My brother George recently wrote the post “Denying Our World” where he recalls a compelling narrative that causes him to reflect upon what it means to live ‘online’ and our associated imperative as educators to teach to this reality. In the comments of this post, ‘Kirsten T.” pushes back with a thoughtful response, and in part states:
I find the argument “It’s not going away” to be neither substantive, nor compelling. It echos to me the feet stamping of educators who say “I’ve always done it this way”.
I’ve used a form of the “it’s not going away” argument in past conversations and presentations, but its meaning for me seems very different than what is described by Kirsten. Since there seems to be discrepancies of understanding, I feel that the statement is worth exploring and further articulating. So what do I mean when I say “it’s not going away”?
First of all, what is the “it” that I am referring to? “It” is a transformed reality where access to new tools, abundant content, and vast networks simultaneously provide countless new affordances and associated challenges. “It” describes:
- a world where volunteers openly write, edit, and rewrite the largest collection of knowledge artefacts that humankind has ever seen.
- a world where powerful tools exist that redefine our ability to solve problems and help us to visualize what we know in ways that were once not easily possible.
- a world where 72 hours of video is uploaded every minute (and that’s just to Youtube).
- a world where anyone with an Internet connection can learn along with millions of others through connected learning opportunities.
- a world where a 9-year-old blogger can have a greater voice and more external impact than her entire school district.
- a world where institutional & personal reputation is becoming increasingly important, but more so, where qualifiers of reputation are tracked and recorded through your interactions with others.
- a world where views on privacy have changed and where teens are struggling to redefine their social spaces while corporate giants are building their business models on a less private future.
- a world where racist message meant for a few can quickly end up being seen, remixed, and repurposed and viewed by millions, but where those same communication dynamics can allow a young scientist to creatively share her passions.
- a world where bullying incidents can quickly go viral, but where forces of human kindness can help the victims, raise awareness, and foster networks of support.
- a world where the world’s most popular song (the one your kids are singing, dancing to, and remixing) is written entirely in Korean.
- a world where video screencasts from an untrained educator are viewed by millions of learners, attract millions of dollars in funding, provoke thousands of educators to ‘flip their classrooms‘, and cause educators to critique and discuss the importance of pedagogy. And,
- a world where governments, corporations and educational institutions try to control all of these forces but most often, realize that their attempts are futile.
I could go on …
And what do I mean by “… is not going away”?
Change is constant, so obviously, our current conditions will not remain exactly the same. Rather, there are likely three possible futures related to these new affordances (this is a simplified argument but for real substance, check out Downes’ “Ten Futures“)
- Things regress, people get bored with media, and we go back to some pre-telephony version of society. I think this reality may include roller-rinks, dance-halls, and lots and lots of bowling. Actually, bowling may be a bit too high-tech especially if there are those digital scoreboards. In any case, I’m pretty sure this reality isn’t going to happen so there is not much need for further speculation.
- Governments, against the will of the majority, sign secret treaties that seriously threaten future innovation and the openness of the Internet. This is a horrifying reality, and unfortunately not very far-fetched. However, online protests to ensure and protect our Internet freedoms have been unprecedented in size and scope. The Internet allows citizens to have their voices heard, and collectively, people have successfully influenced ill-informed government legislation. And, an open and free Internet is the key to our own self-determination.
- Things move ahead; new tools are created, more content becomes available, and networks continue to be used to form and sustain important aspects of our relationships (including those of teaching and learning). And the implications of these technologies will continue to shape our world. Think, for instance, of what the impact of this “breakthrough” in spoken-word translation could have on our lives. We will soon have the ability to have accurate, automated live translation of our words into just about any language spoken. What does that mean for second-language learning? What does that mean for opening up our world to different forms of cultural knowledge? What does that mean for creating a more global, and peaceful society? And that is just *one* new technology.
We live in complex, media-rich, connected environments. As adults, we have built these spaces for our kids and set them up in situations where I’ve heard members of our generation exclaim, “I’m sure glad Youtube or Facebook didn’t exist when I was a kid!” But these do exist. And no one – no one – really understands the full implications of what these devices and spaces have on the future of our children. So what are our *obligations* in all of this as administrators, parents, and educators? Do we selfishly ignore “it” because it feels uncomfortable and complex? Or do we roll-up our sleeves, embrace this discomfort, and live up to our ethical responsibilities for our kids?
We don’t need to have all of the answers. But we need to model what it means to try.