Flipping and blending

[Originally published in Creative Amnesia May 12, 2013 @ 20:08]

This is the prezi of the presentation I gave (in collaboration with James O’Sullivan)  at the ninth ICT in Education Conference hosted on the Thurles Campus of Limerick Institute of Technology on Saturday 11th of May 2013. I decided to use prezi instead of powerpoint because I thought it gave a better visual representation of the idea of ‘flipping’. I also added a draft of the basic points of my talk.

Draft Text [the number are the sequence of the prezi’s steps]

[1] I am working on literary studies and I found myself recently puzzled by the idea of having to teach something like the Mondrian Mood, one of the many example available of e-poetry[2]. It is a need that will become more and more pressing in the future, since forms of e-poetry will presumably become more widespread. A number of questions come into my mind when looking at it: can I use a traditional literary approach? what other kind of expertise do I need to interpret it? Is this changing the cognitive way I approach a “text”? Can I still call it a text? And so on and so forth…
I recently called this situation in which we are now “la maionese impazzita” [3] (you can follow the link to my blog where I first used the expression). I don’t know if you ever tried to make home-made mayonnaise[4], but, if you have, I am sure you know what this expression means, you have experienced it at some point (at least as part of the learning process). And if you don’t you can still look at wikipedia’s entry for mayonnaise: “Making mayonnaise is a process that requires watching; if the liquid starts to separate and look like pack-ice, or curd, it simply requires starting again with an egg yolk, whisking it, slowly adding the ‘curd’ while whisking, and the mixture will emulsify to become mayonnaise. If water is added to the yolk it can emulsify more oil, thus making more mayonnaise.” You need to focus to avoid destabilizing the mixture, the emulsion. In Italy we call this destabilized result “maionese impazzita” (literally, “mayonnaise gone mad”). [5]
Making mayonnaise, as you can see from the video[6], can have troubling effects on the way we look at things, that is to say in our cognitive abilities. In fact this is what is happening, and Marx summarizes it in a very famous quote[7] (I am sure you have heard it before) that was used in a book to describe the modern(its) condition.
You might, I guess, call this a problem of “information overload”, something that starts very early in life[8], as you can see, and never leave us afterwards. But I [would] rather not. Simply because I do not believe that the problem is that we have too much information these days. The problem is not the increased amount (after all even in a medium-sized library there is way more information than you can process in a lifetime), the problem is that it is organized in ways that we are not able to control properly. It is the way in which information reaches us that is problematic and has to be discussed, not the quantity. And for sure, information overload is not something that is “born digital”, it pre-dates the invention of digital computers. The first one to speak about it was Diderot, in the eighteenth century [9]. Sorry, Wikipedia again.
I see this as more of a cognitive problem than a quantitative problem. For me the reason is not so much the amount of information but the way in which it is organized and presented. And of course there is a huge amount of research work on knowledge management I could quote here. But I am more interested in the effect of the digital, on the digital instruments that are involved. The discussion could be very long but I will limit myself to this one quote by Jaron Lanier [10] that pretty much summarize what I want to say.
The nature of the digital revolution is that the “language” is inscribed in the material support in a more cogent way than in a more traditional support such as the book. The 1 and 0 of the first programming language were (and still are) physically inscribed in the switches of the first computers, the big ones like ENIAC[11]. At that stage of computing, programming a machine meant physically change the switches, the “physical” 1 and 0, creating a different hardware for each problem or equation you were trying to solve. There was no programming language like the ones we have now, which were conceived “extracting” or “abstracting” them from the actual machine that became therefore virtual.
What has this got to do with pedagogy and flipping/blended classroom? A lot, I think. As Mark Pegrum[12] says, to survive in a digital working environment people needs multiple literacy. And you need multiple literacy to interpret e-poetry as well.
He made a long list [13] of them in his article.
Flipping the classroom make[s] sense because it takes into account this change in our cognitive relationship with the objects – it is not so much that we learn a language and then we organize reality according to it, but we need to struggle to discover and extract the language(s) inscribed in the objects (not only physical but also digital objects) we are using. This is the process we need to teach in a digital age, and this can be done not with theoretical discussions but with practical engagement with the tools themselves.
The idea is to create digital pedagogical tools that foster awareness of the process, in the same way in which meta-fictional features in a novel focus on how fiction is created, on the mechanism of “world-creation”, if you want, rather than the actual content. And to spend time in class using those tools, discovering and extracting their language(s), rather than lecturing about them (languages). If we don’t do that, the risk is not going beyond the patchy technological knowledge of the so-called “digital natives”. And not being able to make a tasty home-made mayonnaise[14].

And then we introduced some specific tools.


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