This photo from a series Macs through the ages at Silicon.com is the first laptop produced by Apple in its PowerBook 100 series. This colorful seven pounder does not look all that different from today’s laptop, yet this picture was taken in 1991, nearly 20 years ago! The biggest tech difference between then and now is today’s portable computers are usually use unplugged; they are wireless.
It is common practice to refer in education circles to using computers as using technology. But that nomenclature refers accurately only to the now hardly novel machines and their infrastructure.
In 1991 the internet was small, the World Wide Web was one year old, and browsers were still on the drawing boards. In the 1990s, content poured into the internet, including bountiful academic knowledge resources. In 1998 Google came online to replace overloaded indexes and simple keyword search engines with a usage weighted search engine.
Those of us who have spent a lot of time in the past couple of decades working with a machine like the one in our picture will not have noticed a lot going on with the machine itself. For a while it seemed important for the machine to be able hold a lot of content, but when the internet came along content and the action moved online. The cognitive resources of education moved into what I like to call the golden swamp – the internet.
Harnessing the internet for education is not about technology. Instead, organizing the internet cognitively is the challenge. Educators need to focus on optimizing the best knowledge resources so that they are findable. Subjects need to be tagged and interlinked. The gold in the swamp needs to be found, organized, and used.
Adrift. Dysfunctional. Desperately needing a change. These words begin a Chronicle of Higher Education report called “Strains and Joys Color Mergers Between Libraries and Tech Units.” The article describes merging library and tech as the fix toward the desperately need change. From the perspective of the new information swamp, research needs to be served by connecting the nodes of pertinent information (gold) to each other and to the individual doing the research. The article describes what seems to be a big step in that direction. Here is some of what it says, describing what is being done at Xavier University in Cincinnati:
The solution was to scrap traditional library and technology units in favor of one with librarians and technology experts working side by side, responding to students’ needs for immediate, round-the-clock access to electronic data and interactive Web applications.
A $28-million building called the Learning Commons will be erected to house the organization and serve as a center for various educational programs. Users will be able to get technical help, use multimedia software at any one of a bank of computers, view the library’s online holdings, and have their reference questions answered.
The library, which will be attached to the new building, is being refashioned as simply a warehouse for books.
Xavier is among at least three dozen colleges that have taken the drastic step of merging their library and technology departments. The mergers are happening at small liberal-arts colleges after take-charge leaders — usually CIO’s — arrive and see traditional boundaries between library and technology work blurring. Those leaders observe increasing amounts of scholarship being digitized, students doing research online, library books sitting unused, and a constant stream of requests for computer and Web support. They want the flexibility to allocate funds where they are most needed, be it hiring an instructional technologist or purchasing an e-book collection.