The Dominant Use of Content

Having spent the past week debating the word content at an EdTech conference, I find my first peek into Rhizomatic Learning (#rhizo15) to happen in during a debate of the word content, one Dave Cormier mentions he has always had trouble getthig his head around. Last week I presented at #et4online about OER, branded digital content and postmodernism, and I started the conversation by problematizing the term content.

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This is a tweet from Jeffrey Inscho of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, during the Museums & the Web conference.  His tweet resulted in a great deal of conversation, where no one really agreed with the term content and people kind of hoped it would go away or be replaced but also saw a value in it.  I suggested the use of a term like text or artifact, which people said was too specific with books or museums, while content had the connotation of not only information, but information about information (metadata). I noted that both texts and artifacts were, like content, originally intended to be about information and the manner in which an audience renders and engages it (a text is an analysis or an object, an artifact is a preserved representation of a culture), and had morphed over time.  When we do not recognize that content has done the same, we end up utilizing a term with a significantly different dominant connotation than which we intend to use it.

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Yes, content is information.  But when we say content today we are using the term where the dominant culture equates it to more than just information:  information about information, digital information, the marketing of information-as-commerce.  From this lens, it makes complete sense why the rise of content has coincided with the rise of EdTech vendors and a renaissance in technological solutions — content is the marketable extension of the knowledge economy.  I hesitate to try to reclaim the term content; at best we can use it the way we want in a subculture such as this but then only get frustrated when our view is not shared or matched outside this space.  Content is People is a great idea but will lack resonance outside the Rhizomatic space, whereas a different term (or a new term, no matter what Greg McVerry says *smile*) would have the same meaning here while also having a chance to a negotiated meaning in other cultures.

I am new to the game, but I wonder if the best option for a course such as Rhizomatic Learning is to understand how content manifests in a general discourse, and then to utilize a term that leads to the intentions of such an approach to learning.  I feel like text, artifact or even Lyotard’s immaterial would convey the same sort of information definition as we assume with content, but would do so while 1) rejecting the consumption/marketing/branding element as associated with content today, and 2) rejecting the overarching objectives and outcomes conversation in lieu of a more localized, dialogue-driven conversation.  A text’s meaning is subjective to the interpreter in the environment they live in, immaterial is a negotiation of the sublime and the digital, and an artifact by design is to be relevant primarily to the culture it comes from.  Each of these has its own issues, but it is not currently employed by the dominant culture to mean something antithetical to the aims of rhizomatic learners.  Content may be people, but in the same consumption way that Soylent Green was people.

About Rolin

Assistant Professor & Director of EdTech & Media at Seattle Pacific University. Consultant w/ RAM TEC. Work with faculty, teach students, explore non-formal learning spaces (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums)

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