Wednesday, July 25, 2007


In 1988 I sat down at a computer terminal connected to an acoustic modem that sent text at 300 baud/sec from my classroom to the Government and Politics department's computer which hosted an international relations simulation (Project ICONS). It was the first time that high school students were involved in this computer simulation of negotiation and conflict resolution. It was my first real experience with simulation and distance learning from a teachers standpoint in my career. I guess you could call it my first distance learning experience as a teacher though I would not think of it that way for years to come. For the first time the students and I were interacting with human beings freed from the confines of time and space and the tryanny of curriculum. Insteand of telling the students about international relations and the countries of the world we were touching them andd engaging in them by becoming them within our simulated world. I had no idea at this time of the formal world of distance education. I had no idea that what we were doing would come to be called computer mediated communication. I had no idea that what we were doing would come to be known as a Multi-user Role Playing game. All I knew for sure was that we were having fun and learning. The students would spend hours preparing the "diplomatic pouch" and "diplomatic messages" for the nations of "our world". It followed naturally for me from the games I had played as a child and young adult of connecting books to the world in a hands on way. I was on my way to the Distance Education at the University of Maryland University College. Twenty years have passed in that journey and I would like to reflect on them a bit.

Trained as an historian, I was very taken up with the ideas of R. G. Collingwood, partcularly expressed in The Idea of History. In that great work Collingwood articulated the idea that historians gather individual bits of information that they can ascertain to be facts, and then weave the cloth of history by imagining it as it could have been. Historians, in fact, contruct history, individually and then settle on a collective vision of that history. (Collingwood, 1935). History was an imagined reality.

This concept of this essay began as a reflective statement of my time in the Distance Education Master's program at University Maryland University College. I have spent a very long time in that program by most standards, taking seven years to reach the Capstone course where I now am. When I think about it however, In that time I have moved from thinking that distance education was a form of education that would increase the effectiveness of education in general by making it available to anyone who desired to learn to the realization that education as we know it was not about open learning but about selection.

I am back to blogging and this is the place where it all started. When I think of what happened to my thinking over the past few years I must consider this blog and how I became such an unrepentent advocate of one to one laptop schools. My thinking has reached the point where I have realized that school as is presently constituted has ceased, to be a meaningful experience for students, particularly in the K-12, learning enviorment. School, as presently constructed, is an orgainized content based experience, that encourages conformity rather than originality.

Students are viewed as a product to be manufactured. School is a selection process rather than a learning process. Position and access to wealth in a society is based on that selection. School is a conservative freedom restricting activity preserving the status quo.

I have been a school teacher for most of my professional life. For most of those years I have chaffed at the "tell and test" paradigm of teaching that is prevalent in most American schools.

1 comment:

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A Blueprint for change...

"A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. Such a system would require the application of constitutional guarantees to education. Learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum, or to discrimination based on whether they possess a certificate or a diploma. Nor should the public be forced to support, through regressive taxation, a huge professional apparatus of educators and buildings which in fact restricts the public's chances for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the market. It should use modern technology to make free speech, free assembly, and a free press truly universal and, therefore, fully educational"

-Ivan Illich