Beyond Google

Theodore Te
How should we communicate with those born in an increasingly wireless world?

Prof. Theodore TeIn a groundbreaking presentation made in 2006 to 150 fellow teachers in Colorado (an officially modified version of the original presentation is available here), Karl Fisch put into perspective all that has been happening in technology in relation to education.  

His thesis?  “Shift happens.”  Yes it does; or, in the case of some educational institutions, yes it should.

In a series of slides loaded with provocative questions and factoids, Fisch puts into perspective how education must change in order to become relevant in a world that has become more and more borderless because of rapid advances in technology.  

At 6:43 of the 8:20 presentation, he says “(w)e [referring to educators] are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist…in order to solve problems that we don’t know are problems yet.”

In that seemingly innocuous but insightful statement, Fisch puts into words the mandate of and challenge for every educator trained in the 20th century to prepare students for the 21st century and beyond.  

Old wine in new wineskins

The current controversy over a portion of the response by the oldest university in Asia, the 400-year old University of Sto. Tomas (UST), to requests by Rappler journalists Marites Dañguilan-Vitug and Purple Romero for information on the dissertation of summa cum laude Doctor of Civil Laws (D.C.L.) graduate Renato Corona led me to reflect on this ironic state of affairs.  

As may be recalled, part of UST’s reply to the questions posed by Vitug and Romero is as follows:

“The University didn’t reply to Miss Vitug’s questions because it was at a loss on how to respond to “online journalism.” Does anyone claiming to be an online journalist give the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press? We understand that while Miss Vitug used to be a print journalist, she’s part of an online magazine, Newsbreak, which has reportedly been subsumed into “www.rappler.com.” What’s that? Is that a legitimate news organization? What individuals and entities fund Newsbreak and Rappler? Do these outfits have editors? Who challenged Miss Vitug’s article before it went online so as to establish its accuracy, objectivity and fairness? Why was there no prior disclosure made? What gate-keeping measures does online journalism practice?



“While we may have the highest respects for Miss Vitug and the Inquirer, we also would like to see that rules on fact-checking, objectivity and fairness are observed, so that no reputation, whether of an individual or an institution, is compromised.”

It is unfortunate that UST’s response, which started with a defense founded on the constitutionally-guaranteed academic freedom of academic institutions, would end with this totally-irrelevant (and quite sarcastic and combative) aside.  

If that statement had been made by a politician, it would not  have been surprising as in fact, it would have been expected. But for it to come from a 400-year old university that has produced its share of leaders, forward thinkers and visionaries in journalism, it was quite distressing for me, a fellow academic, to read.

Professing that “it was at a loss on how to respond to ‘online journalism’” and then asking a series of questions intending, perhaps, to emphasize the value it wanted to give to traditional journalistic values, UST demonstrated the wide gap that exists between the wired and the wireless that Fisch pointed out in his 2006 presentation.  

I have no quarrel with traditional (or old school) values of integrity, professionalism, fairness, honor and truth that UST emphasizes.  As an educator myself, I value them personally and I emphasize them professionally.  

What is disturbing for me is that, in the process of advocating these time-tested values, an academic institution would simply write off a whole medium of communication, instruction and information.  In an age of open universities and distance learning, where “google”, “fb”, and “friend/unfriend” have become verbs, a response that professes ignorance of an entire genre of communication and information dissemination is alarming.   

As Fisch suggests provocatively in his presentation at 7:18, ask your principals: “How are you helping my child become literate in the 21st century?”  

The answer to that question would lie not in dismissing outright a whole medium of communication and information, such as online journalism, but in accepting that, indeed, “shift happens.” 

That acceptance leads us to embrace the shift in the means we communicate without losing sight of the truth we are duty-bound to communicate and the values of integrity, honor, and professionalism that should inform every exchange, every discussion, every debate, every piece that is written on parchment, paper, phone or pad.

The best, and perhaps most apt, examples that old wine may be placed in new wineskins would be Pope Benedict XVI, who uses a laptop and is on Twitter, and Archbishop of Manila Chito Tagle, whose videos are on Facebook and on Youtube. 

I have no doubt that these two would be speaking of time-honored, “old school” values such as truth, honor, character, dignity and love but they would be speaking of them not only in church pulpits or on the printed page but on FB pages, Twitter posts and Youtube streams.

The wired meets the wireless

In the centennial year of my school, we came together to ask ourselves what it meant to carry the burden of being a national university.  Randy David led us into thinking of what that burden means.  In his keynote address, he pointed out that—

“As we mark our one hundred years of existence, we not only look back upon our institutional origins and transformation over the last century, we are also, prompted to think about the future. I have always believed that of all the institutions in society, it is the university that has a special affinity with the future. Our wish to remain relevant to our society and to the larger world of learning, of which we are no less a part, obliges us to review what we have become in the light of our understanding of what a university is supposed to be, to reinvent ourselves if necessary, and to do what we must in order that we may continue to play an important role in our society and in our times. (Read the entire speech here.)”

Many of us came to an understanding that our students are wired differently as, in fact, they no longer come with wires.  Our students no longer carry, let alone, read books, they carry laptops and tablets.  They no longer speak of number of pages to be read but in bytes to be consumed.

The question we posed to ourselves then, as Randy challenged us in his keynote address, was how educators trained in a wired environment could communicate more meaningfully to those born in an increasingly wireless world.  We may disagree, as we did disagree at that conference, on how best the wired could engage the wireless but none of us could disagree, as we did not disagree then, that there was a need for such an engagement.

We no longer live in a world P.G. (Pre Google) but one that is B.G. (Beyond Google).

The challenge that confronts us—educators, journalists, lawyers, citizens—is to inhabit and, to use a word of the moment, “occupy” our present, be informed by our past, in order to realize our future.  It is the only way we can prepare our students—of journalism, of law, of life—using the technology of today to solve problems that are yet to come. – Rappler.com