About time

If I was a politician or a head of state I would have made a New Year's speech by now. (How can you tell if a politician is lying? You can see their lips moving). Thankfully I'm not a politician or a head of state, but that won't stop me. Here's my New Year speech:

On the first day of a new year, my thoughts are already turning to a very busy term of teaching which starts next week. We are now in the 10th year of this new century, and soon the 'noughties' will be gone for ever. As I think back over the changes that I and others have made in our teaching practice during the last decade, I marvel at how far we have progressed as teachers, and how much our students have changed.

One significant change for me in these last 10 years has been the shifting of control from teacher centredness to a form of self-organised learning. Not only are they more knowledgeable about technologies. Students are increasingly taking control of their own learning, and this is due to a large degree to new learning technologies and social web tools that have emerged. Yes, I know other factors have driven changes too, but new technologies and the rapid evolution of the Web can claim a large part of the influence.

What of the new technologies and tools? A few years ago a wiki would have been a Star Wars character. A blog was completely unknown - or perhaps a misspelling of a designer label for clothing. Podcasts were also unknown, because there were no iPods to neoligise. Mobile telephones were not so much items you could put in your pocket or handbag, but instead resembled housebricks with aeriels attached. They were extremely limited in functionality and prohibitively expensive. In 1999, e-mail was already a well used method of communication, but in the university, Pegasus reigned as the dominant tool. Virtual Learning Environments were slowly beginning to emerge, but were confined to the very basic FirstClass type systems used by the likes of the Open University - essentially glorified e-mail systems. Videoconferencing was just emerging as a visual medium for teaching, and the common connection was through ISDN2 - two digital telephone lines which were expensive to run and with only one provider to call upon to install it. Interactive whiteboards were all but unheard of, and digital projectors were large and cumbersome, many with three lenses - green, blue and red, that had to be manually converged to get a decent picture. Most people still relied on Kodak and other processing specialists for their photographic needs, because digital cameras were still expensive and not widely available. The only places you could store your pictures were on the hard disk of your computer, or more likely, in a photo album. And who among us can now do without memory sticks? 10 years ago I was still reliant on bulky, small capacity 'floppy disks'.

I could go on but I won't. I think I have made my point that in the last 10 years, technology has progressed very quickly. It is both worrying and exciting to think that many of the tools and technologies above will be improved, surpassed or made redundant in the next few years. It's no wonder then that many teachers are running hard and fast to try to keep pace with the changes, and many fear they are falling behind. Most are desperate just to keep their heads above water, and struggle to integrate these new technologies into the curriculum. And yet the new technologies and services enable sharing and collaboration beyond the wildest dreams of the early constructivist theorists.

The web has opened up so many new possibilities and opportunities it has all but blinded us as to how far we have come in 10 short years. What we now call e-learning is the future of education. More teachers need to grasp the opportunities afforded by mobile technologies, social web tools and digital technologies. Those of us who are at the vanguard of new learning technology use need to become better at being change agents. Change scares people. But time and technology wait for no-one. There is no respite, no temporal layby. Teachers need to see the benefits if they are going to be persuaded to adopt and embed technologies into every day teaching. If we get it right then we seal the future success of learning for a generation. If we get it wrong, we will have to spend a long time putting it right again.


Henk said…
Happy new year from down-under Steve. I like your assessment of our e-learning challenge. Actually I think that the post Web 1.0 world presents a major challenge as well as a window of opportunity in that it presents educators with a very different - dare I use the term 'post-modern' epistemological space. Yes, a good deal of post-modern writing seems designed to position most of us (me included) as uninformed outsiders and is nothing less than a form of intellectual snobbery. However the post-information, post-modernist age has much to offer. To begin with an epistemological base that recognises the socio-cultural construction of knowledge which refuses to privilege any particular knowledge system. This is an important pre-requisite for increasingly globalised learning environments. Anyway my point is that I perceive a disjunction between your optimistic perspective on web 2.0 and your rather overly fast dismissal of post-modernism in your earlier post on 'The Archaeology of Drivel'. A sound post-modernist approach has much to offer and despite straw man [sic] arguments is not necessarily relativist drivel. However I have to agree that some post-modernist writers are the worst enemy of post-modernism.

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