Sunday, 29 September 2013

ECOO 2013 Cometh

Last year I was getting primed for ECOO 2012 by constructing a process for transitioning from school provided, generic educational technology to a bring-your-own-device learning situation.  The idea was to assist this evolution toward personalized technology following some sort of pedagogical imperative rather than what appears to be a financially motivated top down drive to minimize school purchased tech.

Digital technology is intensely personal because it interacts with our
most personal selves, our minds...
Critically examining how we make use of technology has always been at the core of my teaching.  As I transitioned from academically focused English to technology orientated computer engineering my willingness to look for easy answers in educational technology has dried up.

Since the last ECOO a couple of events have made me question the branded nature of #edtech.  It began with the Google Education Summit in Kitchener in the spring, and then culminated with the Pearson Summit a week later.  As educators it is incumbent upon us to be technologically agnostic, this is getting more and more difficult as cash strapped teachers and boards look for financial advantage courtesy of corporate offers.  I've been battling my own understanding of this all year.

Can you imagine if your chalk board had a 'courtesy of Crayola' sign in the top corner?  Or the paper you hand out to students had a 'brought to you by Hilroy' on it?  Yet we don't think twice about branding the digital technology.  A student can't get on to a school machine without getting Delled, BenQed, Microsoft'd, Jinged and Googled, and we actually enjoy that branding, we encourage it.

In only a few weeks I'm talking about our digital selves at ECOO 13.  I'm excited about going to ECOO, doing Minds On Media for the first time (nurture your inner hacker, I'll show you how to code a microcontroller and become your own I.T. support!)  My worry is that I'm finding edtech increasingly owned, controlled and not focused on developing student (and educator) fluency.

I'm still being haunted by Matt Crawford's Shopclass as Soulcraft.  Crawford's description of the consumer as a victim of their own technological ignorance resonates:

"Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political."

The scattered, distracted 21st Century human being seems more a victim of digital technology than empowered by it.  When I realize that the 'I'm tech-savvy' high school student doesn't know what a disk partition or an IP address is, or how to boot to external media, I realize that what little expertise they've gained is almost entirely at the hands of commercial or political persuasion, and teachers are no different.  This kind of fluency doesn't suit corporate interests who would rather be able to sell you on marketing rather than engineering.  The kind of ignorance this brews is staggering.

I want to produce a constructive solution to hard pedagogical questions around technology use.  I'm finding this increasingly difficult as edu-tech becomes a managed, mainstream expectation rather than an experimental, fringe element.  The urge to simplify with dictated systems that encourage ignorance has me wondering how education will prevent rather than produce more dysfunctional digital natives.

The perfect platform for teaching students effective use of technology is an open source system that they build from scratch and have to maintain themselves.  The more you do for them, the less necessary fluency becomes.  Technology literacy is a 21st Century fluency that we should be teaching curriculum wide, much like literacy or numeracy.

That ideal technology learning platform is agnostic, varied and offers redundancy and resilience.  Students should never be in a position where the network technology is broken, but the hands on technology shouldn't be done for them.  What I'm seeing in educational technology is completely backwards; everything is locked down and done for students, and it seldom works.  This is a recipe for ignorance and about as far from pedagogically useful as we can get.

There is precious little open source software used in education, mostly because it demands competence and
Don't you wish there were a shared,open source
option for educational technology
?  There is,
but there is no money in it and it requires
responsibility.  Buying a corporate system offers you turn key technology.  We could offer cheap, debranded technology with open source, shared development software, but we don't because we'd rather be consumers than makers.  This is a result of teacher indifference as much as anything else.  Basic fluencies should be attended to and you'd have to be obtuse to think that effective use of digital tools isn't going to be as important as literacy and numeracy in the 21st Century.

I'm still not sure where I'm going with ECOO13...