Sunday, September 20, 2015

Non-Transformative Technology

I'm not sure when you'll get to see this. My internet service provider is having one of its regular hissy fits, and my access to the internet cuts out about every five minutes or so, staying out from anywhere from a couple of minutes to as along as fifteen. So I get to access the internet in little brief windows, snatches of connectivity.

My internet provider (rhymes with "shmerizon") occasionally offers their version of help (turns out that if you bitch about them on twitter, you will usually get a response-- if, of course, you can get on twitter). Help can involve on-line chats and on-line twitter conversations, which-- surprise-- are not very helpful when the problem is low-function internet connection. We also try the occasional phone conversation, which is when they give me a call and all I have to do is be at home during the five-hour windows in which they might call (though that window seems to be a give-or-take-ten-hours thing).

I don't know how things are in your part of the world, but here in my town, my experience is not abnormal. We have a choice of basically two providers (choice #2 rhymes with "shmime-flarner") and nobody is raving happily about either of them.

I get that this is a classic First World Problem, that I live in an age of technological miracles and here I am bitching that the miracles don't happen fast enough or just the way I want them.

But here's my point-- my provider is also the provider for my school district. If I were trying to use internet resources to teach a class, I'd be SOL.

I am one of the more tech-forward teachers in my building, but I am also tech-skeptical, because tech in general and ed tech in particular consistently makes promises it can't keep. "The system will handle that many students logged on at once with no problems" belongs in the Overly Optimistic Hall of Fame right next to "The contractors promise we'll be able to move into the house in two weeks."

Every time I plan to use technology in my classroom, even for something as simple as a fifteen slide student presentation, I know I will have to waste time. It may just take ten or fifteen minutes to get properly linked up to the server, but I have a forty minute period-- ten or fifteen minutes is not an insignificant chunk of time.

My school is a one-to-one school and has been for several years. My digital natives are unimpressed, and often hugely frustrated by what their netbooks won't do or what their connections won't allow them access to. And when my digital natives have on-line materials that they are assigned to read, many of them will print that material out. On paper.

And sometimes the tech makes promises that aren't worth keeping. We still have the same old problem-- instead of tech and software that will help us do the work, we get tech and software that come with the pitch, "This will be very useful if you just change what you do to match the tech."  Let us tell you and your students what you need to do to keep the edtech happy. Relax and be assimilated.

This piece over a EdSurge makes the same point, though author George Siemens seems to think he's spotting a new trend instead of an old problem. But he's correct that "personalized learning" has made it worse.

Both Udacity and Knewton require the human, the learner, to become a technology, to become a component within their well-architected software system. Sit and click. Sit and click. So much of learning involves decision making, developing meta-cognitive skills, exploring, finding passion, taking peripheral paths. Automation treats the person as an object to which things are done. There is no reason to think, no reason to go through the valuable confusion process of learning, no need to be a human. Simply consume. Simply consume. Click and be knowledgeable.

On its bad days, this has always been the message of education technology-- change your mission, your purpose and your methods to fit in with us, broaden your definition of "dependable" to include "craps out unexpectedly at any time," and we'll be glad to help. Edtech has been the guy who picks up a hitchiker who's trying to get to Cleveland and says, "Look, if you can adjust to riding on the hood of this car, I can get you to Chicago." And then fifty miles later, he runs out of gas.

I've found myself in more than a few conversations bemoaning the ways in which technology has failed to transform schools, and the discussion often lapses into deep consideration of the thinky underpinnings of education, technology, the universe, and everything. I'm pretty sure it's not that deep. Just help us fulfill our mission with tools that work well and reliably, and the tech transformation will keep moving. In the meantime, I'll watch for one of my internet access windows to post this.

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