Monday, April 7, 2008

NITLE Summit

Mike Wesch of "The Machine is Us/using Us" fame, gave a great talk at the NITLE Summit on the ways he believes digital technology changes learning. A major point was that the "sage on the stage" lecture model just doesn't make sense anymore. Knowledge is no longer scarce--the professor no longer has the kind of authority that they used to.

Not sure how much I buy the part about lack of authority. There were always ways to challenge a professor's authority in the past. To do so is still hard. To challenge a professor's knowledge and authority, you need much more than just information--you need knowledge and understanding of that information, and digital technology doesn't endow students with that. And the professor still sets the agenda for a course and hands out the grade. But the point about the lecture as a somewhat outmoded vehicle for instruction in higher ed is well taken.

On a more practical level, one thing that was striking about this guy was that he cobbles together his own learning management system out of freely available, open Web 2.0 tools: Zoho databases, WetPaint wikis, YouTube, Netvibes, etc. Bryan Alexander, in his intro to Wesch, referred to him as a "faculty member from the future." One might say that he represents the beginning of a third stage in the evolution of teaching technology:

  • from individually managed, desktop teaching tools like Word, Powerpoint that confine information to the teacher's personal information space and rely on the lecture to get that information across
  • to institutionally managed, server based tools like Moodle, WebCT, BlackBoard that can serve to share and discuss information within a particular course or institution
  • to systems that are managed at the network level and in some cases (like Wikipedia) serve to share knowledge globally

When someone in the room, which was full of educational technologists, among others, asked, "what can we do to help faculty like you", Mike's memorable quote was: "Get out of my way!"

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