One of my best teachers over the years is George Siemens who consistently makes me think about the world and my own work in it. This morning was no exception, but I think this post is a must read in it’s entirety for anyone interested in the “ed tech” conversation at any level. Here’s a snip:
But there is something different in the ed tech space today than what I have experienced in the past. Most of my career has involved using technology to help people get better access to learning resources and materials, to better connect with each other, to better access formal education, and to improve their teaching practices and pedagogies…At some level we all shared a goal that fairness, justice, and equity underpin the role of education in society and that by enabling access to learning and improving the the quality of learning, we were helping to improve the lives of learners and of society more broadly. Sometimes this meant helping people to develop digital skills to find new jobs or transition into new roles. Sometimes it meant connecting people eager to collaborate with others from around the world. Sometimes it was about righting a wrong or injustice. Regardless of whether the goal was finding a job or developing new mindsets, my focus was always on the learner, on the human.
Emerging technology today departs from my previous vision of improving the human condition.
In short, George argues persuasively that:
Educational technology is not becoming more human; it is making the human a technology. Instead of improving teaching and learning, today’s technology re-writes teaching and learning to function according to a very narrow spectrum of single, de-contextualized skills.
This resonates so deeply with my own thinking and experience of late. While technologies have amazing potentials to amplify our learning and our impact on the world, they also have amazing potential to suck what’s real about learning right out of the equation, especially when used in the service of curriculum mastery in schools. As George continues
So much of learning involves decision making, developing meta-cognitive skills, exploring, finding passion, taking peripheral paths. Automation treats the person as an object to which things are done. There is no reason to think, no reason to go through the valuable confusion process of learning, no need to be a human. Simply consume. Simply consume. Click and be knowledgeable.
For me, this is the crucial part. Ed tech is about teaching and knowing, not about learning in its true sense. But that is the culture that it serves. It’s a culture that measures “learning” primarily by what kids can remember in the moment, not what sticks for the long term. And those who look at the function of schools through the lens of knowing will embrace even the crappiest of ed tech in that service. (How many billions of dollars have been wasted on tech that chases higher scores? How’s that been working out?)
Technology does not make kids learn better; it allows kids to learn more if they want to. And it’s only when they want to learn more that they learn for the long term. If we started there in our discussions of what we do with ed tech in schools, our kids would be a lot better off.