Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘sociotechnical

It is easy to draw simple cause-and-effect lines. For example, it is easy to observe people staring at their phones and blame the technology for creating anti-social people.

However, such thinking is flawed. Social phenomena — and this includes schooling — are complex with many contributing and confounding factors.

It is much harder to study nuance. I only developed a deeper and more refined understanding of this when I was a graduate student. It was then that I first heard about such phenomena coming under the socio-technical umbrella.

This means at least two things. First, our use of technology is not dictated only by the immediate or obvious affordances of the tool; we negotiate its use. For example, I could use this blog to educate or to mislead.

Second, as we interact with each tool, it changes us and we change it in tight and iterative cycles. For example, Twitter was essentially open and international texting that gave birth to hashtags. Hashtags spread to other platforms and became part of modern lingo. This in turn became part of advertising, propaganda, and content curation.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

The nuance of socio-technical systems is not difficult to grasp. Ignore it and your arguments lead to simplistic conclusions, e.g., videos games cause violence and so we should not let kids play them.

The socio-technical lens lets you see how human dimensions like motivations, predispositions, mental states, social pressures, and more, interact with and shape our technology use.

I am recreating some of my favourite image quotes I created some time ago. This time I use Pablo by Buffer and indicate attribution and CC license.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

This is one of my favourite quotations because it challenges the rhetoric that “technology is just a tool” and that it should be use to merely enhance learning.

Some tools are extremely powerful. So powerful that they change mindsets and behaviours. Take the modern mobile phone for instance. They have changed the way we walk and communicate and they continue to affect the way we learn.

If teachers and administrators want to integrate technology (not just use it) in the curriculum and classroom, they need to acknowledge this fact and learn more about sociotechnical systems and change.

Note: I am on vacation with my family. However, I am keeping up my blog-reflection-a-day habit by scheduling a thought a day. I hope this shows that reflections do not have to be arduous to provoke thought or seed learning.

Portfolio by cirox, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License by  cirox

I read Reviewers Unhappy with Portfolio ‘Stuff’ Demand Evidence and shook my head.

It wasn’t that I did not agree that portfolios are often loose collections of artefacts instead of clearly articulated evidence of learning. I definitely agree with the sentiment that “collecting is easy. Interpreting and integrating the collection is hard”.

Therein lies one major issue. I think instructors and learners expect too much of an e-portfolio. The technology behind the portfolio make the assemblage easy, especially if the platform is a highly controlled LMS. But such a system interferes with the interpreting and integrating because it is hard for the user of the e-portfolio to feel as if he or she owns it. If you don’t own it, you don’t identify with it or invest in it.

E-portfolios are a sociotechnical system. The technology makes the collection, reflection, selection and presentation efficient. It is the social component that makes it effective. Some social components could include a constant negotiation for what goes into a portfolio, for conversations to take place between instructors of different courses of the purpose and outcomes of a portfolio, and trying to replicate quality interactions that already take place in the blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter.

You just know that a blog entry with content like “plenty of educators, especially administrators, wouldn’t know a blog from their elbow, let alone have a clue how they might use Twitter or Ning in their districts” is fishing for something.

The author of that blog had a few points to make: 1) many educators don’t know what Web 2.0 is, much less how to integrate it, 2) Web 2.0 is important to learners now and in the future (even if Web 2.0 evolves to something else), and 3) we are not putting enough technology in the hands of learners so that they learn more authentically.

So my response to his question “Social media… dirty word or essential skill?” is obvious. It is an essential skill. But I’d add that students also need to be information literate and socially literate (I say more of this in a book chapter that I have written).

They also need essential attitudes and values. Why? Web 2.0 is a sociotechnical phenomenon. The technology enables users to generate and publish content easily. But users must also want to do this, and as they do, they must do so ethically and responsibly.


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