I’m finalizing my session materials for NCCE in Seattle later this week, and want to include a reference to Thomas Edison’s sweeping pronouncements in the 1870s about how the phonograph (one of his inventions) was going to revolutionize education forever. I heard Marco Torres make reference to this in March 2007, when he shared the keynote at the MACE conference in Manhattan, Kansas. I found the following quotation in the free eBook “Edison His Life And Inventions” by Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin, originally published in 1910. On pages 203-204, the authors wrote:

At the opening of the Electrical Show in New York City in October, 1908, to celebrate the jubilee of the Atlantic Cable and the first quarter­ century of lighting with the Edison service on Man­hattan Island, the exercises were all conducted by means of the Edison phonograph. This included the dedicatory speech of Governor Hughes, of New York; the modest remarks of Mr. Edison, as president; the congratulations of the presidents of several national electric bodies, and a number of vocal and instru­mental selections of operatic nature. All this was heard clearly by a very large audience, and was re­peated on other evenings. The same speeches were used again phonographically at the Electrical Show in Chicago in 1909–and now the records are preserved for reproduction a hundred or a thousand years hence. This tour de force, never attempted before, was merely an exemplification of the value of the phonograph not only in establishing at first hand the facts of history, but in preserving the human voice. What would we not give to listen to the very accents and tones of the Sermon on the Mount, the orations of Demosthenes, the first Pitt’s appeal for American liberty, the Farewell of Washington, or the Address at Gettysburg? Until Edison made his wonderful invention in 1877, the human race was entirely without means for preserving or passing on to pos­terity its own linguistic utterances or any other vocal sound. We have some idea how the ancients looked and felt and wrote; the abundant evidence takes us back to the cave-dwellers. But all the old languages are dead, and the literary form is their embalmment. We do not even know definitely how Shakespeare’s and Goldsmith’s plays were pronounced on the stage in the theatres of the time; while it is only a guess that perhaps Chaucer would sound much more modern than he scans.

The phrase I want to focus on is the following:

This tour de force, never attempted before, was merely an exemplification of the value of the phonograph not only in establishing at first hand the facts of history, but in preserving the human voice.

If Dyer and Martin considered the repeated use of a record player a “tour de force” in 1910, what would they say about iTunes U and Mobile Learning in 2008? What would they say about the digital story Dawn Danker created last week, in 2 1/2 days, using a telephone as a FREE distributed audio recording technology? If opening the 1908 “Electrical Show in New York City” with an audio recording was a “tour-de-force,” what would the same chroniclers of technological innovations think about YouTube, which contains videos I can not only show at a conference keynote but also on the iPhone in my pocket, virtually anywhere in the United States where it is possible to make or receive a cell phone call?

In her BLC07 keynote, Dr. Angela McFarlane addressed the question of whether knowledge and learning is transmitted or constructed. She came down strongly on the side of knowledge construction. As I commented last week in response to Gary Stager’s question (on “Oklahoma Students: Modeling Digital Education and 1 to 1 Learning”) I believe learning involves BOTH a process of transmission as well as construction. The importance of this perspective becomes SO apparent when we consider the continuing explosion of both content online and digital content access devices. The following image includes digital tools for content CREATION as well as CONSUMPTION, but I think it communicates this idea of proliferating digital content access devices well:

lots of gadgets

I heard an advertisement this morning on the radio for the Oklahoma Virtual High School, a free secondary education option for Oklahoma students offered by the for-profit company Advanced Academics (based in Oklahoma City.) Are educators threatened by the availability of virtual learning options? Are legislators going to “fight” this trend?

For those who believe and continue to act in ways which reveal their belief in learning as a fundamentally transmissive act, a day HAS dawned when fear is justified. Every teacher and learning interaction which CAN be replaced by a virtual learning experience SHOULD be replaced. I tire of dealing with folks who continue to not only cling to, but vigorously defend the anachronistic, 19th century teaching model of “asynchronous, non-interactive” face-to-face learning.

A Framework for Thinking Instructionally About Web 2.0 Tools

The day of blended learning has dawned. Knowledge and learning requires BOTH the transmission of content and the construction of local schema focused on that content. Our methods for accessing robust multimedia content are going to keep exploding for the foreseeable future. HOW we access the content IS important, but a more difficult (and pedagogically challenging) question is, “What are you going to ask (or invite) learners to DO with that content?” What are learners going to create? How are they going to collaborate in that creative process? How are you going to document that process of creation and learning? How are learners going to represent their understanding of both content and skills related to the topic of study, in ways they cannot FAKE or a classmate (or parent) can’t do for them?

Sparknotes is wildly popular for good reasons. Many teachers haven’t changed their assignments to meet the dynamic conditions in the 21st century information landscape. Many assignments that may have been appropriate for the 19th or 20th centuries are ridiculous to assign today in 2008. Banning cell phones and iPods or blocking all social networking sites in schools is not the solution. We must embrace both blended learning, as well as the digital technologies (including cell phones) which can facilitate the TRANSMISSION and CONSTRUCTION of knowledge in and by the minds of learners.

Helping educational leaders understand this basic idea of learning pedagogy is perhaps the MOST important thing I hope to share at NCCE in my sessions.

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2 Responses to Knowledge and learning require both transmission and construction

  1. Sarah Kaminski says:

    I appreciate that you push for a ‘blended learning’ style. The fact that teachers can still just lecture at students and cut them off from technology just doesn’t seem right. Technology has improved and broadened so much that it seems silly that it isn’t incorporated into the classroom.
    I read your other article blocking all social networking sites in schools, and was dully impressed. I believe that you have some wonderful points. I believe that it isn’t the technology that is bad, but that students are the ones who are misusing it. I believe that teaching students appropriate behavior is essential to using these new technologies. Isn’t online networking and social networks just like networking face to face? We prepare our students so well for working face to face, why can’t we do the same for the web? Or could this all be part of the older generation still resisting the shift in technologies? However, though all of this may be well and good, do you think that all technologies should be allowed, and all networks accessible? While I think that using all the technological advancements we can is a good thing, by opening the gates to all technologies, wouldn’t we be encouraging misuse? There are some interesting things that can be done with cell phones, but if a student had access to it all class long and was allowed to use it, wouldn’t they misuse the privilege? Or is misbehavior just a lack of teacher’s disciplining their students on appropriate use of technologies?

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    Sarah: While I am an advocate for blended learning and generally more permissive access to technology and the Internet for students than we see in many of our midwestern public schools, I certainly AM also an advocate for limits and boundaries when it comes to technology and learning. I am not an instructional anarchist! Sometimes constructivists and followers of Dewey are mis-branded this way. Certainly students do and can be expected to misuse technologies and generally test the limits/boundaries of adult rules in virtually all contexts. I’m an advocate for accountability and digital citizenship, which goes beyond simply blocking technologies and imagining that students will cultivate the capacity for ethical decisionmaking by the imposition of rules by adults. I advocate for safe “sand-boxes” where students can engage in social networking, with the involvement of adults. Most of these proposals are radically “out of the box” in the public school districts where I work now in Oklahoma. We’ve got a long way to go…..

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