Skip to content

Writing history, together

I’ve been focused lately on trying to get a sense of the defining element that shapes, drives, and influences what’s happening in the educational technology space today (and to a related but lesser degree, what’s happening in society). I guess I’m asking the question: “What is the element/entity, that if we understood it better, would illuminate that nature and scope of the changes occurring?”. People living in the midst of a revolution likely aren’t aware of the full scope. And, I suspect, people living in non-revolutionary periods are not aware of how history will perceive their era. Are we in revolutionary or non-revolutionary times? Ultimately, history will pass the verdict. But in trying to find the element that will illuminate what is happening today, I’m increasingly returning to information. To how we create it. Share it. Dialogue around it. To this end, I find sites or concepts that alter how interaction with and around information of particular interest. For example – History Commons “allows people to investigate important issues by providing a space where people can collaborate on the documentation of past and current events, as well as the entities associated with those events.” While people have always been able to do this, the scope and ease of collaborating and (hopefully) creating a multi-perspective information source is now greater than before. It just feels different to me. Like we’re still going through many of the motions I recall going through in the past with regard to information creation/sharing…but something fundamental is different. Can’t quite put my finger on it…


  1. Gary Lewis wrote:

    Hi George – I’m not sure I understand you, so my comments may miss the mark. But here goes.

    Take a look at Eric Beinhocker’s book The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What It Means for Society and Business (2007). It takes the approach that economies are “complex adaptive systems” that evolve much as biological systems do. So you get this wonderful understanding of times of rapid economic change like the first industrial revolution or, at different times, the impact of railroads, steel, automobiles, and electric power. Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction converges nicely with evolutionary ideas. You get periods of tremendous turmoil and change (like the one we’re in now), where there is lots of variation (eg, new technologies, new startups, etc), selection (eg, the fittest technologies and startups survive), and replication (eg, the fittest get copied and morphed). And lots of dislocation as the less adaptive existing order resists but withers.

    Here’s a quote from Beinhocker: “Evolution is a general-purpose and highly powerful recipe for finding innovative solutions to complex problems. It is a learning algorithm that adapts to changing environments and accumulates knowledge over time.” Clearly we’re presently experiencing creative destruction driven by information and knowledge, and just as clearly learning is only a heartbeat away from these. Schooling and education as they now exist, however, are much farther away.

    It seems important to try out new technologies and new organizational forms and new ideas … in the markets, not just in the classrooms or research labs. See what works and what doesn’t. Learn from the failures and, if need be, change the institutions (ie, the environment in evolutionary terms) that provide the incentive structures and constraints within which the creative part of creative destruction happens.

    Please disregard this comment if it’s just a long-winded misinterpretation of your question.


    Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 7:52 am | Permalink
  2. peter t wrote:

    Hi George,

    I recall having a conversation with you, probably a year ago, about what’s different in today’s world given our increasing immersion in technologies. I argued that we had seen no real impact. For example, as a worker bee my life was much the same as it was 20 years ago. From Monday to Friday I wake up, have breakfast, drive to an office to work, have coffee breaks, lunch and then drive home. Work is still based on a heirarchical organizational structure, union rules, etc. My house is the same, my life to a great extent is the same as it was 20 years ago.

    To me a revolutionary change has not occured. A revolutionary change is one in which the social, cultural, and yes, educational practices of daily life change. Sure, my access to products has changed. I can now go the Superstore and buy kiwis any day of the year. And the tools that I use at work have changed – I now look at a computer screen most of the day – but I don’t see this as a dramatic change in our society.

    For my generation, the last technology I can recall that had a big evolutionary impact (and I don’t even know if I would consider it revolutionary) was television – which was an evolution of radio – and dare I say, which was an evolution of print publishing. TV technology brought the world to us, the ‘common man.’ When we got tv in our house in 1959, it was a marvel. When we got an aerial on our roof, and 3 channels, well this was too much. It changed our social, cultural, recreational, and yes, educational practices. For me, the ‘computer revolution’ is just an evolutionary mutation of something I witnessed with the introduction of tv.

    To use Gladwell’s oft quoted phrase it sounds like you are looking for the ‘tipping point.’ I don’t think we’ve come to it yet, maybe it’s just ahead.

    Friday, May 2, 2008 at 9:30 am | Permalink