Bit of a late blog today, sorry about that, we had some impromptu Space/Strategic planning meetings and heck there’s even a scheduled one later this after noon.
Anyway, I watched a Frontline episode last night called “Growing up Online” that raised a few questions for me. If you didn’t catch it, you can watch the whole thing at the link abov. It’s segmented into six chapters and pretty easy to watch while you’re having lunch over the next few days.
The questions it raised for me are: in what ways are we as educators using technology as a crutch for teaching and learning? In what ways are we using technology to solve social problems that would be better solved with non-tech solutions? And then from a purely personal level; what are the ways that networks amplify self definition?
First, as I watched the program I was struck by how many of the faculty at the High School featured were shown teaching using power-point types of presentation. I can’t really speak for the actual curriculum because Frontline simply presented it as fact that students required exciting and technology driven presentations in order to keep student’s attention. But all the teachers and principals essentially said the same thing “the days of lecturing in a monotone voice with chalk in your hand are over.” It was stated as such “matter-of-fact” that I was taken aback. As if all teaching prior to the advent of Power Point was monotonous. Or that there is a strict dualism in teaching; monotonous chalk talkers and LOLOMGROLFCOPTER Power Point EXTREME TEACHING!!!one1!!eleventy!!11!! Which made me wonder, when are we as educators using technology as a crutch? Or to put it a different way, when do we use technology to facilitate teaching when we don’t need to? I’m going to be keeping an eye out for this over the next couple of months and I’ll keep you abreast.
The second thing that struck me was how the faculty and parents, since they themselves relied on technology to help them teach and parent, were essentially doomed to failure when it came to using technology for monitoring or keeping students honest. Imagine my surprise when I saw that teachers were using Turn It In software to check a student’s paper for plagiarism. Much has been made about Turn It In here at UWT and there is a big push to adopt the program as the campus standard. I have always maintained that programs like Turn It In are one way of using technology to solve a social problem. Moreover, programs like Turn It In will always be playing catch-up to the technological advances that students will use if students really want to cheat. And really, this counts for parental monitoring software as much as plagiarism software in my mind; in terms of escalation, adults will ALWAYS be losing the “technology war” to this next generation. It reminds me of how parents in the 80s were told to learn their children’s language so they could articulate with their children about important issues like drug use and teenage sex. As if knowing that “pot” was also called “Maui Wowie” was going to immediately make the kid see your perspective. Not. Gonna. Happen.
The example from the program last night illustrates this perfectly; kids at this high school were strictly forbidden from using Sparknotes (link goes to the Sparknotes version of Othello — not really recommended reading, IMNSHO) to do their papers. But they did, just like my generation used Cliff’s Notes even though they were against the rules. And they turned the papers in to Turn It In, and they got good grades. Why? Because you cannot stop students from using technology by using technology yourself.
The parents too had this problem. They were trying to monitor what their kids were doing on the computer and to disasterous result. The kids just let the parents see what they wanted them to see. So, the one kid figured out how to make it look like he was viewing an encyclopedia when he was really messing around on Myspace.
How do you stop this? Through tried and trusted methods; teaching, talking to kids, parenting and the rest will hopefully fall in line. So, for the Othello example sure, you assign the whole play to them, but you also assign large tracts that they will have to read, and study in depth. You engage them in the document; make them act out parts of the play and ask them what it meant to them. Explain it, teach it, engage.
So, engagement, that’s the important thing for me. Because it seems that the lazier we get intellectually the more time we are freeing up for ourselves so that we can engage in a different kind of endeavor; building small, like-minded communities. I know this is all old hat to some of you but the internet allows for some pretty disturbing amplifications of the normal human small group dynamic. I first came across this idea back in 2005 while I was listening to On The Media on my local NPR station. Brooke Gladstone had Cass Sunstien (professor at University of Chicago Law School) on and they were talking about how fast GOP talking points had saturated the media during the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. In full disclosure, I was going through a messy divorce at the time where I discovered that quite a few of my friends and loved ones had a very different view of me and my actions than I did and so this concept really stuck with me and explained some things.
Anyway, the concept is of the “Echo Chamber” and how one of the things that the internet does very well is concentrate like-minded people who then form this echo-chamber. Once inside the echo chamber a phenomena that the military calls “incestuous amplification” occurs; basically, everyone inside the chamber is a yes-man. Since everyone inside the chamber agrees with each other what arises is an unjustified extremism. The people inside the chamber feed on each other and try to outdo each other out of fear of being excluded. Because, and this is another key component, disagreement is completely demonized. But the internet takes this phenomena to a whole new level. Whereas when we all were kids if we wanted to find someone who was like minded we had to seek long and hard. And even when we did find them, they were very rarely such a close-knit group that they all thought alike, spoke alike, and so clearly defined themselves as against the “other.”
But today we see places like the Free Republic and Daily Kos and even sub groups within these groups who become more and more enclosed in their own very small world view. So, what the internet allows us to d, through social networking, is try on different personas and, more importantly, get positive feedback on those personas. This can be a very powerful and transformative moment for a person. But it can also lead people into a dark path, such as was illustrated by Frontline when they interviewed a young woman who found the pro anorexia groups and embraced them.
Like I said, I am left with a lot of questions; we spend so much time embracing technology that we rarely stop to ask why, or how, or what ways technology is changing us? It was a stimulating program and I highly recommend it.