Leaving for Paris

24 08 2004

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Today I’m leaving for the 4S/EASST Conference in Paris. Registration starts on Wednesday and I’m presenting on Saturday. My session is called The Online, Virtual and “Mobile” University (S117) and is held in Room C058 in the Lycée Saint Louis.

I’ll sum up the goodies when I get back. In the mean time you can read my presentation online.

Introduction

Correspondence education is very much a part of
Swedish society. When you ask about correspondence education a lot of people
have stories to tell. Either from their own experience
or from the experiences of their parents or friends.

In this presentation I�m going to show you a partial
snapshot of the arguments that were used around correspondence education
in Sweden. To do this I have studied
material from the beginning of the 1960�s � treating them as the end result
of a debate running through the last part of the 1950�s.

My focus in the presentation lies on how the interaction
between technology and pedagogics comes to light in the studied documents.

I will show you how the attitude toward the correspondence
letters � viewed as a technology � shapes the whole educational situation. Pedagogics
becomes perceived differently. The student becomes perceived differently.
And the teacher becomes perceived differently.

The material

The material I have studied is a governmental
report called Correspondence education in the school system as
well as a number of pedagogical and historical background materials that
treat correspondence institutes and their pedagogics.

The governmental report focuses on the use of
correspondence education in the public school system. But mostly it
discusses a hybrid form of education that is called supervised correspondence
study � which is essentially a combination of a regular school and a correspondence
course. So the students were supposed to study correspondence material
in the classroom.

These hybrid schools were explored experimentally
in the Swedish school system, and the analyzed report recommended an expanded
use of correspondence education in the national swedish school
system.

Using these materials I will try to give you a
picture of how the characteristics of the correspondence
letters shapes pedagogical and political discourse.

History

But before we dive into the analysis I need to
give you a background.

In Sweden,
correspondence education has a history that goes back to the final years
of the 19th century when Hans Svensson Hermod starts advertising correspondence
courses in language and business administration.

This is the start of a rapid expansion for
the correspondence institutes. An expansion that in 1958 had reached about 330.000 sign ups per
year. Most of these students signed up for vocational training, but
there were a growing number signing up for school courses arranged by the
institutes.

In the end of the 1950�s there was a huge labor
shortage in Sweden. The solutions
proposed to the problem were many. For example there was a large stream
of work immigration from Greece, Italy,
and other countries. But the need for educated people in the Swedish industrial
complex was not filled easily.

Knowledge Society

One of the fronts that this battle was fought on
was the educational system. And education was also portrayed as a key feature
of the new knowledge based society that was being born.

Knowledge society is one of the most visible rhetorical
themes in my material. And the governmental report, as
well as the pedagogical material, are practically littered with references
to it.

The logic that is used to connect this new knowledge
society with correspondence education is built on three rhetorical building
blocks.

The first one is development. This argument
builds on the thought of eternal progress and competition � not unfamiliar
to us today. And development is also portrayed as the end goal for every
journey � so also for correspondence education.

The second building block is knowledge. Which
is portrayed as the driving force behind development. Objective,
scientific, theoretical and, most of all textual knowledge, rules supreme. Knowledge
is the foundation for development in technology, business and welfare.

The third concept that builds the argument for
knowledge society is education. Which is meant to give Sweden the edge in
building a future society. So essentially education
is portrayed as the portal to knowledge society.

Lifelong Learning

The reason for this enchantment with corresponde
education is a quest for educating the whole people � not only the young
or the gifted. Everybody had to be educated: the young, the old, the rich
and the poor.

But educating yourself once wasn�t enough. To continue
being succesful in a rapidly changing society you had to educate yourself
continuosly. Also when you were working. This was
called lifelong learning � and it still is.

But the problem still remains to be solved: how
do you create lifelong societywide learning � when everybody but the young were working. The solution, of course, was close at hand �
correspondence education.

Correspondence Education in Use

In looking at the rhetorics in my material I have
created three main themes that focus the rhetorical interaction between technology,
pedagogy and policy.

And as I said before the main focus of the study
lies on how educational technology � in this case the correspondence letters
� changes our perception of education, students and teachers.

The first theme is differentiation, which
focuses on the idea that every student must be allowed to follow their own
study pace.

The second theme concentrates on how learning is
depicted in correspondence education.

And the third theme looks at teaching �
the flip side of learning.

Differentiation

The differentiation theme is an excellent example
of how the supporters of correspondence education had an almost na�ve faith
in the potential of the method for bringing flexibility to the school system.

My material shows that lectures and seminars are
backgrounded in favour of the individual study of correspondence letters.
And the correspondence letters are believed to be efficient, organized, and
expert at conveying knowledge.

Even to an extent where the teacher � as the human
factor � is depicted as the problem of correspondence education. So the logic
that is used is that if only teachers would follow the method � an individualized
school would materialize.

This means not only removing the responsibility
of the employer, the state or the school for educating workers and youth
but it also means that the individual is portrayed as separate from the educational
system � as a free agent of knowledge.

This point of individual responsibility is central
to understanding how learning and teaching are viewed in correspondence education.

Learning

I will now move on to discuss how student�s learning
was depicted in the material, and I will do this from two main figures:

First, i will talk about the fostering of a
better citizen
, and second I will talk about the concept of study
technique
.

Fostering

Fostering is a theme that focuses on how
correspondence education would mold students into ideal citizens embracing
the morals, virtues and vices of society.

Students would not only become knowledgeable, but
also independent, responsible, problem solving � and ever learning.

The perfect citizen of the 1950�s used his skills
and knowledge during the day to develop the nation and himself,
and during the night he engaged in correspondence study in a pursuit of lifelong
learning.

Study Technique

Apart from this fostering element of learning,
there is also a strong focus on study technique which follows correspondence
education like a shadow.

Very much like in the case of fostering, correspondence
education was supposed to shape the student into something better.

The correspondence letters were in their design
depicted as an active shaper of the student�s study process, and it was thought
that the letters would impart an organized and efficient way of studying
to the students.

What is interesting here is that the study technique
is not viewed as something that is forced on pedagogy by the correspondence
letters, but rather, it is portrayed as an inherent virtue in correspondence
education.

The letters and methods are described as a natural
fact, while the student is the faulty entity which needs to be disciplined.

Learning and Technology

Summing up on the learning theme I would like to
point out two characteristics of correspondence education and learning.

First, the technology is highly visible in that
its shaping virtues are highlighted. But nonetheless the technology is still
invisble in that it is only the virtues and not the faults that are made
visible. The methods used are portrayed as a matter of choice rather than
of necessity.

Second, the characteristics of the technology are
elevated to moral virtues in society. Reading, quietly, alone become desirable
character traits rather than being portrayed as a demand on the student from
the technology. In a sense technology becomes morality.

Teaching with Correspondence Education

Moving to the other part of education � teaching
� I have again grouped the discussion around a number of concepts.

The first is method of teaching, which focuses
how the teacher is disciplined by technology. The second is standardizing education, that argues
that correspondence education and its discourse forces people to conform
and adapt to technology. The third is the genie in the letter which
highlights the role of the correspondence letter as a mediating technology
of teaching.

Method of Teaching

Starting out with the method of teaching I
will tell you about the teachers role in correspondence
education. This theme or concept is essentially the mirror image of study
technique, which was the concept that focused on the student.

The teacher is often portrayed as an instrument
for applying method � he or she is often depicted as an organizer and manager
of the study flow of the students. And the actual teaching is relegated to
second place.

Teaching in this mode of portrayal is depicted
in a fordist and taylorist manner, where pupils are to assimilate knowledge �
and the teacher is to control, stimulate and instruct him or her.

The correspondence letter becomes the entity that
education should be organized around � just as the blackboard and the lectern
organize teaching the letters do the same thing.

We can see how the technology prescribes behaviour
to the teaching situation � and how it shapes educational
practice.

Standardizing education

Another shaping process that correspondence letters
bring to the classroom is standardization.

The teacher�s role is described as a job of only managing
the classes � to deviate from the designed correspondence course becomes
an ill deed that damages the student�s possibility of learning.

By depicting correspondence education, the teacher,
and the student as standardized. They become portrayed in a Fordist manner
where identical units are manufactured on a knowledge assembly line. If the
process gets disturbed, the goods will be susbstandard.

Again it is the humans involved in the educational
system that has to adapt to the technology � and again it is the technology
that is portrayed as the virtuous force that orders, streamlines and standardizes
the study process.

The genie in the letter

Next I�m going to talk about how correspondence
letters shape our understanding of who holds the knowledge that is transmitted
to the students. I have called this figure �The genie in the letter�.

Correspondence letters are essentially viewed as
carefully designed chunks of knowledge that are constructed by experts to
transmit the required knowledge in an orderly and efficient manner.

To deviate from the procedure � inscribed into
and prescribed by the course design � would jeopardize the student�s knowledge
intake by disturbing the carefully managed flow of knowledge from the expert
via the letters to the student.

In correspondence education the specialist � that
authored the correspondence course � rather than the teacher in the classroom
� is the legitmate holder of knowledge. As a non specialist the tutor/teacher,
which is available to the student in the classroom, just disrupts the flow
of knowledge from the letter to the student.

Knowledge is consequently not viewed as something
that is incorporated by experiencing; rather knowledge is seen as something
theoretical that can be acquired by processing textual data.

Thus the learning process becomes pictured as a
transmission/reception process, and the skills of the teacher become relegated
to that of tutoring the student.

Teaching and Technology

The consequences for the view of teaching that
correspondence education brings with it are far reaching.

The textual linear qualities of the letters, as
well as reading as a learning activity become the guiding principles for
how teaching and education is supposed to be organized.

The educational ideal becomes a transmitting and
engineered process, which discourages all detours from the assembly line
of correspondence letters.

Furthermore the teacher is removed from the knowledge
holding position and, is relegated to an organizing and controlling entity.

Conclusion

I would like to finish with some concluding remarks.

In the case of correspondence education the affordances
inherent in and designed into the technology become portrayed as a matter
of choice. These characteristics of the technology are very influential in
shaping the discourse that surrounds the technology, and often it is portrayed
as the technology is perfect � while humans are not.

The consequences for the roles that are assigned
to different actors in the educational system are also far reaching. The
technology and the discourse around it prescribes behaviour
both for the student and the teacher � and they become the organizing principles
of their behaviour.

For the student and the teacher their ideal behaviour are changed
by the technology. Teachers should organize and stimulate, and students should
apply themselves individually to their correspondence letter.

Consequently the whole discourse on the classroom,
teacher, student, and the whole educational practice is shaped and reshaped
in conjunction with educational technologies.

Thank you.

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