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June 19, 2005

Beyond Words -- Change and New Media in Higher Education

Stephanie Barish closed this year's 2005 New Media Consortium conference in Honolulu. Next year Cleveland hosts the NMC 2006 summer conference with Case, the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum are co-hosting the international gathering.

Stephanie's thesis was that now that we are in the digital era, image, moving image, sound, interactivity, mass distribution, and other advancements are readily available to the individual author. If these new dynamic media are, in fact, emerging to challenge the primacy of plain text in our daily communications, we are witnessing the first true communications revolution in more than five thousand years. If "reading," for instance, now includes "watching" and "hearing," "waiting," "responding," and often "writing," something truly has shifted in the foundation.

Her conclusion was that someone must step forward to inject the critical and practical skills needed by the individual to match this tectonic shift in the core. Are our institutions prepared to address the basic literacy needs of the 21st century, or will we leave the job to Hollywood?

The emergence of the innovative and facile higher education institution (or museum or library or any other 19th century institution) poised to address Barish's reality represents one of the most important questions for the 21st century University. Will incumbent institutional leaders be sufficiently forward thinking to "break" with what makes them great today and take a great leap forward? My sense is that 19th century German philosopher, sociologist, political economist Max Weber probably had it right when he insisted that transformational institutional change most often does not happen from those with entrenched authority and power. Rather, Weber's insight was that often times transformation that will have institutional impact happens at the margins of the organizational structure along with charismatic leadership. I will leave the question of institutional change for now (and perhaps find some time to come back to it at another time).

But, if we are to join Weber and Barish we might expect that the "surprising" place that we might see the "someone" step forward to inject the critical and practical skills needed by individuals to match this tectonic shift in the core will not happen by leadership in the core but rather at the margin. So, who might be the "someone?"

For the past year or so, an informal dialogue has been circulating over the internet and at various meetings about the appropriate nomenclature for those in the world of new media within universities, museums, libraries and the like. These are the agents with the mandate to take our institutions their practices, norms, and behaviors beyond "words."

Visionary Kristina Woolsey has recommended that we think of the class of innovators and change agents as "mediaists".

New vocabulary for the emerging specialist in new media integration and the human condition may well require a new language. There is only one evangelist for mediaist out there (is best I can tell). Multi-Mediaist Hillary Carlip is the creator, editor and host of the acclaimed literary site, FRESH YARN, the Online Salon for personal essays.

I decided to start playing with a taxonomy. I do not have any professional insight. So, I drew up a list of the ways in which what are now common professional categories evolved from often times medieval origins...

A professor is one who professes

A musician is one who plays music

An analyst analyzes

A specialist has a special vocation

A mechanic is one interfaces with machines

A player is one who plays an important role

A secretary is someone who once could hold a secret (a confidant)

Someone who is hauteur has an attitude. Perhaps more politic, a provocateur is someone who provokes.

There are probably lots of other etymological and linguist twists that help describe classifications of those who interface with a context, object, skill set, or knowledge base.

We can try and use the term media or new media or create new words like neumedia or noumedia or mediaute

Here is a list of what might be generated as a starting point in the conversation...

Media Neumedia Noumedia Mediaute

mediator neumediator noumediator mediautor
mediacian neumediacian noumediacian mediautician
mediayst neumediayst noumediayst mediautyst
mediaist neumediaist noumediast mediautist
mediaic neumediaic noumediaic mediautic
mediater neumediater noumediater mediauter
mediatary neumediatary noumediatary mediautary
mediateur neumediateur noumediateur mediauteur

The only word that is in the dictionary at present is mediator. While creating new language carries its own burden, I think a thought leadership piece on the general question of how we in the new media world move from the margins/periphery/edge of the received order of literacy, learning, and the wiring of the human brain into being provocateurs to challenge the received wisdom and perhaps speculation on the growing professionalization and mainstreaming of the new media role could help shape the emergence of the new category we are looking for.

Let me know if you have thoughts on who the "someone" is and what kind of language stimulates your imagination and sparks innovation.

Posted by lsg8 at June 19, 2005 12:26 PM and tagged Bytes 

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