A Response to Bayne’s Striated and Smooth Article

Context in which I wrote this:
Concourse D Admirals Club, La Guardia Airport New York, April 21, 2014, with a plate full of celery and an overfilled glass of red wine, on the way to #ET4Online. I like celery and red wine as a combination, so this is ok. But the point is that I don’t have a lot of time to edit or to add my usual glut of images, so bear with me.
Article in question: 
Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces. E-Learning, 1(2), 303-316.
Found numerous places on the open internet, including here. But if that link doesn’t work, just google it.  It’s all over and free (thanks, Sian).
Bayne (2004) employs Duleuze and Guattari’s (1989) smooth and striated spaces to describe the interactions, relationships, and tensions unique to Internet learning spaces.
Part 1. Defining Smooth and Striated Space (p 302-303)
The article begins with careful and detailed definitions of smooth and striated space.
Smooth spaces are open, rhizomatic, informal areas that promote nomadic “becoming,” the “word on the street;” They are the desert, the steppe, the ocean; when occupying them, the movement on them is more important than the point of departure or destination.
Striated spaces are gridded, arboreal (hierarchy of limbs), formal areas that promote movement along a limited number of preset paths and exist through the “word of the state.” They are the city.  They privilege the point of arrival over the journey itself.
Bayne (2004) summarizes Duleuze and Guattari ‘s (1989) models for striated and smooth space.  She focuses primarily on the textile metaphor (a technical model) for striated space.  Woven fabric is grid-like, with warp and weft, requiring a back and forth movement of the shuttle (which implies a closed space).  On the other hand, smooth space is the anti-fabric, spreading in all directions, seamless and unbounded: a single sheet.
After defining smooth and striated, Bayne (2004) aims to “consider Internet learning spaces as arenas in which smoothness and striation interact” (p. 303).  It is not her intention to contrast the two spaces any further, but rather to show their relationship in learning spaces, where they are “appropriating and emerging from one another.”
Part 2.  Defining Cyberspace Neither Inherently Smooth or Striated (p 304-306)
The idea of smooth and striated falls under Nunes (2002) conceptualization of topographies; whether we think of cyberspaces as “surfing the web” [smooth] or “cruising the superinformation highway” [striated] is important because it impacts how we, as users, orient our questions, beliefs, assumptions, and practices.
Bayne (2004) argues: “The web is, like the printed book, neither inherently striated nor inherently smooth, and even if it were an open steppe of pure smoothness, that would not make it inherently liberatory” (p. 305).  Rather, striation emerges from (on, in) smooth spaces and smoothness emerges from (on, in) striated spaces.
Deleuze and Guittari (1989) suggest that to navigate a space is beginning the process of striation.  Hypertexting, which is part of the foundational architecture of the web, demonstrates an inclination towards striation, reinforcing the structure that smooth spaces like the Internet are attempting to subvert.
Part 3: Examples of Smooth Pedagogies that Exist in Striated Contexts (p. 306-311)
This is the longest part. Bayne (2004) provides criteria for her definition of smooth pedagogy:
  • The pedagogy must conceive the academic task in a way that is transformed by its association with digital media; that somehow uses the affordances and norms of the web to change the practice entailed.
  • The pedagogy must at “least nod toward the possibility of a shift, through digital mediation, in the traditional balance of power embedded in the teacher student hierarchy.”
She uses the pedagogical research/designs of Greg Ulmer (1989, 1994, 2003a) and Donna LaCourt (1999) to illustrate smooth pedagogies.
 Ulmer is a film studies professor in Florida who writes extensively on the use of “Mystory” in digital higher education settings. Mystory (a spin-off of history and herstory) is an exercise in linkage, collage, and juxtaposition as students blog their exploration of four discourses which work to entrench their identities within particular positions (orientations); examples of possible discourses include stories and discussion around family, entertainment, career, and history-community.
Ulmer considers Mystory a digital alternative to a print essay or research paper – with all the implications of hyperlinking, tagging, etc. Bayne and Ulmer highlight the following qualities of the assignment:
  • It characterizes a shift from personal to public orientation, in which the blogging format allows for commenting, collaboration, and explicit awareness of audience.
  •  It is an act of curation, transforming preexisting elements to make a new, holistic story.  Students must learn how to sift through the “flotsam and jetsam” of the “digital beach” of the Internet to find the images and text fragments to illustrate their stories.
  • It represents an active shift from text to image, objective to expressive, empiricism to aestheticism, analysis to effect.
  • It is a sustainable skill – not only do students make this story but they develop strategies for web authorship in the future; “active subjects in the digital space.”
Bayne’s treatment of LaCourt (1999) is shorter; LaCourt describes asynchronous online discussion forums as places in which the anonymity (and lack of physical presentation) allows students to adopt different and multiple voices in ways that might not be possible in face-to-face environment.
Bayne identifies two elements of this activity as “smooth:”
  • LaCourt provides limited structure for the discussion space
  • She offers students opportunities to remain anonymous and does not attend to the discussion unless explicitly invited in by the students.
Bayne critiques LaCourt’s treatment of virtual spaces as a second-rate “practice ground” for the “real world” (indeed, LaCourt was hopeful that her emancipatory agenda online would cross over to behaviors in face-to-face venues – they did not). Bayne suggests that a more compelling perspective would be to see “the combination of pedagogical approach and technology as working to constitute the learning in a way that makes such articulation of the multiple possible” (p. 310)
Bayne indicates that the tension between smooth pedagogy and the striated context (i.e. formal educational contexts) is best seen in the issue of assessment, which both Ulmer and LaCourt gloss over.   This may be because assessment will always be a factor working to arrive at an endpoint.
Part 4: The LMS as a “City on the Steppe” (The quintessential striating system in a smooth space)
Bayne returns to the textile model of striated space to demonstrate learning management systems as striating systems:
The textile model of striated space has four components:
  • Two distinct parallel elements (warp/weft; software architecture and internet space)
  • The parallel elements have different functions, one fixed one mobile (see above);
  • The are closed on at least one side (the grid of the loom; the password log-in to enter the “walled-in city”)
  •  The space has a top and a bottom – meaning hierarchical systems.  In the case of the LMS, there’s the hierarchical access of administrator-teacher-teaching assistant-student.
·      We are onthe web, we are in the learning management system.
      The language of LMS descriptors hint at an ethical orientation of enhanced efficiency and productivity (i.e. convenience, reduced use of resources); maximum point-to-point efficiency of moving students from the beginning of a program to the end.
The LMS is revealed as a “space of closure, of regulation – a formal, structured domain of control where hierarchies are reasserted and internet functionality is appropriated by a regime of productivity and efficiency” (p. 314).
Part 5: Conclusions – A call to think outside of dichotomies, outside of the LMS
Inevitably, striated spaces are appropriated by smooth pedagogies and smooth spaces are appropriated by striated practices. Hyperlinking is a striation. Assessment is a striation.  One is not “good” and the other “bad” but rather they both have their challenges and uses.  Good teaching and learning require a blend of striation and smooth – we should all learn to be “urban nomads.”
However, as we bring essentials such as assessment, regulation, navigation into smooth pedagogical spaces, let us set up virtual shanty towns rather than walled-in cities on the steppes.  “Teachers and students interested in inhabiting and nurturing smooth online pedagogical spaces will not bother to engage with the constraints offered by [LMS]. (p. 314)
Why this article means so much to me.
Beyond the lyrical qualities (part D&G, part Bayne) that just sing to me – seriously, the city on the steppe just sings to me – there are components of this article that I keep returning to, either because they guide or validate my own practice.  They are:
The description of smooth pedagogy.  This article is ten years old and there are certain places in which this fact is obvious.  Ulmer is not the only person in town doing interesting things with e-portfolios (a word that wasn’t even mentioned in the article), reflective blogging, etc.
Furthermore, the idea that students should curate everything in their “mystory” from the flotsam and jetsam of the internet beach rather than curating form their own creations – their own photographs in Flickr or making their own infographics in Canva or Storifying their own Twitter conversations – this omission is definitely telling of the times.
Nevertheless the concept of using the affordances of the web to hack traditional learning activities hits close to home.  Twitter Journal Club – the attention to aesthetics (the invitation), the subjective expression “out” rather the objective analysis of the article “in”… it is all related to Ulmer’s work (which I’ve read but somehow didn’t make it to the disseration…odd).  I also find myself working with faculty members on a community engaged research course (#curiouscollab coming soon). Rather than a faux grant proposal as a final project, I advocated for community accessible, digital, non-text heavy web documents instead.  An example: rather than creating a scholarly lit review (for the lit review section of their “grant proposal”) students will be creating a web document geared towards community members, heavy in open access and web-based materials, heavy in hyperlinked subtext, light on the jargon.
Assessment as a “battleground” of smooth and striated. Again, the article could use a bit of updating. Even in 2004, Yancy et al. was attempting (gently, tentatively) to have a conversation about assessing e-portfolios and student blogging projects. Nevertheless, Bayne’s (2004) emphasis could not be more relevant to our times, at least, I like to think so since alternative assessment strategies for Connected Learning classrooms is the focus of my dissertation research.  And as I embark on this journey, I have a little pledge to myself that I revisit every week – one inspired by this article – and it goes something like this:
I solemnly swear to be honest with others and myself: to acknowledge that assessment (even if it is called documentation) is a form of striated regulation, particularly when a formal institution like a university mandates it.
I swear to be humble, to understand that nothing I propose will truly capture what happens on the open web and that it is based on the work of others who come before me (thanks again, Sian).
I swear to understand that smooth and striated live in relationship with each other and, together, create a glorious spectrum of digital learning environments. I will try to promote the middle ground and avoid polemics, because (as with most things) a flexible blend will always be the answer.
I swear to establish and dwell in virtual shantytowns and to try never to dwell in the mindset of a learning management system.

And there you have it.  I have to catch a plane now.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. francesbell says:

    I enjoyed the paper too Laura and I agree with you that the striated and smooth co-exist. I wrote a blog post during rhizo14 (very long so skip to the assessment part at the end) partially inspired by this paper https://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/wandering-across-smooth-and-jagged-spaces-bring-a-blanket-and-beware-the-chief-ants/
    Have a good trip:)


  2. Maha Bali says:

    Thank you so much for doing this, Laura! Well summarized and very helpful. I'd only read part 1 and a bit of part 2 and you summarized those so well, that I am sure I have now a really good summary of the rest of the paper. I also love what you added of your own thoughts – esp since the paper was way back in 2004 before all these new open and social technologies showed up. I am thinking it would be interesting to observe how people approach cMOOCs… coz a cMOOC can have smooth and striated aspects to it, and participants can let it flow that way or try to organize it for themselves? Kind of like the book/web thing – and also a person can be in a supposedly linear/rigid course/structure and subvert it and open it up and make it smoother… I am v interested in that interaction and then also how different people in the SAME space perceive and interact with it differently to striate/smoothen it and how that impacts others…


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