July 1998 // Letters to the Editor
The Ten Year Mindset
by Glenn Ralston
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source (http://ts.mivu.org/) as: Glenn Ralston "The Ten Year Mindset" The Technology Source, July 1998. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Ed Neal, in his June 1998 article in The Technology Source, "Does Using Technology in Instruction Enhance Learning? or, The Artless State of Comparative Research," seems to question the virtuality of learning technology compared to the reality of the classroom.

But Neal is not breaking new ground here. He has selected a portion of the educational landscape where the plow, however deep or sharp, appears to be turning over tired, worn-out material of dubious origin.

Neal states:

...in the 1960s, instructional television promised to change teaching and learning dramatically. College administrators and state legislators, hoping to 'expand educational opportunity' (and ultimately save money) by using this electronic delivery system, invested millions in closed-circuit systems, TV production facilities, educational television stations, and even airborne broadcasting systems....Instructional television failed to achieve the transformation of higher education [emphasis added].

Hopefully, we did indeed learn from those mistakes, especially over the past ten years of robust computer-centered media development. Unfortunately, many have not learned, and remain in that mindset of ten years back or more.

Neal continues:

...we cannot ignore the enormous costs of the technology in this equation [emphasis added]. If [Schutte] had used these methods in his traditional class, costs would not have increased, but because he and his students needed the networked technology of a major educational institution, they incurred the extremely high costs of technology.

In his equation of unnecessary and expensive upgrading with many highly paid experts, Neal has stacked the deck with the outdated, costly assumptions that remain frozen from ten or more years ago.

What if—in the real world—you acquired a PC at the same cost today as you did one 1,000 times less powerful 10 years ago, and then in another ten years acquired one 1,000 times more powerful than your present one, also at the same cost? That is an increase in power of one million times, at the same cost, over just 20 years.

And that's just the hardware. The greatest value by far is in the power of the software in the hands of the individual. Each individual student or professor already has cheap or free access to all the benefits of more than $6 billion previously spent on applied research and development of personal software tools.

Today—not ten years ago—the newest media configurations of the World Wide Web are powerful, inexpensive, highly interactive, individually controlled for self-pacing, ideally suited for independent learning, and ultimately empowering to the user. Technology has already swept over us. It is no longer a technological argument, but rather a cultural change. Not requiring these abundant advantages now is to be fiscally unsound.

Finally, Neal also reports:

Actually, students in the virtual class experienced a completely different method of teaching from those in the traditional class. Not only did they have more opportunities to be involved with each other and with the teacher, but (very significantly) they were intensively engaged with the course material [emphasis added] over the entire week.

Here, Neal acknowledges that the resulting performance of the virtual class is 20% higher than the traditional group, but seems to malign the idea that the virtual class had more opportunity. And who is to say what is a "real classroom"? Labeling a concept—as some do—as a "real classroom" if it has tables, chairs, chalkboard, walls, a door, etc. seems merely pompous.

My simple disagreement with Neal is that this depiction of that straw man—and now a mindset—has not existed for ten years, and we won't see the likes again.

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