Friday, September 07, 2007

web2.0 spray: Stager versus Downes

Stager: Why Teachers Don't Use Web 2.0 - an historical perspective
Downes: Stager, Logo and Web 2.0

Gary Stager loves logo and knows what he is talking about. But when it comes to "web2.0" he shoots from the hip and there is a lot of spray. Moreover, there is some irony involved in criticising web2.0 so strongly in a blog post.

Stephen Downes has done some heavy lifting wrt theorising "web2.0". But in his response he either ignored or didn't understand Stager's logo philosophy and indulges in snide comments about "old-school" versus "new-school"

This is not a real debate, yet. It is two experts sounding forth on their favourite topics without taking the trouble to look deeper at what the other is really trying to say.

Here is my take on some of the issues

Disruptive technologies
Both logo and web2.0 technologies are disruptive to traditional School. So Stager and Downes ought to be on the same side here, more or less.

I have studied Papert deeply but (sadly) not Illich or Freire. My impression is that they are all on about deschooling society. Both Stager and Downes are arguing for more political and social activism wrt to school reform and are critical of those who can't see this. Where is the difference?

Logo has a history, which is eloquently summarised in Stagers post. Web2.0 advocates ought to study and acknowledge that history deeply. Otherwise they will be blinded and trapped in the glitter of the present and not put it into perspective. But web2.0 in general is not about studying history deeply. It's the exception. Web 1.0 is almost as good for doing that.

Stager says that Papert was a deep expert leader. Downes says that you have to work it out by yourself with the help of your RSS feed. Both are right but who in the web2.0 movement has actually understood Papert and situated his contribution historically? Quite rightly, Stager is angry about that.

Objects to think with
Stager's point about "objects to think with" is important but needs further elaboration. Downes response is reasonable as a starter but shows no understanding of Papert's deeper meaning of this term

Developmental approach
Should software be developed with children in mind (Stager) or is that not so important because we want to bridge the artificial School / Society gap anyway (Downes)? I think to answer that does require some study of the history of computing and educational computing software. Who is going to do that?

Information theorising
Downes has done heavy lifting here and so is rightly aggrieved at Stager's one liners. Needs more work. In general the "web2.0" response is not to read Downes theories, understand them and respond to them but just to keep on blogging

Tools and philosophy
Stager: "It is difficult to sustain a "revolution" when its goals remain unclear and the soldiers rally around the tools, not ideals"

Downes protests because he has done some significant philosophical work here. But since Downes rejects constructionism that's an ongoing debate that needs to happen. It would be a good thing if we had more debate about tools, philosophy and the human condition.

I think there is some convergence between Papert's philosophy (see invitation to immersion) and the more articulate "web2.0" philosophy (eg. blog of proximal development). But only some. At it's best web2.0 in education is mainly about Vygotsky and written language, whereas Papert is mainly about maths-land (logo) and science-land (LEGO logo). Both are important but the approach is different

More on my views about some of these issues here: a challenge to connectivism


Tom Hoffman said...

I'd say you hit the nail on the head, Bill.

Gary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary said...


Your article is interesting. Thank you for acknowledging my work.

Admittedly, I was thinking out-loud. Isn't that the point of blogging?

You know I respect your work and wish that I had time to respond to everything you write with the attention it deserves. I really do.

Once again, I'm sorry if my article was interpreted as a criticism of any piece of software. I was merely trying to state a hypothesis, based on a historical comparison of two communities. I may be wrong, but with all due respect, I was not spraying.

If Stephen Downes has a body of philosophical work on the new media landscape, I apologize for having missed it. Books are handy in that they're portable and contain lots of ideas in one place. Many of us are meeting each other and our ideas for the first time via Google alerts and blog comments. This opens up many chances for misunderstandings. It's difficult assembling one's life's work via hyperlinks.

It is QUITE possible that I don't know much about what Downes does and believes because it is quite evident that some of the people who have taken such umbrage at my article have no idea about my work, despite 100+ articles and hundreds of conference presentations all over the world.

I am the guy who spent three years building a technology-rich progressive constructionist learning environment inside a prison for teens. I'm the guy who asks states to allow me to teach in their worst schools with their most at-risk students in order to create real models of what might be.

It is the very nature of this medium that if one attempts to defend themselves that they look like whining babies.

To be caricatured (not by you, but by others) as an out-of-touch ivory-tower academic is cheap trick appealing to the worst aspects of populism and anti-intellectualism.

I understand the potential of learning and teaching online. I created an online masters degree program in 1997-98 and have taught online for even longer. I've written peer-reviewed papers on the subject.

I'm searching for a civil way in which to engage in online discussions without having anonymous critics deface photos of me or accuse me of being anti-technology.

As someone who spent years trying to educate Todd Oppenheimer only to have him disappoint me with his terrible book, it's outrageous for Dr. Siemens to equate me with Oppenheimer.

There SHOULD be a way in which we can demand that bloggers provide evidence to support their claims, to disagree amicably or even to say, "doing that with students is a bad idea." However, I'm losing hope that this more possible online than in the teacher's lounge.


PS: I don't own the copyright for the photo of me you included in this blog. You might want to remove it.

Bill Kerr said...

hi gary,

I've taken the photos down

I didn't interpret your article as a criticism of any piece of software

What I meant by spray is something similar to shooting from the hip, not all your bullets hit the mark.

IMO, (of course):
Some of your comments about web2.0 were correct but some of them needed to be explained more, eg. "objects to think with" (many in web2.0 land know very little about Papert)

Some of your comments were relatively trivial and could have been merged or left out (eg. dot point five). Of course you may argue against but I'm expressing my opinion here that "less is better". A fewer number of more detailed arguments might have served your cause better.

Some of your comments were counterproductive to your argument. eg. how is it an argument from your perspective against web2.0 that it represents democratisation when logo has a similar goal?

The eloquence of your description of logo and its philosophy was not matched in your dot pointed web2.0 critique section. eg. the stylistic disparity is quite sharp

The term spray is also in the heading. My perception, as argued in my article, is that to some extent you and stephen are talking past each other with far more attention being paid to asserting rather than listening to each other. Yes, I'm aware of significant differences too but would like to see a better debate with more light than heat

I'm angry at derisive comments and pictures about you left at this blog and have left a protest comment there.

Stephen Downes said...

Hm. I would really hesitate to say Web 2.0 is about language - in my own work I have written that it's in fact exactly *not* about language.

That's because a good amount of the philosophical background to my work is rooted in connectionism, and yes, people like Minsky and Papert. Which is why I refer to them so often in my papers and talks.

I would also hesitate to say that it's about Vygotsky. Various others - especially social networking people - disagree with me on this. I've talked a lot about this as well.

As for Stager - long story short, I've read a bunch of his things and commented on a number of them - you'd get a good sense of where my 'old school' references come from by looking at them.

I guess he's read almost nothing of mine. That's fine, he doesn't have to. But if he's going to criticize (what I'll call) Web 2.0 in learning, he should. because, then he would know it's not vague, it is backed by research and it is well-informed. If I say so myself.