Magnificent possibilities

This quote is the perfect place to dive in: 

“Educators are confronted with a new medium for public instruction whose magnificent possibilities daze them, but whose technical and psychological peculiarities they do not yet fully understand.”

At first glance, you may assume that the authors were referring to the digital Pandora Box of the internet. In actual fact, the quote is from 1935, the authors (Cantril & Allport, The Psychology of Radio, 1935) were writing about the groundbreaking communications technology of the time: radio. The quote is contained in The First Wave: The Beginnings of Radio in Canadian Distance Education by George Buck. 

So we are not the first generation to struggle with the challenge of applying technology as a teaching tool. The potential is obvious. Technology stretches across time and space to create a means of communication more far-reaching and long-lasting than speech or conversation. It’s been happening for thousands of years. Our knowledge of the dialogues of Plato is fully dependent upon the existence of the technology of the time, the written word. But could Plato have foreseen the millennia of impact his ideas and words would have thanks wholly to the ability of technology to bring them to an audience far beyond that of ancient Greece?

Plato’s writings were part of the first wave of technology-enhanced learning: print. Radio was at the vanguard of the second wave of distance technology learning: electronic communication. Large countries with scattered populations like Canada and Australia were early adopters of this new radio technology for learning. Radio could overcome time and space to connect learners across vast spaces.

In Canada, the earliest educational radio programs were produced in the 1920s for passengers riding on the Canadian National Railway. Passengers would gather in the parlour car, don headphones and listen to broadcasts on subjects such as opera appreciation. Fast forward to today, and we can observe passengers on commuter trains listening to educational podcasts they’ve downloaded. Perhaps some are learning about Plato. The “magnificent possibilities” are being realized.

5 thoughts on “Magnificent possibilities

  1. Great title Jeff! I too was struck by the possibilities, and challenges that are inherent in educational technology. I’m optimistic that the learner-centric trend I’m observing will enable the learner to be the focus of the future of ed tech, rather than the technological tools.

  2. Great title, image, AND quote, Jeff! I was made aware of the instrumental place and role of radio in the realm of educational technology through this assignment. CBC Radio and CBC podcasts remain an important part of my life, resources that I have actively shared with my students of various ages.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, which included connections as far back as Plato, to what is a part of ‘the history of educational technology’ (I, too, went WAY back). As an educator of many years, the quote that you shared resonated with me on many personal and pedagogical levels. I, too, deeply appreciate the magnificent possibilities that educational technology, in its myriad forms, has to offer. As an educator, and now working with a company sharing a digital learning platform (Edwin) with students across Canada, I have started to become more concerned with the digital divide, or participation gap, that prevents equitable access to various educational technologies and digital literacy skills. Similarly, my recent experience teaching high school students made me acutely aware of the need to help students to navigate the plethora of resources available to them, as well as the darker possibilities that emanate from social media use (and abuse), and the skills surrounding ‘being a responsible digital citizen.’ I am sure there are CBC Podcasts about all of these pressing and interesting opportunities for learning! 🙂

  3. Hi, Jeff.
    Great quote! I particularly like the phrase “magnificent possibilities daze them”. With the advent of each new technology (printing press, radio, TV, Internet,…), we truly do seem to be dazed by its magnificence. Time and time again, the newest technology professes that it will revolutionize our lives, including our schools and our learning. However, time and time again, it seems to not reach that mark of promise. I included a quote from Thomas Edison in my blog post from 1913 stating his assertion that the educational film would make books obsolete. With the advent of each new technology, there certainly seems to be new possibilities, but the “old” technologies (pens, paper, books, blackboards/whiteboards, etc.) are still in use, with even the teacher yet to be replaced. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on the tool/media and have yet to fully realize that it’s how the learning itself happens that’s key, whether the tools are a pencil and notebook or the newest smart phone.

  4. Jeff love the quote,

    “Educators are confronted with a new medium for public instruction whose magnificent possibilities daze them, but whose technical and psychological peculiarities they do not yet fully understand.”

    I want for a second to replace the word “educators” with the words “Those in charge” or “Decision makers” and keep the rest of the quote. Let me explain. Too often these two groups are not fully cognizant of the daze… all they know is that they want some of what someone is serving without really understanding what they are being served. The newest technology they believe will keep them at the cutting edge whereas a more balanced approach might have been prudent. For example simulation is magnificent but it is just that simulation. What are the ‘psychological peculiarities not yet fully understand’ that not being ‘in situ’ creates? Great post.

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