Reclaim Humanity

While vacationing in Southern California and evacuating from wild fires, I spotted a store called “Reclaim Humanity.” Sounded really deep and important… until I looked it up and found it was a used furniture store. But the phrase “reclaim humanity” struck me as kind of a personal rallying cry for why I push so hard for certain ideas in education…. even to the point of annoying people at times.

The fight for things like open education, connectivism, Domain of One’s Own, APIs, heutagogy, net neutrality, and other “hot button” ideas right now is not just over a cool tech trend or even who gets to control the meaning of those words (even thought that is important). These ideas represent who we are as a species. We like to educate everyone. Why do you think Facebook is so popular – you get to share for free! Humanity wants to share freely, but there are movements to clamp it all down. We like to own our own digital identity. But there are movements to take your data away from you. We like to be individuals, to be recognized as one that is unique. But there are movements to force everything into one big box. We like to connect and learn collaboratively – but there are also movements to make us sit there and stare at a video for hours and call this boredom learning.

To me, there is a battle being waged in education that has many fronts but two basic sides (with some overlap or sharing of course – education is rarely pure black and white). On one side are those that want to clamp down and monetize everything, force everything into a one size fits all box, set-up coalitions of clones, and generally perpetrate a behaviorist, instructivist, top-down, big business education model. On the other side are the crazy, punk rock, open, collaborative, experimental boundary pushers that really are trying to implement some pretty old educational ideas that were skipped over in the industrialization of the education system.

When people ask something like  “why should I own my own domain – I’m not tech savy enough?” – that is a good question. But I remember when people asked the same things about email: “I can just call/write a letter – I’m not tech savy enough for email.” Now email is second nature to anyone with a computer. Then people said the same things about discussion boards and online communications. Now we almost all do these same processes (on Facebook) as if they were second nature. So, right now the technology might not be perfect enough for easy domain management, or reclaiming your date, or connectivist learning, or combining xMOOCs with cMOOCs, or heutagogy, or adaptive learning, or holodeck communications, or you name it…. but it is getting there. We should push these ideas forward because they represent what it means to be human more than the alternative.

What is the alternative? Think back to the early days of email… before everyone had an account. What was the dominant competition for email? AOL Mail. Remember when people asked if you did AOL Mail or “something else?” AOL tried to push us to accept their system as the one stop place for news, communication, life, etc. But there were much cooler things outside the walled garden they were creating. Things that you get to from any computer with a browser. Remember the days of having to find a computer with AOL already installed, signing on to AOL, downloading email (?), and then signing out to read your messages because you didn’t want to waste minutes? They did their system their way and you had to do it their way to even be in the system. People eventually went down their own path once the AOL hype died down.

Humanity craves personalization, freedom, openness, and uncomplicated systems for doing basic things like communication.

So when I see things like Unizin that want to bundle everything together as a one-stop place to do everything you need in education, I tend to see AOL more than freedom. Or really, I just see another Blackborg looming on the horizon.

Blackboard got the nickname Blackborg initially because of the way they assimilate other companies, but the name has stuck as they continue to advance into all kinds of educationally-related areas to try and become one-stop technology solutions for all size educational institutions. That may look great to people way up at the top (especially those with limited vision for what happens on the ground), but it looks more like mindless assimilation to the rest of us.

So the next time someone asks why I think Domain of One’s Own, or APIs, or Connectivism, or Open Learning, or Sociocultural Theory, or LTCA theory, or whatever it is that I am on a kick about is a good idea, I will just point to the fact that I am trying to Reclaim Humanity from the face of soulless assimilation or continued reliance on a silo-ed approach to learning.

(BTW – Blackboard can be a part of the overall picture as long as it is one option you are giving in a whole toolbox.)

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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