Connected, Networked

Warm, but cold?

Technology is horrible. People no longer get the exercise from shivering because they now have warm clothes to wear. People are physically warmer because they have warm clothes. However, because they no longer shiver, they are actually colder. Technology is horrible.

In her TED Talk, Connected, But Alone? Sherry Turkle engages in a rhetoric of fear mongering that contradicts with her own earlier statements. In the collection of essays titled Evocative Objects she edited, Sherry Turkle frames objects as essential parts of our lives. “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with” (5). A cell phone is just as much an object as a cello or a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia, both of which are featured in Evocative Objects. Predictably, a cell phone is not featured in that book. Somehow playing a cello is fantastic and crucial to thinking while using your phone degrades you into some lesser being. Humans were alive long before the cello and the cell phone so we can agree that neither are crucial for human survival. In fact, both are objects that have gained cultural value. When we use our cell phones we open up a world of possibilities. The same, you could argue, is true when you play the cello. The way I see it the only difference is playing a cello screams privilege in a way that using a phone does not.

Simon Sinek, in his talk, frames millennials as victims of bad parenting only to go on and engage in some victim blaming. I do not know if the two realize that their condescension towards millennials is echoed on Breitbart. These views seem misguided by an inability and/or unwillingness to accept change and to realize that change is the only constant. In this a way, millennials are in the same position as teachers. Both are often blamed for the wrongdoings of others.

Teaching Technology?

While I am highly skeptical of Joshua Cooper Ramo’s seventh sense, I often ponder the very same question he posed: What are educational institutions doing? Posing this question to themselves is exactly what educational institutions need to do. Universities and colleges do not seem to know what to do with their students. They want to increase access but jack up the prices. They want students to be prepared for jobs but hesitate to train students for anything but careers in academia.

Regardless, higher education institutions need to understand that just as they have their own goals, students too have their own goals. We have seen above that people from different generations do not always understand one another. Sinek and Turkle realized that they do not understand millennials but their answer was to classify them as somehow lesser. Yet higher education institutions have to try. Thus the only true obligation that higher education institutions have to their students is to listen and respond, not listen and diagnose.

On this note, schools too have to realize that the only constant is change. This is fitting because we have learned that change is the educational technologists’ trade. The educational technologist’s primary role is not to tinker with new toys but rather to see, hear, and understand how students learn and then tinker with new toys that will help students learn.

How can we make technology solve all our problems?

Below are some ideas I have for developing an educational technology project.

We might need to do some reflection on the question above. Perhaps you might need to spend half an hour meditating, freeing yourself from technology, before you can gain some insight. If you have never meditated, how can you start? Can you do it in the comfort of your own room?

Alternatively, going to class should help us come up with an answer to this question. We are, after all, supposed to learn to be critical thinkers. But sometimes you need textbooks for class and they can be so expensive. If only we can share and trade textbooks without being ripped off.

Talk about sharing. Scientific knowledge is advancing yet much of the public remains largely ignorant. Some scientists might claim that the public has to educate itself. What can educational technologists do to help bridge the gap between scientists and the public? How can we share scientific knowledge?

What’s the point of all this?

Educational Technology Philosophy

        If learning is gaining knowledge or skill, then teaching is facilitating the gaining of knowledge or skill. What then is education? To me, education is teaching that has a bigger picture. This bigger picture may vary from person to person, society to society, but to me this bigger picture is a social purpose of increasing opportunity and equality. Education achieves something good for society, or at least it should. Should technology, applied science, be used to help teaching or education? Instructional technology, whatever it may be, can help make teaching easier. A microphone and a set of speakers can help a teacher be heard, making it easier for a the teacher to teach a class in a big lecture hall. This is an example of technology helping improve teaching or instruction. However, I would argue that educational technology should not only help improve teaching, but education as well. In other words, educational technology should help achieve the bigger picture, the social purpose. The microphone accompanied by a set of speakers as an example may help instruction but if it is only ever used to help that teacher in that lecture hall, it only serves the people within his/her institution. If the teacher uses that microphone to teach people beyond the walls of that institution, then the teacher is potentially helping achieve that social purpose. This is to say that the same technology can be used in many contexts to achieve different things. In either situation, the teacher is very much empowered by the microphone. Instead of using the microphone to project his/her own voice, the teacher can use the microphone to give voice to a student.

        Technology has the power to empower people. For this reason, I would argue that technology should only ever be created and used with the bigger picture in mind. Why? Because education, as David Labaree (2010) puts it, is currently a zero-sum game. Individuals seek education often for personal gain, for opportunity. Yet society, driven by the very individuals who seek opportunity in education, relies on education to generate equality. Oftentimes this comes into conflict. Because everyone uses education for personal gain, everyone at the same time prevents education from being able to create the equal society that everyone also wants education to achieve. My question, conundrum, and challenge to educational technologists is this: how can we use technology to cheat the zero-sum game and make sure that, as individuals seek opportunity, they do not create a society that represses the ability of others to do the same?

Work Cited

Labaree, D. F. (2010). Someone has to fail: The zero-sum game of public schooling.           Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.