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Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 09, 2000

Posted to DEOS-L 10 March 2000

Farhad Saba wrote,

I think Stephen has missed my entire point.

Yes, I did, and for that my apologies (though I do think a useful digression occurred as a consequence).

To summarize the real point...

There are two astronomical costs involved here:
1- Educators have been displaced in setting the agenda...
2- ... we have artificially confined ourselves to certain times and places...

I agree with these points insofar as they say:

  1. Educators have been pursuing the wrong agenda, and
  2. Educators have been confined to limited times and places

But I disagree in two major ways:

  1. Saba's suggestion that media agencies themselves have set the agenda, and
  2. That they have done so more cheaply and more efficiently

Let me explain.

  1. The success of Pokemon, one example cited in the previous post, is not due to its pervasive presence in media. Rather, its success - and the success of similar predecessors, such as Magic: The Gathering, is due to their compliance with an agenda more suited to the students' own.

    Pokeman succeeds - where traditional classroom instruction fails - in stimulating a social and cultural environment where players act as empowered peers, setting their own agendas and priorities, and participating in a relatively complex set of exchanges. This contrasts with traditional classroom instruction where students are disempowered and subservient, subject to external agendas and priorities, taking part in relatively simple exchanges.

    I don't think Dr. Saba would disagree with the previous statement. Rather, simply, where he says media agencies have set an agenda of their own, I argue that they have co-opted the students' own agenda.

  2. Dr. Saba says that the agencies' "message is learned and internalized a lot cheaper, faster, better than our message." I disagree. The ad infrastructure developed and maintained by the agencies - including media networks, distribution agencies and content providers - is a hundred billion dollar expense.

    Consider Disney, for example, only one of hundreds of agencies, which spent $1.2 billion on advertising alone in 1997.

    As a society, we spend a lot less teaching students calculus than we do teaching them to drink Coke. Dr. Saba is quite right when he says that the money we do spend on education is spent inefficiently. But spending the money efficiently will not lower the cost of education. It will instead dramatically improve the quality of our education.

All of that said, I think I agree with Dr. Saba in recommending a fundamental restructuring of the educational system (I have argued elsewhere that such a restructuring is inevitable, so I guess my urgings are moot):

  • No more classes. There is no reason, as Dr. Saba says, to drive to the local library to watch the evening news. Students can and should learn, if not in their own home, then at least in their own community, or better yet, integrated into the community as a whole.

  • No more courses. There is no reason to subject twenty or thirty students to the same course of studies at the same pace. Student instruction should be customized and personalized, driven by the needs and interests of the student, as gently guided (co-opted, even) by a media-based instructional strategy.

Saba writes, "What we are doing in schools is... absurd... this. We have done for so long, that we do not feel its absurdity."

Quite right.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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