Will Richardson is coming to visit our campus next month and will be speaking to my grad class of current and aspiring HS English teachers. On Weblogg-ed he writes about a USA Today article on the "Wireless Campus" and the familiar ambivalence we see about technology in education. This recalls current "debate" regarding iTunes U–on my campus and elsewhere–which rehashes recognizable positions.
Soooo…. sometimes it is necessary to return to what is well-worn territory in parts but is also clearly where "we" are in some sense.
We continue to participate in a dichotomous discourse that might be reduced to "technology is dehumanizing/repressive/oppressive" vs. "technology is progressive/liberatory/revolutionary." The whole argument is clearly bogus: a carnival act put on for an audience of dupes. It is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the materiality of human consciousness. It imagines that technology is somehow outside of humanness.
The question of judgment, of whether technology is "good" or "bad," is misdirected. In addition it is inextricably intertwined with other ideological issues. For example, say that a college student is spending 8 hours a day online, writing and reading, and that’s a cause for concern. Say the same student is writing and reading 8 hours a day in print and that’s a cause for celebration. So is it the "technology" that is a concern here or is it the "content" of the media? Is it b/c the student is in mySpace rather than reading his/her biology textbook or poetry anthology? What if the student is reading popular magazines 8 hours a day? Is that somewhere in between?
Anyway. When this question (of judgment) is set aside, one instead can investigate emerging technologies to study the role they play in the production and distribution of knowledge. In the case of iTunes U, I think it is still too early to know how this technology will shape education. However, regardless of whether or not this particular platform turns out to be successful, I think it is clear that education will increasingly take place through the networked exchange of audio, video, and multimedia files.
I believe this shift is only generally related to market interests: that is the marketplace can read consumer interest in these areas and has sought to take advantage of that interest, to shape it in a particular (consumerist) direction and feed it. Americans, particularly traditional college-age Americans, are consuming, producing, and sharing a wide array of media. Yes part of this is commerical and market-driven, but if the concern is to address this, the strategy to me seems to be teaching students to be effective and critical composers and users of media.
Will iTunes U or its equivalent change education? Yes. Will it change it for the "better"? Don’t know. What’s your definition of better? Will the shift toward an online, multimedia education help interpolate students into a Victorian, bourgeois notion of literacy and aesthetic sensibility? Probably not.