Artifacts for learning. Are Hi-tech solutions contingent on Lo-tech solutions?

I’ve dug out an old Prezi presentation from my archives, and tweaked it a bit – so you can see some of the excellent effects and transitions available in Prezi. This one is just some ramblings of mine on the subject of Technology Enhanced Learning, that I thought I would share, and one of the first “Prezis” I have ever created. I started this presentation ( a long time ago) with the premise that all artifacts we use – are man made, therefore they are in essence human developed technologies. In that regard, learning is no exception to the rule. We use technology to learn with all the time, to assist us with the working out of problems and the generation of ideas, the remembering of useful facts and in the demonstrating and sharing knowledge with one another through discourse.

From the humble spiral notepad – or ruler, to the latest innovations from the world of social media, tablet computers, mobile devices, etc, they all constitute human technological artifacts that can assist us in the process of learning. As an educational pragmatist I have always used what ever fits best for a given teaching scenario, whether that be a crayon, interactive whiteboard, webcam, or a cup of tea and a chat, all technologies – even human speech has a part to play in our journey through education.

As someone who is a keen advocate of shiny new technologies, (a financial burden my wallet can attest to) I sometimes court controversy with colleagues and peers who believe in the superiority of new technology over old. I love to use new technology all the time and regularly introduce new technology into teaching and learning. However I am of the opinion,that if a less technological solution can get the same results with equal or less problems – then, providing it is fit for for purpose – it should be used.

I am minded of the space race, when a U.S company called Fisher spent thousands of dollars from  their R&D budget to build a “space” pen for the US space programme, They invented a special pressurised ink cartridge, and after hundreds of hours of development time, had developed the ultimate in writing technology, a pen that could be used in zero gravity, underwater – and any number of extreme conditions. Indeed it was a genuine triumph of  engineering, a tour de force in the modernisation and adaptation of an existing technology, a pinnacle of engineering design…. That was until a Russian Cosmonaut quipped… “Instead of wasting all that money, why didn’t they just use a pencil?”

Lo-tech – can sometimes trump Hi-tech, and whilst the Fisher pen was no doubt the crowning achievement of writing technology, the humble pencil was, although technically retrograde in comparison – it was equally fit for purpose – without all the additional time and expense. Therefore it is the best choice in that situation.

I make the argument in my prezi presentation (above) – that new demands and new environments can sometimes liberate old technologies. With the advent of extremely high bandwidth technologies – the restrictions and barriers on socially meaningful and “human rich” environments, traditionally reserved for face to face, physically present interaction are now being liberated for the age of the internet. Gone are the restrictions that asynchronous and non instant technologies had on our exposure to the internet.

Nova Spivak - Web as world

Nova Spivak – Web as world

These technologies still have their place, email, blogs, and web publishing are an integral part of the internet landscape, but to my mind the “Warp” of asynchronous technologies is blending and becoming augmented with the “weft” of the synchronous or immediately interactive technologies, thus creating a rich fabric, that is allowing us the ability to explore new richer and socially meaningful dimensions of learning, which, seemingly counter intuitively, are also liberating the older technologies of speech, human collaboration, and ultimately human social interaction. Nova Spivak described it brilliantly when he said that we are using the system of the internet to amplify our understanding of the world, as outlined in his image above. the interplay between the inner-space of the digital world and outer or physical space is helping create an amplification of our understanding of the world, with each aspect of the system reinforcing the other. To reuse the fabric metaphor, we as human agents – the “weft” are through the use, adaptation and the augmentation of the internet becoming enmeshed in the “warp” of this new emerging, and socially transformational technology that is the internet?

Food for thought indeed.

    • Mark McGuire
    • July 12th, 2012

    Hi Denis and others

    This is an excellent overview. My head is still spinning (as much from Prezi’s transition effects as from the ideas you present – the Vertigo reference (setting the scene for transformation) is very appropriate).

    We certainly need to spend more attention on the human/technology interface. I have only recently come across Orlokowski (who you mention), and her discussion of an “ontology of separateness”. She argues for a “relational ontology” that focuses on the assemblages, associations, and networks of humans and technologies that occur through “entanglements in practice” (1). We are irrational beings who have become very good at building rational technologies, which we then use in irrational ways. The invisible hand of technology (technological determinism) is just as much a fallacy as the “invisible hand of the market”. Our study of technology tells us something about our talent for making tools; our use (and misuse) of those tools tells us a lot about ourselves.

    Mark McGuire
    Twitter: @mark_mcguire

    (1) Orlikowski, W. J. (2009). The sociomateriality of organisational life: considering technology in management research. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34(1), 125-141.

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