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Technology... Opiate of the intelligentsia
Interactive multimedia: glitz and glamour or the new orthodoxy!

John Warren
Technology School of the Future

I speak in terms of educational generations - the time span it takes for a student to move through the compulsory years of schooling. In Australia an educational generation is ten years and an educational generation is a telling period when investigating change, even more telling when isolating technological change in an educational setting.

The generation of students currently moving through schools and verging on the work force is qualitatively different from the generation preceding it and that difference has been largely underlined by technology.

My extravagant claim is that students learn now in ways that are fundamentally different. They gather Information in ways that are different - and better - both in the cognitive and technological sense. They learn in more productive ways, in ways that are more efficient, cooperative, networked and individualised. They learn about the technology, through the technology and seamlessly integrate the technology into their learning. This upshift in learning efficiency is more obvious in an information technology environment than it is in the other realms of technology ie. systems technology and materials technology, nonetheless, it is apparent in all of these areas of education and the more technology is embraced the less obvious is the division between these areas.

Students have adopted a random access approach to learning They have been immersed in an environment that has, by design, provided them with more information than they can possibly process Integrated into the current learning environment Is a purposeful overload of perception or information. The current generation of students has been confronted with an environment that is made of high impact graphics, principally promoted through advertising. These students have grown up knowing video and television as expected dimensions of how they make sense of their world. More important though, than the style of that with which they have been presented, yet integrated with it, is the important aspect of process. No longer is it expected that all learners (or viewers/participants/observers and the distinction is becoming increasingly blurred) will learn, or be exposed to or presented with, identical information. The medium of presentation holds within it the capacity and design that it will present more information than can be processed in a sitting, and that different people will learn different things from the same package. This generation of students is truly random access in its approach to understanding and making sense of its world.

All generations previous have been characterised by a uniquely linear approach to their making sense of the world. The dominant medium of expression used print technology. Computing technology, that has largely been democratised and popularised in a time span parallelling the current generation of students in schools, has provided quicker, more random (read less linear) means of gathering and processing information, but more importantly, has enabled learners the means to exploit that medium to share information.

Interactive multimedia characterises this approach. Students use video, graphics, audio and text to express their understanding. They express that understanding in ways that take into account how other people will learn from their learning. Without expressing it in those terms, these students are indulging in metacognition. They do this in an environment that encourages others to explore in random or individual ways. The one dimension of interactive multimedia that separates it from the technology of the linear generations of learners preceding it is the navigable environment that is built in. Learners can express understandings in ways that are more developed, deeper in their expressed learnings, richer in their presentation and more cognisant of those who will engage it.

My presentation explores these issues. It looks at interactive multimedia as the new orthodoxy and poses the following questions...

What will the role of the teacher be in this new landscape? Very few teachers would subscribe to the notion that their role is simply to impart information. This is an aged view of the profession. The contemporary construction is of the teacher as a partner in the learning process, a facilitator and guide. The landscape generated by the information technology revolution will see the teachers role shift in emphasis yet again to become more an ethicist. Teachers will not be able to guide students through all possible learnings, or even direct them in ways that may be predictable. Many teachers will argue that the new information technology represents not a revolution in this regard, but simply an acceleration, but the access question is often ignored in this regard. The school will be seriously challenged as a locus of learning in the new millennium. Adding digital, cellular telecommunications to random access technology will see students learning in a variety of settlings in more meaningful ways. The teacher's role will concentrate on process in this atmosphere... teaching learners to be more discerning about the information with which they are presented, to be more critical in making decisions regarding quality learning. The technology that carries the information is purposely seductive... there is an inherent 'truth value' attached to the dynamic medium that is interactive multimedia. Aspects of its seductiveness need challenging.

What changes will take place in schools as a result of the new landscape?... How do teachers shift their emphasis from their linear learning patterns to random access patterns, how do they reward students learning in this new orthodoxy; what challenges are posed by this means of learning on tradition school cultures? The very notion of shifting student from place to place in blocks of learning we call lessons is a construction of linear learning approaches. What training (and affective and cognitive) implications arise from the picture that has linear teachers in linear learning settings directing the [earnings of students who are bred of the new orthodoxy?

Many of these questions will be confronted in the current educational generation. The outlook is exciting and the potential enormous, the challenges daunting and the benefits realisable beyond our current thinking. We will look briefly at the new landscape and ask some of the questions to which it inevitably gives rise.

Author: John Warren, Manager, Technology School of the Future, Technology Park, South Australia. Email:

Please cite as: Warren, J. (1994). Technology... Opiate of the intelligentsia or... Interactive multimedia: glitz and glamour or the new orthodoxy! In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 351-352. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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