Friday, August 1, 2008

Who's Rip Van Winkle? Higher Ed, K-12, Both, or None of The Above

Here's what got me thinking: One of my chores this summer is to organize our basement, garage, and virtually every other surface, closet, and room in the house (guess who's on summer break?). In my cleaning, I've been coming across some articles, research, notes, and binders from my undergraduate days at Penn State.

I've enjoyed reminiscing about my classes, friends, and the incredible ways my thinking was transformed about learning and teaching using technology circa the early 90's.
One of the gems was this: "Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail" a chapter in a book written by Dr. Jamie Myers my former professor based on his research in 1991. In the chapter, Dr. Myers talks about conversations, intertextuality, and community that 38 of his preservice student teachers had during a semester in his class.

Here's a snippet from the article:
In addition to connecting personal and shared experiences, seeking responses to questions and ideas, and suggesting shared meanings and values for the community, students (g) shared quotes and paraphrased ideas from the professional literature they chose to read, (h) justified ideas through statements of belief, and (i) challenged each other's meanings, and (j) elaborated group meanings. (Myers, 1993).
After re-reading this article, I couldn't help but to think about the time frame in which these student participated. It was 1991! After they left college and went into the classrooms, did they have email, computers, and a culture conducive to technology adoption? And I wonder how many other students who were exposed to technology but were able to use it in their classrooms as practicing teachers?

But I also got thinking how that same excerpt could be written in an article describing social networking, blogging, or wikis now in 2008. I do know for some this may not seem like much of a revelation since educational technology and technology discussions certainly predated this article by numerous years. Have things really changed?

Walking Up Hill Both Ways in the Snow
From pretty much from day one in my Language and Literacy Education classes (English teaching methods) technology was part of it: email, world wide web, MOOs/MUDs, multimedia, list-servs, and discussion boards. Not only did we learn about critical literacy but we used technology as part of our own learning as teachers. We discussed the literary canon over email with preservice teachers at Bowling Green University, discussed textbooks, and teaching literature through email and the TELL feature on the VM system. Those courses were led by Dr. Myers.

Back in the Day
If you were a geek (but far, far from the smartest guy in the program like me) you could take elective Instructional Systems courses taught by Dr. Ali Carr-Chelman which pushed our thinking about the relationship between technology and education. We also had to create an interdisciplinary thematic unit using technology. And if you were a super-geek you could take a Instructional Design Course (in Hypercard) based on constructivism led by Dr. Kyle Peck and Dr. Dave Jonassen. But wait there's more. If you were an uber-geek as an undergrad you could take the hypertext multimedia software developed in Dr. Peck and Dr. Jonassen's class and present with Dr. Jamie Myers at an English teachers' conference in 1995.

When I graduated (with way more credits than I needed and loans to show for it) in 1996 technology, social construction of meaning, designing web pages, multimedia were just another way of talking about writing, literacy, Morrison, Naylor, Dickens, Thoreau, Angelou, or Shakespeare. While the technology was neat and promising, critical literacy and response-response were the frames to have students interpret their values and beliefs making thematic connections between texts and their lives, values, and beliefs. Pretty cool stuff but in some ways sounds eerily like 2008!

So what has changed since those days with my Macintosh Quadra 610 (you've got to love Wikipedia!) affectionately known as Mac Daddy (my roommate's laptop was Daddy Mac and we would network them using AppleTalk)? It's much easier to publish content now. Technology is much more prolific and lots faster. And adoption rates for basic tasks (email, web usage, etc.) have gone through the roof. Learning is changing. We are getting content at faster rates and from much varied sources. Finally, the skills needed for success in our world are changing.

What hasn't changed? The resonating idea of bring together communities of people through technology. Human nature is still at version 1.0 I believe. Many of the great principles of teaching haven't changed.

What is most striking to me? As others have pointed out before, many of the educational issues we talk about are extensions of what's been said before a long time ago. In the context of the sample article I mention, the tools may have changed but the learning hasn't.

I love to see the excitement and traction that technology has been getting in K-12. The flattening of the world is awesome. And I'm loving the conversations about learning, teaching, and education that are on-going right now especially in the edublogosphere (which is a great point to ponder). Keep 'em coming!

But from my tiny vantage point, I'm not so sure higher ed, or at least the higher ed that I was very fortunate to be a part of, was asleep all these years as I'm hearing rumblings of recently. There were conversations and discussions about this stuff long before we in K-12 started having these broad conversations about it. Was it just falling on deaf K-12 ears all those years? Is it a sustainability or endurance issue of a small echo chamber in the academic community? I don't know but interesting food for thought!

Myers, J. (1993). Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail. In C.K. Kinzer & D.J. Leu (Eds.), Forty-second Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (1993). Chicago: National Reading Conference. p 251-262

Photo Credit
Rip Van Winkle photo is from Wikipedia's article about Rip Van Winkle.

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