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The value of critique

Critique is not always desirable. In some cases, it hurts or infuriates. But, as Dave Snowden notes in derrogation of the precious “to those consultants and facilitators who dislike dissent and seek the safety of bland conformity and consensus; I suggest your problem is that you don’t really understand your field, you can’t cope with examination of your knowledge and you are, to use a very 70s word inauthentic”. As a rule, I try to surface conflict and critique that relates to the education technology field and in particular, my own work. Critique and dissent, in spite of the sting, are great learning opportunities.

Dave Cormier and I have been running an open course on Future(s) of Education. I’d like to draw attention to two recent critiques of the course format and content:

Course does not deliver on promises: “Rather than experiencing a focused and rigorous process of learning a framework for trend analysis, the forums and blogs have been typical of the myriads of social networks already available to educators. There’s no end to conjecture. I was hoping to learn the rigorous steps required to analyze trends. It has seemed more of a free for all.”

Half empty? Half full? Half there?: “One thing in particular that I find hugely problematic about this course is the primitive nature of the environment in which we’re working. It’s as much a barrier to working together as it is facilitative. I am reminded of the comment about golf sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill: “Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”"


  1. Frances Bell wrote:

    I am really sorry that I haven’t had time to engage with edfutures – from the outside it’s intriguing. Obviously I can’t comment on the actual critiques you mention but I did want to put in a good word for critique as a knowledge activity. I don’t think you have really done this but there is a hint of it – assuming critique is negative could lead to silos. If we think of critique as an opportunity for dialogue, it can be bridging and a knowledge-creation activity. Of course, this relies on the agency and flexibility of the participants.
    IS that heppening on edfutures?

    Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  2. Hi, George:

    As I’m the one who contributed the critique of the working environment, I wanted to comment and take whatever of the sting out that I can. One thing that I want to make perfectly clear from the outset is that I’m thoroughly enjoying the course. I’m on sabbatical until July and this course has provided a framework to help coalesce some of the reading, thinking, and experimenting that I hadn’t quite got around to until now. Although I can see why some people may find its open-endedness dissatisfying, I am finding it fascinating in its intent to break open the “course box” that has put such artificial restrictions around how learning has come to be organized. You and Dave deserve a great deal of credit for pushing the envelope this way.

    With respect to the environment, I’m not sure whether it’s the problem, or I am. I’m used to working with a system called Knowledge Forum which is designed to facilitate collaborative knowledge building. However, it’s a closed system and though in my biased opinion it’s arguably the best system out there for what it sets out to do, it’s only one system among a myriad of alternatives. More importantly, it’s not the technology that people on the web are using. So I’m curious about how the more open social networking applications can be harnessed (or co-opted, or subverted) for the specific goals of collaborative knowledge construction. Right now I feel we’re using “weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose”, but that could just be that I’m not comfortable with what feels to me to be a fairly ad-hoc amalgam of various technologies (Drupal, individual blogs, Elluminate, etc.).

    I was going to go into some specific examples of things I think a more facilitative environment, but I notice that someone has posted a specific request for that on the edfutures site, so I’ll complete that task there.

    Just in case it got lost in the verbiage above, I want to reiterate that this course is pushing boundaries in many dimensions. I wouldn’t be spending the time on it (including the critical reflection) if I didn’t think it was intrinsically worthwhile.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  3. I have left a comment here and in the Education Futures forum.
    I greatly appreciate the efforts you and Dave put into the course. I haven’t been able to follow all the critiques and discussion. May be people are looking for significance and value that could emerge out of a course, which is important in the relationship established amongst participants through conversation and critique. This value might be the expectation of participants on top of the content (outcomes) of the course.
    Thanks for your insights.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink
  4. Kim Brown wrote:

    I think Frances is correct in her comments. Human nature causes us to take offense when criticism is given. This is especially true when that criticism is regarding something we have work hard to complete. However, it is important to understand the there is always room for improvement. It simply is not possible for an individual to think of all possible issues, situations or perceptions. That is why we should take criticism as a positive form of feedback. By analyzing the feedback and making changes/improvements where necessary, your creation can be even better than the original version.

    Kim Brown

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink