Monday, December 7, 2009

Week 10 - Looking Back | Looking Forward, 12/2

This post constitutes the final entry in a series of reflections, musings, and claims in response to learning experiences afforded by the Web-based Technologies in Education (EDUC 391X) course at Stanford University. As stated in week 1, the focus of this course has been the use of "web technologies to help educate and empower the most vulnerable, underprivileged, or marginalized in reaching their full potential and attaining their life-long learning goals." In review of my experiences in this course, and specifically the exposition of our class projects, I am sobered by the substantial barriers, both technological and cultural, to effecting meaningful change at the margins of society. Nonetheless, I am heartened by the promise that well-intentioned, passionate efforts serve as the mechanisms for overcoming obstacles to change.

Our final presentation of course projects (previews of which were provided in week 8) revealed the power of individual passions to unite a larger audience. Predicated on the course theme described above, our exposition attracted a healthy crowd of interested students, faculty, entrepreneurs, and practitioners of social change from society at large. For my cohort and I, the opportunity to present and discuss our ideas enabled us to establish contacts with passionate individuals who may serve as collaborators in current and future work. As such, the exposition served an invaluable purpose.

Nonetheless, the experience was marked by a void of additional individuals and organizations with complementary interests, a condition that recalls my discussion of webinars from week 2. Although, with the much appreciated assistance of SUSE IT and the vision of Dr. Kim, our exposition was streamed live over the internet to carry our proposals to interested viewers, we were unable to avail of potential responses in this one-way model. The use of an interactive forum might have alleviated this issue, but technical limitations would likely have limited the experience, as evidenced in our week 9 foray into mobile learning. The truth is, despite incredible technical advances, no existing form of interactive technology will replace the richness of live interpersonal interaction, where all manner of subtle, human cues combine to convey meaning. We must not forget that it is the human element that drives change, not merely ideas. Ideas that do not relate back to the human experience are likely misguided and impotent.

Finally, returning to the theme of this course, it must be considered whether the approach of adapting technical models from the privileged domain, such as webinars, to the margins of society can effect meaningful change. Although numerous projects, such as those described in week 2, have demonstrated that this model is efficacious, it is prudent to consider the implications of such an approach. Surely, the application of technology for the dissemination of information has and does evince positive change, but we must take care to do so in a way that respects and preserves the valuable elements of local culture, whether or not this adds complexity for those of us situated in an affluent society. Engaging local communities in the process of building unique solutions from the ground upward would not only result in culturally appropriate manifestations of technology, but a tight coupling of local expression and technological solutions would yield increased viability and sustainability, two cornerstones of effective solutions.

In closing, I wish to hearken back to my conclusion from week 1, which adequately summarizes a sustainable approach to social change:

Although the barriers to deploying empowering web-based technologies are substantial, ranging from distance, language, bureaucracy, and instructor training, we can be heartened by the optimistic conclusion that any marginal expansion in educational opportunities is a measure of success. Even so, success may be difficult to come by, as illustrated by Dr. Kim's admonition that we must be prepared to fail seventy times for every achievement. In such times, a commitment to the moral obligation of sharing educational opportunities must be a sufficient motivation.

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