Pete Sands "Hybridity as an Ethical Choice"
|"Distance education is no longer the great evil. Many DE techniques and strategies are used in more traditional learning environments. In fact, it is often said that the distance between a lecturer and a student is greater than the distance between teachers and students in DE environments. This is difficult to pull off as a teacher, and even more difficult from the administrative side. There are competing forces at work. Still, we're all on the same time, aren't we?"
Mark Walbert -
Pete Sands -
Judi Kirkpatrick -
Susan Lang -
Joel English -
Trish Harris -
Cynthia Jeney -
The description of this morning's Town Hall says that "Distance Education is
no longer the great evil"; I'd like to take a deliberately provocative or devil's
advocate position on the matter and advocate "hybrid" or "blended" courses as
offering distinct advantages for both students and society over "pure" distance
models which pose the threat of homogeneity against the promise of heterogeneity.
doing so, I'd like to situate my comments in the context of the global reach
of U. S. higher
education, and its consequent role in globalization and informationalization. [ii] In higher education, "hybrid" [iii] refers to a kind of course in which seat-time is reduced
and the work of the course is distributed, with all its attendant senses, in
both space and time, through the global computer network. [iv] Ultimately, because the body remains in play, I believe
that hybrid forms of education offer a way out of a gnostic [v] error—a belief in the possibility of transcending the
body--that lies behind the desire for distance education.
depend on physical/material location and wealth; distance education depends
on material wealth but not physical location, operating under a metaphor of
transcendence from the physical into the virtual, with a concomitant absence
of cultural or other heterogeneity, owing to the near-complete dominance of
Western metaphors, language and curricula in virtual space; hybrid models of
education offer radical reinscription of the heterogeneous bodies and cultures
of the world in a globally connected educational system by embracing both digital
and material presence.
the long-term prognosis for distance education programs is unclear, but the
short term desire of the monied classes that actually run higher education institutions
is completely clear: distance education is a means of opening a world market
for U.S. educational ventures while possibly restricting world
employment in higher education by shifting teaching responsibilities from local
centers. [vi] It is not a very great leap to surmise that there will
be concomitant flattening or lessening of non-U.S. perspectives, histories,
and cultures in the rush to standardize and transmit educational content.
are attracted to networked education but don't necessarily place their responsibilities
in terms of the global role of U. S. higher
education. As Olu Oguibe, the Nigerian artist and Network theorist says, the
Network attracts people who will speak to but also for the Other. [viii] This is something to be negotiated consciously, as
Cynthia Selfe reminds us. [ix] We should pay close attention as well to the possibility
that universities are attracted to Distance Education because of a false belief
in the ability of the Network to transcend the problem of the Body—all those
bodies, occupying all that Real Estate—transcend it by making it go away in
a million fragments of what was once a common Body, at least figuratively speaking.
the Web appears to be pushing both students and teachers simultaneously into
a shared, public, published space, then we can say that such a push rotates
their relationship from a traditionally vertical to a new horizontal axis—not
necessarily a bad thing. But if in the distance model, there is only
heterogeneity, that would be a bad thing. In the long run, this mashing together
and reformulating of traditional relationships in the modern iteration of the
ancient university, will require concepts and practices of hybridity and emergence
that are both useful for their explanatory power and open to
critique, with particular attention to new asymmetries of power that result
and to old asymmetries of power that persist.
as Lyman Sargent has it, utopianism is "social dreaming," [x] then surely education is itself an expression of utopian
desire. And, if so, then distance education must too be a form or expression
of utopianism—but what kind? It is a transcendental utopianism which relies
on the belief that we can transcend our bodies and their situatedness in time
and place in order to learn. But one can never do so, and to make such a claim
is to fall into a kind of gnosis, one which presumes that because the body is
not present in the classroom, the body is not present. It shifts the time, place,
and other material conditions from the symbolically powerful centralized space
of the bricks and mortar university into the imagined space of virtuality. Hybridity
offers at least a partial way out of the gnostic error by keeping the body in
play. Hybridity holds some possibility for both intercultural sensitivity and
for enculturation to the university project: if the bricks-and-mortar university
is one example of a centralized power, and the Distance Education, or "clicks"
university, is another, then the bricks-and-clicks hybrid, which necessarily
combines both presence and virtuality, is a hybridized and decentralized space
for both transmission and critique of global university—and other—culture.
material conditions which underlie development of various models of online education
are worth exposing. For example, at UW-Milwaukee, where I teach, the campus
is building a new parking structure at a cost of around $24 million, and to
pay for which, parking fees are expected to rise by 6 percent each year for
the next decade. The new structure will add around 300 spaces to the campus,
which has an enrollment of around 25,000 students. In contrast, the current
Chief Information Officer has publicly expressed his unwillingness to upgrade
the modem pool—currently operating at 28.8 bps—which provides access to the
Internet for faculty, staff and students from off-campus locations—e.g., people
who are not at the time occupying one of those scarce parking spaces. The cost
of upgrading the modems is estimated at around $250,000. These two examples
occur in the context of a university-wide push for development of online course
materials, hybrid course delivery, and distance education. But when put in that
context, diversion of university resources—not just financial but intellectual
and physical—to emerging technologies can be seen as both a push to reduce seat
time and thus reduce pressure on a cramped physical environment but also a push
to open access for those who can afford to maintain a separate, persistent Intenet
connection in addition to paying for tuition, books, and parking. The corollary
effect is to create a new vertical division of classes within the classes: Freshman
Haves and Freshman Have-Nots.
are important issues to be openly confronted. Instead, discussion of bricks-and-mortar,
distance education, and hybrid models, often focuses on the frame or structures
which organize teaching and learning, presuming that there is a transparency
of roles and effects within the frame. But that is like focusing on the bureaucracy
of government and ignoring the lived experience of governors and governed. The
space of hybridity in digital education is a mediated third space, neither brick
nor click. It preserves important elements, such as physical presence, non-verbal
communication, symbolic public buildings and places, and synchronic interaction
in a centralized space characterized largely by one-way transmission and reception
of knowledge. At the same time that it does so—and thus preserves, for good
or ill, existing hierarchies and relationships—it also distributes power and
responsibility diachronically and geographically via the dispersion of time
on task throughout the week or other unit of instructional time. Where classroom-based
education can easily serve the colonizing functions of education, hybridity,
by mediating distance with presence, opens the possibility of resistance to
those functions. It opens the possibility of global connection fully contextualized
with local culture, preserving the autonomy and character of a region while
maintaining access to global markets, ideas, and technologies. It awaits further
elaboration, but in this sense, a global network of hybrid educational centers
would look an awful lot like anarchism, formally defined.
me close by re-emphasizing my earlier point: hybrid forms of online education
re-inscribe the body in a discourse which is largely conducted in terms of gnostic
transcendence. This is terribly important for the fates of cultures and knowledges
whose history diverges from the Western narrative. Michael Heim reminds us that
computers have "a dark side" in addition to their potential for use as tools
of emancipation. [xi] He writes that "the stand-in self can never fully represent
us. The more we mistake the cyberbodies for ourselves, the more the machine
twists ourselves into the prostheses we are wearing." This dark side helps "technology
[to] increasingly eliminat[e] human interdependence," according to Heim. This
accords with the conclusion drawn by Hubert Dreyfus in last year's On the
Internet, which ends with a claim that in valorizing "the virtual over the
real" we risk falling for "the Platonic/Christian temptation to try to get rid
of our vulnerable bodies" and that we must instead "affirm our bodies . . .
because, without our bodies, as Nietzsche saw, we would be nothing."
offers a solution to what is essentially a mind-body problem, where the alternatives
are gnosis or mere physicality.
[i] A version of this talk is forthcoming
in Transmissions, a volume in the Rutgers University Press New Directions
in International Studies, series ed. Patrice Petro.
[ii] Hall, P. (1997, February).
Megacities, world cities and global cities. In Megacities Lectures.
Retrieved 6 May 2002, from The Megacities 2000 Foundation: http://www.megacities.nl/lecture_hall.htm.
Hall writes of:
phenomenon of globalization and its impact on the urban system, coupled with
what can be called the informationalization of the economy, the progressive
shift of advanced economies from goods production to information handling,
whereby the great majority of the workforce no longer deal with material outputs.
Hybrid has also a racialized history detailed in postcolonial
theory, where it is sometimes interpreted as part of the productive interchange
between cultures (by, e.g., Homi Bhabha), or critiqued along those lines (e.g.,
by Robert Young or David Theo Goldberg). It also has currency in science and
engineering, and its use in educational settings is fully open to critique
from definition: we might well ask what it means to be a hybrid in a day and
age of cyborgism and postcoloniality.
[v] Erik Davis, Techgnosis: Myth,
Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information (NY: Three Rivers, 1998).
Davis writes: "the American self is a gnostic self, because it believes,
on a deep and abiding level, that authenticity arises from independence, an
independence that is at once natural, sovereign, and solitary" (102).
[viii] Oguibe, O. (2002). Connectivity
and the fate of the unconnected. In David Theo Goldberg and At Quayson (Ed.),
Relocating Postcolonialism (pp. 174-183). Ames, IA: Iowa State University/Basil Blackwell.
[x] Sargent, L. T. (1994). The three
faces of utopianism revisited. Utopian Studies, 5(1), 1-37. 5.
[xi] Heim, M. (1993). The metaphysics
of virtual reality. NY: Oxford University Press. 99-100.
[xii] Dreyfus, H. L. (2001).
On the internet. NY: Routledge. 106-7.