The Rorschach internet

by Paul Maharg on 06/01/2006

The Internet acts as a type of Rorschach test for educational philosophy.  When some people look at the Internet, they see it as a new way to deliver instruction.  When other people look at it, they see a huge database for students to explore.  When I look at the Internet, I see a new medium for construction, a new opportunity for students to discuss, share, and collaborate on constructions.

(Resnick, M. (1996), Distributed constructivism, Proceedings of the International Conference on the Learning Sciences, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, Northwestern University,  Quoted in Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T. (2003) E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice, London, RoutledgeFalmer, 39.

This is an interesting quote because Resnick picks up the protean, shimmering nature of new technologies: they become what we want them to become, based largely on our past experience of technologies, and only a little on our future-oriented intentions.  If VLEs, for instance, are used as dumping grounds for large quantities of lecture notes by staff, it is because they interpret the web as a transmission device much like a book.  They do so because they do not think about the web, initially at first, as a constructivist tool in the way that Resnick foresaw it could become. 

The process is repeated with every shift in technology.  Early books were published to look like manuscripts.  Early publishers of such incunabula modelled their products and prices on their experience of the manuscript market.  Lisa Jardine points out how the emerging Venetian book market in the mid-fifteenth century, for instance, collapsed because of the new book publishers’ uncertainty as to where their market actually lay. (Jardine, L. (1996) Wordly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance, Macmillan, 228)

This is not to say, of course, that technology changes learning radically.  It doesn’t.  But as the Clark/Kozma debate demonstrated, context profoundly influences content, and especially the content of learning.  How one learns profoundly affects what one learns, as much of phenomenographical research has pointed out to us. 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Muir March 8, 2006 at 14:49

I’ve only skimmed the first few paragraphs of the Resnick paper but it looks like it will reward a more careful study. What is slightly worrying is that the approach he criticises in the opening (i.e. educators putting their stuff online and delivering it to the students) is still alive and well ten years after he wrote this paper.
As I said I’ll have to read it more closely, but it reminded me of George Siemens’ work on Connectivism. (See his blog for continuing debate and development.)
P.S. The Resnick paper seems to have moved. You can now get it at:


2 Paul Maharg March 8, 2006 at 16:55

Yes, there are links between Siemens & Resnick. I like Siemens blog — have signed up for his newsletter, which I find stimulating. Thanks for letting me know about the Resnick flit — I’ll re-link.


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