Technology is moving into the educational sphere in an ever-increasing way. The BC Ed Learning Plan has “Learning empowered by technology” as one of its five key elements that will inform future educational policy. (p.5 http://www.bcedplan.ca/assets/pdf/bc_edu_plan.pdf) The Vancouver School Board, like many other districts, is looking at introducing a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) culture into Vancouver Schools. The Vancouver School Board’s Director of Technology and Chief Information Officer Brian Kuhn writes, “The future has always been an uncertain reality. However, today our reality is on an exponential change trajectory, powered by technological progress. The uncertainty of the future is being amplified like never before. How do we make successful choices and decisions in a context that at times feels like chaos?” (http://www.shift2future.com/)
All this “exponential change trajectory powered by technological progress” is happening whether we like it or not. Our students are wired in to online culture in a way that is incomprehensible to the majority of non digital-native teachers and administrators. And we talk a great deal about supporting our learning communities and about allowing access to online culture be that via increased bandwidth, wireless schools, and an increase in hardware and licensing.
But what are we doing about what technology takes out?
Every time I go on a long run, the benefits are inherently clear – I am stronger, my lungs are in better condition, I manage my stress levels and I feel better. But with every step I take, just as I strengthen one muscle, I weaken another. My quadriceps, one of the strongest, biggest muscles in the body gets even stronger and the opposing hamstring muscles get weaker. If I don’t attend to the weakened hamstrings by stretching and exercise, injury, pain, and an inability to run let me know with great force, that I need to do something differently.
Integrating technology to our brain is no different. The “exponential change trajectory powered by technological progress” that Kuhn speaks to is not only changing how we learn and “do school”, it is also changing our brains and quickly at that. As Nicholas Carr in his book, “The Shallows” writes, “Evolution has given us a brain that can literally change its mind – over and over again” (Carr, p. 31). And our evolving brain where “the future of knowledge and culture no longer lies in books or newspapers or TV shows or radio programs or records or CDs” but in “digital files shot through our universal medium at the speed of light” (Carr, p. 31) - Our brain loses out on some valuable practice in deep thinking.
“It’s not a library of books it’s a library of snippets”(Carr, p.166)
Technology, the Internet, and social media add interest, engagement, familiarity and fun. There is nothing wrong with these qualities, and ideally, learning needs to be all of those things, but hypertext, the culture of distraction and the ten second sound bite, visual profile or video moment take away the practice of deep learning and deep thinking. Online culture does great things with breadth, but actively discourages depth. It is the equivalent of strengthening an already strong muscle without attending to the muscle that gets weakened by the practice.
“Google want us to be able to “slice and dice” the contents of digitized books we discover, to do all the “linking, sharing, and aggregating” that are routine with Web content but that “you can’t easily do with physical books.” (Carr, p.165)
And this can lead to a much bigger problem. If we have a culture of learners adept at gathering information, skimming and collating, providing wonderful visual examples and video content, what happens to deep learning and deep thinking? What happens to our culture, when our collective brains lose the neural circuitry required to go past the first two Google pages and consider multiple sources and probing questions? What happens with the practice of democracy?
What happens to democracy, period?
The Internet, however, wasn’t built by educators to optimize learning. It presents information not in a carefully balanced way but as a concentration-fragmenting mishmash. (Carr, p.131)
We need to stretch and strengthen our teaching practices that promote the neural circuitry for deep thinking. The depth that is taken out of the practices promoted when working with technology have to be integrated and explicitly part of our technology plans or we will sadly find ourselves “injured” and unable to run further.
One further benefit of including conversations about the inclusion of deep thinking practices and curriculums inside our technology plans, is that we honor educational past practices. Our non digital native teachers can easily feel that all this talk of technology and education, without intending to, may give the impression that the “new and improved” way of doing schools somehow means, their “tried and true” practices don’t count. Integrating breadth and depth, strengths and weakness, helps include members of staff who have an expertise and depth of practice that needs to be included in the conversations around technology.