“The classroom is nothing less than an state of the art information dump”

This weeks topic at the cck08 course is about “Power, control, validity, and authority in distributed environments“, wow thats a whole lot of ground to cover in just one week. Moreover, i believe that the questions and issues that arise from this theme are very important if we want to move forward towards a more open and connected way of learning in (formalized) institutions.

I’ll try to externalize some of the things that i think are related and important to this subject trhough reflecting on some of my readings . One of these is an amazing post by Dr. Michael Wesch which i came upon by a tweet from Grainne Conole. The article is initinally meant to explain Wesch’ new insights on a video about the students perspective he co-produced a while ago. But while reading this i realized that Wesch is actually telling us a lot about power and control in the classroom.

Wesch explains how he felt about the classroom as he walked into it one day and he saw a lot of empty chairs, a large screen and a small stage for him to stand on. Wesch explains:

The room is nothing less than a state of the art information dump, a physical manifestation of the all too pervasive yet narrow and naïve assumption that to learn is simply to acquire information, built for teachers to effectively carry out the relatively simple task of conveying information. Its sheer size, layout, and technology are testaments to the efficiency and expediency with which we can now provide students with their required credit hours.”

More than 400 students came into the room, and when Wesch started the class he noticed the following

I started talking and an almost deafening silence greeted my first words”..but..“Somehow I seem to hold their attention for the full hour. I marvel at what a remarkable achievement it is to bring hundreds of otherwise expressive, exuberant, and often rebellious youths into a single room and have them sit quietly in straight rows while they listen to the authority with the microphone. Such an achievement could not be won by an eager teacher armed with technology alone. It has taken years of acclimatizing our youth to stale artificial environments, piles of propaganda convincing them that what goes on inside these environments is of immense importance, and a steady hand of discipline should they ever start to question it. “

But after class Wesch talked to his assistants who were sitting at the back of the class

“Apparently, several students standing in the back cranked up their iPods as I started to lecture and never turned them off, sometimes even breaking out into dance….The students were undoubtedly engaged, just not with me

Ok….so what happens is that this teacher is pushed in his role as an authority and students have “learned” to play along but are actually engaged with something else. So using power on people and trying to control them doesnt really work…? I like the way Wesch describes the function of the classroom (auditorium like), it is just designed according to a power and control view on learning.

According to Wesch, the solution lies within looking beyond the walls of the classroom and technologies such as laptops, cellphones and i-phones should be welcomed in the classroom “we can use them in ways that empower and engage students in real world problems and activities”. In so, I think,  using technologies to give students the freedom to learn.

The things Welsch is struggling with reminded me of a book i’ve read a couple years ago by Carl Rogers called “Freedom to learn”. In this book (published in 1969!) Rogers tell us that he thinks that all teachers prefer to facilitate meaningful learning, but they are locked into a traditional and conventional approach:

“When we put together in one scheme such elements as a prescribed curriculum, similar assignments for all students, lecturing as almost the only mode of instruction, standard tests by which all students are externally evaluated, and instructor chosen grades as the measure of learning, then we can almost guarantee that meaningful learning will be at an absolute minimum.” (Carl Rogers)

Ain’t that one of the issue we come upon? Many of us would like to change their ways of teaching (and this also applies to management of course) towards a more open and engaging model but other elements are – at the least- not helping with this change.  I think we are in a kind of conflict here. As for example standardized (nationalized) curricula are helping to ensure a level of education among citizens and standardized test are made to have a grip on quality. Which of course is also related to power, or fear.


12 Responses to ““The classroom is nothing less than an state of the art information dump””

  1. 1 Hans de Zwart

    Thanks for the link to Michael Wesch’s post. My favourite quote:

    “They tell us, first of all, that despite appearances, our classrooms have been fundamentally changed. There is literally something in the air, and it is nothing less than the digital artifacts of over one billion people and computers networked together collectively producing over 2,000 gigabytes of new information per second. While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods.”

    Kind regards,

    Hans de Zwart

  2. 2 Joost Robben

    Hi Hans, “I could have quoted the whole article :)

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