For months I’ve been looking forward to today with a mixture of excitement and dread. Would we be ready? Could we really pull this off?
Today we had our first class meeting for CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion. Dad and I were both nervous in front of the class. We’ve put ourselves into this class. A room full of Harvard Law students is a formidable audience–for me it was the first time in the role of instructor for such a group–and to know that the Extension School students and anyone else who might be interested, today, tomorrow, next week or next year can watch us is equally sobering. Although it didn’t turn out exactly how either of us had imagined, I experience it as a big success now that the day is over and I am sitting here writing this blog. And it isn’t because of what we said or didn’t say in lecture today.
This afternoon we gave a lecture in our class. This evening the whole world can see the lecture video for free and is also free (and encouraged) to download it, edit it, remix it, make it better make it into anything. This evening we have class notes from the lecture taken by a student volunteer and available to the whole world. This evening a student in our class answered our challenge to participate by starting a blog about his/her experience in the class. This evening the Harvard Extension School is offering our lecture video to the world synchronized with John Lobato’s class notes and dad’s quirky point-of-view PowerPoint. A few months ago it was only an idea, and today we’ve taken the first real steps towards openness. Maybe that’s what is making me feel so confessional this evening.
In a way there is a beauty to the lecture itself not being ideal. It opens the doors for improvement by contextualizing it with interesting commentary and insightful class notes. It opens the doors for improvement by cutting and editing the video. I’ll start myself by giving my own version of the key points from lecture today.
The strongest point in lecture today was about point of view. We began with a story about the etymology of the word “hector”, as in “stop hectoring me!”, that was uncovered (for us) by my mother’s research this summer. The word “hector” took a roundabout path that can be traced all the way back to Hector, the great warrior of the Trojan army described by Homer. This Hector was, by all accounts, a valiant hero. As my father put it, a man who honored his gods and his woman and was a great warrior. (Leaving honoring one’s woman aside, these characteristics don’t hold that much weight for me, but that’s just me.) He was celebrated in Shakespeare’s play Troilus and Cressida. This publicity of Hector as a valiant warrior supposedly led a cruel and powerful London street gang to take the name for its gang, and we thus end up with “hectoring” as a word that refers to the experience of being victimized by this gang. Is this history true? It makes no difference to me. In class this story was not presented so much as a story about point of view, more as an allegory that could form the basis of an opening argument about the importance of point of view. But it is fundamentally a question of point of view. To my mind, my husband puts it best when he channels Ralph Waldo Emerson in his song Sexy Jesus: “It’s all about the way you tell a story, not the facts of it. the truth is too elusive, words are so often inadequate.”
We moved from Hector to Necker. The Necker Cube (that Wikipedia page could be better, no?). We stared at it. Could we see two different views of it? Most of us could. But could we see them both at once? No. A simple point about point of view that is really satisfyingly physical. We can’t see both points of view at once because seeing each point of view requires us to imagine ourselves to be physically in a different orientation with respect to the cube. That is, the point of view I see depends fundamentally on the relationship between me and the cube. And I can only be in one relationship to the cube at a time. We moved quickly over the observation that when we stare at the cube for a long time we find that our point of view shifts back and forth and we can’t hold just one view. Does this continue the metaphor or break it? When we face an issue we really care about, do we really go back and forth between radically different points of view? Possibly we should. To be too sure of the truth of our own perspectives is dangerous. Later in the class my father holds up the physical Necker cube object, which is actually a sculpture (by Gideon Weisz) of the third view of the Necker cube (see the video to see what I mean by the third view). He shows it to us, making it obvious that there are three views when we might have only considered two until this point. But he doesn’t comment on it.
Finally, we consider the riddle of the three hats. If you don’t know the answer to it after reading it, do take some time to try to figure it out. The satisfaction of figuring it out is far greater than that of having the answer told to you. I won’t give the lesson of it here because it would give it away. (Right now I prefer to preserve the false belief that you won’t just go Google it or look it up on Wikipedia.) So what can I say about it? Man, these law students were quick! It took me hours to figure that one out when my father first posed it to us. And, to continue the confessional nature of the post, I must add that my father used to use it as a way to intimidate boys I brought home to meet him. Under those circumstances it didn’t seem so easy. But it was interesting how hard it was for the students to explain how it worked. It required a vocabulary to talk about modeling the beliefs and reasoning processes of others, and this turned out to be a challenge. Here is a core idea of our class: we must do more than just be able to model the thought process of others in our heads, we have to learn to be able to express it. To be persuasive we not only have to understand the point of view of the person we wish to persuade, we have to be able to express to her that we understand it.
Understanding the importance of point of view is only once piece of the core idea of our class though. We are trying to teach/explore something larger. As students we are considering the question of whether it is possible for individuals, loosely connected groups, and tightly connected groups to produce the main outputs of our economy–text, audio, video, software, virtual environments–that rival those produced using the industrialized production model. We are looking at examples of this happening successfully and using our lawyering skills to look at what elements lead to success. We hypothesize that openness is necessary. We hypothesize that persuasiveness (of the sort that is engendered by understanding point of view) is necessary. We hypothesize that willingness to engage new technologies is necessary. All of our students will do projects where they try to aggregate willing energy of some sort around an idea. As teachers we are doing a similar project: trying to generate and aggregate willing energy from our students for a collective, constructive research project into the potentials of open education.
So it is no wonder that I am so happy to see our lecture from this afternoon available to the world this evening. It is no wonder I am happy to see a student starting a blog about the class. With most projects worth doing one never knows whether it will work until it does. But I think this one has a chance…
— Rebecca Nesson