Tuesday, January 29, 2008

In Theory, yes...(A response to Paul Levinson's Essay)

As far back as I can recall "technology in the classroom" has been a buzzword (buzz phrase?) that has been going around talking about the future of education. As a little kid I would hear how television screens in the classrooms could bring countless classes to different teachers, or unite numerous classrooms under the tutelage of one instructor, since those times the same type of talk has been applied to the computers, the Internet, and so on.
Professor Levinson's essay, which touches on the online classroom and the conditions of time, place, and physical restriction which it can eliminate for the betterment of education and earnest academic participation seems to be the next spokesperson in line for the fore-mentioned type of talk. I don't deny the advances technology(namely the Internet) has done for the educational institution. Hell, without Blackboard, Oasis, or Fordham.edu I wouldn't know how to pick classes, know when they were, or what day the school year started or ended on (school calendars are clutch). E-mail and the Internet have vastly increased the scope of material, interaction, and points of view we have as far as information and access to one another, its potential is not what I question, its the application part I'm looking at.
When I read this chapter and the parts it discusses about the beauty of online classrooms bringing people from all over the world together at all hours of the day joining in intellectual dialogue, I do admire it. I am by no means discounting the majesty of a deaf or blind person finally being able to participate to their intellectual potential because of the neutrality and assistance given by technology. Its just that I can't help but think the chapter is giving me prototypes and trials and calling it full-blown proof. Technology has tremendously increased the scope and efficiency of the business of education, but as for "online classrooms", the most I see (aside from those Phoenix University ads everywhere) is a blackboard posting here and there by my professors. Just like with "TV in the classroom" this has been hyped up and perpetuated by its potential. Looking back, about the most my classroom's ever been "online" is when I spent a whole class watching 'To Catch a Predator' episodes on YouTube, or the standard PowerPoint lecture class. From the onset of the Internet and its possibilities craze in the mid 90's, all I remember doing when I first learned what "Electronic mail" was, was sending dumb and pointless messages to the people right next to me.
And hey, this isn't because its not a good idea. Their are just too many factors that I guess, would never let the idea of an online classroom meet its full potential. The Chapter does point out our innate tendency to feel that the traditionally, physical way of learning in the class from a teacher whom you can see and hear is what most of us hold on to as the optimal way of learning. This will always make integrating something so against that notion difficult, so that we will almost always want to self-sabotage it. Because while there are lectures and teachers out their who sound as monotonous as a simple text recording, there are those who couldn't believe anything more effective than the real deal, the catch is that, most of us believe that. Also, looking back on how crappy/highly aggravating Oasis or Fordham Internet can be, I wouldn't want to risk the same functional dependency on my direct learning experience. For now, I'll tip my cap to the new doors and access ramps these online classrooms open and facilitate, but it's still right up there with the video phone for me.


Lance Strate said...

Your point is well taken, and I have a lot of sympathy for your position. Margaret Cassidy, a graduate of our MA program who went on to get her PhD with Neil Postman and is now chair at Adelphi University, wrote a book called Bookends in which she reviewed the history of discourse surrounding new technologies in the classroom, such as radio, the motion picture, television, computers, and the internet, and how each time there were these predications that the new medium would revolutionize education, while the reality fell far short of what was promised.

Mike Plugh said...

"Hell, without Blackboard, Oasis, or Fordham.edu I wouldn't know how to pick classes, know when they were, or what day the school year started or ended on (school calendars are clutch)."

That's an interesting perspective. I'm one of Dr. Strate's grad students and quite a bit older than most in the undergrad program. The internet and online communication were in their infancy when I began university as an 18 year old. I was among the first to have a university e-mail address at that time. I enjoy using Oasis and Blackboard, but there is a drawback to the convenience of these systems as well.

I learned to build my schedule, confer with professors, and deal with the financial services via a lot of paperwork and interpersonal communication of the face-to-face variety. With the advantages of our technology, both online and in the classroom, we see skills and knowledge atrophy. I don't have to deal with a single living, breathing human being to chose my courses, pay my bills, or order transcripts. I have absolutely no personal connection with most of this university as a result.

Think about the tradeoffs that technology forces us to accept and ask yourself if your education might be better if it were more strenuous or rigorous. Working harder at something sometimes bears sweeter fruits.