On Computer Mediated Communication in Schools

The events I recorded in the papers I wrote as an undergraduate student and in my journal kept during my first few years working as a teacher and the few surviving lesson plans and resource folders from my pre-Internet years (recall that I entered the teaching profession using an Apple IIc computer in 1988), all suggest my experiences reflected the contemporary trends in computing. I used my first computer to create information (especially word processor files) and to manipulate information, including spreadsheets and graphs. As computers arrived with compact disk drives and as information available on the disk became more sophisticated, my students and I consumed (and created) more sophisticated information.  

In the mid-1990’s, I started connecting my computers to the Internet, thus accessing networked information for the first time since the mid-1980’s when I connected to a bulletin board while enrolled in the computer course that was optional for students in my teacher education program. By the late-1990’s I was teaching in a computer room full of computers connected to the Internet, and my students and I consumed information from the Internet constantly. We also created significant amount of information, but were not publishing it to the Internet.

Around the turn of the century, the old bulletin boards such as I had connected to in 1985 had emerged as discussion forums and blogs along with wikis, and other web 2.0 tools that facilitate publishing and interacting over the Internet. Soon the platforms known as social media transformed how people interact for both personal and professional purposes. Today, students discuss their work online, they share documents and edit, and they contribute to online communities that comprise local populations and global populations. In the second decade of the 21st century, users (both in schools and in the greater society) are likely to use their computers to facilitate interaction as much as they use their computers to facilitate the consumption and creation of information. In many cases, the boundaries between interaction and consuming and creating blur as users share links to media and then contribute to the on-going discussion about the media.

Technology-mediated interaction has been the focus of intense study by various research groups, and there seems to be consensus on several conclusions about it. First, it can be used effectively for communication within dyads and small groups, and it can be used in both many-to-one and one-to-many situations. Further, digital interaction is associated with greater participation in ad hoc groups, which convene and disband quickly, as well as greater participation in long-lived communities. One factor associated with the extension of technology-mediated interaction for greater numbers of interactions and the expansion of technology-mediated interaction onto different types of interaction is the near-zero marginal expense of the interaction; almost all Internet-mediated interaction is free. 

Further contributing to the expansion of technology-mediated interaction has been the availability of multimedia functions, which allow for more channels to be used for interaction. Increasingly, humans create digital information with their voices and with images they capture and these digital files become the focus of interaction. Students can compose and respond in audio or video as easily as they can respond with text using 21st century technology. 

It is within the information and interaction ecosystem that youngsters who enter schools as students have been learning, acting, and interacting for their entire lives. Schools are charged with preparing youngsters to participate in this information and interaction ecosystem, and this ecosystem provides many functions that can be leveraged to educational purposes. Technology planning must sustain both aspects of the ecosystem.