Ferdi Serim
Digital Convergence and You: A Quiet Revolution
by Ferdi Serim Editor, MultiMedia Schools

Technology is the Big Bang that has propelled literacy into an expanding universe. Most people today rely upon video and multimedia sources to keep up with their changing world. The choices for receiving information expand daily, through video, movies, the Internet, wireless, and emerging technologies. With the approach of broadband and digital convergence, transformation through digital storytelling presents the promise for change unseen since the invention of the printing press. Compelling stories are needed; now more than ever, our voices must guide the development of these stories.

A Quiet Revolution
Just a decade ago, most computers didn't speak the language that allows the Internet to connect them today. The advent of the World Wide Web took existing protocols and provided a reason for users to exchange content that went beyond the text that typified the early Internet. Suddenly, we took steps into a multimedia world, adding images, sounds, animation and interactivity that characterize our experience of the Internet today. A similar and perhaps more profound revolution is going on across the nation, as broadcasters race to comply with the mandate to switch from analog to digital signals. Devices that only a short time ago had defined boundaries are blending into hybrids that can act as phones, pagers, wireless network terminals, movie viewers, calendars, cameras, global positioning systems, and more. Some of these fit into the palm of your hand. All of these compete for space on the broadcast spectrum. All of them can connect with the Internet.

What's Up with Convergence and Why Should I Care?
The FCC has determined that by 2006, all broadcast signals will be digital, opening up capacities many hundreds, if not thousands, of times beyond that now available. By next May, 90 percent of the signals received by the U.S. population will be digital. This development has significant implications for us as educators, because learning has been identified as the single most compelling use for these capabilities. [See SERC's great DTV primer at http://www.startip.org/.]

A Vast Wasteland?
In 1954, Newton Minnow issued his now famous warning that in the absence of outside pressure (beyond that provided by advertising) TV would become "a vast wasteland." His prediction is celebrated with despair every year, over the levels to which the programming we are willing to watch will sink. The controversy that attends annual efforts to eliminate or scale back funding for the Public Broadcasting Service (as well as the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities) has politicized discussions of content, and whether the cart is leading the horse in terms of whether societal wishes shape programming or the reverse. For every Ken Burns series, we see multiple clones of Millionaire shows or talk show tabloids. "We're only giving them what they want" is the pro-forma response of media moguls. Educators are about giving them what they need. It makes for an interesting contest!

If Content Is King, Context is Queen
The expansion of literacy into video and filmmaking comes at an enormous entry cost, both in terms of equipment, teams, and skills required to produce quality products. Consequently, there is an opportunity gap facing developing young artists. As a result, the voice and insights of youth are missing from the media that inform and shape our culture.

SERC (the Satellite Education Resource Consortium) is paving the way for both educators and students to move from consumers to producers. Laurie Sullivan's feature story "Charting Your Journey to Distance Learning" shows the learning path one school followed in moving from audience to participant. As more and more public TV stations look to extend the benefits of convergence to adult learners and teachers in the markets they serve, the demand for quality educational experiences will expand geometrically.

A Yawning Chasm?
There is overwhelming agreement that our society requires a concentrated, coordinated effort to increase literacy, improve the skills of teachers, and preparing everyone to embrace their new role as lifelong learners. Accordingly, there is great interest among both public and private sector producers in providing content to fill the huge chasm between what is possible and what is available. Will the public reply with a "Yes!" or a yawn?

That is what's up to us. Educators who've cut their technology teeth on the Internet and multimedia have a wealth of experience to draw upon. The current power of digital video and video conferencing provides a global workshop for developing the programming that will be produced in the next several years. In last month's "DirectConnect," I outlined the systems-thinking model that is required to develop first-rate curricular materials. Literacy has always been a two-way street: it is not sufficient just to read, one must also know how to create. Our liberty depends upon having citizens who are both prepared and motivated to address the problems of the day. Yet neither students nor their teachers are being supported in development of fundamental literacy skills in contemporary media. Digital convergence provides us with the opportunity to apply our talents and energies to this crucial task.

Communications to the Editor may be addressed to: Ferdi Serim, MultiMedia Schools, 11 Palacio Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505; 505/466-1901; fax: 505/466-1901; ferdi@infotoday.com.

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