Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Analog Lives!

Blue Books

Blue Books: photo by Cliff Hutson
Blue Books: photo by Cliff Hutson

I am a subscriber to the quarterly editions of Field Notes memo books. Occasionally, we get a little something extra in the mail. The latest was three blue books. It has been at least 45 years since I last took an exam using one of these; so, I wondered if they might really be a thing. Surly, after all this time something "new and improved" - iPads or the like - would have taken their place.

This question was quickly resolved with a query to my daughter who informed me that blue books are still being used in colleges, especially for final exams in social science courses: psychology, philosophy, political science, and sociology, by her and other "older professors".

Perhaps, this should not have surprised me as I had just finished reading "The Revenge of Analog," by David Sax.

Analog Matters

Sax writes convincingly about "real things and why they matter".  Digital technology has encroached on, if not taken over, much of our lives. The book is not against this, per se; it, instead shows that analog technology can not only coexist with the digital world, it can enhance it as well. But, then, he really takes to task the emergence of digital devices, such as the aforementioned iPads, in education. And stresses that one of the greatest promises and failures of educational technology is the online course. Studies show that these courses have very low completion rates. One source states that typically 90 percent of students drop out, and that those who stay with it learn less than students in a classroom.
This really intrigued me as I am enrolled in just such a course (Making Sense of Climate Science Denial - offered by the University of Queensland, no less) scheduled to begin on May 29.  

Correspondence School

FN School: photo by Cliff Hutson
FN School: photo by Cliff Hutson

The blue books from Field Notes were accompanied by a letter giving me instructions for a Final Exam. Just as if it were a correspondence school whose motto is, "Getting Smarter, One Letter at a Time". 

It just so happens that I have had some real world experience with traditional correspondence classes. My favorite example is the competition of a seminar in Bird Biology at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, in 1993. This done by actually mailing assignments back and forth, to and from Ithaca, with what could have only been an actual person. 

Now, I will be the among the first to maintain that the preferred method of education is having students and teachers interact with each other in a classroom (or the field as in my current situation). But, I got a lot out of that seminar, and still use that information to this day. One point that I bear in mind was that i still had to put pen and pencil to paper. A technique that many consider far superior to using a keyboard, touch screen, or stylus. I am eager to see how this online course will work for me.

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