Friday, December 4, 2009

UC Irvine's Program in Virtual Worlds: Education for Prefigurative Times

Location: Pixels & Policy Blog

This is quite a coup for higher education. Kudos to Viv Trafalgar for pointing this out to me. Read the entire tale over at Pixels & Policy.

And it comes on the very day I print and mail in a recommendation to UC Irvine's English Department--of course they want print--for one of my finest students.

How can I tell a bright young person that "you are headed down a dead-end road?" The traditional humanities show few signs of adapting fast enough to changing circumstances. Too often they still seem mired in the "Theory Wars" of the 80s and 90s that were so depressing a part of my grad-school days.

And for all their glitzy videos on YouTube, in my experience "The New Humanities" is still slouching toward academia, waiting to be born.

UC Irvine's program, however, gives me hope. As the writer at Pixels & Policy puts it so well, "The chokehold of elite private schools is weakening as smaller schools turn to cost-effective programs like virtual worlds studies."

It's damned well time for that. What can many of our elite schools offer, except vital credentials, for a culture that is "prefigurative," to quote from one of the many articles by scholars of technology in the classroom, Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher? A prefigurative culture cannot predict the pace or specifics of change; elders' sureties no longer are capable of providing more than a nostalgic solace for the young.

I don't even know if Richmond will still be an inland city or underwater in 100 years, let alone what sort of technology will be in our bodies and computers. Yet amid cyclonic change, we can still spot the weather-patterns. I'd wager that some type of virtual environment will be a constant in our lives. And as for the guardians of old forms of academic disciplines? I'm not optimistic.

As I read the UC Irvine information, I feel that I was born 30 years too early. Of course, when I consider the vexing challenges of the 21st century, I wonder if being born 30 years earlier might not have been the better fate. We'll see.

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