Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Commentary: Sotir: The End of the Information Age

I get inspiration from a variety of sources. Actually, the number of sources that are available for that inspiration happens to be the problem. Take for example, this blog site. I can spend every hour of every day researching Web sites and still only skim the surface. And like the universe itself, it seems to have no end.
This morning an article from Pip Coburn of UBS on the Always On Network entitled "The Information Age is Over."(http://www.alwayson-network.com/comments.php?id=10503_0_11_0_C) popped up on one of my RSS feeds. Read a few articles down if you don't yet know what an RSS feed is. I made a quick click to the site. I like Coburn's ideas, and he does seem to have a firm grasp of the way that technology goes. And apparently, yet another Age is gone...and I almost missed its demise. To be sure, technology is still there, but we seem to have left the Information Age, and apparently catapulted headlong into the Integration Age. I wonder if the prehistoric humans were as confused by the various ages as we are. Hopefully, they were ignorant of the changes around them. It's easier that way.
But not so for us. As Coburn says, "It ain't the Information Age any more. Sorry, but it ain't. The Information Age meant aiming to get the information, but we can now all get tons and tons and tons of it anytime..." How true is that? How overwhelmed are we not only by all the information available, but of all the methods to access that information. Even the now ubiquitous cell phone is being primed to not only give us Internet access (that is sooooooo 2002), but also access to our TV news. Need the news NOW? Check out your phone. Is a Dick Tracy wrist phone so out there? Click on: http://www.watchreport.com/2004/11/the_current_sta.html , which bills itself as the site with the current state of wrist phones. Yes, complete with photos, thank you very much. Information is there, around us, 24/7, and requires little effort to retrieve. Except knowing HOW to retrieve it, of course. It's always something, isn't it? Coburn writes "Complexity can become simple...But if there isn't a commitment to make it simple, it won't get simple. The commitment is key. The commitment to make a change. "
So how does that filter down to education, and especially to Adult Education? Instructors have been committed to creating lesson plans that make complex ideas simple enough to understand. And as those who support the instructors, we must be ever watchful of the new methods for making that work. In my office is a print that says 'Change, of any sort, requires courage'. Education on the other hand, lives by the theory that 'if it ain't broke don't fix it'. Of course we clean up the grammar, but education will never be the hotbed of change. We like to think we are, but in practice, we really aren't.
As a School Board member in the 90's, for example, I argued against the idea of buying typewriters to teach computer keyboarding. Typewriters were cheaper, they argued back, and the keyboard is the same. It's the process that's different, I argued on. You cannot cut and paste on a typewriter. You cannot copy text on a typewriter. But typewriters were in the comfort zone, and computers were not. Staff recognized the need for keyboarding classes, but were not yet willing to make the change to computers. For the record, that was the year the district purchased the first computers for keyboarding classes. Change CAN happen, with persistance.
The same holds true in the AELC. Fortunately AELC instructors are more willing than most to try out new ideas, as that is the core principle of our program. So I use a blog to communicate with the instructors. (http://aelc.blogspot.com) . Some have taken to it more than others, and some have even embraced the changes made from paper memos to emails to blogs. Others... well, they are still looking for that comfort zone.
Right now we are in the process of changing the way our lab accesses the educational materials we offer students. Currently we have cross-correlated our classroom curricula and educational software so that students have immediate access to the information they need (our Individual Educational Plans, or IEP's). Students from any level can come into the Center and instructors only need their class number to put them on the correct software to enhance what they are learning. It works well and allows us to assist over 1000 students a year from 7 or 8 different programs, and about 45 different levels, using 40 -50 software programs.
This fall we will unveil a new IEP, called an OIEP for Online Individual Educational Plan. That plan will also be cross-correlated with the classroom curricula, as well as the software IEP. The difference will be that it will be available, not on paper, but on the computer desktop. If the software we have is inadequate to meet student needs, we will have access to additional educational Websites, conveniently correlated to the classroom curricula. Since the OIEP is housed on the computer desktop, Websites such as those found on this blog will be accessible to our students and instructors with a simple click on the appropriate link. This will give us additional learning tools for our students, but will require a change in how instructors process the information available for students. And change is always difficult.
The key, of course, as Coburn said, is integration. It isn't enough to know the Websites are out there, but we need to integrate those Sites into the educational fabric of the Center. Change will not be easy, but if it offers our students better tools for success, it is essential.