Now this isn't a political blog, but don't you get the feeling, in that well-worn phrase of the moment, "change" is upon us? I have the feeling that the possibilities for extending community-based organisation, and extending the democratic connections between those communities were made concrete in the election of Obama last week. In part they were made so because of the interplay between these organisations, or sub-networks within them, and their favoured web applications. This, in turn, enables disparate groups of individuals to associate voluntarily with each other around themes or interests. In coming together to discuss, make decisions and act, individuals are beginning to acknowledge their own power as part of an organised "crowd", and the hope is that they will be able to respect personal differences.
The wonderfully named Jemima Kiss, writing about "Why everyone's a winner" in the Guardian, noted that "The web has helped to inspire and empower a generation that has rejected political apathy. Obama's team used technology to make issues personal and relevant by giving people ownership of the campaign. It wasn't a complicated strategy." Now I don't know, as yet, the demographics of Obama's vote, so I can't say that all the guff written about his team's ability to get the "kids" to the polls is wholly true, but the focus upon emancipating the young and the politically disconnected through social media frames the types of democratic pedagogies that higher education should be focusing upon (c.f. Friere; Illich). It offers the hope of a pedagogy that empowers individuals to ask meaningful questions using new networked tools. Moreover, it might also offers the chance to emancipate the learner’s role in her/his educational experience (Haggis).
The key may be the design of meaningful, whole programme curricula, rather than atomised modular courses, which start from the learner within her/his social networks. This will then scale personal involvement in decisions about: materials to be analysed and produced; tools to be utilised; educational networks to be developed (possibly from social networks that already exist); and tasks and activities that enable actions to be taken. Within curricula that are managed by the learner with a facilitating tutor the possibilities for empowered autonomy and a strengthened civil society are opened up. Clearly there will be an impact on professional development both for the use of social media and for new, epistemologies and pedagogies, but as US Politics enters the 21st Century maybe now is the time.