I must admit, I almost didn’t make it through John Rothfork’s Review of Hubert Dreyfus’s On the Internet.
I almost didn’t read far enough to note that the reviewer didn’t agree with Dreyfus. My immediate reaction is that someone (Dreyfus) had not spent any time actually in any online communities, and used his place of piety to lob stones at it. It would be the digital equivalent of renouncing some newly found culture in the Amazonian rain forest, without ever having spent time within the society.
I decided that I should probably finish reading the review.
Once I had done that, I figured I should do some more research, seeing that this book was written in 2001, which is approximately 70 years ago in Internet time (yes, it’s kind of like dog years). I found Dr Dreyfus’s homepage at Berkeley, and firstly found this Los Angeles Times article about Dr. Dreyfus’s podcasts being of the 20 most popular downloads on Apple’s iTunesU podcast directory. The Times story was a wonderful read, and I recommend it highly. I, too, have listed to a few lectures from there.
One of the articles main points is that people around the world, from all walks of life want to learn. Online education gives them capabilities that have never before existed so broadly or freely. I thought it a bit ironic that Dr. Dreyfus, who still stands by his 2001 work, nevertheless moved to a classroom with audio equipment to improve the recordings, of his own volition. From the article…
Dreyfus says the chance to disseminate ideas softens his reservations. And the e-mails he receives from the listening audience—”you podcast people,” he calls them during class—are touching.
To conclude, I still think Dr. Dreyfus’s assessment of communities on the Internet is critically lacking. I believe (without a lot of hard evidence to back me up) there’s a significant chance that the (at the time) 71-year-old Dreyfus read some philosophy books on artificial intelligence, communities on the Internet, then sat down with very little first hand experience with quality communities on the Internet and wrote his luddite screed against learning on the internet. Ironic, since he sees about 25% of his in-person class missing each class he holds in person, in a large lecture hall. It seems his own model is broke, as well.
“I’m pretty honored to take the class, but at the same time, when he does his lectures, it’s not like I’m there with Dreyfus the man,” Diaz said, referring to the impersonal feeling of sitting in a large lecture hall.
Quality communities can absolutely exist online. To say they do not is simply misinformed. It’s hard to say exactly what Dreyfus said from reading a book review alone. Did he mean communities cannot thrive, or they cannot thrive to the extent that they can be effective enough to promote learning at an advanced level? The bigger question I feel is, “Can quality online communities form quickly enough to be an effective environment for a limited-duration online class?”