“I’m not saying…” A Postmodern & Metamodern Look at Education

On Tuesday, May 26, I spoke with Matt Crosslin and Whitney Kilgore about theoretical and philosophical lenses from which to view our practices in higher education.

This conversation began at #et4online conference in April, when I presented on research looking at the OER phenomenon from a postmodern lens.  Whitney, who is doing excellent scholarship and teaching in the world of online education, is working through a dissertation and wanted to explore philosophy and education that reaches beyond modernism.  As Matt often links his work and writing to metamodernism, this was an opportunity to engage a dialogue about theory, philosophy, dominant paradigms and manners in which to affect higher education.

The problem with a philosophy such as postmodernism is the shifting sand of its foundation:  postmodernists do stand for something but in doing so they have to point out the inefficiency and foibles of something else.  Also, postmodernism is careful to not make grandiose claims, so I often found myself making a comparison or a metaphor and immediately having to say, “I’m not saying…” in an effort not to connect the example beyond the utility of that example.

Matt and I engaged well and found many points of agreement in our camps.  It is not necessarily that postmodernism and metamodernism are at loggerheads; rather, metamodernism is an attempt to more accurately place a practical theory in lieu of hype. I understand this; postmodernism is in many cultures a buzzword rather than a philosophy, and metamodernism is a reaction.  There are examples of postmodern scholarship that would also be considered metamodern scholarship…these are not clear distinctions but rather areas or zones that overlap, and in some cases overlap heavily.

If you are looking for a brief introduction to both topics, Matt and I explore the concepts in the first 15 minutes. Between 15 and 45 we give examples and look at the state of higher education. The last 15 minutes is the space where we talk about possible futures for higher education.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explore this topic.  I hope more conversations about theory and philosophy as supplement to our respective lenses can emerge in the field; it is not vital to agree (and it is perhaps not ideal to agree), but it is helpful to understand where other people are coming from in their thinking and why they are reaching such conclusions.

Our Fascination With (Not) Fixing Education

Reading:  Why Technology Will Never Fix Education (Kentaro Toyama), Bernie Sanders’ Ambitious Plan to Eliminate College Tuition (Alice Ollstein)

Why does an article placing the failures of technology at the base of a unequal socioeconomic structure get a much greater deal of my Twitter feed’s attention than a political plan by a Presidential candidate offering free college education at any four-year institution?  And how does this have anything to do with the final episode of Mad Men and Coca Cola products?

Regarding the failures of technology article as seen in the Chronicle of Higher Education:  I appreciate where Dr. Toyama wants to go with his argument, but in creating his Law of Amplification he perpetuates on the education field many of the same harms of which he blames Silicon Valley.  The Law of Amplification wants to say that tech projects existing success, provides little to the mean and harms the disadvantaged.  It sounds plausible, and the author points out examples where he can tie his Law to existing structures.  Evidence as provided does not establish the Law as ironclad by any means, for I see the foundation of the law as problematic — a few examples such as MOOC inequity do not make the Law correct, but rather make the Law not incorrect in these cases. Continue reading Our Fascination With (Not) Fixing Education