The edtech “Ban/Not Ban” Discussion is Misleading

The underlying origin of any edtech “ban/not-ban devices” question out there is the gap between what is taught in elementary and middle school, and what is expected that secondary and post secondary learners ought to know. The gap being the digital literacy skills that many people feel should be taught at a young age, similar to reading skills, study skills, and even cultural norms like “how to behave in a classroom” and the ever-vague “socialization”.

If one believes this, that elementary kids need to learn digital literacy skills, then this is a question of what needs to be included in education goals and curriculum. There is not much worth in bringing it into the ban/not-ban question, which is a useless question to ask or answer.

A flat ban on devices ignores technology’s impact (let alone many learners’ access to content and preferred literacy), and conversely a mandate that teachers must use devices because it is “best” is technology infatuation that prioritizes digital literacy as a class goal over whatever the subject matter is. Both are wrongheaded, and both fail to consider the situation.

An educator designing their course needs to look at each activity/lesson and decide whether to include modern technology or not. It may be that one day devices are useful for that activity, the next they are a distraction. Devices are often superfluous, when technologies like pen, paper, desks, and spoken word are more suitable. If educators want to teach learners “self-regulation” then they should practice and model it in their class design.

(Furthermore, and I say this because I don’t see it enough, the first question to ask when deciding about technology/device use is “What is the content?”)

Secret Consent

The Ghomeshi sexual harassment case of this past year was one where a high profile public figure in Canada was able to walk the line of legality and get away with sexual harassment.

The hinging factor of the legal case, as I gathered from just finishing reading Secret Life, is that of consent. This became clear to me towards the end of the book when the author describes his research into BDSM. In these communities, people are upfront about what they want to do and who they want to do it with, something Ghomeshi usually wasn’t. He used false pretense, surprise, and the threat of guilt to engage with women he desired, in the aggressive manner that suited him. Without consent, he utilized his power and ambiguity of action to get what he wanted.

What stands out to me was that after he jumped and attacked a woman, he would often text them something to the effect of “Oh, if you’re going to be cold now, you are going to make this awkward.” This is manipulation, shifting the responsibility of action onto the victim. He forced people to confront his sexual tastes, rather than the other way around. Manipulative people do this, they find ways to put the ball in your court and then, with clear conscience, claim that you could have acted as you please.

I can’t help notice the role of technology here (texting), that enabled Ghomeshi to maintain a presence and a dialog that ultimately signified consent (in a legal and public opinion sense), without actually getting consent. Technology provides an easy way to maintain presence, yet also provides a way to remain ambiguous – this isn’t good nor bad in itself, except that courts and legal matters need to take such new forms of communication and relationship status into account. As does public opinion.

As a side note, Secret Life is as much an exploration into journalism in Canada in 2016, as it is an account of the JG scandals. I also recently read No News is Bad News, also about journalism in Canada and published in 2016. Both books were well worth the short time it took to read them – I am on the lookout for similar reads.

Modify Temperament

“You view the world through your temperament, but if you’re intelligent you can modify that.”

 

 

This whole interview is very interesting. Someone sent to me last year, and worth a watch, for understanding some of what’s going on in the world today.

In my opinion, Peterson plays around with the idea of ‘conformity’ a bit too freely, but still useful ideas here.

The idea of anti-political correctness is a strange one. For me it seems to stem from the same conformity as blanket PC-ness, which is too often thrown around to disregard someone’s well-thought out decisions and opinions. An opinion is an opinion whether it happens to be PC or anti-PC or not. People believe in stuff.

Looking at the Moon

“Why is looking at the moon somehow perceived to be more ‘present’ than looking at your phone?”

This article (well worth the read) about phones, our attention, and all that stuff, doesn’t include the word ‘addiction’ anywhere. Nor does it include the word ‘balance’. It’s a fine article for discussing type of attention, but not about degree.

To answer the quote above: When driving a car (among other things in life) both excessive looking at a phone and looking at the moon are dangerously un-present.

The Salvation of Technology

I read a Peter Thiel quote last week that chilled me:

The only thing that matters, he said, is that politics never be allowed to interfere with technological progress, because it’s the latter, not the former, that will be humankind’s salvation. (source)

If human decision and action aren’t its own salvation, if humans have already outsourced free will to technology, then salvation is already lost.

The thing with libertarians is that I doubt very many of them would want to start from point zero – they want the change off the back of the current system, replacing voters with those at the top of the money pyramid. Thiel, a libertarian who just gave a speech at a major political party’s convention, is a billionaire in the tech industry: Of course he wants a wild-west of no regulations for his tech industry. Of course he wants an absence of government involvement – the billionaires would then fill that void.

What matters is making a beneficial society for as many people as possible, regardless of technology progress.

 

Cultural Racism

I’ve been thinking about that Loury and McWhorter video again – it’s difficult not to think about racism these past few days. Stars and stripes are in the news.

The term ‘structural racism’ comes up at one point in the video, a term that McWhorter takes issue with because of it’s lack on involvement with people, the human. Perhaps the concept is better stated as ‘cultural racism’. Culture does involve people and humans and their learned behavior. Racism is certainly a part of American culture, as it is in many countries around the world. For various reasons, America’s racism is more extreme, more tragic.

Cultures don’t change quickly, they go through centuries of evolution – extended debate, civil wars, policy and law reform, budgets, and elections. The process of cultural change is a process that a culture or society usually undergoes, rather than actively decides. But does this need to be the case? Are we at a point that masses of people, through the help of certain technology, can start to make conscious decisions about the evolution of their culture?

This next election is turning out to be a critical point America’s long struggle with cultural racism. For one political party, it’s still an advantage to avoid openly condemning racism. Until it becomes a disadvantage for that party, until they lose more at the polls than they gain (the only thing political parties care about), they won’t condemn racism.

Technology has been a magnifying glass on society in the social media age – the good, the bad, the lingering behaviors that have been slow to mature. Perhaps technology can also be used as a reactive instrument in confronting exposed cultural flaws. It may be a lot to hope for, but as someone watching America from the outside, I hope the many, many people in America who detest their cultural racism decide to make this next election about racism and racism only.

Technology can help spread the message that if a political party won’t openly condemn racism, then they will never stand a chance at winning an election, regardless of any of their other beliefs. Democracy is meant to be representational, but it can also be representation full of aspiration.

Aspiring towards a conscious shift in culture is a massive outcome to hope for. America itself is also a massive place, with an amazing, still developing, culture.

 

Technology for Friction

From Evgeny Morozov’s “To Save Everything, Click Here“, a description of a certain type of technology that aims to create friction:

tech seen as 1

tech seen as 2

This seems to me a blueprint for education. EdTech spends a lot of effort on making technology seamless, easy to use, and never technology for the sake of itself. What if educators tried using edtech more for itself, to create friction and perplexity? I wonder if such a strategy cold become mainstream.

Dewey was big on perplexity:

We may recapitulate by saying that the origin of thinking is some perplexity, confusion, or doubt. Thinking is not a case of spontaneous combustion; it does not occur just on ” general principles.” There is something specific which occasions and evokes it.

Why bother using technology to create perplexity?  Many of our habits are established though technology (machines, and devices) – Through habit, we become our machines (Says Wendy Chun). Perhaps a little friction caused by these habit forming machines may encourage thinking and reflection about such habits, which often lie under the touch-screen surface of daily life.