A University of California
Multi-Campus Research Group
Fall 2000 Conference: November 3-5


Classroom of the Future
Open Planning Forum for a Digital Cultures Casebook

* Overview

In recent years, the phrase "classroom of the future" has become increasingly prevalent in the discourse of educational institutions and foundations–in mission statements, internal and extramural funding proposals, compacts made with industry, outreach parternships between higher education and K-12, etc. To take one example, the San Diego County Office of Education's "Classroom of the Future Foundation" works in league with "the Joe Rindone Regional Technology Center, Regional SONY Centers, and classrooms in San Diego County schools" to ensure that California's students "log on to the future." The foundation's mission statement asks:

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How should the power and potential of emerging technologies be harnessed to service California classrooms? How can student opportunity be expanded using new communications media? How can we use what we know about student learning, combined with what we are learning about computers, networks, and videoconferencing to improve student achievement?

Or again, a press release of Jan. 2000, advertises the fact that the UC Davis "Classroom of the Future" initiative will partner with a local high school to assess the use of instructional technology. According to one of the education professors involved in the project, "This partnership is exciting because it couples a firm like Pac Bell, which will supply its equipment and expertise, with the university and its understanding of effective instructional practice."

Supported by grants from business, government, and other sources, many other such initiatives are now starting study projects and/or breaking ground for experimental "wired" classrooms.

Yet outside of the circuit of discourse that now races between administrators, education specialists, businesses, and technology specialists, the level of awareness about what the "classroom of the future" might actually look like is low–not just at the K-12 level but in higher education. Nowhere is this more true, perhaps, than in humanities education at research-level institutions, whose faculty are in danger of missing out entirely on the chance to contribute to the discussion before the ink has dried on the funding contracts that are likely to affect the whole tenor of education in the future–in the way, for example, that past decisions about the nature of academic architecture and even furniture (e.g., fixed seats) have doomed instructors to environments that seem actively to work against them.

* Casebook Concept

The purpose of this panel in the inaugural conference of the UC Digital Cultures Project is to investigate the feasibility of launching the Project's proposed "casebook" series (see the project's original funding proposal) with a volume that solicits the thought of humanities scholars and artists (complemented by scholars in other disciplines) on the "classroom of the future." Since collective discussion of this topic among humanists is either at an early stage or non-existent, the panel will start from the ground up with fundamental philosophical, social, institutional, and practical questions. Several scholars who have experimented with instructional information technology will open the session with brief, informal statements. The audience will then be asked to join in an open forum on the topic. In the year following the Digital Cultures conference, a call for papers will go out inviting scholars, artists, architects, engineers, administrators, and others to contribute to the casebook. Several of the latter group will also be invited to give advance versions of their papers in a follow-up panel at the succeeding year's Digital Cultures conference.

* Seed Questions

(see Responses for further thoughts suggested
panel participants or visitors to this page)

As a means of priming the discussion in advance of the proceedings, this year's panel on the "classroom of the future" is putting online the following starter set of questions suggested by the panelists. (To suggest additional questions or revisions, please e-mail Alan Liu.):

  1. In the humanities, what was the ideal of the "classroom of the past"; and how should that ideal guide or be superceded by the ideal of the "classroom of the future"? Can the model of the Socratic "seminar," for example, benefit from the paradigm of the "network," and vice versa?
  2. When people talk about "distance learning," what philosophically, socially, or otherwise does "distance" actually mean? What kind of distances were built into the structure of education in the past? What other kinds of distances are created by distance learning and/or the "classroom of the future"? Is distance good, or bad?
  3. What is the role of the visual in the "classroom of the future"?
  4. Many research-level humanities programs have evolved so as to differentiate between advanced learning and skills learning–such that, for example, classes in which skills or competence is uppermost (e.g., composition) are taught most regularly by lower-level, temporary, or graduate-student instructors. Yet the ascendancy of information technology has meant that technical skills become ever more important in advanced classes where instructors ask students to experiment with the Web or other new media. Is the time that instructors and students must put into learning the new skills justified? What conceptually is "skill" or "technique" in a postindustrial era that has passed beyond both the preindustrial era of "craft" and the early industrial era when the "idea of the university" (as Cardinal Newman called it) originally arose in contrast to the polytechnic?
  5. What difference does it make phenomenologically, psychologically, socially, or otherwise to teach with the Web over one's shoulder (e.g., thrown by a digital projector on a screen)? Is the text or picture show on the screen the same as the one about which an instructor can say, "Class, turn to page 15"? How, in other words, does information technology in the classroom (not to mention outside the classroom) change the scene of instruction?
  6. How do we perform the classroom of the future and observe it at the same time? How do we assess the ways in which the new technologically mediated classroom is redefining: technological skill; rhetorical skill; knowledge; thinking?
  7. How do we assess the new combinatory of skills that comprise a student's performance?
  8. What are the discursive and political differences in the media of exchange, among, for example: (a) email archives, (b) moderated lists, (c) IRC-chat, and (d) newsgroups?
  9. If funding was unlimited, how might a group of humanists working with architects, education specialists, engineers, programmers, and others design a "classroom of the future"? What would that classroom look and feel like?

(see Responses for further thoughts suggested
panel participants or visitors to this page)

* Resources on "Classroom of the Future"

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