Once Upon a Time There Were Bound Texts: Big Media, Little Media – Part 1

One of my great frustrations in researching the MOOC movement is the extended lack of ancestry or theory provided by seminal thinkers, pundits or researchers.  From reading existing lit, one would assume when God and Adam were creating the animals out of dust, they created the MOOC too.

Big Media, Little Media is a 1977 book from a collection on “People and Communication,” this entry written by Wilbur Schramm.  Its purpose is to evaluate the use of various media (radio, film, picture, multimedia) in various modes of education (formal, informal, classroom, distance).  It provides an excellent historical account of the use of various media throughout the documented history of education, and its vision of the future is ominous considering the book is 35 years old.

I’m only a few chapters in, but what has taken me aback so far:

  • The economics of education and media are wholly evident here.  As this is pre-Internet, the discussion comes as to whether countries will invest in satellite and radio infrastructure to allow media transmission to urban and rural areas, but from a formal perspective, the British Open University gets credence here, and there is mention of several American initiatives for distance education via prestigious university.  Stanford is said to have used VHF cable to transfer engineering lecture from the classroom to various industrial houses and laboratories for workers to engage with; the University of Illinois used the computing and Internet technology of the time to establish the Plato system (the courses were designed as self-instructional, which today we would call personalized), and the University of Nebraska tried to build a model like the British Open University based on correspondence work and broadcast lecture.  None of this has come up in any of the literature I have encountered.
  • Schramm wants to see research on how various media can effectively teach various disciplines, and if there is a variance.  He notes the difficulty in doing this based on human subjects, quasi-experimental environments and the numerous uncontrolled variables that would come up in longitudinal studies.  I wonder if there is research out there on this…again, if there is, it has not popped up once in the MOOC hoopla.
  • Schramm notes that regardless of media used, involvement is paramount for learning.  Question is, what sort of involvement.  Is it quiz and test assessment, the creation of digital artifacts, or something else?  That question is at the heart of MOOC viability.  Too many research projects have focused on what works better:  a teacher or a computer.  Schramm wants people to really look at the medium and the environment and develop research questions that put it at the heart of the learning, rather than a John Henry-type bloodbath.
  • Krathwohl’s taxonomy of affective outcomes.
  • Gagne’s taxonomy of learning.
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