Why we need to embrace technology inside and outside of the classroom, no matter how we feel about it

Education, Publishing Blog

Teachers have always been caught in a struggle to maintain the interest of their students. The issue of classroom management is a common thread throughout the history of the profession; how does a teacher successfully engage with their audience? At the surface level, engagement begins when students, for whatever reason, feel compelled to pay attention to what is being taught to them. This is, to some degree, within the teacher’s control – creating an effective lesson can certainly go a long way in increasing student engagement. However, as the proliferation of technology within the classroom increases, so too does the difficulty of maintaining student interest. This is simply because technology has an arguably irresistible lure, regardless of the age of the user. In light of this, it seems fair to argue that fighting the onset of technology is impossible in the modern world. The question is then, how can technology be utilized as an asset rather than a distraction? To answer this question, it is essential first to look at how classroom dynamics have shifted over time relative to the presence of technology.

 

Education Prior to the 1900s

To illustrate the changing world of education, the first technology to be addressed will be the humble textbook. When we think of publication technology today, we are far less inclined than we previously might have been to associate the words with printed material. Despite this the textbook is – and has been since its inception – a fundamental stepping stone in the world of education. The function of the textbook is simply to standardize learning content so that each participant has a clear reference point to inform classroom discussion. It also allows for a cumulative, linear progression through content within a subject area.

This direct and standardised method of conveying information is extremely useful for teachers – but what does this mean for the attention of the students and the dynamic of the classroom? Firstly, it means a very simple actor network; students have one source to inform their learning in the immediate environment, with the teacher present to supervise their understanding and elaborate where necessary. This enclosed network functions well to reduce distraction, and certainly simplifies the job of the teacher by having all of their students looking at the same content. However, it severely limits their opportunity to craft a well informed personal opinion, as there are very few points of comparison for the information. Prior to the inception of the internet, the extent to which students could undertake their own research was limited; at best, they could scour the local library for relevant publications or ask someone more informed (if they happened to be available).

In such a learning environment, all knowledge is mediated to a degree by the kinds of value society places upon it – while this still holds true with many forms of media publication, the freedom to publish a personal opinion that can be easily accessed by a wide audience does provide a means of challenging conventionally accepted ideas. It could be argued that a lack of conflicting information reduces the potential for what Paul Edwards refers to as ‘data friction’; this is not necessarily a positive aspect. I would argue that without the debate that arises from such disagreements, progress is rarely made. Unlike many online resources, the textbook is static; the flow of information is a proverbial one-way street, on which students are ‘fed’ information and allowed no input. There is something distinctly problematic about the lack of power this model allows students over their own educational experience. One particular proposal by James Koch discusses that textbooks are almost never selected by those studying from them, further exacerbating the issue of personal license over the learning experience.

Bearing this in mind, we can begin to assess how all of these initial issues carry across into the 21st century, complicated by their interactions with modern publication technologies.

 

Education and the Technology of the Modern World

There is no denying that the introduction of the internet has had a profound effect on all aspects of society; never before have we been so interconnected, with such freedom to access and publish information. It has certainly had a huge impact on the world of education – and not just for the teachers who readily embrace the potential the internet offers for their pedagogy.

While many teachers are still divided on the presence of digital technology within their classrooms, at this stage in proceedings there is little to no potential of removing them from the equation. John Quay’s article, ‘Cloud schooling: why we still need teachers in the internet age’, puts very eloquently exactly the issues tied up in our progression into the digital age.

“Many young people find traditional forms of teaching alienating: the teacher telling them what they should know leading up to a test. Such teaching positions young people in particular ways. It can downplay their own interests and take away their ingenuity and creativity. If teachers are only knowledge experts in this traditional sense … they are quickly being overtaken by what is readily accessible via the internet. But teachers are – or at least should be – more than knowledge experts.”

One way this information availability has drastically changed the role of the educator in the 21st century is by changing how we perceive power structures within our classrooms. Motivational theorists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan proposed at the turn of the century a theory for understanding what drives students to remain engaged in the classroom, which they titled ‘self determination theory’. This focused on what they argue are the three psychological needs necessary for facilitating a positive learning environment; autonomy, competence and relatedness. Of the three, the one that has received the greatest emphasis has been the study of student autonomy. This is particularly applicable when we consider the freedom that internet technology gives students in pursuing their own interests and forming an opinion of their own.

In many ways, it is technology that has been responsible for the shift from teachers as the all-knowing presence, to a far more learner-centred classroom. This shift that has been met with some apprehension by teachers who are “digital immigrants” – it has placed pressure on them to keep up with changing technologies. They are no longer the centre of knowledge and power; instead, they have become more akin to a mediator of information than the sole provider (to echo John Quay).  In my view, this is one of the most important aspects of the shift to the digital world; putting the responsibility on students to determine the path of their own learning is a skill that is essential to their lives well past their final year of formal education.  As Marcia Powell writes, “shifting our perspective means that students take on more active roles as learners and that our roles change, too. We must decide whether to think and act as facilitators who empower (and learn from) our students—or as the people guarding the vault.” This tension against moving into an integrative teaching environment is not unique to the field of education; as Nathan Jurgenson makes clear in his critique of ‘digital dualism’, the two are not separate entities, but rather components that need to be analyzed through the ways they interact and shape one another.

One technology that has allowed teachers to make use of these theoretical frameworks in a positive way is moodle. Many educators have argued for the benefits of ‘blended learning’ – that is, a classroom that has components online and in person.  One of the overwhelming benefits of using moodle as a platform for educating is that it allows for teachers to observe, to some degree, the study habits of their students. As is the case in all fields today, data archives allow us an insight that would be otherwise unavailable. Applied well, online material can save teachers a great deal of time. Rather than trying to simultaneously gauge the ability of thirty students in a brief face-to-face lesson, they can come to class with an understanding of the progress being made outside of school hours. This then allows them to be more aware of issues in understanding as they occur, and prevents them from pushing forward with new coursework before students establish the skills necessary to understand it.

Unfortunately, as Paul Edwards makes clear in his discussion of climate data, there are drawbacks to our data related assumptions. Although teachers are able to see how many students have followed the links through to videos or articles posted, or how many have viewed lectures online, this still provides little certainty of the degree to which they have paid attention to the content. Tony Haile outlines in his article, ‘What you think you know about the web is wrong’, that the average reader pays little more than 15 seconds of their time to attend to an online article. This statistic may differ somewhat in an educational context, but it is nonetheless something teachers should be mindful of. Clicking a link is a small investment; taking the time to read (or watch) and genuinely understand is another thing entirely.

This issue is further exacerbated when we consider the sheer amount of things competing for our attention in the digital space. In the world of the ‘attention economy’, novel content inevitably has the market (so to speak), both inside and outside the classroom. One issue the textbook didn’t have was competing interests; with this static educational tool, there was less sense that the ‘grass was greener’ someplace else, content-wise. The problem of connection and proliferation is that there is simply too much available; the issue is less about how to find content, and more about how to find something relevant and reliable. In this sense, the actor network of the digital age is exponentially larger than that of textbook age. For teachers, a new aspect of their work has been teaching students to be critical of sources, and ways to locate valid information. In spite of these shortcomings, I feel that the digital age has still had an overwhelmingly positive effect on educational innovations. There is no doubt that the opportunity to share content freely online has led to great advances in the academic sphere, with many sites such as Khan Academy  posting free-to-watch videos of educational material. This has been one of the unprecedented effects of the web; many people who began posting videos for their own enjoyment have inadvertently gained a much larger following.

There is little doubt in my mind that initiatives such as Khan Academy have had a significant bearing on the inception of the ‘flipped classroom’. The flipped classroom is arguably one of the most clever ideas to come from our exposure to the internet, at least in an educational context. The premise is that rather than lecturing content to students, educators provide links to content which students are required to read or watch at home. When they come to class, instead of learning new content, the students spend time doing what would usually be homework, while the teacher observes and assists where necessary. This system has often been met with a degree of skepticism, however evidence suggests that it is extremely effective. This is evidenced by the improvements to student outcomes at Clintondale High in the US, following the implementation of the system. According to the school’s principal, Greg Green: “When [they] first implemented this model in the ninth grade, [the] student failure rate dropped by 33% in one year.” Through innovative use of technology, the school found that rather than being distracted, students responded incredibly well to the change.

It is quite evident that in spite of all the additional issues of attention and quality of content, the implementation of technology in classrooms leads to more positive student outcomes. This shift allows for more personalized learning and greater academic freedom, and encourages students to develop critical thinking skills as they endeavour to discover for themselves what constitutes reliable information. This is not suggest that teachers are redundant; on the contrary, teachers still play a pivotal role in assisting students – however this role is one they share with new technology. The issue is less about whether or not we use technologies (as they are irreversibly embedded in our lives), than it is about finding the most innovative ways to integrate new technologies into the classroom.

 

References

[online] Banks, David (2011) ‘A Brief Summary of Actor-Network Theory’, Cyborgology, November 2, <http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/12/02/a-brief-summary-of-actor-network-theory/>

[online] Doyle, Terry (2008), ‘A Clear Rationale for Learner-Centered Teaching’, WordPress.com,October, < https://learnercenteredteaching.wordpress.com/articles-and-books/the-learner-centered-classroom/ >

Edwards, Paul N. (2010) ‘Introduction’ in A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: xiii-xvii

[online] Flipped Classroom. Infographic. Knewton.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. < https://www.knewton.com/infographics/flipped-classroom >

Green, Greg (2013) ‘My View: Flipped Classrooms Give Every Student a Chance to Succeed.” Interview. Schools of Thought. CNN, January 18, < http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/18/my-view-flipped-classrooms-give-every-student-a-chance-to-succeed/ >

[online] Haile, Tony (2014) ‘What you think you know about the web is wrong’, Time.com,  March 9, <http://time.com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong/>

[online] Jurgenson, Nathan (2011) ‘Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality’, Cyborgology, April 29, < http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/04/29/defending-and-clarifying-the-term-augmented-reality/>

[online] Koch, James P. “An Economic Analysis of Textbook Prices and the Textbook Market”, 2006-09. Retrieved on 4-11-2015. (Alternative location (PDF))

[online] Laverne, Lauren (2014), ‘Born before 1985? Then you’re a ‘digital immigrant’’, The Guardian, November 16, < http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/nov/16/born-before-1985-digital-immigrant-lauren-laverne >

[online] Morrison, Debbie (2013), ‘Is Blended Learning the Best of Both Worlds?’, Online Learning Insights, January 17, < https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/is-blended-learning-the-best-of-both-worlds/ >

[online] Powell, Marcia (2013) ‘5 Ways to Make Your Classroom Student-Centered’, edweek.org, December 24, <http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/12/24/ctq_powell_strengths.html >

[online] Quay, John (2013) ‘Cloud schooling: why we still need teachers in the internet age’, The Conversation, November 18, <https://theconversation.com/cloud-schooling-why-we-still-need-teachers-in-the-internet-age-19872>

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

 

 [First published 7 November 2015]

Commons Sense

Publishing Blog

A unifying thread of all previous posts here has been the mention of the sheer mass of readily available published content on the web – and understandably so. As the post on actor networks made clear, the knowledge of the modern world is tied inseparably to emerging modes of communication and archiving. So far many potential downfalls for this connection have been discussed; notably Hubert Guillaud’s view that “network structures of consumption are also configured by power” (as has been previously quoted here). This is an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect of attention hierarchies.

To contrast the negativity of previous discussions, this penultimate post will look at the positive side to prolific sharing; namely, the commons. The commons, despite their good intentions, have come under a great deal of criticism – mostly being dismissed as idealistic, impractical, and without sufficient quality control. While they do rely to some extent on good will, this is not the only means the commons have of regulation. The article, ‘Reclaiming the Commons’ , suggests that “far from being a “free-for-all”, use of the commons is closely regulated through communal rules and practices”. That is, the commons are a regulated space outside of conventional power structures that exist for the express purpose of returning power to those involved; power to decide and express an opinion. As Jay Walljapser points out, “It is arguably only in reaction to invasion, dispossession or other threats to accustomed security of access that the concept of common rights emerges”.

However if it is true that they are “working to open up more space … by denying that any single social whole … has a right to assert privileged status over, and thus to enclose, all others of its type”, then what makes them ‘common’? The answer can be found in the origins of the commons. They argue less for overarching agreement than for freedom to express one’s self. The benefit of such a system upon progress as a society is, I believe, quite immeasurable. The kinds of ideas that change global discourse don’t come about without freedom to debate openly, which is often stifled in traditional power hierarchies.

In short, the freedom of connection and expression available through modern forms of publishing will be essential to our ability to think and act globally. Giving people a space to freely debate and share ideas will lead to progress, and a greater sense of there being a global nation.

 

References

 

[online] Guillaud, Hubert (2010) (on Danah Boyd) ‘What is implied by living in a world of flow?’, Truthout, January 6, <http://www.truthout.org/what-implied-living-a-world-flow56203>

[online] Hildyard, Nicholas, Lohmann, Larry, Sexton, Sarah and Fairlie, Simon (1995) ‘Reclaiming the Commons’ The Corner House, <http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/resource/reclaiming-commons>

[online] Walljasper, Jay (2010) ‘The Commons Moment is Now’, Commondreams.org,  <http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/01/24-0>

 

[First published 27 October 2015]

Publishing and Power

Publishing Blog

Several past blog posts here have discussed the mass of information present in the current age. This post will look at the benefits and detriments of such interconnectedness upon social discourse and innovation. In contrast with the pre-internet age, today’s access to varying forms of free publication technology has allowed unprecedented advances in many fields, often without these advances being an initial intention.

David Gauntlett discusses in his video, Making is Connecting, the ways this can occur. He states that for many people, their sole motive to create is pure enjoyment of the activity, though through publishing it becomes more than a personal endeavour. Gauntlett draws attention to how beneficial the collective interaction of ideas can be, as this publication allows for progression through collaboration. He outlines the benefits of insular communities online, and the ways in which shared interest in specific areas can drive positive innovation.

On the other side of the connection debate is Hubert Guillaud’s reflection on Danah Boyd – ‘What is implied by living in a world of flow?’, wherein issues of the ‘attention economy’ are addressed. Guillaud’s reflection challenges ideas on the benefits of prolific information sharing, addressing how the power of individual contributions to a larger whole can often function negatively. It is outlined that the collective consciousness formed by such specific interests often works to “reinforce social divides”, in its avoidance of external opinions. While connection allows for development, Guillaud suggests “network structures of consumption are also configured by power”.

By analysing these ideas alongside one another, it becomes evident that the issue is less about the amount of information available, and more about what gains attention and why. Each individual contribution adds weight to discourse, providing social power regardless of whether the content is moral or not.  In spite of the potential for homogenous negative thought patterns, collective movements have a great potential to create positive change; social justice discourse on twitter often snowballs due to the ease of access. The take home message then, would be that a large following does not validate a certain line of thinking; it is always more beneficial to maintain an individual voice amongst the storm of collective discourse.

 

References:

[online] Gauntlett, David (2010) Making is Connecting (watch the video) <http://www.makingisconnecting.org/>

[online] Guillaud, Hubert (2010) (on Danah Boyd) ‘What is implied by living in a world of flow?’, Truthout, January 6, <http://www.truthout.org/what-implied-living-a-world-flow56203>

 

[First published 15 October 2015]

What Visualisation Can’t Show Us

Publishing Blog

Humans have always been engineering more innovative ways to convey information, though the process has evolved greatly since the introduction of the internet. Data visualisation projects have benefited greatly from this interconnected era, as they are immensely reliant on large amounts of information. This is because it increases the accuracy of their representation (so long as the information is both relevant and accurate).

Defining an untruthful representation may be more difficult than it seems. The issue of content reliability is ancient; Plato’s Sophist questions if “when we say that he deceives us with an illusion, and that his art is illusory, do we mean that our soul is led by his art to think falsely…?” It is agreed that using an image to misconstrue something is a form of lying, and such has been accepted since Plato’s time. The difficulty in visualising a concept ‘truthfully’ lies in the way it may be interpreted (due to how varying elements are represented) –the value for one thing over another, while not a direct lie, can easily lead to misconceptions. This is dangerous whether done purposefully or not.

Guy Debord suggests that “The function of… celebrities is to act out various lifestyles or sociopolitical viewpoints in a full, totally free manner”. The performative nature of celebrity culture very much mirrors Plato’s concept; that things are often not what they seem. Just as we don’t know a celebrity as more than their public persona, we also often don’t know the validity of the information visualised for us. Understanding what isn’t visualised in a representation is as important as seeing what is. An article by Alison Abbott, titled ‘Humanity’s cultural history captured in 5-minute film’ very much embodies this issue. Evidently, there is something lost when visualising 2600 years of human history in the span of five minutes. The 120000 people represented are quite a small group relative to the scale of time, and were chosen due to the availability of their birth and death locations. Even if we are to set the sample size aside, what sort of representation does this give us of the people who are shown? It only tells us as much of their lives as the visual information.

There is definitely a use for such visualisation; despite the lack of causal information; seeing the results represented in such a way may teach us something about both the past and the present. The most important thing to bear in mind is that, like any data, it is a representation only of the participants – assumptions based on what is often shallow information can be misleading, and misrepresent people easily.

 

References

[online] Abbott, Alison (2014) ‘Humanity’s cultural history captured in 5-minute film’, Nature, July 31st, <http://www.nature.com/news/humanity-s-cultural-history-captured-in-5-minute-film-1.15650&gt;

[online] Debord, Guy (n.d.) ‘Unity and Division Within Appearances’, The Society of the Spectacle <http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/3.htm&gt; [parts 54-61]

[online] Plato (n.d.) on ‘art and illusion’ in ‘a snippet of a dialogue: Theodorus – Theaetetus – Socrates – an Eleatic stranger’ from Sophist, <http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/plato/plato-sophist.asp?pg=34&gt;

 

[First published 13 September 2015]

Where Physical Meets Digital

Publishing Blog

As last week’s blog post began to explore, there is a complex relationship between individuals and published content, mediated through the technology used in publication. This week’s post aims to explore the study of the interconnectedness of users and technology, inclusive of all external factors that have a bearing on their relationship. This particular study is known as ‘actor network theory’ (or ANT).

ANT aims to view both human and non-human contributors in any given process as equal. Typically humans are viewed as having a more significant role in an interaction than insentient objects or technologies, but within ANT, they are seen as being equal with all other ‘actors’. This is because the theory seeks to understand how each minute contribution to a process has an influence on the overall outcome; the approach is more objective. David Banks suggests (very succinctly) his article, ‘A Brief Summary of Actor Network Theory’, that “ANT describes human and nonhuman “actants” (the preferred term of ANT writers, since ‘actor’ is mostly used to talk about the roles of humans) with the same language, and grants them equal amounts of agency within “webs” or  ‘actor-networks.’”

ANT becomes more complex when we consider its implications outside the realm of the theoretical. In his article,  ‘Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality’, Nathan Jurgenson comments that humans and technology (both ‘actants’ in the network of publishing and communication) “are mutually constitutive, just not fully mutually constitutive” and “highly enmeshed”. By this, he is inferring that our online and physical world are in no way separate, and that we cannot consider our choices in either to be separable from the influence of one another. Jurgenson outlines that “Facebook presence influences [our] behavior even when logged off”; this is very clear evidence in support of his argument. Framed in this way, ‘augmented reality’ begins to sound less like an abstract sci-fi concept, and more like an appropriate means of describing the inevitable interaction of physical and digital spaces.

The implication here is that digital spaces have a very real impact on external, physical-world choices. To follow Jurgenson’s facebook reference, how many choices do we make for the express purpose of attracting positive attention online? Granted, not all of our decisions online work to manipulate our presence in this way, but enough do for it to be worth mentioning. This is not to say that the overlap of digital and physical is wholly negative. It merely aims to suggest that maintaining an awareness of how these two spaces interact can allow us insight into ourselves, and can help mediate our decisions on these social platforms.

 

References

[online] Banks, David (2011) ‘A Brief Summary of Actor-Network Theory’, Cyborgology, November 2, <http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/12/02/a-brief-summary-of-actor-network-theory/>

[online] Jurgenson, Nathan (2011) ‘Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality’, Cyborgology, April 29, < http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/04/29/defending-and-clarifying-the-term-augmented-reality/>

 

[First published 25 August 2015]

Paywalls: Keeping clickbait out, or quality content in?

Publishing Blog

It seems the natural course of action that publishers would consider implementing a paywall on their content.  After all, it acts as a means of revenue, while simultaneously suggesting to the audience that the content maintains some kind of standard. Andrea Carson suggests in her article, ‘Get out your wallets, paywalls are in’, that in mediating content this way, online publications are able to avoid falling back upon clickbait journalism to gain the attention of readers. In this way, I can agree that the paywall is positive; I myself would gladly pay a few dollars a month to evade any form of advertising, or content that detracts from what I set out to read.

Having said this, I can acknowledge that withholding information in an age so interconnected and interested in prolific content sharing can seem very counter-intuitive. Editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, discusses this issue in an interview with Steve Busfield, suggesting that “If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world.”

If the goal of journalism is to educate and inform, then where is the sense in barring off a large proportion of your audience? Andrea Carson quotes Katharine Viner, who suggests that “A paywalled website is just print in another form, making collaboration with the people formerly known as the audience much more difficult. You can’t take advantage of the benefits of the open web if you’re hidden away.” By preventing this collaborative process, paywalls undermine the very thing that makes online journalism unique from its printed predecessor. They take license away from readers to freely pass comment and help in the mediation of content; the very quality this idea aims to preserve is inhibited by its exclusivity.

This particular issue is somewhat addressed by the ‘porous paywall’, which employs a ‘try before you buy’ strategy, however it still leaves many articles (often the most sought after) barred by financial necessity. At this early stage it is hard to say what the long term implications will be. Evidently the paywall has some bearing on the quality of content, but at the cost of some degree of audience participation and education.

References

[online] Busfield, Steve (2010) ‘Guardian editor hits back at paywalls’, The Guardian, January 25, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jan/25/guardian-editor-paywalls>

[online] Carson, Andrea (2013) ‘Get out your wallets, paywalls are in’, The Conversation, October 14, <https://theconversation.com/get-out-your-wallets-paywalls-are-in-18822>

[First published 18 August 2015]