Tech Ed 101: Technological Reproduction

Technology and civilization have stepped together through history, so much so that they are often equated as the same thing. When we look back through history, we’re often looking back at the progress of “technological evolution” (Dron, 2014, p. 241). Humans are so adept and noteworthy for their technological creations that the philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously suggests “that humans might be the ‘sex organs of the machine world’” (McLuhan, 1964, as cited in Dron, 2014, p. 240). Perhaps our technology classes in schools should add “Tech Ed”, and include a primer on technological reproduction. However humorous, the conflation of human evolution with technological evolution presents a conceptual problem: is every technology an advancement?

Understanding the difference between innovation and change is essential to understanding technological evolution. As with biological evolution, not every adaptation is beneficial: an organism’s environment will determine the “survival of the fittest” (Darwin, 1859). How do we determine what is fittest in a technological sense? Dron (2014) presents an overview of technological change in distance education. Among the change he studies are generational shifts, such as evolving pedagogies from behaviourist to constructivist models (p. 239). These shifts represent the environment for technology changing, and the fittest technologies would be the ones most adapted to the prevailing theories, ideas, and mindsets. However, even the metaphor of evolution suggests an overall advancement. In which ways can change be technological, but not innovative?

Perhaps innovation must represent a change in more than one aspect of an idea. The form of an object can change, but unless its purpose, intent, or mindset change, can it be called an innovation? For example, designing a better desk might be a classroom invention, but designing a teaching approach that doesn’t require desks may be a true innovation. Dron (2014) suggests that an important aspect of technology is the degree of choice it affords. Soft technologies allow greater choice and flexibility, whereas hard technologies limit choice (p. 241). “The more we embed processes and techniques in our tools, be they pedagogies or machine tools, the fewer choices are left to humans” (p. 242). By this definition, an innovation is something that moves on a continuum further towards being a soft technology. This suggests that innovation is a fundamental change, not just on the surface-level.

Can we actually define innovation? As Dron (2014) points out, even the concept of technology itself “is a slippery and evolving concept” (p. 239). The concept of innovation therefore remains even more elusive, but nonetheless important. As I teach young minds in my computer science class, I find myself wanting to add some more “Tech Ed” into the curriculum, and help foster a healthy skepticism of the world of technological innovation we live in.

References

Dron, J. (2014). Innovation and How we Change. Online Distance Education: Towards a Research Agenda, 237–265. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.za/books?hl=en&lr=&id=9dH9AwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA237&dq=water+taylor+and+francis&ots=FO3_1cbZvM&sig=bVYig9e3pS6iQrxQ64Vz9vB5Gzo

Darwin, C. (2004, Original work published 1859). On the origin of species, 1859. Routledge.

Attribution
Photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

Hype and Technology Acceptance

Hype can have positive and negative effects, yet I have always found the word to have a negative connotation. Gartner’s (2016) press release about emerging technology trends presents hype as a priority for business and innovation. The article stresses the importance of businesses chasing emerging technologies, lest they be left behind in the technological rat-race. As I read the article and examine the Gartner Hype Cycle (Gartner, n.d.), I am left wondering about the right side of the diagram: the “Slope of Enlightenment” and the “Plateau of Productivity” (Gartner, 2016, Figure 1). Do all these emerging technologies hit mainstream adoption and balance out in the middle, or do some never leave the “Trough of Disillusionment”? Hype, as a driver of progress and business, can be seen as a positive thing. Yet, hype can have an incredibly negative effect when it causes people to invest in technologies that never reach this theoretical plateau of productivity.

One place hype can have a notable effect is in technology acceptance models in schools. Reading the Gartner’s (2016) article reminded me of Dron’s (2014) article titled Innovation and How We Change. Dron suggests that “the uptake of technology is not simply a matter of whether people choose to use a technology but whether that technology actually has any real value” (p. 244). The “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in Gartner’s Hype Cycle certainly highlights that we often hype a technology long before it is proven to be useful. In my experience, this can have a negative impact on schools, who do not have the same funds as businesses to be chasing each new emerging technology. Taking time to analyze and consider a Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) can help technologies be “used, integrated, and absorbed into the educational system” (p. 243). However, even these models have been criticized as “idealized and empirically naïve” when applied to real-world contexts (Dron , 2014, p. 244).

In considering Gartner’s hype cycle, I wonder: are there ways that hype can have a positive effect on technology acceptance? Can hype help or hinder aspects of perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use that are central to the TAM approach?

References

Dron, J. (2014). Innovation and How we Change. Online Distance Education: Towards a Research Agenda, 237–265. Retrieved from http://books.google.co.za/books?hl=en&lr=&id=9dH9AwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA237&dq=water+taylor+and+francis&ots=FO3_1cbZvM&sig=bVYig9e3pS6iQrxQ64Vz9vB5Gzo

Gartner. (2016, August 16). Gartner’s 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Identifies Three Key Trends that Organizations Must Track to Gain Competitive Advantage. [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2016-08-16-gartners-2016-hype-cycle-for-emerging-technologies-identifies-three-key-trends-that-organizations-must-track-to-gain-competitive-advantage

Gartner. (n.d.). Gartner Hype Cycle | Hype Cycle Research Methodology [Website]. Retrieved from https://www.gartner.com/en/research/methodologies/gartner-hype-cycle

Attribution
Photo by Verena Yunita Yapi on Unsplash

An Ecosystem of Open Pedagogy

In my recent readings on open pedagogy and instructional design, an idea that resonated with me was that openness requires an ecosystem: the effort to create open resources and open pedagogy is just as critical as the effort to support, curate, and share those resources and practices. Bates (2019) argues that these resources “cannot successfully exist in a vacuum” (p. 594). He suggests that one reason OER has seen a slow adoption rate is the relative lack of supporting materials compared to commercial products. Developing open pedagogies is more than “licensing and content development” (p. 590); it requires an ecosystem of support. To thrive, openness needs people who not only plant the seeds but also nurture and cultivate the environment surrounding open practices and resources. In a blog post explaining the nature of the commons, Bollier (2011) aptly asserts that “there is no commons without commoning” (para. 5). Educators can work hard to create open resources, and they can choose to share them with permissive licenses. However, without a framework to help those resources grow, they may never have an opportunity to take root and see the light of day. To address this need, Stacey (2018) suggests that one area the Open Education Consortium could focus on is developing these support frameworks. He states that “simply having a community and pool of resources is not enough. There needs to be a set of protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources” (para. 8). In my tentative steps into the open pedagogy landscape, I have wondered where to begin. How do educators discover open pedagogies, let alone contribute to them? What are the frameworks that exist, and in which mediums? How do educators learn to become stewards of the commons? As advocates of openness embrace the tenants of “share alike”—planting the seeds of open content—we also need to be able to get our hands dirty, add some fertilizer, pull some weeds, and nurture the ecosystem of open education.

References

Bates, A.W. (2019). Teaching in a Digital Age – Second Edition. Vancouver, B.C.: Tony Bates Associates Ltd. Retrieved from https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/teachinginadigitalagev2/

Bollier, D. (2011, July 15). The Commons, Short and Sweet [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.bollier.org/commons-short-and-sweet

Stacey, P. (2018, February 8). Global Education Commons Steward [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://edtechfrontier.com/2018/02/08/global-education-commons-steward/

Attribution
Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash