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Teaching and tools for digital freedom (with video link)

My LibrePlanet2022 talk, Retracing Digital Freedom As Design Pattern Learning For Life, can now be viewed here. It was reviewed here and here. The slides can be downloaded at the link below.

Retracing Digital Freedom_Goetz_Libreplanet2022_PDF

Reasoning behind the talk
Choosing knowledge design and how it is shared
Building a free software teaching tool on the shoulders of textpattern giants

Reasoning behind the talk

My motivation for giving the talk was concern over what Bernard Stiegler calls the future of knowledge. Stiegler explains that humans have always used tools, and have long exteriorized knowledge such that for as much as we can learn for ourselves in life, we can also learn knowledge that has been exteriorized and that we are born into. The digital tool, however, threatens to lead us to a loss of knowledge as knowledge is increasingly automaticized in the data economy.

Automaticized data mining, aggregation, and analysis, functioning at a speed that is four million times faster than the human nervous system, threatens to overtake our ability to decide and even to dream about what is possible to create. The scale and extent of the invasiveness of data mining and the effect on decision-making of algorithms can be overwhelming. By building on Stiegler, I have been developing project-based digital components that give students experience creating something digitally. I developed this approach further by drawing on hermeneuticist Paul Ricoeur. If we are being traced and tracked, then we should be teaching students about what traces mean and how to experience the trace fully – not just in the reductionist context of the data economy, which, according to Stiegler, is headed towards annihilation, as it is entropic.

It is the creative act, the creative surprise, which is something more than the rational, that can bring us to new ideas that did not exist before the thing we created came into being. This creative surprise (that “surprises dreams while realizing them”) has the potential to lead us from entropy to negentropy. Stiegler writes that “the economic values and moral devalorizations to which nihilism gives rise when it becomes unbridled capitalism can be ‘transvaluated’ by a new value of values, which is to say, by negentropy.”

Free software demonstrates a new value of values: valuing the value of creativity, sharing, and learning. This is the model that I take in my talk, and then I give many different kinds of examples of how to teach digital freedom. Many different examples because digital freedom is not a topic but also a creative learning experience. To teach digital freedom is also to learn about how learning – and also the guise of learning – happens when we use digital technology.

As Eternal September is now ageing, we need to understand that we should reconsider best practices – and understand that we are learning that the digital context will continue to change. How will we design tools to support ongoing “generative processes”, to borrow a phrase from Christopher Alexander?


Choosing knowledge design and how it is shared

We have choices in the design of knowledge and how it is shared. The digital tool makes new things possible that were not before, but we are still approaching so much learning, communication, and collaboration as we did in the pre-digital world. Tim Fawns, from the field of networked learning notes that, “digital technologies and the Internet shift not only what happens before and after the formal lesson, but the way students engage with information during class”. If behavior has shifted, then what we do in class should accommodate it.

At a time of immense change largely caused by digital technology, classes should at least periodically address the practice of learning how to learn. This can mean, for example, learning the principles behind a type of software and not just how to use a specific software product (c.f.). It could include dialogic action-based learning in how to make use of digital tools in problem solving and projects. Learning components can be built on what John Spencer has illustrated as collaboration skills.

You can watch the video or consult the slides for some of the teaching ideas and ideas about the need to continue to develop digital tools for learning. In a separate post, I explore this topic further.


Building a free software teaching tool on the shoulders of textpattern giants

Here, and by way of conclusion, I will simply link to the posts I wrote documenting the design of the free software teaching tool that I made and why I came to free software:

A tool for digital literacy: Link to and reflection on the simple Texpattern CMS theme I made to interlink multiple-user content through key words, related articles, categories, the search function, and links to author pages listing authors’ articles. Designed to promote collaborative, project-based relational learning but could be used for IndieWeb.

Design for digital literacy: [Note: I wrote this post as I was still learning the basic skills to make my tool.] This post will share the solution I came up with regarding the design of the online component for courses on culture and language. By online component, I mean the online space where students find course resources (readings, videos) that is also a space where they can co-create (create their own content as per participatory course prompts).

I have been learning the programming related to digial freedom in public. Here is a post that lists lots of good resources on what it means to learn in public. A related resource that I often share with my students is the Strengths and Shadows diagram from Vivian & Hormann’s book Organizational Trauma and Healing, also available on their site.

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