Monday, February 13, 2012

Object-Oriented Instructional Aesthetics


Using Technology Requires a Framework.

Recently, I gave a talk about Twitter.

I gave the talk in the form of 52 tweets--140-character messages.

My larger point in the talk was not Twitter itself. Rather, I wanted to show that it's ideas or frameworks that allow us to integrate technology into the teaching and learning process.

If you have a framework--an idea or matrix of what happens in education--then you can plug in any technology, no matter how trivial.

Twitter can be trivial. A tweet might be: "Just got out of the shower." Stop the presses.

So how do new uses of learning technology get generated?  To my way of thinking, practical arts are more like object-oriented programming than applications of a theory.

In object-oriented programming, instead of the software executing commands, it builds objects. The objects have properties. Methods do things to the objects--copy them, modify their properties, etc. Java is a programming language used for object-oriented programming. Java's own example is:
  • A bicycle is an object or a class.
  • Ed's bicycle is an instance of a class.
Practical arts generate new instances of a known type. So I wanted to show that Twitter could be used to carry the same kinds of methods as the chalkboard and the overhead projector, pencil-and-paper, Powerpoint, etc.

The Aesthetics of Demonstration.

My own presentation tried to clone the presentation-object onto the Twitter platform. There is something aesthetic about this: using Twitter to talk about Twitter.

Not that my presentation on using Twitter was a work of art. But neither was it a telegram or a laundry list--the fastest simplest way to dump information somewhere.

I love reflexivity: things that point to themselves. Words about words, paintings of paintings, movies within movies. It's art-y, yes. But it's something I find enjoyable.

In fact, every demonstration has a reflexive aspect.
  • A demonstration shows something by doing it.
  • You do something and point to specific parts or aspects. "Notice the way I hold the needle." "Don't hold the thread this way, hold it this way."
  • A demonstration is reflexive.
And when you're using a real thing, not a mock-up, a demonstration is also a proof-of-concept. Look: it works. It can be done.

This does not mean the doing is the proving, and that is the end. It means the doing is a kind of proving, and it is part of a discussion. The doing can then be dissected, argued with examined.

And very important in a liberal arts context: the doing that demonstrates becomes an experience and a text everyone can respond to.  Someone's now Storified my presentation and blogged about it.

Look, I'm doing this. What do you think of that? Do you think it succeeds? Do you think it fails? Does the demonstration undo itself, unprove its assertion?

That's for others to debate. That is one of the urgent messages of a liberal arts education. Look. Test. Try. Decide for yourself. Come to your own conclusion. Don't be persuaded: persuade yourself.

--Edward R. O'Neill


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