In a tweet on May 5th 2011, Vickel said, “Hegemony has no place in a social process”. That made me reflect on social process in education in my experience.
Hegemony = “influence or authority over others”. (“Hegemony,” 2011)
Part of the Web 2.0 enthusiasm is based on the ideal that everyone can feel free to share, and it removes the traditional hierarchies. For example, Skiba (2008, p. 112) in a review of the use of Twitter in nursing education stated, “Students could immediately reflect upon their experiences and share them with others in the class and with the instructor.” However, people may not feel as free to share due to the social relations between social participants. For example, Reed (2005, pp. 232-233) mentions a number of examples of people modifying blogs or taking longer to post in them in the first place as a result of the visitors to their blogs.
The focus on the joy of sharing in technology mediated social environments does not acknowledge the numerous and inherent power imbalance that exists in educational contexts, for example between students and students, and students and instructors within a class. The elephant shaped word cloud lists many others. For example, assessment is imposed on many social processes in education and this directs students in ways that they may have little choice in. A common question students ask me about their assignment is “What does the teacher want?” not “What do I want?” Often a teacher will ask a class a question, but not actually give them enough time to think about it and answer.
There is pressure to get the ‘right’ answers – those held by the teacher. Many students I have talked with during my tertiary educational experiences knew that despite being offered intellectual freedom, that unless they aligned their eureka moments to the interests of the teacher, they could kiss their A goodbye! It was never spoken about openly in class, but it was always the elephant in the room.
It is harder to see this as a teacher. The other day when I was offering students the chance to look at a new online tool, they readily agreed. I felt like there had been full negotiation. I found out later that one of them was not really interested and did not see the use of it. I realised students are going to agree with my suggestions because it is very difficult to say no to someone in a higher position. I thought I was offering a real choice, and I was not even their teacher! The strange thing is that I am so aware of it as a student, and yet still often blind to it as an instructor.
I think many of the social processes that include power relations in learning contexts do not fade out because they are happening in an online environment. Power is embedded in the language we use.
As educators we have to be careful not to blind ourselves to our own influence and the existing influences in our contexts. Perhaps to increase our ability to see the elephant it would be useful to ask students what makes them feel less constrained by power, but would they feel free to answer? A colleague of mine commented on the achievement of social process free of hegemony between people of different positions, but it took years. I think social process can be free of hegemony eventually, but it takes work to get it there.
Hegemony. (2011). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved May 18, 2011, from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hegemony
Reed, A. (2005). My blog is me: Texts and persons in the UK online journal culture (and anthropology). Ethnos, 70(2), 220-42. doi: 10.1080/00141840500141311
Skiba, D. J. (2008). Nursing education 2.0: Twitter and tweets. Nursing Education Perspectives, 29(2), 110-112.