Teaching Afrocentricity Through E-Clustering.

Author:Bangura, Abdul Karim


As I demonstrate in my book titled Toyin Falola and African Epistemologies, any understanding of an African-centered thinker or idea today is incomplete without talking about how the thinker or the idea has been represented in Internet facilities, their various forms, and the creative uses to which they have been put to share knowledge, empower a new generation of Africans, and create complex intellectual and political networks. (1) Thus, in this paper, I explore how E-clustering can be employed to harness the Internet in order to successfully teach about the Afrocentricity. E-clustering, which is an innovative approach for teaching, learning and research based on the concept known as "cluster-building," can help. I must immediately state here that the theoretical notions on E-clustering that underscore the discourse in this paper appear in my book mentioned above and two of my articles. (2) The discussion is replicated here for those readers who may not know about them or may not have access to my writings on them.

Scientific clustering, I point out, emerged as an important statistical application in the early 1980s as researchers studying similarly situated entities employed cluster analysis methodology, or a number of techniques utilized to create a classification. A clustering method is a multivariate statistical procedure that empirically forms "clusters" or groups of highly similar entities. It starts with a data set containing information about a sample of entities and attempts to reorganize these entities into relatively homogenous "clusters" or groups. (3) According to Ute Hansen, however, E-clustering is an approach based on the concept of "cluster building." In this case, a cluster initiates the networking of all participants in a value-added chain. The objective is to bundle the potentials and competences for increasing the innovation power of the individuals in a cluster. Given Internet technology, even individuals outside the United States can obtain a lot of educational information. Infrastructure, applications, platforms, and broadband enable networking among academic institutions, research institutes, and governments. (4)

Before delving into the technical details of this paper, however, it behooves me to iterate a very important point about the idea of Afrocentricity that has been made by Itibari M. Zulu in his book titled Exploring the African Centered Paradigm: Discourse and Innovation in African World Community Studies. As he edifyingly tells us, the term "Afrocentrism" was coined by The New York Times in 1991 championed by those opposed to the concept of "Afrocentricity." Hence, the term "Afrocentrism" is not a synonym for "Afrocentricity," a mistake many writers have made. (5)

The Internet as a Learning and Teaching Tool

In my Toyin Falola and African Epistemologies, I point out that the Internet's contribution to the spread of knowledge, whether positive or negative, is hardly a matter of dispute. Millions of people around the world turn to the Internet for answers and inspiration. What they find is a diverse world. The Internet yields links to thousands of World Wide Web sites featuring everything from shopping to sermons to Web-muftis--people who provide answers to theological and legal questions. The web allows almost anyone to offer a plethora of perspectives, and much of the resulting discussion and debate can be found in online fora and chat rooms.

Some observers point out that the Internet has also altered the practice of consensus-building. For example, while it used to take decades, even centuries, to reach consensus, on interpretations in holy books, this process has been accelerated by the Internet's ability to give instant access to the teachings and thoughts of distant religious scholars and original texts. Practices, laws, and beliefs that were once bound by geography are evolving into a mainstream identity on Internet time.

Ninety percent of all users go to the Internet for news or information; of that 90 percent, 80 percent use the Internet for research. (6) One in four of these users surfs the Internet for religious and spiritual material (about 28 million people in the United States), with 23 percent specifically searching for information about Islam. (7) Increasingly, students of all levels and disciplines are using the Internet as a primary source of information; 29 percent accept the information they find as a "good source of information," and only 34 percent consider additional verification of the information important. (8)

As Joyce Fitzgerald and her colleagues demonstrate, educators, clinicians, and scientists are rapidly adapting practice, research, and teaching to the many resources available on the Internet. For a number of years, the Internet has linked researchers and educators, and now the medium provides limitless possibilities for research. Researchers connect to electronic libraries on university campuses, and they also use the Internet for methodological purposes, such as sample selection, data collection, and analyses. Electronically published media challenge traditional print publications, as many and very important works are now made available online. The Internet holds several advantages for researchers that were not available in the past, such as Email, chat rooms, listservs, and discussion groups. All of these resources provide learners and teachers opportunities to gain information efficiently and to use new technologies to learn, teach, and explore research methods of the future. (9)

Referring to the information age, John Naisbitt writes: "We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge." (10) Indeed, information is abundant. In his book, Digital Mythologies, Thomas Valovic addresses the issue of information overload and raises the following three vital questions:

(1) Is too much information possible? (2) Is there an inverse relationship between quantity and quality? (3) Is there a difference between information and knowledge? (11) In contemplating these queries, one is also led to reflect upon the utility of the available information, both good and bad, accessible to all on the Internet. Thus, even the seasoned researcher is bound to stumble upon the double-edged sword.

The Internet has been largely marketed and promoted as a fast and easy way to find any information one desires. The emphasis on speed and ease has led Internet users to turn to the most readily available sources for answers to their questions, sites that do not require logins or passwords. As a result, users may overlook buried information that is not included in the higher-numbered results but is found in members-only journals and archives. In such a case, one is left with excessive information but little knowledge because of the multitude of outdated, inaccurate and unprofessional sites that complicate the access to useful information.

Sifting and sorting through this surplus to find useful information takes a lot of time and energy. Unfortunately, as more and more information is made available, the more time an individual has to expend to vet its thoroughness, a process that involves checking the sources for reliability, quality, and validation. Raw data are useless in themselves without rational thought and analysis, which is how they become useful information, which in turns needs application to become knowledge.

The unwillingness or sheer inability to process the vast quantity of information the Internet provides often leads to incorrect or incomplete ideas about the topic in question. However, the successful employment of new search tools made available by the Internet may lead to greater understanding and constructive application of the knowledge gained from researching a specific issue. Virtual investigation of a topic may lead to practically any point on the spectrum, spanning destructive or fraudulent information to enlightenment, depending on the individual and the information s/he comes across.

Optimists see the utility of Internet-based research within networks created by bringing together people who would otherwise never have been able to meet and share their perspectives. Healthy exchange of different beliefs can lead to self-exploration and understanding of others. Since the Internet is anonymous, it can provide a friendly and face-saving way to discuss difficult topics. The Internet can provide access to and a platform from which to post a plethora of opinions. Nevertheless, abuse is not difficult to find. The dissemination of misinformation may lead to confusion, apathy, or aversion. Individuals are allowed to post hate-promoting messages freely, which breeds more hate. The overload or poor quality of information may lead to discouragement and abandonment of research. Persuasive information could potentially distract uncritical users.

To highlight how the Internet can be used for research that is quick, readily available, and user-friendly, I used the following 14 search engines to research available information on Afrocentricism: Avant, DeepNet Explorer, Google, HotBot, Internet Explorer/Edge, Lycos, Maxthon, Microsoft MSN, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, PhaseOut, Safari, SeaMonkey, and Yahoo. It behooves me to mention here, however, that Google was found to be the most extensive search engine in the coverage of Afrocentricity.

The E-clustering Approach

As I recount in my book and papers mentioned earlier, in a series of six papers, Ute Hansen of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Employment, and Transport of the state of Schleswig-Holstein in the Federal Republic of Germany developed E-clustering as an innovative approach for economic policy. (12) Hansen discusses three interrelated attributes of E-clustering: (1) the importance of times-technologies--that is, telecommunication, information technology, multimedia, entertainment, and security; (2) the concept of cluster building; and (3) the cluster strategy. These attributes are...

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