Wednesday, September 14, 2011

PL 52/11: The web and the galaxy

Filed under: education, LATINA, Palestine — plinius @ 8:42 am

Next week LATINA Lab goes to the Middle East.

Unesco has engaged us to train university staff in Gaza and the West in practical e-learning methods. Today I have written a note on the educational consequences of the Web.

– Our schools and universities have been designed to combine the spoken word with printed and handwritten resourses such as books, maps, posters, notebooks and blackboards. These resources belong, we may say, to the Gutenberg Galaxy (GG).

The learning and teaching resources in the Gutenberg Galaxy have been developed to a high level of perfection during the last five hundred years. They constitute a very rich and also very familiar environment.


Today, we also have access to a different media environment. The World Wide Web is only twenty years old. It is already extremely rich in resources. But these digital resources are often less developed, less stable and less formal than the printed materials we are accustomed to. The new environment is more fluid and less familiar than the old.

Young people have never experienced a world without the Web. They take the culture and the services of the Web for granted. Most teachers, however, are much more at ease with the Gutenberg Galaxy. That is the world we grew up in. That is the world we were trained to master.

When we move from galaxy to web, we become beginners once again. We have to learn new ways of working with our own students and new ways of preparing our sessions. Since we work in institutions, and need the support of colleagues and leaders, we must promote collective as well as individual change.

High speed

Compared with other inventions, the printing press spread rapidly through Europe. But the habit of reading, which requires literacy combined with cheap reading materials, was only established in the 19th century. The Web has expanded much, much faster.

The Web has moved so fast that our institutions struggle hard to keep up with the changes in their environment. Bookstores and publishers are threatened by web pads and e-books. Many newspapers and music companies are fighting to survive. Schools and universities have a bit more time to adapt. But the pressure for change is increasing, most clearly in the United States.

Search and find

In this session we treat the Web as an information store. Here we can find a vast variety of digital objects (documents) that are useful to teachers and learners.

The Gutenberg Galaxy is dominated by the printed word.  Photos, maps, diagrams and tables are more difficult to produce, and tend to be treated as supplements to the verbal texts. On the web, non-verbal media become more prominent. Digital cameras and video recorders are cheap and easy to use. Basic editing tools are freely available.  Anybody can publish, anywhere and anytime.

Horizontal communication

The new technology transforms the structure of communication. In the Galaxy, communication tends to be top-down. The center speaks and the masses listen. On the Web, communication is much more horizontal. The masses speak – and the authorities had better listen if they want to stay in power.

In the world of education, this means less distance between teachers and students. With the new technologies – cloud computing, mobile access and social media – working side by side on productive tasks (horizontal teaching) can be more effective than transmitting information (vertical teaching).

The teacher is still essential. He or she is a person (or a team) with professional skills in initiating, organizing, stimulating, supporting and guiding the learning processes of students. This style of teaching was possible in the Gutenberg Galaxy. But few schools and teachers chose that road to learning.

Today, or in the near future, we will be surrounded by the Web wherever we happen to be. Web access will be part of our life styles.

Web + Galaxy

Anybody can look up basic facts in the physical or social world (WolframAlpha); read summaries about every subject under the sun (Wikipedia); find answers to practical questions (AnswersCom); find pictures (flickr, Picasa, Google images); locate brief videos on every topic you can imagine (YouTube, Vimeo); find detailed maps of any region on Earth (Google Maps); locate slide shows (SlideShare); read any book with a reasonable audience in a digital version; draw computer-supported 2-D and 3-D objects; generate rough translations into many languages (Google Translate); perform calculations on their cell phones; read good introductions to most topics in the sciences; find brief video lectures on the same; find self-published student essays on all the usual subjects; find companies (many in India) that sell tailor-made papers and theses in most humanistic and social disciplines for a few hundred dollars ….

Print will not disappear. The Web is added to the Galaxy. Those who work with learning and teaching must work with both. But I am sure our teaching and learning designs will only be successful if we work with the new environment rather than against it.


Planning in the lab with Helge Høivik.




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