Jun 18 2010

A textbook case

Published by at 8:51 pm under Digital Habitats,Learning

From my perspective we wrote Digital Habitats as a call to action (and reflection) more than anything else.  So it’s a bit ironic to see it used as a textbook, at least for me, being so skeptical about exactly what kind of learning is going on in schools.  But actually it’s pretty cool.  Of course it make me wonder exactly how it’s used?  What kinds of conversations result from its use?  And: beyond schools or its use as a textbook, I always am curious: how do people use it, if they do?  Is it helpful?  In what way?

The short answer is: you can never really know.  Why?  Using our Digital Habitats jargon, it is because participation trumps reification.  Here’s one heavy duty answer as to why by Lucy Suchman on p 110 in Orr (1996):

Indexicality of instructions means that an instruction’s significance with respect to actions does not inhere in the instructions, but must be found by the instruction follower with reference to the situation of its use. (Suchman 1987,  p .61)

Which amounts to saying that the context of use and the situation where conversations occur matter a lot.  (An aside: is Digital Habitats is a set of instructions? Not in any simple way. A call to action, yes.  But you have to decide on the actions!)

Anyway, it’s interesting to see a field trip happening in plain sight. A few weeks ago, Kathy Milhauser’s class at City University of Seattle came here for a field trip.  A Wordle summary gives a glimpse of the discussion.

The following week they had a conversation “back home” on Blackboard.  Kathy provided a  nice summary of the discussion.

A couple weeks later I was invited to talk at the opening of the second day of Pepperdine University’s Cadre 12 Action Research Conference of their Master of Arts in Learning Technology because several students had used Digital Habitats as a textbook.  Kathy Milhauser graduated from one of Pepperdine’s technology programs and as Margaret Riel pointed out during the session, Pepperdine has made a very systematic effort to bust out of the sequestered classroom model. The event was a wonderful effort to allow people to participate at a distance.  I would have liked to be there but appreciated being able to be there at all.  Nice to see familiar names.

I have to confess though that I multi-tasked off and on during the morning after my talk.  The video stream let me listen in.  I heard someone say, “Digital Habitats as become my bible.” I heard  Scott Mortensen say “After reading Digital Habitats and everything clicked for me, then I ….”  Wow!  (Here’s a glimpse of Mortensen’s thinking.)   In keeping with the biblical theme, Babette Novak reported that she asked herself:

W W E W D?

Translation “What would Etienne Wenger Do?

Later on I hear Michael Cramer (an IT executive ) tell a story about people brought together into a company through a merger or acquisition process who recognized each other through story telling. One of the snippets was about how many people had been seen sprinkling a loved one’s ashes from the top of a Ferris Wheel because somehow that was where the deceased’s heart was.

Problems of indexicality aside, all this work with our book made one heart in Portland, Oregon feel very warm.

Reference: Julian E. Orr, Talking About Machines: An Ethnography of a Modern Job (Ithaca, NY: Ilr Press/Cornell University Press, 1996)

One response so far

One Response to “A textbook case”

  1. smithjd8 says:

    Hi, James. You'd think "what is being learned" would be the most frequently asked question, eh?

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