Monday, June 15, 2009

The "New Normal"?

This was originally posted to an email list of educators who are ruminating on the future of educational technology in the light of Blackboard's acquisition of ANGEL.
Riffing on Neil's #5 (you only make one major change like this in your career / no one ever got fired for choosing IBM) and Joe's note re long-term company viability....
The comic strip "Funky Winkerbean" had a story arc (still ongoing) involving a character who developed terminal cancer. When she entered hospice, she remarked to her husband, "So... this is the 'new normal'."
"New Normal"...hmm.
I'm creaky enough to remember a startup company (a spinoff of the implosion of Control Data) that marketed a cool little CBT authoring application for the Mac called "Course of Action." For developers of interactive multimedia computer-based instruction, Authorware was *not* the greatest thing since sliced bread.
It beat sliced bread hands-down.
Partly as a result, Authorware was soon purchased by Macromind, Inc. (a larger company that had a world-beating animation program for the Macintosh called Director); the merged company being called Macromedia. Macromedia was HUGE. They OWNED the market for interactive multimedia.
Then Tim Berners-Lee and a few friends came up with HTML and HTTP.
Authorware and Director did not do well over HTTP.
Anyone here still use Director or Authorware?
Now, most of us are used to the idea that Things Change. We're pretty much okay with that, and we're pretty good at explaining changes - that's why we went into this business, right? (Okay, it's why *I* went into this business. YMMV.)
But we went into this gig expecting the changes to be incremental, not fundamental. We did NOT expect the world to turn upside-down every few years (Howard Rheingold and John Perry Barlow excepted).
But look what's happened:
The World Wide Web
et cetera, et cetera, in saecula saeculorum, ad confusium eterna...
Take a deep cleansing breath.
Nothing has changed. Nothing (really important) will change.
Really. People are still people. We all have the same basic physiology and psychology as the ancient Greeks. We all have the same basic hopes, fears, and aspirations. Our tools are different than those of our forebears. But like all tools, they're just tools. They let us do some things (affordances) and don't let us do other things (constraints). But regardless, they are merely tools. It's what we do with them that matters.
The tools we use for learning still let us:
* Examine and explore content,
* Communicate and collaborate, and
* Assess and report our understanding.
We need to remember that the differences betwen tools we used a few decades ago, and the tools we use now, are superficial. We (and
faculty and students) need to focus on the processes of teaching and learning.
But as we know, people tend to have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees.
So how do we get the folks we support to stop panicking over the beetles in the bark, and lift their heads up above the forest canopy to note that the sun still rises in the east?
As I see it, that's the real challenge.