Systems rather than determinisms

Another MOOCer posted this note commenting on the deterministic views of technology. I agree with the author that we need to teach students how to work in a technological world. I see technology (either in general society or in classrooms specifically) as being as deterministic as the users make them. This is because technology is one tool and way of working among many that are constantly adapting. The culture is a system of interacting factors that are influenced by and influence technology.

Math textbooks in the 1920s and 1930s called for students to be able to do long calculations (6 to 8 four-digit numbers) in their heads rather than relying on what was then a technological support – the pencil and paper. The symbols themselves have been considered crutches. It is very similar to the conversation that happens about calculators or other technology tools.

Students shouldn’t rely on them, but we can’t ignore technology and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or, that we live in a world where it represents a threat. There are many wonderful opportunities that arise because of technology as well as the threats.

We can either allow the threats to overcome the positive aspects. Or, we can learn how to adapt and to adopt technology to serve our purposes. Sometimes this means tossing the old out for the new. Sometimes it means adapting the current system to incorporate new tools.

Early Impressions of MOOCing

The MOOC I’m enrolled in has now officially begun. The MOOC phenomenon raises some intriguing questions for higher education and the way we know it now. Thus far, the first and most notable aspect of the EDC MOOC is that while the “official” class started January 27, 2013, the students began to be engaged in discussion, conversation, and information sharing at least a month in advance of the course. So, many learners are clearly highly motivated and interested in the topic. So, what if for the classes I teach, I opened up venues for students to engage in creating the course before the semester began? Would they? What content would emerge?

Second, the content in this class has been given and we are encouraged to engage in it as much as possible. Leading to the learning principle of “you get what you pay for”. In this case, the payment is time. If I put time in, presumably I’ll learn more about e-learning and digital cultures. But, I don’t have to be engaged in the course at any particular time or place. And, more notably, I can work with as much or as little of the content as I feel the need to do.

Finally, what if higher education offered more of these specific, needs-driven, short courses? Would working professionals or people looking to develop their own knowledge be interested? What if we break down the credit hour structures and the program structures and offered more special topics courses? What might we put out there as options for people who are seeking to learn but don’t need another degree?