Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Walled Garden of Education

I've got beef with Smartboards. They're overpriced hunks of junk. I say that even though I've barely ever used them. Why? We live in a post-Windows 7 world. A few years ago a touch interface was revolutionary. I'll give them that, but now it's pretty much standard on any new computer you buy so, you can more or less do the same stuff with a large touch screen monitor that will set you back about a grand and a half less.

What is going to make the education tech of tomorrow isn't the hardware and really not even the software but a changing ethos. When I was growing up the idea of a kid 1.) having the cash to have a laptop in class, and 2.)actually doing something productive with it was unheard of, but now there are so many applications, not apps but academic applications of the technology that it's getting harder and harder for teachers and administrators to just keep it out.

But we're not at what I call the cultural zero point yet. The point where all of this tech is just an academic tool like pencils. Right now it would be the odd teacher indeed who would confiscate a pencil in class even though almost every kid in the world has had an intense doodling session. Why? Because pencils are so crucial in the classroom that even taking away the distraction isn't justification for taking away the tool.

Right now most of the classroom tech I see is still viewed as a walled garden, limiting the flexibility of the tech, and to me that's restrictive. There are applications and devices I use as an adult that I feel would be a godsend to kids but know they'll never use them, especially on a 1:1 basis because they can't be controlled.

The reason why I started this whole thing with Smartboards is that I feel they really need to design more competitive software and hardware, but I don't know if they can in an environment where the use of the tech is secondary to how it could be monitored and controlled.  Do you know how great Facebbook could be for Classroom collaboration. Literally being able to have a recorded (gradable) after class discussion.  But right now even if every kid in the class had a notebook and parent permission most teachers I know would never go for it because bring Facebook in class would be too much of a temptation and distraction, and for a lot of them the same goes for YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, cell phones, or the internet in general.

And that's a shame because outside of the classroom in the real world these tools are starting to become the way people actually do work. You would be surprised at how many meetings I go to where someone is quietly texting a colleague updates or getting clarification from them, or where a YouTube video is used to make a point, or use Facebook as a way to get a read on their audience before speaking.

These are the tools they have available and it makes no sense to me not to use them. Or at least not to try. One of the problems everybody is aware of when it comes to education is the disconnect between the classroom and real world environment. Most of it can't be helped. In the real world most people don't care how something works as long as it does but part of the point of school is to teach theory so rather than the stagnation of rote application you can get inference, intuition and innovation when all you have is the structure of a system rather than a functioning algorithm. But the walled garden creates an artificial dissonance between the two worlds furthering the instinct that the two are wholly segregated when they shouldn't be.  The world is the world. Knowledge is knowledge and information is information.

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