Monday, October 17, 2005

The Sleeper Curve - When will teachers see it?

I've been reading Everything Bad is Good for you and today I caught myself thinking about Johnson's "Sleeper Curve" today while running errands and seeing yet another SWEPIII ad, it hit me as to why we (as in my generation - grossly over generalized I know) felt so hard done by with what Lucas put out for the Prequel Trilogy. Warning - this is a straight from the brain rant and dump. The "Sleeper Curve" idea essentially states that as time passes, the median level of cognitive complexity provided by popular media is increasing. I also think that (and I haven't finished the book yet) Johnson is implicitly trying to state that popular culture is now starting to be able to achieve the complexity offered by text as new media become increasingly rich. This is what got me to go off on the Star Wars idea. Johnson writes that SW is essentially a "lite" version of another classic epic, Lord of the Rings. In the late 70's and early 80's there was no public appetite for an epic as multi layered and complex as the original (though it is not as simple as Johnson first says, with all the ink that has been spilled and all the bits blasted over the nature of every character that makes a screen appearance and other who don't in the original trilogy). Johnson also seems to have missed the old rotoscoped versions of LOTR and how simplified they in fact were, but he points to the extended versions of LOTR as proof that we are now willing and able to enjoy the cognitive challenge via film that the books has provided via text (and thus my idea of moving back toward text). Then seeing the ad and the EPIII M&Ms it hit me... maybe the reason why "we" didn't like the Prequels as much as the originals is that they had fallen below the curve. Many people had stated that there wasn't enough depth to the stories, and I agreed with that before, but now, reading Johnson's book, it really hit me as a better explanation for our disappointment. Then I had another thought... Johnson also talks about games and how they are providing richer experiences though their increasing requirement of cognitive processing. He also points to the Internet and blogs as vehicles to expand the exploration of cognitively complex ideas as media and points to the "fun" of exploring new applications (still largely the domain of geeks, though Johnson thinks otherwise). These are all great examples of how the "Sleeper Curve" is working, but another bug is burning in my brain... of course in terms of education, specifically distance education. If the curve is out there in the rest of society, when will we see element of it in education? Especially in distance education, the one variant that is not bound by classroom walls and makes use of any and all technologies that it can get a hold of. Has it stalled "outside" or is it already part of distance education? I think we may have been seeing it for a while, but in a different form. I think that we have seen it in a round about manner through the ideas of social learning theory (Vygotsky et al). Internet based tools have certainly helped distance ed to get content across in an improved manner, with social elements being the reason for many people to get "hooked on learning". It seems the reason why coursework is losing out to gaming is not only a lack of support in the physical world, but a lack of an appreciation of how students learn other "things" in the world. Looking at a system like Elluminate and other virtual classrooms, the manner with which they mimic the classroom providing social learning elements, I'm thinking that the "Sleeper Curve" can be used to help explain how these systems can be made more successful. I think that they will succeed because they will provide that "one more thing" element that has us addicted to games, social/reality dramas and the like. There is that element of one more "little thing" can be provided by these systems and when combined with other strategies like token economies that promote learning in chucks that are small enough to do without too much effort, but will work toward a greater goal, I think that we can "hook" a great number of students. Having said all this, there still needs to be buy in, and that is the tricky part. The "Sleeper Curve" has worked well in popular culture because of the network of promotions that are out there to help individuals along, and in my mind, authentic assessments for those who believe any particular subject is important to them. The education system has to deal with delivering information about ideas that many people don't see as being relevant, and if they are, then the assessments are often not authentic. One can fail to understand why the idea of mythical swords in both SW and LOTR is so very similar and nothing much will come of it. In fact, many people will go to great lengths to help one understand this idea. But in the educational setting, the same does not hold true with a core subject area like English... failing an English exam can change your life, and while there are people willing to help, there are a number of students who would rather not take that chance at all. If we really want to be successful, the way that we teach and evaluate learning should change to reflect the society that students find themselves in today, not what the instructors felt they had experienced a media age ago. Technorati Tags: , ,