My #edcmooc digital artifact

First of all, let me start by putting it out there that both “artifact” and “artefact” are acceptable forms of the word. As someone who lives in the USA, it seems like “artifact” is the most common form we use, and will stick to it for this whole post.

My main goal for this #edcmooc artifact is to try to articulate some of my takeaways from this course, and links to other sources I have found and read over time, from a content and an pedagogical perspective.

Utopias and dystopias

Up until this course, I had always viewed technology in a positive light (as a future utopia). As an educational technologist, it is my job to find valuable ways to use technology to automate routine tasks (improve scale and efficiency) or innovate (change the process to improve learning outcomes). Of course, I always find roadblocks and pitfalls, but I usually find workarounds to avoid them and make the cost/benefit of using technology tilt to the positive side.

In Race Against the Machine, Brynjolfsson & McAfee (2011) warn us against technological unemployment, where corporation learn to operate without humans (think Bank Teller versus ATM, or TurboTax versus Tax Preparation Clerk). The following passage exposes a different paradigm, which applies more closely to the scenario I envision for advances in technology:

As steam power advanced and spread throughout industry, more human workers were needed, not fewer. They were needed not for their raw physical strength (as was the case with John Henry) but instead for other human skills: physical ones like locomotion, dexterity, coordination, and perception, and mental ones like communication, pattern matching, and creativity. (Kindle Locations 787-790).

[…] economic progress comes from constant innovation in which people race with machines. Human and machine collaborate together in a race to produce more, to capture markets, and to beat other teams of humans and machines. This lesson remains valid and instructive today as machines are winning head-to-head mental contests, not just physical ones.

Like Clive Thompson in The Cyborg Advantage, I believe humans will find ways to race with the machine to achieve higher performance, combining the clockwork, cold, analytic machine with the human sense making, pattern seeking abilities. But it will come at a cost, for people who are blindsided or feel entitled to their current way of living.

The automation of education

Although it has not been addressed directly in the course, the automation of education has become a larger concern for me. I understand the political pressure of making education “better,” but I believe that automating education through technology has a fundamental flaw when it is only concerned with getting more students through the system using standardized (another word could be “sanitized”) content and testing. Sure, some modules can be automated. Some learning modules are factual by nature, and have a clear right or wrong answer. But should we trust algorithms to control our learning flow, especially for higher-level skills at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy?

Teachers will have access to an ever-growing body of knowledge, and will be asked to curate that knowledge and present it to students in a palatable fashion. I think teacher freedom and guidance is, more than ever, needed in our age of transparency. As everything we do gets recorded, how can we make sure the next generation of students will not step into booby-traps that could affect their livelihood 10, 20, or 50 years from now, as employers and colleagues stumble upon digital faux-pas?  For more information technology literacy, I invite you to follow the work of Howard Rheingold.

Defining humanity

Being human has to be more than the simple fact that we are evolved biological beings. In They’re Made Out of Meat, this ridiculous fact is exposed as being something repellent, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

What gives human beings the advantage over other biological beings, such as other mammals, is our superior use of our brain functions, which gives us the chance to enhance ourselves with the use of technology. I’ve illustrated this advantage below (UPDATE: Bear + Tech vs. Man + Tech = Advantage Bear, LOL, Matthew Jones).

In my opinion, detaching human beings from its creations is a mistake. On the other hand, we define cruel behaviors as being inhuman, so, from a moral standpoint, humanity is defined as the choices and actions we make. Jean-Paul Sartre defined this as:

“To choose this or that is to affirm at the same time the value of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being good for all.” (unverified quote, taken from Wikiquotes)

Layers of infrastructure

As society becomes more complex and more productive, we all become interdependent. Accessing the Internet from your computer requires a web browser, an operating system, a computer, a router, and internet connection, an internet provider, link between internet providers, servers, data warehouses, air conditioning, electricity, power plants (natural gas, sunlight, wind, coal, hydro plant, etc.), corporation, governments, and workers operating all of this infrastructure.

As we live more of our lives in the cloud, we make ourselves vulnerable to any layer going bad, as illustrated in the following image of the game Jenga.

Just like when we play Jenga, as the layers of technology pile higher on top of one another, one flaw in a bottom layer can make the whole system crumble. (Credit: Claus Rebler)

Consciousness and control

My last thought goes toward an idea expressed in True Skin.

If we can become transhuman, and transfer our consciousness through technology, aren’t we also exposing ourselves to becoming hackable? So far, we have not been able to truly take control of one another, for better (such as a surgeon taking over the movement of an apprentice) or worse (the Manchurian candidate).

I hope these ramblings make sense to you, and welcome any feedback or comments!

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