There are days when I realize I am teaching the same course, no matter what classroom I am in. I’m not referring to the particular day’s content – the mere stuff on which one might examine students – but rather the information potential.
Information isn’t raw data. It isn’t testable dates and names and terms, it isn’t even stock interpretations of events and ideologies and literary works. Information is intrinsically creative. It is potent; it enables, modifies; seemingly ex nihilo, it creates.
Before epigenetics, the stock metaphor for this potency used to be DNA. But DNA is just a collection of chemicals until it is operated on by other chemicals. Its physical structure certainly contributes to its potency, but of equal importance are its systemic interactions, how it combines with other chemicals, and when and how other chemicals combine with it. Its information occurs in the events of combination: mere stuff in interaction creates new information. That information in turn creates more, and eventually the mere stuff instantiates an interdependent, intertwined, collected information system, a living, functioning organism.
So you will understand if I sometimes veer off into theories of ethics in a communications class on the application of cognitive dissonance in marketing, or if I interrupt a presentation to technical writers on graphic design principles to take a detour into the methodological challenges in empirical research on cognitive load or proximity. It’s not my fault; it’s genetic. With apologies to Dawkins, the “selfish” gene demands its celebration in new connections, new interleavings. The interdependencies and potentials must be known; its peers about the classroom demand that they leave with more information than stuff.
For educators in the humanities, enabling our students to appreciate and to explore the living system of human information in action should be our goal in the classroom. All the rest, all the stuff, is available, and probably more succinctly put, online. We all know that. Even college administrators, their stuff-rich, testable-objective-driven courses and curricula notwithstanding, don’t refer to us as Data Delivery Interfaces or Student Transactional Objects (at least not yet). They still call us instructors (as in struere, to construct, to build). We should celebrate our pedigree and our obligation and make every class a demonstration of vital epigenetics.