Archive for the 'culture' Category

History of "Distance Education"

September 1st, 2009

Most readers of this blog know that I think the term distance education is terminally flawed, but it continues to be used in the common vernacular so we need to address it. One problem is that many practitioners today think the the terms “distance education” and “online education” are equivalent. We need to address that by examining the history of “distance education” and see where “online education” falls on that timeline.

In the beginning there was the word. In my perspective – one that’s not generally shared in the field, I should point out – distance education began with the first technology that allowed the relatively accurate transmission of instructional messages from the teacher to the student. In this case I’m referring to physical distance but synchronous mode, that is both people are able to exchange communications in real time. It’s the “I-talk-you-talk” model we’re most familiar with. That first technology is spoken language. The codified collection of symbolic utterances which follow rules of pronunciation, grammar, and syntax represents a technology that is used to bridge the physical distance between teacher and learning. This is thought to have occurred sometime before 30,000 years ago. Whether it occurred simultaneously with the evolution of Genus Homo or shortly thereafter, is open to speculation.

The next milestone in the development of “distance education” occurred with the development of a tool that allowed the communications channel to become asynchronous – that is, separating the teacher and learner in time. The teacher speaks. Sometime later, the learner hears. The learner speaks. Sometime later, the teacher hears. They don’t need to be together in time for communications to occur. That milestone is “written language” and the earliest known use of written language is about 5,000 years ago.

It’s significant to note that without the precursor technology, spoken language, writing technology would have had no basis upon which to be developed. The encoding of the spoken word sounds and the grammatical ordering of those encoded sounds into words, sentences, and paragraphs depended on having the system of sounds to encode.

After these two technologies, all other contributions to “distance education” are largely just new ways of transmitting either spoken or written words. The invention of print – and eventually moveable type – was just the next step in the mass production of the written word. Mail, telegraph and teletype are ways to move those words across large distances. Telephone and radio move spoken language quickly and expand the range of a speaker’s voice from in-the-room to around-the-world.

In our timeline of “distance education” the generally accepted beginning of the use of these media for instruction in a mode which has become known as “distance education” occurs with the advent of the “correspondence course” in the early 1700s when a Boston teacher is reputed to have offered the first class using the mail service to send and receive lessons. This laid the groundwork for the modern model of so-called “distance education” and represents, in my opinion, one of the first instances of an educational use of language to corrupt meaning by assigning a general term – “distance education” – to a specific application of technology – “correspondence course.” We’ll see this again.

An anomaly on this time line is the use of graphical materials. Earliest man used drawings and graphically symbolic representations of the world to record and explain what he saw around him. From the three dimensional renderings of Stonehenge or the Anastasi arrows to the cave paintings in Europe, this graphical representation of the world has been around for a long, long time. The use of diagrams and images is probably most famously documented in Da Vinci’s notebooks where he drew meticulously accurate renderings of this ideas. The key element of the diagrams – at least in terms of an educational use – is the text and explanation that went with them. While it’s true that an image carries meaning unto itself, from an educational standpoint, one really needs to make that meaning as unambiguous as possible in order to be sure that the messages that are being exchanged are the messages that are intended. This application of graphical recording was expanded to photography – a process of mechanically reproducing an image from the world and rendering that image more or less permanently onto a page – in the early 1800s.

Media convergence began almost as soon as there were media that could converge. Earliest printing sometimes included drawings and sketches. In the 1800s we began to see the convergence of synchronous media with the advent of movies. Movies permitted the encoding of moving graphical images and written language. This is a significant development in that it led to the rise of “talkies” that merged spoken language with moving graphical images, permitting a more natural appearing rendering of the world that could be manipulated for the purpose of instruction. The primary purpose of film for this discussion is the invention of the documentary. Short films of a documentary nature were produced in the late 1800s, but Nanook of the North (1922) is considered to be the first example of the modern documentary.

Television permitted the synchronous distribution of pictures and sound in a broadcast mode — that is, you needed to be watching when the message was sent in order to be able to receive it. That quickly changed with the invention of video tape. Video tape permitted the sender to record his message and store it for later transmission. That same technology was eventually available to the receiver which permitted a true asynchronous application of broadcast media. This medium had the draw back of being one-way. They could send but in order to respond, you needed a separate channel — usually mail or telephone — to send your messages back.

In later half of the 20th century that all changed with the advent of teleconference and the ability to have two way, live, communications between two locations. This gave rise to a huge program of linking in “remote campuses” across the US. These networks are still in use today.

Eventually, near the end of the 20th century, the invention of the personal computer, the evolution of computer networks, and the convergence of telephone and computer technology has given rise to one of the single most powerful forces for social change since the advent of the automobile — the internet. By using digital modes of encoding and transmission, almost any form of media can be sent and received across a global network. The communications options include both synchronous and asynchronous modes, the use of video conference, text, audio, and even real time handwriting and drawing.

This evolution of correspondence course to online delivery has led to the next conflation of general term “distance education” to the specific application of technology — “online course.” These are not simple splitting of semantic hairs. As I have made clear here and in other postings, I believe the term “distance education” is redundant. All education is, by definition, at a distance. The term “distance education” in the modern vernacular has been applied to the system of teleconference and other remote delivery modes as an omnibus term intended to relegate all such modes of mechanical transmission of instruction as somehow different — a semantic segregation of “distance education” from “real education.” This is, I believe, a deliberate attempt to maintain the educational status quo without consideration of what that segregation means to the field.

By making “distance education” something other than “education,” it robs practitioners of the opportunity to use established educational research as a foundation. “Well, that was classroom based instruction and that tool hasn’t been validated for use at a distance.” As long as “distance education” is different, that becomes a valid obstacle. In return, by failing to recognize the continuum of technology used in the classroom setting, educators forego the opportunity to fully realize the potentials by not being able to see how those technologies might be manipulated and leveraged to take advantage of the opportunities.

Big Idea

February 23rd, 2009

It happens again, and again, and again, and again …

John Pederson is a fellow twitterer – one of the almost 700 people I follow on Twitter – but I had to go to Remote Access to find a comment he left on one of Clarence’s posts, which brought me to THIS post on his blog.

It’s a learning project. It’s not a social networking project. It’s not a Web 2.0 project. It’s not an online community or a virtual world. Teachers need to experience and learn online learning. It’s built through a collaborative model of online learning and teaching. We aren’t building virtual schools or training more teachers. Leave that to others. This new collaborative model becomes the network around the network.

via ijohnpederson » Blog Archive » Idea.

It’s eerily similar to what *I* said just the other day about teachers and learning. An idea that’s been brewing here for a few weeks surfaced in a completely different form from a completely different vector.

This synchronicity is endemic and it’s one of the ways you know you’ve got a network.

For me, the really fascinating meta-moment here was when I remembered a post I made about a year ago about having different people pop up with the same idea almost at the exact same time.

Ironically, just a few weeks later, Will and I were talking about the same things at the same time again.

Guess what it was!

This is what we mean when we talk about having a personal learning network. It’s having ideas, and seeing them validated (or occasionally invalidated) through the serendipitous application of the network. Note that neither John nor I are saying anything radically different here than Will Richardson and I and many others were saying last March.

What’s different is that we’re refining the ideas over time. We’re constructing a common belief structure — distilling it out of experience into some stronger spirit than simple practice.

Give Peas a Chance

February 21st, 2009

There seems to be an imperialism involved with this topic of equity. Everybody has to be equal. That’s only right, right?

Except, does equity really mean equal?

Can we all be equal but still have inequity?

I’m seeing a lot of people who seem to think that if the student doesn’t leave the classroom knowing exactly what every other student knows, then — somehow — that’s not equitable.

I left a comment on a student’s blog post about equity and peas. In it I made the point that equity didn’t mean that every student ate the same number of peas, but rather that every student had the opportunity to eat the peas he or she wanted.

Notice I’m using the term “wanted” and not “needed.” How many peas do you need, after all? One? twelve? a thousand? Sure, I’m willing to accept that in a well ordered society, we might need to put some kind of reasonable limit on how many peas you get. Beyond that number, it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with your legume habit, but up to that number, it’s pretty reasonable that you might want to have peas now and again — with, perhaps, a nice meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Maybe we live someplace were peas aren’t really that common and we need to try to find social rules for sharing out the peas among those that like them most. Some people might be willing to trade a share of peas for some green beans — or even venture into the cruciferous and try brussels sprouts.

So is it equitable? Does everybody have to eat their allotment of peas? What about those that don’t like them? Or perhaps have an allergy?

Does this seem kinda silly?

Then when we approach things like education, why are we talking about equity in terms of making sure every student learns the same thing?

I’ve been harping on this “one size fits all” problem for awhile in variety of contexts. I see it as part of the overall picture in Education. Standards work great when you wanna plug in an electrical appliance and be sure that it will work and won’t burn the house down in the process. Standards and Education are a bit more troubling because by adopting standards you’re saying everybody has to know the same thing. Or at least some of the same things. And when you assess based on standards, what you get are measures of the things you’re looking for but not necessarily the things you need to know.

You find out how many peas I ate. But you don’t find out that I gave half of them to my sister who likes them better.

In the first case you find out how well I conformed to standards.

In the second you find out something about me.

Where’s the equity?

Cultural Antithesis

February 17th, 2009

Clarence Fisher up at Remote Access needs to be in your aggregator.

Contests and rankings are easy. They let us know who comes in first, second, and so on. Even if the results aren't valid, they still give us results that are easy to work with. How do we rank collaborative abilities? How do we see who has the strongest sense of working with others and of cultural understanding? It can be done, but it is a process that is more time intensive and based on portfolios, discussions and interviews. But put simply, things that take time are expensive and systems don't like words like that.

via Competitive Learning (245).


February 4th, 2009

Stephen Downes has this take on culture and morality. He’s linked to an “Inside Higher Ed” article by the same title.

It’s Culture, Not Morality
People often blur the distinction between legality and morality, reasoning (oddly and incorrectly, in my view) that whatever is against the law or even against the rules is also immoral. But rules do not reflect morality, they reflect culture, and culture changes with time.

If you’re not subscribed to OLDaily in your aggregators, you should be. The feed is at OLDaily

On Culture. Redux.

February 3rd, 2009

When we think about culture and its relationships to technology and education, it might be useful to consider an idea that flitted through here a couple of weeks ago about the different cultures we each belong to. We keep talking about Culture like it’s a monolith. “I am a member of THIS Culture.”

Really? Is that the only culture you’re a member of?

If we step back and take a meta-cognitive scan of the area, it’s not difficult to see we — all of us involved in this course — belong to some cultures in common and others we don’t share at all. Even simple ideas like “teacher” have components and layers. We all (or nearly all) belong to the “Educator” culture, but many of you belong to a different tribe — the K-12 Teacher subculture. We have some ideals in common but we have differentiation as well. I’m a member of the Grad School Instructor subculture, and one of the more radical members at that.

At higher levels we all belong to something we can agree on is “American culture” altho our perceptions of that culture are undoubtedly varied. We don’t all belong to the same — for lack of a better term — “spiritual” culture, and we are actually inhabiting different worlds in terms of the technologies we use and the levels at which we use them. Not just a “me-and-the-class” view, but to some extent I think this may be the most fragmented “culture” in terms of how we relate to each other as a group.

My point here, and I made it earlier, is that culture is defined by its technology. Bronze Age, Iron Age, Dark Ages — we think of them as if they represent some homogeneous construct in cultural development but I submit that they’re only homogeneous because they are historical. There almost certianly had to be more variation in the world than these handy labels might indicate.

Industrial Age, Information Age, Automobile Age … even North American Mall Culture … It’s handy from a mnemonic perspective to apply these labels so we know what context a discussion might have, but the reality that we shouldn’t lose sight of is that membership in one culture does not preclude membership in — and cross pollination of — other cultures which are contiguous in time, but perhaps variant in belief.

A culture is defined by its technology. Education is the process of maintaining cultural identity in the face of technological change.

Gibson said it:

The future is already here. It’s just not uniformly distributed.

I’ll add:

And it never will be.

The Relationship

January 26th, 2009

We’ve been tippy-toeing around this subject for a couple of weeks. Last year I wrote this post to explain my take on it.

Identity Maintenance
Technology is a Cultural diagnostic and Education is the process by which societal norms are maintained within that culture. Restated: Culture is the sum of its Techology. Education maintains the rules.

A lot of you wanted to make this question about a specific culture or some subculture without stepping back to take the high level view.

Here’s the in-a-nutshell summation:

“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson

Some of the things we’re talking about are significant for the notion of “are you in? or are you out?” How does one get to be a member of a Culture? And how do you get to leave? It’s a rather important issue because — as Joe Jackson once said, “Everybody hates a tourist. Especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.”

There’s the challenge. What’s the response?

Internet Identity

November 13th, 2008

Students and teachers are constantly exhorted to evaluate content for credibility. Here’s an interesting case:

Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.
A Fake Expert Named Martin Eisenstadt and a Phony Think Tank Fool Bloggers and the Mainstream News Media –

I’ve known for months that Eisenstadt is a hoax. I’m a little shocked at the degree to which mainstream media was taken in.

One of the ongoing issues for everybody in these early days of the 21st Century is how to know what’s real, what’s true. It’s made more difficult by the ease with which deception can be promoted. It’s always been a problem, by the way. Micheal Eisenstadt is part of a long tradition that goes back at least to Martinus Scriblerus in the early 1700s.

As the field considers assessing 21st Century skills, it might be wise to keep this in mind.

Simple Answer

October 23rd, 2008

Question: Why does the College Board need to test 8th graders?

At a briefing to unveil the program Wednesday, College Board officials said that the exam — ReadiStep — would help students, their families and their schools plan high school programs that would increase preparedness for college. The idea is that the test will be for diagnostic purposes, not for evaluating whether students get into certain programs or win scholarships. The test will be “a launchpad” that “can help teachers change the course of students’ instruction,” said Lee Jones, the College Board’s senior vice president for college readiness.
College Board Unveils Test for 8th Graders :: Inside Higher Ed.

Answer: Revenue.

As the importance of the SAT is reduced for college acceptance, they need to make up the revenue somewhere.

Fifty Years Later

October 16th, 2008

The ‘gator turned up this tidbit this morning.

Today is the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow’s seminal address about radio and television. Now known as the “wires and lights in a box” speech, Mr. Murrow implored the attendees at the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention to make the most of the two electronic media, rather than allowing them to insulate Americans “from the realities of the world in which we live.”
‘Wires and Lights in a Box,’ Fifty Years Later –

I’ve long been a fan of Murrow’s. That era of television is fascinating in the parallels it has with the evolution of the Internet. Murrow, Cronkite, Huntley-Brinkley … names to conjure with. Sometimes I compare those names to the ones we have today and just sigh in dispair.