Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Week 3 - Reasserting the Human #edcmooc

Week three of EDCMOOC was all about "Reasserting the Human". 

The films, as ever, were thought provoking, particularly one that showed a man designing a world from scratch in just an hour. When time ran out, the world 'came to life' and a woman started to explore it, watched lovingly by the man - but without any contact between them. It made you wonder what on earth was going on - it seemed he had created this world for her, so why not share it with her? 

The film then went on to show her in a hospital bed in a holograph unit. So perhaps the husband had been allocated an hour to design a world for her to experience - however briefly - from within her unconscious state.

Is this the future of technology? Is this how we should be using technology - to reinforce our human relationships and interactions in new and innovative ways, to build on and extend the human? I would argue that it is. In an ever more connected, fast-moving world, human emotion, compassion and understanding becomes more important than ever.

The readings were equally thought provoking, especially one that argued we should first teach our children what it means to be human, how to relate to the world and to one another, before introducing them to technology. Whilst accepting the impossibility of winding back the clock the years to when the article was written, I have some sympathy with this view.

I think it is really important that we think about how we use technology in the future, particularly in education, that we make sure that we use technology in the best way for our learners and for society, not just for ourselves as teachers.

I explained what I meant by this in a discussion forum post:

To take the example of language teaching (which is what I do - not in a school but with private adult students) technology has been a huge boost. There are all sorts of podcasts, radio shows, videos, online articles, blogs and so on, not to mention apps that can help learners to develop their language skills and to see real-life language that is targeted at a native audience. It's great! But then there are online translation and interpretation tools.

Now, there's nothing wrong with online translation tools per se. For the traveller with no skills in the target language, they can be really helpful - and the chances are that if you look up "hotel", "pillow" or "shower" you'll get the right answer. But there are undeniable problems with them if you try to translate complex texts, and besides, as a language teacher I don't want to be teaching learners just to use online tools. I want them to learn vocabulary, to analyse texts, to be able to reason and argue in the foreign language, both as a means (to developing other life skills) and as an end in itself - the joy of natural, spontaneous, fluid communication.

Now, I'm not arguing that any language teacher would just teach their learners to use an online translation tool and leave it at that, any more than they would have taught a learner only to use a bilingual dictionary in the past. What I am saying is that there are creative ways of using technology and there are lazy ways of using it. The problem is not the technology itself and neither is the solution. In the end, a good teacher will select and use the right tools for the right job at the right time. 

This is what we need to strive for - not just relying on technology to hold all the answers, and certainly not just giving our learners a tablet and standing up at the front with a massive screen with a pre-programmed syllabus and expecting it to 'just work' without any human skill or input.

I'm not trying to suggest that teachers do, or would want to take the easy route. But technology doesn't sit still and constantly developing new teaching methods and materials takes time and effort - time and effort that is not always as well rewarded as we would wish it to be. If teachers are to maintain this level of commitment, they must be supported by educational leaders and communities. They must be allowed to do their job and they must be rewarded for doing it well.

Fortunately, technology can help us to build those communities and to share ideas, materials and so on. The future is bright as long as those in authority recognise the importance of the human element of education - even education enhanced by technology.


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