Elon University

Panel Session: The Future of Learning IS the Internet

Waking up to the possibilities for transforming education

Brief description: What does a classroom look like when students can be in many cities at once? What does a teacher look like when participation and contribution happen from anywhere? What does learning look like when it is participatory? What does “open” mean when the majority of scholarly resources are locked in journals, in private archives, beyond the reach of many? And what does higher education have to contribute to the future of the Internet? On many levels, the future of learning is the future of the Internet. Session organizer was Cathy Davidson co-founder of HASTAC – the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. Panelists included Laurent Dubois, a Duke University historian of French colonialism and the Caribbean; Mark Anthony Neal, accomplished author, one of the foremost scholars of Black popular culture in America and blogger at the New Black Man website; Negar Mottahedeh, she received national notice for staging the first-ever Twitter Film Festival as well as for serving as a communications node in the Iranian election protests.; Tony O’Driscoll, co-author of “Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration.”

Details of the session

A group of digital-tools-wielding faculty from Duke University gathered to share their insights at the FutureWeb session on learning and the Web. “The real challenge is how to bust open the walls of the university,” said Laurent Dubois, an educator who leverages world cup soccer in his teaching. “To no longer think about the classroom as a settled place; it sets up a relationship of authority and knowledge.”

The panel discussed the future of education and how it will be affected by the emerging technologies of the Internet. The moderator was Cathy Davidson, Duke professor and creator of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory).

Negar Mottahedeh has utilized the Web in one of the most original ways seen yet to get through to students. She created the first-ever Twitter Film Festival, where each student tweeted three things about a film she had posted on their course blog. The festival lasted two days and had approximately 300 followers.

“I feel very strongly that my students are in a place of privilege,” she said referring to their access to the Internet. “I’m constantly wondering how I can make a difference, how we can make a difference.”

Mottahedeh said social media can also benefit students in education because there is an immediate response among one another.

Davidson said the Internet serves as a place for students to up the ante in their work. She said when students write papers that will be posted on the Web for millions to see, they take more pride in their work and do a better job than when they simply hand it in to a professor to read.

The rapid pace of getting information on the Internet helps, she added. “There’s something about this culture that wants education to be retrograde, to not be urgent,” she said. “It needs to be urgent.”

Davidson said she also feels strongly about allowing students to use their laptops and other portable Internet-wired devices in class. She challenges them to find information quickly on their computers in class and relay what they find to fellow students.

“Most schools are in an age of digital lockdown,” she said. Davidson said that by forcing students to put away the technology, they are not able to take advantage of what it can allow them to learn. She grinned, saying that students do not pay attention any more when their laptops are not allowed in the classroom.

O’Driscoll said he allows students to Tweet in class to get feedback on how his lesson is going – he can tell this way if the students are bored and when they are gaining a lot of value out of the content being covered. This year, he had students produce and edit a movie for a class project instead of writing term papers. “I try to use as much as what’s publicly out there,” he said, referring to various Internet platforms students can use.

While the Web brings new opportunities to the classroom, the panelists said it is still important to remember the finest traditions behind teaching. “It remains important to think about what great teachers have done to be great teachers and to not lose sight of that,” Neal said. “We need to get students to remember the nuts and bolts of things that we do in classrooms.”

Neal said it is vital to teach students how to think, and teachers are still not being given enough of these tools. He added that there is fluidity in classroom when students are allowed to interact with the Web. “They’re going to respond to what they like,” he said.

Davidson cited one groundbreakig example of utilizing technology in the classroom – the Quest to Learn School in New York, which teaches academically disadvantaged children through the use of video games.

“They’re doing incredible things,” she said.

-By Laura Smith, Imagining the Internet

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