I’m delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words about the world of educational technology, to which career colleges have played an important role, and contributed many innovations in the field, such as e-learning.
For the first 40 years of my academic career, I dictated all my correspondence to a group of administrative assistants well trained in the art of stenography – a short-hand method of communication that allows the note taker to copy down verbatim speech in real time by using a collection symbols that can best be described as a mixture of script and geometry, a combination of straight and curved lines, large and small, with open and closed forms that, to the untrained eye, look like a doctor’s signature on the bottom of a prescription. Stenography’s roots go back to ancient Greece; contains a heavy dose of influence from Japan and China; and its modern form was perfected during the 19th century by two Englishmen.
Stenography’s popularity in the last century is quite similar to the present-day 21st century net lingo abbreviations: B-T-W (by the way), L-O-L (lots of laughs or laughing out loud), O-M-G (oh my God) – each of which in shorthand is comprised of a set of three strokes made by the quick flick of the wrist going up, down and across the page. You might say that my speeches were translated into “text messages” years prior to my knowledge of that term.
I’m sure you have all heard that Al Gore invented the Internet. Well, today, I wish to publicly stake a similar claim that has not previously appeared in the news. Long before the Winklevoss twins told Mark Zuckerberg that THEY and not HE invited Facebook, I – Stephen Joel Trachtenberg - created social networking. Just ask any of the hundreds of friends of mine who are linked together by shared common interests: administrators I mentored are now college presidents communicating regularly with each other about their work; nineteen GW alumni, who served as presidents of the student-association, regularly chat with each other about jobs and family; classmates from James Madison High School share vacation plans and photos, and so on. I must have started over two-dozen “friends-groups” - some with more privacy controls than others.
Now, it’s true, I used phones, faxes and the U.S. mail to get my messages from place to place, and not the Internet, but that is a mere technically, as they say.
The development of communications technology is evolutionary - like so many other human tools: it began in pre-historic times with sharp rocks and pictograms on cave walls; it morphed into blinking lights from ship to ship at sea; smoke rings signaling war, peace and Papal elections; dots and dashes across the wires of telegraphic messages; to apps on smart-phones and with everything in-between from charcoal to pencils to lasers – from fresco cycles to power point. Technology is but an aid for the answers to three basic questions:
- What more can we discover?
- How can we share with each other what we have learned?
- How best to preserve what we know?
In schools we teach techniques for investigation: critical thinking, judgment, methods of experimentation and research, and explorations of creativity. For each generation, new technology allows individuals to probe deeper, calculate faster and make connections to more complicated and random factoids than ever before.
Bless technology for the aid it provides the learning process, but never succumb to the belief that it is THE ultimate panacea.
Remember that every generation considers what they are witnessing in real time to be novel and unique, newly minted and original. Let’s not typecast memories merely as anachronisms of an earlier era but understand they represent trends and linkages from the past going forward.
Students need proper tools to excel. They require and deserve schools with roofs that don’t leak, windows that open and close, toilets that flush, classrooms that come with chairs, desks and computers, hot lunches, outdoor play spaces for their bodies, and most of all, teachers who are competent, enthusiastic and able to excite young minds. Children taught under these conditions will come to college prepared to intellectually soar.
When they get to universities, they need find places that are economically affordable and well managed, institutions that utilize the resources of human capital, physical plants and technological infra-structure to provide options for learning that fit a variety of learning styles and academic disciplines. For some, one-on-one tutorials will be best while for others e-learning will provide the most suitable format. Place-based campuses will serve one group while at home e-learning centers suit others.
Location, delivery systems and instructional styles will increasingly become more and of a smorgasbord, a table where the learner will actively participate in what and how she learns.
The electronic platform will be a social equalizer, reducing the hierarchy between professor and students, leveling the playing field by giving students added power over curriculum. In a method of open-source learning, the questions and answers will continually flow to and from tutor and student, pushing the envelope to new heights. Courses will be free flowing lines of inquiry, motivated not only by faculty expertise but also by individual student and group projects that are shared activities.
During the 1980s, the Carter Administration, the high cost of energy drove colleges and universities in New England to close down for a month during the coldest part of the winter. With remote access to lectures and libraries, that old type of hiatus is unnecessary.
Over the years, GW has worked closely with the U.S. Navy to offer continuing education instruction to sailors serving on submarines and aircraft carriers floating around the world. At first, this was accomplished by using VHS tapes – those bulky black boxes once considered state of the art portable learning. Of course, with the advent of more advanced technology the delivery systems have changed formats many times but the general concept of studying while sailing continues.
If students can work at the bottom of the ocean, why can they not also do so on the surface of the moon, or for that matter, from their living rooms or office cubicles? Pod-casts can travel with you in a slender holder smaller than an old-fashioned cigarette case.
It is the interaction with knowledge, not the mere passive acceptance of information that makes the difference. To make a break through in knowledge, you must walk in front of technology, not sit behind it. As the saying on the T-shirt points out, “If you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.”
Innovation is the key to success.
Watch a replay of the live event on the APSCU Website.