Human+Tech in Education


I wrote in an earlier post, that it is time to move beyond the false binary of online vs offline in education. After the pandemic, it's going to be both.

But, as I explained, this is not going to be 'blended' learning of the vanilla variety. That is because the word 'blended' presupposes content as the driver of education. The post-pandemic priorities will demand moving away from the publishing paradigm. We already know that it's context, rather than content, that drives meaningful educational outcomes. We have to do much more than blending the content now.

As we look to do this, we should also demolish another, equally false, binary: That of human vs the tech. We often mix up humans with face-to-face and tech with the online side of the argument. But that is a mistake, at least now, when tech is getting smarter and laying claims on human functions. The publishing paradigm in education, based on the view that serving content is what the teachers do, exacerbate this confusion and limit our views. As tech can play a role both in online and face-to-face education, humans can do so too.

I would also stay away from the debate whether humans are better at providing context, while tech does better in serving content. Context is somewhat pointless - life already provides enough of it - without content; and content is a lifeless bore without context. 

It's also important, even at the time of intelligent machines, to recognise education as an essentially human enterprise, that needs both. Our endeavours of beating divergences out of humans and making them skilled automatons have always failed. If anything, even the economy demands today a more human human - and humanising education should be the number one priority even in the most technical of the schools. This makes the claims of some technologists, pandering the cause of cost-savings, to replace humans in education even more problematic, if not downright unethical. They unleash the move-fast-and-break-things philosophy onto education - breaking not the web applications, but human lives, machines learning at the cost of ruining human lives. Our failure to treat the human-vs-machine debate separately from online-vs-offline cedes the space to such false philosophies even more.

Hence, it's time to turn to Gary Kasparov for inspiration. When Big Blue beat him, he acknowledged the brute force of the thinking machine; but at the same time, he could distinguish the patterns of thinking and doing in humans and machines and recognised that a smart machine with an average human will be better than either a smarter machine or a very smart human. This symphony of abilities, though not recognised in the traditional boundaries of chess playing, is perhaps one of the most valuable insights for educators. Instead of resisting the technologies and focusing on false debates, we should be building a different paradigm - one of greater abilities, of human+tech in education.

This will indeed need a different kind of tech, away from the brain-dead labour saving software that a large part of the technology industry is focused upon. The central question of that tech will not be whether humans can be dealt away with, but rather how tech can augment human abilities; make better teachers, make better learner! It's not about making lectures available 24x7, but creating opportunities of learning in context, opening minds, connecting people. This conversation is not happening in Tech because the educators have abdicated (mostly), leaving the discussion to venture capitalists and technologists. This is one thing that needs to change after the pandemic.

As should the educator's art! There should never again be a moment when well-known professors can't do Zoom: It's time to recognise that the digital literacies are now central to education. And we should go much further than Zoom - and learn how to use technologies of connection and communication for learning.

This pandemic has shown the limitations of the campus, but also of online learning. This is the ideal canvas to build new possibilities - and that model must embrace human+tech in education.








Preceptor said…
You will be pleased to know that many people are working on the problem. The new generations of LMS are designed to allow for the role of the tutor/mentor/coach/learner to be redefined along the lines you are suggesting. However, without clarity regarding the purpose of education much of this potenial will be lost. There is still the tension between the transmission mode of education and the transfromative mode.
Once this tension is seen as an opportunity for creative thought we can move forward in a positive way.
Form should always follow purpose.
Margaret Mead sureley was right when she said, "We are now at the point where we must educate our children in what no one knew yesterday, and prepare our schools for what no one konws yet"
'Everyone' could be used instead of 'children' and 'educational institutions' could be used instead of 'schools', and the quote would still make sense.
Perhaps it is time to re-visit Dewey (Experience and Education)
Please contact me if you would like to read the relevent chapter.

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