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 Live or Memorex: Digital Dilemna?

From: Ferdi Serim
Date: Tue, 3 Feb 98 15:06:13 -0500

Hi folks,

While current discussion focuses on the

E-rate

and wiring schools, the culture clash that surrounds the debate of introducing technology for learning intensifies. Hyperfocus on K-12, higher ed or other segments of a societal phenomenon may allow us to overlook broader issues upon which achievement of widespread benefits of technology for real people depends.

In "Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education" David F.Noble

sounds the alarm for the commercialization of higher education, and alerts the reader to the perils of "drawing the halls of academe into the age of automation". His incisive historical review of events leading to the UCLA "Instructional Enhancement Intitiative" requiring instructors to develop computer web sites for all of its arts and sciences courses makes anyone who reads it stop and think....

 Having stopped and thought, I see yet another example of the appropriate and powerful uses for networking in learning (which center around distributed learning) being overlooked in favor of hype about egregious ills resulting from poorly conceived implementations (which center around the futile attempt to transport old paradigms into this new learning environment).

The general thrust of the argument goes: Universities are losing money on their poorly taken decision to privatize research (intellectual capital) at the expense of instruction, and trying to palm off second rate "automated courses" on an unwitting populace. Students want things the way they were in the "good old days" with a real professor in front of them in a real classroom. The Internet is of course to blame, because it provides the mechanism for avaricous businessmen and administrators to collude in ripping off the tuition paying public.

 Just as the civil rights movement of the 60's was preshadowed by the resistance bebop musicians faced in the 40's (read about Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk or Billie Holiday, listening to "Strange Fruit" while you're doing it and you'll get the picture), the "automation" issue has been felt by musicians long before professors started feeling the heat.

 In fact the bebop movement was born at the height of the "recording ban", when the musician's union foresaw the demise of live music in the double whammy advent of improved recording/broadcast technologies. Up until that time, radio (a previous technology threat) actually was used to broadcast the best bands from the best ballrooms into the homes of millions of Americans, who otherwise might not hear live music. Someone realized that by recording the same bands in a studio, you'd only have to pay them once, but could receive advertising revenue repeatedly through rebroadcasting the performance. The current issue over "sampling", where the exact tones a human has spent a lifetime perfecting are digitally snatched and patched with abandon, or the replacement of live bands by DJ's and/or banks of synthesizers is the reincarnation in our era of the same struggle. Yet the stakes seem higher when professors are involved.

 Is teaching a performance art? Is learning a group sport?

Technology is opening possibilities which make the word "societal restructuring" seem like a hopelessly euphamistic expression for what happens when an ivory tower wakes up to find the waves teaching it that it's only part of a sandcastle.

 Instead of seeking ways to re-engineer the delivery of lectures, many of us who've been working with technology are seeking the balance between crucial face to face interactions and the possibilities for follow-up discussion, support and collaboration that technology (including, but not limited to the Internet) provides. It didn't take any of us very long to realize that restructuring looks more like reinventing from our perspective. Although K12 education sets the stage for later learning, higher ed is percieved as higher stakes, and the sobering probability is that only master teachers make the best uses of technology.

Rather than only figuring out how to make more master teachers, we might also consider preparing more master learners. 

This is where the new forms of relationships that thrive on the Internet provide us some hope. Many of us have also find that we routinely traverse the boundaries that traditional organizations use to define their identities. Who "owns" our work? This question takes on a new significance when one considers the decreasing shelf life of any of our projects. Our work resides in our heads, and has value only in our abilities to apply what we've learned to the next challenge we undertake.

 Duke said it: "There are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music"  

Same for teaching. Unfortunately, techology is no determinant for quality (either way). Just because a lecture was "delivered" face to face doesn't imply that it is more effective than one perceived by videotape, satellite, cable, or the Internet. Some of the most powerful experiences I've had over the past year have been at conference keynotes, where a presenter (usually richly rewarded) delivered a carefully crafted talk for a couple hours. I'd run out, buy and read their books. I'd create a web based discussion area for the project inspired by the talk and invite colleagues to join in with their ideas and experiences. Gradually the visionary messages found their way into our practice. The effects aren't limited to adults either.

 Perhaps higher ed can gain some insight by looking upstream...my 6th grade students find these new roles puzzling at first, as well, having been brought up in the traditional model. Confronted with the challenge of researching infectious diseases, their initial reaction is to seek encyclopedias or search engines, and work in isolation. However, through the use of web based databases, they soon see that by working as a 125 person team, independent of time and space, and united only by the shared choice among 25 topics, they can share the results of their searching by evaluating the usefulness of their research, and do in days what would take months to achieve individually. Mixing this online collaboration with traditional Socratic dialogue away from the computer is a powerful recipe for reflection and insight. How will higher education deal with my students six or seven years from now?

 In conclusion, the new paradigm is a paradox: it takes individuals (who've prepared themselves to become independent, lifelong learners) growing themselves into ad hoc partners in evanescent communities of learners to make the best use of the opportunities technology now presents us. Those organizations which can embrace this realization may follow a different path than those who adhere to the nostalgic model.

Ferdi

Ringleader on the Educational CyberPlayground

Computer Teacher/ District Computer Coordinator

Online Internet Institute, Director http://oii.org
co-author: NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet http://www.ora.com/info/netlearn/

"We are more than the sum of our knowledge, we are the products of our imagination." - Ferdi

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