How long can we continue to add technology to teaching and learning before we fundamentally reconsider the entire process, including the spaces and structures of learning?
Photo credit: Idaefix
If you have not yet realized it, smart phones and other intelligent mobile devices are invisibly becoming the prime just-in-time learning tools: podcasts, "small chunk learning", listening to video lectures, email, navigation. At the same time most schools and educational institutions deliver classes just like we were still in the 70s. Yes, there is greater computer and PowerPoint usage, some web site gets to be shown, and the instructor has also a mini-site listing the topics selected for the course you are attending. But it ends pretty much here.
In this Media Literacy Digest issue, educational technologies expert George Siemens goes after making sense of the role that new technologies play in defining the new ways and approaches in which we are going to be learning. Unless we understand that is the approach, the strategy and not the tools that need to be changed inside education, we may be in for a still very long and disappointing ride.
What counts, toward making our future learning experiences more effective is not so much an increased use of new technologies, but rather a greater ability to design approaches to access, share, and interact with information that make the technology apparently disappear while enhancing our abilities to use it. In Siemens' own words: "It's a strategy issue, not a technology issue".
learning, networks, knowledge, technology, trends
by George Siemens
The current generation of smart phones offer a glimpse of the potential for use in education. About ten years ago, I was involved in a research project to evaluate the use of PDAs (Palm Pilots in particular) in education. The biggest complaint: screen size is too small. The reason? Most people looked at PDAs as small computers, not a different, distinct device with affordances unlike those of regular laptops.
The development of applications for the iPod (and a similar service by Blackberry maker, RIM) suggests that smart phones have their own role to play - not one of augmenting laptop / computer use, but rather one that takes advantage of the learning moments that arise in more informal environments. I use my iPhone for podcasts, "small chunk learning", listening to video lectures, email, navigation, etc. Put another way, I do very different things on my phone than I do on my computer.
Abilene Christian University reports their use of iPhones for all incoming learners. The big question that I've been grappling with lately - and is alluded to, but not fully addressed in the article - is
"how long can we continue to add technology to teaching and learning before we fundamentally reconsider the entire process, including the spaces and structures of learning?"
The economy is front and centre in most conversations these days. It's far to early to evaluate the full scope of impact. We'll see a decade of analysis in movies, books, and journals - what when wrong, who is to blame, what's the impact of world power relationships, etc. I'll leave others who are better informed (and hopefully stay away from the current bread of "I told you so's" - why is it that when people are suffering most, clowns appear centre stage to declare "this philosophy is dead" or "that concept is better". We don't even know what we're dealing with yet) to tackle those questions.
"This newly-realized importance of the network reminds me of biology, where we thought we could understand an organism by mapping its genes. Now we realize an organism is a complex mixture of manufactured and transformed chemicals and even other organisms, and the genetic blueprint is necessary but not sufficient for understanding. You can no more understand how an organism works by reading its DNA than you can understand how San Francisco works by reading its phonebook.
This "whole organism" multi-level integrative approach is called systems biology. Nodes often aren't as important as the connections between them. Reductionist science and analysis from the 19th and 20th centuries focused on nodes. I believe 21st century science, economics, political science, and computer science will use more complex systems theory to understand the interactions between chemicals, speculators, nations, and users."
Search innovations have been lagging a bit. We occasionally see a new tool that tries to add greater graphical elements to search (such as Kartoo). Today I came across a tool called Searchcube. It's a different way of interacting with search results.
For some reason, new tools like this seem to have a short lifespan. They are released, people try them... and then return to Google's text search interface. Alternative search models need to do more than recast text search in various graphical formats. Innovative search tools need to do something more, such as provide new insights or offer serendipitous connections. Google is quite ingrained in my search habits. I need a pretty strong motivation to change.
Today, for a conference in Portugal, I had the pleasure of visiting Guimarães (awarded the distinction of European Capital of Culture in 2012).
During the tour, my companion/guide stated that Portugal has a new initiative with computers in schools (short article here). Students between the ages of 6-11 will receive an inexpensive laptop in order to boost literacy with technology. A concern - mentioned by my colleague and not addressed in the article - is how educators are being prepared for this policy. Negroponte has apparently stated that with his One Laptop Per Child initiative, their focus is on letting the students train the teachers.
An interesting approach. But one that assumes educators are willing to be taught by learners. We can spend all we want on technology, but until we make systemic and structural changes to education, we will continue to bump up against artificial barriers due to ineffective implementations. Then, when projects don't deliver intended results, academics will write large books decrying the failure of technology. It's a strategy issue, not a technology issue.
"And I like that slow blogging is an explicit antidote to the subtle, pervasive technological determinism that lurks beneath the surface of many geeky conversations focusing on speed, ease, shortening of attention and shrinking of content. I don’t doubt the reality of these points… I just want to make sure we don’t forget that these characteristics driven by our behavior, not the tools we use, which remain inert whether we sleepwalk through their use or not."
The value of thinking about and understanding a topic deeply is a by product of time. Writing articles for journals can be easily dismissed as "it takes too long" (and it does - the review process is comical in many journals), but there is value in the pace and depth of writing articles. It's not only the readers that benefit from well-considered articles. The writer is the first benefactor.
For a related talk, here's a short video I recorded while in Australia a few years ago where Geetha Narayanan talks about slow learning.
Jay Cross explores the role of cases in business education: Is the case study method of instruction due for an overhaul?
"Most of my learning came from working on cases with my study group. Half a dozen of us met in the evening to suss out the salient points of the next day’s three cases. This exploratory give-and-take was highly participatory, more so that the classroom discussion fielded by a member of the faculty the following day."
This statement gets at the centre of any type of educational tool or approach: the value is in how the resource / approach enables people to connect with each other and debate / negotiate. Case-based education has the value of providing learners with potential scenarios - a tool to think about how we might act in certain situations. Cases move beyond the lecture to practice implementation. The next step is implementation. Each is a different stage with different affordances.
Gary Klein - in Sources of Power - suggests that experts do not follow steps sequentially. For example, a firefighter entering a hazardous situation does not process the environment according to the way it's laid out in a text book. Instead, they pattern recognize. They draw from a rich bank (hence the value of experience and expertise) of previous encounters, generating an almost intuitive response. I see cases as one potential approach to learning patterns, rather than steps.
When we are in chaotic spaces, such as information overload or in environments that are beyond our ability to grasp, we run the risk of turning to "magical thinking".
According to this article - Feeling out of control sparks magical thinking:
"reducing participants' control increase the tendency for magical thinking and the perception of illusory meaning in random or patternless visual scenes."
A relationship exists between our willingness to explore non-logical explanations when we feel out of control.
iPhones and Universities - ACU
The Connected Economy - Liv Friis-Larsen
Searchcube - Searchcube
Feeling Out of Control Sparks Magical Thinking - Stephen Coburn
Laptops in Portugal - One Laptop Per Child
I Am A Slow Blog - Holymotherofgod
Is The Case Study Method of Instruction Due For An Overhaul? - orla
About the author
To learn more about George Siemens and to access extensive information and resources on elearning check out www.elearnspace.org. Explore also George Siemens connectivism site for resources on the changing nature of learning and check out his new book "Knowing Knowledge".George Siemens -