On Rothfork’s Review of Dreyfus’s On the Internet. (619)

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?”

  • Bob Bavis

    Hi Brian,
    It seems we may be on more or less opposite sides with regard to views on Rothfork/Dreyfus. I do however think the question you pose at the end of your post is a key question to ask/discuss. I look foward to your comments on my blog and discussion board posts.

  • http://robinamasio.blogspot.com Robin Gabrielli

    Love it. :-)

    It’s always good to consider the viewpoint of a naysayer like Dreyfus. There are certainly enough people out there who assume that more technology is always better. But Dreyfus seems to simply be at the opposite extreme, which is equally silly.

    I think your question is a great one. In this course, obviously, we already *have* a community to some extent. Many of us know each other through previous courses, although there are a lot of long-distance learners. But the creation of class blogs alone, I think, is a really effective way to get us writing and communicating. For one thing, I can write as much as I want on my own blog and not worry about being seen as a spammer. Blogs also have a personal touch that makes it fun to look around and see what other people have done. I like yours *very* much, by the way. Very clean and a pleasure to read.

    Whereas I, a lamer, used one of the blogspot templates.

    Maybe what we’re building, for the purposes of this course, is not so much a “community” as a “network of individuals with a common purpose”. (Is there a difference?)

  • http://None Jason Dom

    yup yup yup. I felt the same way about the Dreyfus article and reluctantly finished reading it. Good find on the extra research. To answer you last question, I say no, there isn’t enough time to create community. I feel so strongly about this I’ve propped up some software to foster a community at my online U (30k students and 1k faculty) that exists outside of classroom – but can be accessed from every classroom and our respective portals. The problem creating communities in classrooms is that we are bound to the BB dbs which aren’t that good, our comments are only socialized within our class, everything is throw away, and just when we are getting to know each other, like you mention, the class is over. On the other hand if UMass had a community forum at the program or institutional level then we’d have our entire student career to foster community. For example I’d love to read Linda Bleith’s (sp) thoughts on some topics in this 619 class – but I can’t access her. During my undergrad I could socialize my thoughts with my professors at the local pub, in the Ram’s Dens, the library, etc… That is what I am creating at my U. It is to early to tell what the impact will be.