Program or be programmed?

I recently ran across a talk by Douglas Rushkoff given to Google entitled “Don’t Forget About the Humans“.  I then went to explore some of his writings, interview and such.  And while some of the others near me at the time I was listening to the presentation thought some of the ideas were strange.  I think in reality they hit just a little too close to home.

With the need for technology, more and more we give up control to the programmers. Now I have absolutely nothing against programmers – they are creative, ingenious, work hard and do some amazing things with technology.  However, I do have a problem when it is left up to the programmers to also be the teachers.  Or when teachers back away from what they know to be best due to a programming issue.

One of the points Douglas Rushkoff made was the lack of verbal, tonal, emotional and body language cues when we are online.  As he put it “We all have Aspergers.”  We lose all the “bandwidth” of the rich communication that can happen when people are face-to-face.  So what does this mean for teaching?

At the very core of teaching is communication.  When we move a class online something needs to be done to compensate for the loss of the language cues.  I know as a teacher that often a look was enough to change the choice of a student.  So how do you do that online?  I knew a teacher who would put in excess cues to help her students remember the important topics.  She would simply have to ask the student “Remember the day I wore my bunny slippers to school?” and the student would respond “Oh, yes and you put the (insert topic or information) on the overhead in green and red.”

As we move forward into a world that only a few can imagine, it becomes difficult as a teacher.  How can we prepare our students to be successful when we ourselves at times feel like we are drowning in the tech information and possibilities.  As Frank Pileiro describes in his article Web 2.0 – Like Drinking Water from a Fire Hose, the technology should always support the curricular goals. (There is a good comment on this article as well describing how a teacher let the students choose the technology to support the objectives.)

There are movements towards a more user friendly, customizable interface (Why the iPad is Different)  and schools that are using the latest technology and virtual interfaces (Taking School to the Nest Level). But in the end we as consumers, teachers, people need to make sure that we are controlling the technology and not letting the technology control us.

I see a great need for people to work together, across disciplines.  For teams of experts to learn to talk across boundaries and people to translate the jargon so everyone can understand and move forward together.  So that the humans can be the programmers rather than being programmed.


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