Sunday, December 06, 2009

What I Once Believed - A Summary

Back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, I thought technology use powerful tools for active learning, faculty-student contact, student collaboration (and the rest of Chickering and Gamson's seven principles) to leverage a transformation in how students learned. The dimensions of revolution wouldn't stop at seven, of course. For example, words would be joined by images, numbers, and video as media by which students could acquire information. Students previously excluded by their location, schedule, disabilities or other aspects of situation would find new gateways to learning.

The driver of the revolution would be the power and excitement of the day's emerging technology, a technology that would enable faculty and students to do what they most wanted to do:
  • Self-paced tutorials on mainframe computers promised a world in which each student would be guided toward the fastest possible individual progress through materials, at least a third faster than conventional teaching/learning activities;
  • Microcomputers running word processors, spreadsheets, and BASIC would enable students to learn by designing, analyzing, composing, serving. The work would be creative, a different vision of individualization
  • Videodisc and the graphic user interface would power a shift toward the visual;
  • HyperCard would give everyone the ability to use hypertext to navigate interdisciplinary webs of knowledge and create their own maps of learning;
  • Students siting side by side, collaborating on the same computer, would help one another to new skills and new understanding;
  • Then email expanded cooperations that could reach across barriers of time and space;
  • Boom! Gopher servers and then the Web put the whole planet onto our hard drives: an explosion of access to expertise;
  • If revolutions are marked by explosions, surely a revolution was coming: the decades since 1970s have been marked a series of blasts as promising new technologies rocked higher education, one after another...

Of course, words, textbooks, and lectures would not be eliminated by this blitz; sometimes a good clear explanation with Q&A is just the ticket.

But, I thought, let's prepare to discard the theory that huge lecture halls and wonderful textbooks are the way to deliver learning (i.e. facts plus inspiration) while cost-effectively expanding our mass system of higher education.

In fact, whether students were on campus or off, I believed, faculty and students would soon combine to make the whole notion of 'delivering' education obsolete. “Delivery” was an image that had never matched reality – learning never has been “transmitted” into student minds by talking into their ears.

Each year, I was persuaded that the newest technology would finally be the key to unlocking all of this. The results would be greater achievement, a larger and more varied student body, and, most important of all, students who would, far more than in previous decades, be committed to learning.

This vision of transformation could be achieved, I assumed, by allowing the various specialists the freedom to do their various jobs:
  • Faculty would teach their courses. But big new instructional packages and powerful tools in student hands would result in a wave of exciting changes in the nature of each of those courses.
  • Information technology specialists would explain to faculty and students how to use each new technology. Then the faculty would take over to redesign the courses.
  • Evaluation specialists would measure progress: percentage improvements in performance, more students (and more kinds of students), cost savings...

Want more? Read entries 1-13 of this series. How well does this summary describe what you and your colleagues once thought about the coming computer revolution in higher education? Was this where you were? Did you start at a different place?

1 comment:

  1. I'm actually quite sad about the direction that educational technology is in. In the 80's, I worked on or used several dynamic, interactive CD-based programs. Then the '90s proliferation of websites led to "online learning" and the written word took over again. Pages and pages of text to read with very little interactivity. I weep for lost opportunity.


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