Causality & Temporality in Educational Technology

This piece is a conglomeration of ideas that have been swirling around in my head for months now and this is my first attempt at actually putting them into words.  We'll see how it turns out.

I am of the persuasion that the field of educational technology - and education in general actually - could use a bit more reflection, a bit more philosophical reasoning to help ground the discipline(s).  I've gotten to a place as a graduate student and scholar where I just can't take too many surface level concerns any more because my responses always seem to be a band-aid on an enormous wound of misunderstanding.  These misunderstandings abound in these two fields - and not just by the layperson or policymaker or administrator - by educators and educational scholars alike.  They've just got it plain wrong and there needs to be some clearness created for more foundational conversations.

Ultimately, I think that my argument comes down to this:  Stop. Blaming. The. Technology.  That's it.  Just - stop it.  (You could also insert complaining for blaming if you'd like.)

This brings me to the first component mentioned in the title of this post - causality.  You know exactly what I mean and there's no need to cite a dictionary.  One thing "causes" another.

Educators (and most everyone else, too) has the formula incorrect.  Fill-in-the-blank is NOT caused by the technology.

Take for example the question at a conference I was at a month ago from a professor of teacher education.  It went something like, "Look, I like being up with the latest trends and all and all my students bring their phones and laptops to class.  But when it's time for us to get down to business, I need them to listen to my lecture!  How can I get them to stop Facebooking and pay attention to what I'm trying to teach them?  Right now I've banished the laptops from class.  How do you manage kids and their cell phones too?"

So, in short, laptops and cell phones have caused his students to not pay attention in his class and to him.  Thus, to solve the problem, get rid of the laptops and cell phones.  Makes logical sense, no?  And - it just might work - but the formula is broken.  The technology didn't cause the lack of attention.  It could be anything - he doesn't know!  (Although my suspicion would be: one, a lack of clear expectations set by him and two, you're still lecturing?!)

Let's bring in the second component mentioned in the title - temporality.  This one may not be as familiar.  Here I am referencing temporality as an all-encompassing concept to represent how we understand the nature of time.  For example, causality lives within a temporality framework that includes the notion of a "past" or something before a "now" or "present".

To make this concrete let's return to the lecturing teacher education professor example.  He has decided to banish laptops because as he has experienced before from somewhere in his past that if something is serving as a distraction for his students you need to make it go away so that they will then magically pay attention.  Present event includes students on laptops, not paying attention to him and lecture.  Past event then informs present solution - make technology go away.

Here's the thing (one of many).  We have not experienced ANYTHING in our pasts that even remotely compare to the what and how and why of technology.  The solutions from the past (and it can be argued that even those old solutions were moot as well) will not and cannot work today.  Rather than depending on our sketchy pasts, WE need to start decided what is going to happen.

And here is where the causality and temporality really come together.  If you read between the lines of the example above you will see that the teacher education professor is speaking as a victim.  He is victimized by the technology, by his students.  Once you frame his question within the context of victimization it is quite easy to realize that he has absolutely no power whatsoever.  The technology does and his students do.

The blame and complain games are about being a victim.  They are driven by the past and not the here and now.  Get out your violins.

Instead of speaking as a victim, what if the instructor turned inward and began reflecting on his practice?  What if he asked his peers and his students to help him figure out what is going on inside him when it comes to technology?  What would happen if he was able to name how he wanted his students to use technology and share with them - authentically - why and where he was coming from?  If you're reading carefully you'll notice a slight shift in the tone and feeling that these sentences/questions have compared to the original question.

Causality is great.  It's awesome.  And it's led to some pretty amazing discoveries and innovations within the natural sciences.  But - big but here - causality is only one way of approaching things.  Even more, I'm not 100% convinced that causality is where we should be focused on within the field of education - but that is another story for another day.

Discussions involving temporality always leave us in a place of greater power and freedom because they help loosen up whatever is keeping us stuck in relation to something that we're upset about or don't understand - which is the past.  The last word you just read?  In the past.  Let it go. ;)

These metaphysical conversations are about the foundations of our lives and they feed directly into how we approach teaching, learning and technology.  We're going to keep learning and technology isn't going away.  It's time to get some things straight - with ourselves and about technology - so that we can best meet the needs of students and the world at large.  Blaming and complaining isn't going to get us there.  Having a say about it - right here and right now - will.


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