Landing : Athabascau University

#change11 - Misgivings about the Semantic Web

  • Public
By Mary Pringle September 26, 2011 - 9:09am Comments (3)

I missed last week (Week 2 of Change 2011). There were problems with the video, and I was busy. I'm easily put off by glitches--links that don't work or go the wrong place, mistakes in schedules, videoconference fails--because I'm always so busy with my job. The size of the Change 2011 Facebook group is overwhelming. I still have to find a sub-group with similar goals and interests (digital literacy, I guess). So I'm trying to get engaged this week.

I'm looking forward to reading at least part of The Digital Scholar, a book by this week's person of interest, Martin Weller.

I looked at "Semantic Web Technology and the Future of Learning," posted by one of the course participants. I don't consider myself either a Luddite or a people person--I spend a lot of time interacting with virtual entities, and I enjoy it--but I'm not warming to the idea of the Semantic Web customizing our learning experiences.

The thing that annoys me about the ads that follow me around online is that they are all about things I have already bought--I'm not looking for another blender or electric lawnmower. I can't help seeing the Semantic Web as a similarly annoying educational function, always reminding the learner of what they already know and suggesting similar experiences. The automatic recommendations on Amazon are a little better--maybe the Semantic Web will be more like that: "Hi--people who read Heidegger also read Husserl and Baudrillard" (in most cases, they didn't actually read any of them). It would be great to know what students already know and where the gaps are in a student's knowledge, but that is only ever partially revealed by what is externalized in quiz scores and courses completed. I admit that even partial information on this would probably be useful, but only in the context of a particular aspect of a particular topic, like English grammar or evolutionary biology.

To me, what makes education so great is not that it helps me to be more like I am already--it's that it enables me--through contact with people bearing ideas--to become bigger and better than I was. I can see the value of social learning--it's analagous to my book club, where I'm reading books I never would have chosen on my own and interacting around them, and growing as a result. But as I understand it, the Semantic Web is the antithesis of social learning. It's all about you.

I don't see the Semantic Web making teachers superfluous any time soon. It seems to me that in addition to the roles mentioned in this article, one important role of the educator of the future may be to help learners get beyond what the Semantic Web says they are.