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Archive for October, 2015

What is digital’s relationship with school education?

Posted by jturner56 on October 20, 2015

An interesting read is the recently released Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 EdTech Mistakes, from Yong Zhao teaming with fellow academics Gaoming Zhang, Jing Lei, Wei Qiu. The mistakes are more contentions of missed opportunities arising from what is contended to be a problem of ‘cyclic amnesia’.

Five particular contentions are put forward:

  1. school should be thought more as ecosystems and less as hierarchies, with technology valued more for those tasks it can do better than humans
  2. computers as tools for learner-centered creation and production should take precedence over being used solely for consumption / knowledge transfer
  3. a need to move away from misguided expectations that the primary purpose of technology use should be aligned to raising test scores
  4. that schools should take more interest in developing digital competence and citizenship in students, and
  5. the benefits of bottom-up approaches to change building on inclusion of teachers, but even more so students.

A short comprehensive book that considers key educational technology interests, including Robert Taylor (1980) Seymour Papert (1993) Larry Cuban (2001), Marc Prensky (2001), Sugata Mitra back to Jean Piaget and John Dewey’s calls for progressive approaches to education, that many see in digital technology’s potential. Topical subjects such as Makerspaces get preferential treatment. At times, though, it has a bit both ways, highlighting Salman Khan’s view that technology will empower teacher data analysis capabilities and lesson plans (p37).

In the end this book, while providing focus areas worth visiting or revisiting, such as citizenship, students supported rather than directed, the value of students as digital creators, and understanding schools as ecosystems, shies away from any real attempt to address systemic shortcomings on what learning needs to be valued and in what ways in increasingly fragmented and complex systems. An apt book to read on this would be Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which apart from showing that understanding engagement is more than just seeking deeply engaging ‘learning flows’, also highlights the “need to account rationally for the things we know, the things we feel, the things we hope for, and the ones we dread.” In short to give due credence to the complexities of education that digital technologies add to, the differing human interactions with technology, the hopes that lie at the heart of schools, and the embedded political and cultural constraints that drag on possibilities.

Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job, like too many educational technology contentions, sees school education as homogeneous and simplistic, failing to even acknowledge the various levels of cognitive development that school’s support, from the open social and learning experiences sought by the very young, the need to develop literacy and inquiry skills leading into identity formation so important for adolescents, and finally the balance of personal choice and responsibility to take on deeper conceptual understanding. In this Csikszentmihalyi points to the need to be able to “work for external goals and to postpone immediate gratifications” if one is to survive in a complex society.

To this end a good insight highlighted in Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job is that “through working with technology, we test our comfort zone and explore new territories.” (p93). In a digital age characterized by constantly changing technologies this remains both the challenge and the opportunity.


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