Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mobility and the Transformation of Education

Last night after work I went to Basel to attend a lecture by Dr. Bill Rankin of Abilene Christian University who was talking about mobility and the transformation of education. ACU was the first university to establish a comprehensive 1:1 mobile learning initiative that supplied every student with an iPhone or iPod Touch.  Bill opened with talking about a new technology, telling us the benefits and threats this new technology posed:

  • High portability and accessibility
  • Disperses information quickly
  • Allows for synchronous and asynchronous access
  • Distraction
  • Loss of control over information
  • Loss of control over distribution
  • Challenges traditional systems and ideals
  • New systems of organization needed

Of course we thought he was talking about the iPad - in fact he was talking about a new technology from hundreds of years ago - the printed book. 

Bill pointed out that technologies change what we can do and affect our view of the world. Technologies can change, and can change culture and social hierarchies.  We shouldn't focus on the technologies themselves, but think about how the technology is making us view our world and how it can change our culture.  All technological innovations become successful by solving problems.  However in solving some problems technology can also create new problems which threaten the existing culture.  There is a cycle here:  innnovation leads to building, then solidifying then destabilizing - which in turn leads back to innovation again.  Today most teachers are at the destabilizing stage whereas most students have moved beyond this to a new stage of innovation as they have already found the solutions that the teachers will eventually adopt.

Bill talked about the 3 ages of information:

The age of hands and the changes during the time a scroll changed into a codex (book).  The codex is random access device, whereas the scroll is linear access device.  With a codex you can go to any point at any time, or even to several different places at once.  The codex is more portable, while the scroll is a fixed device.  The codex is made for mobility. Just like today, 1700 years ago people also wanted to carry information with them and access it when it was useful.  In those days the only method for transferring information was copying by hand.  Universities of the past focused on the delivery of a particular type of information using lecture, reading books to students while the students made own copies.  The printed book shattered this – putting the teacher out of his traditional job but freeing him up to do more complex things with the students.  At that time everything was very localized.  If you wanted to learn something about London you had to travel there, so few people could participate in the learning and even fewer could produce the knowledge. Generally learning took place by apprenticeship where you learned from one person while training to become an equal.  Learning in the first age of information:
a.     Teachers lived and worked in relationship with students
b.     Teachers were guides or mentors,  people learned by practise and apprenticeship
c.      The emphasis was on using knowledge in particular contexts
d.     Repetition and assessment lead to independent practice
e.     Learning was embodied, subjective, dialectic and broadly interconnected.

The age of books resulted from the invention of the printing press and allowed information to proliferate.  The problem of access to information had been solved, but new problems had been created - for example finding the information, or the books with the information.  This led to sorting and cataloguing.  In this age the teachers were the guideposts and helped students to find the information they needed and testing was developed since learning was standardised as everyone had the same book.  A distinction grew up between living and learning, between home and school, and people accessed information from other places through books.  In the second age of information more people got to participate, but still only a few produced.  This was the beginning of universal education with classrooms looking more like factories and processing as many students though as possible and in doing so making them as much alike as possible.  There was no individualism or diversity and even today many schools do not see diversity as strength and still pretend everyone can learn in the same way.   Learning in the second age of information
a.     Teachers were the first conduits of information, students were the receivers
b.     The emphasis was on classifying and cataloguing
c.      The focus was on memorization of facts and data
d.     Repetition was primary, analysis was secondary,
e.     Learning was a hierarchical “objective” standardized and narrowly-defined.  Learning was more from books than from people.

This age is now over.

The age of data. Searching using Google now brings up more information than a person would have encountered in a whole career 20 years ago.  Information is coming from everywhere.  There are lots of people who consume it and many more can produce it, but we now have a problem of validating this information and working out what is trustworthy.  The problem is not finding information – access is easy, the problem is assessing and the problem is about to get worse as estimates are that by 2020 information will be doubling every 15 minutes (so the information we teach students could be obsolete before they even leave the room!)  If we give more information to students now, this just makes their problem worse.  In this world teachers are even more necessary,  but not if they are dealing with the problems of the last informational age.  How can teaching change?  Learning in the third age of information:
a.     Teachers live and work in relationship with their students
b.     Teachers are guides or mentors and  people learn by practise and apprenticeship
c.      The emphasis is on contextual learning 
d.     Repetition and assessment lead to independent praxis
e.     Learning is embodied, subjective, dialectic and broadly interconnected.  Each student is learning differently.
(This list is the same as learning in the first age of information!)

Technology is now allowing us to break out of the classroom and at the same time it is keeping students connected to their teachers.  The iPhone is 1000 libraries in your pocket, 1000 experts in your pocket.  Social networks helps you to the process information as you trust the people in your social networks and you discover things you would otherwise miss.  Now we are finding that a digitized text is not the same as digital text.   New books are emerging that are interactive, customized, mixable, socially connected and augmented.  They are able to merge various kinds of media. Mobility changes content delivery,  the time of engagement, the location of engagement and collaborative opportunities.  Everything is not happening in class anymore teachers can deliver the information in a podcast, for example, then use the information later in class.

The real goal of the age of data is that there should be a lot of producers as well as a lot of consumers.  Monocultures almost always disappear.  We need to build a culture of diversity.  People with different perspectives need to work together. We mustn’t teach the technology, but the ideas behind the technology.  If you understand the “why” you will survive.  We are in a time of transition between ages:  the web has been around for 20 years but now it is exploding.  A lot of tools are needed to get it out to a lot of people and the job of the teacher has changed again:  now the job of the teacher is to make a structure in which the information the students find can be assembled and assessed.

Photo Credit:  Time and Space by Darren Kuropatwa 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent summation Maggie. I think when teachers are presented with the changes in this manner it is easier to view it as a necessity and an important shift instead of a threat. I can't wait to share your post with administrators and other teachers!