Because my school responsibilities are finished, I am finally catching up on my blog-reading and it has been a treat to jump around the net and follow my own interests. Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to be involved in a skypecast – a new experience for me. I guess you can call it an online audio conference hosted by skype. I have been using skype a lot lately. For those of you who may not know, you can use skype now to phone regular phone numbers. More importantly, between now and the end of the year, one may call any North American phone number for free. I have been calling all over the place taking advantage of this freebie. And you can believe I will be using it a great deal when I am at the NECC in San Diego next week!
The skypecast was hosted by George Siemens (see his thoughts on connectivism) on the topic of the changing nature of knowledge. As a kickoff to the event, he posted a podcast earlier so that those attending would have some ideas to work with and respond to.
In George’s podcast, he presents 10 ways in which he believes knowledge has changed over the last few centuries (to me, it seems like a much more abbreviated space of time – more like 50 years?). Some key points include the pace and development of knowledge, access to knowledge, relationship and flow of knowledge, and the lack of knowing with certainty about anything.
About 15 or so of us showed up for the skypecast and it was an interesting mélange of people – mostly educators it seemed to me. George moderated the discussion and posed the questions: Has the nature of knowledge changed? And what is the most significant attribute to that change? The responses were varied. There was quite a bit of discussion about the manner in which some perceived private corporations were becoming more exclusive about access to knowledge and the creation of knowledge. While this is certainly happening, my own observation in the past half decade is that there has been a decided shift toward more openness and sharing between educators – as displayed in the movement to open source sharing of products. The Internet has permitted a much wider range of the sharing of resources, information and knowledge.
My own responses to his questions are grounded in my experiences as a classroom teacher of young teenagers. Yes, the nature of knowledge has changed since I was an adolescent learner; the access and amount of knowledge has certainly changed. Between these two features of change, young learners today are confronted with a huge volume of information presented in a range of multimedia approaches – much more visual and audio than my generation. It is imperative for we educators to provide much more than content to our students, but information literacy tools which will permit the students to use critical thinking and discernment skills as they sift through and choose information. Frankly, this seems to be an area in which we are falling short. Part of the reason for this neglect may be because of the generational gap between our teacher and students. Today’s teenagers are of the “Net Generation” who are digital citizens while the teachers may still be the digital immigrants. Teachers and administrators may not see the pressing need for info lit skills or do not how to teach them. We teachers are also overwhelmed almost daily with our responsibilities as it is. Keeping up with information flow is very challenging.
In his earlier podcast, George had asserted that knowing today means we must rely upon a network; we must create trusted networks where we take our knowledge and store it so that we can access it in the future. The Internet, and Web 2.0 tools in particular, enable this creation of a network. This resonates well with my own experience. I very much rely on my email archives, my server, and my laptop to act as my personal repository of stored knowledge.
Something we did not explore too much during the skypecast was the notion of how much the access and amount of information has empowered the ordinary individual; however, we did discuss how this is available really to only the developed nations. Third world nations do not have this kind of access to information but there is a growing movement to address the digital gap. The potential of empowerment of the ordinary individual because of access to information networks is huge and may yet be a force to revolutionalize society. I have the privilege of communicating with teachers from around the world who are providing their students with opportunities to communicate and collaborate with students from other nations so that they can develop those skills in global citizenship and global responsibility. I hope to meet even more global educators next week at NECC 2006. If you are there too, please look me up!
About the skypecast itself – the audio quality was great, and you can’t beat the cost (free), but it was a little frustrating at times not knowing who was speaking (no visual marker for who was speaking at the time) and not having access to the real names or bios of those who were in the skypecast area.