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« What professional materials do you read - and why? | Main | Teck Check - template »
Sunday
Apr282013

BFTP: The hard questions about technology

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 22, 2008. If you have a moment, go back and read some of the comments to the original post, including a very thoughtful one from my smart daughter.

Artichoke in New Zealand has a terrific post: "Things you seldom hear discussed at an (e) learning conference."

First, he suggests a TED video by long time educational technology skeptic Clifford Stoll. For many years, Stoll has had the courage to ask what sort of message we send to children when we plunk them down in front of a piece of machinery rather than spending personal time with them.

“...kids love these high-tech devices and play happily with them for hours. But just because children do something willingly doesn’t mean that it engages their minds. Indeed most software for children turns lessons into games. The popular arithmetic Math Blaster simulates an arcade shoot-’em-down, complete with enemy flying saucers. Such instant gratification keeps kids clicking icons while discouraging any sense of studiousness or sustained mental effort. Plop a kid down before such a program and the message is, “You have to learn math tables, so play with this computer.” Teach the same lesson with flash cards, and a different message comes through: “You’re important to me, and this subject is so useful that I’ll spend an hour teaching you arithmetic.” (Stoll, Clifford, “Invest in Humanware.” New York Times, May 19, 1996.)

I have always enjoyed reading the hard-eyed look at educational technology by critics like Stoll, Jane (Failure to Connect) Healy, Larry (Over Sold and Underused) Cuban, and especially the Fool's Gold and Tech Tonic reports by the Alliance for Childhood.

Perhaps even more compelling than the Stoll article, Artichoke begins a response to the late Neil Postman's Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change in which he succinctly summarized the concerns Postman often addressed in his longer works:

  1. ... all technological change is a trade-off. ...  culture always pays a price for technology.
  2. ...the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. 
  3. ...Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences. 
  4. ...consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable, and largely irreversible 
  5. ...When a technology become mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and is therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control. 

OK, this is a teaser. Read and comment over on Artichoke [the post is still there in 2013]. He raises some outstanding questions about technology in education based on the Postman's ideas.

Oh, for the antithesis of Postman, check this out by Ray Kurzweil - "Expect Exponential Progress":

Yet as powerful as information technology is today, we will make another billionfold increase in capability (for the same cost) over the next 25 years. That's because information technology builds on itself – we are continually using the latest tools to create the next so they grow in capability at an exponential rate. This doesn't just mean snazzier cellphones. It means that change will rock every aspect of our world. The exponential growth in computing speed will unlock a solution to global warming and solve myriad other worldly conundrums.

Thanks to its exponential power, only technology possesses the scale to address the major challenges – such as energy and the environment, disease and poverty – confronting society. 

Technology - bane or boon to our world? How educators use (or don't use) technology with students will be the determining factor.

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