Lost Tools of Learning 2.0

September 8, 2008

While I love what Web 2.0 is doing for Learning 2.0, I don’t think it’s all that revolutionary–contrary to all the buzz I read on Twitter, Twine and a dozen RSS feeds. Recently, I commented on Stowe Boyd’s /Message, saying that we’ve been twittering for generations, only we once called it campfire chat or idle gossip. Not too long ago I was in New York giving a paper at conference on the humanities Columbia University. In one of the keynote talks, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, said that there are no ruptures, just repetitions. For example, globalization was described as an unprecedented challenge of the modern world. Really, she says, it was another repetition of eternal attempts to take in the world in a single theory. Likewise, as exciting and technologically marvelous as Google is, it is just a repetition of library research; nothing is fundamentally different. Calling out “rupture” or revolution is a failure to recognize another repetition.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad Web 2.0 (can I use that as shorthand, please) is here–I recently rolled out Google Apps at my school and we’re setting up a WikiEducation project next month–but I sometimes worry that the sort of collaborative learning that is all the buzz around Things 2.0, will be the next flavour of the month, like constructivism or the International Baccalaureate Middle years Program, and we’ll lose sight of the fundamental ends of education. We’ll start giving lessons in order to teach collaboration instead of teaching collaboration in order to give lessons and then we’ll have the whole thing upside-down.

I’d say it’s time to read again Dorothy Sayers’ excellent essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning” presented at Oxford in 1947, in which she proposes a modified version of medieval scholastic curriculum!


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