Awaking the Digital Imagination

a networked faculty development seminar

imagine that

Posted by Sondra Smith on October 27, 2010

I was playing catch-up so it was a dash through three weeks of readings. Typical for New Media seminar materials, I ended up with more questions when I finished than I’d had when I started. I found McLuhan painful. And Viola a stretch. But I had confidence in Kay/Goldberg and saved them for last. And there the pay-off for persistence came down to one  particularly thought-provoking sentence.

“One of the goals of the Dynabook’s design is not to be worse than paper in any important way.”  (from Personal Dynamic Media by Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg in The New Media Reader, 1977)

Well, huh. Imagine that. Hippocratic Oath for the computer age? Kay was on to something, way back then.

I attended a keynote presentation by Alan Kay a few years ago. Kay was introduced with great accolades for his visionary leadership in personal computing and then spoke at some length about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. A $100 laptop? For everyone? The gap was narrowing and momentum building dramatically. Although I didn’t really doubt they’d get there I never would have imagined it myself.

Considering Alan Kay’s historical vision I can, however, imagine him shaking his head sadly as he contemplates some of our standard “solutions”. So much of the technology we’ve accepted unquestioningly and often pay for dearly are truly so, um, unimaginative.  The learning management system, for instance. Blackboard. ANGEL. Moodle. Moodlerooms. Whatever. Ugh.

Technology for the masses has become mostly about convenience.* This may be the one thing students and faculty agree upon most readily, especially with the LMS. They use it largely because it makes academic life easier (ie more convenient). Faculty communicate to the class with one click. Reading assignments and other deadlines are readily available. Drop box time/date stamp submissions don’t lie. Students gain more immediate access to their grades. Does that qualify as not worse?

What would an online/blended/hybrid learning experience not worse than the classroom experience in any important way look like? How would we connect … communicate … collaborate … contribute … there?

I know what it doesn’t look like; I can imagine that.

*Viola asserted that advancement in technology (e.g. branching data structures) should have an opposite effect and serve to “enhance our educational systems, freeing students from boring and incompetent teachers so they can proceed at their own pace through information which now contains movement, dynamic action, and sound in addition to written words …” Yet “Even though the technology is interactive, this is still the same old linear logic system in a new bottle.” (Viola, Bill. Will there be Condominiums in Data Space? 1982) More recently, 7 out of 10 students surveyed for the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology 2010 agree that “IT makes doing course activities more convenient”.

One Response to “imagine that”

  1.   Chris Says:

    What would an online/blended/hybrid learning experience not worse than the classroom experience in any important way look like? How would we connect … communicate … collaborate … contribute … there?

    This is a great question. Isn’t it disturbing that we don’t know? I think a big part of the problem is the way expertise tends to break down: technologists often don’t know anything about pedagogy, and pedagogues often don’t know anything about technology. Makes for a Venn diagram that looks like a pair of googly eyes. Comes back to the idea that information technology is not about information, nor is it about technology.