EDUC 902: Skeptically unconvinced

A final reflection on my write up for EDUC 902. For more information, see this linked post.

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Skeptically unconvinced

As we come to the end of this seminar and our time together, I find myself more skeptical than ever. My final write up for this term presents an argument similar to the one I attempted to communicate last week. Claims of technology transforming how we teach and how students learn consistently stretch, bend, and twist what actually happens in classrooms (face-to-face or online). Student attention spans are decreasing because they are always connected to mobile devices that are rewiring their brains and keeping them from having meaningful relationships. We are connected to an infinite source of information via the Internet, but students (and teachers, administrators, parents) refuse to search beyond the first few results shared on Google. What are we to do?

At least within education, I argue that we need to pull apart pedagogy from technology; collapsing them tends to muddy the waters. The separation process will lead to a renewed focus on pedagogy, followed by a deep understanding of the social construction of technology. Approaching the teaching and learning space anew, the first question we will ask is not what technology to use but rather what is to be taught and in what ways are we to teach. We need not look to technology to revise our pedagogy, but to ourselves.

I was unable to weave the theory of instrumentalization into our discussion last week as it relates to how we understand and think about technologies. Briefly, there are two levels of instrumentalization: primary and secondary. These distinctions are analytical, conceptual devices to aid in our thinking. The primary instrumentalization of a technology is its function, what the technology helps us do with it. The secondary instrumentalization is the socially negotiated and contingent meaning attached to the technology. Where we err is when we collapse the two, assume that function equals meaning, and forget that they were ever separate. I see a similar phenomenon occurring with technology and pedagogy.

Educational technologists have for decades attempted to sketch theoretical and philosophical frameworks to provide structure for their ideas on how best to efficiently and effectively integrate technology into teaching and learning. However, on the whole, these approaches neglect pedagogical strategies and concerns that are part of the being of teaching. Pedagogy is rendered transparent, commonsensical and therefore unworthy of reflection and analysis. This results in theories, programs, and activities claim to be innovative but are nothing more than faulty pedagogy with fancy new names. This languaging is similar to using computer terminology when communicating about understanding or learning. Metaphors that bridge the computer to the human mind must be carefully considered if we are to use them, for they are at best inaccurate and at worst incredibly misleading.

Yet, in cases where technologies can support the development of individual and societal potentialities then these must be explored and exploited. The child who finds his voice via an iPad App who was previously unable to communicate, the Accessibility Features developed to make computing available to persons with limited sight, truly meaning online collaboration - these are obviously avenues that we should continue to seek out. At the same time, we must remember just how much say we have in the matter of how technologies occur in our lives and how they shape and mediate our actions and intentions. As educators, we need to be careful to think and speak about teaching and learning with technologies such that our students will also be able to critically evaluate the ways technologies are integrated into their lives.

Thus, while I am at present focused on pausing to pull pedagogy and technology apart, I remain skeptically unconvinced that we’ve yet to fully grasp the relationship between the two.

Matthew Kruger-Ross, EDUC 902 / Tues April 2, 2013

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