The Virtual Super-tutor

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
4 September, 2018
Editorial: 234
Fecha de publicación original: 26 septiembre, 2000

If you want to be wise, buy an old man

I have just come back from taking part in Inforensino 2000, the highly interesting IV Jornadas de Informática Aplicada a la Educación (IV Workshop on Computer Science Applied to Education) held in the Spanish city of Lugo. Unfortunately, to a large extent it resembled other events that I have spoken at where the Internet’s role in the field of education and training has been under discussion, and this will, no doubt, continue to be the case for quite some time to come. The scenario always follows the same pattern: on the one hand (on the panel generally), there is industry offering magical gadgets for making inroads into online education and, on the other (in the audience generally), there are the teachers and educators looking bewildered about what the future holds. In the middle, we find the representatives of public administration worried about where they are going to find the resources for bridging the gap between the two. The students themselves, the parents or the multiplicity of other social sectors that should, quite naturally, take part in the course of virtual education, are nowhere to be seen. Not yet. So what happens is that at so many of these, urgently needed, forums everyone comes to the meeting weighed down by their own concerns and uncertain about where to unload them, let alone, how to deal with them.

Each new product presented by industry (online courses, distance training, virtual classrooms or the like) means multiplying the work of educators a thousand times (or a hundred thousand times because, let’s face it, these figures are like those distances between galaxies between 20 to 2,000 million light years apart). It is not at all strange then that the business of filling the classrooms with computers connected to the Internet is viewed by teachers with suspicion, if not with anxiety. The advantages are nowhere to be seen but, what is even worse, is that neither are the interlocutors. There is more and more talk of teacher training to help face the challenges of the Information Society but, at the same time, we know less and less about exactly what this entails. It seems to me that the key factor is that the subject is dealt with on an individual basis, either on the part of teachers, their schools or institutions.

What we need is an approach that will allow us to see that online education requires online solutions, in other words collective ones, based on the distributed intelligence among all the parties involved. It does not make sense, to give a paradigmatic example, to design virtual classrooms where the teacher has to tutor double or triple the number of students they would have in a real classroom communicating with them fundamentally by e-mail. In other words, within a framework that implies a potential 24-hour contact with students seven days a week. As one of the speakers in Lugo put it, what we need for this kind of education are not teachers but super-tutors of the kind that wear capes, their underpants over their trousers, and a big red I for the Internet on a yellow background on their chests. Even then, they would probably die in the process without even a fragment kryptonite.

What we need is a network of tutors in a specific virtual environment, in other words, teachers, experts, technicians, etcetera, that operate online, creating a tutorial methodology and take the formalisation of the Internet as a subject as their point of departure. This would allow each of those involved to find their place: the students because they would learn how to use the Net as a resource for digital literacy, from where and how to use e-mail, to the type of activity -interactivity-that would permit knowledge and training to emerge. This is a job that cannot be left to good intentions, nor a mere list of Internet addresses. It means designing specific contexts within which all the participants from the online super-tutors to experts in fields that apparently have very little to do with education but which have a lot to contribute in specific knowledge areas, through to the students, of course, and if necessary their parents, are given the opportunity to operate as knowledge networks.

Creating an Internet curriculum is a job still waiting to be done. And I don’t mean learning about its basic tools, but becoming literate in the use of the Net, in the same way as we learn to read and write in order to move on to superior and more complex phases of education. A literacy course in which one learns to function in a networked context, to extend the capacity for the collective intelligence one belongs to and assimilate the knowledge that emerges in this new context. In short, the task consists of integrating virtual logic -not just e-mail- into the education system. Many virtual classrooms get close to this objective in their different ways). However, we can guess at the difficulties that will have to be overcome for them to become virtual representation systems capable of integrating the activities of parents, students, teachers, pedagogical technicians as well of the rest of society, because this is possible now. In order to achieve this, these systems need to be placed in specific digital communication spaces that orgasnise their objectives and the way they can be attained. More of this in next week’s editorial.

Translation: Bridget King