This post has the potential to come-over all Rumsfeld with ‘changed changes’ and ‘changes changed’, but it focuses on articulating the context for changes we’re trying to bring about through the appropriate use of digital technology.
In part it stems from reflecting upon an education futures/education technology roundtable hosted by Nesta where we began by questioning why the group felt the education system (or collections of education practices) needed to change. To caricature the arguments: the technophiles saw the value brought by new technologies to enhance learning, demanding adoption of technologies that could change the ways in we teach and learn; the pragmatists described the jobs of the future (often bound up by knowledge workers and new technologies) and demanded ‘new skills for new times’; and the learner-centred advocates argued for the digital cultures of young people, and the need for education to respond to these changing notions and practices of childhood.
This post isn’t about reviewing those arguments (especially as I’ve presented them overly caricatured), but I’m interested in how many of these sorts arguments have made before – not just about digital technologies today, but about ‘new technologies’ over time. The reason for this question is that perhaps there are simply challenges that generations always levy at education (and other institutions) and that by highlighting the questions asked across generations, we can also articulate what are the new changes that this generation are exploring.
One example of persistent change is the difference in the use of new media and technologies by young people to that of older generations. This isn’t to espouse the myth of the digital native
, but to highlight that perhaps the ‘clash’ between young people’s use of media and technology can always be viewed as problematic from (some of) the established older generations. From classical music to amplifiers to synthesisers – what constitutes ‘music’ (perhaps even being a musician) changes over time, across generations. So to, the place of technology in learning and schools. From books, to biros, to calculators to mobile phones.
Although it seems as though this is a particular challenge face today, it is a continual change, perhaps felt by each generation. Niel Mclean provides a good description
of these ongoing challenges, questioning whether some of these arguments can be described as simply ‘the latest phase’ in the continuing relationship between young people and those around them. This doesn’t mitigate the need to question the appropriate use of new media or digital technologies, but it sets those questions within a much wider, generational, context. Similarly with the risks of using such technology – it doesn’t mitigate the concern we need to place on ensuring safe use, but it does set our concerns and worries within a wider context.
Perhaps the concern of friction between young people’s attitudes and actions and those of the adult institutions (discussed in articles like this), is simply the latest iteration of Socrates’ concerns
– both responding to the dislocation between young people’s lives and the institutions set up.
A further example can be seen in the great work done here
: to some it is an example of innovative practice trying to change the shape of formal education, to others a great example of the latest approach
with this aim. The persistant change is the attempt to review the way in which institutions serve their purpose, the new change is the application of the ambition.
provides a wonderful overview of the consistent change that shapes our institutions.
"Every era of technology has, to some extent, formed education in its own image. This is not to argue that technology determines education, but rather that there is a congruence between the main technological influences on a culture and the contemporary educational theories and practices. Thus, in the era of mass print literacy, the textbook was the medium of instruction, and a prime goal of the education system was effective transmission of the canons of scholarship. During the computer era of the past fifty years, education has been re-conceptualised around the construction of knowledge through information processing, modelling and interaction. Now, as we enter a new world of global digital communication, it is no surprise that there is a growing interest in the relations between mobile technology and learning.” (Sharples 2005)
Persistent change, contextualised by current and emerging technologies that interact with the way in which we want institutions to serve us.
The point is that there are some consistent challenges that every generation faces. This isn’t to diminish the importance of them, rather to bolster them by recognising that it is our role to challenge whether existing institutions are fit for purpose; not to knock them for the role they have played, but to explore the role they now need to play. This isn’t a progressive or radical agenda, it is simply continuing a generational tradition of testing and checking the institutions we have set up to serve us.
There is, of course, another part of this argument, and that is exploring what is new in the context of digital technologies: Asking, not what are the persistent challenges generations should address, but what are the new challenges (and opportunities) that build on the affordances of digital technology – the affordances that provide new opportunities that we haven’t in the past been able to realise. I hope it’s these challenges that we can begin to address soon and these are certainly the challenges we’ll be addressing in future articles.