By Bonnie DeVarco
… You are faced with a future in which education is going to be number one amongst the great world industries, within which will flourish an educational machine technology that will provide tools such as the individually selected and articulated two-way TV and an intercontinentally net-worked, documentaries call-up system, operative over any home two-way TV set.
Buckminster Fuller, Education Automation, 1962
Ephemeralization of Information
In 1962, Buckminster Fuller published his first book on Education titled Education Automation, based on a talk he gave at Southern Illinois University a year prior. More than two decades before the first personal computer landed on anyone’s desktop, this book pointed out the value of technology in education from Fuller’s perspective. While his philosophy toward education was rooted in his personal experience being raised in a pivotal historical period between the industrial and information revolutions, his deep understanding of the impact that technology, and more specifically, computer technology, would have on education was prescient. Fuller was long enamored by charting world trends to examine long-term patterns of everything from industrialization to communication and transportation. Yet his trend charting showed that the future of education would hold the most unexpected turn. He wrote, "Out of my general world-pattern-trend studies there now comes strong evidence that nothing is going to be quite so surprising or abrupt in the forward history of man as the forward evolution in the educational processes."
Vannevar Bush’s classic 1945 essay "As We May Think" is commonly regarded as a foundational document of our current information and media revolution and invoked as a harbinger of what we are now seeing in digital libraries, hypertext and other multimedia now commonly used to support education. But Fuller himself put forth an interesting vision of what the information revolution would look like 17 years prior to Bush with his 1928 "Lightful Housing" essay. This was also echoed in his first elevation sketch of the Dymaxion House that would include a room for lifelong learning, a room that would "free the scholar to return to his studies."
Fuller's Dymaxion House of 1929 was equipped with a "Go-Ahead With Life Room" including technology which could provide access to information and education in an individual manner and effortless way. This was the room in every house where "children may develop self-education on a selective basis through built-in radio-television, maps globes, revolving bookshelves, drawing boards, typewriters, etc., that they may go together as real individuals, not crowd nonentities." In his book, BuckyWorks, J. Baldwin emphasized that this room "is nothing less than a personal multi-media center!"
Through the rapid ephemeralization of information in the later decades of the last century, the World Wide Web now represents a body of electronic materials that continues to grow by approximately seven million pages a day into a single dynamic body of self organized consensus self-reflexivity. In 2002, with the dot.com bomb and its concomitant "crisis of ethics" in large companies who took advantage of this accelerated access to tools and services through the Internet, E-learning is proving not to be a casualty. In fact, the intersection between the technology and the learning experience may define the next generation of what we see in cyberspace.
When the WWW was in its infancy, author Kevin Kelly tackled the dynamics of the rapid evolution of cyberspace in his 1994 book, Out of Control - The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World. In this book, Kelly, editor of Wired Magazine turned to biological systems as an analog that opens up a new way of looking at the intersection of computers and culture. He described the spontaneous organization of cyberspace with its proliferating global computer nodes as a growing "electronic hive." Though no connection is drawn, Kelly’s hive mind idea mirrors Fuller's vision of a "One-Town World" with its interactive machines of communication.
In one of Fuller's earliest writings in the 1928 "Lightful Housing" manuscript, he was already predicting that technology would soon allow us to communicate through a decentralized global network. This network could effortlessly contain and make available the thoughts, ideas and spontaneous discoveries of numerous individuals worldwide by making one copy of such material available to multitudes quickly with ease, combining the written and spoken word with moving images. He said "Industry will go forward by leaps and bounds, national and political boundaries will disappear, a universal language will develop by means of the television movie, combining both written and spoken word, demonstrated by the universal language of the movie. Educational centers of today will no longer have their scholars come to them but broadcast around the world on assigned wave lengths the results of their research analyses and design."
Later, in a 1932 issue of Shelter Magazine, Fuller outlined his "Conning Tower Concept" in which he described how a series of conning towers could link broadcast stations worldwide. These would be combined with film, visuals and sound, offering access to the world's historical information, latest news, latest discoveries and research findings and making them available to all. These conning towers would be "designed to preserve the integrity of intellectual progress by freeing the enthusiasm momentum of hitherto stultifying effects of constantly repeated disclosures of 'purposes' and 'results' which through medium of 'conning tower' require but one disclosure for their potential social diffusion." The goal of these "universal broadcasting stations" and "central publishing headquarters" was to eliminate the costly duplication, to increase democratic access to information and to eliminate the time-lag of information getting out quickly, thus unifying information from scientists, researchers to both universities and the general consumer.
In 2002, schools and universities continue to broaden their use of online resources in their curriculum, expanding web access through their libraries and computer labs, installing T-1 and T-3 lines in their facilities, and now starting to join the broadband grid of the Internet2. Dozens of educational portals now make educational resources available to teachers and students worldwide, often resources created and vetted by teachers themselves. Like Fuller’s "Conning Tower," the the World Wide Web offers vast resources through digital archives such as the Project Gutenberg, University of Pennsylvania’s Online Books Page, Carnegie Mellon University’s Universal Library Project, UC Berkeley’s Digital Library Project the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program, Columbia University’s Project Bartleby, Tufts University’s Perseus Project and many others.
Other resource portals on the World Wide Web offer media and interactive teaching resources through online collections such as MERLOT - Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Teaching, the Vega Trust archive of programs for science, engineering and technology and the EOE - Education Object Economy. These materials are widely available to augment online courses as well as traditional classroom activities. The rapid evolution of online education (often called "e-learning") has also influenced faculty and teachers to establish new approaches to courseware development through the creation of open source architectures for course development tools. The Open Knowledge Initiative and Open Courseware Initiative of MIT and Stanford University are two pilot programs that exemplify this approach. In addition, educators are also promoting the development of broadly accessible standard "learning objects" - modular, reusable, durable, and interoperable learning content that can be accessed online.
Even though Fuller expounded on the virtues of technology in education, it was in his own teaching practice, through which he influenced a couple generations of engineering, design and architecture students, that his greatest contribution to the "processes of education" could be seen. Starting in 1948 with his work at Black Mountain College and thoughout the next few decades, Fuller served as lecturer, taught workshops and led summer programs at dozens of universities in the United States and taught international students as well. These institutions included Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Princeton, Southern Illinois University, University of Michigan, North Carolina State University, University of Oregon, University of Minnesota and host of others.
During this time, Fuller employed a unique and unprecedented approach to education through his lab-based method. Though research and acquisition of the newest materials and hands-on prototyping, Fuller’s students designed and built hundreds of his earliest geodesics experiments, from foldable seedpod domes to tensegrity spheres and hemispheres of all sizes, pneumatic domes, air-deliverable domes, paperboard domes and transparent geodesic "growth houses." Students also helped him further develop the models of synergetic geometry that provided the foundation for his geodesics which culminated in the deployment of thousands of radomes, lightweight trade fair domes, and numerous large scale geodesic structures around the world.
Fuller’s approach to hands-on learning predated trends we now see in the emerging landscape of technology-enhanced and online learning – i.e., team-based, project/problem-based and action based learning, constructivist, self-directed education and peer-to-peer learning. It also emphasized his philosophy that "If you cannot make a model of it, don’t talk about it." Through hands-on, team-based learning students around the world now not only access but help to create the current global body of distributed libraries and databases of Web-based information. Student groups work together cooperatively to seek solutions to real world problems and create learning materials for their peers. Drawing from the model of Problem-Based Learning – PBL exemplified by programs such as Stanford University’s PBL Lab, ThinkQuest and WebQuest, collaborative, active learning scenarios assist distributed groups in assimilating and synthesizing information through computer-aided projects. As part of Fuller's emphasis on hands-on education, he was one of the first to speak about the importance of multisensorial learning. In the rapidly growing field of online learning, we now find that "learning styles" theory such as Bloom's Taxonomy and Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences guide the use of technology and media in education and in collaborative design approaches for online learning.
These and other successful approaches to constructivist education have enabled globally distributed teams of students to come together to create well-researched, written and designed Web sites on any topic for peer to peer distribution of high quality educational resources. Often these projects are multidisciplinary and focussed on the global and local environment. Programs such as GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment ) and I*EARN (International Education and Resource Network) enable young people to undertake projects designed to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people. Students from around the world collaborate with their peers or research scientists on projects that explore, collect and analyze bioregional information, wildlife migration patterns, endangered species, biodiversity, climate and other aspects of their local and global ecosystem. NASA & TERC’s Astrobiology Program explores the future of life on earth and the possibility life on other planets through an inquiry-based interdisciplinary curriculum for middle and high school students that integrates chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, and Earth and space science.
On the frontiers of education technology, national leaders in education, Roy Pea (SCIL - Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning & SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning - CTL), Marcia Linn (Center for Innovative Learning Technologies - CILT) and Chris Dede (Harvard University) promote the newest innovations and developments in online learning and the learning sciences. They concentrate on multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research, the development of complex learning environments, learning through visualization, technology in science learning, collaborative learning and knowledge networks. These and other educators and education technologists are recognizing a new four-tiered model for learning, both traditional and online: learner centered, knowledge centered, assessment centered and community-centered learning. Professional development and educational leadership programs such as Metacourse, Teachscape and Galileo Intelligence Online utilize this model while providing innovative approaches to teaching and online course development.
Design Science and Global Collaboration
The design scientist has the responsibility to increase the options of humanity, not to decrease them
Fuller wrote "The
success of all humanity can be accomplished only be a terrestrially comprehensive,
technologically competent, design revolution." And from his perspective,
this design revolution, an "industrially realizable, comprehensive anticipatory
design science" would be carried out by students around the world. While
teaching university students in the early 50s he developed what he called "Eight
Strategies for Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science". Of his strategy
for education he saw a progressive transfer from physical production activities
to education, research and tool-making.
In 1961 Fuller proposed the beginning of a World Design Science Decade (WDSD) that would accelerate a design revolution. Through the WDSD, architectural schools around the world be encouraged by the International Union of Architects to invest the next ten years to addressing how to make the world’s total resources, which then served only 40% of the world population, serve 100% of humanity. While this ambitious proposal to mobilize a global group of students never fully got off the ground, the effort did produce a series of publications - the World Design Science Decade Documents, Fuller’s Inventory of Resources, Human Trends, and Needs, and led to the beginnings of the World Game in 1969. Fuller’s World Game, which would use a map the size of a basketball court linked to computerized information about the earth finally reached thousands of students around the world through the World Game Institute which is now being reorganized as Global Simulation Workshops through OSEarth. This year, the Buckminster Fuller Institute launched the SpaceshipEarth project and EarthScope, a tool that enables a wide audience to visually grasp the critical choices that shape our future by displaying interactive maps, animated trend data and future scenarios within a single, user-friendly interface.
The past decade of technological advancements has also unleashed numerous distributed projects that have resulted in a type of World Game through the global libraries of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), has set the standard for GIS and thousands of universities and schools around the world now participate in generating and sharing realtime data about the earth through the Geography Network. In addition, the Alexandria Digital Library, a consortium of researchers, developers, and educators, spanning the academic, public, and private sectors, are also exploring a variety of problems related to a distributed digital library for geographically-referenced information.
Fuller saw all of his artifacts as tools of the "design revolution," from synergetic geometry to geodesic domes, to the Dymaxion Map. But the most important he felt was the Geoscope, a fully computerized "globe." Fuller’s 30-year-old "Geoscope" concept was a tool for planning and stewardship that would offer experiential hands-on opportunities to discover vast amounts of information in a geospatial context. Well before the advent of the World Wide Web, Fuller had asserted, "With the Geoscope humanity would be able to recognize formerly invisible patterns and thereby to forecast and plan in vastly greater magnitude than heretofore. The consequences of various world plans could be computed and projected, using the accumulated history-long inventory of economic, demographic, and sociological data."
Already in its fifth year, the Digital Earth Project is a global initiative that has brought government, educational institutions and the private sector together to attain what Vice President Gore envisioned in 1997 "as a multi-resolution, three-dimensional representation of the planet into which vast quantities of data can be embedded." The key goal of the Digital Earth Project is "to move beyond the current desktop metaphor for user interfaces into a more natural, immersive environment which will facilitate navigation and interaction. High-end portals to the Digital Earth could be installed in museums, laboratories, and public libraries, but smaller, more affordable interfaces should also be available for use in homes and classrooms." The Digital Earth Project is seeking a way for people from all areas, backgrounds and interests to visualize and navigate through this massive online body of data quickly and intuitively. And the first phase of the project enlists students around the world, many who are already participating in the GLOBE project, to help generate this body of local data.
Visualizing this information through a single 3D representation of Earth, similar to Fuller’s Geoscope, would make it possible to seamlessly navigate vast bodies of realtime data intuitively as well as carry out scenarios and simulations for global problem-solving. ESRI has just announced that this coming year, a 3D GIS browser using Geofusion technology will set the new standard for 3D GIS by allowing users to stream through vast quantities of satellite data from every scale correlated with databases of local information. Through the combination of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and 3D GIS, another concept, the WorldBoard, a proposed planetary augmented reality system that facilitates innovative ways of associating information with places, could link students together to have a better understanding of local and global ecologies in realtime.
"In the 1960s, Fuller said that in the accelerated acceleration of our times we would become a "world mobilizing society." He noted in Education Automation, "None of the other living species have altered their ecological patterning. All the species other than man are distinguishable throughout geologic and biologic history by their approximately unaltered ecological patterning. In the last half-century man has graduated from a local twelve-mile radius daily domain into a world around multi-thousand-mile radius daily domain, as a consequence of his ability to alter his own ecological patterning." Buckminster Fuller continually addressed his concept of "universal man" that would emerge through wired to wireless communication, increasing automation tools and processes and ever-faster transportation systems and stated that the world would shrink and we would soon become a global citizenry. The World Wide Web is adding to this swift transfer from a local to global perspective that is becoming more available to all. Currently, ubiquitous, mobile computing is a focus for educators who want to reach underrepresented populations worldwide. This will be made possible through an advanced communications technology satellites and a new generation of micro satellites that will serve education networks and programs such as the Distance Learning Resource Network’s Star Schools Program, the Ready2Net forum and many others.
Through new technologies for information visualization, collaboration and ubiquitous computing, education technology has opened the doors to international and multicultural collaboration and sharing of resources. Students in the K-12 and universities now get more incentive in their learning experience when they can communicate and collaborate directly with students from other communities, cultures and environments. In the recent ThinkQuestLIVE 2002 conference that brought students and educators from dozens of countries together to explore the future of learning, one of the key issues expressed by participants was the need for a community-based learning environment for global education and communication.
In the past decade, the proliferation of groupware, voiceover IP, IRCs, MUDs (multi-user domains), MOOs (multi-user, object-oriented domains), virtual worlds, teleconferencing other Internet-based communication and collaboration tools has influenced a generation of educators using multi-user environments to further their reach with distributed groups of students from many different countries. Through collaborative environments for asynchronous and synchronous learning, Telescience collaboratories, and virtual learning communities such as TAPPEDIN, MooseCrossing, VLearn3D, I*Earn and others, students, researchers and educators are able to become global citizens – in cyberspace.