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Sunday
May292011

BFTP: The Technology Agnostic

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post April 30, 2006
The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not. - Eric Hoffer
Whether it is because of a) how God made me, b) how nature engineered me, or c) how Mom potty-trained me, I am more skeptic than believer. This skepticism extends to religion, politics and, especially, to technology use in school. But of course, if you’ve read anything on the Blue Skunk, you’ve guessed this.
Both believer and skeptic are alike in one important way: both think the other is a fool. I am always surprised when I post a blog entry or write a column that raises perfectly rational questions about some sacred cow,  then get a slew of emotional responses. (The LWW says I write such things because I like pushing people’s buttons. Maybe.)
agnostica.jpg
or if you will...
agnosticb.jpg

 

Age has moved me from left to right on the believer-skeptic scale. Yes, even I was once a young, dewy-eyed, newly-hired technology director with mountains to climb, buildings to be networked, a screwdriver in hand, and trust in my heart. What happened? What vendor’s broken promise; what project that went over budget; what equipment failure during a critical demonstration; what useless research finding finally broke my sweet, idealistic spirit? Job may well have been able to maintain his faith in Jehovah; I could not maintain my faith in Jobs.

Now I’d never dream of trying to convince a jihadist not to have faith in his virgins nor separate a political pundit from his bleak cynicism. Such attempts would be fruitless if not immoral. But I will try to persuade as many readers as possible that  as conscientious educators we better serve our students by being skeptics than evangelists.

Yes, share what works. If a technology use engages and motivates students; if it helps make them better communicators or problem-solvers; if it even, heaven forbid, helps them do better on tests, we should document and share these experiences.

“Documentation,” however, needs to be more than a simple story. Stories indeed can be powerful, but stories alone will not persuade us skeptics. And when it comes to things educational, skeptics' ranks are growing  – especially among parents and politicians. We need numbers, evidence, bottom-line stuff, and, as my statistician friend likes to remind me, ‘The plural of anecdote is not data.” Sure, tell that cute story about how Janie got all bright-eyed about PowerPoint, but the skeptic will smile and worry about all the other kids in Janie’s class. Cynics know that anomalies make great stories too.  Stories need to be the face of data, the personalization of evidence, the memorable example of a supportable conclusions. 

It behooves us all to be technology agnostics, I suppose – neither completely convinced of educational technology’s value nor lack thereof. And in all fairness, we should be library agnostics as well. Although it pains me to say so.

I'm  glad that there are passionate people in education – folks that are excited about not just what they do, but about possibilities as well. People who care enough to have feelings about an issue. Teachers with hope and vision and faith. Believers, if you will. You are, of course, complete fools. But please, stay that way. 

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Reader Comments (3)

Your post reminds me of a speech I once heard Richard Strong give about the power of thinking in opposites. The framework you've presented is powerful and can provoke deep thinking about how we view technology. I agree with your comment re: data. While I recognize your larger point is about technology, I would disagree with your assertion that assessment and test sit at either end of a continuum. Test is actually a subset of assessments. Putting them at either end of a scale, regardless of how informal, implies that you cannot do while doing the other. A jelly bean isn't a hard candy but a test is a form of assessment.

May 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I'm more skeptic too (about all of the above). But you've probably figured that out :)

Great post, Doug.

May 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Hi Jennifer,

Good point on assessment. I guess in my weak mind, I was using assessment as short hand for authentic or performance assessment. The clarification is helpful.

All the best,

Doug

Yeah, I guessed that J!

Doug

June 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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