To Master Technology: the necessity of our human empowerment

Technology is a tool. 

Let’s consider the hatchet, one of our earlier pieces of technology. A hatchet is helpful if used properly– it can help you do something that would otherwise take a while, or even be impossible. It can also be unhelpful or harmful if you don’t know how to use it, or aren’t paying full attention to its dangers (which may be unique or unprecedented in experience).

This is true whether we’re talking about farm equipment, nuclear fission, or the internet. We alone are the ones that decide when we are ready to use it. We alone bear responsibility for our usage of it. That is your human power.

I’m not anti-technology– I don’t know how well I would have made it through my teenage years without being able to submerse myself in Civilization or Baldur’s Gate. There are times when its usage enables us to live more fulfilling lives. It’s simply important that we don’t blindly trust that that is always the case, else we lose track of what it is that we’re working to enrich.

The i with no eyes

For most of our species’ existence, as individuals, we did have ready access to mirrors (and hence, reflections). Our only source of ever seeing ourselves would be on the surface of water or in the reflection of another person’s eye. Seeing yourself reflected in the eyes of other people lent significant value to those interactions (on a psychological level).

Now, we do have access to mirrors, but beyond that, our focus is essentially on an electronic screen. Appropriately, our reflections are lost whenever these devices are on (as is our ability to self-reflect). We become caught in our creations.

Can our creations teach us?

We are faced, occasionally, with the task of defining our philosophy of technology in education. For myself, I believe that we have reached the technological capacity of being able to convey any imaginable thought or feeling in some fashion, giving us a level of communicative capability that we have never before reached. Communication and creativity are the driving forces of human success, and they will continue to propel us into the futures we wish to experience, especially aided by technology that is becoming reality shortly after its original imagining.

Speaking broadly, if we teach ourselves and our children to be receptive to the changing nature of technology (instead focusing on honing our adaptive technical abilities over our concrete technical ones), we will achieve the greatest advantage our species offers. Being afixed to outdated, slower formats is being afixed to outdated and slower methods of expressing thought.

The important thing to keep in mind is that we must teach this philosophy. We must work to remember that there is no certainty we should assume in the limits of technological capacity. Each child should be taught that their computer is a tool to help them understand, not a source of simplistic answers that will help them fill in their homework. We should shift our methods of teaching to critical interpretation of information, now that information retention is no longer as significant (as information is now retained on the web).

Learnboost Lesson Planner (reviewish)

The prior three posts are an attempt to explore the capabilities of the Learnboost lesson planning system at https://www.learnboost.com. Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed so far, though I have run into a few bugs that have resulted in time outs during web page loading (when trying to share to wordpress). I haven’t put the Learnboost system through its full paces as yet, but it appears to be extensive in what it covers (including the ability to add standards). All in all, not bad!

Introducing Students to Space (an app to map the stars)

A few months ago, a good friend showed me an app on his ipad that allowed him to view all of the celestial bodies around the earth in their exact real-time locations (satellites as well). I was floored by the potential of the app (which was Starmap) and the curiosity it could unleash.

The same company has put out a similar program (Spacemap) with a richer user interface making it more approachable for kids and students. Not only does it fulfill the same capabilities of Starmap, it also allows users to “fly” through solar systems on virtual intersellar voyages (again, with accurate celestial mapping).

For the right age bracket (junior high and higher), this application could serve to open up young minds to interest in space, astronomy, and science. Having a fully dynamic application that lets you point at, say, Sirius, and then instantly start flying there puts celestial bodies firmly within the grasp of any student. Coordinating daytime space journeys with nighttime star viewing would only serve to enhance the experience.

Personally speaking, I would have truly enjoyed having this as a kid. I remember when we first got Windows 95 and it featured a primitive program that would let you fly into space (very slowly), and how much time I spent doing that (despite the limited graphics and incorrect positioning) just to wrap my head around the distances involved… I was 13 at the time, and the adult me is just as excited about the potential offered in programs like Spacemap.

In many ways, science fiction is only science future.

Check out Spacemap at this link:

http://www.star-map.fr/starmap-spacemap/

Is the Ipad good for education?

After reading a firsthand account from a teacher extolling the virtues of the ipad in a classroom (found *here*), it’s hard to say that Ipads do not have a place in our schools. For students that find little to no appeal in traditional classrooms, such a device offers unparrallelled ability to pull them back into learning. Having something instantly interact with you in a meaningful fashion (rather than ignoring you or prioritizing something else) is very rewarding to many learners. For many students (especially those who respond well to the format), Ipads will transform their educational experience as they become more and more exposed to them.

We can’t ignore the potential danger in promoting this kind of surrogate teaching. If a child learns only from an electronic resource, they may not develop the communication skills they’d need to ask another person a question correctly, or have any incentive to do so (their first instinct would always be to refer to the Ipad or similar device rather than to ask someone– in most cases this is not a problem, but some questions can’t be asked of a tablet and answered in a rewarding fashion).

The gains are immediately noticeable, but the detrimental effects may take decades to appear. That must be considered to some extent when we change the way we interact with our children.

This is related to what is considered to be the “Gamification” of learning (and reality with such products as Google Glass). Essentially, through game mechanics designed to “reward” the user with upgrades, achievement points, badges or what-have-you, programs trick users into learning (or at least memorizing).

Is this kind of learning effective in the long term? Is it literally proving that learning is NOT its own reward? Does it remove incentive from learning anything that doesn’t offer some kind of extrinsic “points”?

Here is an article related to gamifying our education. Food for thought.
http://www.upsidelearning.com/blog/index.php/2012/11/14/gamification-in-learning/

Google offering 1 gigabyte/per second internet service in Kansas City

I was rather shocked to hear this. What amazing news:

http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/11/google-fiber-is-live-in-kansas-city-real-world-speeds-at-700-mbps/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+arstechnica%2Findex+%28Ars+Technica+-+All+content%29

Google is now offering internet service at a gigabyte per second, for $70 per month. Right now in Maine, Road Runner Turbo is 5 mbps, and it costs $55 a month. To say this is a stunning step forward in America’s high speed internet potential is an understatement. Depending on how quickly they expand, this will make instantaneous steaming of high quality video a complete reality.

Will we hit the maximum amount of bandwidth, if it exists? Time will tell.