Let me start in the middle. When I open up my WordPress blog for editing on my iPad or through my browser it gives me this baby blue and white watered down version of itself. For reading this is more or less fine. But when I want to post something, I don’t want ‘watered down’ and ‘super simple.’ I want to see the full complement of my options, all the knobs, buttons and icons I can stand, many of which I still don’t know how to use. But I want to have them there and visible and available and at my disposal. At the top of this very page there’s that infamous claim: “There’s now an easier way to create on WordPress.com! Switch to the improved posting experience.” But that’s not what I want. I don’t want the “easier” way. I don’t want their version of an “easier” way. It does not add up to an “improved posting experience” for me and I get a little annoyed.
In many ways this is par for the course, especially in dealing with consumer technology. The marketing and sales people insist that the developers keep coming up with a thousand different ways to maintain and grow the clickety-click-click of new users, members, consumers. The guiding question is no longer “what makes this person tick?” rather “what makes this person click?” In this brave new economy, no matter how much information we can access so quickly and easily, to our favorite and most frequented digital platforms, we are really only as valuable as the data bread crumb trails we leave and the thousands of keystrokes, swipes, and clicks we contribute to the mounting masses of relentless data.
One of the questions I ask myself is, where is WordPress going with this “improved posting experience”? What is it that they want me to understand? I feel like I am gradually and unwillingly being weaned from the more complex, layered and nuanced posting experience over time – that one day I will arrive and that skimpy baby blue option will be the only one left. Unless, of course, I want to pay. This is what I anticipate happening because this is what technology companies do. At some point they have to find ways to make some serious money from all these “free” services. Their shareholders are banking on it. I get that, but it is still so easy and common to feel duped in the process.
I’ve been thinking a lot about tech lately. I use my fair share of tech and while I would hesitate to apply the term “tech savvy” to my digital profile, I have learned how to figure stuff out, whom to ask for help and how to read directions carefully and to decide when a video tutorial will do the trick. Upon returning to my teaching post, I’ve found numerous ways to integrate more tech into my planning and teaching routines. My colleague started a great blog of our program last year while I was away and now it is the easiest thing ever to share pictures and videos of what our kids are doing in class with parents, colleagues, students and anyone else who may be interested. I like that.
We have a department iPod which has a great selection of music on it which I use a ton in class (music is my start and stop signal in most cases). We have a well protected iPad with a bunch of different apps related to fitness and performance. I can connect the iPad to a beamer and the stereo and show demonstration videos or use the video delay app which allows students to see a playback of their performance a few seconds afterwards – talk about immediate feedback! The possibilities are countless. And yet.
It’s still early in the year and these new additions are definitive upgrades. But it’s still up to me, the teacher, the human, the pedagogue to determine what, when, how much, and for what purpose tech can be applied for the benefit of student learning. And because I am the teacher and human, there is also resistance. It is frustrating when things don’t work on the first try, or I miss seeing what my students are actually doing in real time because I am busy trying to position the camera to catch them doing it on film. It pains me to get the video up and not have sound. I dislike appearing incompetent. I am human. I am the teacher. Trying out new stuff, both with and without tech, is both risky and rewarding; it’s troublesome and (mostly) worth the trouble. It’s the hardest thing to be patient and keep believing; to have that ounce of faith that in a month or two, this awkwardness of switching cables, locating the remote, waking up the sleeping beamer and more, will gently recede into the background and I will look like I know what I am doing.
My tech use in class will likely become as routine as our strengthening routines but only within the parameters of genuine usefulness. This is not about making my work “easier”; that is not my interest. Rather I want to take on the complexity and messiness of teaching and learning with tech rolled up inside and navigate, find my way. Right now I’m taking a lot of new tools for a test drive. And sometimes I feel like some of those same tools may be taking me for a ride. This kind of travel is tiring and may make me a little irritable in the short term. That’s a bargain I am willing to strike en route to becoming the better teacher, and hopefully better human that my students need and deserve.
So when I rant a bit about the ferociousness of the information economy, I do that as one who is immersed in that economy and eager to see it live up to its promise to help us become better people. So far, much of what I have seen has not been overly convincing. So I rant and resist and point out and raise questions even as I use the tools and share terrabytes of data. The tools I select to use in my classroom, therefore, merit all the more scrutiny and caution and care. Balancing risk with rewards is always more complicated in action than in the written plan. Teaching with tech, or not; blogging with the full dashboard of options, or not – Which is better? When? For whom? These question recycle themselves in my mind. Contemplating my possible responses becomes my diet of digital consciousness training.
Digital. Consciousness. Training. – That may have to become my thing.
2 thoughts on “Digital Consciousness Training (Rough cut)”
Brilliant post Sherri! I love what you say about the ‘easy’ option. It’s a trade off and sometimes we need to embrace the more difficult path to give us a bit of control over what happens. Maybe we need to experiment within a framework that allows us to try things out and then change our minds if things don’t go according to plan.
Thanks, Frances, for your thoughts. I wonder if it’s even possible to teach deeply without changing our minds from time to time on a whole range of elements. And ‘control’ stands right at the heart of the matter of what makes experimenting so scary, daunting and easy to avoid. Giving up control in support of discovery? Allowing for the unknown in the midst of our intended instruction? Unsettling stuff in a conservative profession. Which is probably precisely why we keep at it.