By Jim Shimabukuro
According to Kyle Webb, at yesterday’s Lane Community College (Oregon) Board of Education meeting, the dean of academic technology, Brad Hinson, “presented the state of online education and its potential future.”* Webb quotes Hinson: “Faculty [need] to understand ‘the demand is there. It’s modern education. It is what the students demand.'”
Hinson’s observations are enlightened, but they didn’t push me to the keyboard to write a comment. The shove came from concerns by two of the board members. Gary LeClair, according to Webb, “said there seems to be more ‘social isolation due to more computers.’ LeClair said he already notices students glued to cell phones and computers as it is, and that he is concerned that students with college-issued iPads might increase this social isolation, thus impeding their educations.” Webb also quotes Jim Salt, LCC’s Education Association president, who, along with LeClair, “voiced concerns about the potential loss of student-instructor connection.”
These two concerns, about the causal relationship between personal communication devices, on the one hand, and social isolation and deterioration of student-instructor relationships, on the other, are the issue. They’re reminders that, in most disagreements, the root is not in what we actually observe but with our interpretations. We’ve all witnessed the first scenario where students share the same geographical location, e.g., a cafeteria table, but are oblivious to one another because each is engrossed in her/his smartphone or tablet PC.
They appear to be socially isolated if we base our conclusion on the scene before our eyes. But if we base it on what’s “really” happening beyond the reach of our five senses, we realize that they are far from being isolated. To the contrary, they’re connected and connecting to the almost infinite social world made possible by the internet. If they’re not communicating online with others in sync (real time), then they’re doing so in async; and the “others” could be individuals or sources of information constructed by others.
In fact, some of the people they’re communicating with may be sitting across from them on the same table — as well as thousands of miles away in different parts of the world. In other words, time and place are irrelevant when interaction via internet technology is factored into the picture. This is where an understanding of personal learning environments and personal learning networks is critical. Personal communication devices, whether smartphones, tablets, or notebooks, extend our networking into the virtual world, allowing us to interact with people who don’t share our physical space or time.
The concern about personal communication devices disrupting the teacher-student relationship is also a matter of perception. On the one hand, when students in a classroom or lecture hall are paying attention to their iPhones and iPads instead of their teachers, the connection between the two seems to be broken. However, this is true only when we view the teacher as the source of information. When we view her as a facilitator or guide, then we realize that the students may be engaged in constructing knowledge from information that they’re gathering online.
In this interpretation, what appears to be a disconnect or disruption is really the extension of teaching and learning into the virtual dimension. In other words, the teacher has unbundled her role and reconstructed it to include the online dimension where the sources of information are nearly infinite and skill in searching for and processing information is critical. In a world where students, with their personal communication devices, can learn 24-7 from anywhere and anyone, the teacher’s role must either change or become irrelevant. To remain relevant, she must take on the role of facilitator, someone who teaches students how to use the latest technology to optimize learning in her field.
Perception is critical in making decisions about technology in education. In this case, the point is that we can’t always trust our eyes. We have to look beyond what’s in front of us to a new world that we can’t see — a world that our students are comfortable and at home in, a world that provides anytime-anywhere communication with countless networks of people and sources of information. If we’re not careful, we could condemn and dismiss this exciting constructivist extension to learning in the name of a teacher-centric model that no longer reflects the world that is.
* “IT Briefs Board of Ed on Moodle Revamp,” The Torch, 2.9.12.
Filed under: Uncategorized |