Many of you will be familiar with the (itself overhyped) Gartner Hype curve. I'm not going to get into its scientific validity here, but I think it has resonance as people recognise their own relationship with technology in it. There are more sophisticated technology adoption theories, but let's go with this one for now.
Back when we used to use the term 'web 2.0' without embarrassment, many of us were hyping it up. I'm guilty of this as much as anyone. At the time, the combination of user generated content, wide connnectivity, social networking, mobile devices seemed to open up possibilities. I still find it amazing that I have such a rich, global network of peers, all of whom are smarter than me, and most of whom I haven't met. I would arguse that this optimism, and slight discarding of critical powers we felt wasn't a failing however, it was a necessity. By engaging in this new world whole-heartedly one could really get the benefits and also potentially shape the possible futures we were envisaging.
Inevitably some of that glossy holiday romance wears off. This isn't a bad thing – as Clay Shirky is fond of saying, a technology becomes really interesting when it becomes invisible. Social networks, user generated content – all these things are more interesting in social terms now they're part of everyday life than when they were a niche club. But our attitudes shift also, and it now becomes appropriate to have a more questioning stance, as these very tools become used by a much bigger audience and for different means. Gardner Campbell covers this in detail with his refrain "That is not what I meant at all"
What is now required from us educators is to tread a fine line. It is easy to become cynical, to dismiss all new innovations and bemoan the good old days when blogging was a really exciting, new world. The danger there is that we become the very people resistant to new ideas that we used to bemoan. And we miss genuine opportunities. On the contrary side, we need to avoid simple, easy solutions. We know that technology, education and society is more nuanced than simple slogans allow.
So, if anyone states any of the following now (ahem, I can let them off if they did it a while ago), they are revealing either that they are naive, or worse, a charlatan:
- Specifying a particular technology is dead – actually technologies rarely die (some do, eg the fax), their monopoly is lost, and they become specialised, adapted, mutated. Think of radio, or books. Merely declaring something to be dead is usually a precursor to selling its replacement.
- Disrupting education – I've moaned about the "education is broken" meme, and Audrey Waters has a thoughtful piece on the simplistic narrative around education has remained unchanged for 200 years. As Brian Lamb comments:
I think the next time I read about somebody "disrupting" education, I'm gonna throw a keg party in their office.
— Brian Lamb (@brlamb) November 5, 2012
- There's nothing new here – the reverse of these is to dismiss everything. We've seen all this before, there's nothing new here so no need to change my approach.
So, I'll make a plea here – we like simple answers, we like people who give us simple answers. They're sexy. They're convenient. They're tweetable. But life isn't like that, and actually the messy, nuanced, complex picture is more interesting. Be suspicious of those oh so sweet tasting simple answers on either side of the technology divide.