Daddy, ask me something

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
4 September, 2018
Editorial: 235
Fecha de publicación original: 3 octubre, 2000

Love conquers all in the face of all odds

In the previous editorial (see “The Virtual Super-tutor”) we said that in the field of education “creating an Internet curriculum is a job waiting to be done”. Who the main players for getting such a task underway should be, is another matter still to be decided. Before we try to answer this question, we need to be aware of the fact that computer networks have put fundamental social questions for which, up until now, there have been no satisfactory solutions, at the centre stage of our concerns. One of these is the undoubtedly fundamental need to participate actively in that which directly affects us. Before the Net, this participation was determined, to a large extent, by the constraints that relationships in the real world are subject to. When the virtual world –a virtual logic really– was born, it created new spaces where participation is not only possible but has proved to be the golden thread that holds the Net together.

Participating in this new context, moving around all the time in a territory consisting of the information and knowledge contributed by thousands and thousands of people, collectives, companies, institutions, organisations and administrations, means operating within an environment with very specific new features. For a start, what one person says is worth just as much as the next. And, this represents a serious attack on the existing hierarchical structures which have held sway up to now. The boom in so-called intellectual capital is related to this attempt to trade in the knowledge of individuals in a collective context, of distributed intelligence. In the second place, in order to determine the relative value of what people say (and its relevance to each individual’s context) one has to develop an extensive capacity for asking questions. This is the case with the new breed of information and knowledge systems, all we have to do is get over our perplexity at trying to figure them out. The same thing now occurs both in and out of the Net. However, in both contexts what is new –so to speak– is that our participation depends on our ability to formulate questions.

In the third place, this possibility of participation does not depend simply on our desire to do so or a certain amount of “social conscience”. We all have some of the latter like, for instance, when we complain about things being done “without taking us into account”. In this sense, we all share a healthy dose of hypersensitivity, only heightened by the Net. But this is not enough. In order to exploit the possibilities that Net participation has to offer, information and knowledge systems where this can take place need to be designed. The mere presence of the Internet is not enough. Portal manufacturers, for example, make in-depth studies of information systems where all we have to do is what they tell us. They work on systems that are not open to change, where, like with the TV, we merely consume with our remote controls what they put on the menu. Similarly, in order to exploit the opportunities that Net participation offers in the field of education it is necessary to design information and knowledge systems whose content depends on the activity of all those involved. We, in, have done our bit with en.medi@, a virtual space where it is possible to reach consensus on decision-making, coordinate complex activities in the sphere of education and increase the knowledge shared by all participants to attain previously established objectives.

In my opinion, this is the cornerstone of a networked system and of online education above all. For decades, or to be more accurate for two centuries, education was confined to a very particular environment namely the “educational institution”. Literature on the subject abounds. This institution viewed learners, the students, as receptacles for the knowledge designed by others. In the classroom neither teachers nor learners asked too many questions, what was being taught was enough. Today, virtual logic has changed all that. By creating spaces in which one participates (and the same applies to everything from video games to a multitude of other activities ranging from leisure, study, entertainment, social relationships. etc.), the permanent feature is the ability to ask questions in order to learn, to make requests in a flexible and shared environment where answers can be given.

In this new environment, we can all see that relationships between educators and learners have radically changed. But not just between them. Relationships among parents, administrators and industry, which is attempting to mediate between the new players in the field of education, have also changed, as well as the administrations themselves of course. Nonetheless, without going into examples that we are all already aware of, no forums exist where those involved can sit down together. And this, although there is a patently obvious need for it. Despite prevailing public opinion (and private – sometimes one has to put up with all sorts of tiresome ideas from acquaintances..), secondary students in Barcelona, for example, are demanding more responsibility within their learning centres and more commitment from teachers as far as learners’ futures are concerned through academic and professional orientation.

These were some of the issues raised by high school and ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria i.e. junior high school) students at the latest Consell de Cent convened by the City Council in the last three years ago in an attempt to get to know the opinions of young people on matters that directly affect them. The students really let off steam. Having been asked their opinions for once, they were not going to let the opportunity pass. And what did they ask for? A space for shared decision-making which would facilitate their participation in the running of the centres. The request was not exceptional. It comes up again and again whenever they are asked. And they are not just asking for the Internet or more video games either. Although the Internet and video games, used with this aim in mind, would provide the basic elements for creating spaces for shared decision-making by those involved in the education process, from teachers and educators, to technicians, parents, administrators, industry, etc.

No education conferences held these days (attended, for some mysterious reason, only by teachers and educators. Where are the parents, students, neighbourhood associations, the creators of online educational materials…?) is complete without the cry going up that “the children know more than we do and we don’t know how to handle this new situation”. It seems to me that if the first step is asking a question, the second is how it is posed. The Net is a space in which one is meeting people all the time. And one has to learn how to relate to them. This is an area in which the education system still has a lot to do. For example, literacy in our societies is to a large extent the result of an obligatory education system thanks to which we learn to read, write and understand texts. This is how we get our “licences for reading and writing”. In the same way, students should be leaving school with a “licence for operating on the Net”, in other words digitally literate, having learned their abc on how to participate, interact and learn within a networked environment. Able to discern what type of resources they are using, how to use these to their advantage in order to learn from them, how to relate to others –acquaintances or otherwise– in what contexts and how.

This is something that is not achieved just by “getting computers and Internet connections into the classroom”. If there is no change in attitude to creating contexts –real or virtual– where learning can take place, it is more than likely that teachers and students will get bored with the machines in the classroom so that the former just get by on their own and the latter complain bitterly about “damned technology”. This is more or less what is happening already. It seems to me that it is a more and more pressing issue that everyone involved in the education process sits down somewhere together to air their respective concerns, needs, agreements and disagreements. And this space should be a virtual one in order to systematically register its progress in a common archive connected to all the other archives that this debate generates. If there is intelligence on the Net, then specific networks where this intelligence can manifest itself must be created.

This is a crucial step in ensuring that virtual logic becomes incorporated into education.

Translation: Bridget King