Concerns for Education in the Digital Age

Image via Ron Mader Flickr

During our EC&I 831 class last week I learned that there has been an entire Open Educational Resources (OER) movement that has existed for more than 15 years! My mind was kind of blown. I can’t say for sure, but I feel like if I had known that there are free opportunities to educate myself online I would have at least looked at some of the options available to me much earlier in my academic or professional career. If you know of other open education resources please share them in the comment box.

Creating opportunities for education by increasing accessibility through OER and unique collaboration in online spaces is a hopeful way to look at the future of education in the twenty-first century. However, I have concerns with teaching and learning in the digital age because learning online does not address the unequal access to education or the internet, allowing people to connect digitally. Specifically, in the article Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0 written by John Brown and Richard Adler  describe the world as becoming more equal, despite the fact that certain places have more access to the digital world and therefore have the ability to be globally competitive. This allows some people in certain places to learn about online spaces and develop the skills needed, before others do and if they do at all. My concern is that a significant number of people in the world suffer from inequalities which both restrict them and are restricted by their lack of access to open education and social learning. The CyberOne Classroom in Second Life is an example of social learning addressing my concern that open education still creates inequality of education when it is accessible to some and not all. The software actively engages students in discussion and is “designed to improve education for students in schools in rural areas and urban slums in India.” It is clear that there is plenty to be excited about when education is provided to people in rural areas who may not have had either access to education or access to technology before, however, I hesitate to jump on the band wagon without learning more about the effectiveness of programs like the CyberOne Classroom.

My concern for the future of education in general, but also open education involves further privatization of the sector and intensification of the work of teachers. If in the future all education was done online is it still a public good? What happens to teachers jobs? Do we make decisions on our education system by individual provinces or is it not controlled by the public in any way? If not, would it be controlled by software companies who can charge you for the software and programs? This could make education more profitable and competitive by offering certain courses or certain levels of difficulty at various prices. Who would control education if it was all sourced online?

My concern for teachers is mostly around how they are valued, but also how they are supported in such a pedagogical shift from learning about subject matter where knowledge is transferred to social learning where students participate in “productive inquiry”. Teachers are challenged to think differently about the purpose of teaching and how we learn while learning and keeping up with changing social media platforms and open education tools to be able to teach effectively. The ability of current teachers to adapt to new ways of incorporating social media tools into their classrooms on a regular basis requires significant amounts of work and support.

Another concern of mine for society generally is described as cultural inversion by Michael Wesch in An anthropological introduction to YouTube

He describes the phenomenon of YouTube and other social media tools as allowing people to become more expressive as individuals and independent with increasing commercialization which results in a longing for community, relationships, and authenticity. Wesch identifies a YouTube video that went viral of a guy who exemplified the longing for connection and it was documented in this video.

For me, this clip highlights the community-building capacity of YouTube and social media in creating connection. Without ever having made a YouTube video, I can understand and respect the medium as a method of reflection for individuals, as well as, social commentary which can help to understand ourselves and culture better.

Despite these concerns I agree that there is a moral imperative to educate children to succeed in a changing world. With my concern about education in general, and more specifically open education being accessible, there are larger areas of concern around global poverty and neoliberalism that are factors in addressing technological and communications accessibility in remote and impoverished communities. I am not sure at this point how this concern could be balanced since a basic education isn’t provided to many communities and young people around the world.

I am curious how many educators in the EC&I course who teach in the formal sector, a regular classroom, feel like their efforts in learning social media tools for classroom engagement is supported and valued by their colleagues, administration, or school divisions.

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