Technology Replaces Textbooks, Not Teachers

With recent educational policy initiatives to require online classes for high school graduation, as well as the favorable attention the news media has paid to Khan Academy and the inverted classroom, it’s important to remember that technology is a tool, and just like any tool it requires assistance in order for its users to gain an understanding of it and work towards mastery.  Vygotsky would call it the Zone of Proximal Development, and Wenger would call it a Community of Practice, but education is a continuous mix and mesh of various ZPDs and CoPs, providing assistance and application to tools introduced.  Technology, like the textbook before it, can help expedite the facts, but contextualizing the information, analyzing, wrestling, and evaluating require more than the behaviorist tendencies of current educational policy.  To take from Bloom’s Taxonomy, technology makes the acquisition of knowledge easier — but knowledge is only the first of six aspects of learning, according to Bloom.

How does this play in a museum space where, according to the NMC’s Horizon Report, most museums are hoping to be iPad integrated within five years?  Will it remove the role of the docent, cut support staff, and leave a few curators alone to try to keep Rome from crumbling?  It shouldn’t have to; instead, it should be a liberation.  If a student wants a fact (Who painted this?  When did they die?  Why do the babies in old paintings look like small old men?), that can be accessed from a device.  That’s entry into the world — the outskirts of the community, the edge of the zone.  That is where the docent/support staff/curator can step in and help to make relationships between not only the artifact and its world, but the artifact in our world.  Technology could allow us to stop the abstraction of information and reduction of information to hollow fact, and instead enrich it with the society, culture, norms, mores, false assumptions and other history of its time, and see how the information played into the shaping of future society over the course of time.  Each organization needs to remember, however, that people in charge of the purse strings will care less about the greater opportunities for human interaction, and instead hope that such technology will allow for human downsizing and profit buffering.


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