Thursday, November 06, 2008

Disruptive technologies


Over the last few weeks I have had the chance to see the way technology is being received here in Greece in two very different areas. Just over two weeks ago I attended a conference on participatory journalism (blogging, citizen journalism etc) and its connection with more traditional media (click here) and currently I'm following an interesting SEETA online course on applying new technologies in the classroom held by Gavin Dudeney.

At first there seems to be little in common with teaching and journalism yet the interesting thing was seeing how the internet is starting to make itself felt in Greece and how that growing influence is being fiercely fought against by the old guard and its young supporters.

In the case of teaching the internet is marginal in Greek education. Although schools have been linked up to it for some years the quality of the infrastructure is so poor in most cases that it is practically non-existent. In addition the use of internet and IT in general has yet to break out of its computer lab ghetto. Quarantined, lest it infect the serious business of learning from books.

Similarly, EFL/ESL (teaching of English as a Foreign/Second language) classrooms have, for the main part, struggled successfully against the menace of technology to a such an extent that we still use audio and VHS cassettes. They have resisted the siren call of such diabolical distractions such as the CD and DVD.

Even when such heresies have been permitted every effort has been made to neutralise the effects by treating the new innovations as little more than an electronic book or a simple 80's style arcade game.

Wikis, Moodles, blogs, Ning, podcasts, vlogs, Second Life, Skypecasts are virtually unknown here in educational circles. When they somehow get raised in conversation or discussion they are roundly denounced as mere distractions, or worse. The critics trot out a collection of well - worn cliches that have been polished to perfection by an endless stream of moral panics seen on TV or published in newspapers. You know the ones; the internet isolates people, we need teachers not machines in the classroom, the internet is too dangerous for young people etc.

Hidden behind the obvious technophobia lies, I think I deeper, more worrying cause. The rise of the internet and the ability to not just access information but add our own thoughts and ideas to a global debate has as a consequence the questioning of the authority of the teacher and school book as sole arbiters of what is right and wrong in the classroom. With a few minutes on Google we can double check any claim made.

Of course there are still many who claim that on the net anyone is free to write anything and so we never sure of how accurate our sources are. True, but even school books are not without this problem Indeed the latest high school ones published here in Greece included whoppers such as the Second World War ended in 1949(!) and that one of Greece's leading writers, Stratis Tsirkas published work at the age of three (pushy parents, I guess).

A healthy skepticism towards all sources, including officially sanctioned ones is, however,a deeply subversive idea and especially so in educational systems which reward conformity, and view knowledge as a never changing list of facts to be remembered but not questioned.

I saw exactly the same attitudes displayed at the Participatory Journalism: Blog and New Media
conference held at the Aristotelion university here last month. The same ideas concerning validity of sources, the same fear that if you give people a chance to reply, they will, the same distrust of people in general. Underneath all the cliches the lurking terror that the professor's / journalist's role will be undermined and that their days of being able to monopolise debate are drawing to a close.

The interesting thing is that none of what they say matters. Like passengers on the Titanic arguing over who gets to dine at the captain's table they cannot stop what is about to happen. The changes brought on by the internet are already taking hold with those Greek teenagers who are going online now for the first time. They are the first generation of digital natives swimmingly effortlessly through a sea of data and information.

How long will the old guard be able to teach or report using the technology from the forties and ideas from the nineteenth century? In the end the next generation will exercise their power to simply tune them out.

Here is a TED Talk video by creativity expert, Ken Robinson which challenges the way we're educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types.

1 comment:

Simon Baddeley said...

I wonder if one of the arts of taking up a new technology is not to be over concerned with the technology. An essential stage in sound technology back in the 60s [before your time my boy(:))]was the nerdish stage where people seemed less concerned with what the new medium did than with how it worked - so we had more talk about sub-woofers than about Mozart or Van Morrison. I suspect we're still in that stage with current technologies. I only mention this because I note that you like me work a blog that 'looks' like a paper diary without too many distracting additions. I know there's much more to it than than, but you speak less of the technique than its use; citizen journalism - which you do seemingly effortlessy and I know what that can cost (I'm still getting my mind round the idea by the way, but I come from a family of journalists tho' I'm an academic). One word comes to mind looking at what you're doing - skeuomorphing - doing something novel but making it look like something familiar. I have made some quite careful choices about when to adopt and when not to, cultivating tutors who are way ahead of me. By the way I revisited my first voyage into cyberspace on my blog - you might enjoy my account: http://democracystreet.blogspot.com/search?q=%22sudden+silence%22
Kindest regards Simon (we shall be passing through Thessaloniki soon on our way to Kalambaka and Igoumenitsa)