Every year since 2010, I’ve undertaken a fairly massive project in which I’ve reviewed the previous twelve months’ education and technology news in order to write ten articles covering “the top ed-tech trends.
This is a really interesting post from one of my favourite blogs, Hack Education. It’s the rough transcript of a talk given by Audrey Watters, about her work developing the ‘top ed-tech trends’. She talks about the ways in which this cannot be predictive, but is a ‘history’ of technology, and one which is immersed in claims made about technology by the people who are trying to sell it to us. Technology, she says wryly, is always amazing.
I want us to think more critically about all these claims, about the politics, not just the products (perhaps so the next time we’re faced with consultants or salespeople, we can do a better job challenging their claims or advice).
Her argument is a profound one, and one which coheres nicely with the principal themes in EDC. Her conceptualisation of technologies is that they are ideological practices, rather than tools, and rather than things you can go out and buy and in doing so render yourself ‘ed-tech’, a form of technological solutionism. They have a narrative, and that narrative includes the $2.2 billion spent on technology development in 2016.
Personalization. Platforms. These aren’t simply technological innovations. They are political, social – shaping culture and politics and institutions and individuals in turn.
Watters ends with a plea to us all. When we first encounter new technologies, consider not just what it can do, or what our ownership or mastership of the product might say about us. But also consider its ideologies and its implications.
When we first started setting up our lifestream blogs, I remember wondering briefly why we didn’t have access to WordPress’ normal in-built analytics and statistics. I have another WordPress blog, and I’ve got access to loads of stuff from there: number of visitors, where they’re from, etc. I think at the time I thought it must be a license issue, something to do with the way the university is using WordPress. I didn’t dwell on it particularly.
But one of the things about EDC that has been really stark for me so far is that it’s a bit of a metacourse. It’s experimental, and thoughtful, and deliberate. And so the quiet conspiracy theorist in me is wondering if this too is deliberate.
I started thinking about the analytics I could easily (i.e. in under 5 minutes) extract from the lifestream blog, and I was able to (manually) figure this out, throw the numbers into Excel and create a chart:
I also learned that I’ve used 177 tags in 129 posts, and the most popular tags are:
Neither of these is massively revelatory. But there isn’t much other quantifiable information I could access simply and efficiently.
We’re reviewing our lifestreams at the moment, which means looking back at the things we’ve written, ideas we’ve encountered, and so on. There’s a practically unspoken set of rules about what it’s OK to edit, and what it isn’t; we might improve on the tags we’ve used, or categorise our posts, or we might correct a spelling mistake or a broken link. But we probably shouldn’t rewrite posts, tighten up ideas, or make things reflect what we’re thinking now rather than what we were thinking then. I say ‘practically unspoken’, because James practically spoke it earlier this week:
This is making me think about the role analytics plays in the assessment of the course. When we considered analytics for the tweetorial, one of the things I and a lot of people mentioned was how it was the quantifiable and not the qualifiable that is measured. How far do the analytics of our lifestream (which we can’t access easily, but maybe our glorious leaders can) impact upon the assessment criteria?
The course guide suggests that this is how we might get 70% or more on the lifestream part of the assessment:
Only one of these is quantifiable – Activity – and even that isn’t totally about the numbers. The frequency of posts, and the range of sources, are, but the appropriateness of posts isn’t. The number of lifestream summary posts, in Reflection, can be quantified, and the activities mentioned in Knowledge and Understanding are quantifiable too. But nothing else is. Everything else is about the quality of the posts. The assessment, largely, is about quality not quantity (apart from the few bits about quantity).
So evidently there are educational positives around growth, development, authenticity – not quite a ‘becoming’ (because I’ve been reading about how this educational premise is problematically humanist, natch) but ‘deepening’ or ‘ecologising’, if I can get away with making up two words in one blog post.
My first instinct is to say that the learning analytics that we seem to have access to at the moment really don’t seem to be up to the job, along with the prediction that this will not always be the case. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about education and technology in this course it’s that technology shapes us as far as we shape it. So if it’s the case that the technology through which learning analytics can be performed won’t ever be able to capture the current state of educational feedback, does that mean that the state of educational feedback will be shaped or co-constituted by the technology available? And what does that look like? What are the points of resistance?
Just Pinned to Education and Digital Cultures: http://ift.tt/2ogZpOw
This is a photo of my very tiny, very messy desk at home, taken last weekend, just hours after my computer keyboard and trackpad decided to pack in permanently.
It wasn’t a major problem – I already had a bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and I was able to get an appointment to get the computer fixed this week. But I included this image because this slight interruption in the way that I work felt unsettling. The computer not working as I expected it to affected the way that I would normally study, and it affected (well, delayed) what I had planned to do over the weekend.
One of the themes of EDC is battling the supposed binary of technological instrumentalism and technological determinism, of proving that it’s all a little more complex and nuanced than that. This was, for me, a reminder (and a pretty annoying one) that my conceptualisations of how technology might be used and practised is not always followed through in my enactment of it.</P
Chat apps that promise to prevent your messages being accessed by strangers are under scrutiny again following last week’s terror attack in London. On Sunday, the home secretary said the intelligence services must be able to access relevant information.
This is only tangentially related to our readings and the themes we’ve been exploring throughout the course, but I do think it’s worth including. Many ‘chat’ apps use end-to-end encryption, so messages sent are private, even to the company itself. The government clearly believes that this shouldn’t be allowed, and is attempting to take steps to prevent it. Hopefully unsuccessfully, I should add.
There’s an assumption here that data about us ought to be at least potentially public – chat apps, says the Home Secretary, must not provide a ‘secret place’. It’s not far from this position to one that says that we don’t own the data we generate, along with the data generated about us: where we are, who we send messages to, and so on. There are questions around the intersection of civil liberties and technology, and whether there’s a digital divide in terms of the ability to protect yourself from surveillance online.
There’s the recent re-launch of the Nokia 3330, which comes with the much-beloved game Snake. Then there’s a wireless keyboard that looks and feels like an old-school typewriter. And someone recently made a browser extension that brings Clippy back to life.
One of the themes of the course – and indeed, something I’ve picked up on this blog – is the historiographical approach we’re taking. I’m interested in the role that nostalgia takes in this, and the ways in which it might influence our understanding of technological development. I included this article in the lifestream because it appears that this nostalgia, although not exactly new, is now considered to be totally commercially viable.
Albert Borgmann, the philosopher, argues that the structure and practices of our lives are being changed by technology, and he doesn’t necessarily see this as a good thing. He talks in terms of focal practices and focal things, the two being connected (the focal practice of ‘cooking’, for example, connected to the focal thing of ‘the oven’). For Borgmann, technology disburdens us from having to manually manage certain focal practices – he calls this technology the ‘device paradigm’. But Borgmann also thinks that we ought to make time for these pretechnological practices because technology, while disburdening us, does not make us happy – this is part of his critique.
[NB There is considerably more to it than that, it must be said].
Brittain sees this perspective of Borgmann’s as ultimately nostalgic, almost a yearning for pre-technology (something which Borgmann denied, in fact – cf. Higgs et al., p. 72). I wonder though if there’s any connection here to our nostalgia for the technology of our past:
indeed, it is difficult to know how anyone these days can be nostalgic for a pre-technological culture […] when none of us has lived ever lived more than momentarily in one (p. 72)
On the other hand, Borgmann denied that he was nostalgic about our past, and he criticises Heidegger for it. Instead, it’s about having an awareness of the past, and using that awareness to assess our present use of technology. He’s writing strongly in favour of that historiographical approach.
I don’t particularly agree with his line of thought, and certainly have some critical issues with the instrumental way he’s conceptualising technology, as well as using ‘technology’ as a catch-all term for a variety of fundamentally different things. But my question right now is whether our natural (?) nostalgia for technologies of the past – for the phone we had as a 17 year old, for the computer games we played as a 9 year old – can be reconciled in a meaningful way to the way we conceive of technology now.
Borgmann, A. (1984). Technology and the character of contemporary life: a philosophical inquiry. Chicago, Ill. ; London: University of Chicago Press.
An excellent, timely, thought-provoking article. Good conceptualisation of the complex assemblages in which technology is implicated, and the political, economic and social ramifications of it. Interesting, too, to consider how assessments of technology being able to ‘make up’ for human failure or inadequacy can shift depending on our appraisal of those failures and inadequacies.
from Tumblr http://ift.tt/2kuJKqH
So here’s my digital artefact! I must apologise for the poor quality of it – I’ve not only been very stretched for time this week but I’m a horribly unvisual person, and I can’t do images. Which explains why I cheated and put a voiceover on it. Sorry about that.
Just in case you can’t see the video, it’s meant to be a commercial for a product called Betty Sneezes, which I’ve totally made up. Betty is a robot who can detect airborne rhinovirus, which causes 80% of instances of the common cold. Betty can alert you to this, allowing you to make a swift exit and therefore remain healthy. The end line of the commercial is: “you’ll never miss work again”.
I’ve wanted right from the start to make a commercial for a product – I haven’t personally given much thought to the intersection between cybercultures and consumerism but I suspect it is totally inescapable. Both from a practical perspective and an ethical one, technology can’t be economically neutral. This too is raised in the final line – while a common cold detector sounds pretty magnificent to me, I wanted to temper this with a slightly more pernicious message about human productivity.
Betty is a skeuomorph, rather than a cyborg. I did consider instead ‘inventing’ a chip or something that could be inserted into humans, but it (a) didn’t work as well visually and (b) I wanted to make a point about infection. One of the themes in this cybercultures block is what makes humans human, and whether cyborgs render debates over the differences between humans and technology completely redundant. Cathy Hills did an ingenious mentimeter poll to see what we thought the difference was, and I found the split of the results really interesting. But I wondered if, ultimately, the difference is going to be how the diseases between us spread, so I was playing a little bit on the word ‘virus’.
Finally, I just wanted to make it really clear that everything I’ve used in the video is available from Pixabay or Pexels and licensed under CC-0. No copyright infringements here 🙂 And, very much a hat tip to Cathy for her excellent poll!
This week the lifestream reflects my conscious attempt to grapple with some of the academic and philosophical themes in the block reading. I’ve been trying on a posthumanist hat. It fits a lot better than it did on Monday.
I’ve used the lifestream this week to draw together definitions and, since then, to test my nascent understanding of these definitions. I found some of the secondary readings particularly impenetrable in places, and I think that is reflected in the speculative tone I’ve been adopting all week. A main theme is binaries: my interpretation of Bayne (2015) concluded with an assessment of her opposition to the abbreviation of complex assemblages. I picked up binaries again in a longer post about some of the secondary readings, a sort of meandering through some of the key ideas I’ve been encountering, and a brief sojourn in what this may mean for educational philosophy and pedagogy.
Another recurring theme in what I’ve written and produced this week has been the postness of posthumanism and its necessary relativity to the dominant ideas that preceded it and caused it. There’s an innate sense of the disruptiveness, the fracturing and splintering of ideas and identities, even the combativeness with which posthumanism takes on its humanistic, anthropocentric predecessors. This sits in contrast with the view expressed in a Desert Island Discs interview with the choreographer, Wayne McGregor. He argues in favour of a continuum between technology and the body, approbative rather than antagonistic.
So it’s been quite a theoretical week, in many ways, and as we enter Week 3, I’m hoping to switch my attention to concrete examples of the implications of cybercultures for educational practice.
Bayne, S. (2015). What’s the matter with technology-enhanced learning? Learning, Media and Technology, 40(1), 5:20. http://ift.tt/2kEs2zR
In this article, Bayne argues convincingly in favour of subjecting the term ‘technology-enhanced learning’ to a far more rigorous critique. This, she contends, would fruitfully draw on critical posthumanism, considerations of the boundaries of ‘the human’, and the inescapable politics of education, how we perceive of education’s function and purpose. In a deliciously meta move, she conducts such a critique, and concludes that – among other things – she was right to do so.
I was struck by the nuanced way in which Bayne describes the enmeshment of the term ‘TEL’, and the reality (if we can call it that) to which it shorthandedly refers. I liked how she used her critique of the term to inform and illuminate her critique of what it reflects, how it is used, and the political, social, educational situation which gave rise to it.
Bayne argues that technology and education are:
co-constitutive of each other, entangled in cultural, material, political and economic assemblages of great complexity
The term TEL, and what it implies, are flawed, because it doesn’t take account of this complexity. But what’s the alternative? It’d be a hard case to push to a VC that their new spangly TEL department should be renamed the ‘Department of Co-Constituitive Assemblages of Technology and Education’. DECATE for short. But I don’t think this is really what Bayne is getting at.
Instead, I think the real message underlying Bayne’s argument is contra shorthandedness in general – the lazy binary of technological determinism vs technological instrumentalism, and the assumptions that we might make about education and technology and the relationship between the two. Bayne’s rallying call, ultimately, is for a heck of a lot of critical thinking.
I listened to this on the way to work yesterday, and Wayne McGregor – an award-winning choreographer, responsible for the Royal Ballet, had some fascinating things to say about technology and it’s relationship to the body. It’s definitely worth a listen (like all episodes of DID), but I transcribe below what I thought was particularly relevant:
“I’m fascinated by the technology of the body, I mean, if you think about the body as the most technologically literate thing that we have, in a world where technology is developing at a rate where we can experience our lives in really challenging and interesting ways. It just feels to me that the body is central to all those conversations”.
How is the body technologically literate? And is there a way of conceiving of this without being strictly anthropocentric?