The Inevitable

Technology is an inexorable force for change that is accelerating the evolution of our species, argues Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future. He shares 12 forces that are shaping our immediate and not so immediate future, all fascinating, but a chapter titled ‘Screening’ really captured my attention.

Historically culture revolved around the oral tradition of lecture and storytelling but was disrupted by the mass production and access to books through the invention and spread of the printing press.

In the subsequent years, an author was considered an authority, with the ever present and fixed nature of the written word etched in ink, that could be referenced, referred to and cited with the understanding that what was written was true, verifiable and immovable.

The ubiquity of digital screens and the ability for amateur creators to publish, journal, share and comment has created an interesting period of tension with the segmentation of people into two categories that Kelly refers to as the People of the Book and the People of the Screen. People of the screen prefer the dynamic flux of pixels – the fluidity and flow of ideas, opinions, tweets, half-baked thoughts, memes and social commentary. Truth is no longer what is written, but rather the assembly of multiple streams of information interpreted, evaluated and re-interpreted through an individual and social construction and reconstruction of truth. Authors and authority are not given the same weight as an individual seeks to discover for themselves the validity of that which appears through their state of conscious and unconscious acquisition of knowledge and evaluation of arguments, counter arguments and opposing viewpoints.

Truth with a capital T, becomes truths, plural. Is this what we might refer to as a post-truth society? Maybe. Maybe not.

The call for children in schools to be able to distinguish between the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ is the necessity for them to develop finely tuned bullshit detectors as they navigate a multiplicity of streams of information from different sources. I sit right in the middle of this Book V Screen tension. Having grown up with the first personal computers and gaming consoles (hello Atari 2600), I find that I read a ridiculous amount on a screen. I also read many books each year. I am currently studying a PhD which requires me to search online databases of relevant literature. I find that if I want to read something deeply however, I prefer a hardcopy. A print out of a research paper allows me to physically highlight relevant sections. Indeed, the tactile sensation of a hardcover volume somehow facilitates a deeper contemplative state. Why is this? I’m not sure but my guess is that a hardcopy text creates a more relaxed and passive conscious state as opposed to the activeness, interconnectedness and hyperlinked online environment.

Herbert Simon is quoted as saying that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” and this creates for me an interesting conundrum. What do I focus my attention on? Is it ok to wander down a rabbit hole of ideas, new media and tangentially related topics? Do I read a paperback non-fiction book or do I read it on a kindle and allow the sharing of my highlighted passages and annotations with an almost unlimited audience? Is reading a solitary or a social pursuit? Can I benefit from the collective commentary of and interaction with potentially thousands of other readers or am I ok with individual contemplation and reflection?

Kelly suggests that much like Wikipedia, the future is a state where all the books in the world combined with all the digital text on the web will become a single liquid fabric or interconnected world of ideas. This is both exciting and terrifying. A challenge to the identities of the People of the Book for sure. Identity, capital I, is a focus of my research as I seek to uncover the factors that inhibit and enhance an individuals ability to engage in identity formation and reformation.

In a recent Virtual Reality (VR) experiment at Stanford University, participant’s arms became their legs and their legs became their arms. That is to kick in VR, participants had to punch with their arms in ‘real life.’ This experiment resulted in what I think is a mind blowing outcome – it took a person on average four minutes to completely rewire the feet/arm circuitry in their brains to make this feel natural and allow action without conscious decision-making.

Our identities are far more fluid than we think and despite the tension that always exists between the new and the old, perhaps Marshall McLuhan was right when he said, “first we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”

Learning Together

Our new Digital Portfolio platform Learning Together has started this year and sees every student in Year 5 and 6 having their own online presence as they learn the importance of media literacy, citizenship and developing a positive digital footprint. With the pervasiveness of the web, the importance of learning how to navigate the internet in safe, effective and ethical ways has never been more important.

Under the guidance of their teachers, students in Year 5 and 6 this year are essentially managing their own website, and in the process developing skills of web design, writing, reading, communication, collaboration, confidence and cyber awareness all whilst showcasing their learning to authentic audiences. Having their own online digital portfolio supports students in the process of goal setting, student-led conferences and in a variety of their classes. The meta-cognitive benefits of reflection aside, portfolios provide learners an opportunity to critically examine their own experiences and thoughts and to interact with others as they develop an understanding of the technologies that underpin the Web. Their digital portfolios can be used for blogging, archiving work that they are proud of, showcasing artwork, videos that they have created and a myriad of other uses only limited by their imaginations.

A staged roll out has us anticipating that by 2017, each student from Year 4 to Year 10 at our College will have a digital portfolio that follows them throughout their time at the College and has a unique identifier accessible on the web. Ensuring parents are on board has been key as has students managing their own privacy settings and personally maintaining the look and feel of their portfolio. The ability to export their content easily when finishing Year 12 to be used in the tertiary admission process or in future work endeavors has also been a key point in communicating with our parent body.

Capture

It’s only in it’s infancy but I warmly welcome you all to visit Learning Together and maybe leave a comment for one of our students.

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age brought together top thought leaders in science and technology, informal and formal education, entertainment media, research, philanthropy, and policy to create and act upon a breakthrough strategy for scaling-up effective models of teaching and learning for children.
The forum was hosted by Google at Google Headquarters in October 2009 in cooperation with Common Sense Media and the MacArthur Foundation.

The following session was thought-provoking and was one that I really enjoyed. It was titled “The Next Revolution in Learning.”


 
The other sessions at Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age include:

Keynote by Geoff Canada
Teachers for a Digital Age
Literacy 2.0
New Learning Designs
Breakthrough Ideas to Drive Student Success

I highly recommend that you subscribe to the Google Channel from Youtube if you find this sort of thing interesting.