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Learning about the Internet Machine

For my “Teaching and Learning with the Internet” course I read The Semantic Web by Lee, Hendler, and Lassila (2001), Wikipedia’s entry on the Internet, and Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century from the MacArthur Foundation.

Periodic Table of the Internet

I often joke about “the internet machine,” something I keep in my closet that has numerous gear systems and maybe a steam engine, but that is not really how I conceptualize it. Though it does have a physical infrastructure, it manifests itself in way that is less tangible. It reminds me of human consciousness. Without a physical brain, we would not be conscious, but consciousness is a state of being that extends beyond the physical realm. Somehow, the sum is greater than the parts. Within that space we build a web of data and continuously restructure and rewire ourselves. In much the same way, our use of the internet, or the World Wide Web more specifically, does the same thing. From what I understand, which is not much, our participatory culture or tagging, rating, and interaction with the web is establishing more sophisticated categories and networks of information. It seems we are beginning to use the web like we use our brains, prioritzing information, sorting data, searching, synthesizing, analyzing, evaluating, altering, and other verbs. Will computers be able to think through a multistep process like coordinating schedules for an appointment like the scenario described in “The Semantic Web”? I would imagine so as more applications become integrated such as your personal iCal and an online appiontment booker. This demonstrates great advances in technology, but what does it mean for education?

The MacArthur report makes a good case for teaching students “21st Century” skills focused on critical media consumption and production. Why not teach and learn with today’s tools, rather than outdated materials? In other vocations, training tries to keep up with the pace of technological advances in the field. Would you train a professional camera man to use VHS or digital? A doctor to use arthroscopic surgery techniques or more invasive tools? Should we still train students on a paper based system in an increasingly paperless society? The answers seem obvious. However, I read another article The Web 2.0 Way of learning with technologies by Rollett et al. (2007) that touched on the difficulty of translating the “openness” of web 2.0 into the classroom. Essentially, the cornerstone of Web 2.0 is that it is open for users create, modify, and add value to the content and structure of the web. It is self organizing. Education seems to be the opposite of this. It is standardized, predetermined, measured, and mostly encourages obligatory participation. For example, in two of my classes this semester I am required to blog. I am participating in the online conversation because I was asked to, not because I had an interest I wanted to develop and share with others online. I presume my readers will be the other students in my class and my instructor. How is this different than turning in a written reflection? The medium has changed, but the intention and outcome have not. Last semester I started a blog because I wanted to. I did not wait for an assignment of instructions on how to use it, or what purposes it could serve. I desperately wanted to “participate” in some form and I gained a lot from the experience. It was self directed and self organized rather than a requirement to be fulfilled. So, I think that using “the internet machine” in classrooms can be a wonderful thing, but also can take away its essence depending on how we use it.



Categories: Miscellaneous
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