Bass’ “Engines of Inquiry” Through an Educator’s Lens

Bass opens “Engines of Inquiry” noting that the contemporary version of the “technological sublime” once associated with the Industrial Revolution, is now associated with the “Information Age” centered finding solutions and using information efficiently (Brass 1).  Computers are now machines which make us more perfect and speed up our process of finding answers and our problem-solving abilities.  Brass notes Stuart Moulthrop analysis of this as “the game of perfect information,” and that it is precisely this understanding of technology as “perfect information” that has disillusioned educators and education leaders as to how they should use new technologies in education. Effective and meaningful learning with technology cannot take place with this misinformed understanding of technology is coupled with problems that already exist in education.

Bass’ paper explores the various kinds of learning that there are and the ways that technology can be used efficiently within and outside of these learning environments. To be effective pedagogues, then we must zoom out and understand the situations conducive to and enhanced by digital tools, and those that are not. Hence, technology cannot be used with the desire to integrate it, but with purposeful and imaginative intent in how the technology will be used.

He also argues that we cannot use technology effectively when there is a misunderstood notion of perfection and access to information via technology. Instead of access to perfect information, pedagogues can use technology democratically to foster engagement and to have students question and study their learning.  Therefore, students can engage with online and become responsible citizens with responsibility for knowledge creation.  Communication and accountability for this information will then become a collaborative effort.

Brass’ paper instinctively made me reflect on our society and the way in which we use technology as consumers. Every innovation that major technology companies come out with is their attempt to make the “perfect” technological society.  When thinking of technology as supplemental parts of ourselves that are used to extend our knowledge, arguably, people conceive it as a perfect means of exploring information.  After all, every iPhone is “the best iPhone ever,” and a perfect version of its predecessor. The idea of technology as perfect has permeated society with a misunderstanding of use that is evident in our schools.  And, when I think about teachers who use technology and those who don’t, the ones who don’t are scared not to have it “perfect.”  The most effective teachers who integrate technology are those who dive right in.

When I think about these questions with a teaching hat on, the most apparent provocation for me is: How can we do what Brass proposes in education institutions to help teachers use technology creatively, imaginatively, and purposefully as Bass so clearly argues?

On the other hand, when I think about Brass paper through the lens of my Urban Education experiences, it brings us back to the question of “What does it mean to teach in a democratic society” and “What is an education?”  Does everyone have the same understanding of what an education is? Therefore, are Brass’ arguments made here with technology universally relevant? Does our society want us to be citizens who contribute to and question the more in-depth and collective knowledge of the people within its society? And if so, how do we teach teachers how to do this in our educator preparation programs with all the other questions and anxieties they have going into the profession in the first place?


A novel use of Twitter Bots to study prejudice

Check out this Political Science study that uses Twitter Bots to assess responses to sanctions for racists tweets. This is really relevant to the topics we will cover in the last few weeks of the course. The author writes:

I employ an intervention designed to reduce the use of anti-black racist slurs by white men on Twitter. I collect a sample of Twitter users who have harassed other users and use accounts I control (“bots”) to sanction the harassers. By varying the identity of the bots between in-group (white man) and out-group (black man) and by varying the number of Twitter followers each bot has, I find that subjects who were sanctioned by a high-follower white male significantly reduced their use of a racist slur.

If you are interested in this topic and/or methodology, the paper is worth a read. I put it in our Group Files. You can skip over the lit review, which is very PoliSci, and read the methodology section, which is really translatable across disciplines. The results are much more nuanced than the abstract, including the fact that a significant percentage of the users had a reaction to out-group comments, causing them to increase their harassment.

Switch in Oct. 16th and Oct. 23rd classes

Because of a schedule conflict for our guest speaker, Luke Waltzer, we have had to switch the Oct. 16th and Oct. 23rd classes (both of which are about pedagogy). Please note the change in the online class syllabus (above), and be sure to do the new reading (Dewey, Bass, etc.) for the Oct. 16th class, rather than on the 23rd when it was originally scheduled in the syllabus.

Disruptive Innovation in Higher Ed

In The Innovative University, Christensen and Eyring introduce several means for disruptively innovating higher education and to revitalize the embedded academic culture that has not changed much in 150 years, which had mostly just grown and improved upon tried and true practices of educating students in higher education.  Some of the disruptions include, but are not limited to the following:

  • removal of intercollegiate athletics,
  • offering classes throughout the calendar year,
  • faculty scholarship should focus on integrative and applied forms over discovery,
  • more collaboration with students on faculty scholarship
  • consolidation and specialization of programs offered at a particular institution – program prioritization
  • offering credit for life / work experience
  • provide more experiential learning opportunities (i.e. Internships)
  • articulation agreements with high schools, community colleges, and companies
  • changes in accreditation practices to address different learning outcomes
  • technological changes that allow for students to learn at their own pace, increase cognitive outcomes, and provide adaptive technologies

The authors also point out that the value of a higher education is often intagnible in the form of value of social tolerance, personal responsibility, and respect for the rule of law.

In The Disruption Machine, Jill Lepore also points out that colleges and universities have been “subjected to disruptive innovation” but are not industries in the same way as other companies that have benefited from disruption.  Schools have “obligations that lie outside the realm of earnings” like the social values introduced through a college education as mentioned above.

What additional disruptive innovation is needed in the university to curb the rising cost of higher education and to better prepare college graduates for the modern workforce?  How will these disruptions maintain the social obligations that universities have long bestowed upon the graduates of the institutions?

How Important is Teaching in a Modern University?

In his book The Uses of the University, Clark Kerr mentioned several times that the modern university- or muti-versity as he calls it- places more emphasis on research over teaching:


(p6)“Teaching is less central than it once was for faculty members; research has become more important. This has given rise to what has been called the ‘nonteacher’-’the higher a man’s standing, the less he has to do with students.’ and to a threefold class structure of what used to be ‘the faculty’: those who only do research, those who only teach, (and they are largely in an auxiliary role), and those who will do some of both. In one university I know, the proportions at the PhD level or its equivalent are roughly one researcher to two teachers to four who do both.”


(p32) “It [UCLA] will soon have 100,000 students- 30,000 of them at the graduate level; yet much less than one third of expenditures are directly related to teaching. ” (p68) The mark of the university ‘on the make’ is a mad scramble for football stars and professional luminaires. The former do little studying and the latter little teaching, and so they form a neat combination of muscle and intellect.”


(p78) “If the faculty looks on itself as a guild, the undergraduate students are coming to look upon themselves as a ‘class’’; some may even feel like a ‘lumpen proletariat. Lack of faculty concern for teaching, endless rules and requirements, and impersonality are the inciting causes.’”


(p79) “Student pressures for better undergraduate instruction may be supplemented by the complaints of parents, who think their children are being sacrificed on the altar of research. Also, the public at large, whose attention has been riveted on the elementary and secondary schools as the ‘population bulge’ has affected them, may now turn its attention increasingly to the university level when the ‘bulge’ reaches there. Generally the public is more interested in quality of instruction than in quantity of research. The spotlight which the universities have helped turn on the teaching of others at lower levels may now be turned on their own. ”


(p83) “Teaching loads will be competitively reduced, sometimes to zero, although more teachers are needed and students are complaining about lack of attention. ”


(p85) “The balance is not equal treatment, the provision of equal time in some mechanical and eternal way between teaching and research.”


Clark Kerr is obviously concerned about the deterioration of the quality and quantity of teaching in modern universities in his book. What are your opinions on this issue? What do you think about the quality of instruction of the universities you have attended? Do you think the same thing as Clark Kerr mentioned in his book written in the 1960s is still jeopardizing and plaquing the modern university today? If you are the president of a university, who is supposed to be a “supergiant” balancing various aspects of the university, how would you balance the contradictories among research, teaching, administration, and public engagement? What kind of status should teaching have in a modern university- or multi-veristy, where external factors such as industry, society, government, and internal factors such as research, administration, and student development all exercise great impact on the university? And if teaching should indeed be improved and given more attention, what do you think are some of the measures that could be taken to achieve this purpose, from a policy level, the instruction level, the administration level, and from the students’ level?

Teaching and Learning Center Grants, 2017-2018

Katherine Hayles, “How We Became Posthuman”

As my provocation on Hayles, let me turn her title into a larger question that we can no doubt only try to answer after considering what she says in the Prologue and first chapter to her book: How did we in fact become posthuman? What in human/historical/intellectual development led to that critical transition from a “natural self” to “cybernetic posthuman”?

What follows is a series of quotations and questions drawn from Hayles’s Prologue and first chapter.

  1. What does Hayles mean, in commenting on the Turing Test, that it is about “the erasure of embodiment” when “intelligence becomes a property of the formal manipulation of symbols rather than enaction in the human life-world.” (xi) Why does intelligence need a body or does it still need one anymore?
  2. Hayles suggests that all human beings are now “posthuman” and concludes that “Because information had lost its body, this construction implied that emobdiment is not essential to human being.” (4) Why would she draw that conclusion in 1999?
  3. Is Hayles optimistic or pessimistic about the human condition? What does Hayles mean when she says at the bottom of p. 5: “…my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality. . . and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival.”
  4. What role does history play in the transition Hayles describes to the posthuman? What is the importance of what Hayles calls “three distinct waves of development,” which she defines as homeostasis (1945-60); reflexivity 1960-80); and virtuality (1980-present).
  5. Are we doomed to posthuman status or does Hayles see a possibility for resistance, a la Haraway? Do you agree with her conclusion  (on p. 20)  that “…we can demystify our progress toward virtuality and see it as the result of historically specific negotiations rather than of the irresistible force of technological determinism. At the same time we can acquire resources wit which to rethink the assumptions underlying virtuality, and we can recover a sense of the virtual that fully recognizes the importance of the embodied processes constituting the lifeworld of human beings.”

The Cyborg Today

In her essay, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”, Donna Haraway embraces the dissolution of boundaries between human and machine in the technological age as grounds for creating a new politics. Haraway offers the image of the cyborg as an “ironic myth” that inspires new ways of approaching and reformulating social relations. Like other emerging third-wave feminists of the time, Haraway rejects identity politics that actually reify the oppressive dualities of race, class, and gender by imposing identities. According to Haraway, every attempt at definition by necessity fixes and delimits the object. She says, for example, “Consciousness of exclusion through naming is acute… There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women” (155). The cyborg, by contrast, embodies the increasing interconnections between human and machines and does away with the old dualisms, especially of natural/artificial and mind/body. In this imaginary, according to Haraway, the confusion of such categories and dissolution of identity creates an opportunity for new coalitions. Haraway therefore proposes that we base a politics on affinity, where people can construct their own groups by choice. At the time, this argument critiqued common feminist articulations of technology as a destructive force. Here (and this is where the irony comes in), Haraway presents the cyborg as a figure that, in its monstrosity, creates a potential for new politics that searches for “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries” (150).

After finishing this essay, my first reaction was to marvel at Haraway’s vision and hope for technology’s potential to unite human beings, especially since this vision was articulated well before the popularization of the internet as a means of connectivity and communication. Of course, Haraway is careful to point out and explain at length the “intensification of insecurity and cultural impoverishment, with common failure of subsistence networks for the most vulnerable” that results from the socio-economic situation created by the digital revolution (172). Here, she emphasizes the the exploitation of women of color in supplying the labor. But she remains optimistic, asserting that “there are grounds for hope in the emerging bases for new kinds of unity across race, gender, and class” (173).

Taking up Haraway’s call, I’m going to draw attention to a digital project at the GC that engages the dissolution of binaries. I this this is a particularly useful provocation for our class, since we are now beginning to conceptualize our own projects, and we could benefit from taking Haraway’s ideas as inspiration for examining other student projects. How might we look at projects as engaging or enacting a politics related to the cyborg myth? After searching the various projects on the New Media Lab website, I was particularly interested in Nora Goldman’s work on gender expression in social media. Goldman, a Linguistics PhD student and New Media Fellow, scrapes twitter for language patterns in her project, “Language and Gender in the Online Feminist Movement”. In her introduction, Goldman points out that “When the Internet first became publicly available, some theorized that it would serve as an equalizing medium of communication. If we have no visual or audio cues when communicating, the thinking went, all of our prejudices and insecurities related to our social identity become irrelevant, allowing for a truly egalitarian linguistic exchange.” However, her project questions evaluates whether twitter exhibits the “same stereotypical gender patterns as any other mode of communication.” Here, Goldman might call to mind Haraway’s assertion that “cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication” (176). We don’t have access to Goldman’s results, but we might still comment on the potential for technology (such as social media) to create the space for unity through coalition. Given your own social media experience and Goldman’s hypothesis, where can we recognize this unity or harness the potential for coalition? Perhaps in the hashtag? (I’m only half-joking)