It’s only because I read The Daily that I learned of Stephen’s exercise in power and authority this week.  Sorry, Stephen. It didn’t work.

I had subscribed to the initial forum, but was so overwhelmed by the first rush of postings that I not only stopped subscribing myself to the new ones, but also set my mail client to filter CCK08 forum posts out of my inbox.  So even when Stephen subscribed me, I wasn’t troubled until I checked that folder.

Even though technology gives additional power to central authority, it also gives power to the individual to resist that authority.  Stephen had the power to autosubscribe me, but I had the power to filter him.  My sense is that whether technology causes a shift toward or away from centralized power in society as a whole depends more on policy and regulation (think DMCA here) than on the technology itself.

I’m guessing this point was made somewhere in the 200+ page reading assigned for this week, but I haven’t read it yet. This brings up an interesting issue.  When we restrict ourselves to a learning context, what does power mean?  While you can talk about the power exercised by our IT departments to restrict access to content, real power is about influencing learner behavior, isn’t it?

As my experience points out, on that criterion, Stephen’s expression of power was a fail, probably not an epic fail, but a fail.  “Hard power’ in a learning environment seems to me to depend on the power holder’s ability to grant or withhold grades/academic credit.  Since most of us aren’t here for credit, there’s not much hard power in CCK08.

“Soft power” (persuasion and influence) seem to be much more in play here.  As the designated leaders, George and Stephen have a great deal of influence on the non-credit learners even as they have little authority.  I think it’s safe to say that G & S are allowed to a great degree to shape the agenda of the “tribe” (using Seth Godin’s terminology here). I’ve read several blog posts where learners have reacted quite strongly to something one of them wrote. I think the strength of that reaction is due in large part to who they are, the leaders of the CCK08 tribe.

In general I think a shift away from hard power to soft power is a good thing.  However persuasive you normally  consider someone to be, if they start spouting stuff that doesn’t ring true to you, you are free at any time, in an environment shaped by soft power, to stop being persuaded.  When hard power is in play, there’s always the fear that one might be marked down if one disagrees with the professor.