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July 23, 2010 / Cameron Campbell

Present? Absent? “Real” connections?

Earlier this week a friend who works at another university here in New Zealand linked me to this article. Taken at face value it’s a perfect example of the “computer as panacea” argument and, I have to admit, I got quite annoyed by it.

Then I started reading the comments. While I don’t agree with them all (there’s quite a lot of absolutism in there – as in any comment thread on the interweb) one comment (by Steve Eskow) really got me thinking.

“Presence” is face-to-face. “Presence” is speech. And the “metaphysics of presence” has us believe, as Claude says casually , that there is a difference between “virtual ” and “real connectedness.” And of course “real” connected is face-to-face connectedness, with speech as the medium of relating.

Now, I’d like to tell you a personal story that relates to this quote. While I’m an outgoing sort of fellow and always have been, I seem to have managed to maintain only three really tight friendships over the years.

Certainly I’ve got many more friends than that, but I’m talking about the kind of friends that you’d drop everything for and rush off to their side in an emergency. Two of these friends are from school (Ian I’ve know since we were both 12 and Andrew I met in Uni – at a dive punk bar). The third, Mike,  I met through an online gaming space. All three live in different cities (Chicago, Toronto and Tallahassee respectively) and have lived in those cities long before I moved to New Zealand.

In all three cases I can go a long time without seeing/talking to them and when we do get together (even if that together is mediated through the web) it feels like it was yesterday that we were last spoke.

Here’s the kicker: I’ve only met Mike physically once. We talk frequently (twitter, facebook, skype rarely, email sometimes). We exchange gifts for our kids – one of his daughters has a lovely Oma rāpeti t-shirt – we have had long long conversations about all sorts of things (tech, god, parenting..) the only real difference is that we’ve not done it face-to-face.

Heart warming stuff eh? But what does it all have to do with education?

Simple: as educators we all have to get over the idea that learning and communicating is an all or nothing, one size fits all, one way is best sort of proposition.

What we need to be doing is looking at what works and is appropriate and will return the best outcome for the student.

This will mean stepping out of our comfort zones. It will mean learning new things. And yes, it will involve computers. And sometimes it won’t involve computers at all.

But what it will require, more than any other thing, is the understanding is that there is no such thing as “real” or “fake” or some kinds of interaction and learning that are subservient or less than other kinds.

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