By Laura Smith
The future of the Web is the promise for the future of learning and education according to Cathy Davidson, FutureWeb panel leader.
Davidson, Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English and John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University, will lead the panel on the Future of Learning and the Web at FutureWeb2010.
Panelists will include Laurent Dubois, historian of French colonialism and the Caribbean, Mark Anthony Neal, author and scholar of Black popular culture in America, Negar Mottahedeh, academic author and Tony O’Driscoll, author of “Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration.”
“All the panelists on my panel are public intellectuals who make the fullest use of the Internet and mobile technologies for the work they do out in the public,” Davidson said. “They are very public and political intellectuals who reach different audiences beyond the classroom or the academy. They’re new style educators.”
During the panel session, Davidson is hoping questions will be asked regarding where learning would be without the Internet and where it can go because of it.
“I think the main thing will be asking questions about…how would the world be different, how would learning be different if the Web didn’t exist and how will learning be different because of the web,” she said. “But even more than that, how do the future of the Web and the future of learning go together?”
Learning and technology
Davidson is the co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory), a network of individuals and institutions that examine how new technology can aid in education, organization and communication.
HASTAC recently joined the White House on the Educate to Innovate campaign, a movement by President Obama to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
According to Davidson, education and technology can work hand in hand to modernize the way students learn.
“I think there’s some disappointment that learning institutions, formal institutions of education, have not really comprehended the new learning styles used today,” she said. “As individuals, we have done a much better job of accommodating to all the changes in the world than our institutions have. Our institutions are much slower to change than individuals and I think education is often the slowest at changing and the last at change.”
Davidson said she believes education needs to become more collaborative among students.
“Learning has to be much more student driven,” she said. “It has to focus more on collaboration rather than single individual achievement. One thing that HASTAC has pushed very hard since 2002 when we started is something called collaboration by difference….We try to come up with situations where people who are almost opposite in their skill sets or the ways they learn or their interests come together to focus on a problem and to solve that problem together.”
Davidson is a big proponent of using laptops in the classroom and said it is a regular occurrence for her to tell students to get on the Internet in class.
“I say not only should they be sitting there with their laptops, put them to work,” she said. “I try to conduct my class almost like a hypertext with the students participating, linking what’s happening in the classroom to Google searches and flows of information that come back into the classroom from their searches.”
Digital Media Learning Competition
One of HASTAC’s current projects is the 2010 Digital Media Learning Competition in conjunction with the MacArthur Foundation’s $50 million DML Initiative which allows individuals to explore how digital technology is changing learning and everyday life. Winners will be announced the first week of May.
To Davidson, the competition entails collaboration between individuals who can create technology with those who can think critically about it.
“For students it means two things,” she said. “One is that informal learning is happening in all kinds of ways outside the school systems… We’re all learning how to collaborate, we’re learning how to customize…we’re learning how to participate in new ways. All those constitute new ways of social, civic and cognitive forms of learning.”
Where learning is headed
“The future of learning needs to see more and more of a return to learning by doing, learning by experiment, learning by creative engagement,” Davidson said. “(It needs to be) much more hands-on kinds of learning and I think that’s true in all fields whether we’re talking about the humanities or computer science.”
Davidson said she sees technology aiding in capabilities such as distance learning, teaching via gaming platforms or virtual environments and communication between teachers and students in different parts of the world.
“Digital technologies are a big factor in facilitating collaboration, not just as tools but in the deep structure the thinking,” Davidson said. “Learning is going to be done by communities that are not necessarily communities of people in the same place but distributed communities working together for specific goals.”
In addition to her work with the Digital Media Initiative and contribution to the FutureWeb conference, Davidson will soon make history with her book, Now You See it: The Science of Attention in the Classroom, at Work, and Everywhere Else.
“It is about our ability to see new options when we have the right tools and the right partners,” she said.
Last week, Viking Press Publishers announced its partnership with iPad and the book will be one of the first to be available on the digital tablet.
“My book is going to be among the first generation of books that Viking Press publishes in its partnership with the iPad and that will be designed in multimedia formats, hypertext links, and interactive features and applications that push the boundaries of what a “book” is,” she said. “I’m thrilled.”
Davidson will lead the panel on the Future of Learning and the Web on Friday, April 30.
“I think FutureWeb is going to be as exciting as the WWW Conference,” she said. “Janna Anderson and Paul Jones and others have done an incredible job putting together FutureWeb.”
-By Laura Smith