while I was waking up…

This post is dedicated in memory of Gil Scott-Heron.

Connectivity, seamless integration, multiple digital devices all connected to my habits and likes. The seamless options to integrate my blogs with my social media accounts…..all provide wonderful opportunities. They simplify many tasks and interactions I deal with on a day to day basis. At times these can get messy and I understand that many of these integrations between the digital devices I use and social media platforms I interact with are still trying to evolve. I believe the future of this convergence of digital devices and communication platforms will only get more seamless and effective, that is exciting. For users the potential is huge in leveraging  these tools and opportunities into our social and professional lives.

and now……

I am noticing something, and it seems in the last few months all this seamless integration of digital devices and social networking media is generating some caution by a few. For me the first odd event was when Facebook suddenly decided without asking me (actually they never asking me anything especially if there are changes) that it would only feature in my news feeds the friends I interact with on a regular basis and not the  friends who I just interact with rarely or periodically…. my news feed narrowed in its diversity of people I could see. Good news you can change this, and I did. The issue is who should make the decisions for us?

I also am noticing with my search results (Google/Bing/Yahoo) that they tend to be little different when I search the same topic as my wife and kids….. the search algorithms seem to learn my likes and dislikes and then provide me with information which falls into my previous search patterns and within my opinion and interest range. Diversity of opinions or information which I do not agree with seems slowly to be pushed away from me, I am reading only what I want to believe .  This seems to be a growing trend as explained in an excellent: TedTalk Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

The Apple Developers conference again showed how our devices, operating systems and virtual worlds are now taking on more tasks without us having to be involved, as a way to increase our efficiencies. Now you do not need to save in OS Lion, if you have iCloud there is sinking of content between different devices automatically without you being involved. Your digital devices in the Apple environment now can be independent of your desktop or laptop, giving these devices the ability to do all the necessary tasks right there and now. These are exciting changes and definitely provide the user with more seamless tasks which we do not need to be involved with. This in someways is pushed even further with the IOS5 function that if you have list or tasks to do there is a geographic locater embedded so when say you drive by a grocery store and in your IOS5 device you have a shopping list it will pop up and remind you of the list and the option of doing this now as it has located a grocery store.

The list goes on…. our technology tools and environments are being equipped with algorithms and (spiders and robots) automated tasks which are becoming more intelligent, and at a level are given more independence to make executive decisions to enhance tasks in reaction to our online behaviors and habits. This is a huge shift, and with this a whole set of philosophical questions and dilemmas arise which delve into privacy, who has ownership, who gets to decide what these tools and algorithms do, and how much independence should they have? I am reading and seeing more evidence of this change, where we are asking our technology tools and systems to think for us and help make decisions. At this stage it all seems useful, helpful and harmless. Who minds having something save everything without you having to remember. Who minds having their devices do in the background of our awareness, updates, sinking, and analysis ? At this time it is useful and a time saver….and to be honest this has been going on for a while with a variety of technology tools. An example is commercial aviation which has been relying on automatic pilot controls for a large percentage of tasks related to flying. There are definitely huge advantages, and at many levels these make the processes we rely on more efficient and seamless .

As we move forward with our digital evolution:  our tools, operating systems and devices are given greater independence to manage our lives. The question I currently struggle with is at what point do we feel comfortable giving up control and let many of these devices  have complete autonomy of certain tasks, decisions, and information we get to have access too. To what point do we let convenience and efficiency erode potentially our own independence to make decision ourselves with these digital environments. There is no doubt that for the companies behind these tools, devices and operating systems, this control and information is becoming a critical commodity to generate information databases which leverage a greater capacity to target products, habits and behaviors effectively to the user. This then generating profits for the companies behind these devices, software and operating systems.

I am like many, I love the seamless integration, the fact that more mundane tasks are being taken over, and me not having to think about them. But when is too much, and when will we suddenly wake up and realize so much has fallen over to algorithms and (spiders and robots) automated tasks that we have lost control and now are having many of our decisions and tasks dictated by others who we have little input with.

As Gil Scott Heron says so aptly ” the revolution will not be televised

John@https://beyonddigital.org

break on through

In my experience there is an odd side to international schools when it comes to the issue of making sure to teach the virtues of freedom of expression, studying great leaders, thinkers, philosophers, mathematical theories and ensure our students get a balance in the way we approach learning.  We believe generally that an open door philosophy towards different opinions, perspective and views is important. I would say we are quite passionate about this, and feel it is a critical element of many of our school’s missions.  The goal to ensure that our students get exposed to as many different perspectives as possible allowing them to construct their own knowledge. That is nice and of course something most parents and educators would find difficult to argue against. Then comes Web 2.0 Social Networking and/or some other technology and the general first reaction and approach is BLOCK IT! Now many will argue that social networking or blocking certain technologies is not the equivalent of teaching the virtues of freedom of expression. I disagree. Okay in my situation at my current school, we block facebook, twitter and others on our wireless network, a decision by the collective leadership team. On the two labs and one library lab we do not block it on the machine connected to our LAN network, the rational is that there generally is always someone there to supervise. This situation is flawed in my mind. In some ways I am to blame as IT Director for not pushing or developing a strong enough argument with my fellow administrators to have the conversation to unpack what we are doing, and exploring the pedagogic value of such blocking. Always easier to reflect in hindsight.

What happens then is when students sneak through our firewall via proxies, or have their own independent connection to the internet through a USB modem from the local cell phone company that they plug into their laptop, the blocking becomes useless. The times a teacher catches someone then the issue is brought up, and we the IT department have to again explain that however much we block the chance is that some student will find a hole. This is the flaw, we are focusing on the blocking and the events where students get around it and not on the more important issue what, how, why and when are they using this. We avoid the  opportunity to leverage this tool to engage both student and teacher into a conversation on the pros and cons of using this, and how and what might be responsible use of such tools in a school setting. This whole dialogue and dynamics is completely swept under the carpet.

Most educators would argue I assume that the issue of Facebook (Social Networks) as a teachable moment has no place in the classroom, and blocking it is good, as this allows us then to focus on the important task of teaching the lesson at hand. I challenge this perception and view. There are about 500 million plus folks on this planet involved on a regular basis in social networks in different shapes and forms. Attached to this is a huge industry developing to take advantage of this new form of communication. With this dynamic there are big economic opportunities for individuals, companies, organizations and institutions to generate incomes. This is something that will continue to develop and the reality is it will become more and more part of our own social communication fabric both on a personal and institutional level. Some would say it has already happened.

So……I think with this shift there is now a critical role for educators to start exploring how to integrate social networks into school curriculum.  We have a responsibility to share, educate and develop an understanding of the intricacies and options of using such communication mediums in our day to day lives. If Grade 2-3 students are setting up Facebook profile you cannot expect them to clearly understand the privacy setting tools on their own, you cannot expect them to read the fine print of an agreement. It has come to the point where instead of blocking this, and letting them work things out on their own undercover, we as educational institutions need to develop a robust set of learner outcomes for our students on the dynamics of social networks. It needs to be not the responsibility of some IT department technician or counselor but part of  the day to day fabric of each teachers tool kit: sharing, exploring, facilitating, and mentoring our students how to be responsible users of social networks. We need to let them explore these mediums with a critical mind unblocked, as we would expect them for the ~French Revolution, Plate-tectonics, a perspective on Macbeth or the Israeli- Palestinian situation.

The world changed yesterday! Today we need to engage ourselves in a clear understanding that social networks, youtube, chat, texting, virtual worlds, and the current digital landscape are now an integral part of our day to day fabric both socially and professionally. With this there are a whole host of issues, learning, understanding and perspectives that we need to equip our students with to be able to survive effectively with balance and as critical learners.  In today’s world, we as educators,  have an important ethical responsibility to take charge of this, and engage throughout our day within our own lessons what this all means, and how to develop a critical understanding of how best to use these: when, where, and appropriately….. if we do not, basically we are ignoring today’s world that we all live in. I would find it hard to believe that any of us would want this as part of our own educator’s philosophy.