November 29, 2004
The portable and networked educational revolution

The always useful Adriana (of this fame) emails with the link to this, the technical nuances of which I can't say I understand very precisely, which in its turn links to another posting, about a University … saying no to blogging as an educational technique. Right? (Or maybe just pissed off with an insubordinate subordinate. It all rather reminds me of this.)

This bit, however, I do understand:

… Ubiquitous networking and portable devices provide a backchannel environment that changes discussion in the classroom in a profound way. …

Any teacher who sells himself as the fountain of knowledge (rather than as a person who introduces his pupils to the fountain and gets them interested in it and drinking of it, without pretending to control it or to know all of it) is asking for trouble nowadays, and has been for many years, surely. I mean, surely this is problem that has been with teachers for as long as their pupils were able to obtain their own choice of books.

Nevertheless, the latest wave of electronics, which now makes information nearly ubiquitous, like oxygen, has altered the balance of power. To make sense of books, it helps a lot to have teachers who explain them. This electronic stuff now explains itself.

The last big lurch of this kind that happened that I can remember was when TV took off its black bow tie and went into colour, and when rock and roll got into its stride. But at least the clever ones remained dependent upon their god almighty teachers. But now here's this damned Internet, which is TV and rock and roll for the scholarly types, for the university students. Tellly and rock and roll destroyed the authority of the average school teacher type. Now, the Internet is destroying the authority of the average university professor type, whose interpretations and simplifications are now just a few among thousands that the clever student can access.

Portable devices have a particularly revolutionary effect on education, because pupils, who tend not to have fixed work places, so this turns the world into being totally computerised, having only a moment ago been not computersied at all. So portable computer power turns computers into a permanent threat to the "authority" of any teacher silly enough to regard them as an enemy, rather than as one of the objects of the whole exercise.


And blogs will also have particularly revolutionary effect on education, because they are the friendly front end of the Internet. Like a good teacher, they help you to find your way through the infinity of the information that is now out there. They are a threat to editorial writers of the traditional sort. And they threaten teachers who want to go on deciding what everything means on behalf of their pupils, instead of helping them decide for themselves.

Gratuitous pictures, of happy student above, which I found here, and of kid with laptop computer, being helped by a nice teacher, which I found here.


And, by connecting the kids to each other, never mind to the big wide world, networked computers are the ultimate note handed around at the back of the class, and as such another gigantic kick in the gonads for the orthodox teacher from whose sacred mouth and white-board all wisdom is still supposed to flow.

In sensing some of this, if it did, this university was definitely on to something.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:17 AM
Category: Computers in education