Great article by Larry Sanger! It was very informative about the certain ideas that are very popular in the Online Educational world that I had no idea. Some of them seemed a little bizarre, honestly. In particular I think it is quite strange to think that “...knowledge-as-co-created by students is superior to knowledge-as-passed-along-by-teachers-and-books, regardless of quality.” I would never expect to enter in a Physics 101 class and, on the first group assignment, that my group would produce something more valuable than an accidental note written by Newton. Would you? Group activities have their value because they are motivating, they can provide pair review, they can be a simulation of a real world situation or work task, and so on, but if we consider the work produced on an absolute scale, then we are deluding ourselves.
I think the reasoning about ‘Boring Old Books’ was also very valuable, especially because it is very important for us to be able to understand not only how to use the Internet to teach, but also how the Internet is affecting/changing our learners. It reminded me of a great conference that the the most important Italian author of the last century, Italo Calvino, gave at Harvard University in the mid 80s. I would like to try to condense it here because I think it makes the point. His idea was to give some proposals for the new millennium, even if there were still 15 years to come and the Internet was not a world phenomenon yet. In the first conference he decided to talk about lightness vs. heaviness and he stated immediately that he was in favor of lightness. In order to explain it he presented many examples but I will give you just one that he took from the same work by Boccaccio that Sanger cited: The Decameron. In a short story, the famous Florentine poet Guido Cavalcanti is mocked by brigades of Florentines because he never wanted to party with them and because they thought his philosophy was blasphemous. At a certain point they stop him and are kind of bullying him, but he is able to jump away as if her were very light. The symbolism is that the poet/philosopher in his seriousness owns the secret of the lightness, while what is a false lightness (a noisy and aggressive lifestyle) is actually very heavy and pertains to the kingdom of death. This concept does not change at all because of different media (paper or bytes) that mankind uses to transmit knowledge; it was true for Boccaccio and it will be true also in the Internet era. We all need to be like Cavalcanti and involve our students with our amazing lightness so they can appreciate and learn seriousness as well.