Thursday, July 10, 2014

Educational technologies and smart objects

Summary of the lesson:

There can be many reasons for being concerned by technologies when discussing education. First of all, we live in what many policy-makers, philosophers, educators, describe in terms of a digital or information revolution. Does this mean that kids who are born in this post-informatic revolution world are automatically digitally literate? This inference is implicit in the use of the term “digital natives” introduced by Marc Prensky (2001), and by its opposition with the “digital immigrants”. If one thinks about it, the inference from digital natives to tech savvies has nothing automatic in itself: we are born in post-writing revolution, but literacy is still a matter of formal education. For the same reasons, being technologically literate is different from being able to use a keyboard or use apps. The idea that the new generation (digital natives, the net or google-generation) has a different attitude towards technology is, in a sense, trivial: they barely can figure out what it is to spend money for buying films and printing pictures taken by a camera; as the old generation barely understands what it is to go to a public phone place for placing a phone call, rather than calling from home.  But the idea that the new generation is naturally literate in what concerns the use of digital devices seems to be a technomyth. Several studies cited by a joint report of UCL and the British Library show that digital natives or “the Google generation” are not born good at efficiently searching the Internet, for instance. Not only they search by typing entire sentences (Google is not sensitive to sentences) and rarely use Boolean operators, but they continue to do that after years of practice. Searching the Internet gives the false impression of being such an easy task that no one seems to engage in the deliberate practices that is required in order to become experts in any domain, including the use of technologies.
Thus, if it is true that we live in a world where digital technologies have changed the way we work, do research, communicate, obtain information, get entertained, this does not mean that we are spontaneously able to take the best from technologies by acquaintance, or to avoid the risks by natural intuition. Quite the opposite, our intuition pushes us to take risks: to exchange with complete strangers (because socialization is a primary concern for humans), to accept with gratitude search results that match with our preferences (and comfort our confirmation bias), or to think that intuitive technologies are easy to use. The first domain that requires to be explored scientifically concerns the impact of technologies, and the debunking of techno-myths, including myths of radical transformation of the human mind. Indeed, the invasion of life by technology has produced strong claims about their effects on the human mind. The debate is often very ideologized and polarized and revolves around the “special skills” possessed by Generation Y or G, and the effects of technologies in terms of addiction, violence, boosted intelligence/induced dumbness. 

The second reason for discussing technologies in a course about education is that even if education is not the place where technologies are the most present (they are certainly not as present as in our workplaces, or in the most of our homes), technologies have been developed for education well before the diffusion of educational video games, electronic whiteboards, or even portable computers. In 1954, the psychologist F. B. Skinner had described a machine for teaching. The machine was to be distinguished from purely “passive” technologies such as audio-visual supports. The teaching machine was, just like a teacher, an interactive machine, and interaction was then considered as a crucial aspect of the process of learning and of education. The terms trough which Skinner described his teaching machine are much similar to what we can say today of computers and in general of digital technologies for education: they allow to personalize learning, reduce stress, enhance motivation, reinforce learning, and all this because they allow each student to follow her own rhythm and to receive immediate feedback. Just like a real teacher, in a tutoring condition.
Today’s teaching machines are more sophisticated, but they still resemble this description. Naturally, there are some remarkable differences. The question is: Do (modern) teaching machines work? 

Third, during the last decade some have moved from the idea of using technologies in education to the idea of transforming education because of what the observation of technology (namely video games) suggests about learning – e.g. of devising new methods for education that are inspired by the notion and the practice of gaming (Squire 2005, Halverson 2005, Gee 2005, Shaffer, 2005). These methods include the use of technology but not necessarily technology that has been designed for education. We are thus faced with the third reason for getting interested in technologies when dealing with education, which is: the validation of methods that exploit or are inspired by principles instantiated by digital technologies. This consideration concerns in particular video games and multi-media interactive technologies; e.g. GBL or Game-based learning preconizes the use of video games for teaching and learning because of their intrinsic pedagogical value.  The idea of “GBL” contains some inconsistencies and contradicts current knowledge about the generalization and transfer of acquired knowledge as well as the role of various formats of visual representations upon learning: even if games are for fun, if one has to play a game for learning, the game is no more just for fun;  the kind of learning that is proposed at school can hardly not be effortful because it concerns skills that do not come naturally to us;  it is affirmed that good games (video games) are motivating because they are concrete, multi-modal, interactive, and involve the player learner in first person actions. How can we prove these are real advantages for learning? 

For revising the lesson:

  • Bavelier, D., Green, C.S., Dye, M.W. (2010). Children, wired: for better and for worse. Neuron, 9, 67, 5, 692-701.
  • Casati, R. (2013). Contre le colonialisme numérique. Paris: Albin Michel. 
  • Pasquinelli, E. (2012). Irresistibili schermi. Fatti e misfatti della realtà virtuale. Mondadori Università.
  • Pasquinelli, E. (2012). Toute ressemblance ne saurait être que fortuite. Illusion de réalité, crédibilité et réalisme face aux nouveaux media. Paris: Vrin.
  • Pasquinelli, E. (2011). Les sciences cognitives jettent un pont entre éducation et jeux sérieux. Revue d'Intelligence Artificielle, 25, 2, 147-174.
  • Pasquinelli, E. (2012). Les jeux vidéo: du gâteau pour le cerveau. Revue Argos.
  • Pasquinelli, E. (2012). What Happens to infoteachers and infostudens after the information turn? In: Demir, H. (ed.), Luciano Floridi's philosophy of technology. Critical reflections. Springer. 
Further readings: 
  • Readings: Educational technologies and smart objects

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