Going over this week’s reading in the Handbook, I was really struck by the way Pawan & Honeyford seemed to zero in on two (arguably there are more but for the sake of this post…) concepts: today’s learner as a “digital native” and the learner as “co-constructor of knowledge within the academic discourse of a classroom”. On the face of it, any forward-thinking educator would take both these ideas as a given when considering the current direction of educational theory.
However, there seems to me to be something equally obvious: the activity of using a computer to access the Internet – despite all the arguments in favor of the way the Internet connects us all and provides communication in a way unlike ever before – is at its core an isolated and solitary activity.
When considered in these terms, the idea that we can use computers and still be active participants in a community of meaning-making seems flawed.
Although Pawan & Honeyford don’t come right out and say it, I don’t think they are arguing it must be one or the other. Rather, I think they indicate that computers and the Internet are a reality as is the modern take on educational theory, so how is it we can reconcile the two when they are so fundamentally at odds? In many ways, this is already an old question. After all, distance learning has been going on since 1728 according to Wikipedia (who knew?!). Slightly more recent, the University of Phoenix opened its websites to business in 1989, and was the first to offer a bachelor’s and a master’s degree that could be completely done online. However, though I don’t have any direct evidence of this myself, I can imagine that a lot of these online students felt/feel like Casazza’s Anna. Anna was the student who participated in a class using distance-learning methods, but quickly came to feel “like an outsider” because “she needed that connection” of interacting with classmates and teacher.
So, other than pointing out Pawan & Honeyford’s interesting juxtaposition, I’m kinda curious if anyone else out there thinks that the two can be truly and completely merged. Can we be “co-constructors of knowledge” in the pursuit for higher education from behind a monitor? The functions and applications that allow us to more quickly and more profoundly interact with one another, can they truly substitute for face-to-face communication? It’s always a gamble to play the game of setting a truth in stone, especially when, time and again, history has taught us that there’s no predicting the limitations of technology and progress. Although, I’m not keen on the idea, I have to think that one day it will be possible. Or, maybe it’s possible I read too much sci-fi in the downtime between semesters.
I don’t want to draw this out any longer but this is too apropos not to include. Salman Khan has also been considering this question, and his conclusion is that computers should not replace the classroom but rather replace the lectures.
Students study the video lectures for homework, and what used to be homework, is now done in the class. Surely, this is already the design of a reading class: the readings (read: lectures) are done at home and the discussion is done in class. However, when you consider math or science classes, the application of Khan’s techniques could be a game-changer.