Friday, February 19, 2010

Warmth by wire?

Our professional day last week was built around a great conference sponsored by EdSocialMedia, with lots of good stuff for school communications/marketing folks as well as for classroom teachers. So many things to think about...

I was fortunate to be part of a panel on "The Future of Teaching," led by Antonio Viva and featuring my colleague Kelley Connolly as well as Bill Stites of Montclair Kimberly Academy, Dave Bill of the Dwight School, and Hans Mundahl of New Hampton School. After it was over I kept having people tell me that I made sense, which worried me.

What seemed to make sense to some folks--most of them, like myself, educators of a certain age--was my insistence that teachers of the future will still need to be compassionate and empathetic people who believe in kids and want to see them succeed--nothing that I haven't said in my books or anywhere else.

Clearly these teachers, who aren't all slouches in the adoption of technology and a host of other "21st-century teaching techniques, are worried that in a more technology-driven, and specifically Web 2.0-infused educational world, the human connection that is so powerful in teaching might be lost.

It's ironic that some people in independent schools, where strong, warm teacher-student relationships are not just the coin of the realm but arguably the raison d'etre, are so enthusiastic about creating virtual and online environments in which to do their work. What occurred to me the other day is that maybe what we need to be thinking about, if we are truly going to blend face-to-face with online learning, is how to recreate the kind of warmth and connection virtually that we so naturally feel when we are sharing physical space with other human beings.

So far, all the educational social media in the world, all the digital communications media, and all the virtual worlds in the universe haven't quite been able to recreate the feeling of being with real people, watching faces and body language and hearing nuances of expression that we can't generate digitally.

What we need is "warmth by wire"--all the qualities of humanity delivered electronically.

This could be a tall order. How do we create for ourselves and our students the kinds of environments in which our meatspace selves go through our lives? Human interaction, whether in classrooms or livingrooms or bedrooms, is a sensory festival, and the deeper souls among us tell us that most of us miss quite a lot of what is going on even when we're all in the same room.

I'm willing to give technology a chance here, but I think it's going to be a while before they get it fully right. Virtual reality and augmented reality don't exactly look as though they are going to lose their clunkiness anytime soon, and the fact that in 2010 we still have to put on silly glasses to watch a movie in 3-D means that we're a ways from creating true immersive virtuality. Multisensory experiences are even clunkier; the writers of Star Trek were probably onto something when the made holodecks a feature of the distant future.

Until we have holodecks (and probably long afterward), I guess, some of us are probably going to want to hold onto the idea of the classroom, some kind of physical space in which the warmth, energy, and weirdness of kids is infused with the complementary warmth, energy, and weirdness of human teachers. This doesn't mean that all education has to be F2F or that technology should not be added to the mixture in large gobbets. It doesn't mean that we ought to be halting the retreat of the human teacher from center stage to "guide of the side."

This seems pretty much like common sense to me, but then I guess I'm of a certain age, myself. I think we still believe that little human beings are best brought up by human beings, Singularity or no, and school/education/learning is still fundamentally about bringing children up--helping them develop their character and interests in a social and interactive milieu--and not just teaching them skills and content.

What I don't like is that so many people see technology and social media in the future of teaching as an either/or issue: You're either for the absolute precedence of technology in the classroom or you're an unreconstructed and probably dangerous Luddite, wallowing in outmoded Romantic ideas of what students must be offered. This false dichotomy is as shortsighted as it is arrogant.

We need to see the need for balance--for warmth by wire and warmth in person--and we need to work at achieving it if we are to realize both the human potential of our students and the technical potential of the media in which we work.


Shaping Youth said...

Couldn't agree more. It's the yin-yang issue of balance we're ALL struggling to achieve. I personally am hoping to get some clarity on that via the Program for the Future CoLABoration Mar. 3, and also the in April.

It's a constant push-pull for me bridging the warmth of RL and the warm, and very real virtual life of 'not yet met' co-creators of 'all things good'...

In a classroom setting I think the hybrid 'terms of engagement' are all the more challenging to maintain nourishment of the mind and hold a pensive, complex thought rather than pinging around with partial attention deficit in 'entertain me' bells-n-whistles mode.

I've had lots of success using Animoto with kids, because it engages AND enables kids to express core thoughts in a more media driven sphere. (adding text was a brilliant move on their part) ---Thanks for the read...

royalbert867 said...

Thanks to the excellent conference that EdSocialMedia funded, our professional day last week was quite enlightening. As a participant, I found the conversations on classroom instruction and school marketing thought-provoking. One particular panel drew my attention: "The Future of Teaching," which was expertly moderated by Antonio Viva and featured luminaries like Hans Mundahl, Dave Bill, Bill Stites, and Kelley Connolly. When I thought back on the complimentary comments I had gotten, I couldn't help but feel worried. Feel free to look into a reputable and cheap assignment writing service if you require help with academic responsibilities, such as assignments. While you confidently navigate your teaching career, they can offer invaluable support.

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