Saturday, January 28, 2012

Technology Shifts Practice

I’ve been thinking a lot about what our response to technology driven change should be.  For instance, is it reasonable to just carry on with our traditions and practices while ignoring important changes brought on by new technologies?  I don’t read status quo in this  definition of practice.  I see ample room for practice to be a shifting phenomenon over time as the environment we live and work in is changed.

prac·tice (noun): repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency: Practice makes perfect.

Last week I wrote “[b]y adding technology to an environment and not changing current practices, we have the proverbial round peg in a square hole problem. To provide real benefit, technology in classrooms, used by students and teachers, must change practice (eventually)”, Learning at the Speed of Change.  A teacher colleague of mine emailed me to share that a few teachers had taken exception to this and other related comments about practice in my post.  It certainly was not my intent to offend or criticize the work of teachers so please do not read that into my comments.  The more time I spend learning along-side teachers, the more I am amazed at how they are able to influence young lives.  Teachers are critically important to developing future generations of adults and they do an amazing job at this!

Technology is designed to change things – by adding technology to an environment, I think intuitively we should expect change to occur.  Change is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature so it is something to be embraced not feared or resisted.  When we resist change, that’s when we most experience stress.  It is exciting to embrace and experiment with new tools and methods.  Technology, when adopted intentionally and thoughtfully, brings tremendous opportunity to our lives and work.

I do think that we all, regardless of profession, need to be alert and aware of the influence, impact, and disruptive power of technology on our way of imagelife and our work practices.  When things are changing exponentially sooner than previously, the time to adapt is even shorter.  I don’t believe we can ignore the reality of these pressures.  What worked well before will not necessarily serve us well in the future.  It would seem to me that that our educational practices should always be adapting and evolving to match our culture, tools, new knowledge, and that new practices would inevitably be the outcome.  When we lived in an era of slow linear change over time, we didn’t need to change much.  But as the green curve in the graph above reflects, our time window for change is no longer linear.  Things change much faster and they’re speeding up!  Isn’t education purposed and designed to change people and thus shouldn’t educators be leaders of continuous change in sync with our changing world?


Take a simple example, the book.  In the 1400’s the Gutenberg Press, a new technology, completely changed the game for storing and communicating information and knowledge.  It significantly disrupted a time tested labour intensive elitist method of transmitting knowledge.  It eventually put hundreds of monks out of work but think about the quality of life, jobs, and enlightenment it produced.  The accessibility to knowledge was expanded to everyone who wished to engage rather than limited to an elite few.  It took hundreds of years for this opportunity to change practices world-wide.  We’ve grown to love “the book”.  I have a book shelf full of interesting books in my office, they’re a conversation piece.  I’ve read them all.  I used to make notes in a binder and underline / highlight text in the books.  It is difficult to access that meta-knowledge of what I’ve read.  But, I’ve shifted practice.  For the past few years, since I bought an iPad, I buy all Kindle e-books.  The reading, note taking, highlighting, and sharing experience is far superior to a physical book could ever be.  Iimage have a personal website where my Kindle books are listed with reading status and my notes and highlights available to anyone who cares.  When I change the reading status, it automatically shares this via twitter which spreads the awareness of these books.  I can copy/paste highlights and notes from the website to blog posts, presentations, emails, tweets, and other writing I might create.  When I come across a book title, I can check it out online, then if I want it, go to my iPad to buy it and have it immediately delivered.  I can learn of a book and be reading it within minutes.  No driving to a store, no ordering on line and waiting weeks for it to be shipped (incidentally, both of these options impact the environment more so than the digital method).

Another interesting change I’ve experienced with reading is sharing what I read via twitter.  As I’m reading a blog, web article, or book I will often tweet out a portion of text I find interesting or provocative.  Increasingly people engage in real time conversation with me about what I share from my reading.  I often find myself reading and conversing about it at the same time with people around the world.  This is very different.  I find that these new methods help produce much deeper learning.

Shouldn’t our students also be exposed to new ways of engaging with knowledge and in conversations with others about it through our networks and digital tools?  For that to happen, those involved in education would need to be regularly exposed to what’s possible and experimenting with new technologies to evaluate their applicability to learning and teaching.  The outcome, I believe, will be a continual shift in practice.