Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Forming an ECOO Presentation

There were three key books I read in the past year that have clarified for me a direction we could head in educational technology.  Ideas from each of those books, which at first appear to be in direct odds with each other, helped form the content of my ECOO presentation this year.

After reading The Shallows, Nick Carr's carefully constructed argument held a lot of weight - the internet and how it is being adopted by the general public is actually making people less effective as both thinkers and doers.  As educators, we should all be concerned about this result.  At a conference this year a frustrated, thirty-something CEO said of the twenty-somethings she's tried hiring recently, "I just wish they could finish a thought!  I can't even get them to close a sale because they are checking Facebook!"  This problem goes well beyond education (where any teacher can tell you it's an epidemic).  Everyone involved in education should read this book, especially if they are trying to implement technology in the classroom.

From The Shallows I took a serious concern about technological illiteracy and habitual use of computers actually injuring people's ability to think.

I read Ray Kurzweil's The Singularlity is Near as a counterpoint to Carr's very accurate, and very depressing Shallows.  Kurzweil's giddy optimism in our engineering skills verges on evangelism.  He is a wonderfully interesting and eccentric character.  His belief goes well beyond merely living in a time of transformative change.  The singularity he refers to is a moment in the near future where we are able to develop a greater intelligence than a single human brain, or even a group of them.  He goes into mathletic detail about exponential growth and how this is occurring in computers.  Very soon we'll understand things in finer and more complete detail than we've ever been able to before and our management of the world will take on omniscient proportions.  Technologically enhanced humans exist beyond the technological singularity - living in a world that looks as alien to us now as ours would to someone from the middle ages.

From Kurzweil I recognized how technology is evolving in increasingly personalized ways.  This is an argument Carr makes from the other side too.  From external machines, we are on a journey to technological integration.  This integration is going to well beyond smartphones, that's just the latest step in an inevitable trend.  If education does everything it can to present technology as generic and impersonal, it is failing to notice a key direction in technology, it's failing to produce students who will be useful in their own futures.  This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of my BYOD/differentiated technology argument, but I believe it's a fundamental part of our technological evolution.  Computers want to become a part of us.  We're not going to develop a Skynet or Matrix that will take over.  Our technology IS us, and it wants a more perfect union.  This probably scares the shit out of most people.  My argument to that is: if you're going to amalgamate with other systems, make sure you the one directing them effectively.

Matt Crawford's wonderful philosophical treatise on the value of skilled labour goes well beyond simply being handy.  He argues that skilled labour psychically protects you from consumerism and makes management doublespeak and creative economies an obvious joke.  The value he places on objective, quantifiable skills development often savages the feel-good ethos of a lot of educational theory which then sounds like management double-speak nonsense.  I read the book after taking my AQ in computer engineering, and it made me re-evaluate (and recognize) the value of my skilled labour history - something I'd walked away from in becoming a teacher.  I'm loving being a tech teacher this year and working with my hands again.

From Shop Class For Soul Craft I took a recognition of the importance of hands on, skill based learning.  It brings real rigor to learning, and should be a vital part of developing past the poor digital literacy I see around me.  One other experience kicked this up a notch.  In the summer we visited the Durnin farm and Heather talked about how her husband teaches people to use the farm equipment.  He gives them the tools, and expects them to figure it out and get it done.  It's a high expectation, immediate result environment that puts a great deal of expectation on the student; Crawford would approve.  I tell my students, "no one ever learned how to ride a bike by watching someone else riding a bike" - it's an experiential thing that offers real (often painful) immediate feedback... what effective learning should be.

Into that mix of big ideas of warning, optimism and rigor I also mixed in the standard PLN secret sauce.  Concerns over BYOD abound with teachers online.  The idea that BYOD should just be thrown into curriculum struck me as simply wrong.  As Andrew Campbell suggests, it's more about stretching a divide (or Carr would argue intellectually crippling idiots) than it is about increasing digital fluencies.

Teaching competency, flexibility and self awareness on digital tools should be a primary goal of current educational practice.  We're graduating students who are dangerously useless to employers.  The idea of a continuum of digital mastery based on objectively developed skills linked to a gradual loosening of restrictions and access to increasingly diverse tools and online content was the result.

I present on Thursday, and I'm more interested in the discussion that ensues than I am in telling anyone anything.  ECOO is a wonderful braintrust, and usually super-charges my educational technology awareness.  I'm looking forward to the brain soup we create out of this!

Diversifying Edtech: the key to a digital skills continuum