by Stephen Downes
Aug 25, 2016
This is a surprisingly insightful article on the dynamics of Twitter abuse (surprising because the title and lede are so very very bad). "The 'everyone sees everything' worldview of web comments was first transcended by Twitter, driving its initial vibrant culture and rapid growth. But then the explicitly engagement-amplifying changes brought in many of these old assumptions implicitly, bringing back those problems." The problem is with the "everyone sees" part of the equation; massification creates marketing, which creates abuse. "What if, under a popular tweet, instead of seeing all the replies by default, we saw only those from people both ourselves and the post author followed?" What is we could dial it out or back, by degrees of separation? The only way to stop abuse is to prevent them from getting into our inbox in the first place. Unfortunately for Twitter, that is also the cure for marketing.
My father was what they call a telephone pioneer and I guess I'm an internet pioneer. I wrote my first computer program in 1979 and was working for Texas Instruments by 1980. By 1991 I was studying for a PhD I would never get, playing in an internet multi-user dungeon (MUD), teaching critical thinking by telephone for Athabasca University, and playing with a thing called the Maximus BBS. At first I didn't like the web (the URLs were too long to type and it was too much like a dead-silent library). But the world of personal web sites and discussion boards opened up the world to me, and I never left. I never thought any of it would turn into a career, but within four years I had my own website and a new job in distance education and new media design. Twenty-five years. Half my life, almost. What a ride.
This article describes what is in retrospect a remarkable turn of events: in the digital world, private enterprise has realized the Marxist ideal, the elimination of private property. "You do not own your Amazon Kindle books... You do not own the music you stream... You don’t own the movies you watch... You (likely) do not own the software you use (unless it’s open source);... you (likely) do not own the operating system that powers your computer; you’ve paid for a license there as well. And increasingly, there are restrictions with what you can do with the computer hardware as well as the software that you might think is yours because it is in your possession." This is something, writes Audrey Watters, that we must fight against. "To own is to possess. To own is to have authority and control. To own is to acknowledge. It implies a responsibility."
While a graduate student association president I spent two years working to unionize graduate teaching assistants. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful. Not because of law - unionization is much easier in Canada and contributes greatly to our more equitable society. No, even with the sanction of law and support of a national labour union, the difference in power between professor and graduate student was too great. It's hard to go on strike against the person who is grading your thesis. Still, I wish graduate students in the U.S. well. Theirs is a long row to hoe, and it will take superhuman effort in a labour-unfriendly environment to achieve something like a living wage. This new ruling, at least, makes it possible. Though, of course, the rich will resist it nonetheless.
As a former board member for two universities (University of Alberta, and Athabasca University) I can attest to the prevalence of the board philosophy, specifically, "Support all actions taken by the Board of Governors even when in a minority position on such actions. Respect the principle of Board collegiality, meaning an issue may be debated vigorously, but once a decision is made it is the decision of the entire Board, and is to be supported." Like Alex Usher I always disagreed with that position. But I think it's a philosophy that permeates management generally. The first requirement for any manager, I've observed, is a willingness to do what they're told, to show a primary loyalty to the management team. We need to rethink this generally, and not just for university boards.
It is inevitable, I think, that proponents of 'quality' in education will call for an end to the mandate to provide access to all, instead focusing on 'higher quality' for a few. So we have here the push to "move beyond the dominant influences of increased enrolment and growth to the achievement of other desired outcomes such as preparing students better for today’s jobs, more sustainable institutions, higher quality education and research, etc." Leaving aside the mechanisms for pursuing these new objectives - funding based on learning outcomes, differentiation between institutions - the presumption that access is no longer a desirable objective is regressive and not worthy of a public education system. And has, I might add, nothing whatsoever to do with Keynes. Image: Evolllution.
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