For the sake of fun and a bit of a reality check, I challenged Wes to flash-forward 20 years: 2028, and envision comments he might hear, such as: “Remember when Mr. Fryer actually carried a computer to the class?” This prompted a story by Wes, about his 8 year old son’s reaction to their viewing of some YouTube clips which promoted the Commodore 64 computer. His son could not believe that was ever “cutting edge technology”.
I’ve observed over the years that new technologies and contemporary design are always challenging and sleek in their own time. However, like Wes’s son, in a few years, I can hardly believe the thing I’m reviewing was ever “sleek,” “sexy,” or “cutting edge.”
New technologies usually capture our attention and cause us to focus on the tools. However, there seems to be a natural progression of our focus from tool to function (or promise) to transparency and back to tool again as its ability to meet our ever-growing demands begins to fade. I have long held that for technologies to be used effectively, they must become “transparent.” For a long time, I considered the telephone as an example. For most of us, the telephone became a part of our everyday experience and a means to communicate. As we integrated this into our life, it became transparent. This “transparency" represents the second step in the evolution of the use of a technology. It serves to accomplish a task or solve a problem, and in that capacity, it ceases to be an object of attention, but an extension of our lifestyle. When our needs for tools can no longer be served by our current technologies, we begin to notice them in light of their weaknesses. We seek new or improved tools to meet our new demands. It’s after we finally replace a technology that we look back and see it as clunky and wonder how we ever functioned with these early tools.
This notion of “transparency” is important as we incorporate technologies into teaching and learning; particularly in the online arena. For some time, I’ve heard the term “blended” being used to represent classes which incorporate some online resources. However, I argue that the focus of these “blended classes” is generally on a tool, such as Blackboard or a specific task. I now think that a real “blended” class arrives at that distinction when the mixture of delivery methods and tools becomes “transparent.” At this point, the focus is on learning and communication of ideas.
I suggest that embracing this transparency becomes a Personal Learning Style (PLS) and that learning can and does occur at any time and in any place. It is aided by a multitude of media and tools which can become so blended into our lifestyle that we accept them as part of our life. This notion is reflected by one of Britt Watwood’s students in his blog posting, Thick and Chunky Instruction, when she equated the “internet” and “oxygen” as co-equals - both necessary for life. What an exciting contrast to the experience in which the media that was being used to share ideas became a distraction.