.

    Maybe the same will apply to things like DoOO. In the end, perhaps it won’t be the medium, but really will be the message (h/t Marshall McLuhan). We hope students will connect, will be compassionate, will come to understand power and its effects on them, and find ways of “becoming” in the world. For us, right now, DoOO seems like a powerful ally in that struggle. And 5 or 10 years from now I think we’ll probably still be trying to help our students and it is also probable that we’ll be using something else, something that likely doesn’t exist yet.
    Maybe I am being too glib or even cynical just assuming that our tools will be turned into something we did not intend or want. That might be something else we want to help our students understand.
    This new community I have been drawn into has pushed me into completely new ways of thinking. So even old librarians can learn some new tricks and for that I thank you.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Celia! I do agree that this is not about the ‘innovation’ or the tools themselves (as Lora was saying). The act of marching in pride parades in the late 1980’s and 90’s was transgressive and I think our being in the streets caused some things to shift. But for some of us, fighting to assimilate into the mainstream was not the point, and feel that our gay and lesbian culture was co-opted by economic forces; we are now an important ‘market’ for corporations to pay attention to. Ugh, that wasn’t MY goal. I remember and miss the radical political conversations, music, and compassionate ethos that seemed to take place only within our small communities (not that they were perfect by any stretch of the imagination). And I think we can bring this kind of ethos back if we are determined to do it, and don’t buy into the idea of the inevitability of markets and corporations having all of the control. I’d like to think that an educational system driven primarily by market values is not an inevitability. We have the power to shift this if we can see clearly and courageously to what we need to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *