I wonder if our resistance to change comes not from concerns about the effectiveness of any piece of (educational) technology, however valid, but from something buried much deeper and much more difficult to address, something connected to our sense of self-hood. Disruptive technology may be shaking up pedagogy but it presents something much darker to our sense of self.
Current education may be described as a system of knowledge transfer, says John Seely Brown, where knowledge is like a object that one person–the teacher–passes on to another–the student. Even our every day language reflects this conception: “Let me give you a piece of advice…” or “I have a secret…” or “The body of knowledge…” all sound as if we are talking about something concrete. We speak of intellectual property and at the highest points of higher edcaution we say “My research…” We can even argue that our schools are set up as commodities markets where I truck, barter and exchange grades and knowledge. Books (I include clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, coda and so forth here), the principle method for storing our knowledge for the last few millenia, are themselves objects and so reinforce the notion that knowledge is a tanglible asset that can be passed along, bought or borrowed in discrete bits.
I think this idea has tightly wrapped itself around the powerful notion that we are what we have, an idea put forward by Locke in his Two Treatises of Civil Government and pulled deeply into the Western, especially North American, psyche. This defense of property rights and of limiting government to protecting those rights was both an argument against the divine right of kings and an expression of natural law. Given an environment rich enough in resources and free from artifical restraints (i.e. heavy-handed rule) we should be able to take the measure of a man by seeing what he makes for and of himself, i.e. with his own gumption and two hands. There is an intuitive appeal to this and a more noble sentiment at work here than mere acquistion of stuff. To Locke, property is an existential yardstick. It is a fine enough idea on which to build a society when the commons is essentially limitless, as it was in the early days of the European settlement of the North American continent. But it is a fragile proposition, easily disconnected from noble ideas and it collapses when resources are scarce, as Tom Wolfe showed us in Bonfire of the Vanities.
Enter the web. Look at the direction apps and service are going: Last week, for example, saw the launch or relaunch of a number of sophisticated next-generation-web tools:
At their core, all of these tools–and they are terrific tools well worth investing some of your time–are about sharing…our knowledge! Indeed, getting you to share, either willingly or unknowingly (read Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble), is serious business now. There is also great social pressure to share and don’t we encourage and admonish our students to share all the time? “It’s mine but you can have some…” is the line of a Sesame Street song.
But sharing is directly at odds with our Locke-ian inner self. That creates a kind of schizphrenia I often see in schools. And there’s worse. If “I have, therefore I am” is true, then so is its negation true: I do not have, therefore I am not. Sharing, i.e. not having, becomes a very real existential threat. When I show teachers collaborative document platforms such as Google Apps a few will inavariably ask “Why would I want to share a document?” Though it sounds as if they are questioning the utility of sharing, I suspect–and I say this in all seriousness–that the question is a comfortable way to address deeply held and deeply uncomfortable anxieties about actual existence: If I surrender exclusive ownership, how will I know who I am?
It’s this genuine fear that we need to address when managing change in our schools. Heidegger says the essence of technology is by no means anything technological and my experience in managing the integration of emerging technologies in schools bears this out. The essence of technology is human.