Fall 1998
Vol 7 Issue 1


Signposts for the New Millennium

Year 2000: Same, but Different

Education in China

Chinese Higher Education, In My Eyes

Fibber McGee's Closet: Peeking Around the Corner into the Next Millennium

A China Experience

Problem-Based Learning

The Labyrinth


Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction

The Forum... Sharing Information on teaching and Learning

Fibber McGee's Closet: Peeking Around the Corner into the Next Millennium
Jon Lea Finbres-Hetzel, Cairo, Egypt

In a very inspiring and insightful book, A Simpler Way, by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, we are reminded that: "Life uses messes to get to well-ordered solutions. Life doesn't seem to share our desire for efficiency or neatness. It uses redundancy, fuzziness, dense webs of relationships, and unending trials and errors to find what works. Even change changes."

Reading this brings to mind the image of Fibber McGee's closet and his indomitable optimism. When looking into the next millennium, we will be sorting through exciting trials and errors, messy solutions, problems and possibilities we had never imagined.

Ironically, I have been able to glimpse the future through a very recent innovation I have been implementing on an international basis. In the past six months, the TOEFL exam has shifted from paper-based to computer-based testing. After piloting the computer-based test in many regions, TOEFL converted all sites to this model. The administration of this test through computers has the potential to bring computer skills to citizens throughout the world. After students get over their initial distrust and feelings of inadequacy about computers, they are reporting satisfaction with its convenience, efficiency, and reliability.

The implementation of this change was complex and messy, yet exciting. Organizations and businesses around the world had to communicate by providing continual feedback. Many people warned "Don't open that door," but, now that most of the junk has been sorted through, students will hopefully begin to benefit from the exposure to the convenience of computers.

Another example of the system working through the messiness of this change is the increasing demand for "virtual universities" and/or other distance learning experiments. Small countries which have a desire to improve the skills of their workforce and create an informed citizenry are looking to international exchanges of faculty and information. Because many of these countries are in very remote regions, they cannot recruit the number of qualified faculty to fill their universities. Electronic campuses allow these students to have access to the most current and creative teaching. Countries once resistant to the Internet and technology are now realizing its potential to meet their needs. It seems that a new distance learning organization is coming on-line daily. Through these trials and errors, only the effective ones will survive.

With each new solution, comes not only promise but the next generation of problems. Ideally the virtual classroom will allow students to have more teacher/student contact. Since electronic classrooms generally function best with 15-20 students, many overseas students will have the choice of the traditional teacher-facilitated classroom or a computer-facilitated course. Students and teachers will be able to choose the method of education that works for them. More teachers will be needed, especially those with content and computer skills. Improved computer, writing, and reading skills will be essential for students to take advantage of all the new educational venues. Finding efficient delivery systems for these innovations will continue to challenge us as we head into the next millennium.

As an overseas professional, I am continually amazed at the diversity, the accessibility, and the flexibility of working through an electronic network of colleagues and students. Working from my home office in Cairo, Egypt, I regularly plan seminars and workshops with my colleagues in Mexico, Columbia, England, Pakistan, Malaysia, Ghana and Washington, DC. When I ask for assistance via e-mail, I receive feedback within days. The advising network that I help coordinate and train consists of people from every nationality. By trying to keep track of all the innovations in education and translate them into a form that will benefit international students, we expand choices and literally open up the world to citizens of all countries.

Communities will no longer be defined geographically since we will be working, learning, and shopping with people throughout the world.

As a "differently organized" person who enjoys the order that I know is always buried within the messiness, complexity, or confusion of the innovations which challenge us, I am optimistic about the choices and learning that will become available to us as students and teachers in the 21st century.

Opening the door and sorting through the plethora of junk and treasures, offers us more possibilities and connections than we can imagine. Just as Fibber McGee did each week, we must find that developing the patience, perseverence, and even a sense of humor is the key to living with the messiness of experiments and successes of the new millennium.