Friday, November 30, 2012

You Might Be The Fad

My previous post listed some questions a former student is asking and asked for your input (you can still leave a comment there and the student will see it - please do). After I replied to the student directly, I thought it might be worthwhile to share my response here.

Q1: First, I'm somewhat hopeful that your professor is playing devil's advocate when he says it's just a "fad." While there are certainly many folks who are skeptical of the benefits of technology, I can't imagine anyone involved in education who thinks it doesn't have at least some impact and is here to stay. But, for the moment, let's take that statement at face value.

Given that this is a professor of writing, I think there are at least three major things I would look at. First, and most obvious, is the creating/editing/revising process. I think most people of a certain age have experienced how different it is to create, edit and revise using current technology (computers) versus older technology (paper and pencil). Because it is so much easier to do those things with computers, we are much more likely to do them. While this is the most obvious impact on writing, I also think it's probably the least important.

I think when you were in Smith's class you probably had the opportunity to create a Wikified Research Paper. I think that points to the second major change in writing - it's not just about text anymore (at least not how we traditionally think of text - just words). As you saw in your Wikified Research Paper, you could compose (not just "write") a much more compelling story/argument by including not only text, but audio, video and images as well. You also were able to get constant feedback from your peers as you worked through your rough drafts online and they (and your teacher) could give you comments and suggestions. And, of course, your "footnotes/citations" were typically hyperlinks to the source material. I know very few people who would actually track down a footnote/citation on a traditional written paper (unless they were in graduate school and were forced to), but just about everybody I know will click on a hyperlink if they want to learn more. For example, I'd suggest you (and your professor) check out this post (and accompanying videos) about some of the changes they've made to the English program at Rutgers University to learn more about how writing (composing) is changing due to technology.

The third major area I would ask your professor to consider is audience. I assume that as a professor of writing he has stressed the importance of considering your audience as you write. This is perhaps one of the most dramatic changes in writing due to technology. This paper you are writing might only be read by your professor - fifteen years ago it almost certainly would've been read by only your professor. But now you at least have the opportunity that was afforded only the privileged few in the past - the opportunity to write for a wider audience. Every one of us now has the ability to "publish" our work, to share our thoughts and ideas with a wider audience (not to mention to get feedback from that audience, which is yet another change due to technology).

While it's true that your paper may not reach a wider audience, or that the wider audience might be only slightly wider, that doesn't change the possibilities. Here's where the obligatory reference to Did You Know?/Shift Happens comes in. That "composition" that I created for 150 or so staff members at AHS has now been viewed (in all its various versions) more than 50 million times around the world (and that's probably a conservative estimate). And not just by schools and educators, but by companies large and small, and even the leaders of our national defense and incoming members of congress. While many folks question whether that is a good thing, I think there's no question that that is different. And significant. And primarily due to the impact technology has had on composition.

Q2: I think this question is really two separate questions. I see the first part, about India and China, being separate from the second part, about what education could look like if we transform it through the use of technology. I guess I'm not as big into comparisons and competition as other folks are. I think India and China are having - and will continue to have - a huge impact on our world. As they should, as they represent around a third of the world's population. If you want to think in terms of "threat" (which I don't), I think China is the bigger concern right now because they appear to be more actively pursuing educational reforms that will pay off. (India does have a theoretical advantage over China due to their more democratic form of government, but right now the corruption and class struggles pretty much negate that.) Interestingly, the reforms China is pursuing is trying to become more like America - they want their students to be more creative and thoughtful, even as we in America try to "compete" with Asian countries on the basis of test scores.

But it's the second part of your question that I find more interesting because it's a "What if?" kind of question. I think the answer is way beyond the scope of this reply, but I think there are some essential affordances that technology provides that have the potential to dramatically impact education, if only we will let them. I think the ability of technology to connect us not only with information (the sum total of human knowledge at your fingertips) but with each other is critical. We no longer are restricted to the resources that we are physically adjacent to (schools, teachers, classmates, books), but can connect with ideas and people anytime, anywhere. Ultimately, I think that might have the greatest impact on education and moving as away from some aspects of what we "traditionally" have viewed as schooling. I think it's going to eventually allow us to personalize our learning to a much greater extent, and to be able to pursue our passions in a way that simply wasn't possible for most folks until recently. I don't know exactly how that looks, I don't think anyone does, but I think it will look very different. And I think it will also be better.

Q3: For resources it really depends on how far you want to dive into this. There are certainly lots of books that I would recommend (in additional to the ones mentioned in the comments on my previous post), including Why School? and Personal Learning Networks, The Connected Educator, and Tony Wagner and Yong Zhao's work. (And there are many, many, many more I could point you toward.) While those books are certainly worthwhile, I also think you should start connecting with some of the educators who are thinking hard about these ideas. Start by reading blogs (Will's blog was the first one I started with, and then built my network from there - I can give you a longer list if you wish) and following folks on Twitter, and then start building your own Personal Learning Network from the ones you find most useful to you. Put the power of the network to work for you, to help you learn more about what you want to learn about.

I'm not sure how well I've addressed your questions, as this is a huge topic and I've pretty much spent the last ten years of my life trying to get my head around it, so it's awfully hard to summarize in an email. But hopefully you find this somewhat helpful. Feel free to send follow-up questions, or we can Skype or you can drop by if you're home some weekend. I guess to sum up I'd go back to what I hope was your professor's devil's advocate comment about technology being a fad. If he was actually being serious, I guess I would suggest to him that if I had to put money on it, it's much more likely that his position is the fad, not technology.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your insight.. great summary.Your listed resources are also helpful. I'm sure this student realises that being a networked student empowers us to take control of our own learning and share that knowledge with others