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Tools of Tomorrow

Guest Column
Mike Barker

As the manager of the Educational Media Creation Center, a center charged with working on integrating web-based technology into education at MIT, I applaud your comments and interest in the issue of how to use this technology in the pedagogical effort. Your September 26th editorial “Debugging 6.001” poses several critical observations about the role of web-based lectures. It also has kind words to say about the PIVoT project which we helped develop, and I thank you for that.

However, your editorial stance seems to call for a return to the traditional lecture, perhaps with a supplementary role for web-based technology, and I think that’s a mistake.

First, I think we need to understand that web-based lectures and traditional lectures with web-based supplements are only two points in a large multidimensional space which we are still exploring and creating. Web-based technologies provide us with a broadening range of ways to develop pedagogical approaches in that space. There are many ways to combine web-based multimedia presentations of material, collaborative tools, forms and other web-based tools with interactive “face time,” and we are just beginning to understand how to use these combinations to support rich learning by students with different cognitive styles. Thus there are many more approaches than just traditional lectures with some web-based support or web-based repetition of traditional lecture content.

Second, it is critical to realize that we are living in the midst of radical change in the pedagogical enterprise. While we may want to return to the traditional lecture, the explosion of information and knowledge will not give us that luxury. Instead of demanding our right to sleep through lectures, we need to consider how to use the rapidly increasing channels of communication available to us (e-mail, zephyr, discussion board, shared whiteboard, etc.) effectively to make the time we spend together a powerful learning event.

Finally, I’d like to challenge your readers to help us develop the educational initiatives of tomorrow. MIT is at the forefront of this field, with educational technology projects both large and small which will shape the future. At our center, we are working on projects to put multimedia technology in place to support education throughout MIT, and we need your help. We need people who are interested in the intersection of education and the web to make those projects great.

We need you: to explore the range of possibilities; to live the changes that surround us; and to take a chance and build your dreams of the future of education. We need you surfing the blast from the firehose on a cyberweb.

Catch that wave!

Mike Barker is the manager of the Education Media Creation Center.