The week I went to a seminar with Ted Mitchell, CEO of www.newschools.org. Ted is very enthusiastic about the role of technology in education – he was one of the first investors in Kahn Academy, an online non-profit academy, that now has over 250 million hits on youtube and is currently being used in 5000 schools across the USA. I have experienced the great benefits of technology in my own education, but I am somewhat uncomfortable that education seems to be heading on a one way trajectory along the technology arrow that was fired during Ted’s presentation (I wish to emphasise that Newschools is not only a tech fund and they have other program areas that seek to innovate in the educational policy space e.g. Teacher Training). However the emphasis on technological solutions is clear and does raise the question of what relation do we (kids/ youths) have to technology in the education context?
I spent my youth playing computer games where, either in the 1st or 3rd person, I would go around shooting, stabbing and beating up other people. The graphics have improved somewhat but we are still confident that children can distinguish between the virtual and the real. We only question this tacit assumption of separation on the rare occasion where we hear about someone committing a violent crime in the image of Grand Theft Auto IV and nevertheless the computer game industry has thrived (especially in the UK).
Of course the classroom is not the same as the games room but I think practitioners already do and needs to think more about the way in which children experience technology in the pedagogical context at different ages. One major issue is that learning from a screen is often, although not always a person-computer interaction rather than person-person interaction. We know that this suits some learners but might neglect learners that learn more effectively in groups.
My thoughts on the issue were brought into relief when I read George Monbiot’s piece “Housebroken”. I wish not regurgitate the content but he is concerned that the ecology of the concrete playground does not boost children’s creativity nor their capability to engage with the fundamental ecological changes that are taking place around us. I believe that the emphasis placed on technology bears a risk of exposing kids to the economic imperatives of the digital age and neglecting the ecosystem that we ultimately occupy. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, spoke in Oxford last week and is often quoted saying that he will retire on planet Mars in a self-sustaining environment (no one in the Sheldonian theatre laughed). Elon, despite his retirement plans, takes his responsibility for this planet seriously as the Chairman of Solar City. Ted and Elon both have the capability of envisioning what is possible and heading towards it but both recognise that along the way there is plenty of opportunity for reflection on symbiotic relationship that we have with technological process.
I am re-watching Adam Curtis’ “All watched over by machines of loving grace” and under Diane Coyle’s recommendation I am going to dip in to The Social Life of Information.