December 24, 2015

The Learning Village of Our Hybrid Reality

Category: Edtech
People doing a craft project at a conference table

If you are reading this, you have a hybrid life. There are things that you encounter and find meaning in or meaningful both offline and digitally. The device you are reading this from is part of your offline world even as the words you are reading are a digital artifact. Think about the way you found this post, the device you are reading from, and the physical location in which you presently exist. Many, if not all of these things will be different for each individual who accesses this post, just as if, where, and how they find importance in these words will be different.

When we think of shared physical classroom spaces and the reason for their existence, much of it is to get rid of as many levels of difference as possible, or, as it is more commonly called, to standardize learning so that it can be measured. Often, when digital media and learning is talked about, it is seen as a tool that can close achievement gaps and bring more equity. I happened to be at an EdTech conference recently that went the other way, seeing digital media and education technology as being the tool that will allow us to identify all the geniuses of the world and bring them together to create a better more technologically- and data-driven future.

I always go back to where we are in our own hybrid lives that all look similar yet vastly different.

Earlier this month, HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) launched the Engaged Scholar group. The end of the text describing the purpose of the group is the following:

We need to work from theory to practice, sharing and refining methods for including multiple voices in the lecture hall and seminar classroom, for replacing summative with formative assessment, for including students into the creation of a syllabus, and for encouraging students to write their own learning contracts and a class constitution.”

Currently, a good portion of the EdTech conversation does not live up to the idea of the Global Village that represents students across ages, places, and spaces. The focus on measurable scalability tends to sound a lot like standardization. That doesn’t mean that tools are not designed to allow lines of flight and diversion. It just means that to find them, and capitalize on them, it takes little more work and creative thinking, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, it leaves me wondering, what are best practices for creating engaged pedagogical practices for students who live a hybrid life? How can we allow space for the real knowledge attainment and expression that also is socially intelligent about the real and meaningful diversity that exists when students exist together only in those digital spaces?

While we do not often like to think of it this way, new technology often shrinks or impedes our ability to integration the information we are taking in until we develop the perceptual understanding to decode and encode what we are experiencing into meaning.

Recently, I took a friend who does not have children through a toy store. My friend was in shock at how many of the toys both connected to the internet or were designed to teach the future code and design-based skills that are imagined as our future. I jokingly said toys represent the future we dream of for those who have their entire future ahead of them. I think that is true. What I also think is true is that our last phase of technological development after the world wide web entered homes has been so quick that the dreams of traditionally-aged students from k-16 are often just out of grasp if not completely out of grasp of those of us who are privileged enough to guide them through their digitally augmented learning journey. While this is much work being done to figure out ways to allow curiosity and exploration to exist in k-12 classroom spaces, I hope that as EdTech continues to move into the higher education market that they see it as not a segmented market, but instead as a space of possibility that brings people together from every space in the world. It takes a village, especially when we are dealing with inadequate or unequally distributed resources. I hope that as we move through the next year, we continue to push what digital media can do to both connect people, but also allow them to do the work of being curious and meaningfully exploring and experiencing difference in a meaningful way that makes learning matter both individually and as a person who is part of our increasingly connected (and deliberately disconnected) global village.

Banner image: DML 2015 participants made coding toys. Photo by Tar Rakhra