Glitch in the Matrix: Digital Philosophy

Glitch in the Matrix is an ongoing saga of one teacher’s adventures to become more technologically incorporated. This episode we look at a digital philosophy.

Interactive Whiteboard University of Cumbria (...

Image by jisc_infonet via Flickr

I want to be clear in this endeavor. I am not some true believer in the overwhelming power of technology in all aspects of our lives, including teaching. I am openly skeptical of iPads in the classroom if they become nothing more than a $600 textbook and I have found little use for interactive whiteboards.

That isn’t to say they don’t have uses. I have seen some great apps on the iPad for elementary schools, especially for remediation. I have also seen some great math and science apps for high school as well. As for interactive whiteboards, again, great for elementary and secondary math and science but what about English and social studies? (I’m just going to skip all the other subjects and focus on the core to simplify the issue.)

However, I think there is a bigger issue here that is being addressed. We have become an era obsessed with technology. We care more about if we could and not about if we should. We have moved to a point as Tyler Durden said in Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” We are controlled by our devices instead of us controlling them. We are plugged in, tuned on and connected in more ways than ever thought possible.

But have we stopped to ask if this is the right direction? We never turn off the connection. It began with cell phones. We could be reached anywhere at anytime without ever questioning if we should. We camp for new devices without even knowing what use it has. We have become digitized.

Worse yet, we have gone to a point where those who create have stopped talking to those who evaluate.  Comedian Patton Oswald made a great skit out of this where he jokes about science creating things we don’t want and shouldn’t have. As he ends it, “We’re science: we’re all about coulda, not shoulda.”

This brings me to a great talk that brought up many of these questions for myself.

Anand Giridharadas, an author and journalist, spoke to the Innovation Forum a year ago. In his talk he brings up a few great points we should all think about before we jump head first into the latest technological trend.

First, Anand makes a point in asking “when should we focus on product instead of distribution?” Much of this has been found in the blogosphere. News has moved to media, dominated by ratings, not truth, justice and facts. Replacing it has been blogs, where facts and truth are shades of grey. We also have pushed more towards the idea of what sells and not what matters.

Next, he asks “to what extent that we can live the quantified life, do we want to live the quantified life?” As a teacher, I have felt this first hand. Can the development of the young mind be evaluated in a simple test? Can the success of a child in their post high school lives be quantified on a spreadsheet? It is bad enough that we Facebook and Twitter the specific details of our lives that we must then obsess over the numbers of every aspect of society?

Finally, he addresses the good and the bad to this digital future. From the opening of the third world and the access to other cultures to how vicious we can be when anonymous online. He addresses that there is nothing intrinsically special to paper verse electronic when it comes to news but has this movement hurt our ability to read long form or to sit down and focus.

As I move forward, I keep these ideas in my head and close to my heart. I need to find the balance in both my life and my students lives. As he ends the talk he mentions that we need more people who don’t know technology to embrace it and those who have mastered it to not all be in favor of it.

To watch the full talk (16min), click here.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Advertisements

House Rules

20111030-060446.jpg

A couple weeks back while talking with a colleague about Sir Ken Robinson and his views on creativity and education, we found ourselves discussing the creative projects we had while in school. For me, one came up that I hadn’t thought of since high school. I remember never really caring for the teacher much so it wasn’t surprising that I had blocked out the memories of that class.

Unfortunately this has caused me to miss some great lesson ideas for my own class. The project in question was simple really. The teacher came in with about 6 different board games (one was more of a card game) that most of us had never seen before. They might have been long discontinued games, lost to history, or as some of us also believed, a Frankenstein collection of many games tossed together; the board of this game, the game pieces from another, the cards from a third. We were then put into small groups and told to come up with the name of the game, the background on the concept, create the rule book and demonstrate to the class how it would be played. This was a high school English class and we were making up games as if we were 6 again.

What I didn’t realize at the time, but have come to appreciate as a teacher now, was how deeply thought out this assignment was. We had to work as a team, present to a class, be creative, think outside of the box, and write out a story and rule book, testing our language skills. There were so many elements and layers to the assignment, especially for something that I think only took up three classes, or just under three hours.

What this memory really did for me was to get me to question many of my memories from my own education, I thought back to all those teachers I deemed “bad” teachers and forced myself to think of specifically what made them so bad. The surprising thing I discovered was that few actually exhibited any traits, outside of personality differences, that I would label as poor teaching qualities. Sure, some were controversial, but it was that controversy that drove the classes I was in to rise up, primarily because as a class we hated them so much that we wanted to shove it back in their face. In the end, the joke was on us because we would end up learning the most in those classes.

So to my current stint as a teacher and the national rhetoric over failing classrooms. Everyday I hear of this teacher or that teacher being a “bad” teacher. In my first two years, I made it a point to seek these teachers out to discover for myself if they were weak teachers. More often than not, they weren’t. They were just controversial or many times just socially awkward which gave the impression to other teachers that they were somehow flawed. This isn’t to argue that we don’t have weak teachers in schools. We do but I argue that many that we think are failing, might somehow be a quiet genius.

This came up as I began to question the running list in my head of teachers I knew that had been labeled as weak. Three shot to the top of the list so I began to do my own investigating. I would look at data, because that’s were we all turn to first, but I also asked current and former students their impressions, pressing them to see if they had learned anything, as well as taking into account the subject, grade and specific students they had, especially in relation to the data.

What I have begun to see is that while none of them, nor I for that matter, are great teachers, we are all good teachers. One of the general trends of them all is that they are all controversial, both in and out of the classroom. They will take unpopular sides of arguments to spur deep debate. When I would first ask the students if they were good teachers, one of the three was always a no and very unpopular but once I dug deeper, causing the student to evaluate what, if anything, they had learned, they all seemed to find out that they now knew both sides of the topic deeply.

While I am still not sold on the greater effectiveness of their methods or my own, I am reminded of a few platitudes, such as never judging a book by it’s cover and remembering that the rules and guides of teaching are are not written into stone. Sometimes we need to make our own house rules to fit our own personalities, classroom cultures and teaching styles. There is no one method to teaching. There is no golden playbook to mastery.

Well, until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.