Subsidiarity and Generativity: Two Important Concepts

Today, computer use is viewed from a functional perspective; do mundane tasks more efficiently i.e. word processing, more appealing visual presentations.  Technology should be viewed as part of our culture; related to Zittrain’s generativity concept.  The computer, PC, and Internet contribute to society and culture. Both technologies provide a different means of communicating; a shrinking of the world.  The PC and Internet allow us to communicate with anyone in the world (provided the other person has access to a PC and the Internet).

I think what Selber is saying is that we need to prepare students to communicate with other cultures.  We should teach students to use computers to learn.  A good analogy is how we learn to read; first we learn the concepts of print, then we learn there is a relationship between symbols on a page (letters) and sounds (phonics), from there we learn to combine strings of letters into words, words to sentences, and sentences to more extended thought (paragraphs, essays).  Only after we accomplish a mastery of the skill of reading do we start to learn from that reading.  This is similar to learning how to use computers; initially we learn the physical (hardware) aspects and how to operate it.  Then we learn how to access information using a computer.  Finally, we learn how to create knowledge using a computer.  This analogy of reading and computer use is simplistic and it requires a stretch of thought, but I think what I am learning about new media is that computers don’t provide an instantaneous solution to better educate our students.  New media is not the “pill” that will fix any problem that society has.  What computer use and the ability to effectively use new media will do is provide a framework to dialogue and communicate in a way that we have never before communicated.

The Wikipedia article written by Zittrain is an excellent example of the dialogue I am referring to.  Wikipedia uses a structure for dialogue, administrators and editors, which allows for creativity and productivity to flourish.  Zittrain calls this structure subsidiarity and defines it: This structure is a natural form of what constitutionalists would call subsidiarity: centralized, “higher” forms of dispute resolution are reserved for special cases, while day-to-day work and decisions are undertaken in small, “local” groups (61).  The connection I make to all the readings is that, as teachers, we should strive to become more computer literate ourselves and teach our students how to use new media tools to enhance their knowledge acquisition experience.

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