Years ago, in the early 2000’s, my mother and I were talking about ideas for teaching and for a project we were interested in. She had gone back to school in the early 90’s to work on a 2nd master’s degree in an interdisciplinary publications design program, and at the point of this conversation, we were both teaching online and had been for about 4 years. We were both trying to figure out better ways of interacting online with our students, and facilitating the conversations among our students. We were at different institutions, but both using WebCT. I had just enough HTML ability to be dangerous, and no where near enough technical skill to be successful. We were frustrated by the LMS, feeling constrained by its limits.
In this conversation, we came up with a vision for a text that could be multi-dimensional online– that would allow students to interact and share responses real time, and that would become a living text and an almost 3D discussion. We didn’t know anyone who was particularly tech savvy at the time– we just knew what we wanted to be able to do.
I tried using blogging with students, but that didn’t really get to the point. I tried various iterations of discussion board approaches. When instructional technologists in higher education became more of a thing, I started asking if they knew of anything we could do or use. The closest I got once was a little hyperlink project that was really clunky.
After about 2012, I started seeing more movement toward something that might be what I was looking for. When I found VoiceThread, I thought I had found IT. The technology that would do what I wanted, but then I used it as a student in my doctoral program. It did not facilitate the experience that I was looking for on the student side, and when I tried as a faculty member, with pretty novice students, it didn’t work out well.
Last year, when I first found out about Hypothes.is I was really excited– and I still am. I was sad to miss the live discussion yesterday. But this tool holds promise, and I am looking at using it as part of an OER course I am building to go live next fall. However, I feel like I have to really master it first. I struggled trying to annotate the article and follow along with everyone else’s thoughts while also staying focused on the article. So the content level was more distracting that I expected. And then there was the technical use. It worked better on my desktop with the chrome extension. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the tool– it is user error and user inexperience. However, I feel like I have to master and understand the tool well enough in order to tailor the experience for students so that the activity is the focus– the discussion, interaction and deepening of the text through associations and reflections– rather than the tool/technology that facilitates the activity.
So most of this post is really not a comment on the article. I am still turning over what I want to say about “As We May Think“. However, I had two thoughts to expand on a bit. First, when Bush talks in section 6, about the way the mind functions, and that we will not be able to replicate the way the mind functions in a machine, it made me think of my experience with trying to create a 3D conversation with literary texts. In my mind, I can see what I would like to create, but the reality of the tools so far can’t replicate that vivid image, the rich multi-layered interaction with a literary text. Everything seems to fall a bit short of what I imagine to be possible. (Even if, some would argue that we are pretty close to replicating the human mind in machine.)
My second thought focuses on the idea of associations and the changes in knowledge today. I can see how Bush was looking at the depth of information increasing, but as he talks about new forms of encyclopedias because of new associations of knowledge, I think of the idea of solving wicked problems, and the increasing intersection of disciplines– or the break downs of strict disciplines, which I think is characteristic of where we are going today in education or where we should be going today.