Updated in October 2020. General edits and 2020 context.
I was asked my take on Joel G. Goodman’s October 13, 2010 post My Take On The State of Higher Education Web at A not-so commonplace book. [Note that the post and the site that generated this post no longer exist, but Joel does.]
First of all, I agree with Joel that educational institutions often think they are more progressive than they are. I also think that what is reported, and what we see from experience, is a narrow swath of the world, and not everyone is as social media and tech-savvy as pundits let on. And the latest trends aren’t universal. Last spring I selected Twitter for class assignments. The approach was very specific and very clear to regular users of Twitter. Unfortunately, out of my 20 some students, only a couple knew what Twitter was, let alone used it. So although there may be great, just-in-time, online learning through distributed mentors all over the world experiences going on, only a few people have tasted that future.
I believe in distributed life-long learning
I personally believe that distributed learning is the future, but we are not yet at the tipping point [as of October 2020 as I edit this goes in, we have reached the tipping point]. The people who struggle to access traditional education also struggle to access high bandwidth Internet or mobile Internet connections. The seeming slowness of educational institutions to change comes from the inertia that won’t be slowed by a few random “trends.” So I think Joel’s observation about the focus on tools is right and wrong. If the people attending classes don’t understand the opportunities for technology or how it is being used, they won’t be able to get on board using them. They need these rudimentary classes just as much as Joel needs something that takes him from where he is to what’s next. Chances are, what’s next will not appear at conferences about Higher Ed and the Web. What’s next is at some other orthogonal conference, and what they are showing isn’t being shown for use in education, but students and teachers will eventually co-opt it.
So yes Joel, it isn’t about the media, but until you get your head wrapped around that, you can imagine a more holistic view.
I think this is the key to Joel’s observation that “Convergence has already happened. We are already there. Anyone young enough to be coming up into college has been living as if there is no difference between digital and embodied.” He is right. The people running the conference, however, aren’t freshmen. They are established web staff, some of whom may be removed from education and in the business of running conferences. Unless you immerse yourself constantly at the unfolding edge, you can’t claim to really know what’s going on. I hang out with students so I can learn how they learn, first hand, not from old studies of learning. And I have regular conversations with Ruby developers who keep correcting my Cobol & LISP-age programming brain.
Personally, I learn on the web all the time. Every day. From people and from reading. And they cycle back between themselves, so I talk to the people I read, and read the people I talk to—and they read my musings and talk to me. The learning is very different from how I learn in a class, very focused on the immediate task, very contextual. So I have to supplement my online experience with meeting time and reflection time that is not informed, at those moments, by digital information. Joel is right in saying that learning is the next big thing. I don’t have anything specific I just go to the web for, but I do specifically go to meetings in the real world to meet people in serendipitous ways. It’s good to shake hands and share hugs [well, it used to be before March 2020].
On the other hand, travel and personal time is very expensive, in dollars, in time, and in environmental impact. So we will likely increase the amount of time we spend with people against a digital backdrop (I’m trying to avoid saying virtual).
Higher Education Web: What’s next?
So what’s next, Joel? You tell me. Let’s start sharing ideas and learning from each other. This is the first interaction prompted by @yongclee after I retweeted a link to your blog post. We’ve started. Now I ask you what’s next?
P.S. So, after a bit more investigation at Joel’s prompting, I directed my earlier comments at educators. This conference was for and run by web professionals in education. Most of my comments still hold. I have corrected the context. In answer to the question more directly, I would love to see a consortium of web professionals creates some new ways of integrating the various modes of learning into something more comprehensive than the commercial companies are offering. Social, content, video, etc. wrapped in a continuous learning context for a topic. I’m not talking LMS, but a learning experience. What does it look like? How do the parts fit together? What can easily be swapped out? What looks like it creates the next form of legacy technology? What features do people actually use? Which ones do they ignore? Why? If you’ve already done that, I’d love to see some of the work and share it here.
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