Long Line: An example from my past

This post is part of a series of posts pulled from a piece of writing I completed in November 2012. For more information on this series, see this post.

Context | Looking Back | Transformation | Looking Back at the Looking Back | Questions | On ethics | Letting Go of Nothing | Taking on Subject and Objects | On meaning making | Why the language of causality trouble me | Conceptual versus Empirical | Futuring | Temporality and Time | Brief Note | Back to Time | What to do with the Past | Some tools to help us be | An example from my past | Avoiding Labels | The educational turn | Being and curriculum | Curriculum of Being | Curriculum Futuring | On dispositions as ways of being | Being and pedagogy | Being and technology | Being and the body | References

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An example from my past

Over a year ago I drafted a piece dealing with causality, temporality, and educational technologies. I want to include it here as an additional example of using some of these tools to access being:
April 29, 2011*

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 have gotten to a place as a graduate student and scholar where I cannot 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, but 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 about” for blaming if you'd like.)

This brings me to causality. Everyone knows exactly what I mean and there's no need to cite a dictionary. One thing "causes" another. Educators (and most everyone else, too) have 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 am 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 suspicions would be: one, a lack of clear expectations set by him and two, you're still lecturing?!)

This brings us to temporality. This one may not be as familiar. Here I am referencing temporality as an all-encompassing concept to distinguish 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 he has experienced before somewhere in his past that if something is a distraction for his students you need to make it go away so that they will then (magically) pay attention. The present includes students on laptops, not paying attention to him and lecture. The past then informs the solution for the present - 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.

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 has 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 am 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 located in 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 are going to keep learning and technology is not going away. It is 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 is not going to get us there. Having a say about it, right here and right now, will.

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* http://matthewkr.com/2011/04/29/causality-temporality-in-educational-technology/

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