E-Learning 2.0 – Why bother? – or “A rant on how techknowledge changes everything and always has”

I kinda think that what I want to say should particularly not be said in this format. It really should be a well researched essay. Now, while I understand that this would lead most people into stopping what they were doing, and were I someone else I would agree with myself, given similar situations, there is also that slight chance that I’ll say something that is really worth reading. Imagine me as the longwinded drunk in the bar who stands up for a moment, sways slightly and says “I’ve got something I wanna say,” in a slow, over pronouced kinda way and then proceeds to tell everyone exactly what’s on his mind. Most of that stuff isn’t really worth listening to, and i hope that you have a coffee to sustain you until you can judge it’s merit (or relative interest).

These are the things i wanna cover (blog style). What does it mean to know, right now? What does it mean to be literate? What are these modern literacies? What, if anything, do these questions have to do with e-learning 2.0?

This article that started many things for me. It opened my mind to the question of “what it means to know”. I had studied philosophy, but most of it was old and/or anglo-american, this was my first trip into the postmodern. The article traces the history of some of the tools that are associated with knowledge use: writing, the printing press and now the computer. Think about the transition from Socrates to Plato. Socrates is supposed to have complained that writing would ruin discourse as well as ruining people’s ability to remember. For him, memory was everything. There was no other way to record things, and therefore it was the primary ‘literacy’ that people needed. Follow that thought through the written word, past the mass production of the printing press (see reading/memory) and on to our era of hyperinformation. Too much of everything. What are the modern literacies?

I was talking to a teacher friend of mine Christina Forgeron tonight about teaching, elearning 2.0 and why it matters. I was saying that knowing is changing, and that soon what’s taught in school will have very little relation to the world at all. Not a new topic, I know. David Warlick and Sara Armstrong wrote a very interesting article on how traditional literacy was perceived and how it needs to be updated. There position is that now there are new literacies that students need to learn, that the world is changing at a wicked pace and “how the traditional 3 Rs, naturally and out of necessity, evolve into 4 Es to define literacy in an increasingly, and soon to be exclusively, digital and networked world.” The word ‘literacy’, as it is inherited from the old education system, seems too conflicted to remain in its singular… how does one, for instance, relate the root of the word literate with numbers? Are we reading numbers? We are moving to 4, why not five or six, and why keep using the singular? I fully agree that the idea of digital storytelling, scanning, processing should be included in our conception of literacies… but i’d like to talk about how we got here, and the foundational issues that this transition away from old-literacy ‘bring up’.

So again, here are the questions I want to talk about. What does it mean to know, right now? What does it mean to be ‘literate’? What are these modern ‘literacies’? What, if anything, do these questions have to do with e-learning 2.0?

In the old model of the classroom, we have experts at the front of the classroom, who taught students the things they needed to learn to work in a factory: be on time, accomplish your task, listen to authority, to read, to write and to count(notice our 3 Rs). This model worked well with the original intention of these schools, to teach the poor the necessary skills to be able to work in the factories of industrial revolution England. We had the cane, instructions to ’speak when spoken to’, and a strict set of rote things to learn. Ideal training ground. Over the intervening years (dave treads quickly, trying not to exhaust his audience, I have this research around if anyone’s interested) we moved away from that initial conspiratorial beginning, but have never really replaced its goals with new goals. This leaves us, I argue, with a new school system without any clear goal. By this i certainly don’t mean that teachers or administrators don’t have goals, I mean the system itself… the testing, the learning the memorizing the succession of ‘grades’ to pass through don’t have any purpose. Why do we send students to school? What is the purpose of it?

If we call the reading and the writing and the rithmatic ‘literacy’, we have the same conception of literacy that we see in these initial ‘poor’ schools, the schools that were designed to keep the poor, poor. But what does it mean to be literate. To read. But what does it take to read a society? If I give you a book by Chomsky (or the article by b. stewart above for that matter) and you don’t have access to the technical or social language, can you ‘read’ it? When someone who hates Goerge Bush writes something to someone who loves him, can they really read it (or vis versa)? When you look at a tag cloud for the first time, or you ‘google’ someone, are these simply skills that you are using. My position here is no. Literacy has never only been about the 3 Rs. It’s always been about a set of cultural understandings, social and personal skills combined with some very basic sign reading. Or, to put it another way, very complex sign reading of simple signs.

This is backed up by the experience of most teachers. The single most important skill a student needs when they start school is to be able to sit in a chair. After that, maybe focus on a task. Ability to work on groups, play fair, take criticism. Where, in this group, is ‘read letters’? Any teacher worth anything can teach a student that the letter ‘a’ sounds like it does when spoken, but it’s them knowing how apple sounds that really brings you over the top. It’s the cultural knowledge that allows people to learn. Ask a child to do a science fair project… is it their handwriting or addition that matters… or is it their experience project managing? These are real literacies. These literacies have not changed in the over-information age. There are a few new ones, but for the most part, those that are going to be successful will succeed on the same set of skills that they did 50 years ago.

Warlick/Armstrong also say “Some months back, Michael Cox, a chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank, predicted to a group of students that they would have at least five jobs after they graduate, four of which haven’t been invented yet.” I agree. And the pace of change is increasing. What used to take 3 generations, now takes 1 or even half a generation. But my job didn’t exist when I was born. Nor was anything I was taught in school designed to prepare me to meet it. School has NEVER filled that role. It has filled the role of controlling the populace. Teachers who have been successful with their students, have, on their own, added a purpose to their teaching.

As I see it, we have reached a crisis point in modern education. We are reaching a point where the students in our classrooms have more literacies than their teachers do. We are also reaching a point where the disciplinary ideas of that original ‘military model’ classroom have completely broken down. Students now understand their rights as citizens and are no longer staying in their place when they are told. They now speak before they are spoken to, and often. They are sceptical, and cynical… and too often violent. For many of us we see the way out to give them a voice, give them a purpose at school. I certainly see publishing (blogs, vlogs, podcasts etc…) as offering this. What I’m saying here is that the reason it works is that at this moment in time, there is no ‘reason’ for school.

We used to transfer knowledge onto the next generation. Lets take a look at this knowledge, and think about how it would look to somone pulgged into the world. In the united states, the second world war started in 1941. In Canada, 1939. One could argue that for the Italians it started in 1935, and Eric Hobsbawm argues that the first world war never really ended, and that what we had was a 31 years war. Who is right? No one really. It’s all a matter of perspective. I will accept that the sentence “WWII started in 1834″ is incorrect, but there is no way to navigate through the other ideas without context.

This is what the internet offers us, infinite context. We have to navigate through it all to judge what is right for us, and for the people we live with, love and care about. In my mind, every time someone learns something new, thinks a new thought, changes their mind on a long accepted position, listens to a speech and decides whether it is valuable, or true for them, they are using a variety of literacies. The literacies that I learned as a child, I’m using to navigate this big beautiful beast. We all are. They are cultural literacies. They are our self confidence. Our audacity. Our ability to work together, to learn from others. Why would we imagine that the next generation needs anything different. What we need to do is decide what we want our schools to be. No one wants the military model. But do we want a system without a clear goal, or do we want to try and figure out what ‘good global citizen’ means to us, and figure out how to teach it. This is the opportunity given to us by elearning 2.0…

The skills, or literacies, haven’t changed. What has changed is what it means to ‘know’. We will still learn this knowledge using our ability to work together (now more important than ever) and our memory will definitely be used diffently, but knowing is about connection. It’s about communities of knowing…

gotta stop, I’m getting carried away.

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6 Responses to “E-Learning 2.0 – Why bother? – or “A rant on how techknowledge changes everything and always has””

  1. Brent MacKinnon Says:
    I liked your article Dave. It rings very true to me and points a way to move out of a going in circles process where connecting and meaning get lost or forgotten about.
  2. cj Says:
    A couple of thoughts. When mulling questions around knowledge it is always useful to go back to knowledge being something that is social, i.e. it takes people. That leads into such juciy questions such as ‘what counts as knowledge?’ and perhaps ‘what is worth knowing?’, and your question, ‘what does it mean to know?. I am drawn to ideas that think about these things not just socially but sociotechnically (lots of names here: Latour and co. Jan Nespor’s Knowledge in Motion etc.) Nespor’s argument goes basically like this: what you know is more about the stuff you have at your disposal as well as what is supposedly somewhere inside your head. Thus, what you know in a bar is not the same as what you know in your office, with various resources. The other interesting point is that a few folk argue that knowledge that exists in bit-space ain’t the same beast as knowledge that exists in atom space – a mate of mine coined the term digital epistemologies (plural) to try and represent that notion. This, I think, further complicates your question. As for schools, well….
  3. Bryan Menell Says:
    I enjoyed reading this. Many homeschoolers would agree with you. How much longer are textbooks really necessary? Does the public “fool” system have any relevance for me from age 18 – 95?

    It’s not just about E-Learning 2.0. Lets get rid of the “E” and just call this new emerging model Learning 2.0.

  4. dave Says:
    I love it when people do their research… :) look at the next post Bryan!
  5. Trisha Says:
    Interesting reading! I think for one to be literate today, they have to be able to navigate the Internet with intelligence, know how to research and solve complex problems, be culturally aware and be able to multi-task.
  6. Art Gelwicks Says:
    Not to sound cynical, but based on that definition there are lots of illiterate people in the world. I agree with two of the four…research and solve complex problems and be culturally aware. I’m not convinced yet that internet navigation and multitasking are core literacies…yet.

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