Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Steam Aged Education #PLENK2010

The #PLENK2010 session today was about learning theories and employed a few allusions to the age of steam power. I like the analogies to the history of technology. Like the examples from the development of the printing press, examples of societal responses to steam technology can be instructive respecting the response to information and communication technology. Many institutional education activities are throwbacks or hold outs from an earlier era. Remnants of the industrial era that preceded this information era. Still people try to squeeze current experiences with learning into an older industrial model.

A while ago I read an article “Is IT Becoming Extinct” by Miguel Guhlin

The topic of In-house IT systems and the development of utility computing has been interesting. I like to chime in from my personal experience and reading of various sources, one being a book by Eric Larsen, in “Devil in the White City”. He describes a time when electrical service was new. There was a big debate about AC or DC electricity.

Many of the institutions in the early days of electricity had their own power generating plants. They employed many people who saw the switch to utility electricity as a great threat and passed around a lot of scare stories about how horrible it was and all the hazards.

Of course, the switch happened and not many institutions employ big groups of technical specialists to generate a private source of electricity. The naysayers lost all credibility and the whole specialization evolved.

Same thing with IT, utility computing is here. In spite of all the horror stories and manipulations of the tech elite, there is less and less reason to have a big group of specialists to operate expensive and clunky private networks.

As a teacher using a computer mediated approach over the last 10 years, I found myself “working around” IT a lot of the time. Many of the tech folks didn’t believe that computers should be used for the purpose of education even though they worked for educational institutions.

Nor did they think that teachers were capable of using technology and they reinforced that opinion by constantly undermining any effort teachers made to develop the necessary skills.

The cultural clashes between corporate IT and administration didn’t help either. Lots of energy was spent on those epic battles and teachers and students were a very minor consideration for all the espoused values of “Students are #1″ in every educational institutions mission and vision statement. The struggle for control and authority have resulted in most of the failures of education related technology innovation.

In-house, corporate IT is like the steam powered DC generating plants of 100 ago. Pretty much done. It is going to take a little while for the change but probably not as long as it took to switch to AC electricity. One of the benefits is that education is being transformed. Technology will accommodate education rather than the other way around.

I know lots of teachers who just gave up on computers and the web and felt that they would never be able to develop the necessary skills. It was just so draining always having to get IT to open a port or set up file system or authorize access to a resource. So they stuck to Outlook, MS Word, Internet Explorer, the “approved tools”.

Happy to say that web based tools and cloud computing has made it incredibly easy for teachers to support learning in the digital era. All the alarmist rhetoric about identity theft, cyber-bullying, online predators etc. is being recognized as the last gasps of a system in transition, a struggle for control and authority.

Lots of the discussion about theories of learning support of the older institutional models and theories or education and they serve to entrench the hegemony of the system. For example the theory of Minimally Invasive Education doesn't get a lot of play in education circles because it disrupts some pretty deeply entrenched notions of the necessity of teachers, curriculum, and education system structure generally.

It is important to be able to sort out the the theories that are truly useful for learning and separate them from the theories that are more useful for supporting the status quo of Steam age Education.


Cris said...

So is a MOOC a good example of "minimally invasive education," Glen? I know we joked (I thought ;-) in our SL meeting that we'd see a lot more MOOCs when university administrators learned about them. $300 per 1300 participants probably beats the typical revenue.

Seriously, I really appreciate your point about the all-too-common IT tyranny and its effect on educational innovation. IT guys are usually either excited to help educators try out new cool technologies (these are the ones I take to lunch on Techie Day -- or they guard the access with firewalls and admin-only privileges to maintain status-quo and protect us from ourselves.

I'm still fuming because a tech admin at our state ed office refused to open ports for Second Life. "Debauchery" he called it. Then the CIO ruled and we could appear in SL but never got voice-over-IP working. Wonder why?

Web 2.0 is creating a minor revolution in K-12 education and I think that educators are scoring some big victories in earning the freedom to develop their own PLEs so they can model for and scaffold for students. This could be a window of opportunity for moving beyond "steam-aged" to new"codes of light" theories.

Unknown said...

Glen, the growing annoyance of teachers in New Zealand about the power of the in-house techie who limits and often goes slow on freeing up access to the internet repeats your concerns.

I hope the next year will see some of the "firewalls" of territorial control eroded away.