Instructional Technology: The Acceleration of Nonsense
Elon University / Pew Internet and American Life project has posted an "Experts Survey" called Prediction on Formal Education. Experts were asked to respond to the following proposal:
Enabled by information technologies, the pace of learning in the next decade will increasingly be set by student choices. In ten years, most students will spend at least part of their “school days” in virtual classes, grouped online with others who share their interests, mastery, and skills.
57% of experts were deemed to agree with the statement while 18% disagreed (75% total). 9% challenged the statement and 17% of experts responded correctly by not responding (26% total). This means that...
75% of the experts surveyed got it wrong, while only 26% got it right.
Of course, making a statement like the one I just made is argumentative. But this tone seems fair since the proposal put in front of experts is simply unworthy, even if this was not recognizeed by the experts themselves. Let's just predict that there'll be more predictions, then our chances of being right are improved.
This phrase enabled by information technologies is a common underlying theme of much educational jargon. Something called the pace of learning is enabled by information technologies? Information technology does not enable learning, or the pace of learning. People do. Being enabled by information technology does not suddenly mean there are more choices available. Does some vague notion of a virtual class equate to the notion that some kind of meaningful sharing will occur? Maybe - maybe not. The statement can only be challenged or not responded to.
None of this is to say that the Internet has no value in education. Of course, it does. None of this is to say that we can't improve our methods of using it in education. We can. But some vague notion of an "information technology" simply cannot provide a meaningful foundation to build on. A crayon, pen, pencil, paper, notebook, blackboard, chalk, and so on, are all information technologies. And all of these are contained in more virulent forms of technology called curriculum, instruction, and evaluation - the technological trinity of educational bureaucracy. Further implied in this statement is the false notion that somehow information technologies, by virtue of only their presence in an environment, foster a democratization of choice at the student level so that the student is in a sense given some semblance of self-organization. This is an illusion, or perhaps by now, since we seem to hear it so often, a hallucination or neurosis.
In scanning the responses made in the survey and number of biases become apparent. As one example, it's pretty easy to tell who comes from the corporate world and has something to sell even though it is not mentioned directly. At the same time, the requirements of the survey likely limit the expert reponses to a paragraph and are more focused on trying to get the expert to agree, disagree or challenge the statement. This is another reason why the experts not responding or challenging the statement got it right.
At that point, we will truly move from "teaching" environments to "learning" environments, where students have more control over when, how, and with whom they learn. Master teachers will copyright their courses and lectures, and multimedia versions of those will become "best sellers."
Really. In this truly moving will students have some control over what they are learning? Or is the what the express domain of the best seller? Why is there no mention that maybe, just maybe, students will come up with better material than the master teacher? The underlying implications here are all old school thought wrapped in the facade of truly moving.
I agree, but am saddened to think that human interaction will be decreased in this part of the growth and development process.
Then, please, don't agree and don't be sad. This sounds like a resignation.
My students think that "library" is part of a web address, as in "library.utoronto.ca" They go to the online library to read things, but they miss out on serendipitous, mind-expanding browsing through book shelves. If it isn't on the first page or two of Google, it doesn't exist.
Good common sense.
There will be more choice, but education will still be in classrooms. However, the nature of knowledge and authority are changing rapidly.
More choice, but it sounds like not many options. Obviously if classrooms are still the containment field, then the nature of knowledge and authority are not changing that dramatically. But that's our choice.
Kids will always be the most creative users of technology.
Trite nonsense. Obviously some students do creative things with technology - so do some adults. This imaginary generation gap is really a gap in the mind of the person who thinks there is a gap.
For many, learning is really about the absorption of content, not the making of meaning. For that to change, we need a change in the culture of teaching and learning, not just the technological means. And that will happen slowly, not quickly. Perhaps that's not entirely a bad thing. The student-as-consumer analogy is flawed: students often learn, not because they want to, but because they are made to. If learning becomes choice-driven, what's to prevent many from making the choice to do less, learn less, tune out?
Now here's something that stands beyond the confines of the proposal and correctly focuses on something beyond technology. Yet, "And that will happen slowly, not quickly" is a mistake - it may not happen at all. There is no indication that the "culture of teaching and learning" has the ability to change. Classrooms today and those of one-hundred years ago remain strikingly similar. And perhaps the "choice to do less" is precisely the right choice in the face of some of the things we impose on them. Are we to assume that everything we want to teach a student is the right choice, or what they should be learning?
I will always remain a champion of active learning, of overthrowing the authoritarian classroom. But many, when left to their own devices, ignoring even the guides on the side, sandbagging in collaborative groups, gaming the system, are lapsing into higher and higher levels of ignorance, to the point where they have lost the critical thinking abilities to penetrate the logical fallacies and leaps of politicians, to where they fall prey to fascist manipulators of public opinion and become part of an ignorant mob. This is dangerous for sustaining a free society. How can it be that by challenging the authoritarian nature of traditional classrooms, we leave our students more vulnerable to authoritarian demagogues in other venues? Is this the classic case of the Boomer Hippie parents raising kids who rebel by becoming authoritarian goose-steppers? Perhaps too much loosely structured learning creates a reversal... like McLuhan's media reversals.
Based on my experiences with teaching in virtual teams, students will not take to "the mastery of their own education." Most students today, in fact, don't much value learning, but only the degree that they can put on their resume. Left to their own devices most students would do significantly less academic work.
I suspect this is true and it is a credit to the students. The routines of education and the version of learning we impose on them are maybe not worth valuing as much as we think. If students are only interested in padding their resumes, then does this not admit a dramatic failure on our part? Maybe they are just trying to recover their loses? And perhaps doing significantly less academic work is not such a bad thing at all.
I'm not sure what value creating a list of predictions has. Perhaps they are best left for an author creating compelling and engaging views of the future and provides us with the pleasant experience of reading a well-written novel. The range of predictions presented in this survey fall under the banner of "Imagining The Internet." Why? What is there to imagine about the Internet? If past performance is not an indicator of future results, then perhaps we can be optimistic about education. If past performance is an indicator of future results, then perhaps we need something else altogether.
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