It's been an interesting week at the College for thinking about the application of new and emerging technologies in Further Education. We've Twittered with each other, attended a conference in Second Life, started this blog, created a new website and looked at a range of other technologies and services to deliver practical benefit to learners.
BBC Micro: 32k of nostalgia
It's been fun and it would take someone with a pretty thin imagination to not be inspired by the potential and immediately consider a dozen ways in which these tools would enhance the experience of our learners. Our emerging projects include, virtual buildings of our existing estate and those currently on the drawing board, an in-house version of Twitter that provides safe and managed access to real-time messaging based on curriculum groups and the integration of social-networking approaches to content management into our Intranet/Extranet.
I'm very conscious though that these plans are the product of discussions between a group of Further Education professionals of a certain age and background. Do we really understand the potential of the latest round of technologies? Are we immersed in the digital world in the same way as our target users? Is the world that we see the same as the one they are looking at?
An analogy would be learning a language as opposed to being a native speaker. We can play with Twitter and become familiar with the technology and even use it to communicate and work in an entirely valid way, but I suspect we will always be tourists (with a slight digital accent) and miss the subtleties of the medium in small but possibly important ways.
As evidence I look at my experience in using online forums over the past 10 years. I've grown up with the technology and as such am acquainted with pretty much every feature and function. But more importantly I also understand the culture of forums, the language of posts, the hierarchy of memberships and the amazingly varied way in which this fundementally simple communication tool is used. I also know that someone new to the medium will miss a lot of the subtext and subtleties that are employed.
What I am saying is, I speak fluent forumese, but only pidgin-twitter.
Some of the difficulties may be bound to notions of identity. My generation may refer to an "online" world and a "real" world, implying that the two are in some way divisible, with activities that take place in one having little bearing on those in the other. I think that for today's digital generation the boundary between the two worlds is far blurrier, if it even exists at all. This is not to imply that 16 year olds are disappearing into a matrix-style cyberworld, instead for them the online environment is just a tool to use like a piece of paper or a telephone. When they send a message they are not "Twittering" in a self-conscious way, they are just talking with friends.
Xbox360: tomorrow's fond memory
This possibly depressing view doesn't mean that the ideas we have come up with aren't valid. I think we've got some very exciting plans. What it does make me reflect on is the ability of a generation that didn't grow up with an incredible variety of media to develop the right learning environment for a generation that takes these things for granted.
As a child of the 70s who was programming a BBC micro at home at age 11, I consider myself a product of the digital age and am fairly resistant to the idea that I might be getting left behind. But perhaps I need to admit I am seeing a new generation growing up who will understand implicitly the potential of technology to enrich their lives and learning. We need to ask them for their ideas and try and make sure nothing gets lost in translation.