Saturday, May 19, 2007

Where Information Literacy Unfolds - Bad writing

So I returned from WILU 2007 yesterday and I know myself well enough to know that if I don't properly expand upon the scribbled notes that I made during the conference right now, then by Wednesday (the long weekend + Tuesday's Campus Technology Day) all the gossamer thought will have floated away. I'm not going to write summaries of the sessions I attended. I'm planning to write about how sometimes disparate presentations came together in my mind, to me.

I think one of the most important things that happened to me during the conference was that I was finally able to reconcile a particular misgiving I had towards active learning. It used to be that I would cringe every time I heard or read someone promoting active learning because people have multiple intelligences and not everyone can handle listening to a sage on the stage give a lecture. While I understood and appreciated the value of active learning, I just couldn't completely banish the lecture - the currency of teaching that pre-dates the university back to the days of Plato's Symposium -- on such a flimsy excuse.

Rick Salutin brought up Plato's Symposium during his keynote address, Thinking versus knowing: Where does information come in? Like a great lecture, Rick's talk touched on a number of themes that revealed themselves through his stories and conjecture. One of major themes was Salutin's preference for the oral tradition over the paucity and mechanical tyranny of the written word. Conversation can achieve a vibrancy and a deepness that can go beyond teaching and enter the realm of healing (through therapy) .

The richness and the visceral immediacy of dialogue can't be captured in print - which is why Plato's Symposium reads so badly. Later on in the conference, the topic of bad writing came up again. Richard Sims in his presentation Critical Reading: Doing More introduced me to Leo Strauss's idea that the 'bad writing' of ancient thinkers and philosophers should be thought of as encrypted writing, done so that the author could convey dangerous ideas to a few without persecution by the majority. Such writing (and the university lecture) is worth the additional effort.

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