Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kindle the Flame

Miguel Guhlin tagged me for the This I Believe - Kindle the Flame meme, so I'm going to take a shot at it. The root questions under consideration are "What do you really believe about education technology? Why are you interested? Why do you do educational technology?

I guess the obvious place to begin is that I believe in educational technology because, well, it is, indeed, educational. Education begins with access to information. I admit to being blown away by how easy it is to access information of any kind these days, and how powerful the communication tools are. I've been around long enough to remember when what we have now was not even conceivable, much less available. I remember spending hours as a student in high school and college in the sixties searching through card catalogs and library stacks and badly-designed indexes to try to find information or references that in many cases, a majority of cases, were simply not going to be there. I remember spending whole days of frustration thumbing through books at home trying to find some quotation that I vaguely remembered, or misremembered, might possibly be on the top right hand side of a page midway through a book with a blue cover. I remember the early days of the internet when I might have to sort through the first ten pages of results from fivedifferent search engines to discover that there was in fact no information available online about the topic I was trying to research. All that is over, done with, finito. I've got an embarrassment of riches instantly available at my fingertips 24 hours a day anywhere in the world. I've got sophisticated bookmarking systems to sort and categorize them. I've got access to databases and tutorials and blogs and wikis and servers and pretty much every publication under the sun. I've got the ability to connect what I do know to what I don't know in more ways than I can shake a stick at. And so do my students.

If it's true that education begins with access to information, I would argue that it proceeds, in large part, from there, with the processing of information: how it is thought about, how it is discussed, how it is re-presented and disseminated. And once again, technology greatly enhances the possibilities. Take this post. Early this week I received in my aggregator, Google Reader, a post from Artichoke in which he was articulating some of his concerns about the impact of technology on education. That got me thinking and I posted a response in my blog, which was read by Miguel Guhlin, who responded by commenting on my blog and tagging me for a meme started by Jim Holt, which brought me to where I am now, typing these words. Check it out: I live in Hawaii. Artichoke is in New Zealand. Tim and Miguel are in Texas. As recently as ten years ago, none of this processing and sharing of ideas would have been possible. Now it's routine.

Then there's dissemination. Ten years ago the primary audience for what my students wrote was me. If one of them had wanted to reach and/or get feedback from a wider audience, s/he would have had limited options: submit it to the school newspaper or literary magazine, read it at an assembly, nail it to a classroom door. Now a lot of what my students write is available via Moodle and our class wiki to one another, and, if I should choose to click on a single button, to the whole world. And even if I as the teacher choose not to click on that button, my students individually can choose to have as ready and as broad an audience as they might conceivably wish, immediately and for free. And due to the sophistication and ease of use of free tech tools, more of which become available every day, even students with marginal presentational skills (bad handwriting, shaky spelling skills, not much sense of design) can produce professional-looking documents and presentations.

All of which I find tremendously exciting and energizing and hope-inducing. I'm excited about educational technology because for the first time in the history of the world what my students are thinking about or wondering about or writing about can be shared with other students on the other side of the nation or the other side of the world. I'm excited because now best ideas and best practices and best products can be archived from year to year and shared with whoever might be interested (other students, other teachers, other schools) in seeing what quality work looks like. I'm excited because despite the distraction factor, despite the perils of multitasking, despite the fact that all of these options threaten to siphon away class time from more traditional enterprises, at this point in the history of education it really feels like anything my students can conceive of doing is possible. That's the opportunity, and the challenge.

1 comment:

Tim Holt said...

THanks so much for keeping the conversation going. If you don't mind, I have linked this from the original meme site.