I sat in on a fascinating discussion about blogging today on Connected Learning (recording here), but came out annoyed and frustrated, feeling like I’d witnessed yet another echo chamber on educational technology.
It seems that there now exists a two-sided model for discussing the intersection of education and web technology, wherein both parties disdain the other’s point of view.
In one corner, we have the edu-techno-utopians, which includes many wonderful people whose work I deeply respect. They want learning out in the open, freed from the constraints of systems (and sometimes schools), where students control their own web spaces, their own digital identities, their own destiny.
In the other corner, we have the cautious majority, worried about exposing our young people to bullying, stalking, identity theft, unemployableness (is that a word?) and other harm. They want protected spaces, gentle slopes of learning, adult control of the environment.
Until recently, the two parties (and many others) were engaged in active and productive discussion. Now their explorations have hardened into positions, pro or con, for or against.
The edu-techno-utopians answer concerns about privacy and protection by declaring that control of ones own digital identity is the key. While that may be true, they rarely acknowledge how totally unprepared most people are to engage at this level. Most people do not know what a blog is, much less how to moderate comments (or turn them off) or prevent spam. They do not know which of the online things they do can be seen by others. They still type URLs into the Google search bar. They think their Facebook status updates can only be seen by their friends when they haven’t changed the settings to do that. The only technology where common understanding could be said to be fairly accurate is email.
With respect to Gary Larson’s cartoons about dogs , I illustrate the problem like this:
The edu-techo-utopians seem to have a sink-or-swim mentality when it comes to throwing people out onto the web, with a delightful tolerance for failure and vulnerability that many mortals do not have. They want to encourage this tolerance in everyone, but don’t have much regard for differences in temperament or personality. Most of the edutech gurus were educated in types of educational environments they now deride, have read lots of books, and came to web technology when it was still young, free and individually controllable. They learned over a long period of time, yet are impatient with others who want to do the same. They are also, with very few exceptions, individualistic personalities who don’t care that much what other people think of them (I know because I’m one too). It’s uncomfortable for them to acknowledge that most people are not like them and don’t really want to be.
The cautious majority include people who know they don’t understand the web, and people who know they do. The ones who know they don’t understand, and say they don’t understand, are blasted for being ignorant or lazy. The ones that do understand the web, but raise various concerns, are treated like they’re living in a past idyll that doesn’t exist anymore, or are refusing to participate in the way of the future. They keep the world of the web at arm’s length, and are uncomfortable with efforts toward openness. Some are concerned about the legalities of copyright, or the protection of minors, or being made fun of. They see the world changing in a way that exposes people unduly, places objects above people, subsumes real life to screens and gadgetry, and prevents authentic face-to-face contact. Some just don’t want to learn about any of it – “technology” is a section in a magazine, and you can just skip it and move on to sports.
They see the other side as proselytizers of an unfinished faith, and its proponents as special cases. The crazy tech folks are people to admire for their mad skilz, but not people one emulates. The cautious majority want their children to grow up with an understanding of all this stuff, but by learning from teachers who control that environment. Many teachers and professors also belong in this group. Some are very much aware of their shortcomings when it comes to understanding technology, and want to stay where they’ve been told it’s safe – inside the learning management system. They will innovate in there if at all. They are often busy people who want to spend their time teaching their subject, not learning the intricacies of the web.
Until the two sides begin to appreciate the other’s view, there will be no progress. Ironically, the cautious majority is more open to learning new technology than the edu-techno-utopians are to developing models based on lack of knowledge. Any roomful of faculty shown a new technology will have some people leave excited to learn more. But only a few utopians (and I love them and can name them) leave a room after talking to concerned or ignorant teachers wondering how best to create models, processes and environments that take their needs into account.
That’s gotta change.