Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
This week found me pecking away to prepare this for everyone on Sunday again. I am starting to feel like it just happens to be a weekend effort rather than a specific day one. As much as I try to distribute this consistently on the same day, I have not been as successful as I would like. So, I think I am just going to consider it a weekend edition from now on and stop sweating it.
A theme definitely emerged again this week, as I scrolled through all that comes across my radar and travels across the internets. The engagement of our attention and how we use it with regard to our interaction with technology rose to the surface during the selection process. These articles also had a stronger political tone to them as well. Rather than soften or avoid it, I figured I would just embrace it.
My hope for this newsletter has always been to inspire people to think more deeply about things related to education, technology, and teaching. It is awfully hard for politics, on some level, not to work its way into any worthwhile exploration of those issues. Yet, that’s not all bad. I do make the effort to look for things that challenge me as much as confirm my own thoughts.
These are all a bit similar in length. If you read only one, take a look at the second one, Google and Facebook Failed Us. It raises the most interesting implications of our complicitness in what and how we consume information in the digital age.
Hopefully, this collection will spark some thought, maybe even a sustained reaction. There is no question that there is plenty of flint in these items.
Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.
Technology is destroying the most important asset in your life – Quartz – Zat Rana (8-minute read)
There are reasons why mindfulness is gaining so much momentum in the popular zeitgeist, especially in education. As technology expands its role in every aspect of our lives a greater need for attending to our attention becomes ever more critical. While mindfulness is just one practice that can help in focusing consciousness and attention, it is the need to do so more than the practice that requires addressing. The others Rana mentions here are pretty good ones.
Explicit teaching of focusing consciousness and attention is not something that we have necessarily done a good job within education. I would argue that this failure is more central to slower adoption of education technology by many teachers than lazy Luddite resistance. It taps into a fear that teachers cannot put their finger on exactly but nevertheless feel in a visceral way. Teachers are held increasingly accountable while simultaneously trying to make productive use of technology that, in some cases, becomes the ultimate distraction device.
Of course complicating the problem is that adults are just as likely to struggle in these areas as students. Attending to our attention has become a core challenge of modern life and is not likely to go away anytime soon. It is not a new problem either but it may never have been quite as difficult as it is now.
This article presents what many might consider a pretty radical proposition, that the tech giants that currently have the greatest grip on the currency of information are falling down on the job. The case study comes on the heels of the Las Vegas horror. Yet, taking a more critical, even jaundiced eye to the titans of Silicon Valley is quickly becoming fashionable, albeit long overdue. There is a dawning realization that algorithms and artificial intelligence may not be good enough – ever. They certainly are not good enough now and I would suggest that the notion that they ever will be is profoundly flawed.
Madrigal is right when writing, “As news consumers, we can say this: It does not have to be like this.” We can go one step further and push beyond news to far more areas of what we consume. The question is do we have the will to do so. It is no doubt increasingly harder when “You Are Already Living Inside a Computer.” Again, Madrigal makes another critical point that can be extrapolated far beyond news when stating, “More humans must be added to the decision-making process, and the sooner the better.” The greatest potential danger of a techtopia, in my mind, is not just the dehumanizing effect but the possible lack of humanity altogether.
Continuing the trend started in the previous article, this one builds on some of the darker, cultural undercurrents that may be at play and making it even more challenging to direct our attention and demand more from our technology and information sources. Taplin makes a heady case that we are possibly at a pivotal point in our history, one that we have seen before but perhaps not with the same power imbalance.
When the companies that dominate the Internet claim to be nothing but mere platforms, they abdicate responsibility for what content, values, and propaganda their platforms propagate. The pretense that platforms are in some way inherently neutral no longer really has much weight. They may have the potential to be neutral but only in as much as we humanly engage actively in making them so. The deceptive notion of emotionless, rational algorithms alone preserve neutrality is myth.
While Taplin’s argument in this piece also can be considered radical by some, it is hard to deny the power of the claim that the “Internet as a propaganda machine that really changed the game in 2016.” His other claims, though reasonably well documented, might even have the whiff of conspiracy theory. The very idea of a common good or public services, including education, do seem to be under some attack. What’s more, we do seem to have arrived at a kind of reckoning, culturally, politically, and technologically, especially in the West.
Then again, perhaps we are in a perpetual state of reckoning, lest we forget that all decent democratic efforts require a healthy antagonism to continue flourishing and keep all sides honest. Thus, we should always beware of efforts to suppress or avoid those necessary conflicts. Ugly though they may be, they might just be one of the most necessary points of our focused and direct attention.