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The following list was primarily derived from EDUCAUSE.  They produce a monthly publication that seeks to identify, compile, and review new technologies that show promise in education.  Below, I describe the emerging technologies that began to gain prominence in 2006.

  • Virtual meetings (aka, Virtual classrooms).  Virtual meetings are synchronous interactions that use the Internet as the medium to communicate through chat tools, application sharing, audio, and video.  In a virtual classroom, learners can encounter interactive discussions and  lectures as well as classmate and teacher interaction.  Virtual classrooms can also be woven into a LMS (EDUCAUSE, 2006a).  One of the most prominent examples of virtual classrooms is Second Life, which is the Web’s biggest “user-created, 3D virtual world community” (Linden Research, 2011, p. 1).  Another option for delivering course content in this manner is virtual conferencing.  In a virtual conference, students can learn from any location in a synchronous format or anywhere, anytime in an asynchronous format  (Beldarrain, 2006).
  • Screencasting.  A screencast allows users to record the actions taking place on a computer screen, and this recording occurs as a video accompanied by audio.  Screencasts allow users to access in-depth course material even when they may not be present in class.  They can distribute this technology as a Vodcast (EDUCAUSE, 2006b).
  • Remote Instrumentation.  Remote instrumentation allows individuals to control scientific equipment from a remote location.  Some examples of this type of equipment include spectrometers, astronomical tools, and other electronic instruments.  Educators can use remote instrumentation to provide authentic experiences to a large audience.  This initiative helps to move students beyond a textbook knowledge and offer real experience (EDUCAUSE, 2006c).
  • Google jockeying.  A Google jockey is a contributor to a class who searches the Internet for Web sites, ideas, resources, or terms that are presented during a given class.  The jockey’s role coincides real-time with the presentation in order to expand learning opportunities and refine the core topics (EDUCAUSE, 2006d).
  • Virtual worlds.  “Residents” of a virtual world immerse themselves in an online environment through avatars, which represent individuals.  Several educational institutions are implementing and experimenting with virtual worlds as a platform in which to conduct class.  This environment is poised to cultivate constructivist learning by positioning students in a learning environment without overt learning objectives (EDUCAUSE, 2006e).
  • Facebook.  Facebook is a major Website for social networking.  This site is a prime example of the challenges associated with information literacy (i.e., one’s ability to deal with the risks and opportunities the Internet age creates).  Facebook gives users the ability to create profiles that represent their individuality and post any materials or links they wish (EDUCAUSE, 2006f).
  • YouTube.  Users of this video-sharing service have the ability to share, upload, and store professional or personal videos.  In addition, users control who may view their videos by allowing anyone to access the content or to form communities.  Viewers can comment and rate videos if they wish (EDUCAUSE, 2006g).
  • Google Earth.  This interactive mapping technology permits consumers to virtually navigate the entire earth by viewing landscapes, mountains, buildings, roads, and similar structures.  Visual literacy can be improved and assessed using this application.  In addition, this tool can aid students’ awareness of cultural differences (EDUCAUSE, 2006h).
  • E-books.  E-books discard the belief that books should always be read from cover to cover.  This tool encourages readers to employ a self-directed and interactive role in how they learn.  E-books support new approaches to interact with the content of books.  Various learning styles can be accomodated by incorporating simulations, movies, or audio files (EDUCAUSE, 2006i).

Beldarrain, Y. (2006). Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139-153. doi:10.1080/01587910600789498

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006a, February). 7 things you should know about virtual meetings. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7011.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006b, March). 7 things you should know about screencasting. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7012.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006c, April). 7 things you should know about remote instrumentation. Retrieved from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7013.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006d, May). 7 things you should know about Google jockeying. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7014.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006e, June). 7 things you should know about virtual worlds. Retrieved from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7015.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006f, September). 7 things you should know about Facebook. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7017.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006g, September). 7 things you should know about YouTube. Retrieved from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7018.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006h, October). 7 things you should know about Google Earth. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7019.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2006i, December). 7 things you should know about e-books. Retrieved from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7020.pdf

Linden Research, I. (2011). Second Life Homepage. Retrieved from http://secondlife.com/

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EDUCAUSE produces a monthly publication that seeks to identify, compile, and review new technologies that show promise in education.  I describe the emerging technologies showing the most potential for education below in chronological order by year; the year 2005 through the present is covered in successive blogs.  The years do not necessarily represent the year of creation but of emergence.

  • Social Bookmarking.  Bookmarking occurs when a user saves the URL address of a Web site to a local computer.  Social bookmarking takes place when a user saves a bookmark to a public Web site and “tags” each location with keywords.  The ability to tag information resources with keywords and access these bookmarks through the Internet has the potential to alter how individuals find and store information.  Knowing where information is found may become less important than knowing how to retrieve information using a collaborative framework designed by colleagues (EDUCAUSE, 2005a).
  • Clickers.  Class size and human dynamics have traditionally restricted student engagement and feedback (e.g., a limited number of students dominate the interaction).  Clickers help to more efficiently facilitate engagement and interaction, which can be modified to any discipline and most teaching environments (e.g., small groups or partners).  A clicker is a small device that uses radio frequencies to communicate with a centralized computer in a classroom setting, such as the teacher’s or presenter’s computer (EDUCAUSE, 2005).
  • Podcasting/vodcasting.  Podcasting describes any hardware and software amalgamation that automatically allows audio files to download to an MP3 (i.e., Motion Photographic Experts Group Audio Layer 3) player.  This ability allows users to listen to or watch digital media content at their convenience.  Educators can use Podcasting as an asynchrounous learning tool that students can use anywhere, anytime.  If users add a video to a Podcast, then it becomes a Vodcast (EDUCAUSE, 2005c).
  • Wikis.  Wikis are powerful tools to promote collaboration.  The term “wikis” refers to Web pages that an individual can view and alter through Internet access and a Web browser.  This technology supports group collaboration and asychrounous communication (EDUCAUSE, 2005d).
  • Video blogging.  Similar to a blog, a video blog (vlog) employs video instead of text or audio.  Obviously, educators can use this technology to record lectures or special announcements.  In some instances, video blogs are used as an outlet for self expression or opinions (EDUCAUSE, 2005e).
  • Blogs.  A blog is simply an online journal, and viewers of a blog can respond.  The  technology is similar to e-mail.  Students usually employ blogs to complete assignments and for self expression.  Educators use blogs to support teaching and learning, promote dialogue, and express ideas or opinions (EDUCAUSE, 2005f).
  • Augmented reality.  Augmented Reality focuses on real space or objects and uses contextual data to expand students’ knowledge of that space or object.  It differs from virtual reality in that it does not generate a simulated reality (EDUCAUSE, 2005g).
  • Instant Messaging.  Instant Messaging (IM) allows for real-time communication through mobile computing devices or personal computers using the Internet.  IM now supports communication in the form of text, audio, video, images, and other attachments.  While IM has been around since the late 1990s, the functionality of IM is now ubiquitous with the advent of many new applications and mobility.  Learners using IM appear to feel connected with the faculty and peers in a way that is difficult using other multimedia.  Higher education has the opportunity to embrace this new medium of communication that requires little cost (EDUCAUSE, 2005h).
  • Collaborative Editing.  Collaborative editing allows several individuals to edit a document simultaneously.  In other words, this tool allows a user to edit a file or observe someone else editing the file in real time.  This technology is similar to instant messaging in that changes are seen instantly, and it resembles a wiki in that all participants can delete, change, or add content.  Collaborative editing provides a good platform for supporting groupwork in a distance learning environment; students can work together despite being separated by time and space (EDUCAUSE, 2005i).

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005a, May) 7 things you should know about social bookmarking. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7001.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005b, May) 7 things you should know about clickers. Retrieved from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7002.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005c, June) 7 things you should know about podcasting. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7003.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005d, July). 7 things you should know about wikis. Retrieved from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7004.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005e, August). 7 things you should know about videoblogging. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7005.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005f, September). 7 things you should know about blogs. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7006.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005g, October). 7 things you should know about augmented reality. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7007.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005h, November) 7 things you should know about instant messaging. Retrieved from  http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7008.pdf

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2005i, December) 7 things you should know about collaborative editing. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7009.pdf

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Since the inception of online learning, asynchronous communication has been the primary means of communication and instruction. The reason for adopting this mode of communication has been based on the constraints of technology and the ability of students and teachers to timeshift. However, recent developments in technology present feasible and cost-effective options for synchronous communication and instruction. Adding to this moment is the fact that most Internet users, and the population at large, prefer immediate interaction and feedback. This new mode of instruction and communication is referred to as Synchronous Online Learning Environments (SOLE).

Most popular course management systems (CMS) offer similar tools for teaching a course, and most of these tools are asynchronous (e.g., drop boxes, email or announcement boards). However, recent technological developments have allowed students to have synchronous experiences that are similar to traditional, face-to-face classes. Examples of these new tools include video, audio and chat. These multiple media channels help to facilitate the enrichment of course material and learning.

In addition, these new tools can either serve as a primary source of communication or in a supporting role. Many of these synchronous tools can be used simultaneously, and in a simultaneous scenario, one tool is primary and the other is secondary. If a tool plays a supporting role to the primary mode of communication, then it is an example of Ancillary Communication.

Learners as Producers of Information

In the early models of online learning, the teacher was seen as the disseminator of knowledge, and students were regarded as information consumers. This model has in large part continued through the use of CMS, despite dramatically increased access to knowledge by all Internet users. Web 2.0 stands in juxtaposition to this approach because it presents a new paradigm in which users are consumers and producers of information. Two examples help to demonstrate this phenomenon. In the 1990’s, individuals were afforded the possibility of having their own printing press through the introduction of laser printers. Now Internet users have the equivalent of their own broadcasting network through Web 2.0 technologies.

Can Students Learn by Creating Information?

The theoretical approach for using these synchronous tools is rooted in elements of constructionism and constructivism. Constructionism holds that learning occurs as several individuals construct something in a public setting. Constructivism regards reality as a social construct that is shared, and constructivists argue that learning takes place as individuals construct and assign meaning to this reality. In other words, each learner constructs knowledge in a different way. The ideas of constructionism and constructivism serve as the basis for teaching through the learner’s production of material.

Four Learner Interactions in a SOLE Environment

In a SOLE environment, learners have an opportunity to experience four types of interaction. First, learner-content interactions describe a scenario where learners are working with class material directly. Second, learner-instructor interactions can be seen when teachers communicate with students, and this type of interaction has several manifestations (e.g., chat, lecture or personal communication). Third, learner-learner interactions take place as students contact one another. Fourth, learner-interface interactions help students to succeed in the first three types of interaction; the point of this type of interaction is to help students navigate and embrace the first three interactions.

The authors pointed out that no one type of media enhances learning more than another. However, each type of media affords different opportunities for implementation. One of the affordances of computers is that students can experience synchronous interactions without being in the same location. In addition, Internet users can experience more than one type of communication simultaneously (e.g., video and chat).

Multitasking in this manner reflects the skill set of many learners that are familiar with using Web 2.0 applications. Idealistically, two teachers would work together when trying to teach synchronously using duel modes of communication. The example given by the authors described one teacher as the lecturer and another teacher contributing to a chat room simultaneously. Similarly, students could be recruited to play this secondary or primary role. In order for duel communication to be effective and efficient, two teachers or contributors are required.

Manifestations of Ancillary Communication

Moving beyond the abstract, the authors offered eight practical applications of Ancillary Communication. Each one of these examples is predicated on the assumption than two teachers are contributing to the lesson or communication. In addition, this duel instruction assumes that the primary communication is taking place through visual and audio channels, and secondary communication is taking place through chat or on a whiteboard. The primary instructor is assumed to be presenting material in each case, so only the role of the secondary (i.e., ancillary) instructor will be described.

  • Agree-Disagree: The teacher either affirms the content being presented or offers a critical decent. Two instructors offering opposing views on a topic often surprises students. This disagreement can prompt deeper thinking among students.
  • Elaborate: In this scenario, the second teacher provides further information on the material being presented. This could take the form of more detail, or the instructor could attempt to deepen a real-time discussion among students.
  • Diverge: Sometimes teachers intentionally offer an example or propose a discussion that does not seemingly connect with the material being presented. However, the unrelated material is eventually tied to the primary topic.
  • Scaffolding: Learning often requires that students apply the content that is covered. In scaffolding, teachers move from demonstration to slowly encouraging students to apply knowledge. In the end, students are able to accomplish the task. Similarly, scaffolding occurs when the secondary teacher offers several examples of the topic being presented.
  • Reiterate: The secondary teacher uses the exact same language as the primary teacher in order to focus students’ attention on a specific topic.
  • Emphasis: In this case, the ancillary teacher uses different, summative language to emphasize a point. Teachers can also de-emphasize a point if students are focusing on the wrong area.
  • Relevance: Students often want to know “what’s the point?” The secondary instructor can provide clear reasons why a specific topic is important for students to understand.
  • Social Engineering: The emotional state of the class can play a role in learning. When social engineering techniques are employed, the secondary teacher tries shape the emotional state of the class to help promote learning. Examples of social engineering include using humor, creating tension and building confidence in learners.

New Ideas

The idea of Ancillary Communication makes a great deal of sense. I have read many similar ideas, but this is the best example of communicating in duel modes that I have come across. Current Web 2.0 tools make this idea feasible in several combinations. Social networks, chat, instant messaging and Twitter would all help to support this approach.

Future Trends

The possibility of two teachers working together seems idealistic but not realistic. Certainly, if two teachers were committed to the idea, then they could make it work. However, several variables would have to be in place: similar course, similar content, similar platform and other logistical details. The idea of including students makes this idea much more feasible, though perhaps not as pertinent. In some cases, one instructor could conduct a more realistic version of Ancillary Communication. A teacher could pre-record and play a lecture online for students. While this lecture is presented to the online class, the teacher could serve as his own ancillary teacher. This would take planning, but might be possible.

Jones, M. G. & Harmon, S. W. (2010). Instructional strategies for teaching in synchronous online learning environments (SOLE). In Yang, H. H. & Yuen, S. C. (Eds.), Collective intelligence and e-learning 2.0: Implications of web-based communities and networking (pp. 94-108). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference. doi: 10.4018/978-1-60566-729-4.ch005

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Diigo, founded in 2006, is a popular social bookmarking application. Social bookmarking is a Web 2.0 technology that allows users to bookmark Web sites and place tags on those bookmarks using keywords. In juxtaposition, the traditional concept of bookmarking in a browser simply saved a placeholder for a Web site so that users could return to that site in the future.  Social bookmarking also differs from file sharing in that the bookmarks merely reference resources rather than sharing material. The term “social bookmarking” was actually coined by another social bookmarking service called Delicious, which was launched in 2003.

Diigo ImageAfter registering with Diigo, users can store bookmarks and give a description to each bookmark (e.g., metadata). Users have the option to designate these bookmarks as private or public, add tags, highlight a page for future reference and add post it notes to Web pages for personal viewing. During the process of bookmarking a page, Diigo actually populates a list of suggested tags that are based on classification schemes that other users have already created and saved.

Social bookmarking facilitates a new way to categorize and organize information. These Web sites are usually free and anyone can become a user. This tool is especially beneficial when trying to share resources with other individuals. Interestingly, the users of social bookmarking services (amateurs) create the tags for each bookmark. Over a period of time, these communities of users create distinctive structures of terms and keywords. This bank of keywords has been named a “folksonomy,” as opposed to a taxonomy.

These new groups of users facilitate the creation of new communities that help to evolve and establish the tags and folksonomies within any given field. As a result, folksonomies are constantly changing. This scenario also serves as a potential downfall because there is no oversight on how resources are tagged or organized. For example, if a user created a bookmark with information about guitars and only included the tag “guitar,” then others looking for that source might miss the site because the tags “instrument” and “music” were not also included. Another obvious issue inherent with social bookmarking is that it does add another layer of maintenance in a very busy and congested Web 2.0 world.

Creating social bookmarks is easy and straightforward. There seems to be a continuous shift toward folksonomies and away from taxonomies. This could force databases to include these novel classification systems in the futures. After all, storing and accessing information is one of the most basic tasks involved in education. In the future, more focus might be placed upon retrieving information in the context of a shared peer group rather than remembering where information was stored. In the end, social bookmarks help students and peers to share and distribute resources, papers and references.

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Online learning is a force in higher education because this medium allows students to have access to education anytime, anywhere. This new breed of teaching is challenging traditional instruction in two ways. First, learning is moving from being synchronous to asynchronous. Second, higher education is beginning to shift from being teacher-centered to learner-centered. This article focused on the implications of these two changes. In addition, the authors (Repman, Zinskie and Downs, 2010) identified and offered solutions to problems inherent with the adoption of this new approach to teaching

The authors clearly defined the difference between distance learning, online learning and e-learning 2.0. They defined distance learning as being the expansive idea of teaching individuals at a distance, which has a long and varied history. Online learning was identified as the approach to teach courses through course management system (CMS) in a synchronous or asynchronous format. E-learning 2.0 was defined as a recent approach to teaching that incorporates Web 2.0 applications that are learner-centered.

Web 2.0 applications offer at least two powerful benefits. First, collaboration and connectivity are part of the fabric of Web 2.0 tools. Second, Web 2.0 tools allow students to become active creators of content rather than passive consumers of information. This second benefit moves teachers from the role of knowledge transmitter to a position of facilitation. The authors presented research (Craig, 2007) that questioned whether or not CMS could promote collaboration and creativity. The authors pointed out that there is a huge disconnect between the way individuals currently use the web and how CMS operate.

Unfortunately, the growth of online classes is not limited to a pure pursuit of increased learning and better teaching methods. One of the primary rationales for increasing the number of online courses was access and efficiency. Another reason given for the increase of online courses was a push for schools to do more for less.

Five Obstacles to Developing Robust E-Learning 2.0 Environments

The newfound focus on online education offers solutions for a changing educational setting. Currently, students have a plethora of options in pursuing higher education. In most cases, geography is no longer a barrier for students to attend the college of their choice. These new opportunities have allowed colleges to tap into new markets and see dramatic increases in enrollment. However, the authors presented five obstacles to developing robust e-learning 2.0 environments.

  1. As institutions pursue these new opportunities for growth, the mission and vision of the college must be used as a filter. A mere “top-down” approach that mandates online classes does not seem to work efficiently. Also, organizations should develop a means to assess these new courses in a meaningful way.
  2. There are several barriers to faculty teaching online courses in an effective manner. Sometimes, educators simply upload traditional materials to a CMS. This approach is often the result of a lack of time, support and skills.
  3. The current teaching core is comprised primarily of digital immigrants (e.g., Baby Boomers and Generation X). The student population is comprised of digital natives (e.g., Net Generation). This new generation embraces the ever-evolving nature of technology. Teachers need to embrace the reality that Web 2.0 technologies are, by nature, dynamic and constantly changing.
  4. CMS could actually serve as impedance to the growth of e-learning 2.0. CMS are used to replicate the traditional experience in a digital format, managing and formalizing instruction. A shift in approach must occur in online education for e-learning to succeed. Instruction must become more learner-centered and rely on collective intelligence. The Web 2.0 tools are in place, the push to embrace these tools is not thriving.
  5. The rapidly changing nature of Web 2.0 application is a major obstacle for faculty members, as was mentioned in #3 above. The apprehension over constantly changing technology is exacerbated by the recommendation that teachers immerse themselves in the technology before using it as a teaching tool.

Action Steps to Embrace E-Learning 2.0:

An increased awareness of available Web 2.0 applications must be the first step. Providing faculty members with overviews and updates of new technology is necessary. Also, the vision and mission of institutions might need to be tweaked to support E-Learning 2.0. The authors offered several recommendations that would facilitate the adoption of E-Learning 2.0.

  1. Early adopters should model Web 2.0 tools and require those tools be used to accomplish certain tasks.
  2. Important matters of institutional support should be discussed prior to the growth of online courses. Several issues should be addressed, such as ownership, policies, conduct, evaluation and office hours.
  3. Innovative ideas in e-learning 2.0 should become part of the faculty reward system, such as consideration for tenure. Revenue sharing is another aspect of the reward system that could be embraced by institutions.
  4. Institutions should provide a variety of opportunities for faculty members to train and develop skills. Teachers have a tendency to avoid admitting that they don’t understand new technologies, especially as it relates to their field of expertise.

How can educators improve by using ideas from this chapter?

Several of the implications from this chapter are aimed at administrators. Each of the four action steps provided direction for administrators to facilitate the adoption of e-learning 2.0. Administrators could require that certain tasks or professional development be accomplished through Web 2.0 technologies. This would expose the faculty to these tools. Institutional support should be addressed before dramatic changes are made to online courses. Administrators need to look for opportunities to reward innovative approaches in the e-learning 2.0 realm. A variety of training needs to be offered in order to arm teachers with necessary tools to be successful in the e-learning 2.0 environment.

What are future trends?

The authors ended the chapter by describing the combination of Web 2.0 tools with existing technologies. This might occur, but I think many of the CMS are so entrenched with traditional methods that their evolution will be slow and painful. In my opinion, an easier solution would be to add a few traditional elements to existing Web 2.0 tools. For example, I think Ning (before it started charging) provided an ideal setting for instruction. If a grade book and a roster were added to Ning, then it would be even more robust. However, I don’t think current CMSs (e.g., Blackboard) are going to suddenly become a hotbed for innovation and collaboration anytime soon.

Repman, J., Zinskie, C., & Downs, E. (2010). Fulfilling the Promise:  Addressing Institutional Factors that Impede the Implementation of E-Learning 2.0. In Yang, H. H., & Yuen, S. C. (Eds.), Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking (pp. 44-60). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference. doi: 10.4018/978-1-60566-729-4.ch003

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When thoughts and ideas appear to be incomprehensible, the reason is, at times, because these thoughts and ideas mean exactly nothing. However, this is not the case with Stephen Downes. Mr. Downes is obviously steeped in the traditions of postmodernism, and his arguments fall exactly into line with the arguments of well-known postmodern philosophers. His arguments around cognitivism versus emergentism coincide with traditional arguments about modernism versus postmodernism.

Therefore, I will approach this chapter summary by alluding to traditional modern versus postmodern arguments in order to better discuss Mr. Downes suppositions. You will notice that this synopsis of postmodernism coincides exactly with Mr. Downes arguments; in fact, I’ll use his quotes to illustrate from whence his ideas are derived. Hence, this review of postmodernism will serve as a review of Mr. Downes’ philosophical viewpoint. After discussing his philosophy, I’ll discuss his points on the future of education, which are better formed than his philosophical views.

Postmodernism: Synopsis in view of Downes’ ideas

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) helped to usher in the philosophies of postmodernism, which were in reaction to modernism. The distillation of his greatest work, Critique of Pure Reason, reveals Kant’s argument that knowledge is derived from the structure of the human mind. That is, humans understand reality because categories exist in the mind, which in turn produce perceptions. Downes picked up on this postmodern idea, “Therefore, in our own minds, the concept ‘Paris’ is a loose association of a whole bunch of different things, and hence the concept ‘Paris’ exists in no particular place in our minds, but rather, is scattered throughout our minds” (Downes, p. 4)

Skipping forward, Nietzche (1844-1900) took up the mantle and argued that truth was simply an illusion. In other words, Nietzche argued that truth is an illusion of human perception, a metaphor. These “illusions” seem real because we become so familiar with the illusions that eventually they become “reality.” This basic premise is foundational to Downes arguments about network theory, “How do we distinguish between true and false—what, indeed, does it even mean to say that something is true and false? The answer to these questions is going to be different for each of us” (Downes, p. 7)

This foundation in philosophical thought forced philosophers to wrestle with two major issues that ushered in the age of postmodernism:

  1. Hermeneutics (i.e., Interpretation of text): Postmodern philosophers wanted to identify how one might find the true interpretation of a text. Gadamer (1900-2002) held that no one could objectively and completely understand the intent of the original author. Therefore, the meaning we derive from the text emerges as we “dialogue” with the text.
  2. Language: Postmodern philosophers sought to determine whether or not language could objectively express truth. Wittgenstein (1889-1951) argued that all language is conditioned by society. Therefore, language can never objectively portray truth. This led to the stance that “perceived” truth is socially constructed.

Downes actually quotes Wittgenstein on this, “…argues that meaning is context sensitive, that what we mean by a word depends on a community of speakers…” (Downes, p. 6)

Positives and Negatives of Postmodernism and, thus, Downes’ notions

Postmodernism and modernism both have value. Modernism was valuable because it encouraged solutions to age-old problems and encouraged individual rights. The problem with modernism was that it ignored the non-rational parts of life and nature. Postmodernism reacted to these notions, and helped us understand that we can’t change, or even understand, everything.

Many of these postmodern corrections were excellent, but the negatives of postmodernism can be found in areas where it goes to far in reaction to modernism. For example, when Mr. Downes talks about “folk psychology,” he is in large part describing modernism. In describing why anyone might have a “belief,” Mr. Downes boasted, “…they are, in other words, relics of ‘folk psychology’. Saying ‘someone has a belief’ is like saying that ‘the Sun is rising’ – it is literally untrue, and depends on a mistaken world view” (Downes, p. 21).

This is one of many examples in which Mr. Downes argued that there is no such thing as absolute truth. A number of books and philosophers pose a question and two fields of study (i.e., math and science) in order to counter this highly contentious postmodern notion. The question is this: “If there is no such thing as absolute truth, then is that statement absolutely true.” Answering either yes or no to this question is checkmate on this postmodern thought. Math demonstrates that there is absolute truth: |2| + |2| = |4|. Downes tried to proactively debunk math (p. 17), but he used statistics as the foundation for his argument. An elementary understanding of statistics demonstrates that math is not the problem in statistics, rather the interpretation and application of the math is the issue.

Postmodernism in Education

Some postmodern notions in education also serve as an excellent example of over-correction, and Mr. Downes unfortunately falls into this trap. In modernism, scientific ideas were considered to be true to the extent that they corresponded (i.e., made sense) with the observed world. Postmodernism corrected this idea by postulating that these ideas were only tentative because the infinite number of tests required to prove the idea were impossible to conduct.

Postmodernism helped mankind understand the limits of knowledge, but the next step that some postmodern thinkers take does not make sense. The next stage of the “tentative truth” argument is that something is true for someone only in that it fits together with that person’s world-view (perception). Therefore, if truth is tentative or derived through perception, then science is merely an old record of research traditions that is marred by a scientific language and perspective.

Taken to an illogical conclusion, this thought process could lead to absurd ideas. For example, radical postmodernists might abandon traditional, proven curriculum and adopt letting each student discover their own truth, which is very close to what Mr. Downes proposed in relationship to Personal Learning Environments (PLE).

Future trends

I completely agree with the concept of PLE, but not in the context presented philosophically in this chapter. In my opinion, the power of PLE is best realized under the careful supervision of a teacher. I also believe that a PLE would work increasingly better as individuals become more educated. Thus, a PLE would generally work better in graduate school than middle school.

A large number of cutting-edge thinkers have move beyond postmodern thought, and Mr. Downes alluded to these ideas in his summative thoughts. For example, I agree with Mr. Downes that the brain resembles a chaotic system, and I think future research will incorporate this viewpoint. However, I completely disagree with Mr. Downes view on traditional, empirical research, “The days of the controlled study involving 24 students ought to end.”

Mr. Downes offered an insightful observation, “As the web surged toward 2.0 the educational community solidified its hold on the more traditional approach. The learning management system became central” (Downes, pp. 12-13). I agree with this supposition, and educators will begin to embrace Web 2.0 technologies more as they become familiar with such technologies.

In the end, Mr. Downes ideas concerning learning through a network are valid and poignant. However, his philosophical premise to support these ideas was not as sound. In contrast to his ideas, I believe that knowledge is the outcome of an interaction between experience of the world and our ideas about the world, and I hold that finding ultimate truth is possible in certain situations, not all. Learning through a network system and using PLE definitely have a place in the future of education.

Downes, S. (2010). Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge. In Yang, H. H., & Yuen, S. C. (Eds.), Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking (pp. 1-26). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference.

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Wikis are powerful tools to promote collaboration. For one of our class assignments, Dr. Yuen asked students to form into small groups and create a wiki. After each group formed, we agreed upon a topic and began working. The topic chosen by my group was called Doghouse Solutions, and the wiki was designed to help guys get out of trouble with their wife or girlfriend (i.e., get out of the doghouse.

In the past, I have not enjoyed group assignments as much as individual assignments for a number of reasons. The greatest concerns were flexibility of time, dependence on others, or sacrifice of ideas to reach a consensus. However, after reading a couple of articles on wikis, I entered this project with new insight on group assignments. The work of Warren Houghton (as cited by Alden, 2010) maintained that group activities cultivate deep learning. He explained that the obligation to develop a single collaborative answer required a great deal of multifaceted interaction and exploration. Individuals in a group do not tend to simply accept unsupported information. Instead, new ideas are developed and distilled through discussion.

The process of creating a wiki was fun and informative. Each member of the group worked collaboratively on each page. One member would add the page, and each individual would add and tweak content. These additions included graphics, videos, text and links. Wikis allow for a large variety of media, so a wiki site has the potential of being very dynamic and interactive.

Another superior feature of wikis is the ability to track changes. A wiki site will keep a recorded history of every time a new version of a page is created. This allows website managers to revert to previous versions if necessary. Also, the teacher of the class has the ability to see exactly how much work each individual has done. Group projects usually have the potential for some students to do less work, while leaders carry the majority of the load. However, in a wiki scenario, each student will earn a grade this is based upon the amount of work he or she contributed to the wiki, which can be seen by the instructor and all group members.

As our group project developed, each member contributed a different viewpoint, and we helped to sharpen each other’s ideas. This effort was not limited to content or text. For example, some group members included multimedia elements, and other group members suggested graphics and videos that would be even better than the originals. In this instance, one member had the idea of adding the video or graphic and another member improved upon this idea. Similarly, gender perspective was important to our site because it was aimed at helping men get out of trouble with women. Women helped balance the absurd ideas of men, and men helped to clarify what men would be best at accomplishing.

There are a myriad of possibilities for incorporating wikis in the classroom. This format is ideal for group assignments, especially in online and hybrid settings. An entire class could actually coordinate to create a larger work, such as a wikibook. Wikis help to facilitate group work in a way that encourages idea development and sparks conversation, including those individuals that may not contribute as much in a traditional setting.

Alden, J. (2010). Use of Wikis to Support Collaboration among Online Students.  In H.

H. Yang & S. C. Yuen (Eds.) Collective intelligence and e-learning 2.0: Implications of web-based communities and networking (pp. 110-132). New York: IGI Global.

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