Hi, this is Punya Mishra from Michigan State, guest blogging for Sean while he is away doing cool things. I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel some pressure to come up with a particularly interesting posting. It is one thing to write on my own blog, that’s my space and I can do what I want there. Writing for someone else (with as august an audience such as you, dear Reader) is a different matter altogether. When Sean asked me to guest blog he suggested that I write about the TPACK framework, a topic I seem to have some expertise about, so I will do that, but with a slightly different tack. I would like to talk about what technology can do for us as educators.
We need to approach this with some humility since technologies have often been hyped as leading to fundamental educational change. I wrote about this earlier on my blog, taking quotes from books written back in the 1930s!!
More immediately, this line of thought was prompted when I received a series of emails from people about a video that was making the rounds. It was a commercial created by an unnamed organization (you will see the video below, so the organization is not much of a secret) that spoke to how the educational system has failed us and suggested that technology could be a solution to finding talent and creativity. I saw the video and was impressed by its production qualities and overall tone, but something bothered me about it. This led to some musings that I place below AND a mashup of the video that I created. You can see both the original and my mashup towards the end of this post. You are of course free to scroll down and see the videos, just make sure to see them in the order they are presented (the commercial followed by my mashup) for full effect, but it would be good to read through what I have written below before seeing the videos, just out of the kindness of your heart 🙂
I have often said that technology changes everything. What I mean by this, particularly in the context of teaching is that incorporating technology into teaching cannot be just business as usual. Technology is disruptive. A new technology changes both what we teach and how we teach. But what does this really mean? One important aspect of thinking about new technologies are the new possibilities they create. Think about calculating the distance to the moon by using publicly available recordings of the Apollo mission. Or seeing the shape of the earth through time-lapse photographs of an eclipse…
There is one fundamental problem with thinking about what new technologies can do for teaching. It has to do with the fact that we often look at new media to do things the old fashioned way. This leads to questions such as, is an eBook as good as a regular book? Is online learning as good as face to face learning? These discussions often seem pointless and futile to me, and I am reminded of a joke that I had once read, about two goats who come across a box of film in the Nevada desert, and as goats are wont to, they eat the film. At the end of the meal, one goat asks the other, “So what do you think of the film?” The other responded, “The book was better.”
What this, somewhat weak, joke hits on is what we often see when a popular book is turned into a movie. There are people who hate the new version, feeling that it fails to capture what it was that they had liked about the book. This to me is an aversion to change and an expectation that things that work one way would work the same way forever.
Similar to the goats in Nevada, I am often asked to compare between learning with and without technology. For instance speaking of online learning, I am often asked whether online can be as good as face to face learning. I often answer this question by flipping it around and asking “can face to face learning be as good as online learning?” The point here is that this question may be the wrong one to ask. Just as it seems futile to compare the film and print version of the same story, it is futile to compare one technology to another because the criteria for evaluation are (or should be) different. At the end, it depends on what the purposes are and which technology is appropriate for which of them. What we need to look at are the differing potentials and possibilities of each of these technologies – and develop strategies that utilize the best of both rather than set up these rather tiresome black and white contrasts. This sensitivity to affordances and constraints of different technologies is at the heart of the TPACK framework.
It was in this context that I saw the commercial and which prompted me to write this post and create my mashed-up version. But then again the more I thought about it the more I felt that a video demanded a video response, so an hour or so of work later, here it is. I should also provide a hat-tip to Leigh Wolf, my colleague, for her feedback on a draft version of this movie.
First, though let us watch the original video:
And follow that with my response:
In conclusion, we often approach technologies with our own biases and predilections related to appropriate and inappropriate ways of using them. Cognitive scientists use the phrase “functional fixedness” to describe the manner in which the ideas we hold about an object’s function can inhibit our ability to use the object for a different function. Functional fixedness often stands in the way of creative uses of technologies. Overcoming this is essential for the intelligent and creative application of technology for learning. So thinking of technology merely to supplant a lecture (which was my concern with the original video) is doing a disservice to the possibilities that technology provides us.
For example, a whiteboard has certain constraints and affordances: it is heavy and difficult to move, yet it is easy to write on and erase, and it can function as a public “writing space” to share ideas with others. These constraints and affordances, however, do not necessarily determine how a whiteboard can be used. The manner in which a whiteboard is used in a classroom as opposed to a science lab clearly indicates that the function of a whiteboard is determined very much by the context in which it is used. Similarly, one can use a digital camera to see the world in new ways, and PowerPoint, a presentation tool, can be used as a medium for artistic creativity. And Audacity, an open source audio editing program, can be use to compute the distance to the moon!
It is only with looking at technologies for what they can do, rather than merely replicate existing practices that we can hope to achieve their potential. At the end of my mashup I use three words to capture what I would most like to see happen: Explore, Create, Share. That is the only way I believe that we can achieve the potentials of these new technologies.
I hope you enjoyed the guest post as much as I enjoyed writing it. I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts. You can post them here, or on my blog or write to be directly at punya [at] msu [dot] edu. Thanks also to Sean for giving me this opportunity. Take care.