Stephen Wilmarth: Five Socio-Technological Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching

In his chapter of Curriculum 21, Stephen Wilmarth puts forth an argument that we are in the throes of a revolution that will upend what we assume to be true about learning and teaching. The trends are as follows:

  • Social Production: the creation of content through various digital tools
  • Social Networks: the connection of individuals into like-minded groups at the digital level.
  • The Semantic Web: the transformation of the web into patterned information based on the coding of individual “pieces” of information
  • Media Grids: three-dimensional representations of space using computing power and the internet (Wilmarth, 91)
  • The New Zoo of non-linear learning: the mastery of biology through technology.

I can’t recall exactly how he said it, but on Thursday, Chris Dede from Harvard University, described our visions of the future as never being fully realized, but it still matters that we have them. When reading through Wilmarth’s chapter, I got just that feeling–as if I was reading about what our best selves as educators and leaders might look like. In reality, I am not so sure about his vision, but I like that he expressed it in terms of the types of learning that will need to occur for his vision to become reality.

A long-held belief of mine has been that technologies that make us less social and more fragmented will not succeed; they are just contrary to our genetic makeup. A passage from the chapter echoes this:

The way people connect with each other–the community that’s created–determines the power of learning shifts. If a technology makes connections more interesting, more varied, or more frequent, it is likely to be more widely adopted and have disproportionate effect on the creation of dynamic learning communities.

Essentially, the more human technology makes us, the more likely we are to proliferate that technology–we’ll call it technical selection. Wilmarth uses the example of Facebook and Twitter to prove this point. It’s not been lost on me that some of the most reticent users of technology in the classroom I have worked with all now have Facebook pages, yet still ask for assistance when sending attachments via email. One connects us, the other confounds us. Where Wilmarth and I truly agree is in the fact that we should examine the structures within education that can make us more human, more connected and push in that direction.

In his summary, Wilmarth makes a very salient point, and one that after the last two days of interaction I’ve had, deserves restating:

What we thought about teaching and learning, the cathedral-like, elegant, top-down, complex systems we designed to support the formal processes of learning and teaching, just may not be the relevant model. We may have to imagine a model that will behave more organically.

The point has come where we stop supporting systems that are not meeting the needs our students, not pushing our teachers to learn and grow alongside their students, and rooted in tradition rather than research and logic.

It would be great if someone was providing blueprints…

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