Monday, October 24, 2011

Institutional Interconnectedness

MOOCs and blogs have greatly increased my awareness of the interconnectedness of institutions. People with an undergraduate degree in philosophy or History or English and want income security for continuing to devote their life to intellectual pursuits and the common good have had a commonly recognized path - teacher, librarian, professor, clergyperson, journalist, writer, artist,lawyer ...
The web has greatly expanded access to information while at the same time created an environment where the value of universities, libraries, churches and publishing houses are being questioned.
Through blogs and MOOCs, it's easy to see the interconnectedness of these institutions and how if the first domino falls, the others could quickly go down as well with impact down the line on other professions with degree requirements.
I think we have to be watchful of how technology is impacting the intellectual community as a whole and how the various professions are trying to redefine their roles to maintain their value to society. Because there is so much overlap in the skill sets, strengthening the value of one, strengthens the value of all and weakening the value of one, weakens the value of them all. The other issue is that if any of those professions fall, where will those professionals go. It seems most likely that they will try to flow into a related profession or find themselves in the even more crowded retail sector.
Without having an actual revolution as occurred in China in the late 1950 (or perhaps in our interconnected world, the unease in political circles about the effectives of organizing a revolution through mobile devices), we could see a flowering of intellectual freedom followed quickly by a massive devaluing or even supression of thought and culture.
Do we have time for each profession to grope its way into the 21st century or is there a great impetus for pooling the insights gained from the perspectives of each professional grouping and move forward with greater collegiality and awareness of shared interests as well as uniqueness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Historian

I came across an interesting quote in the novel "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova which I think relevant to our discussions about e-learning vs learning on traditional campuses.
..."One of the few pieces of research I'm sure I'll never finish. I have a theory, however, that this ghastly trail of scholarship, like so many less awful ones, is merely something one person makes a little progress on, then another, each contributing a bit in his own lifetime. ...Again he hesitated. 'Scholarship must go on. For good or for evil, but inevitably in every field.'"

In this novel, 4 scholars at various times receive ancient books with blank pages except for a wood carving print of a dragon in the centerfold. If you found such a book, you became an unfortunate successor who would be searching out clues around to world to find the exact location of the grave of Vlad Tepes of Dracula legend. The book comes to the scholar in a library. It wasn't there before he took a break but mysteriously has been left either where he was working or where he will return a book to the stacks. Librarians in this novel are extremely knowledgable about the location of everything ever published on Dracula and more often than not have the bite marks to show that Dracula has taken an interest in them as well.

I suppose if this becomes a movie, the characters would be running around with mobile devices but much of the creepiness would be lost without the musty books and ancient libraries with their most unusual librarians. The story itself reminds me of the movie "National Treasure" with the obsession of discovering the clues spanning generations and aborting whatever scholarship would have happened if the book hadn't appeared in their lives. However I'm not sure an e-book would be as compelling as holding the ancient leather-bound book in one's hands.