Monday, August 11, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

Something about these old books from the 60s makes me sneeze. They really don't make paper like they used to. Some salient quotes from R. Buckminster Fuller's Education Automation (1962):

"I would say, then, that you are faced with a future in which education is going to be a number one amongst the great world industries, within which will flourish an educational machine technology that will provide tools such as the individually selected and articulated two-way TV and an intercontinentally net-worked, documentaries call-up system, operative over any home two-way TV set."

This sounds like YouTube. I am sure though he was not thinking it also hosting re-runs of "Hogan's Heroes." There are some great pieces of film that are winding up on YouTube that you just can't find anywhere else (like "Why Man Creates").

"We would also find that generally speaking the geographically larger the physical task to be dome, the duller the conceptual brain that is brought to bear upon the integration of the scientific discoveries and their technically reaqlized applications."

The above is an early argument for open source. There is no way that one person, one company or even a handful of governments is going to bring education to those that need it most. The message that fuller has is that we need to give people access to the information and the networks (two-way TV set). Today's education is still a system of one-way delivery. The interaction that is inherent in the network is everything.

"I would counsel you in your deliberation regarding getting campuses ready now to get general comprehensive environmental controls that are suitable to all-purposes like a circus. A circus is a transformable environment."

This is why I like what Howard Rhiengold is doing with his "Co-Lab." It is an extremely flexible collection of tools. It can be added on to a commercial learning management system (the "duller conceptual brain" that Fuller was writing about) or be used as a stand-alone LMS itself. I like being able to chose what tools I use rather than having them chosen for me out of the box.

"You don't need a detailed drawing; we do not make that kind of communication to craftsman anymore; but all of the schools go on teaching that we do. The data no longer goes to the craftsman; it goes to the tools...What we want is the man who gets the fundamental concept, the information significance, and can do some comprehensive thinking regarding that information. He will put the data into the information machines, and it will be processed by automation into physical realization of his effective thinking. We don't need many of the myriad of 'things' we have had in schools."

A side note about Connectivism: So whenever I am faced with a new theory of learning, the first question I ask is "So what?" How does this theory describe what we do? How can this theory tell me about how people learn, and therefore, how I should teach? I want any new theory to be like an information machine; I can give it my data and get out of it a realization of effective thinking. Knowing that some information is more significant than other information is currently one of the top critical skills. I know how constructivism approaches this problem: we apply information to our experiences and the experiences of others and we create new knowlege. The goal of education is to create places in space and time where this can happen. Teaching is to facilitate this interaction. This fits my experience in the classroom and online. My questions about constructivism (and they are questions because they are unanswered - there is nothing rhetorical about this) ask if the creation of a network isn't just the future of constructivism? Is it focusing on the network rather than the people and experiences? The connection rather than the connected?

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