Before I started this post, I looked around to see if anyone else had posted on this week’s content yet. I wanted to see about linking to other content as we have been prompted to do. Well, as far as I can tell, no one has written on this week yet, so someone has to start. Maybe I can come back to this post later and revise based on the other thoughts that crop up.
Something that I touched on in one of my earlier posts is that I am not an abstract thinker. I deal better with the practical, on-the-ground, concrete aspects of work. Being that way is a strength in some cases. However, I also recognize the limitations. Once I began my professional life and worked with other librarians on committees, I started to realize that my bent is to do things the way they’ve always been done. Not to the degree that I would resist a change because I’m used to doing a task a certain way. More that I don’t “think outside the box” naturally or take the bird’s eye view of a problem. Can’t see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. As with any challenge, awareness is the first step to overcoming it. So, since I noticed that strength/weakness of mine, I’ve periodically reminded myself to consider the bigger picture or what the end goal really is.
All that to say – I admire Doug Engelbart’s vision and his ability to think outside the box in what appears to be a natural way to think for him. I’m reminded of a test I took at work recently called the Strengths Finder test. The 34 strengths are split into 4 categories, one of which is Strategic Thinking. Needless to say, only one of my top 5 strengths fell into this category. I get the sense that more of Doug Engelbart’s strengths would fall into that category.
Though I don’t think I see Engelbart refer to Bush anywhere, it seems to me that his creation is an attempt to take Bush’s ideas and make them real. And now, we feel closer and closer to that reality all the time. I’m waiting for when I can manipulate information on floating screens with hand gestures, like you often see in science fiction shows/movies.
Bringing Engelbart’s talks down to something concrete for me… I appreciate his point in one of his speeches about how the technology that makes a task easier, and therefore enhances human capability, can sometimes be difficult to learn. Or it seems difficult to learn if you’re thoroughly entrenched in a very different way of achieving a task. Where my mind goes with this is students and their study/learning habits. My impression of K-12 school is that it is still very physical book driven. That impression could very well be wrong, so someone correct me if they know better. I think the Almighty Textbook still reigns all throughout school. I don’t know how, given what happens in K-12, higher education is supposed to make a dramatic shift in student learning/studying habits. Given Engelbart’s point about how shifts happen slowly because of the difficulty in switching methods, I don’t know that I’ll see big change in higher education until we have a whole new generation or two coming through that have different expectations for what learning looks like. Young people that have grown up in a very different educational environment. I stress educational because outside of education, many dramatic shifts have already occurred. I myself am probably considered a “digital native” who is more used to ubiquitous technology, finding it easy to use. I can’t remember not owning a computer or having access to the Internet. Embarrassingly for someone in their 20s, I’ve only had a smartphone for a few years. I finally got on the bandwagon with iPhone 5. However, my educational experience, in terms of the classroom materials and methods, was largely lecture and largely print textbooks.
So, to wrap all this up, change needs to happen in the K-12 arena (easier said than done) if we’re going to have students prepared for a radically different way of learning and studying. Or we’d need to build into higher education some way of easing students into new methods. Right now we’re probably just looking at particular classes taught by exploratory professors who are willing to test out new methods. It occurs to me that perhaps community colleges could be on the forefront in this, given that we are more teaching focused institutions. Something to mull over…