The latter half of Feenberg’s (1989) paper becomes a rather confused and muddled mess; whilst there are some interesting ideas, he doesn’t quite pull them off. I noted some intriguing points in the discourse section where Feenberg refers to Marshall McLuhan’s 1960’s announcement on the “end of literate culture and the rise of a new ‘oral’ culture based on electronic broadcasting“. This was when the TV star was in it’s ascendency and the noble art of conversation was enduring a slow and choking death.
Feenberg raises another pertinent statement; especially when you consider the rhetoric that children spend far too much time watching television, playing computer games and surfing the Internet:
Recent years have seen the proliferation of remedial writing courses in colleges and the gradual decline of the childhood pastime of reading for pleasure.
The effect of this particular game of dominos would be reverberating across the academic and corporate worlds for years to come as it becomes painfully apparent to the powers that be that a generation of children would be ill-equipped to learn and to work. These discordant ripples continue right upto (and beyond) the Leitch Review (2006).
In 1998, the UK Government introduced “Literacy Hour” into all Primary schools to try and get the kids into reading. As fate would have it, a certain bespectacled boy with a lightening bolt scar on his forehead was going to do something that no Government initiative could possibly achieve; and that was to get children to read books for fun, a recent study seems to support this assertion.
We digress somewhat. Feenberg’s habit for name dropping those great theorists of Goffman, Lyotard and Derrida makes for heavy work. Terms such as “absorption“, “engrossment” and “atomisation” are both unhelpful and a little inaccessible to educationalists or technologists alike, unless they are blessed with a sociological / philosophical mindset.
On the role of the moderator, Feenberg suggests that they should be more like a chairperson within a meeting. In the real world, a skilled moderator would be able to exert a physical presence; much like a conductor would with an orchestra. In the online world, one is not able to exert such a presence. Whilst technologies would give the online moderator the ability to “block” unruly participants – which is a bit like being kicked out of the pub by the landlord – it is hardly conducive towards any meaningful discussions or debates; if anything, it will only serve to make the participants feels isolated and alienated.
If we can imagine for a minute, a parent teaching a child how to ride a bike, then letting go so that the bike is under the child’s control; so the moderator’s role, therefore, should exhibit a similar approach. Indeed, we would redefine the moderator’s role to that of a facilitator. The facilitator would, therefore, steer the participants out of the harbour and allows them to go at their own pace and accord; with the occasional nudge of the compass, the participants are gently brought back on the track and continue to make those connections in a more fruitful and organic way.
Feenberg, A., (1989). The written world: On the the theory and practice of computer conferencing. In: Mason, R. & Kaye, A. (eds.). Mindweave: communication, computers and distance learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press. pp. 22-39.
Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P.A. & Jochems, W., (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 335-353.
McInnerney, J.M. & Roberts, T.S., (2004). Online Learning Social Interaction and the Creation of a Sense of Community. Educational Technology & Society, 7(3), 73-81.