The Place of Tech in Ed Tech

This is a follow-up, or another view relevant to my last post. George Siemens posted this goodbye to his involvement in Ed Tech because:

(E)ducational 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. . . . (Ed Tech programs) require the human, the learner, to become a technology, to become a component within their well-architected software system. Sit and click. Sit and click. 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.

2 pointsOne, this is partially the result of Tech without ontology and an appropriate teleology. There is no question that Ed Tech is more efficient at whatever it is doing, but without specifying an ontology, it’s really not possible to know what it is doing. This was an underlying problem with Behaviorism. Behaviors were being changed but without a framework that would clue you in to the “what”, “why” and to “what end”. This is why so much Ed Tech is no more than a more complex Skinnerian teaching machine.

Second point, Tech can be used as a more efficient substitute for a human in simple transactional interactions, (think ATMs, self-checkout lines or checking your flight status) but not in systems that are highly variable (Try getting software or customer support help from an automated system. It’s usually a disaster.) Simple decontextualized skill acquisition is an important part of education, but only a small part. Current Ed Tech is good for memorizing math facts, increasing reading levels or memorizing basic decontextualized domain facts, but the hope for education is for much more. Ed Tech is striving to do more, but here are 3 aspects where I believe Ed Tech is not near to being a substitute for a teacher:

  1. Fostering creativity. This is advanced language use (including math) to evaluate and synthesize knowledge and to reach new combinations, new uses and new ideas.
  2. Engaging in social practices. Most of what we do is not to just use knowledge, but to engage with practices that we share with other people, or as Wittgenstein put it; to engage in language games. These are things that even deep AI cannot come close to imitating.
  3. Develop meaningful networks and connections with other people. This may be the most important ability in the future and the only way it can be learned is in direct engagement with other people.

I believe that Technology can help in these areas, not as a substitute for teachers, but by fostering new affordances for teachers which is an intense pedagogical research project and will require new tech from what I’ve seen so far. As an example consider the text editor. Conceived as a replacement for hand writing or the typewriter, it allows new affordances like email, blog posts, spelling and grammar checking or language translation. All these things extend human capabilities, but cannot substitute for it. Ed Tech will require teachers to become more capable and knowledgable with advanced pedagogy and it will make teachers more efficient but only if it creates new affordances for teachers. It must recognizes and constitute a new pedagogical framework that centers on the teacher and the teacher student diode.

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