Weighing In

Tipping Point for "Content"--Dynamic Interaction, Not Static Stuff

The word "content," as used in education, is troublesome for many educators today who see education as a constructivist process, an interaction between knower and learner, and as a student-centered activity. The reason it's troubling is that "content" implies something that is static, finished, contained and owned by the knower. Learning theories these days instead see learning as a dynamic ongoing process that is a collaboration, owned both by the teacher and the student. Digital technologies accelerate this sense of dynamism: The Web is nothing if not dynamic and ever-changing. Now, the traditional throwaway word "content" (as in "delivering content") seems very strangely out of place.

Michael Korcuska, Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation, wrote in his blog a couple of months ago, "...with some publishers it is pretty clear that their highest value content is becoming more and more interactive and immersive. Engineering simulations. Math workbenches. Molecular modeling tools. That sort of thing." (http://sakaiblog.korcuska.net/2008/05/14/
common-cartridge-is-cool-lti-is-even-cooler/
).

Korcuska was at a conference and talking with publisher reps, who explained the change in their own view of content, and how their view was changing.

An interesting example of the molecular modeling tool that Korcuska mentioned is at http://web.mit.edu/star/biochem/. At this page, just click on "start application," and when the application has downloaded to your computer, open one of the pre-loaded files and see how you can manipulate the molecular model to see different aspects of the structure. The "content" here is really the interaction between the student and the data with which the student creates different views of the 3D model. It is interactive and dynamic.

A step further from a traditional concept of content is, say, a group discussion in Facebook. Or, an interactive science exhibit in Second Life built by students. Or a class discussion carried on in a chat room (while in a real classroom) so students can interact with each other as much as with the teacher.

The list of examples could go on endlessly. Content is now augmented content. The disciplinary knowledge has been made more accessible. Students engage with content converted into an image, or with content that has been deployed as a series of problem-solving activities, or with content that is raw out in the field.

This constructivist "content" no longer has a container: It's not between the covers of a book or within the walls of the classroom, so the word seems even more inappropriate. What is the 21st century equivalent of the word "content"?

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (http://www.aaeebl.org), serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: http://trentbatsoneportfolio.wordpress.com/ E-mail: trentbatson@mac.com

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