Technology for teaching in public

I’ve been asked to contribute a chapter to a book on teaching in public, specifically concerned with how we can use technology to do this. Now, I could probably knock out something on the commons, open educational resources, web 2.0 and that stuff, but a) it’s been done, and b) I want to make it a bit more theoretical. I’ve been reading quite a lot about the neo-luddite movement,  which isn’t about machine breaking, but about critiquing the role of the machine in modern society. (So put that sledgehammer down THIS MINUTE!)

Anyway, I’ve just been reading about Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and that crowd, who began to protest about the effect that mechanisation was having on culture and the general intellect, and developed a philosophy that I understand (bear with me, I’m new to this)  is sometimes referred to as American Transcendentalism, evidently to distinguish it from more religious forms of transcendentalism.  Like the neo-luddites, they weren’t particularly anti-technology, but recognised that the changes it brought weren’t always beneficial.

I really haven’t got very far with this, but I’m dimly beginning to make some connections with Marx’s notion of mass intellectuality. We often hear claims that universities aren’t producing graduates with the skills that the economy needs, (although no-one seems to be able to describe those skills in any detail), but the kind of critique of industrial thinking that the ne0-luddites and the American Transcendalists were indulging in seems to be a profoundly useful counterweight to the idea that there are a set of tips and techniques that ensure national well being.

The problem is of course, is that if this is done in public, then it is vulnerable to critique  that if universities cannot directly benefit the state, or at least demonstrate how they are doing so, then there is no logical reason for the state to pay for them. Not that there’s anything wrong with critique and debate of course. But just as the Devil has all the best tunes, that’s an argument that has simplicity on it’s side. The rebuttal of that argument is complex, involving well rehearsed arguments about blue-sky research, the value of critical graduates, (both of which the state does benefit from) and  accepting that there might indeed be alternative funding streams . On the bright side, I guess the use of open shared technologies promotes the creation of far more ideas.

But I accept that I need to think a lot harder about this, and find some evidence of how universities are engaging with open technology.