The Next Technological Fix

I bought my first ”personal computer’ in the early 1980s, when my Uncle Benson died and left me a few thousand dollars. (I won’t say what I did with the rest of the money.) I’ve been teaching using PC’s since the early 1990s; and full-time people online for the last several years. So I am no Luddite. I have to say, though, that I am beginning to get tired of the successive waves of technological change and the accompanying claims for education.

A Is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution,” is typical of the big claims for technology genre. These arguments always have two main themes. The first claim is that some capability of the new technology allows students and teachers to do things they have never done before and so accelerate learning. The second, and related claim, is that while the technology seems expensive, it will soon be ubiquitous.

Each successive wave of claims tends to either ignore or minimize the relative successes of the previous wave. In “A Is for Apps,” the writer uses television as a straw man (a passive medium, unlike the I-Phone!) while claiming that mobile phones are replacing the personal computer as the preferred devise to access the internet. My theory is that many of these writers are so immersed in the NOW of consumer culture that they never really observe how technology is used.

Is a television in a Sports Bar on the night of the Super Bowl a passive medium? If everyone is talking about the last episode of Lost, is television a passive medium? Television, like any medium, is used in complex ways, depending on a myriad of factors. Similarly, it’s just silly to claim that if everyone has a “smart cell” phone we can “finally fix” education. Again, I think this sort of view is too beholden to consumer society and to a kind of Utopian rhetoric that serves as its justification.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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