Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Model of risks and technologies

In the article The Risky Promises and Promising Risks of New Information Technologies for Education chronicles 3 viewpoints of technology and its implementation within the educational setting. It goes through the viewpoints like stages of grief: first the option is use technology as an all or nothing, end all be all way; the second is that technology is but a tool to be wielded and the user is responsible for it's use; the third is a zen-like balance between the two. My apologies, but isn't this obvious--much like it would be with anything else?

I would love to say that I don't have to restrain myself from the "computer as panacea" viewpoint, but I just love technology and bright, shiny new stuff way to much to not dabble in that school of thought albeit momentarily. This mentality takes technology in a way of inherent necessity much the way that someone who engulfs any food that does not have transfats without any regard to other factors simply because the FDA says foods without transfats are better for you (this is a loose reference to a King of the Hill episode).

I loved this portion of the article:
"Rather than acknowledge the inherent difficulty and imperfectability of the teaching-learning endeavor, rather than accept a sloppy pluralism that admits that different approaches work in different situation--and that no approach works perfectly all the time--educational theorists and policy makers seize upon one fashion after another and then try to find new arguments, or new mandates, that will promote widespread acceptance and conformity under the latest revolution."
To me this quote embodies our lifestyles in such a way that we are always looking for a silver bullet that will make our lives easier, do all the work for us, and not have any drawbacks (kind of like what they first claimed for the diet drug Alli). As consumers of technology we are always looking for that perfect program or device that does everything for us. With such a high demand placed on inherently (and always) flawed technology there is hardly a moment where we are not let down and discouraged by technology rather than accepting of the realistic limitations of something that enables us to do far more than we could without it.

The next viewpoint is the "computer as tool" where technology is an implement and what the computer does with it makes it a valuable component or a dreadful hindrance. Being that I am about to be a father I latched onto the quote "if you give a kid a hammer, they will see everything as needing hammering" (ah, to be 5 again). While this viewpoint is not wholly untrue in that if you give someone a computer, everything must be Googled (this is a generalization). This of course has some lacking that tools all can be used differently by each user for productive or unproductive means and it is in the proper use of tools that this view would be more correct (in my mind).

The last viewpoint is a "level headed" one which kind of mixes the first 2 together. Of course this would make a great deal of sense that going to far one way or another can lead to nothing but chaos. There is an understanding that there are unintended consequences, good, and bad that are involved in all new technologies and that these will grow as technology continues to grow and the possibilities become more and more infinite.

Within the spectrum of my model showing technology needing to be (in order of importance) accessibility, security, remixability, and shareability this article hits on the first two and very little to none of the last two. The last few pages discussing censorship of the internet and the technologies available and their shortcomings exemplifies accessibility and security extremely well. It shows that accessibility can be hampered in the name of security and as a result this can also hamper remixability and shareability in the sense that (and I hated this line in the article) what cannot be seen cannot be seen. Of course if resources are not viewable to me, I cannot see them, but this does not inherently mean that they do not exist. It simply means that technology is flawed and I have to wait to go home to look for what I want to look for. Uh-oh...now I'm free thinking. This is why I agree with the idea that rather than shielding students from every teensy tiny shred of anything that can be mistaken as indecent, why not just simply tell them the rules of the road? Similarly you wouldn't just assume that the police are going to keep your teenager from driving recklessly, instead you teach them how to PROPERLY use the item (which in the sense is a car). The same goes for the now limitless possibilities contained within technology and the entire world at our fingertips through the internet.


  1. I like your model.
    It is interesting, however, that humans--and their interactions with technologies--are notably lacking.

  2. Hi Steve, a couple things.

    1. Nice update on the model. What did you use to render that fancy image? Would you mind letting us in on your secret?

    2. I was interested in the security vs. accessibility debate you mention. I come from a tradition of teaching without filters and nets. We taught our students to be responsible, and how to act in with comport when offensive and questionable things came up. As they did in pop-ups, or mis-navigation.

    Something I considered after readign the last line of your post is also teaching students how to be responsible figures. If you have a public profile viewable by the general public you need to protect yourself. And that protection is more novel than that of an internet filter becomes it comes from the producer.

  3. To your last comment about teaching people (students) the rules of the road and letting them make some decisions, we have a few populations that we have to worry about. There are the compulsive gamblers/shoppers/porn addicts/stalkers etc. who are unlikely to respond to commonsense teaching. Then there is this odd brand of students coming along that likes having a closed mind and objects to having college professors (or anyone else) challenge their basic assumptions and beliefs. I guess they are allowed to bury their heads in the sand if they want to. Access to information also means you can ignore it or shut it out. People of this ilk (well, we are all like this to some extent) are going to seek out the things that they already agree with and leave the rest alone.