Friday, February 11, 2011

Internet Control

Yes, it's possible.  Here's a link to an interesting article from Eureka Street, an online publication from Australia.  Titled Preparing to Kill the Internet (Michael Mullins), the author presents an overview of the response of President Obama to the Egyptian government's shutting down of the internet over the last few weeks.  His address included the usual declaration — 'we stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information'.   What wasn't mentioned was freedom of access to the internet.  And the U.S. itself is introducing an Act to protect cyberspace in the event of cyber warfare.   ... just putting it out there... 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bread and Circuses

Is technology neutral, or does it carry meaning?  A pencil, a pen, a printing press, a hammer, or a saw, are items that are not filled with meaning in themselves.  A tool is something that does something useful or helpful in some way. The meaning of a tool is specific to that item.  What is done with the tool changes the meaning of the tool, of the device. Technology has changed everything we do in that it has created ways to communicate differently.   The user has the power to change the meaning of the device.

Technology is not just the tool, however.  It is now driving the way communication happens.  It is driving business, it has changed how we communicate ideas to one another, it has created immediacy of interaction that has never before been available to humanity.  Technology becomes meaningful as soon as the tool or device is used to create a message.    

Is the medium of technology purely informative, or is it there to create a message?  Can it create a message without interaction with the user?  I think of propaganda being created with the tools of printing presses and exhibited in the technological tool the newspaper, such as what happened in Germany prior to the beginning of the second world war.  I think of communicating across space and time.  Would we have known as much about what is happening in Egypt if people had not had access to cell phones?  Is the use of all the toys, or devices we now acquire merely a modern version of bread and circuses?  What does it mean to pacify an entire generation of users into having access to instant information, to vicarious entertainment, to not having to wait to obtain any gratification?  The meaning of each use, each transaction, is richer than it appears at the surface level.  There is depth and meaning to the use of technology.

Does not having access to technology change what we know?  Does it create a socioeconomic gap?  Does it contribute to reduced learning for certain students who don't have the actual tools in their hands?  The gap has the potential to get bigger as we load more learning, more transactions, onto technological devices.  What happens when the user has to bear the cost of technological change?  Until recently, much of the Internet was freely available, without commercial or economic constraints, but that is changing.   The recent debate in which the government tried to override the decision made by the CRTC, technically an arms-length decision-making body, illustrates the fact that technology is no longer the wild west of the past.

The user should be able to think freely about how and what they are doing with the technology they use.  But being engaged in the use of technology requires decisions on the part of the user -- cost of the tools, cost of using those tools, validity of the information that is sent out and received, verification of the source of the information, decisions made on the basis of information received, and ultimately, how the technology drives the user from one stage of knowledge to another.

Friday, February 4, 2011

M- (Multi/Mobile) Tasking

M - learning... another catchy phrase designed to lure us into a brave new world.  Mobile learning.  The ability to move learning away from a static situation -- it allows the learner to drive some of their own planning, like the when and how we can learn.  Mobility of information.  Ease of information usage.  Multiple uses of technologies, multiple tasking of information.  Many different perspectives.

The Smart board demonstration was a good introduction to a kind of technology that is designed specifically for a certain setting.  The company used teachers to verify how wonderful the product is in the classroom. The user needs familiarity with files, menus and PC-based menu system, but once that is figured out, it is catchy and feels fun.  My personal interest is in the iPad, an item that looks and feels much easier to use.  It doesn't pull the eyes of the class to the front of the room, it's more of a personal device.  But it feels easy.  I'm sure the day is coming when Apple develops a big iDevice with easy-to-use apps that will sit in front of the room.  Either item costs money and requires an infrastructure that connects them to the bigger world, but most schools have that in place, so it shouldn't be a huge issue.  However, there are some schools that have rooms with only 2 or 3 electrical outlets, and some buildings don't have a wireless connection, which will limit the use of either object.

The RefWorks program is another phenomenal time saver, as long as the user sorts and files information correctly.  There have been many occasions when I've had to go back and find a reference, either on the shelf in the library or in a database.  This is another smart piece of software that saves time and could save energy.  But it's only as good as the information you put into it.  It's still essential to check the information you are using or citing for reliability.  The average user, looking for a quick fix, might not know how to figure out whether a site is real or not.  How can we trust what we are reading or seeing?  Just using the product, or obtaining it from cyberspace is no guarantee of accuracy.  And the user has to know how to keep all the bits together -- organization of information is just as important.

Ivor Tossell writes about the role of social media in the Egyptian uprising in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 1, 2011:  "The transparency and immediacy that the Internet affords can be deceptive...with all the ways we've learned to project our presence electronically, it's easy to imagine ourselves drifting over the line from spectator to participant."  Read the article at The Globe and Mail.

How do we define our own roles in using these wonderful new innovations?  Are we unbiased users?  Did we succumb to the lure of ease in obtaining information?  Does the immediacy help us forget where we may cross a line?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Technology as a gerund

I was thinking about the use of the term  technology  in its many capacities -- as a noun, as a verb, as an adjective.  If technology is the "most important conversation of our time" according to Dr. Hlynka, I suggest we learn to view the term in its different dimensions.  While reading an article for another course (or maybe in a Wikipedia item) I came across the term 'learning as a gerund'.  That was an aha moment  -- take a noun and transform it into a non-finite verb form by adding 'ing' to the end of the word.  Voila!   A gerund.  Another way of looking at it is to think of a gerund being a word that can stand for a noun or verb.  So I'll take it one step further and say that we can look at the term technology as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. And then, if it is extended to its limits, it can be an adverb as well.  But "technologizing" is a strange word, I don't want to actually use it in a conversation or an article, and the spell checker doesn't like it...

This is not intended to be a silly discourse on the use of a particular word in multiple ways.  We continued to talk last week about information technology, where the information IS the technology, and started thinking about communications technology in the same way.  The 1987 quote by Henchley picked up on the idea of the transformative power of modern technology.  Fourteen years later this change is still moving forward to some point that keeps disappearing on the far horizon. The ideas of information and communication are now combined in the acronym ICT (Information Communication Technology) and John Finch asked us to be critical, responsible, ethical and creative in what we choose and use.  It's a tall order when everything is changing so quickly.

And I would also argue that it isn't just MODERN technology that has changed how and what we do -- the printing press is a form of technology that drove much of the Reformation in Europe more than 400 years ago.  Giving people inexpensive writing devices did it as well.  Paper is lightweight and transportable.  Books changed how humans thought, learned, and developed.  Having access to books, or denying access to books, is hugely political and it gave power to people who had no real power, couldn't vote unless they were wealthy, and didn't have access to the learning or knowledge tools of the day.  Watching the Berlin Wall come down is a moment that is seared in my brain.  Part of the force behind that event is the knowledge that was enabled by communication technology.  The military government of Egypt shut down the Twitter site in the face of the current public protests this week.

All technology comes with a cost, a force that drives it forward, and a power that allows us to change how we think and learn.  So although the term can be used in so many different ways, there is also the potential in information communication technology that has the ability to drive more political change. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The fragility of memory

The phrase "memory is fragile" leapt out at me today when the class was reviewing the UNESCO Memory of the World project.  This form of information gathering and storage could become one of the truest, most ethical, most connected and informative uses of technology:  To guard against a "collective amnesia"; to ensure that somewhere, in lieu of someone whose memory is indeed fragile, collective knowledge and memory is stored to ensure truth.

 Memory is another moving target ... sometimes we have flashes; sometimes not.  Relying only on our memory can be fragile, it can leave us without the knowledge we need to move forward.  It can be suspect.  Maybe a failing technological system can be suspect as well, and the ability to change what I have said or written in this blog means I can constantly revise what I remember(ed), or what I did, or what I said.  Where's the proof that it wasn't different?

I have a memory of one of the first films I remember seeing.  I didn't have a lot of exposure to commercial films or movies in my youth, as movies were deemed to be "bad" for us.  But this was something we saw in school, and the story and action are still in my memory, although I've forgotten the teacher who showed it, and what we were supposed to learn from it.  Memory is fragile, at times it fails, at times it creeps back in.  I hadn't thought about this film until I saw the name 'Norman McLaren' in our first class.  I now have a different understanding about how McLaren's pioneering works and spirit help to develop the NFB and Canada's reputation in certain kinds of film production.

Watch Neighbours...
Neighbours by Norman McLaren

One of the excellent possible uses of technology, in all its splendour, will be to use it to remind ourselves and our students that we are not the only voices saying something, or remembering something, and we can use different media/technologies to track information, to gather it, and to remind ourselves when human memories fail.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

What we see... what we get?

Much of the media we have been talking about, looking at, thinking about, is visual.  As Jess S. said in her blog, the students in her class seemed to quieten down only when a "video" was playing in front of them.  The power point errors last week were certainly humorous, and what we saw highlighted the point that it's easy to make "crap" and put it in front of people.  The thought provoking part of this course is that I will learn to assess the different sources of information, the presentation of the information, and a way to make it into more than an attention-grabbing device.

The kids in the series Growing_Up_Online were enabled in their use of technology and its wonders by adults (teachers, parents, school principals) who provided the expensive equipment, who didn't put limits on its use, and who seemed to think it was "normal" to be that focused on a world that isn't real.  Of course we need to use online media -- our lives have been transformed by the appearance and development of the great variety of online resources.  We have access to so much more information than ever before.  But what use is it to know about something if it isn't put into context?  And that's where the adult engagement can come into play -- teachers can certainly use the medium of technology to deliver new AND exciting teaching, and consequently learning, to their students.  The attitude of the teacher will transmit to the students.  Most of the instructors in the navy training film dismissed the medium immediately, and thought it could do its work (magic) without their involvement.

It's the engagement of the teacher in the process that is important.  Delivering the message without engaging in its meaning is a waste of time.  And guiding our students to move it past a simple bit of "fun" is what will be the work.  Once we are engaged in the idea, the content is so much more meaningful and deliberate.  Motivating our children, our students, any learners in a learning experience, is what is going to provide the engagement.  Using technology has its rewards, and certainly grabs the attention of almost any learner, but allowing it to get ahead of us, by not monitoring it or understanding its power, means it could be useless in terms of delivering learning.    And we have to do more than manage it -- according to the definition developed by the AECT (Association for Educational Communications and Technology) in 1994, evaluation is important.  In 2008, the use of the word "ethical" was added to assist educators with developing a framework for the use of technology in educational experiences.

What you see ... is it what you get?  Or do we have to take it a step further?  Is it more?

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I think we need to be more adept in how we understand the various media/mediums we are hoping to use in the classroom.  Spelling is just as important as ever to me, because it conveys a meaning, but does my 13 year old student, who is texting whenever possible, even care about it?  Is "texting" even a word? 

It will be intriguing to think about the phrase "the medium is the message".  Isn't the context of what we are saying and doing important?  Does the medium influence what and how we say something?  Courtney Love has to go to court on defamation charges because of her use of "Twitter"/tweets to post disparaging comments.  "You are what you email" is the headline of a Montreal Gazette article posted on December 26, 2010.

Is the context affected by the medium?