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“Mr. Watson...come here...I want to see you!” or, communication in the 21st century homeschool world

I just got off the phone after speaking with a doctor in California whom I have never spoken to before. Before we said goodbye, he said “Nice to meet you.” It struck me as a slightly strange way to say goodbye after speaking on the phone. Did I indeed “meet“ him? Just what does “meeting” mean in this context? A quick search shows the first definition of "meet" to be "To come upon by chance or arrangement." (1)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a conference in California on education and technology that I was not able to be present at, called the ISTE conference. I still managed to participate in one live session, and I gave my thoughts on that in a recent newsletter. 

I recently read another popular well-written blogger’s thoughts on the same conference, and he (Tom Whitby) provided an interesting angle. He wrote that he mainly goes to this type of conference for the interpersonal interactions, and exchange of ideas, the networking and connecting to other educators. (2)

I thought, now this seems like a better reason to travel across the country; not to drool over the latest apps, but to foster the inter-connectedness of teachers and other thought leaders, especially now, in the 21st century, when technology is playing a greater and greater role in schools. I also considered the irony: that in the digital age, at a conference for technology, some people are going just for the interpersonal benefits, the “human angle.” Which is decidedly non-technological. I found this idea encouraging and promising. It means that no matter how advanced the technology gets, people still have a need for human contact, and an exchange of ideas. But it's not so black and white; Whitby writes that he initiated, or continues, many of these relationships with other educators using technology, in cyberspace. So even if the relationship occasionally takes on a more tangible and “human” face, it must, if it is going to flourish, continue in cyberspace (or on the telephone, if anyone does that anymore, but really!). The very first virtual community, The WELL, started in 1985 and still extant, also featured online discussion threads, as well as in-person meetings, as described by Howard Rheingold in his book “The Virtual Community.” (The whole book can be found and read online.)

I suppose that face-to-face is still the best, most "human" and personal way to network, and to make connections. I have had several business meetings recently in the virtual classroom, with people as far away as Seattle. It was just as productive, and certainly more "green" and efficient, than meeting in person. While not usually considered a replacement for face-to-face interaction, the virtual meeting format offers certain benefits, especially for education, as I have written about in the past. 

So what about in the case of a teacher connecting to a student. Is face-to-face still the best method? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

In the past, we discussed what is called “Transactional Distance,” which refers to the “theory of cognitive space between instructors and learners in an educational setting.” (3) Consider this; two people can be in the same room, and may not connect at all, even if they try. Conversely, two people can be on opposite ends of the world, and share a profound exchange of ideas. The course of communication was changed forever in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell spoke the words - “Mr. Watson...come here...I want to see you.”

It is interesting that Bell, while making the first audio communication of this kind, said “I want to seeyou;” a request for a visual connection. What would Bell say if he could see people skyping, in high definition, from their iPads? In the 21st century, the definition of communication has changed. Face-to-face relationships often are maintained in a distance manner, and sometimes even begin that way.

The dictionary defines communication as:

communication
[com·mu·ni·ca·tion
   [kuh-myoo-ni-key-shuhn]

noun
1. the act or process of communicating; fact of being communicated.
2. the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.
3. something imparted, interchanged, or transmitted.
4. a document or message imparting news, views,information, etc.
5. passage, or an opportunity or means of passage, between places.

communication
late 14c., from O.Fr. communicacion, from L. communicationem (nom. communicatio), from communicare "to share, divide out; impart, inform; join, unite, participate in," lit. "to make common," from communis. (4)

All these aspects of communication can be accomplished via “distance learning,” and in some cases, more efficiently (usually more efficiently!) and effectively than in person, for several reasons. After all, even face to face, in any educational program, even in the brick and mortar classroom, there is always some aspect of transactional distance (Rumble, 1986). It's not limited to the virtual classroom.

A study released just this week by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science in Washington found three "21st century skill areas" related to education:  

  • Cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and analytic reasoning
  • Interpersonal skills, such as teamwork and complex communication
  • Intra-personal skills, such as resiliency and conscientiousness (the latter of which has also been strongly associated with good career earnings and healthy lifestyles). (5)

I am confident that all of these areas can be successfully addressed and nurtured in a virtual setting, just as well, if not better, than in a brick and mortar classroom.

Spanning the Gap

So how does the teacher, or homeschooling parent, span that transactional distance gap? 

“Sharing, imparting, joining, uniting, and participating...” 

In Room613 I have seen these verbs leap into action and come to life daily, with children who, despite having never met in person, and sometimes never seen each other’s faces at all, feel quite connected to each other. as they share, impart, and unite. These verbs describe the hallmarks of any good educator, school, or family homeschool, and they are what I strive for daily in Room613. I feel strongly that the virtual classroom is particularly well-suited to achieve this, and I look forward to doing it again in the fall.

Use the words like
flowing river touches
Embraces parting hard steel
surfaces reveling pages
Beneath the water skin
broken like ice flows
Smashed by iron bows on
the back of a whale

Communicate communicate
Communicate communicate 
Via satellite and solid state 
Never never hesitate 
Communicate communicate 
Communicate communicate 
Never never hesitate

(P. Townsend)

References:

1) Retrieved from the internet 7/10/12, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/meet.

2) Retrieved from the internet 7/10/12, http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/.

3) Retrieved from the internet 7/10/12, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transactional_distance)

4) Retrieved from the internet, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/communication

5)  Retrieved from the internet, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/inside-school-research/2012/07/study...

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