The hypocisy of the recent ECAR study

I had intended today to write today about the odd fracture in the recent ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, a fracture between Chris Dede’s “technology as world changer” intro, and the rather pedestrian “technology as customer service” bias of the questions posed by the actual report.

I say “intended”, because when I went to pull a paragraph out of the document to demonstrate Chris’s line of thought, I found that this freely distributed PDF had been secured against all copy operations.

You want to cite the ECAR report? Start typing.

I know, I know. I’m supposed to be delighted this is free. I’m supposed to be thankful I even get to cite it in my blog.

And I suppose making me retype that quotation will just make me appreciate the report all the more, right?

Give me a break. This is ridiculous. To write a stirring intro about how the free flow of information is revolutionizing the world and then distribute it in a PDF format that disallows copy operations?


But yeah, I won’t be citing it. Mission accomplished.

Where will the wave come from?

I love talking the theory, but it’s even nicer to see practical notes from people implementing solutions. From a recent post over here, some WordPress MU as class-space experimentation

Teachers are finding WordPress MU easy to use and I’m very happy to see that. Currently, Teacher Assistants are recording students as they read their writings in class using Audacity. We are using inexpensive mics with noise canceling, and I have to say, I’m impressed with how well they work. It’s not easy to cut out the ambient noise in a working first grade classroom.

That’s right. A first grade classroom.

I’ve been a frequent critic of primary and secondary education, and that’s unlikely to stop. But I’ve been impressed in the past year with how much faster things seem to be moving down there than up at the university level.

It’s not just scattered notes like the one above. The percentage of thought leaders in the Learning 2.0 space that are focussed on K-12 is extraordinary.

Why? One would think if you can run a blog and wiki with first graders that surely this should be cake for a university classroom.

More as a way to start this conversation, here are a few hypotheses:

1. K-12 (and particularly K-6) does not have the subject problem — there is no issue that writing belongs in one discipline, video in another, and history or math is seperate from each. Holistic approaches aren’t thwarted by an org-chart that divvies up the student.

2. K-12 is behind on the LMS wave, and having not been infiltrated by LMS vendors, they are more able to think out of the box, rather than in terms of what new LMS modules are available.

3. There’s just more teachers than university professors, which creates the critical mass needed to get a movement going.

4. They don’t have a developed IT department or large IT budget — and hence are able to experiment more with an ad-hoc bricolage of tools, especially free ones: i.e. technology decisions are not treated as budget decisions.

Those ideas are all possibly wrong — but I’d love to hear other takes on this phenemenon. Unless higher education gets its act together, it is quite likely the college freshmen of tomorrow will be entering a far LESS enlightened tech environment than the one at the high school from which they came.

Messaging, Phatic Overhead, and the Right to Connect

There’s a number of articles, none of which I’ve read, that propose (or assume) that SMS messaging is used as a phatic system.

Under this analysis SMS is like the chatter of the monkeys in trees, a chatter which is primarily used to say

“Are you still there?”

“Yep. You?”

“Yep. Still here. How about now?”

And if you look at the way kids use it, that sounds about right.

It’s interesting to me that I tend to use it for the opposite reason: it cuts through all the phatic garbage and assumes you have the right to connect.

Meaning here’s what asking someone to come out for a drink looks like on the phone:

Phone rings. (Phatic – establishing connection)
Someone picks up. “Hello?” (Phatic – connection established)
“Hi, Ben?” (Phatic – identity check)
“Yeah. Hey Mike” (Phatic – identity confirmed)
“How’s it going?” (Phatic – is channel open, is this a good time?)
“Pretty good. You?” (Phatic – channel is open, go ahead)
“Not Bad. Hey, I’m heading out to Lab and Lager tonight, 5:30, you interested?” (FINALLY… the conative/referential)
“OK, well, see you then” (Phatic – closing channel, OK?)
“Yep, see ya. Bye.” (Phatic – channel closed)
“Bye.” (Phatic – channel closed)

Here’s what it looks like when texting:

“Heading out to Lab & Lager, 5:30. You interested?”
“Definitely. See you there.”

What’s interesting to me is how devoid that is of any channel talk. There’s a couple of reasons for that.

  1. The addressee can choose when to take the message, so there’s no channel talk regarding making the connection or on whether this is a good time.
  2. Identity is clearly established through technology, so that channel talk about who’s who dissappears
  3. With those hits removed, there’s no need to explicitly close the channel either. Checking before you close the channel only makes sense if there’s a hit to opening it.

Of course, the absence of phatic machinery in the conversation can be read the other way as well — a connection not explicitly opened or closed can be seen to be (or felt as) permanently open. And this perhaps leads to the related behavior the articles mention — trading low value information as a means of confirming the openess of the channel.

All of which reminds me of an interesting comment some of our students made in a focus group we had about how the college administration should communicate with them. Most felt that texting was more personal than phone calls and felt the college might be overstepping their bounds if we texted them. I mean, couldn’t we call or email instead? Texting them was just kind of … creepy.

To some, that may seem odd at first glance. We tend to think of written communication as less intimate than verbal communication.

But when seen in terms of channel, the intimacy makes some sense. The way these students are modeling the media goes something like this:

Email: No channel open. Each message a one-off, self sufficient.
Phone: Temporary channel open, explicit permission asked, granted, etc. Closed at end.
Texting: Channel always open. Right to connect pre-established.

At least, that seems to be something like the model. (Us older folks very often use email in a similar style to that of student messaging –kids that have grown up around SMS messaging are more likely to marry the medium with the style in their mind, and move these back and forth exchanges to messaging. To many of them, email resembles publishing more than conversation).