Courses, Composition, Hybridity

The course is an old idea. In the old days of teaching, a course was a path, a set of obstacles, or a journey through ideas toward some end. The path was marked by learning objectives, and further broken down by units and lesson plans, exercises and quizzes. Scaffolding, people called it: the building of knowledge upon incremental ideas. A student graduated from this course either by enduring its duration—as a course of antibiotics—or by safely navigating its waters–as when one canoes the course of a river. Learning was a thing accomplished. It resided at the end of the journey, glimmering on the horizon at the beginning of the semester, and drawing ever closer as the student followed the path laid out by the instructor. Following along objective to objective, project to project, exam to exam until, standards satisfied, the student reached out and grasped his final grade.

But the course is an old idea. Learning has changed.

Or, more correctly, learning has revealed itself for what it really has been all along: creative and spontaneous, umbilical and imminent. A course today is an act of composition, of the drawing together of thoughts through the use of tools to create — birth, deliver, discover, startle — not an artifact of learning, like a paper or final exam, but a use. To create a use for those tools, a use for those ideas, a use, indeed, for the course itself. To complete a course today means a student finds himself at the beginning, but well equipped. The course as composition is not fundamentally instrumental, producing an article or living up to an outcome; but rather the course as composition is an action which has intrinsic value.

The first hybridity occurs (hybridity, too, is an action, and not a state) between the mind and the tool it controls. Consider the mind as one site of movement—biochemical movement, neuron to neuron, or metaphysical movement, inspiration to dream to spontaneous revelation to curiosity. Into the mind rushes memory, observation, calculation, confusion and resolution, error and correction. All of these things remain in the mind, impotent and useless without tools to bring them to light.

Hybridity occurs when the thinker picks up the hammer, the beam, the pen, the paper—all things decidedly not the mind itself. Hybridity occurs when mind and matter cooperate to create. There is in fact no creativity without hybridity—there is only thought or action. But the movement of hybridity causes thought and action, which make process into use.

The internet, and all the digital worlds, are impotent and useless without the synthesis of hybridity. Without the sense-making and use-making capabilities of the creative mind, web sites are flotsam, the trillions of lines of code are silent and meaningless. It is the human who composes who gives use, meaning, and order to the jumble.