26 July 2009

It is all technology. Which century are you in?

Let us begin with the obvious (thanks to @tseale via Twitter):

And then bring in Kevin Jennings of Trinity College - The University of Dublin:
"Lets imagine a country which we will call Foobar, where reading and writing don’t exist, but which despite this has managed to develop a sophisticated culture of science, the arts, philosophy and commerce. A bit of a stretch I know, but not entirely inconceivable. All cultural transmission in such a society would take place by oral means and a good memory would undoubtedly be an invaluable asset. Education would probably consist of much rote learning and place a high value on memory work. Now imagine what the impact on such a society and in particular on its education system might be when someone finally invents the pen. Well, undoubtedly a politician somewhere will pound a table and insist that we need a ‘pen in every classroom’. An education administrator will say ‘no, we should have a pen room where children can go once a week to learn how to use these pens’. So, eventually schools will all have pens and teachers will have to figure out how to make use of them. The Foobarian Department of Education will ponder the issue. They will eventually write a ‘pen’ curriculum and issue guidelines on how the ‘pen’ may be used to support memory work and rote-learning in schools……"
There are really no "natural technologies." Even if your method of survival is climbing a tree, it becomes vital to learn how to best use that tree. Do you climb high enough to escape one predator from the ground only to expose yourself to a predator from the sky or a deadly fall? But there is something else - the nature of having that tree transforms you, and transforms your understanding of the world. Once you've climbed that tree, things will never be the same for you, and if someone insists that you may not use the tree, or the tree is taken away, you will be more limited than you were.

I say all this to every educator who says something like this quote from Steven D. Krause's history of educational technology, "All you need to teach English are books, desks, paper, pens, and a chalkboard. You don't need any technology-just use what's there." Krause, of course, responds, "Of course, all of these items "just there" in elementary, secondary, and higher education classrooms are in fact technologies that have had profound influences on how and what we teach, just as profound as contemporary technologies like the World Wide Web."

It is all technology. All "information and communications technology," and if you truly think that there is a significant conceptual difference between (a) paper, pencils, pens, books, and (b) a smartphone or an internet-linked computer, you may really need to go back for a refresher course in human history.

Not only are all of these simply personal information and communication technology choices, they can all be used well, they can all be used badly. They all must be learned - yes - there was a time when dialing a phone needed to be taught...

...though today most of that advice (except the admonition that the "hyphen is not dialed") has become historical trivia.

The chalkboard, the pencil, the affordable mass-produced book - these are the best technologies of 1840. They needed to be learned back then. They were considered disruptive back then. But schools adapted we no longer insist on papyrus-making or quill-cutting in our classrooms.

We've had this conversation before, but let us repeat - rules against specific technology uses in the classroom are simply expressions of social-reproduction power. They never have anything to do with education, simply the 'comfort' of the teacher and the teacher's desire to remain comfortable by insisting that all around them behave as the teacher wishes to behave. That's a power play which ensures that the further the student is from the teacher (or administrator) socio-culturally, the worse they will do in school.

Which might be fine for the off-spring of the teacher, who them have an easier path to inherited elite status. But which does little to make us a fairer, or more successful society.

- Ira Socol


radicalgeek said...

Right on Ira. I was reading the cell phone post on change.org right before a trip and almost thought I'd have to miss my train to comment! Thankfully, you and some others were already on top of it (probably with better worded arguments than I would have had).

I hadn't seen that video explaining the telephone. I'm going to use it in the future to help others understand that many of the newer technologies today are actually LESS complicated than the telephone. Rings, buzzes and dials? How is any of that intuitive? Yet, no one ever complains about how complicated standard telephones are. There aren't any good excuses for closing yourself off to the educational potential of newer (and especially social) technologies.

Eamon Costello said...

Very interesting. I read something along similar lines recently about how the book must have been a really disruptive technology:


Basically making the point that you can argue reading books is as bad or worse than watching tv or playing video games.

For me whatever technology works well and is easy for everyone to use is the winner. And if it's free that always helps :)

- Eamon