The Overconsumption of Technology and Opportunity to Transform Learning
S. Otto Khera
New Mexico State University, PhD. Student
Fall 2016, EDLT 616
Image courtesy of David Wortley (2016)
“Technology,” notably “disruptive technology” as defined by Clayton Christensen has been identified as a game changer for education (Christensen, 2011; Oblinger, 2012; Peters, 2003). Networked, multimedia, and other communication technologies offer the promise of greater access to education among the marginalized, those with scarce resources including money, time and mobility; and to the many living in poverty in this world (Borgman, 2000; Dutta et. al., 2003). Since the mid-1990s we have seen the battle lines drawn and sincere efforts to provide “access to technology” for all learners (Ebo, 1998; Eubanks, 2012). Whole government programs like the E-Rate for schools and libraries and more recently ConnectED explicitly seek to close the so-called “Digital Divide” with the refrain that doing so will empower everyone to get an education, job, and enable participation in civic and political life (ConnectED, 2013).
Yet there are troubling signs everywhere relating to technology and its failure. The real challenge appears to be overconsumption of technologies rather than access per se. Globally it is clear that the dominant transportation and mobility technologies of cars, trucks, and other motorized vehicles are creating significant problems ranging from global warming, health, safety, community and environmental degradation, and general unhappiness as commute times become ever longer and traffic increasingly more congested (Frank et. al., 2003). Similarly, we see the increase in sedentary screen time among all ages, and especially youth who are becoming addicted to computer, smartphone and related screens in greater numbers (Brody, 2015). Together, these two types of technologies contribute significantly to the dismal data that points to a sedentary lifestyle (Nelson & Gordon-Larsen, 2006), and therefore an unhealthy society where since 2012 half of all Americans suffer from a chronic illness or disease such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. This national health crisis has prompted the United States Surgeon General to request that we Americans Step it Up! by exercising more and living a more active and healthy life.
While Pokémon GO! Offers an example of screen-based technology that does get people to walk outdoors, or to ride a bike and walk, we need educational institutions and those groups that support the use of instructional, educational, research, and administrative technologies to coalesce around the notion that they are in fact responsible for guiding the appropriate use of technology. This means owning up to the deleterious effects of screen-based technologies, whether as a contributor to sedentary life, or as having poor health effects relating to eyesight, sleep, and therefore cognition. We need to see universities, colleges, and K-12 institutions actively engage more walking, bicycling, and generally a more active student body that commutes to campus in more healthy, less environmentally degrading ways that sap our communities and residents of health, happiness, safety, and overall resilience. This can be done with relative ease and with a keen eye to connecting to the curriculum such as using a platform such as Ride Amigos or one based upon Stanford’s CAPRI platform — both of which allow institutions and campuses to offer employees and students a way to be rewarded for improving their daily commuting habits by walking, bicycling, ridesharing, using public transit, or not traveling as much altogether.
Perhaps even more importantly, we need to see those professional and research groups that support education’s use of technologies to address the realities around technology and instructional technologies. Nowhere in the joint New Media Consortium – EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) annual instructional technology Horizon Report publications for universities, schools, museums, libraries, and more, do we see evidence of concern for or recognition of technology’s deleterious effects upon learners and communities. In fact, a perusal of the different Horizon Reports suggests that we have little or no need for social justice in education, and that most learners who engage technology are White. Similar to the kinds of broad assumptions made by those like Mark Prensky and his “digital natives” nomenclature and Don Tapscott whose Growing Up Digital (2008) and The Net Generation Takes the Lead (2009) suggest already in the title that today’s youth have a more robust connection, understanding, and set of practices around “digital technology” than others, these assumptions may be dead wrong. Evidence suggests otherwise, and challenges the very notion of “digital natives”:
While the use of technologies is limited in terms of the range and the nature, there is some evidence that younger students use some tools more actively than the older students, but neither of these two groups uses these technologies to support their learning effectively. Educators therefore cannot presume that all young students are “digital natives” who understand how to use technology to support and enhance their learning (Margaryan et. al., 2011, p. 22).
While we do see evidence of “a significant positive small to moderate effect size favoring the utilization of technology in the experimental condition over more traditional instructions” over the past 40 years since 1985 (2011, Tamim, et. al., p. 16), these same researchers who methodically reviewed research literature based on performance and other learning outcomes suggest that we should move beyond a “technology/no technology” research comparison given that “it is arguable that it is aspects of the goals of instruction, pedagogy, teacher effectiveness, subject matter, age level, fidelity of technology implementation, and possibly other factors that may represent more powerful influences on effect sizes than the nature of the technology intervention” (p. 17). In other words, there still exist significant practical and research questions before we can assume that we are beyond the “no significant difference” regarding learning from media as concluded by Clark (1983).
Today we know that we cannot simply avoid modern technologies such as automobiles, smartphones, computers, and electronic networks any more than we can avoid the common cold . As with reducing our chances of catching a cold by washing our hands more often and diligently and sterilizing our dishes in a dishwasher rather than hand washing our dirty dishes, we can though reduce the negative effects of technology by reducing our consumption of technologies and using it more effectively and with purpose. For example, “Private vehicles like cars, pick-up trucks, and SUVs, account for 60 percent of trips of a mile or less,” according to the Federal Highway Administration of the US Department of Transportation (League of American Bicyclists, 2010). Relatedly, somewhere between 28% and 40% of total trips are two miles or less. If all capable, walked or bicycled for such two miles or less trips, we could reduce our use of private vehicles by up to 40% and that is achieved without any infrastructure changes. Such a reduction would be meaningful as setting a global leadership example that helps reduce motor vehicle travel, the number one contributor to CO2 emissions associated with climate change since February 2016 according to the U.S. Department of Energy (before early this year, the biggest CO2 contributors have been energy power plants).
Behavior modification is critical to solving real-world problems such as climate change, and there exists a direct connection to education, learning, and technology. A realization that the local and known place and context serves as an environment in which to participate and from which to construct knowledge, represent and engage in discourse, assess, self assess and reflect upon as social and transactional place; is critical to empowering our learners with agency and the ability to engage these problems with meaning and impact. But for this to happen, we must see our schools, higher learning institutions, and technology research support groups step up to the proverbial plate. Today we have more of these groups involved in cheerleading and schmoozing with vendors than fulfilling their functions as critical research, teaching, and learning institutions that can offer a new model for learning and research, supported by technology. This is too bad, since we know from Pokémon GO! and other technologies that it is possible to activate people to engage their environment — we need only now apply this to a meaningful learning experience that challenges the status quo, including our current, very tired, very sedentary, very interior classroom model of learning.
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