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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Virtualpolitik: Obstacles to Building Virtual Communities in Traditional Institutions of Knowledge


Digital collaborations are often stymied because institutions of higher education are increasingly divided between two cultures: the culture of knowledge and the culture of information. Campuses primarily remain institutions of knowledge, although practices of information acquisition can no longer be ignored, especially since the advent of networked computing and study with digital texts. Yet the traditional division of labor and the ownership of intellectual property within the academy are threatened by digital collaborations; and the claims of information theory, which is associated with epistemologies of uncertainty and probability, challenge conservative ideologies of university culture. As a result, policies for the development of hybrid instruction and digital archives are often dictated by "Virtualpolitik," or the Realpolitik of virtual institutions, in lieu of a long-term vision for meaningful institutional change. This paper examines four Internet-based initiatives designed to improve cross-campus teaching and learning in California public universities - MERLOT, CPR, UCWRITE, and SPIDER - and argues that effective programs with lasting legacies take advantage of a "bazaar" rather than a "cathedral" development model and incorporate meaningful "information literacy" objectives that go beyond the mastery of particular terms and tools.

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