9(2), April 1992, pages 7-16

New Teaching:
Toward a Pedagogy for a New Cosmology

Michael Joyce

We face a new world when we teach. There is no news here, for it has been ever so. Despite what we have thought of ourselves or our students, they remake us as we remake them, in reciprocal relation: no student who is not a teacher, no teacher not a student, no morning not new, at least to someone.

Our teaching always inhabits a new world, and yet as technology amplifies newness, we find--to paraphrase the poet Charles Olson--that it is increasingly awkward to call ourselves teachers. "This is the morning after dispersion . . .," says Olson (1974), "If there are no walls, there are no names . . . and the work of the morning is methodology. How to use yourself and on what. That is my profession. I am an archaeologist of morning" (p. 40).

How will an archaeologist in a coming age think of the world of our electronic classrooms where the most real objects and places are weightless and made of light, as virtual and transparent as morning air? Ann Green's and my developmental writers, for instance, work in the linked or interwoven boxes of STORYSPACE, (Bolter, Joyce, & Smith, 1990) lifting up sections of text which others in their groups may have commented upon hypertextually, and carrying these texts off in the unseen background of the virtual scrapbook, an invisible abyss somehow understood as lying upon a desktop littered with crudely drawn icons (both desk and icon constructed of square dots at the deeper resolution of "fat bits," which the students are aware of and have worked in but cannot now see). Off to the right of this imaginary desktop there floats an iconic island, not unlike that of the lotus sutra; it is the invisible, virtual space of the unseen file server, and they bump against this thing until it opens up to them like the desert of 1000 nights, disclosing yet another desktop and a series of Chinese boxes in the form of folders. The students make their way down into this labyrinth confidently, through layers labelled by classes, by sections, and then by names, finally locating a folder perhaps called "Phone one," and then choosing from a magically appearing menu another rendering of another distant, virtual machine, in this case "Modem 3."

Again they double-click and a virtual phone rings in the speaker of the machine before them, and after some time and many more traversals, they are even further into virtuality, on an IBM 3090-600E, some 45 miles away, to which they announce themselves in ritual names as user 2gux, user 2gut, user tfsg and so on. Once admitted, they type an open-sesame and proceed to a conference in the form of a list of items and responses, a flattened hypertext, where they rendezvous with peers in Bill Condon's class at the University of Michigan, to whom they talk about the writings which only now do they confidently remember to retrieve and upload from the unseen and nearly forgotten virtual scrapbook where they had pasted it, long ago in both the paragraph above and STORYSPACE alike. After they have done all this, they linger to joke and argue, to flirt and dispute among themselves, engaging in written conversations entered on alternating days (Monday and Wednesday, JCC, Tuesday and Thursday, the UM). Meanwhile, sometimes on silent screens televised images of Daffy Duck or leatherclad metalheads flicker, and Bach or Sinead seeps from the speakers of the cd player.

Recall that these are developmental writing students, said to be uncomfortable with hierarchical thought, unaccustomed to abstraction, unconscious of the requirements of audience. More and more I find that it is I who am uncomfortable with the requirements, not of audience, but of confluence as we push the electronic classroom to the edges of at least my tolerance for change and multiplicity.

This jumble of Bach and Sinead brings Glenn Gould to mind, who "discovered that [he] could learn Schoenberg's difficult piano score, Opus 23 if he listened to . . . [two radios], the one FM to hear music and the AM to hear the news" while he did so; and who regularly relied on "the effect of . . . placing some totally contrary noises as close to the instrument as [possible] . . . it [didn't] matter what noise really" in order to attune "the inner ear of the imagination" (Friedrich, 1989, p.17).

However the flickering moon screens, the honeycombed icons and Daffy Duck leather metalheads, and most of all their own reflections suggest that our students are more apt to think of novelist William Gibson's (1987), "matrix" where "Towers and fields of [data] ranged in the colorless non-space of . . . the electronic consensual-hallucination . . . Bright primaries, impossibly bright in that transparent void, linked by countless horizontals in nursery blues and pinks . . . " (p. 170, 178).

Usually I make them turn the sound off.

For I am, for the present at least at my limit, i.e., seeing change, as they say on the nets, FTF, face to face. And FTF with this impossibly bright transparent void I am sometimes unable to cope, finding myself driven to Dante to find an adequate image of all this. Even so what might at first seem a hell, increasingly discloses itself as paradise, the place where, according to Beatrice, "All things whatsoever have order among themselves, and . . . here the higher creatures see the impress of the Eternal Excellence, which is the end for which that system itself is made (p. ##)."

We have been talking so long about a new age, a technological age, an information age, etc., that we are apt to forget that it is we who fashion it, we who discover and recover it, we who shape it, we who literally give it form. How we use ourselves and on what is how we understand the order among things themselves and the end for which our systems are made. What has changed for us as teachers and learners is how we see the world we remake with each morning. Because we face a new world when we teach, ours must be a pedagogy for a new cosmology, a new teaching.

In shaping for ourselves, we ourselves are shaped. This is the reciprocal relationship. It is likewise the elemental insight of fractal geometry: That each contour is itself an expression of itself in finer grain. So too every educational institution is contoured in reciprocal relationship by the contours of each learner and teacher. Hypertext environments and networked collaborations change in fine grain the contour of learning itself; we no longer have the luxury of thinking of computers as mere tools in our classrooms. A pedagogy for a new cosmology requires us each--learner, teacher, administrator--to choose from moment to moment among roles in this reciprocal process of shaping what Jerome Bruner (1986) has termed the forum of our culture.

Sometimes change is more comfortable if we can adapt old terms for new things, old roles for new ways. Thus, in understanding the way electronic texts shape possible contours for the culture we teach within, three well-known roles suggest themselves as apt for the new ways we are called upon to teach: scholar, teacher, and communicator. I want to briefly trace how these simple pedagogical roles shape and are shaped by the new cosmology, but only after first noting a few cautionary admonitions about such tracery.

The first admonition is that no one person need take on all these reshaped roles simultaneously; or, if she or he does do so, she or he need not (and in fact almost surely cannot) take on each role equally or for any required duration. What follows from that is that an educational institution must invite these kinds of role shifts and learn somehow to account its productivity and encourage its changing contours.

The second admonition is to recognize that at present we understand these roles better in isolation than in interrelationship. What follows from this is that our educational institutions must avoid the easy temptation of privileging only what is already understood and thus encouraging (not to say, reinforcing) isolation.

The third and final admonition, offered with tongue partly in cheek, comes from Marshall and Eric McLuhan's (1988) only recently published Laws of Media, wherein they warn that we should beware of things that come in threes; that it will only be when we see four possibilities that a revolution in thinking has arrived.

There seems little doubt that technology reshapes the role of scholar. By scholar I mean what we know as the discipline specialist, prefaced here by the parenthetical, but increasingly critical prefix multi. Without going into too much detail here, I want to suggest that the role of the uni-disciplinary specialist is in many ways uniquely tied to print culture, and thus imperiled in what Jay Bolter (1991) calls "the late age of print." Or to put it in a story: At a recent MLA convention, I shared a shuttle bus ride with a fellow who knew of my work in hypertext. He talked about how frightening this meeting was. "It used to be," he said, "that you took your degree and then you were the Victorian man, or the Restoration man, or the Shakespearean and that was that. But then you come to a meeting like this and there are thousands of them, men and women, walking about the lobbies, eating in the restaurants. And then there are people like you, hooking it all together, mixing it all up. . . ."

Let us say, then, that--in the new cosmology--learning and teaching are both de-centered and distributed, i.e., hooked together and mixed up. Thus, when Martha Joyce and her American literature students at Jackson Community College build a "STORYSPACE" around the poetry of Walt Whitman, there is a natural confluence and linkage among the machine-based learning conversation, the textual encounter, and the gathering of scholarly resources. It is a linkage that software like STORYSPACE is uniquely suited both to enact and to represent. The learning conversations embodied in students' journal responses not only are graphically linked to Whitman's lines as part of the encounter with the text, but indeed (and quite naturally) also find their way into the resources that the teacher-scholar brings to bear upon the text. The learners truly take their place as co-equals in an interpretive community.

The teacher as this kind of multi-discipline specialist has the important role of constructing an actual culture with her or his students. For we have become not merely the chroniclers or custodians of, but collaborators in, a vast cultural shift. As scholars in the dawning age of what Jay Bolter (1991) calls writing the mind, we are charged at our own peril to undertake a construction for which, fortunately, we are uniquely suited. "The fact in the human universe," says Olson (1974), "is the discharge of the many (the multiple) by the one (yourself done right, whatever you are, in whatever job, is the thing--all hierarchies, like dualities, are dead ducks)" (p. 39).

The discharge of the many by the one is exactly what I mean by the role of teacher as learning manager. In an age that glorifies the business class, it is important here to footnote this usage of management, redeeming it in its household sense of preservation, rather than in the perverted state of channelling or consuming human resources. Management, rightly understood, is "making do," with each verb strong: making do=constructive action.

Thus, learning management is co-learning, a constructive action to preserve what is coming to be known. In such a process hierarchy truly is doomed because it is before anything else a search structure, a way to keep track of what you think you own, and not an arena for reciprocal power like a hypertext, a computer network, or a collaborative classroom. Hierarchy is a model of distributed consumption, while the classroom as network is a model of distributed construction and preservation, what Olson calls the discharge of the many.

In Actual Minds, Possible Worlds Bruner (1986) characterizes "traditions of pedagogy that derive from another time . . . that looked at the process of education as a transmission of knowledge and values by those who knew more to those who knew less and knew it less expertly" (p. 122). These "traditions of . . . another time" depend upon precisely the dichotomous, essentially hierarchical, categorizing kind of duality that Olson declares a dead duck. These dualities assure their own overturning insofar as they create margins and margins speak.

Over against them (by way of self-conscious and intentional duality) we can place the kinds of generative oppositions, polarities, dialectical tensions, etc., which are the very stuff of teaching, whether new or old. The classroom as network is a technology attuned to these generative oppositions, and poised to broadcast and regenerate them self-similarly. These dualities likewise assure their own overturning, but by design, because they are part of a process of what Carolyn Guyer and Martha Petry (1991, p. 82) call "deconstruction of priority."

The teacher as learning manager knows that margins do not sit still and listen. She or he knows that margin makes meaning; and she or he attempts to sustain as many margins, as many fractal edges, as learners can generate. Education along these edges is not transmission of knowledge and values but rather reforming knowledge and values. Re-forming is re-minding. In her "Notes from the Margin," Cindy Selfe (1989) reminds us that teaching is a "reformist vision." Writing the mind--like any writing--is a process; and a change of mind changes how we think of ourselves in time.

The nature of mind must not be fixed. It is not a transmission but a conversation we must keep open. "If structure is [thought to be identical] with the mechanisms of the mind," says Umberto Eco (1989), "then historical knowledge is no longer possible" (p. 232). We redeem history when we put structure under question in the ways that narrative, hypertext and teaching each do in their essence. Narrative is the series of individual questions that marginalize accepted order and thus enact history. Hypertext links are no less than the trace of such questions, a conversation with structure. So too the networked classroom is a place of "making do" as constructive action. All three--narrative, hypertext, and classroom--are authentically concerned with consciousness rather than information; with creating knowledge rather than the mere ordering or inventory of the known. The value produced by the readers of hypertexts or by our co-learners is constrained by systems which refuse them the centrality of their authorship. What is at risk is both mind and history.

It is an irony that in the classroom we can with certainty communicate only history. I mean history in the sense I've used above, i.e., structure under question. That is, we are only able to communicate the experience of a way to learn. We cannot communicate what was learned itself, nor the present-tense moment of learning. The fact is that we often do not know and surely have no certain ways to measure or to judge either the outcomes of learning or its moment. Nor can we look to technology to accomplish what we cannot in this instance. Technology by its nature embodies a denial of continuity, an escape from history, in its ability to each time make do anew. So it is more than ever left to the new teacher in her or his role as communicator to provide continuity. We are left with what we can pass on: a way of doing things, history embodied in technology.

This has ever been the case, but it is only in this self-consciously technological age that we see our way of doing things and our history so clearly embodied in machines so expensive that we hardly believe ourselves when we call them tools. In fact, it has always been the case that our tools are scarce and our history abundant. Even the simplest educational technology--teacher and students talking together--is often beyond the reach of most of the society around us. Despite our commitment to life-long learning, very few of our students are able when they leave us to maintain the luxury of talking in community. Instead, we communicate ways to virtualize this kind of talking through the inner dialogue of reading, the polylogue of information gathering. In short, we make learning a way rather than a thing.

Ironically, the inherent scarcity underlying educational technology expands rather than concentrates intellectual capital. Forced as we are now, by circumstance, to relocate the locus of information and knowledge from the object to the hour--to a way rather than a thing; we re-externalize ideas and make them continuous rather than discrete, reciprocal rather than empowered, contextual rather than hierarchical. Value once again becomes embedded in the social fabric rather than the product for consumption.

Though we increasingly recognize that the classroom is a technology itself embedded in history, and that within it value is something we must renegotiate, our recognition, nonetheless, comes as a shock and surprise. We too must at each new moment learn to learn. Thus when my student, Bill Lindberg, offered me his creative writing course journal as a hypertext, despite its design and links I read through it at first as in any other term I would have read a journal in a spiral bound notebook. It was only late in my reading that I realized that being late in the reading of this "new" document opened rather than exhausted its meaning.

A chance recognition of a simple repetition of the word dance caused me to understand that I had read straight through a number of screens without noticing the most obvious and richest way they made meaning. Bill had anthologized his writings from this and a previous term and then linked associatively across their texture, linking portions of screens in much the same way someone would dogear and underline pages to sculpt meaning out of the linear flow of a book. He had used the technology to literally highlight his thematic reconsideration of this anthology of writer's meditations and journal entries. As each new screen opened to some midway point, I would, with more or less irritation, scroll to the "beginning" of the selection and read through looking for something new. Each time, like Alexander ignorantly slashing through the knot language of the Gordian knot, equally imperially I missed the point of each midway point, the utterly evident and repeated mentions of "self," "other," "alone," and "dance," which, when I finally attuned myself to them, yielded a new text.

Even when I did recognize, my recognition left me no more able to communicate in reciprocal fashion with Bill than I had been with another creative writing student, Ron Davis. I duly commented upon Ron's richly networked course journal, doing so box for box in STORYSPACE, until I found myself and my notes boxed and out of bounds, clearly an appendage on his visually rich webs. I should have been able to carve my own thematic response to Bill's screens; I should have been able to weave my network into Ron's. I was unable to integrate my comments within the flow of their interactions in a way or a voice which suited either student's new ways of seeing. Thankfully, at least, the technology left us all equally able to recognize what I had failed to learn from them, and thus offered us each a forum in which to begin to teach ourselves how to communicate anew.

Bruner (1986) argues that "culture is constantly in the process of being recreated as it is interpreted and renegotiated by its members," and thus that "culture is as much a forum for negotiating and re-negotiating meaning and for explicating action as it is a set of rules or specifications for action." He identifies a number of "specialized institutions or occasions for intensifying this 'forum-like' feature," listing storytelling, theatre, law among them. "Education is (or should be)," he says "one of the principal forums," adding in marvelously deliberate understatement that "it is often timid in doing so" (p. 123).

Bruner uses the image of the forum because it is an active public space, a place to take "an active role as participants rather than as performing spectators." I like to map the oral metaphor of the forum upon the topographic metaphor of the city of text. The city of text describes the new public space of the information age, including the electronic text itself. For the electronic text is always a forum even in isolation, teeming with multiple voices, surprising vistas, exotic sounds, or the possibility of them. Within this public space and by our actions we write ourselves upon our institutions in fractal contour. It has always been natural that talk about teaching turns to talk about writing, but now it is nearly incumbent. We live and learn increasingly within a city of text. The de-centered and distributed classroom itself becomes a text that we access across both space and time. Hooked up and mixed up in a new cosmology, the classroom becomes a city of text in all its contours and white noise. Within it, we must make do.

We live in a world increasingly exhausted by its own making. In our case we must re-make our world continually: day to day, hour to hour, second by second. FTF with such abrupt and constant change, we literally do not know what to make of it. "What seems more compelling," quoting the poet and theorist Charles Bernstein (1986), "is to understand (be troubled by) the situational dynamics of characterization" (p. 385).

In the midst of the constant murmur of the city of text we see ourselves in troubled silence. By his parenthetical "troubled" Bernstein literally means a perturbation, as in the troubled surface of shook water from which the light leaps and dances, diffuse and breathing, frangible and glancing. In such a light our silence suddenly seems not mute but musical, a measure of intervals of change. We must be troubled to see ourselves as multiple, or as Bernstein (1986) suggests,

. . . to create a music of contrasting characterizations, so that you can have not only this monoplanar or dyadic movement to characterization, framing the frame, but that you can have lots of different angles in composition so that the whole sounding of the various characterizations gets heard and made palpable. ( p. 446)

We need to see ourselves at depth and engaged: within the historical scene not confronting it, authoring the text of our future, projecting and not projected upon. We project ourselves upon the history-less surface of technology and in the process construct the city of text. Technologies like hypertext enable this kind of "whole sounding." In constructive hypertexts we are able to see our thought in movement, to see ourselves as in light and not in shadows.

Bruner ( 1986, following Feldman & Wertsch, 1976) calls this aspect of the language of learning "stance markings . . . invitations to the use of thought reflection, elaboration, fantasy" as a part of "culture making" (p. 127). In a poem Olson characterizes this kind of knowing in terms of the dancer who can envision her own back as she moves in space. Elsewhere he imagines it as a slug of type, the object which knows its own form mirrored and reversed. At the time he writes he cannot yet imagine the electronic character which knows itself in each bit of arrayed, pixillated lightform momentarily etched upon the phosphor of the computer screen.

We face a new world when we teach. Like the electronic character on the screen, we too must form ourselves anew. The new cosmology is contoured in reciprocal relationship by the contours of we who move within it, as participants rather than as performing spectators, as co-learners and teachers. In such a tracery, we will make new as we make do and truly come to know ourselves in lightform.


Much of this paper was originally delivered as a talk at the CCCC's in Boston, MA, 1991.

Carolyn Guyer's sense of "preservation" as a constructive action informs the discussion of the role of learning manager (a term she dislikes) here. I am grateful to her for her comments here and elsewhere.

Michael Joyce teaches in the Center for Narrative and Technology, Jackson Community College, Jackson, Michigan.


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