What technology wants

Had a great conversation with Bridgette Wagoner this afternoon and she created a post based on our discussion.  I replied and wanted to share the reply here as well.

First off, I enjoyed our conversation this afternoon.  I usually end up getting the cold shoulder from folks when I bring up the negative aspects of tech, so thanks for continuing to engage!

As far as this post, Kelly’s book reminds me of a book called “the Nature of Technology” by W. Brian Arthur.  Both of these books use evolutionary thinking to describe how technology moves forward.  In some ways Kelly’s book takes on a Lamarkian view in that he claims technology has particular desires in its evolution.  While both of these books have important insight on how technology biases and past technologies affect other technologies, they don’t pay much attention to how technology causes bias in and deeply affects human beings.  They admit their is a complex relationship between tech and humans, but they don’t explore the nuances very deeply.

I’d like to look at just Possibilities and Efficiencies related to teaching and learning.  Our dialogues tend to focus on possibilities of tech.  Some might call these technology’s affordances.  However, this rhetoric misses that technology has cues about how to be used.  I remember one class period when my students were working on laptops and they were much much quieter than usual.  I asked them why they thought that was and even my 8th graders recognized that the design of the laptops promotes individual work (one keyboard, one mouse, one screen, etc).  Yes, we can actively work against such cues, but first we have to recognize that the cues are their and realize how powerful they are.  Usually we just assume tech’s cues are going to point us toward better teaching and learning, but that is usually not the case.  Consider IWB and their typical installation at the front of the room – hello teacher centered instruction!  These embedded messages are hard to identify, and hard to work against – even harder if we refuse their existence and call technology “neutral”.  These embedded messages lead me to the next issue, efficiency.

Technology is highly interested in efficiency.  New tech is faster, cheaper, and more user friendly.  Yet, if we let efficiency be a goal, I will not be surprised if we see more and more lecture.  Powerpoint and lecture is highly efficient.  I remember one teacher telling me how great it would be record their “presentations” so they can just replay them the next year.  Oh, crap!  Sure that is very very efficient, but to never modify instruction based on a new group of students is the opposite of good teaching.  Yet, the affordances and cues of new tech leads some people down that path.  So we need to recognize how some of the goals of technology are antithetical to the goals we ought have for our students and for our educational system.

I think these are things that very few of us are thinking about as we work to reform education.  My chief concern is that we’ll use technology to reform education right back to where we started without even realizing it.

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One Response to What technology wants

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What technology wants « Teaching as a dynamic activity -- Topsy.com

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