While London and no doubt much of Europe experienced a day in the life of the post-terrorist, 9/11 world today, I was immersed in a day of training and instruction at the ICI (Independent Colleges of Indiana) Instructional Technologies Summit held at Indiana Wesleyan University. Although I still grapple with America and its dichotomy of globalising the world and yet still remaining so insular and unaffected by world events and global changes, particularly in the world of implementing mobile technology into learning and instructional practice, I was quite impressed that for the entirety of my journey from Fort Wayne to Indiana Wesleyan in Marion, a journey that took about an hour, NPR succinctly and almost non-stop covered the events and effects of what had taken place in London this morning. For once I didn't feel so out of touch and cut off. Of course now that it's the end of the day and I'm home again, I shall merely download the necessary podcasts from Radio 4 and listen to the BBC news from lovely English reporters who say 'nuclear' and 'Iraq' correctly and use phrases like "travellers seemed not to mind the additional queues...". Ah, the BBC, such a British institution.
Yes, so I spent my day listening to ways to improve the integration of technology into distance and mobile learning; how to develop effective instructional design methodologies and competency based technology training. However, if I am truly honest, other than the keynote speaker who was absolutely fantastic and it was worth going for him alone, I must say I did not learn that much more. Apparently I know a lot more about Instructional Design and technology integration in education than I thought.
The keynote speaker, as I said, though was brilliant. He was a chap called Bryan Alexander, a professor at Middlebury College, a liberal arts university in the wilderness of Vermont and Director of Emerging Technologies at NITLE http://www.nitle.org/index.php/nitle/nitle. He has the appearance of Hagrid and a phenomenal mind. He spoke on Web 2.0 and the use of technology in academia and the pedagogy behind it. I would have been quite content to listen to him lecture all day and not bother with the rest of the stuff. He made some really interesting and totally thought-provoking points. I've noticed in working with education and in particular distance learning and technology where the technology becomes the focus that often the instructor/facilitator/educator/whatever you want to call them continues with the same methodology or pedagogy despite the fact they now have tools that require them to also "bring up to date" their teaching. That's not to say that good content should be changed, good content is good content and just because a professor now has a PC Tablet and Wikipedia and podcasts available, if their content and teaching is lacking technology isn't the asnwer. Dr. Alexander's pointed out that in information ecologies, the spotlight is not on the technology but on the individuals that use it. And the more I think about this, the more I realise how absolutely right he is. In academia we are currently facing a phenomena as yet unprecented, particularly at undergrad and grad level, (and I'm sure in schools as well) where the student has technological expectations of a professor that aren't being met. The informational overload can be overwhelming but with it is a wealth of opportunity to reach out and instruct and teach students as never before. Some of the key areas that Dr. Alexander spoke of regarding Web 2.0 are the following
- social functionality
- open content/services
- network constructivism
For me it is perhaps the social functionality that has the biggest impact. In July of this year Technorati provided researched figures approximating the existance of 50 million weblogs. 50 million. The ability of open-faced publishing is astounding. Blogs are enabling global distributed conversation on a scale that has never before been achieved. Productitvity is inexplicable on collaborative writing platforms such as Wikipedia. And what's really interesting is that these sites and platforms are not coming out of the academic world. They are a result of public and social functionality under the umbrella of the web. Podcasting is another technology that no-one could have, or really was, prepared for. What an opportunity for instructors! And the international global consequences. Diverse learning on a global scale. Particularly when you tie it in to the fact that outside of the USA the number of young people using their mobile phone technologies to not only pick up calls, text, photo, video, listen to audio including podcasts but also surf the web, vlog, game is growing at a rapid rate it opens wide the possibility of using a mobile phone to listen to real-time lectures and interact with classmates in an online learning environment. On an ironic note the USA is many years behind the rest of the world when it comes to mobile phone technologies and platform capabilities. Dr.Alexander's discussion really struck a chord with me and was a good source of inspiration as I begin the new term and try and determine what I really want to do within the realm of my job and how I can best translate my knowledge of learning technology, in particular distance and on-line learning, to the professors in a way that introduces them to the incredible profusion of technology that's available to them and their students, without alienating the essential nature of the pedagogy. A exciting challenge to be sure.
I'm off to listen to War of the Worlds. Don't say a thing...
"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence" - Robert Frost