Cognitive science tells us that learning with technology is a duel-band activity, which in some way explains our desire to live in a world with multiple tabs, multiple devices and multiple streams of information at our finger-tips.
This post is about actively dealing with three things: cognitive load and capacity, the modality in which we teach and learn, and the filter.
I’m going to argue we can’t have it all, but 2 out of 3 aint bad – if we at least get 2 things right – and we’re not yet getting it right.
Learning modalities are the sensory channels or pathways through which individuals give, receive, and store information. Many students have pervasive access to technology and potentially engaged in extraneous (no relevance), essential (selecting) or generative (organising, integrating, making) activities. I think, that the common modalities we use – don’t really teach use much about our cognitive capacity, but overload us. Our motivational and emotion responses -(which make up a third of our belief-making brain activity) is not to persist.
Take a typical professional development vignette
The presenter has a pre-made Powerpoint, with a dozen or so slides. The room is set up with computers and the presenter has a handout. The intention is to teach the teacher why and how to use some web-tool in their practice to improve learning.
This is arrangement, classically presented to teachers as good practice, is also how most teachers encounter professional development.
Think about the first two things: modality and cognitive load. Powerpoint to audience decode, translate to the desktop, more input, more trial and error, more questions than answers. All the time the day’s agenda moves forward. Each participant has differing prior-experience, different capacity. The method of instruction presents a high cognitive load. How many times have you been here - fumbling to work the machine, grasp the purpose or the imperative as the presenter says “let’s move on”. It is only our familiarity with this environment that makes it feel normal and unsatisfying. – We can’t be surprised to find decreasing motivation in staff and students when this strategy is presented time and time again.
A second vignette: The keynote speaker delivers a presentation, full of motivation and emotional arguments. The audience lacks the modality to en-mass separate erroneous, essential and generative. The presenter fails to address socially independent knowledge and meaning (the other two thirds of brain-making belief). We are entertained, perhaps inspired, but how many have the capacity to action it. There are many reasons for this, the most toxic is that the presenter – is in-accessible after the presentation, a common problem when we import speakers because of their past profile or because the point of epoch they speak from – is a concensus point for the assumed audiences cognitive capacity – and sadly the popular ‘sweet spot’ messages often imitated as a result – with no evaluation.
Both these common experiences are producing marginal gains in teachers being able to rethink the modality and method they use with technology in learning and teaching. Now I’d like to look at perception, disruption and distortion in relation to filtering.
THE METHOD IS HIDDEN INSIDE TEACHER PERCEPTIONS OF THE MEDIA
Also think about how we present ‘the internet’ as a media and not a method by which learning occurs. We cannot be shocked when students lose interest and motivation, when we present it in an almost opposite modality. They are not distracted, just intensely more interested in socially independent uses of technology at their finger-tips – as they have greater capacity to engage with it this way, that to learn in the manner I described earlier.
THE REVERSE MODALITY OF INTERNET FILTERING EFFECT
The filter is a very blunt tool to deal with erroneous information and is a subjective as Alan Jones on gin. [excellent social studies clip there]
The filter distorts how we access and manage essential and generative opportunities – and counter-acts the modality of learning that students experience in just about every other area of their technological-lives. It wasn’t designed to do this – it was created to remove risk to the organization, preventing accidental or deliberate access to pornography, hate, drugs, violence etc., but has evolved into a social-filter without any real evidence or discussion with teachers or students. The filter is also applied vary differently between systems, and often between schools.
“there was no evidence that online predators were stalking or abducting unsuspecting victims based on information they posted at social networking sites.” – Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire, March 2008.
THE SEMANTIC DISRUPTION – The end is coming.
Today much of filter-policy ignorantly assumes the internet’s role in education is predominantly as media delivery mechanism and not a medium to support a method. To some degree, few parents and teachers are lobbying for anything else – making it a social issue, not so much a school one.
Filtering (as we know it) assumes information remains static in the way it is organised and identified. Emerging semantic technology – draws heavily on information produced socially – ending the time where ‘the internet’ was experienced as separate experiences or compartments. Only silly minds will think the browser and laptop will be pervasive in the next decade.
Current policy often fails to recognize youth agency: young people as participants, stakeholders, and leaders in an increasingly participatory environment online and offline.
For the most part, the filter is a crude stop/go mechanism. Given the lack of training to helps teachers learn to manage, create and use technology in sympathy with real world modality. Social filtering distorts learning because it’s not safety from bad outcomes but safety for positive ones. We want to students to be be safe, but do we want our children to play in places that are only safe? This brings me back to modality – and the neo-classical depiction of a classroom. Projector, Laptops, Filter – is this how we want children to learn and teachers to teach?
“SOCIAL MEDIA” – IT USED TO BE CALLED APPLICATION SERVICE PROVISION
In the old days, circa 2000 – technology that power’s social media used to be called ‘application service provision‘. Clearly tools like Twitter carry ‘media’ information socially – but the term itself is misleading, popularised by culture and group bias – and even inside the believers, there is argument over what it actually means and affords society. It’s a word, along with Web2.0 that is meaningless to the majority.
Clearly GoolgeDocs, WordPress, Wikispaces etc provide a modality of learning which are clearly different to pornography – yet suffer from filtration (something I’ll come to next). Recent research finds kids are more at risk of peer-use of networks in abusive ways – than from people they don’t know.
WE CREATE OUR OWN FRANKENSTEINS
- We have, like it or not, chosen to put technology into learning and teaching though government and organizational investment.
- We cannot afford to accept we don’t need to train (and mentor) teachers to see technology as a method and find better modality in how we do it.
- We need to accept how much more powerful technology is when used through personalisation and allowing people to become socially independent learners.
- We need to accept, that in terms of cognitive load, capacity and modality – technology does not give rise to Frankensteinian epoch moments we can push out as being ‘the future’ or something to ‘work towards’ – but that as events that need corresponding change in education immediately.
- What we did before and what we do after any epoch moment – causes greater distortion in the classroom.
TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD – Something I can live with
In approaching teacher development and support – we have to recognise that teachers are capable of asking for help, and that request comes from a professional capacity. What they do out of work is entirely their business. This is a blurred message much of the time – perhaps most problematic in the current popular dialogue of the personal learning network.
- We need to find ways that we reduce the cognitive load needed to learn something essential – but delete the erroneous – in the classroom.
- We should stay clear of generative desires when helping and mentoring them – as generating content is now seen as a chore, rather than creative joy.
- Teachers should not believe that making more content is better – or required in pursuit of using technology in the classroom. (busy-thoughts).
- Most of all we need to accept that the envelope in which we often work is not realistic – but a simulation of the real world. There is no shame in being clear about this with students – so that they recognise where the classroom-end point is, and where they need to start taking responsibility for their future. Even if this is to find a grade-school game that they could use at home to learn maths, that is banned in school.
Two out of three aint bad, as Meatloaf said.
Accept that we can’t have it all – we never did, and we never will – we live in amazing times, with mind-blowing complexity – but there are ways to do a lot of good with what we have … and each time we do … we push negativity one step further backwards as we make more sense of the positive.