The Platform Problem

There are so many things in the geek/online world we call platforms.   Whether it’s WordPress, Second Life, Twitter, Facebook, or anything else, the point I think we’re trying to get across to non-techies is that each of these “programs” or applications is basically a blank canvas, and what it means to you depends largely on what you decide to do with it. There’s often little guidance as to “proper” or highest use, or any instructions at all, which is fine if you are an internet veteran, but can be pretty intimidating for people just trying out these things for the first time.  The term platform itself is difficult, because it can mean “program” , “community”, “blank canvas”,  “soap box”, “your corner of the web” or a bit of all of these things at the same time.  Explaining this to someone not 100% comfortable with geek speak just leads to more confusion rather than less.

The great thing about the web and the hard thing is that there are no real “rules” in the first place.   So much of day to day life comes with social rules and contracts we’ve learned over a lifetime- from those little polite things like holding a door open for someone coming in behind you, to saying excuse me, to paying your bills on time- all of these transactions require a certain general agreement as to what is acceptable practice and what is not.  Short of terms of service agreements which constrain the most generally offensive stuff, there are no rules to speak of online.

As I try to figure out ways to make Podcamp NYC useful and helpful to teachers, I’ve been trying to figure out how to design the sessions and experience to give the educators in attendance information they can take home and use right away, but the question arises as to whether we really understand the problems in the classroom in the first place.  I am teaching/tutoring in a middle school twice a week, and I recently attended an educational conference that gave me some perspective on how teachers approach problems in the classroom, but I don’t have Master’s in Education, so it’s possible I am missing the whole Pedagogy part of things.

Pedagogy is, by definition, the art and science of teaching.  Yet so many teachers I know have little training in things like developmental psychology or cognitive psychology, so I wonder if they understand the more basic building blocks of how learning develops, changes and works on a “building block” level, even if they understand curriculum and how to structure a syllabus.  So it begs a bigger question to me- how do you teach in a classroom if you don’t understand how information is processed and retained in the brain, or how memory works?

Moreover, if I am trying to design a New Media curriculum for educators, what do they need?  Sure, showing them how to use social bookmarking, RSS readers, internet tools that allow the open exchange and sharing of resources will be helpful.  But isn’t this just handing them a pile of hammers and screwdrivers and say “build something”?  We’re back to the platform problem again-  handing people tools, but not giving them a whole lot of guidance as to how to apply the tools on a day to day basis in the classroom.

One of the things we’re going to start out with at Podcamp NYC, as a result, is asking teachers some of the thorny problems they face in the classroom.  Some of the things they think new media could help with, or things that just cause them frustration.  And maybe, just maybe, we can help brainstorm real solutions to some of these problems together, as a group.   I feel like the people in the new media community have a lot of tools, but we aren’t always good at helping other people apply them.  Teachers are great at identifying problems, but don’t always know that there maybe a solution available.  Hopefully, by talking to each other, sharing solutions that have worked, and giving teachers access to the tools to solve new problems as they arise, we’ll all come away from the experience with a better understanding of each other.

We know the world is changing, and demands that students (and teachers) learn to think in a more hyper-linked, multimedia way.  Adapting to this new way of thinking, that takes “linear”  and “logical” and turns it into a pretzel, is hard for many people, but it’s what’s necessary for the world beyond school.  School and those running them will need to adapt, even as they somehow hope that traditional modes of education will be adequate.

What did you love best about school?  What did you hate most?  If you’re a teacher, what aspects of your job are most rewarding?  What aspects make you turn blue?  How can we start solving these problems?  Let’s talk and explore- let me know what you think!

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One response to “The Platform Problem

  1. What I loved the most about school (and mind you this was years ago) was small classrooms that really allowed me to connect with my teachers and get to know the material because the classes were small enough that I felt I could ask questions.

    Now if I were in a classroom, I would want to find ways to connect with other students that shared my own interests. By being at a school that had 12 people in my graduating class, that also meant that I didn’t get the chance to connect with people that were like me. Which may sound strange, but it wasn’t close knit in an interests kind of way.

    Now you can open a computer and connect with anyone in the world and find people that share hobbies. Which means that kids like me that felt uber bored can find kids to connect with that are much and mostly like them, even if they are thousands of miles away. I really love that and teachers can put it to good use.

    Another fascinating idea to me is to use a video service like ustream or etc to record “lectures” for the kids to use to catch up when they are out sick. Sick days don’t necessarily have to equal missing material anymore.

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