network authority

I want to elaborate on a point I made in the previous post. As the network develops, the disciplinary knowledge/authority of teachers and professors does not necessarily degrade. That is, such knowledge always degrades, always requires updating, regardless of changes to the network. However, the changing network does alter the relationship between faculty, students, disciplinary knowledge, and the pedagogic goals of the curriculum.

When you think about it, all authority is really networked. That is, when one becomes an "authority" (for example, through the conferring of a professional degree), this represents the intersection of the individual with a body of external knowledge. To a certain extent this external knowledge becomes internalized (i.e. accessible to the individual without need to refer to external media), but there are few professions where one is not required to make reference to texts to do the job (e.g., it’s acceptable to refer to Shakespeare’s texts while teaching/studying Shakespeare, right?). Go into any professor’s office and look at the bookshelf. Alternately look at a grad student’s exam reading list or dissertation biography.

So authority is always a networked condition. As the network changes so do the conditions of authority. So the traditional classroom offers one type of node or portal into a network of information (through the authority of the teacher), but when the rest of the network changes…

I’ll give an example outside of my discipline (sometimes I find that helps). Let’s say I’m a historian studying colonial American history. Clearly there are new scholarly developments in the field all the time. However, when you look at a general education or introductory course in colonial America, the information is relatively stable. Sure, there may be different methods for teaching the course, different theoretical perspectives. However as a history professor, I have my teaching style, my perspective, which may evolve over time, but is still relatively stable. (Of course the same thing is true of rhetoric/composition.)

Though in an abstract sense the knowledge and pedagogic goals of this course may remain the same, the shifting network alters the way we can access that knowledge and the ways we  might achieve those goals. The knowledge I wish to deliver in my history course, traditionally offered through lecture and course readings, is now more easily accessible; even my lectures, hypothetically, can be delivered on-demand. The possibilities of student activity also proliferate.

I can choose to keep my lectures off the network or curtail the activities of students in my classroom, but I’m doing so in the context of an academic marketplace where others are moving on, leaving me behind. My continuing authority is judged in this network of associations. If you can’t download my lecture on the Boston Tea Party, why not download my colleague’s?

So I return to the point I’m trying to make here. My professional knowledge remains valuable. My knowledge continues to authorize me. But the shift in the network changes the conditions surrounding that authority and alter its relative value. Before the pedagogic value of my authority took shape in the lectures I gave, the other activities I orchestrated in the classroom, and my evaluation of student writing and tests. Now my ability to develop pedagogic value from my authority takes form in a different context.

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