August 8, 2007

Essay Highlight: Age of Wonders... Just Different

Corrie Bergeron, M.Ed., an Instructional Designer at Lakeland Community College in Ohio recently wrote an essay entitled Age of Wonders and shared it on one of the OLN (Ohio Learning Network) listserves. Below are some highlights, but the entire essay is a good, but short read for anyone concerned with being inundated by constant technological change in their life or classroom.
In the film "Master and Commander," 19th-century British sea captain Jack Aubry is handed a wooden model of a new warship. He examines it carefully, noting its many innovative features. Finally he sets it down, saying, "What an age of wonders we live in."

If he had only known what was just over the horizon.

...For those of us who teach (and who directly support the teachers), this is a huge challenge. Many of our students know far more than we do about the new tools and toys. Others struggle with basic skills most of us mastered years ago.  Every semester faculty come to me and say, "Please get me set up with Blackboard. My students say I need to use it."  

But in truth, the technology doesn't matter all that much. Regardless of the tools they use, people are still people.  We all have the same basic human needs: for food and shelter, for security, for love and belonging, for esteem, for self-actualization.  Under the iPod and Razr, behind the email or discussion board post, is a human being with the same fundamental needs as his or her great-great grandparents.  

They just meet those needs in different ways, that's all. iTunes is not so very different than the traveling minstrel of Chaucer's time.  It just has a larger repertoire.

A tool is merely a set of affordances and constraints – stuff it lets you do easily, and stuff it makes it hard to do. That applies to tools used for teaching, too.  You can teach in the 3D simulated world of Second Life, where people can fly and a student may appear as an alien with an orange mohawk (ok, bad example – that can show up on campus, too).  But you also can teach while sitting on a log and using your finger to draw in the dirt (hey – digital interactive multimedia!)  

...Is that good? Is it bad?  Neither.  It's just different.  

...We often feel like hamsters on a wheel that's spinning faster than we can run.  But we keep up as best we can with what's going on "out there."  We try new things.  Sometimes they work better than we'd planned.  Sometimes they crash and burn.  We pick up the pieces, learn from the experience, and try, try again.  

We have to, if we want to prepare our students for the next Age of Wonders.  It's just over the horizon.
This is distrubuted with the author's permission and a Creative Commons license (non-commercial with attribution).

What are your thoughts or observations about this "age of wonders"? How does or will these realities change the way you teach... or change the way students learn -- in 3-5 years, 10 years, 20 years? Any other comments regarding the essay?

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