Smart Community and the Smart Classroom

The digital revolution is steadily taking the middlemen away. The middlemen are displaced if not fully removed. This changed condition offers us possibilities of direct access to the web without any mediation. We can see this, especially in education. For the first time, we have a generation that can directly access knowledge. They digit directly on their mobile phones and access information and knowledge at their fingertips. They have become digital natives. But they are naked and vulnerable. We have not evolved enough critical philosophy to accompany them. In fact, we do not share the same kind of belonging with them. They are different and a gap is developing between us and them.

The family is breaking. The school is collapsing. Religion is fast waning from the public sphere in most parts of the world. This seems to indicate that all effective mediators in our society are giving way. The human condition has changed. After writing and printing, we have entered a new revolution that is fast digitizing our life. We are fast breaking from the past and making new history. We seem to have already become grandchildren of printing. The digital revolution is changing our relationship with knowledge and our life in general as writing and printing did in the past. Never before have we had democracy of knowledge. The digital revolution has brought knowledge democracy closer to us. We do have the challenge to overcome the digital divide. This digital divide is fast bridging with the rise of the new generation.

The digital revolution has changed the way knowledge is produced, accessed and circulated. The authority of the school and the teacher/ magister is neutralized. They played their role during the reign of writing and printing. The net has kept them out. There are no hierarchies on the net. What we have is the juxtaposition of everything without any criterion. Hence, the net has become a space of serendipity and surprise. The order of knowledge was an order of Scholars and Universities. But with the coming of the net, all these mediators have become irrelevant. We can access knowledge without any mediators. Once these mediators disappear, every search and every access to knowledge creates its own order. There are several of these orders on the net. This is why a net is also a chaotic place.

The net also does not have a mentoring effect on students. Human accompaniment assisted intellectual as well as moral growth. In the absence of it, no one can grant that we might be able to make the right decision. The Socratic view that knowledge is a virtue is dying. Knowledge may no longer be a virtue. The fact that the new generation can access knowledge without the supervision of any mediator may be viewed as a mixed bag. It is good and bad in it. Even a simple search on the net when done for a group activity, when it becomes embedded in a story of actions and interpretations, in a compulsory context of references, then it can become knowledge creation. Knowledge can also be generated by crowd-sourcing. This means although the digital generation is naked individually. They are not alone. When they work together, they are strong and effective. Thus, it does offer lots of freedoms but it does not free us from conditioning as well as being co-opted by the logic of capitalism.

When the collective of the new generation comes together, several of them can take the role of mediators and mentors. This means mediators and mentors are not fully gone. They are displaced. The fact that the new generation is not alone gives us hope that they can still filter information, decipher knowledge and resist the logic of capitalism. This also suggests that to survive, the school and university have the challenge to become learning communities. As of now, knowledge is produced somewhere and is brought and transmitted to the students through the mediation of the teachers. Students are to consume this knowledge without any resistance or interrogation. This indicates the school and the university reproduces the logic of production and consumption of capitalism.

The digital revolution does deconstruct this logic of capitalism. The collapse of the classroom modelled on the cave of Plato where the students are taught to be silent and stay in rows assigned to them and listen to their teachers has opened possibilities of conversion of our classrooms into learning spaces. The school as a learning community can fight the logic of capitalism. The classroom then becomes a place of knowledge production as well as consumption. Both the teachers and the student network and become prosumers. Dialogue, discussion, debate and teamwork can produce a learning community.

A learning community is not a teaching or taught community. Today there is a lot of teaching but less learning happening in our schools and universities. Thanks to the digital revolution, we are forced to become a learning community or face the prospect of destruction. The choice is between survival and perishing. We have the challenge to choose survival. School as a learning community can expand the experience of mediation. In this new context, the teacher can no longer be a magister but has the imperative to be a fellow seeker. Being a fellow seeker, the teacher and the school can co-opt the internet as a new mediator and engage the students in the project of knowledge production. This would mean that the school and the classrooms will have to be linked to the internet. The challenge is to introduce the internet of things and make our classrooms smart. Therefore, it is by joining the digital revolution, that we can survive its impact as well as assist our students to develop a critical attitude to resist the logic of capitalism and its several allurements.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao