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More on cultural differences and ICT

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Fri Apr 01 2005

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I'm making this a new post even though I started it as a comment on George's post about Informalization of everything. I found that I just went so far afield, and my comments were really relevant to several other postings, so here it is as a new post.

First, the "informalization of everything" is important. Anyone can now say anything about anything. Whether it's true or not. I commented on this very briefly here in my blog and the column at Poynter Online (everything you need to be a better journalist) has some thought-provoking questions.

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I would like to explore this "fundamental shift in individual control" from the standpoint of culture. First, I think the traditional media are starting to "get it," and they're moving toward faster response times. They're experimenting with call-in numbers (though the first use may have been American Idol, and with polling and voting from cellphones, and I think this will increase. These types of interactions are rather "constrained" compared to full interactions, but they might be the tip of an approaching iceberg.

I think that the Learning Objects movement is a full acknowledgement of the argument that there is (or should be) a shift toward individual control in ... personal learning needs. Without LOs we'd be in real trouble. And without a need for individual control, or at least tailoring for individuals, there'd be no need for LOs.

On the day that George posted (March 12) I was returning from spending a couple of weeks in a unique environment where the individuals were (all of the following): Tibetan exiles in India; IT specialists; Internet connected; bandwidth-starved. What did this tell me about individual control? First, the Indian educational system does not exactly move the learner toward the concept of individual (learner) control, nor does that used in the community I visited, for that matter. In India, students are taught to memorize the full extent of everything they're "given" to learn. (Where did I see this same statement yesterday?) And if they're given "too rich" an environment to learn in (online, let's say), they can be overwhelmed by it. "Google gags them" (my words). They are also not particularly encouraged to question the teacher (though they may be taught to question themselves, and this can be an integral part of the learning process). One of the things we discovered during our visit (to this part of India) was that the "connected world" really excludes a large part of what we might have thought was actually connected. Although my cellphone (which is GSM) worked \*far better\* throughout India than it did in the US, the Internet connectivity was truly the pits and a community of tens of thousands (or so) souls was surviving on total bandwidth of 2 megabits. (Roughly the same as 2 DSL lines, eh? For thousands of people?) What it meant was that any e-learning was going to have to be hosted within the community. There's no way a world-wide ASP model is going to work there in the next few years.

And it also meant that those within the local community, because they are bandwidth-limited, cannot ask for help from "outside." They can hardly "Google" to find the answer to a question because receiving a Google results page takes 10 minutes - an average Google "full search" typically takes 90 minutes. So because Googling is nonfunctional in this setting, and discussion groups and emails are equally painful, it is very difficult to get either answers or training from the "outside" world. (This will change over the next 18 months due to telecomm policy in India, and it will be interesting to see how information-seeking changes!)

One of the things we found which inhibited learning in this environment was the hesitancy to "play" and to "experiment." Because computers are expensive, and difficult to configure or reconfigure, nobody experiments with software systems - they don't install and try new software because if it breaks existing servers then they have little hope of resurrecting them. One of our first efforts is to try to get "experimental platforms" in the hands of the IT learners. I suspect we will find this same hesitancy in other cultures - and I suspect we will find that it is typically "Western" to experiment in the way we do.

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More coming later... \[Jim Schuyler\]

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