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Posts Tagged ‘technology

The most recent episode of the Build For Tomorrow podcast is for anyone who has bought into the narrative of being “addicted” to technology. 

Podcast host, Jason Feifer, started with the premise that people who have no qualifications, expertise, or study in addiction tend to be the ones who make claims that we are helplessly “addicted” to technology.

Ask the experts and they might point out that such “addiction” is the pathologicalisation of normal behaviour. For an addiction to actually be one, it must interfere with social, familial, occupational commitments.

Another problem with saying that we are “addicted” to technology is that addiction is normally defined chemically (e.g., to drugs, smoking, or alcohol) and not to behaviourally (e.g., gaming, checking social media). Just because something looks like addiction does not mean it is addiction.

An expert interviewed in the podcast described how behavioural addiction had misappropriated chemical addiction in self-reporting surveys (listen from around the 28min 45sec mark). To illustrate how wrong this misappropriation was, he designed an “addicted to friends” study (description starts at the 32min mark).

  • Take the questions from studies about addictive social media use
  • Swap content for friendship measures, e.g., From “How often do you think about social media a day?” to “How often do you think about spending time with friends during the day?”
  • Get a large and representative sample (807 respondents) and ask participants to self report (just like other “addiction” studies)

Long story made short: This study found that 69% of participants were “pathologically addicted to wanting to spend time with other people”. Is this also not a health crisis?

If that sounds ridiculous, know that this followed the design of the alarming social media addiction studies but was more thorough. If we cannot accept the finding that people are addicted to spending time with one another, we should not accept similarly designed studies that claim people are “addicted” to social media.

Other notable notes from the podcast episode:

  • Non-expert addiction “experts” or the press like to cite numbers, e.g., check social media X times a day. This alone does not indicate addiction. After all, we breathe, eat, and go to the loo a certain number of times a day, but that does not mean we are addicted to those things.
  • The heavy use of, say, social media is not necessarily a cause of addiction. It might be a correlation made bare, i.e., a person has an underlying condition and behaviour manifests that way. The behaviour (checking social media) did not cause the addiction; it is the result of something deeper.
  • The increased use of social media and other technological tools are often enablers of social, familial, occupational commitments, not indicators of addiction. Just think about how we have had to work and school from home over the current pandemic. Are we addicted to work or school?

One final and important takeaway. The podcast episode ended with how blindly blaming addiction on technology is a form of learnt helplessness. It is easier for us to say: Something or someone else is to blame, not me. We lose our agency that way. Instead, we should call our habit what it is — overuse, wilful choice — not a pathological condition. 

I enjoyed this podcast episode because it dealt with a common and ongoing message by self-proclaimed gurus and uninformed press. They focus on getting attention and leveraging on fear. Podcasts like Build For Tomorrow and the experts it taps focus on meaning and nuance.

To fully understand this tweet, you need to know who Sisyphus is. From this blurb in Merriam-Webster

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who annoyed the gods with his trickery. As a consequence, he was condemned for eternity to roll a huge rock up a long, steep hill in the underworld, only to watch it roll back down.

A research fellow at the University of Cambridge, Dr Amy Orben, borrowed this story to write a paper, The Sisyphean Cycle of Technology Panics. The tweet above nicely illustrates this with some examples of what we have worried about over time.

Why do we repeat this this pointless effort? Orben offers a condensed answer in her abstract:

In this cycle, psychologists are encouraged to spend time investigating new technologies, and how they affect children and young people, to calm a worried population. Their endeavour is however rendered ineffective due to a lacking theoretical baseline; researchers cannot build on what has been learnt researching past technologies of concern. Thus academic study seemingly restarts for each new technology of interest, slowing down the policy interventions necessary to ensure technologies are benefitting society.

TLDR? We fail to learn from history. Others much wiser have made that claim before me. So I share some image quotes I made previously by embedding them in this slideshow.

We can be better than this. We need to break the wheel. Orben suggested a UnITED Framework for Technology Research: Unique use, Individual, Time frame, Effect size, Direction. Unique use seemed to be about identifying a special affordance of technology and Individual seemed to be about specifying the unit of research.

Her paper will be critiqued by her peers. Both the paper and critiques should be useful to those who do not deeply understand or use technology but still have to shape policies or write newspaper articles about them.

Come October I will be facilitating online modules on ICT for inclusive education. This is part of a larger course set that I have been involved in since 2016.

As with most courses, the allocated time is extremely tight, so we uncover only the basics. But there are two broader issues that I wish we could address in greater depth. These are some quick thoughts on the deficit model and equitable education.

The first thing I take issue with is the deficit model of special needs and inclusive education. If you watch the videos below, you might note how the “disabled” are concerned about how they help they receive is often based on charity or pity.

Video source

Video source

The interviewees shared their hopes and dreams, which are no different from yours or mine. So instead of just focusing on overcoming their disabilities, we might also develop their nascent or untapped abilities.

The second issue that does not get enough attention is equitable opportunities in education, not just equal ones. This long used reference illustrates the difference between treating people equally and with equity.

Treating everyone the same is a hallmark of equality. The problem with equality is that the most disadvatanged start at a much lower point and the help does not boost them enough to level the playing ground.

The idea of fairness drives equity. This means giving those that need it more help than those who do not. This is like giving the poorer more money to tide over the current coronavirus pandemic and less (or nothing) to the rich.

How does ICT fit in?

In terms of equity, I see the marginalised and disenfranchised given at least as much access to current technologies. Where there are specialised enabling (assistive) technologies, I say we put in the time, money, and effort to develop and provide these to those who need them.

As for overturning the deficit model, I say we focus on technologies that enable the so-called disabled to develop and share what they can do. This might be everyday tools we use like YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok.

I hope to be able to conclude my modules with these thoughts or sprinkle them when they arise organically. This way I focus less on content that expires and more on mindsets that last a lifetime.

If you asked me to define “technology”, I would say that it is any tool that helps us perform tasks more efficiently or effectively.

A stick is technology whether it is used as a lever, a spear to fish, or an instrument to write on the sand. It helps us lift a weight more easily, increases our reach, and externalises thought respectively.

These days, however, I would define technology as any tool that you have now that you did not have when you were growing up. For older adults, this might be the mobile phone. It is something that has great utility, but gained prominence outside a period of fearless learning.

Modern technology not static. A mobile phone used to mimic a landline; it is now a small computer, camera, and a myriad of other devices compactly squashed in our pockets.

The current and modern mobile phone is a good example of an ICT — an information and communication technology. It can be used to find information, possibly repackage it, and then share it. I might use my phone to check for definitions of technology, devise my own, and then blog about it.

IT tends to be one-way — think about the transmissive powers of television, PowerPoint, and wifi. IT tends to be highly regulated or controlled by someone or a group in authority.

ICT, on the other hand, is two-way or multi-way. Think about social media, video conferencing, and torrent seeding. ICT relies on decentralised and socialised control. Its norms and expectations are negotiated over time and within communities.

There is no single way to define technology, IT, or ICT. Their meanings can change in context. Mine is education and these are ideas that provide a foundation for how I begin to teach others how to integrate technologies. This is how I see T.

A good story should have a moral at the end of it, even if the story was cooked up for comedy.

Video source

The comedienne in the video above “wrote” a book which had two halves. Each half had very different endings. The acceptable half concluded with forgiveness while the socially incorrect half ended with revenge.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the children who listened to the story seemed to prefer the story of revenge. If the book was real, some might call for its ban for promoting violence and revenge.

There is a similar logic among technophobes. For them, current technologies are inherently harmful despite their utility. They are technologically deterministic in that they assume that technology shapes behaviour. They conveniently forget that our attitudes and behaviour also shape how we use the technology.

I say this because people can see the point of “screen time” (e.g., video conferencing for work and school) now. This is despite calls in recent years for limits for screen time.

As they Zoom remotely, naysayers inadvertently apply what proponents of technology have said all along — it is not how much technology time you spend (quantity), but what exactly you do with it (quality) that matters.

In effect, you could spend a large part of the day interfacing with a screen. But looking only at the total time and not the activities like communicating, researching, or cooperating focuses on the wrong part of the story.

In the not too distant future when might say that once upon a time we accidentally turned emergency learning into e-learning. When things supposedly return to normal, will we forget what we learnt?

The more I work in the field of educational technology, the more I realise that technology does not transform as much as it reveals.

Technology does not auto-magically make your teaching better (or worse for that matter). It reveals who you are and what you do. That is what makes your teaching better or worse.

To give technology all the credit or blame is to be technologically deterministic. But technology is not just a tool. Marshall McLuhan said it best:

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

Our reliance on video conferencing tools in the age of COVID-19 reveals if we simply try to recreate the conventional classroom. If we do, we do not let the tools and circumstances reshape us.

But if we first analyse a tool’s affordances, we figure out what is was designed to do and we change our behaviours. As we do so, we learn what the rules of use are, what rules can be bent, and which can be broken. We reshape that tool and the cyclic dance continues.

Two days ago, I mentioned that I attended a Zoom-based meeting to celebrate the graduation of a few Masters students. I opted not to use an artificially generated background and relied on what I had in my study instead.

Obviously not all will agree with that choice. They might wish to embellish or hide natural backgrounds as a matter of personal choice.

Zoom, with natural background.

I choose to use a natural background in part because it suits my purpose — it is a study, it looks studious, and I teach via video conference if it is necessary.

It is also for pedagogogial and technical reasons that I opt for a natural background. An artificially replaced background requires software algorithms to work hard to keep track of where the person is. This creates artefacts when the person moves.

At the latest Zoom meeting, a participant with an artificial background tried to show an item by holding it up. But since the Zoom algorithm is optimised for people, it removed the object from view. If a teacher did the same, her students would not be able to see what she was trying to illustrate.

The choice of a tool is not straightforward. Once chosen, its usage is not fixed because its designers and creators cannot foresee every contextual use. This is why the choice and use should not be left only to vendors and administrators. The actual users need to weigh in as well.

The latest installment from the Pessimists Archive podcast was What Will We Fear Next?

At first face value, the title seemed to be about predicting a new technology with which we will likely place old fears on. But if you listen till at least the 38-minute mark, you will hear the podcast host say this:

Even if we can predict the technology, we can’t predict the context in which it will be experienced or the needs it will fulfil or the expectations that it will meet or shift.

This is a reminder to anyone who makes or reads predictions about the future — making projections about tools is relatively easy, doing the same about contextual use is not. This is why most predictions fail to materialise on time.

The episode might also have been the first to visit the concept of technological determinism. Shortly before the quote, the host described technological determinism as a one-way street upon which technologies change us. Since people fear change, they fear technologies because they are threats to established ways of doing things.

But I am reminded of one of my favourite quotations:

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

We designed our tools and they are used in expected and unexpected ways. The outcomes of use are socio-technologically determined. This is why one successful classroom use of a technology does not guarantee equal success elsewhere. Context matters and that context is determined by many factors, e.g., students, teachers, support, environments, professional development, etc.

Today I reflect on how an article about spraying disinfectant on streets mirrors a negative edtech practice.

The short answer to the question above is no. A more detailed answer is in the article linked in the tweet.

The spraying is largely a show of action with little, if any, effect. The same could be said of most instances of enacted policy. These result in empty shows that engage or impress people in the short term, but do not empower in the long term.

I focus on schooling and education. We still reach for the low-hanging fruit of edtech that is showy for teachers and not necessarily meaningful for learners. Take, for example, “interactive” white boards, clickers for responding to PowerPoint presentations, and “interesting” YouTube videos.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the tools except that they are created for the teacher and teaching. These are the first line of tools that a teacher can showcase if she is observed by visitors, peers, or superiors.

But the more powerful tools are mundane and insidious. They are used every day by learners outside the classroom. We might include Instagram and TikTok in this category. Attempts to formally integrate these into the curriculum, particularly attempts that go through the motions, might result in rejection or ridicule.

This is one reason why using educational technology is easy and integrating it is difficult. This is why professional development tends to focus on use by improving skillsets instead of also working on integration by changing mindsets.

The most recent measures added to Singapore’s COVID-19 circuit breaker redefined “essential services”.

When the restrictions started two weeks ago, getting your fill of bubble tea and having a haircut were essential. Now they are not.

I am not complaining nor am I worried because I did not buy into the bubble tea fad and I can get a haircut later. But I am worried about some smaller food & beverage (F&B) outlet owners and the possible parallel future of school edtech.

According to this government article, “standalone outlets that only sell beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries (e.g. sweets, toffees) or desserts will be required to close their outlets” (more detailed list here). These are typically owned by young, gung-ho, and creative types who rent shophouse space in HDB estates and areas that can only be described as outliers.

The large and franchised chains like Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are not affected as much because most outlets operate in malls. They can still sell their wares via takeaways and deliveries. The small and independent outlets have to shut down completely.

Here is a message from Lee’s Confectionary, a patisserie that I visit almost every week:

Message from Lee's Confectionery about the extended circuit breaker.

The independent F&B outlets are the ones who need to most help. They do not have parent bodies that might absorb the impact and share the load. They rely on viral social media marketing, word of mouth, and reputational capital because they carved niches of their own. But they were the first to be dropped.

What is the parallel with edtech in schooling that is currently defined by emergency remote teaching and possibly later by actual online learning? I worry that the established vendors of content and “learning” management systems, or sellers of popular tools like Zoom, will continue to get deference over niche platforms or tools.

Such a move is a “safe” bet from an administrative and policy point of view. Those in charge of purse strings can bargain for the best price of implementing a platform over large systems. In terms of policy, having just one or very few platforms is easier to monitor and control.

But such a mindset is outdated. It counters what open, online, and distance education expert, Martin Weller, described as essentials for moving forward: openness, decentralisation, and distribution.

An oversimplified version of those three principles put into action is: Do not put all your eggs in one basket. CMS and LMS strain when accessed concurrently. These platforms are rarely designed with progressive pedagogy, e.g., they are designed largely for consumption instead of creation/co-creation. None of the standard platforms can assure stakeholders that they can implement tests and evaluations in the way schools currently do.

Yet the incumbents are preferred over the niche and nimble tools or providers that pioneering teachers already rely on. It is not that niche and nimble tools are actively discouraged. It is that they are not prudently encouraged. I wonder when we might see a clear shift in of mindset built on empowerment and trust.

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