Didaktik: In the aestetichal wilderness

Orlova Maria. Unsplash.com



Internet usage in schools is by and large aesthetical. This may be an appropriate basis for developing a didactics of the Internet.

.Sometimes I get curious, why do I keep asking questions which my fellow beings don’t find important?

Like what value we get for the millions of Euros we use on computers in schools? If you think that computers + Internet are just tools for traditional learning, it’s natural; some of us, who are beyond the age of fifty, have a recollection of the overhead projector.  

What is the computer but an advanced projector or an electronic Xerox?

I’ll turn your attention toward how our teenagers use our computers and the Internet in schools. And I’ll propose a way out of this wilderness, where the school and its means of reproduction of information have engaged in a conflict. It’s a discrete conflict, because we don’t see any wounded carried away from the battlefield, but it is fought anyway. One may call it the battle in the aesthetical wilderness.

What happens when we give a bunch of youngsters unlimited access to the most powerful information-network mankind has ever welded together?

They play magic games, of course, which might enchant a bleak everyday and they communicate heartily with friends about everything which can cast a little daylight into the school’s dungeons.

They participate in clans and interest groups, engage in discussion forums, and file-sharing, Instant Messaging; watch truckloads of commercials and videos - whatever turns young people on in both mainstream and underground culture.

All in all, the use of computers + Internet, in relation to the school’s distribution of knowledge, is not impressing. Our young folks of course also use computers as notation-boards, write essays on them, do their math etc, and that’s all well, because it’s what we, the grown-ups, want them to do: be serious and get to know something tradable which may turn out to pay our pensions.

Do somebody remember the old times, when we wrote small notes and passed them by in the class? Do you remember what we wrote? Me either. But the words were important in the situation. The messages in Instant Messaging are of the same kind; horizontal knowledge-sharing about relationships, smalltalk concerning file-sharing and the like - but not much information on a level which, in the schools optics, may legitimate the use of Internet. 

The kids are alright, but they don’t get that wise by using the Internet by themselves – or so it looks like. To me it doesn’t seem that we are getting value for all the money we’ve spent on computers in the school.

It seems to be as simple as this: Mainstream culture on the Internet is distracting from the real thing: acquisition of knowledge. Conclusion: get the youngsters unwired and let’s get down to business: teaching and learning.

It might not be as simple as that.

If you have followed me as far as here, it’s very likely that you are either a parent or a teacher – or in both positions. Now we have got to know each other a little bit, may I ask you a perhaps indiscreet question? How do you use the Internet, on a daily basis? No, no, I’ll tell you – or rather the statistics will – please go to https://danskonlineindex.dk/ 

Unless you are atypical, and perhaps you are because you keep on reading this esoteric stuff, I don’t think that your youngsters or students learn their Internet-behaviour from strangers?

In my opinion, learning which takes place through the use of the Internet is aesthetic. It is about taste and who you are, or want to be, in relation to cultural goods.


It has always been an important task for young people to “find themselves”. Today the Internet is their good helper in this project. It helps them to get acquainted with other people; they learn about how to get along with strangers and how to get to know something useful about them. This is part of what the Germans call “Bildung” – shaping oneself in a form – but today the ideal form, is the form of others behind the screen.

This aesthetical learning – or aesthetical Bildung - is presumably mostly unconscious. It is not cognitively monitored with a conscious purpose. And because the teachers and parents don’t know much about it, this process is not reflected in the theory of learning. The teachers just know that this Internet-behaviour collides with the school’s official politics; and it takes attention away from them, which is humiliating.

The problems or conflicts between students and school in relation to usage of Internet might be caused by:

1) A parental and perhaps hypocritical attitude towards teenager’s use of popular culture.

2) teachers have a “pastoral” attitude towards popular culture (we know what’s good stuff for you) 

3) teachers and parents have mindsets, which are a little outdated, because we haven’t learned how to use the Internet in a young age. It hasn’t become an integrated part of our cultural environment.

This is likely to be some of the main causes of the conflicts, and it would be downright foolish to abandon or limit access to the Internet, because of the adults’ failing ability to use the Internet in an appropriate way in school.

Let us discuss the questions:

How to handle the Internet in relation to a conscious and planned learning? How do we let our sons and daughters make sense of the vast amounts of news, art, intelligent blogs, indispensable texts from our cultural heritage etc. which is so easily accessible through the wonderful Internet?

I think these questions lead to a didactics of the Internet. 

This task presupposes that we know what we want people to know. And that we – as teachers and parents – know how we ourselves handle and distribute this knowledge. It also presupposes that the student, considering the new situation of access to knowledge - and thus to power - partly needs to take on a role as his/ her own teacher.

It will take some path-breaking questions to get that far. Questions which might lead to new questions, which maybe time after time lead to practical answers, which none of us is in a position to see right now. As I’m in the process of writing towards the right questions, this is not pretending to be anything but a short and preliminary discussion.

If use of the Internet has some learning qualities, what is the indispensable knowledge one has to acquire in order to behave in the Internet-culture?

This may be one of the discussions about the didactics we must ask for, if we want to know what is good - or necessary - to know about the culture of the Internet, and what’s not.


The notion “good” depends on what mindsets and ideologies we want to promote.

If our ideal type of human is independent, critical, democratic and caring; someone who love to have knowledge of the nation’s history, literature and language, then such an ideal human being would probably in the first place need to know something technical about the history and structure of the Internet – its system of domains, the way links are handled, the etiquette and topics of discussion boards; something about how the national cultural and political interests are maintained virtually.

It would also be handy to acquire knowledge of the rationale behind the big collaborative projects in the realms of Open Source, the cultural and economic implications of the immense file sharing; the meaning of phrases like “The long Tail”, “crowdcasting”, “narrowcasting”, “direct mail”; to know something about big cultural corporations and their storytelling etc. etc.

As you see it’s not easy for me to separate the technical level from the cultural. This might indicate that a certain amount of knowledge about our culture’s technical approach to nature and man also is needy. That one of the Westerners’ characteristic features is that we view nature (and ourselves) as a resource, at least according to Martin Heidegger's "Die Frage nach der Technik". Here's an essay about this question in danish: 


After this sketch for a technical clearing of the wilderness, let’s turn our attention to the principles of negotiation of rules for the use of the Internet in schools.


Before students could make sense of the Internet on their own it seems likely to me that they need to take (at least partially) control of the situation. This implies an appropriate sharing of power. This again calls for a discussion of the age-old concept of the class in the classroom. This concept has from the dawn of time been: one teacher teaches one or two dozens of youngsters, they behave or misbehave, the teacher encourages, punishes and evaluates. 

The teacher has hitherto had a well-nigh monopoly of the means of communication; this was his base of power. Let’s face it: the balance of power in the Internet-connected classroom has tipped. It’s time for a chat about quid pro quo.

By the way - it's not that clear to me what - or where - an Internet-connected class really  is, because behind the screen the student’s attention could be anywhere. Some philosophers would say that their intentionality is divided. Is anybody home?

What didactical rules of negotiation do we need? I don’t know at present – but a way towards enlightenment might be to understand how knowledge is negotiated at discussion-boards, in games etc. Knowledge is power, so we say. What power-laws of knowledge reigns in the virtual world? By what means do people get acknowledgment or respect? Probably not in any other ways than the well-known, but who knows by now?

The rules of negotiation have to be worked out from epistemological and ontological bedrock; if not, we won’t know what knowledge we might use to handle knowledge in the actual situation.

The – presently at least information-empowered - students call for another concept of what a class is – an individualistic but collaborative and situated concept. Contradicting, isn’t it? Not necessarily. It might be complementary.

I think the coming of the Internet calls for a didactics of (or for) the individual – in a virtual context. I think that students at the second and tertiary levels don’t know they need a set of practical rules for handling their acquisition of knowledge on the Internet – and a plausible theory for why it is so. Such rules would help the student in getting real power over his own handling of knowledge.

Probably it will be wise – and that’s not a new proposal – to engage in integrating learning and Internet-gaming. The big questions might be to understand how and why an aesthetical process – the game - contains cognitive and “Bildung” options. Facts might be easily contained in a game, but the most interesting feature of games, from a teachers view, must be the fact-finding and problem-solving process.

How may our handling of knowledge be knitted together theoretically? I will propose to do so with the help of cultural theory.

My mental processor has run out of power. I will return to the topic another time - when the influenza has left me. 

Thank you for your attention.