I remember way back during my IGCSE exams (that’s International GCSEs, high school degree) we had in our English Literature a paper called the “Unseen”. This was and still remains my favorite example of what it means to teach AGAINST memorization. Our literature exams had a paper that was open book and notes so you could take the books you had been studying all year and use those while answering questions (also anti-memorization because the book is right there – questions were quite analytical).
The “unseen” paper meant you got to read a poem or book excerpt that you had not studied before and answer some questions on it.
I remember something interesting that happened to me. It was a poem by an Irish poet. I had never read it before. But I had flipped through our entire poetry book (we were only assigned a few poems maybe 3 or something) and I remember reading some bios of poets. And so I remembered that this particular poet had been through war. I read the poem and reinterpreted it based on what I knew of the poet. I think I could have still done a good analysis/interpretation without that prior knowledge, but the prior knowledge made me feel I was closer to understanding where that poet was coming from. I did well in my literature exam so I assume I answered that one well 🙂
Now I am thinking about the impact of social media and blogging on how I interpret what people write. Like when I see Dave Cormier use a word like resilience it reminds me of the term “grit” but because I know Dave, I know he means it differently. So I read on with a different eye.
It occurs to me that, of course, without social media, if you read a particular author often enough (Edward Said, Freire, bell hooks, even novelists and playwrights) you get to know them a little and what you know of them from before influences how you read new stuff. When these authors have been often interviewed as well (e.g. Said, Chomsky, hooks) there is an added layer of personal understanding. Now what if you had actually personally conversed with these individuals?
That’s the case now with blogging and social media. There was a time when people like Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh, Bonnie Stewart, Jenny Mackness, Lee Skallerup Bessette, Martin Weller, Mike Caulfield, Phil Hill, Kate Bowles, Howard Rheingold, Mimi Ito, Janine DeBaise, Jim Groom …There was a time when these people were authore to me. People I read. People I cited. Authors not acquaintances or friends. But because of social media, all of these people are ones I know from acquaintance to very close friend. From people whom I have met and do close work with, and people I have developed games with, to people I have co-authored and co-presented with, to people I interact with often on social media Or Virtually Connecting. When I read something from these people there is a lot of public and private history involved in how I interpret what they say/write.
And then I looked at the schedule of NLC 2016 and saw it has a mix of people I know closely like Laura Gogia and Suzan Koseoglu and Jeffrey Keefer and Dian Bayne and Jen Ross and people I have met in person and also know quite a bit like Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz and Frances Bell (And Suzan)…and people I have interacted with like Gemma Tombs…and then people I have read before like way back in the early days of ELearning but never interacted with. Like Peter Goodyear. And other names that strike a memory when I see them but don’t last as much as the others because they are less “current” and less a part of my life now.
And that’s kind of good and bad. It’s kind of good to know who you are reading because you have opportunities for dialogue and viewing the writer’s thinking process as they develop ideas over time (Mike Caulfield is amazing at making this explicit with Fedwiki and Wikity ; Laura Gogia is amazing at that with pretty much everything)… And also they sort of become part of my own head, somehow? Like I don’t live inside just my own head…like my friend said that during Digital Pedagogy Lab Cairo she felt she was living inside my head as she interacted with Sean and Amy and Jesse and Bonnie. And I totally got that.
On the other hand. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading a writer we don’t know at all and will never talk to. Coz they are dead, say. Or just not into social media. Or really just not social. And we do it all the time obviously.
For me though – if I can have an opportunity to know an author I would rather take it. I often write emails to authors of novels I like and they usually respond! They do! I also love getting to know a person when I am reviewing their work openly for a Hybrid Pedagogy article. It’s looking at authors as whole people and it seems a waste NOT to do it if you can. If they’re open to it.
So… I would love opportunities to connect virtually with people I have read but never met. It’s just a little harder to convince them to meet me 🙂
Just yesterday I got an email from my university’s ex-president saying how much she enjoyed reading my Prof Hacker articles. That was so cool that she got in touch to let me know she was reading my work…and our dean often emails me saying she enjoyed a particular piece of mine. It’s so lovely coz it’s unexpected. And I assume knowing me influences how they read it.
What’s hilarious is when a colleague from the library who knows me well sent me a Prof Hacker article on open access and copyright saying I would like it. My response: “but Mark, I wrote that piece myself!”