Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tools, Technology and Transformation.

Technology is a good thing. Right? Right.

Well, I admit, that is the assumption I make on a daily basis. But technology can also be expensive. It can be tempting to deploy the latest toys just to see what they do, and easy to succumb to temptation when the cash is there to splash.  But what about when it isn't? Education has been in the mainstream media a lot lately, when often it isn't, and that's a good thing!  The Federal/State wrangling over funding reform for schools probably seems a bit abstract to some people. It is hugely frustrating to others just wanting to get on with the job of planning what happens next year.  What hasn't really been covered in the media reports I've seen, is how all this impacts on the use of technology in the classroom.  Gonski or the Better Schools reforms package is really about resource allocation, and that impacts technology budgets for gadgets and for teacher training and professional development.

I wonder though, do the devices themselves matter? Or is what we consume, produce and communicate with those devices more important? Is it how we connect those devices to each other? Is it the network? Is it the new universe of the "adjacent possible" they create?

Is digital art inherently better than art created with ink on paper? or a finger in sand? or ochre on a cave wall?  What about creating a class performance of a Shakespeare play compared with watching a recording of the same? Then there's big data and supercomputing. 

There's a new supercomputer at the Australian National University.  It runs on Linux - the CentOS distro to be exact. What do Supercomputers let us do that other computers can't?  Process huge amounts of data, more quickly.  Again - it's not the computer itself that really matters, but what we DO with it, and what new things we learn. The ANU machine has been named Raijin after the Japanese god of thunder, lightning and storms. It will be put to work crunching data for Earth system science.

Audience Response Systems are a growing part of the edutech landscape.  But will we really need tricky clickers if everyone has their own smartphone? Aren't they really just limited collective input devices? If we are already holding a device that can input data into the system, why have a single use clicker?

Then there's the downside - distraction.  If everyone has their own device, will it be harder to keep everyone focussed on the group activity?  Or will our attention shift to our own individual mental pursuits?  Perhaps single purpose devices will have their place to limit choice and distraction in order to promote focus and collaboration on the task at hand?

Electronic, Smart and Interactive Whiteboards. I remember when the latest greatest thing was a whiteboard with a thermal printer attached. At the touch of a button I could get a copy of my felt tipped scribble on shiny fax paper.  Now I take a snap with the camera in my smartphone. That paper fades - perhaps some of the ideas communicated at the time persisted? perhaps not.  But was it the whiteboard, or the idea that mattered at the time?  Is recording the activity on the whiteboard what matters?  Or broadcasting content from elsewhere? Or is it about creating a shared interactive window where both happens? I'm not sure - some combination of those factors I guess.

Then there's the Internet. A global interconnected reflection of humanity itself.  Knowledge, communication, art & science.  Crime, creativity, sex, surveillance, protest, support, community.  You name it in the "real world" it's reflected online in some form or another.  But again, it's not the bandwidth, or the device, or the server, or "The Cloud" but what we do and store there that matters.

Very wealthy, privileged schools and systems pioneered 1:1 computing around the world.  The OLPC project focussed on bringing this evolution of technology and pedagogy to the developing world.  The Australian government Digital Education Revolution strove to get laptops to schools that still didn't have them.  Resource Allocation.  But what are we doing with these toys?  Are we learning and teaching differently? Are we addressing the issues of power, control and digital divide? I love technology.  I'm an info addicted geek. But I often think beyond the gadget to the goal, and wonder why that doesn't seem to get talked about as much as the bling. It's not Mac vs PC or iPhone vs Android, or Desktop vs Laptop that interests me - but what's possible with such a tool. And even more importantly - what are the skills required to build the next wave of tools for transformation?

Lots of questions.  Lots of different answers. 

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