The first two weeks of June, I am attending the summer institute Digital Media and Composition at the Ohio State University. For the final “digital book” project, I am planning to focus on the issue of how we learn and use ICTs, how we transition and make use of previous knowledge/skills to learn new technologies, and how we navigate cultural/epistemological worldviews that undergird the technologies that we learn and use.
In particular, I am interested in the way people view, understand, use, or assimilate into new ICTs when the new means and modes of communication have little resemblance to those that they have used in the past. Although culturally alien or radically new means or mode of knowledge-making create anxiety and learning curves, people with relatively little background knowledge or skills in new ICTs often seem to be more willing to invest great efforts, expect and accept more difficulty, and explore new affordances of new technologies further than people who have stronger background knowledge and skills. For example, when a person who has never owned/used a land phone will complain less about how cell phones infringe on privacy, influence social relations, and change the “natural” pattern of their life; while it is certainly important that overlapping skills and common grounds behind the two technological constructs (like voice mail box, or answering machine) will no doubt facilitate the learning of cell phone skills for the land phone user much better in some ways, the person who starts off with the cell phone might explore and use new affordances better because expectations, habits, and attitudes don’t hold them back (text messaging, call history, web access, and the wide range of tools and settings).
There is extensive literature about generation gap and the use of technology in education, but I think the difference of how fast, how far, and how willingly people learn new modes of communication and learning happens as much “within” generation as it does between generations. I’m making an unusually challenging claim, which I’m, honestly, afraid might be very hard to be convincing about. And I can’t just make that argument by using “scholarly” sources in the form of text. I need some unconventional support materials, like your opinions, and resources in multiple modes. When you write, please consider focusing on ONE particular ICT if possible. For example, if your key message is the way slides have radically changed the way you prepare for and conduct a class, you might want to talk about the technology of slide (presentation) from the different angles of the different questions in the survey. On the issue of culture, you might want to reflect on how the strategy of showing while telling worked in your classroom. When talking about a potential cultural difference, you could reflect on how slides help you as a visual person but how your students are not as impressed because of the ways they are used to learning… and so on and so forth.
In societies like ours, ICTs are just beginning to make significant impact in people’s lives, work, and learning. On the one hand, the technologies are shaped by “foreign” communicative and epistemological cultures (they are not made to fit our communicative needs—we adapt to them—and they are not made to suit our learning styles—we learn to learn that way). On the other, many societies have not yet developed a lot of critical discourse about the new technologies—neither in the socio-cultural sphere nor in the academic. The issue that I am interested in here is the effects of introducing ICTs from the top (with neither techno-cultural background nor with deliberate adaptation of foreign-born technologies). My basic hypothesis is that this top-down introduction is not necessarily and always negative: introducing new ICTs that are based on foreign worldviews about communication, work, relation, learning, etc could induce more anxiety but also less resistance, less transfer but also more acceptance/exploration of new affordances, and less adaptation but also more room for radical change when necessary. Now, whether or not the latter terms of my comparison are good etc is a different matter of cultural/political judgment, but I’m interested in how the process of learning a new technology could be facilitated by lower resistance, higher willingness to explore new affordances, and greater propensity for drastic change. That issue about learning and using new technology is what makes “eastern” students like you and I normally perform quite well, and I am trying to argue that schools and teachers (anywhere) who want to integrate new technologies into their curriculum can make use of the qualities of “foreign” learners as a way to promote in their students the deliberate metacognitive strategy of learning new technologies by looking at it as if it were completely new. Such an attitude can be tremendously helpful particularly when negative transfer happens.