Digital Media – Supplement, Not Replacement

I dismiss the Khan Academy as a learning model for the same reasons I dismiss the majority of museum apps available via Apple’s App Store.

Khan Academy takes lecture content and puts it in video format.  The theory is that students can watch the videos on their own schedule, and then their time in school can be dedicated to what we currently consider homework, often worksheets or practice problems.  An App Store museum app (let’s take the Louvre) utilizes digital images of artifacts and puts them into the App database so patrons can view them on their own schedule.  Neither accomplishes anything new — it’s a new take on existing infrastructure, infrastructure that we seem beholden to but has continued to erode over the past 20+ years.

Despite movements in cognitive theory, constructivism, and other more recent learning paradigms, education often remains a behaviorist venture:  learn something, drill it, show it…rinse, lather, repeat.  Interaction with the content stops at knowing, which for Harold Bloom was only the first step in mastering content.  And despite efforts by museums to modernize and create participatory exhibits, the experience (whether an art museum, an historical society, or an “interactive” science center) is largely behaviorist as well:  look at an artifact, read the blurb, pull a lever or push a button to see a pre-determined event…rinse lather repeat.

The pioneers of human computer interaction did not intend for computers to be nothing more than a new tool to do the same things, but rather an avenue for greater exploration of content and creativity.  Video is a passive agent, and worksheets are an extension of behaviorist modes of education, modes proven to be the least beneficial to students.  When technology has the ability to create greater strides, we should not settle for a more expensive version of the status quo, one that could inevitably erode due to passivity or lack of human interaction (this implies that the teacher is not just a dispenser of information, which is what current educational policy seems to cast a teacher as).

It is great that museums are bucking the trend of protecting their artifact images, but to be fair, those images have been available on the Internet for a while.  Granted, there is a discussion to be had about SOPA and PROTECT IP in regards to copyright and the ownership of the digital image…that will come.  The point is, museums need to think about how tablet-based apps can not only do the existing things a museum does, but do much more.


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