Appreciating a Polyvalent and Complex View of Technology
My #EDCMOOC (eLearning and Digital Cultures Massive Open Online Course) posts spring from my participation in the course offered for free by the University of Edinburgh via Coursera.org.
by Justine C. Tajonera
I signed up for the eLearning and Digital Cultures course because I am a mother coming to grips with how to bring up and educate my children in today's world. My husband and I are currently homeschooling our eldest boy (six years old). My husband and I came to this decision because we saw the benefits of real learning, discovery and one-on-one guidance (I finally got to see the statistics behind this in Daphne Koller's talk on TED:
I'm eternally grateful to the kind soul who posted the link to the 10 Best Talks on eLearning from TED). We experimented and attended talks on homeschooling here in Manila and we chose a program that's had thirteen years of experience and research. Apart from the textbooks, though, we felt that we had a great resource in the Internet. Just this first week of EDC was a great revelation to me. Despite the amount of information available, I never really focused on eLearning for home schooling purposes (this, despite the fact that I've already taken a course on Sustainability offered by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign via Coursera.org). My eyes have been opened. I'm starting to see that we made the right choice. And not only that, we have a limitless resource in our hands.
Starting from a Perspective: Utopia and Dystopia
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the short films from our Week 1 Resources. The question that was asked: There are many utopian and dystopian stories about technology told in popular films from Metropolis to the Matrix. Can you think of an example and describe or share it in the discussion board, on your blog, or on Twitter?
There are many examples of dystopias (and utopias that are actually dystopias in disguise) but not very many utopias, I think. It brought me back to one of the utopias that I cherished from childhood: Twilight Zone's Episode 17b, Quarantine (1986). It tells the story of Matthew Foreman who wakes up to a different society, one that he mistakenly calls "backward" until he finds out that they have achieved "biological gestalt," a world where "technology" has been replaced by awareness and spiritual growth and where the organic replaces the mechanical. I won't go into the plot, here, but I became aware of my own biases when it comes to "technology" and "progress." I enjoyed that particular TV episode because it paints the picture of a world that I want to live in, a world where diversity, harmony, spirituality and living with the earth (instead of using it and depleting it) are of utmost value.
Detecting Biases and Perspectives
Coming from there, I realize that I have a suspicion of technology. I won't beat myself up over it. I think it's very normal to come from somewhere. Reading Dahlberg's paper on Internet Research: Towards a Non-Reductionist Approach, I see the value of not just focusing on one perspective of technology.
Another question asked: Which of these perspectives (uses determination, technological determination, or social determination), do you lean towards in your understanding of the relationship between technology and pedagogy? Can you point to instances in society or in your own context where this stance is necessary or useful?
I now see that I was leaning towards a uses determination. I think that the user ("I") is perfectly in control of technology. But that is not really the case. I think it's useful to have this perspective up to a certain point only...maybe as a parent who can direct my children's interaction with technology...and the way technology is used for learning purposes. But I also see how I need to be aware of the other aspects of technology (it's own structure and the way it was, and continues to be, created and organized by society) for me to really tap into the opportunities that it presents.
Education, Big Business and "The New World"
John Daniel's paper, "Technology is the Answer: What was the Question? " reminded me what education is for: learning, discovery, and eventually, contribution.
Using Daniel’s four “b”s - bias, bull, breadth and balance - what observations can you make about his utopian arguments about education? What currency do they continue to have in this field?
I noticed that Daniel is leaning towards "progress" and that it is just a matter of finding the right tools, choosing the right vendors. There is an equation in his argument made up of access, quality and cost. The idea is to increase the access, increase the quality and lower the cost. But of course, it is not as simple as that. Based on what I've read from Will Richardson's book, Why School? (TED book), maybe we don't even need reform, we need a drastically different way of seeing education as a whole.
I saw the same thing in Noble's Paper on Digital Diploma Mills: the Automation of Higher Learning which took a more negative approach.
Why does Noble say that technology is a ‘vehicle’ and a ‘disguise’ for the commercialization of higher education? How can we relate this early concern with commercialism to current debates about MOOCs, for example? And how are concerns about ‘automation’ and ‘redundant faculty’ still being played out today?
There is a bias here on economic determination. He is talking about how technology is controlled by commercial owners, by school administrations operating as businesses. There is much to be skeptical about when "big money" starts controlling the picture. However, I think it's also very extreme not to see how technology can serve the genuine learning and discovery of children. What is wrong with "automation" when, as Salman Khan (of KhanAcademy.org) points out, children can learn concepts when they can pause and repeat "lectures" (or explanations by a competent teacher) without any judgment? I think some of these concerns have been addressed by non-profit organizations such as Coursera.org and KhanAcademy.org.
Migration And Diversity
Reading Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Prensky, I became starkly aware of myself as a digital immigrant. I was fortunate (or unfortunate?) enough to see the actual day when there was no Internet and when there was Internet. I remember listening with incredulity as a schoolmate explained the Internet to me: it's open to everyone, it was developed by the U.S. military, but somehow it became mainstream, and you can find out absolutely anything because all the information stored on this super highway is available to anyone with a computer and a modem. I remember the thrill of hearing the modem connect because I was going to get some email. I remember learning how to text message (adapting from slow typing to typing while doing other things).
When reading this paper (Prensky), try to identify the strategies that Prensky uses to make his argument - how does the language he uses work to persuade the reader? Who are ‘we’ and who are ‘they’? What associations do you have with the idea of the ‘native’ and the ‘immigrant’, and how helpful are these in understanding teacher-student relationships?
"We" for Prensky is us digital immigrants. "They" refer to our children, those who were born into a world where the Internet and cellphones are part of everyday life. He persuades me, the reader, using the argument of technological autonomy..."progress" is irreversible. Adapt or be left behind. There is some truth, of course, to what he says. My children will not experience the world that I experienced. But then...that can be said of any parent, regardless of when they were born. I think it's useful to the point that I, a digital "immigrant," can start to see things from my children's perspective and learn how to see as they see...even if "through a glass, darkly." For example, I don't have to be so opposed and totally against games. That is what excites my child. It interests him. That kind of structure can be (and actually already is) a platform for learning.
Wesch's The Machine is Us/Using Us gave me chills. But then, the question was asked: What is being left out of the story of the internet here, and from what position is this story being constructed?
I am reminded that there are many, many perspectives. Anything can be a "machine": my body, my automatic responses. So, I shouldn't be afraid of a collective Internet "machine." After all, it is a human artifact, it is made up of not only the technology itself, nor the users, it is made up of our collective being. We cannot predict where exactly it will take us but it assures us that there is diversity of thinking behind it. I think we can all profit from this diversity.
Which brings me to my most important insight from this first week: my need to value a polyvalent way of thinking when it comes to eLearning, technology and digital culture. It is highly complex and requires rigorous and expanded thinking. I hope to pass on this kind of learning to my kids.
I am very excited by everything that I've learned so far from this EDC class. And I look forward to the next weeks!