Technology is isolating I’ve decided. Not immediately isolating, but it grows over time so that by the time you (me) start to really recognise how terrible this is, it becomes a dubious way of life. Now don’t get me wrong, I do love to use technology. I’m not sure I can un-plug without catastrophic events following that choice. I imagine how utterly frustrating daily life would be without it. My day job runs on digital-rails and so does my PhD life (currently being neglected) so much that I spend vast amounts of time managing, creating and receiving it. Inbox 42,000 and I don’t care.
I learned a long time ago that making more information is a terrible idea for learning and teaching. So far the research suggests it makes very little difference to students. I wince at the “flipped classroom” tropes that some people have hung their hat on. I once heard a motoring journalist say “A Jag impresses the neighbours, if they no nothing about cars” and if you know how to use media well (and why media education has power) then the idea of ‘flipping’ becomes a null point. It does impress ‘other’ people if their own information fluency is limited to Word, Emails and giving the odd PowerPoint. And no, writing and publishing on the topic does not somehow validate neo-fauxisms.
Flipping is isolating. It places glass between the teacher and the learner. What do people mean when they say “what is normally homework becomes classwork”. There is no agreement that ‘homework’ benefits students and is anything more than a cultural construction connected to what parents are told schooling is. What they mean is that they are putting some of their information in digital form and making it available to students. This doesn’t seem earth-shatteringly innovative. Having someone talk via video or assemble a set of videos is simply media delivery, and potentially isolating. There is hardly any real research into this, so your guess is as good as anyones.
Flipping comes with the same teacher-owned-assumed authority associated with the cognitive-apprentice. It isolates teachers from students in preference to them being part of information assemblages. But this post isn’t primarily about ‘flipped classrooms’, but what they represent. I think that over the last decade or more, that working with technology has become more isolating from the real and immediate word around me. I wonder what is happening out there, and find myself looking at Facebook and Twitter to find out. I am clearly insane. But I can’t ignore it, because at any second someone important will send me a message and I have to do something in the real-world about it. Now call me a neo-evolutionary objector, but what if I’m playing tug-o-war with the dog, or I want to go ride my bike in the rain because I like the pinging noise the hot engine makes. I can’t, because at any second something wicked this way comes … or occasionally, something sweet and uplifting (that isn’t a cat video or another Yo Momma video).
In my classroom, I am interested more and more in how I can use technology to connect with current (real time and live) questions and learning dilemmas my middle-school students are facing. I am frustrated that most tools are built for the ‘flipped classroom’ mentality. Take Edmodo for example. It does not have an RSS out function. I can pour other peoples content into my student’s online space, but I can’t push their content out. If I could, then I could pick up every kid’s post and know exactly which kid from 85 in the room I needs to talk with next. I don’t want to sit on a desk and stare at my Edmodo app (which doesn’t work very well on iPad btw). I want to get Edmodo to talk to IFTTT and IFTTT to get my Android phone to push a “ding” notice to the home screen. That way I’m always on route to a real-time learning drama or celebration.
But technology isn’t doing this. It is increasingly isolating ‘us’ from the real world. Online, I’m monitoring dozens of blogs, forums and feeds. I am spending many many unseen hours knitting together the feeds into things I can collect and analyse from Google Sheets to Evernote books. It all takes more and more time, not less.
Once the digital-dashboard is set up, I can start to flick information around, but it’s still at a distance and at a cost. The need to create more and more information workflows feels relentless and few institutions seems willing to label classes “high” levels of fluency needed. It’s a little like the motorbike test. Riders have to pull up a bike from 25kph to a stop (no falling off) in a certain distance. The problem is that if it’s wet, the distance stays the same.
I feel a lot like that with technology these days. I look at every new tool and wonder how this will connect me more to real-life. Institutions never liked people much and have created systems to isolate workers from the workplace. Fill out this online form only to be emailed immediately with “we got it” but down the line, no human ever emails or calls you to let you know what is happening or how you are. Technology seems increasingly interested in the next THREE months, because organisations seem to have decided thats how long they either need to commit to, or how long you need to have “it” before they want you to have the new “it”. And I’m a chap who actually likes technology!
So when I escape the isolation and tune into my favourite game-worlds, I feel like I am in charge of time. It’s like when I put my glasses on in the morning. I choose when the world comes into focus. I don’t doubt that the judgemental world will think “get a real life”, but what is real-life in an era where machines ping and ding endlessly. This is why I drive pre-ping cars and look at my phone at certain times. It isn’t good for me (or my students) if I am self-isolating via a screen. I am no where near the dose-response behaviour that I see out in ‘the real world’. There are people who clearly start to choke if they don’t tap, swipe and stare into their phones every 2 minutes. But this isn’t something I want to look back on and say “I was teaching”.
If the technology isn’t connecting to the real-world and it isn’t making real world conversations faster and more effective — what is ‘communication’ in the 21st century becoming?