Thursday, 14 November 2013

#edcmooc The Teacher as Technologist?

The first two videos posted for us by the EDCMOOC folks this week come from corporate sources, showing how their products might shape the future of learning.

The first thing that sprang to my mind when watching them was the extent to which the film Minority Report continues to influence visions of future technology. It was released eleven years ago (really?!) and since then we've come some way down the path of touchscreens (tablets, smartphones) and movement-controlled devices (Kinect) but never really got to the point of those amazing, fluid, interactive 3D walls, allowing multiple users to call up and engage with any content (all beautifully rendered), seemingly from any and all possible sources.

It's interesting that tech companies are still inspired by parts of what was certainly a dystopian story. And they still see - and project - this vision for Human Computer Interaction in particular, as a goal that they (and society as a whole) should be striving for.

There's a great article about the lasting effects of Minority Report on the people who've shaped technology over the last decade, over at 'Overthinking It'. There's definitely an interesting debate to be had about whether popular culture predicts technological advancements or whether, conversely, technological advancement is inspired and driven by popular culture.

For me it's not so much a question of whether the visions Intel and Corning are setting out are utopian or dystopian - there are clearly positives and negatives to be taken from them both. My immediate reaction was about how the 'systems' they suggest could work, practically, away from the glossy, manufactured sheen of the advertising film, and what the implications might be if, to whatever extent, the realities fell short of the ideals.

Films - and advertising films especially - are, of course, by nature not balanced and objective. So we must think about the kinds of things these two companies are suggesting and try to work out whether they would actually be practical - or desirable - in the kinds of educational settings we are familiar with today.

One thing which struck me is the extent to which advances in technology could force teachers and academics to become technologists - experts in technology rather than simply experts in their particular field.

What is the fate for those who refuse to (or simply cannot) go along this path? And what knowledge and experience could learners miss out on because of this?

I'm familiar with some of the challenges posed by current online learning technology. Uploading text documents - never mind audio and video or complex multimedia content - to a relatively straight-forward web-based VLE system can be difficult for some. Much of the learning experience for the learner crucially depends on the degree of digital literacy of the teacher or academic.

Looking at the beautiful table-top and interactive wall displays in the Corning video, my thought was "Who is going to create and manage all this content?". Does this vision suggest that the teacher will in future need to be graphic designer, data architect, content curator, computer programmer?

The other question that struck me was how much freedom and creativity in teaching might actually be restrained by the use of such technology, in the sense that the tools available to the teacher might restrict what can and can't be taught, or the way in which that knowledge can be presented.

In this new 'system', which canonical sources are used for the core information, which websites can and can't be trawled for images of bridges, which tablets and software will be compatible? And who decides this kind of thing? The teacher or the company supplying and installing the technology?

The role of corporations in education is something that is often provokes controversy. The feeling that large companies might be gaining some measure of control over education at the expense of teachers and local authorities, however innocuous it might seem, would likely be resisted by many.

That's not to say that there aren't positives for me in all this. The possibilities for the use of 3D printing technology in the classroom are exciting. And the idea of better real-time connectivity between the bubble of the classroom and the people and places in the world outside certainly has potential.

But bringing it all together in a workable way - and for the good of the learner - is a big challenge.

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